Today, 23 March, is a Martyrs' Day in India. It marks the death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary who fought against the British for India's independence.
Bhagat Singh was born on 28 September 1907 in Lyallpur, Punjab (present day Pakistan) in a Jat Sikh family. His father and uncles were members of Ghadar Party, an organization founded by Punjabi Indians in the USA and Canada to free India from colonial rule. An early follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he was later disillusioned with his philosophy of non-violence.
In retaliation for the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, along with comrades Rajguru, Sukhdev, Azad and Jai Gopal, shot and killed Saunders, a British policeman. His daring escapades even as the police threw a vast dragnet to capture him have inspired several Hindi films, including Shaheed, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Rang de Basanti, which drew parallels between the life of revolutionary fighters and contemporary India.
On 8 April 1929, Bhagat Singh along with Batukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly while shouting slogans of Inquilab Zindabad! They also threw leaflets which said: It takes a loud noise to make the deaf hear.
The bombs were deliberately thrown away from people and were not powerful enough to cause injuries - the plan was to draw attention to their cause and the two revolutionaries surrendered in the Hall.
Charged with murder, Bhagat Singh, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, was hanged in Lahore jail on 23 March 1931 at 7.30 pm. Fearing an agitation from the masses, the jail authorities broke the rear wall of the prison, cremated the three martyrs on the banks of the Sutlej and threw their ashes into the river, about 10 kms from Ferozepur.
Today, in my hometown Ferozepur, a Shaheedi Mela, Martyrdom fair, is observed at the National Martyrs Memorial in Hussainiwala, on the Indo-Pak border where the Sutlej flows.
|My daughter paying her left-handed tribute to the martyrs at Hussainiwala|
In school we'd celebrate this day by singing songs of bravery and martyrdom and remembering the courage of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. 'Maye mera rang de basanti chola' from the film Shaheed is still my favourite.
Basanti is the colour of the mustard flower that grows in Punjab. It is the colour of the robes worn by Sikh faithful. It is the colour of martyrdom in India and the first band on our national flag. To me, basanti symbolises the sacrifices that went into creating India - sacrifices we shouldn't forget.