Lahore Central jail, where the three revolutionaries were hanged on the day in 1931, has been practically demolished. Their cells have been razed to the ground as if the establishment does not want any sign of their hanging to remain. It is a pity because Bhagat Singh’s sacrifice, long before partition, could have been a link of sorts between the two countries.
Three years ago, some of us located at Lahore the place where Bhagat Singh and his two comrades were hanged. Ironically, the locality where the scaffold for hanging was put up, has been named Shadman (abode of happiness). I asked residents of the colony if they knew who Bhagat Singh was. Many of them had heard the name. Some had a vague idea of his confinement and hanging.
“When we came here, there were only police quarters, which were pulled down as the colony expanded,” said a man in his fifties. The then Lahore Deputy Commissioner had not even heard of Bhagat Singh’s name.
Fortunately, the place of hanging is a bit removed from the main road. There is a pond which gives serenity to the site. We paid homage to the martyrdom of the three on March 24 to avoid the Pakistan National Day celebrations. The following year, we could not hold even a meeting because the authorities had clamped Section 144. The recurrent blasts at Lahore this year kept us away.
The busy roundabout, near which the scaffold for hanging was put up, has a story which is told and retold. This is the place where Nawaz Mohammad Ahmed Khan, father of Ahmed Raza Kasuri, then a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, was shot at.
Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had reportedly “instructed someone” to kill Kasuri, a staunch opponent. When the bullets were fired through automatic weapons, Kasuri was negotiating the roundabout. His father, sitting next to him, received fatal injuries near the scaffold.
Kasuri’s grandfather was one of the officials who had identified the bodies of the three revolutionaries. Old timers believe that nemesis caught up with the Kasuri family when Mohammad Ahmed Khan was wounded at the roundabout. Ironically, Bhutto himself was hanged some 25 years ago.
Bhagat Singh was a staunch secular who knew no borders of prejudice or bias. For him the world was divided between the haves and the have-nots. Religion or caste did not figure anywhere. In an essay on “Why am I an atheist?” he argues: “Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosophy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled, and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous; it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary.”
Bhagat Singh maintained a notebook throughout his internment. A voracious reader as he was he would write down in his notebook the sentences he liked. Dwelling on his lack of faith in any religion, Bhagat Singh quoted from the notebook Upton Sinclair, an American socialist. The latter wrote: “Just make a man a believer in immortality and then rob him of all his riches and possessions. He shall help you even in that ungrudgingly. The coalition among the religious preachers and possessors of power brought forth jails, gallows, knots and these theories.”
The saddest day was March 23. It began like any other day when the political prisoners were let out of their cells in the morning. They normally remained out during the day and returned after sunset. But on March 23 when warden Charat Singh showed up at 4 p.m. and asked them to get back in, they were surprised.
It was too early for them to be locked up. They had often stayed long after sunset despite the warden’s rebukes. But this time he was not only strict, he was also adamant. He would not say why. All that he muttered incoherently was “orders from above.” They guessed that it was the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades.
The scaffold was old, but the hefty hangmen were not. All the three men sentenced to death stood on separate wooden planks, with a deep ditch of water running below them. Bhagat Sigh was in the middle. The noose was tightened around each one’s necks. They kissed the rope. Their hands and feet were tied. The hangmen pulled the rope and removed the rafters from under their feet. It was a crude mechanism. The bodies, limp and drooping, remained hanging from the scaffold for a long time. They were brought down and examined by a doctor who pronounced them dead.
I have not been able to understand why the government is reluctant to put a copper plaque at the place in the Central hall of Parliament where Bhagat Singh threw a bomb, purposely of low intensity, to draw the attention of authorities to the two proposed Bills relating to public safety and trade disputes before the House.
He said: “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear.” These are immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Valliant, a French anarchist martyr, who said: “We strongly justify this action of ours” to open the ears.
During my six-year-long membership of the Rajya Sabha, I requested all Lok Sabha Speakers of different political parties to put the plaque at the bench in the public gallery from where Bhagat Singh threw the bomb and the place on the floor where it landed. My efforts bore no fruit. This is the least homage we can pay to the memory of Bhagat Singh.