On March 23, 2015, the newspaper reproduced its Editorial of March 24, 1931 on the execution of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues in Lahore on its 84th anniversary. One of the foremost chroniclers of Bhagat Singh’s life, Prof. Chaman Lal, expressed doubts about the date of the Editorial. His contention was that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed on March 23, 1931 between 7 to 8 p.m. He said that even the Lahore newspaper, The Tribune , could carry the news only in its March 25 issue. “News to papers in Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, etc. is not likely to reach faster than Lahore. Even if it would have been known to The Hindu or other papers, writing an Editorial on the same, which is generally written and finalized in the daytime itself, is not possible under the communication and printing technology of those days. So in all probability, the Editorial could have been written on 24th March, 1931 day time, as news became known by that time and may have been carried in the issue of 25th March, 1931,” he wrote.
He tried to check the archives of The Hindu in Delhi for confirmation, but access to the 1931 issues of The Hindu was not immediately available and hence, he wanted the office of the Readers’ Editor to clarify the dates. His letter drove me to the index and library of The Hindu . I found that the date of the Editorial, “A grave blunder”, was indeed March 24, 1931 and was on page 8. But, I was stumped to see detailed reportage of the executions, performance of last rites, protests, and statements from leaders like Gandhiji, Nehru, Malaviya and Patel on page 9 with the dateline March 24. How did the newspaper manage to carry the statements issued on March 24 in its March 24 edition? Was Prof. Chaman Lal right? Was there a problem in ascribing the dateline in those days?
The answer lies in history
The answer lay in the history of the newspaper. The Hindu was launched as a weekly in September 20, 1878. It became a tri-weekly, published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from October 1, 1883. On April 1, 1889, it became an evening daily. In 1939, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the newspaper moved to its present premises in Chennai, and became a morning daily on November 7, 1940. In fact, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the newspaper becoming a morning broadsheet. As an evening paper in 1931, it had enough time not only to carry an Editorial but also to look at the multiple strands of events that followed the execution of Bhagat Singh across the Indian subcontinent.
My search, following Prof. Lal’s query, also helped me realise that this newspaper was committed to providing comprehensive coverage of the day’s events to make sense of the prevailing politics and current affairs. Let me look at the coverage of two days — March 23, 1931 and March 24, 1931. A report from the correspondent in Lahore on March 23, gave details of the last petition heard by the Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court as the possibility of the execution was looming large before the Karachi Congress that was slated from March 24, and there was a report from Karachi about doubting the party’s continued participation in the Round Table Conference.
The March 24 issue recorded the fact that the Congress leadership, comprising Gandhi, Nehru, Rajaji, Patel and other members of the Congress Working Committee, was at the New Delhi railway station on the night of March 23 en route to Karachi when the news of the execution reached them. The newspaper also documented the series of futile legal attempts made on March 23 to save the Lahore Conspiracy Case prisoners: filing of a habeas corpus petition and its failure, the next attempt to get leave for appeal to the Privy Council and its rejection, leading to the final move of sending a special leave petition to Viceroy Irwin and the Law Member. There was also a detailed report that recollected the facts of the case starting from the murder of Saunders, ASP, Lahore to the Special Tribunal’s verdict of pronouncing the death sentence.
For me, reading the pages of the 1931 copies of this newspaper provided an insight into the present architecture of the paper, whose foundations were laid many generations before: a credible suturing process of multiple pieces of information to create an integrated narrative that offers trustworthy news, enabling readers to form a perspective.
Thanks a lot for clearing my query on the editorial A Grave Blinder in your column of today-6th April. It was really interesting to know the history of The Hindu itself in this context, which I am sharing through The Hindu link & text on my blog-bhagatsinghstudy, face book etc.However it has made me little more keen to know more about The Hindu's coverage of freedom struggle. While writing to you and copying it to Editor and Chairman The Hindu, I wish to request that The Hindu archives may be extended to at least from the beginning of year 1900, ideally from the day it became daily in 1889. The Hindu coverage of freedom struggle period must be one of the most significant, which if shared on website, would be of immense help to historians and general readers interested in freedom struggle chronology. I remember on an earlier occasion, another The Hindu book helped me in tracing the personality of Bibi Amtus Salam, a Gandhian who lived in Rajpura-Punjab after partition and I wrote a piece on her in The Tribune.
I did come across some documentation, which mentions the last petition in Punjab High Court Lahore being disposed off at 3 pm on 23rd March 1931 and within four hours executions were done. But these days people hardly know these facts. The Hindu also must have carried the news of cremation of three martyrs bodies at village Ganda Singhwala first during 23-24th March midnight, but later at Ravi Banks of Lahore on 24th March evening with huge procession of people and strike on Lahore. The Tribune carried the picture and report on 26th March 1931 of this cremation, now everyone is made to believe the cremation at Hussainiwala near Ferozpur. I wish to consult all these reports on The Hindu pages, if only they could be put on the website.
8th April 1929 is again a historic day, the day which Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt threw bombs in Central Assemble(Today's Parliament) against anti people bills like that of Land Acquisition anti people bill. The Hindu must have carried 1929 news in great detail in its 8th April issue itself, being evening-er, as the bomb explosions took place around 11 am that day. Probably Editor-The Hindu can reproduce that news on its oncoming 8th April issue as it reproduced 24th March editorial.