Apr 28 2016 : The Times of India (Delhi)
BHAGAT SINGH ROW - Revolutionary terrorist not used to insult martyrhttp://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/index.aspx?eid=31808&dt=20160428
The late Bipan Chandra had co-authored India's Struggle for Independence in the late 1980s in which Bhagat Singh and some others were described as “revolutionary terrorists“.It's not new, yet it has outraged at least one member of Singh's extended family and some politicians; historians and other relatives, not so much. The most that the late historian can be accused of is adopting colonial lexicon.A Delhi University history teacher, declaring the `controversy' “nonsense“, explained, “Terrorism is how the state describes a particular form of resistance. It's standard in books but is also interrogated and compared with other forms of mobilising,“ she said.Historians now object to it on principle but don't believe the authors were “trying to denigrate“.
Chaman Lal, who's spent a lifetime documenting Singh's works, points to a 1931 letter. “Bhagat Singh had written, `I am not a terrorist and I never was, except perhaps in the beginning of my revolutionary career.' It was a common term,“ he said.Lal was Chandra's colleague at JNU and credits him with “bringing Bhagat Singh to notice as a thinker-revolutionary“. “Earlier, Singh was a brave freedom-fighter. Chandra's introduction to a special edition of Singh's `Why I am an Atheist', changed that. I, and dozens of others, built on the tradition he established,“ Lal said.
Abhitej Sandhu, Singh's grandnephew and cousin to Yadvinder Sandhu who complained, agreed: “He was one of the few to do justice to Shaheed-e-Azam.Every government wants symbolic ownership of his legacy . The meaning of terrorism has changed but it's too small an issue.The government should focus more on Bhagat Singh's thoughts, his ideas on the economy , for instance.“
The book is part of standard undergraduate reading lists, including DU's. “They (authors) have used terms of the colonial administrators. When writing history today, you shouldn't. Also, Singh had moved away from `terrorism'--which is, essentially using acts of terror to de-stabilise the ruling dispensation--and was different from late-19th-century terrorists,“ said historian R Gopinath. He dismissed the idea that the phrase was used maliciously. “Chandra told me to read Singh.“
This issue was raised during UPA rule too, observed Lal.“Chandra had clarified then that terrorist wasn't used as a negative term and that the more appropriate expression was `revolutionary nationalism'. This controversy is contrived, planned by the Right. These people don't read anything,“ he said.
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Book Review Kama Maclean, ‘A Revolutionary History of Interwar India-Violence, Image, Voice and Text-Mainstream
Kama Maclean, ‘A Revolutionary History of Interwar India-Violence, Image, Voice and Text’, Hurst and Company, London, First edition 2015, Pages 342, Price-not mentioned.
One would be rather surprised to know the increasing interest in study of Bhagat Singh phenomenon in the western academia lately, perhaps more than Indian academia taking interest in the subject!
Not only author of present book Dr. Kama Maclean, who is an Australian and an Associate Professor in South Asian and World History at UNSW Sydney, also editor of South Asia; Chris Moffat has recently completed his PhD on Bhagat Singh in Cambridge University, UK; Professor Christopher Pinney at University College London, in his book-Photos of Gods dealt with phenomenon of Bhagat Singh through study of photos, posters and pictures. Some of the Indian scholars also worked on the theme in western academic institutions, such as Neeti Nair with her paper as ‘Bhagat Singh as Satyagrahi’, Simona Sawhney as ‘Bhagat Singh: A Politics of Death and Hope’
Dr. Kama Maclean has been working on this project since 2007, when on a visit to Amritsar on a sabbatical leave from her University, she noticed pictures of Bhagat Singh in every bazar of the town. In those days, Amir Khan Starrer popular film Rang de Basanti was running in cinema houses and a young scholar wished to write her paper on revolutionaries impact on national movement. But she soon became frustrated as she could not find enough scholarship to continue with her paper! Well that was a telling comment on academic situation in Indian Universities after sixty years of freedom despite huge popularity of Bhagat Singh in public mind, but which did not motivate Indian historians to deal with the phenomenon at academic level! However some of Indian academic personalities did pay attention to this neglected aspect of Indian history of freedom struggle. Most notably Bipan Chandra with his introduction to ‘Why I am an Atheist’-the seminal essay of Bhagat Singh and also some of his other writings started the process of focusing upon Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries impact on national movement. Sumit Sarkar in his ‘ Modern India’ and later day scholars from different fields, like A G Noorani with his ‘The Trial Of Bhagat Singh’, S Irfan Habib with his ‘To Make the Deaf Hear’ like books contributed towards studying Bhagat Singh’s role in freedom struggle at academic level. This was post seventies development. Prior to that Comrades of Bhagat Singh like Shiv Verma, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Jaidev Kapoor, Sohan Singh Josh, Ajoy Ghosh, Jatindernath Sanyal, Yashpal, Rajaram Shastri and many more wrote memoirs of Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries from 1950 onwards, but were not paid much attention by academic institutions for research. Even the biographical writing on whole Bhagat Singh family by Bhagat Singh’s niece Veerender Sandhu, published as early as in 1967 from Benaras was not paid much attention to, partly because it was in Hindi. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library conducted number of interviews of ex revolutionaries in seventies, which are now considered most valuable part of the source material on revolutionaries’ related research and present researcher Kama Maclean has also made liberal use of this valuable material from NMML in this book. In fact the author has collected so much of source material from various places that perhaps no other researcher had it before. She has documents from National Archives of India, particularly Home (Political) dept. files, Proscribed literature collection; from Nehru memorial museum and library (NMML), she has consulted or collected 34 interviews from Oral History Transcripts, AICC Papers and some private papers. She collected rich source material from London, which perhaps no earlier researcher on Bhagat Singh had accessed in such detail. From British library, India Office records she has proscribed tracts collection, from other sections of same library she has consulted important collections such as Halifax papers. Kama Maclean consulted 23 interviews from Oral History Collection of Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge University, from there she consulted private papers too. These interviews were not known much in academic circles before. The interviews have been conducted during 1970-1991 and includes some interviews, not conducted by NMML earlier. Most important among Cambridge interview is that of Bhikshu Chaman Lal, known earlier as Chaman Lal Azad, correspondent of Hindustan Times at the time of Delhi bomb case in 1929.
Dr. Kama Maclean consulted Bradley papers from People’s History Museum Manchester as well. Apart from these archival material, author has accessed many newspapers of that time like Abhyudaya, Bhavishya, Chand, Tribune, Civil and Military Gazette etc. A number of old and contemporary publications are also part of author’s bibliography for this project. She has collected number of posters, photographs for her book, out of which, she has reproduced as many as 53 figures in this book from her collection, collected from various institutions like Supreme Court of India, National Archives, NMML, British Library and private sources, even buying many items from Shyam Sunder Lal Picture Merchant Kanpur and other places.
Collecting so much source material makes rather difficult the task of organising it and putting it to judicious use for research and that was a challenge for researcher here.
Based on such rich source material, as a well-trained researcher, Dr. Kama Maclean has organised her book into three parts with three chapters each in every part. She has detailed introduction as well as Epilogue to her book, apart from all the technical details like Acknowledgements, Glossary, Acronyms, note on spellings, list of illustrations, notes, bibliography, index etc.
In her introduction, Dr. Kama Maclean has explained the area and period of her research project. Mostly she has focused upon 1928-31 period and on Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). She has defined 1928-31 period as ‘Inter War Period’, starting from Simon Commission visit to India in 1928 and taking it up to Karachi Congress of March end 1931, held immediately after Bhagat Singh-Rajguru-Sukhdev execution. She has questioned the prevalent narrative of Independent struggle predominately as Gandhian ideology of non-violence and supplemented it with impact of revolutionaries on national movement through inter war period struggle of HSRA. To study HSRA role she has deployed oral histories, ‘un-archived’ materials such as satire, hearsay, visual cultural artefacts like photos and posters to reconstruct this neglected history. Not only the material, she referred, she has as much deployed archival material and authentic documents as well, to fill the gaps of history. She has admitted in her introduction that-‘ The revolutionaries of the HSRA have long been marginalised in the academic historiography of nationalism, despite their extraordinary popularity in popular culture in colonial India, this was most evident in proscribed literature and posters, and in contemporary India, in film, posters, comics and bazar histories’.(Page 2) She has favourably referred here to 2004 book of Christopher Pinney-‘Photos of Gods’: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India.
In a way she has carried forward the interesting multi-disciplinary research began by Pinney in this area with combination of social sciences and aesthetics. Dr. Maclean has used a poster provided by Dr. Pinney as title of the book, which has garland of Chandershekhar Azad photos on Bhagat Singh’s picture. She has described her work as-‘this book represents only the beginning of a larger, collective project of understanding revolutionary history, from a range of ‘post-subaltern and postcolonial scholarly perspective’. Dr. Kama Maclean has concluded her introduction with the defining of her research methodology perspective as post-subaltern and postcolonial scholarly perspective’, which may be debated by professional historians. The historians, whom she has shown respect are from subaltern school such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, whose comments on this book are displayed on title back page. She has humbly acknowledged that she has not been able to consult all the oral histories, neither all the police records, despite consulting massive store of material, which she has come across. Researcher has referred in her introduction ‘Indian Political Intelligence files-constituting 21660 volumes and 224 boxes of data’, being opened for scholars in British library India Office records, from 1996 (Page 8)
Author has divided main text of her book into three parts-Part-I is called-‘The Revolutionaries of Hindustan Socialist Republican Army: Histories, Actions, Activities’. This part has three chapters-i. Of History and Legend: Revolutionary Actions in North India-1928-31, ii-That Hat: Infamy, Strategy and Social Communication and iii-The Revolutionary Unknown: The Secret Life of Durga Devi Vohra. Author has used here term ‘Army’ instead of earlier used term ‘Association’, both acronym as HSRA. Army term was used by revolutionaries themselves as ‘the military’ wing of their political group known as ‘Association’ with same three earlier words-HSR. Balraj, a pseudo name for Chandershekhar Azad, was commander-in-chief of the ‘Army’! Posters thrown in Delhi Assembly after bombs exploded were under the signatures of ‘Balraj’, so were HSRA posters pasted on Lahore walls after Saunders assassination earlier. This chapter delineates the short history of Bengal revolutionary groups like Anushilan, Yugantar and also precursor of HSRA, Hindustan Republican Association(HRA), formed in late 1923 by Sachindernath Sanyal, which included all the characters of HSRA and also Ram Prasad Bismil-Ashfaqullah-Roshan Singh and Rajender Lahiri, who were executed in late 1927 on account of Kakori rail dacoity in 1925. This chapter also narrates A Short History of Bhagat Singh as well, based upon Clandestine, Proscribed and Aggrieved Histories. Kama Maclean not only narrates history of Bhagat Singh, she takes it to his After Life history too. She discusses movement in Pakistan to name Bhagat Singh Chowk in Lahore. She discusses seven films made on Bhagat Singh under the sub title-In the Grip of Popular Culture. Very few people now know that first film Shaheed-e-Azam on Bhagat Singh was made by certain Jagdish Gautam in 1954 and it has created quite a furore among revolutionaries and Bhagat Singh family. Bejoy Kumar Siha has referred to this film in his memoirs and raising of the issue even in Parliament to get the film banned. It was not banned, but cuts were made, which did not satisfy either family or surviving revolutionaries at that time. Second film on Bhagat Singh is also largely unknown, it was made in 1963 with Shammi Kapur as hero and Kidar Bansal as director. It was third 1965 film ‘Shaheed’ starring Manoj Kumar which brought fame to martyr as well as hero of the film with its melodious musical appeal. 2002 saw release of three films on Bhagat Singh, out of which The Legend of Bhagat Singh got more popularity and acceptability. Seventh and last film in circuit was 2006 Amir Khan Starrer Rang de Basanti.
Second chapter of this part of the book brings interesting narration on Bhagat Singh’s hat, which according to researcher has contributed to his popularity through posters made on its basis. She brings to fore the fact that revolutionaries, particularly Bhagat Singh was conscious about the power of media to popularise their ideas and made maximum use of it through pre planning. Author underlines the fact that most of the revolutionaries had their photographs from studios for records and for using by media after their arrest or death. These photographs became rich material for artists later to turn them into attractive and impressive posters. Hat photograph was taken by Ramnath photographer in his Kashmere gate studio in Delhi probably on 4th April, just few days before both Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt threw bombs in Delhi Assembly. B K Dutt was also photographed at same time in same studio by same photographer. Ironically same Ramnath was engaged by Delhi police as well to photograph Assembly bomb site. Author has surmised that Delhi police had got Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt photographed after their arrest on 8th April by same photographer Ramnath, but those photographs are still to surface. Photographs taken on 4th April were published on 12th April for first time by Lahore Urdu daily Bande Matram, followed by Hindustan Times in Delhi on 18th April, before becoming viral in today’s terms, which contributed immensely to Bhagat Singh’s popularity throughout India. Hat photograph of Bhagat Singh made him iconic figure in times to come. Second chapter of the book based on Hat photograph is continuation of Christopher Pinney’s earlier work based on photograph studies of revolutionaries. Third chapter in this part of the book is fascinating story of Durga Devi Vohra, popularly known among revolutionaries and later as Durga Bhabhi, being wife and widow of Bhagwaticharan Vohra, who died in bomb experiment on 28th May 1930 on Ravi banks in Lahore.
In second part of the book which is intriguingly given title of Porous Politics: The Congress and the Revolutionaries-1928-31, author has focused upon Congress party and revolutionaries interactions as part of national movement. The close relations of two Nehrus- Motilal and Jawaharlal and Subhas Bose with revolutionaries, have been discussed in detail and many suppressed facts have been revealed. Kama Maclean has continued with presentation and interpretation of posters she had collected as part of her research interest in this part of the book. Motilal Nehru’s rather unknown speech ‘Balraj or Gandhi’ in context of Delhi bomb case- has been discussed. Motilal Nehru was softer than Jawaharlal towards revolutionaries and gave them many times liberal funds.
Third part of the book-The Aftermath: Gandhism and challenge of revolutionary violence is focussed upon The Karachi Congress 1931, held immediately after Bhagat Singh-Sukhdev-Rajguru execution and shows how deftly Gandhi dealt with young people’s anger and was able to avoid the split in Congress party.
In Epilogue the story is taken till 1945-46 focusing upon revolutionaries’ refusal to compromise with Congress Governments and their preference not to seek release by tendering apologies.
The book is rather large sized with 342 pages in shorter font size, sometimes even difficult for readers with poor vision to read. The large number of ‘endnotes’ disturb reading by referring all the time at end of the book, which could have become easy reading if notes had been used as ‘footnotes’ on each page. (Number of Notes is very high-117+177+137+136+136+45+230+170+123+85+23(Total of 1379 notes!)
While researcher has been careful in general, still some errors have creeped up, like referring to ‘Chand-fansi issue’ as of 1926, whereas it was published in November 1928, the error has been repeated many times. But on the whole Kama Maclean has put up hard labour to conduct research on an unusual subject and did lot of fieldwork to collect data for her research. She deserves to be complemented for her well-produced research work in the form of this book.
· The reviewer is a retired Professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. His recent publication is ‘Understanding Bhagat Singh’
Prof. Chaman Lal (Retired Professor NU, New Delhi)
H. no. 2690, Urban Estate, Phase-2, Patiala (Punjab)-147002
Prof.firstname.lastname@example.org Mobile no. 09646494538/09868774820
In Search of Freedom: Journeys Through India and Southeast Asia,(Paperback) Sagari Chhabra, HarperCollins, Delhi, 2015, 1st ed., pages 344, prie 499/ rupees
Sagari Chhabra has been making films, writing plays, poetry and books for children since many years.Many of her films have earned her international laurels. Her films include-Now I will Speak, Tatva, Hunger in the time of Plenty, The word and the world, Asli Azadi, Brides are not for Burning and Global Warming.
Her publications prior to this book, include The Gift (Play) and The Talking Tree (For children).
The present publication-In Search of Freedom: Journeys through India and South-East Asia, is ambitious book, written after many years research projects and after traveling to many countries of South-east Asia, including Mynamar, Thailand, Malayasia and Singapore. Book is dedicated to these freedom fighters and also to her daughter Sachi, whom she is briging up as single parent. Book brings out rare photographs of these unknown and unsung heroes of Indian freedom struggle, about whom, only few people know. Some of them are still alive, but mostly have passed away. Major focus of the book is on freedom fighters of Netaji Subhas Bose led Indian Naional Army (INA), which was formed abroad and which fought glourious battles in North East of India, before freedom came about. Sagari had taken up this journey in year 2004 with grant from Asian Scholarship Foundation Bangkok, which granted her Asia Scholar fellowship for few months and since then she has been working on this book, which came out only in 2015, but in a nice form from Harper and Collins, Delhi. There are certain photographs of freedom fighters on both front and back title of the book, as well as black and white photo of Janky Thever in the beginning of the book. Many other photographs are inside the chapters of the book.
Book is divided into 22 chapters, apart from Introduction, Afterword, Notes, Bibliography, Index and Acknowledgements, following the standard format of an academic book. But the narration of book is not so academic, method of data collection, conducting interviews etc. has touch of academic research, but during interviews, human touch of author and freedom fighters emerges out and that makes book an interesting reading, apart from providing rich information, largely unknown to most of Indians.
In the very first chapter of the book-Meeting the Gandhians, author dwells upon searching material on women in film institute of Pune, which she finds almost nothing. In Delhi, she tries her luck at Home ministry controlled office on freedom fighters and gets some connection by meeting INA veteran S S Yadav. Author moves with her friend Tanu to Gujarat, where she could meet Dandi salt march veteran woman Veerbalaben Nagarwadia, who was born in 1913 and with many women were at Sabarmati Ashram Ahmedabad on 12th March 1930, when salt march to Dandi was to take place. Interesting fact emerges from this meeting that Mahatma Gandhi after being arrested at Dandi after salt march, never returned to Sabarmati, he had shifted to Sewagram in Wardha later. 92 Satyagrahis had walked with Gandhi to Dandi, more than 200 miles or 386 kilometers away and 95 thousand Satyagrahis were arrested by May 1930. Auther further meets Nirmlaben Desai, Jyoti Singh and many others in touch with Mridulaben. They meet Sarlaben, who met and fell in love with Vimal Shah and they married in 1946 as activists, although they were ex-communicated by their families.
Beginning from Gandhians, author moves to Revolutionary women in second chapter, starting with Lakshmi Sehgal in Kanpur, the heroine of INA, who was minister in Netaji cabinet and known as Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan, daughter of south Indian parents, whose younger sister Mrinalini Sarabhai had just passed away, she was in her eightees then. There is a detailed testimony of Lakshmi Sehgal. She was in Captain’s rank, INA defeated British at Moirang in Manipur, but got defeated in Imphal. With Lakshmi Sehgal reference, author meets Narayani Tripathy and Gouri in Delhi.
Sagari moves to Calcutta on her way to Burma for more interviews. At Kolkata they met Aruna Ganguly, Pratima Sen and traced Parul Bhattacharya in Delhi, who had joined Rani Jhansi brigade of INA under Lakshmi Sehgal and her young son became part of ‘Balak Sena’, formed by Neta ji. They met Momota Mehta also. In 3rd chapter author tells us that they made many trips to Ahmedabad, in Chandigarh they located Sarla Sharma, friends with IK Gujral mother Pushpa Gujral, Savitri Ramkrishan, Subhadra Khosla and Vijaya Chauhan. Later meeting Krishna Thapar, daughter of Lala Achint Ram, cousin of martyr Sukhdev. Savitri Ramkishan, who had married Comrade Ramkishan, Chief Minister of Punjab for short period. She records the accounts of Lahore jail.. Subhadra Khosla, becoming Subhadra Joshi defeated Atal Behari Vajpayee. Sagari Chhabra’s big achievement was tracing Janki Thevar, one of Major INA woman commander after Lakshmi Sehgal.
In 4th chapter author focuses on Sushila Nayar’s relations with Mahatma Gandhi, with whom Gandhi had been sleeping in his experiments of celibacy. Here is the reference to Gandhi’s attraction towards Tagore niece and Punjab Congress leader Sarladevi Chaudhrani. Sushila Nayar’s testimonies are interesting and refer to many historic events in Gandhi’’s life in jails, including death of Mahadev Desai in Agja Khan Palace in Pune, where Gandhi was imprisoned.
After covering lot of Indian women freedom fighters, author Sagari Chhabra moves to South East Asian countries, starting with Malayasia. She notes that though getting independence ten year after India, its cities are more developed albeit on westwen model. Her experience in Malayasia was not very good with too strict Islamic laws enforced, which did not allow women’s photographs on I cards. She had met Janaki Thevar in Delhi, but she lived in Malayasia and had been member of Parliamet for two terms, her late husband Athi Nahappan was even minister in Malayasian cabinet. Author has reproduced Janaki Thevar’s diary pages relating to INA acitvities during 1940’s, which make a fascinating reading. There were many women comrades with Janaki, one being Gurupdesh Kaur, another Anjali Suppiah and her sister, plus Jeeva Mudialiar. Janaki Thevar advised author to meet Gandhi Nathan, another senior INA cadrewho lived bit away in Malayasia. Sagari Chhabra was taken care of by a Punjabi Jasvinder Singh now. Gandhi Nathan gave interview with a bit of difficulty, He had met Colonel Habib-ur Rehman, who was with Netaji in air crash and still had burn marks on his skin. He confirmed that Netaji ashes are kept in Renkoji temple in Tokyo. He gave exact time of Netaji’s death at 8 pm. Two nurses and Habib-ur-Rehman were present at the bedsisde of Netaji at the time of his passing away. There is reference to Amreek Singh Gill of INA, who had passed away. Another Tamilian INA cadre Vellu Sami, who was born on 15th August 1917 was introduced to author. P Meenakshi, another member of Rani Jhansi brigade, born in Malaysia in 1924, was also introduced to Sagri Chhabra, her husband had encouraged her to join INA. Gandhi Nathan introduced many more INA old guards, all 80+ in 2004 visits of author, many have since left the world.
In the centre of the book, there is photo section, in which 32 RARE colour and black and white photographs have been reproduced, some are of recent visit of author with old freedom fighters. Photographs are from India and abroad, include those of Subhadra Joshi, Janky Thevar, Savitri Ramkishan, Lakshmi Sehgal, Sarla Shah, Rajkumari Gupta, Manvati Pandey, Gandhi Nathan, P Meenakshi, Beant Singh Kukreja of Balak Sena, blind K Chinnaya, Lata Bhardwaj, U NU and Gandhi, Than Than Nu and Bahadurshah Zafar tomb in Yangoon.
Sagri Chhabra drove through secret headquarters of INA through Penang jungles,
In Thailand, author met members of Balak Sena (Childern’s army)-Beant Singh Kukreja, Rajkumar Sachdeva and Kishan Lal Matta, all Punjabis.
In Singapore, author visited archives, gurdwara and met Ram Prakash, who was in INA. She also met Rani Jhansi brigade member Dharma Kaur’s daughter Deepa, met Bhagyalaskhmi another cadet. Sadhu Singh’s son, who had joined Baba Hari Singh Usman’s party.
In a return journey to Malayasia again, author gives the title of her chapter as-Used and Discarded Freedom fighters.In this trip she meets Anjali Punnaswamy, Ahilandam V Pillai. Estamate of INA acdres in Malayasia was 15000 to 20000.
After Malayasia, Thailand and Singapore, author Sagari Chhabra moves to Mynamar or Burma, the last leg of her journeys and the most difficult one also. She lived close to Aung San Suu Kyi there, but not meeting her.She visited Bahadur Shah’s Grave, from where Netaji Subhas held a solomn ceremony on 26th September 1943. Though author did not visit Namdhari Guru Ram Singh’s memorial, who also died in exile at Rangoon or Mandely jail, where Lala Lajpar Rai and Bhagat Singh’s uncle Ajit Singh were imprisoned during 1907-09. She met grand nephew of INA cadet Subramaniam. Indian freedom fighters in Burma have suffered most, as they lived there in stateless status, neither they were given Burmese citizenship, nor were given Indian status by Indian government. She met Lieutenant Perumal, who was born in Rangoon in 1928. Yet neither he nor even his grand children were given Burmese citizenship and in India, INA committee told that freedom fighter pension can be given only to Indian citizens. Then there was Chinnaya in interior Burma in same condition. There was Rajan, who spent five months in prison due to his INA membership, but without citizenship of any country, as a wreck he just wished to be recognised as ‘a freedom fighter’! Author spoke to Indian diplomats in Burma about the plight of these freedom fighters, but they had no concern. With difficulty author could get permission to visit Ziawadi, where numerous INA veterans lived, there was an INA camp. Author met Shankar Nath, 87 year old Ganesh Chadha, she visited Netaji ki Chhavni of 1944. She took this risky journey with his driver Bhim Singh spying on her.
Author knew late Burmese Prime Minister U Nu’s daughter Than Than Nu before coming to Burma, she had met her in Delhi. For carrying Lt. Perumal’s humble letter to Indian foreign secretary visitng Burma, she was later summoned by Burmese officials and admonished. Author met interestingly Nyi Nyi Mint, widow of dead dictator Gen Ne Win. She met some poets too. Author refers to struggle of Aung Suu Ki for democracy in Burma. She could come across even sex industry in Burma Author visited Mandley also, where many Indian freedomfighters were imprisoned. She went upto Maymyo, where Lakshmi Sehgal has set up an advance camp as hospital. She was able to meet INA vetran D R Sharma, whose two sisters in Rani Jhansi brigade and a brother in law who were killed in action. Author was betrayed by some of her accomplice in journey, as as she returned to Rangoon, she was summoned. After returning to Delhi after her adventurous trip, author looked for monument ot INA or Netaji Subhas Bose in Delhi, she found none! And she comments-‘so much for Dilli Chalo’ the favourite slogan of Netaji.
In afterword to her book author has referred to pro democracy movement of Burma by Aung Su Ki and expressed the desire for ‘true freedom’.
In Search for Freedom is an important publication to look for Indian freedoms struggle fighters in different countries. Netaji Subhas Bose’s Indian National Army was an internationally spread out force, remnants of which have been accounted here to some measure.There had been other international movements of Indian freedom struggle, most notably Ghadar party formed in USA, it had its impact in many more countries, than even INA had. It spread from Latin America to Europe and Asia. If some researcher could do data collection on that also.
Author Sagari Chhabra has passion for freedom fighters, that is how, she has been able to connect with them and interview them. All this has resulted in getting this significant book published. Harper Collins brought it out also in nice manner. It is a must book for anyone wishing to know about Indian freedom struggle in depth.
H. no. 2690, Urban Estate, Phase-2, Patiala (Pb.-147002
Friday, 1 April 2016
Updated: March 23, 2016 20:22 IST | ZIYA US SALAM
As different ideological groups continue to bicker over Bhagat Singh’s legacy, noted scholar and author Chaman Lal puts the martyr’s message in perspective
To the common man Chaman Lal seems inseparable from a study of Bhagat Singh, the great revolutionary who preferred to be executed than write letters for clemency. So much so that not many realise that for long Lal was Chairman, Centre of Indian Languages, at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies and research and writing on Bhagat Singh are merely his passion. Yet no writing about Bhagat Singh is complete without the mention of Lal. Indeed away from the known facts about Bhagat Singh, Lal is a treasure trove. For instance, once he revealed that Bhagat Singh, a tall, handsome man, loved movies. He hailed from an Arya Samaji background which did little to stop him from being an atheist later in his life. As we remember the revolutionary on 23 March, the day he was executed by the British, Lal took few questions from The Hindu.
After seeking to ‘appropriate’ Bhagat Singh, one sees visible hostility towards the great revolutionary by the Right Wing forces. How do you look at this change?
The Right Wing needed Bhagat Singh or an icon to win over people who hold these heroes in high esteem. However, once they are in power, they change colour when people demand honouring the ideas of Bhagat Singh and like. Moreover, as the revolutionary’s ideological position against communalism and narrow sectarian thinking gets asserted through activists, the Right Wing(ers) reveal their true colours.
In the light of the ABVP attempt to disrupt your lecture in Delhi University, do you think the youngsters who were protesting against your talk even have an idea of what Bhagat Singh stood for?
No, they were so brainwashed and filled with blind hatred that they were not ready to listen to any reason. They were invited to join and listen, then put any number of questions, comments. They were not prepared for that. When the actual letter of Bhagat Singh addressed to his father at leaving his house for the country was being read, they were shouting and heckling. Neither they knew anything about Bhagat Singh nor did they wish to know. They had no respect for the martyr.
Isn’t it ironical that the man who stood against religion is now being made a victim by zealots of Hindutva?
No, it is not ironical. In fact, it is natural. Since Bhagat Singh exposed the cruelties in the name of religion, being committed by all kinds of religious zealots, his ideas are now taken to task by Hindutva zealots as was earlier done by Khalistani zealots. Simranjit Singh Maan, IPS calls Bhagat Singh as murderer of his professional ancestor Saunders and not a martyr. So now Hindutva zealots are going bit further by trying to disrupt programmes to celebrate the revolutionary!
In recent times, there has been a concerted attempt to project Bhagat Singh in a different light. For instance, misinforming people that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were executed on Valentine’s Day. How does one counter such disinformation campaign?
This has been a standard Goebblian philosophy adopted by his true followers in Hindutva Lies Factory. To speak a falsehood hundred times to make it look ‘true’! It has been going on in the social media since few years now. To damn Valentine day they manufactured this lie to make young people feel ‘guilty’ in celebrating love and friendship on this day when three martyrs were ‘condemned’ or announced for execution. They avoid saying ‘executed’ now, as 23rd March is too well known a day, but say the punishment was announced this day, whereas judgement was delivered on 7th October 1930.
Is it correct to say that Bhagat Singh was essentially a Marxist by his ideology?
Of course, he was, which is clear from his writings and practical conduct in life. His ‘Jail Notebook’ is full of quotations from Marxist classics. His involved study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky etc. shows his ideological preference and development. His court statements, writings like ‘Letter to Young Political Workers’, reading Lenin minutes before leaving for gallows, his explanation of the meaning of ‘Inquilab’ in court, all clearly indicate his ideological position. In fact newspapers reports of 1929-31 identify him as ‘Red’ as earlier Marx was referred in his contemporary newspapers!
After Mahatma Gandhi’s meeting with Lord Irwin, it was hoped that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru would be saved from execution. Yet it did not turn out this way. As an authority on Bhagat Singh, could you tell us what exactly transpired in the meeting and later leading to the execution on March 23, 1931?
There was tremendous pressure on Mahatma Gandhi to make clemency for three revolutionaries a condition in Gandhi-Irwin talks. Nehru-Subhas and more were pressing for it inside Congress party, but Mahatma Gandhi while pleading for leniency to Viceroy Irwin in this matter, was not inclined to make it a condition. On the other hand, Bhagat Singh himself was insistent to get executed to awaken Indian masses from slumber! Mahatma Gandhi failed to stand on his own principle of being against capital punishment in this case, as he did not assert his opposition to three executions on his principled stand. He did suggest Irwin for leniency, nothing more.
A word on Central Jail in Lahore where Bhagat Singh was executed. How have they preserved his memory?
The execution site and jail was demolished to built Shadman residential colony and Shadman Chowk is believed to be the gallows’ site. Before demolition Pakistan's first official photographer late F E Chaudhary, who happened to be Christian photographed the site in black and white camera. Incidentally, the first official photographer of Pakistan was Christian and the first official national anthem poet was Jammu’s Hindu Jagan Nath Azad! Civil groups in Pakistan are fighting to rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk, despite being beaten up many times by Islamic Jehadists! They succeeded as well as a Government-appointed committee, inclusive of Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi recommended the change of name and officer Mengal notified it too! Jehadists went to court and got a stay. However, Mengal on transfer to Faislabad declared Bhagat Singh birth house in Chak no.105, Lyallpur Bange and village primary school of Bhagat Singh as student, as heritage sites and he sanctioned Rs.8 crores rupees for their renovation. Incidentally for the first time since the birth of Bhagat Singh in this house, a festival Rang De Basanti is being organised in this house to celebrate the revolutionary martyr. Perhaps his birth anniversary in September may even be celebrated with more zeal!
Finally, could you please throw some light on the ten new letters of Bhagat Singh about which you have talked about in your new book?
It is interesting that Bhagat Singh’s written documents keep emerging even after more than 80 years of his execution. Supreme Court of India held an exhibition during Bhagat Singh birth centenary in its exhibition hall ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh’. In this exhibition, these ten letters of correspondence of Bhagat Singh with British jail officials or judges were on display. From these letters it emerged that Bhagat Singh had third hunger strike of more than two weeks in jail. Only two hunger strikes of 114+15 days were known earlier. This third unknown hunger strike made Bhagat Singh’s total period of hunger strikes in little less than two years jail to nearly five months! Perhaps more than the total period of even Mahatma Gandhi fasts!
My present Urdu book is actually a translation of my earlier Hindi book of the same title published by Publication Division in 2007, Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary year. This book includes all available writings of Bhagat Singh till now. These ten new letters published are now included in Urdu edition of book. Not only that in 2013-14, I found a lost letter of Bhagat Singh also, which was referred by Bhagat Singh himself in subsequent letter as my ‘last lost letter’, in reference to trial of Harikishan Talwar, executed after Bhagat Singh on 9th June 1931. Harikishan had shot Punjab Governor in Punjab University Lahore convocation. He was the son of Raisahib Gurdas Ram Talwar of Pakhtunva and brother of Bhagat Ram Talwar, who helped Netaji Subhas escape from Kabul. This letter has also been included in the Urdu book, thus making it most updated and complete book of Bhagat Singh’s writings.