"It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear", said a leaflet
flung in the air from the balcony after two bombs were thrown in the Central
Assembly Hall, New Delhi on April 8th, 1929. The Indian Government called it an
act of terrorism and in today’s charged atmosphere governments’ around the world
would still call it so. But was that a straight forward, cut-&-dried terrorism
kind of case?
Signed by Balraj, the commander-in-chief of Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), the leaflet was inspired by the symbolic gesture of a French anarchist, Auguste Valiant, when in 1893 he threw a small bomb into the Chamber of Deputies to
publicize the plight of people. The two HSRA soldiers, who had hurled the
leaflets and the bombs wanted to use the incident and the ensuing trial to get
the attention of the authorities and the public. They did get it, however, the
event remains misunderstood even now along with many other events of the Indian
The commander-in-chief of HSRA,
Balraj, was Chandra Shekhar Azad and the two soldiers were Bhagat Singh and
Batukeshwar Dutt. Singh and Dutt were convicted and sentenced for life. However,
Singh was also convicted in another case, Lahore Conspiracy Case, along with
Sukhdev Thapar and Hari Shivaram Rajguru and was hanged by the British India
Government seventy five years ago on March 23rd 1931 in Lahore.
The two cases, Assembly Bomb and Lahore Conspiracy, did shine
a spot light on the activities of Singh, Azad and the
HSRA. Before Singh, Indian revolutionaries were waging a private battle against the British. The masses were not involved in their efforts. To a large extent they
were even afraid of the revolutionaries. Singh wanted to bring the movement into
the mainstream as he understood that the struggle for independence would go
nowhere without the support and protection of the people.
Born on September 27, 1907, Singh was somewhat of an enigma.
From his early days he was obsessed with the idea of freeing India from the
shackles of British occupation. Folklore says that when he was 5-6 years old he
wanted to plant seeds to grow rifles so as to use them against the British.
He was a born leader, who despite limited education was a
prolific writer and reader. When he was 16, one of his essays, The Problem of Punjab, a long analysis of the teachings and writings of Sikh Gurus, Swami Vivekanand, Swami Dayanand and other Indian scholars won a competition organized by Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. With thoughts like, "An acquaintance of the literature of a society or a country is of prime importance for the understanding of that society or country", he showed his intellectual capacities at an early age.
Later he interned at a leading weekly of Kanpur, Pratap,
under the guidance of a well known journalist and freedom fighter Ganesh Shankar
Vidyarthi. With his penmanship and acute thinking, he strongly influenced the
militant wing of the Indian freedom movement in the 1920’s.
Singh believed that the people of India needed to know that
the revolutionaries were not anarchists or trouble makers rather they were
idealists who were not averse to using force. Though he used violence to achieve
his goals he did not believe in mindless violence and advocated restraint. In a
letter from prison to the Second Punjab Students Conference held at Lahore on
October 19, 1929, he wrote, "Today, we cannot ask the youth to take to pistols
and bombs. Today, students are confronted with a far more important assignment."
Even Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his paper, Young India,
"Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the
religion of violence. He took to violence due to helplessness and to defend his
Through persuasive and articulate reasoning, he controlled
the hotheads and shaped the political and philosophical identity of the group.
Under his direction, the HSRA started involving the public through the creative
use of pamphlets, flyers and underground newspapers. The objective was to
generate awareness for the group’s activities and philosophy.
The revolutionaries were succeeding in their attempts and
people in Punjab and United Province were becoming aware of its activities.
However, this was not enough for Singh, who was constantly looking for
opportunities to hurt the British government. He wanted to strike a big blow to
it and government’s actions to suppress the agitation due to the Simon
Commission presented such an opportunity.
The Simon Commission, set up in November 1927, was called for
by the Government of India Act of 1919 to enquire into working of the Act. It
was highly disliked and distrusted by Indians. Lala Lajpat Rai wrote in his
biography, Unhappy India, "The culminating point of the policy of reaction is the appointment of an exclusively British Statutory Commission to enquire into the working of the Reforms and to recommend a constitution for India. Is it any wonder then that Indians have lost all trust in the good faith of the British, and that they
often express their lack of faith in bitter words at the meetings of the central
Protestors met the Commission everywhere including Lahore, Punjab, where on October 30, 1928 lathi-wielding police brutally beat them and their leader, Lala Lajpat Rai. Lala, who declared, "The blows, which fell on me today are the last nails in the coffin of British imperialism", succumbed to the injuries on November 17, 1928.
Singh was an eye witness to the police lathi-charge
and vowed to avenge the death. Singh, Azad and HSRA
planned retaliation and assassinated the Deputy Superintendent of Police, J.P.
Saunders on December 18th, 1928 in Lahore. Same night they distributed pamphlets
through out the city with statements like, "Beware, Ye Tyrants; Beware. Do not
injure the feelings of a downtrodden and oppressed country. Think twice before
perpetrating such diabolical deed". While warning the government to refrain from
using excessive force on people they also regretted the loss of life with,
"Sorry for the bloodshed of a human being; but the sacrifice of individuals at
the altar of the Revolution that will bring freedom to all and make the
exploitation of man by man impossible, is inevitable."
Though Singh, Azad and others escaped they did not lie low.
British government and some Indian leaders were projecting them as terrorists
and anarchists. Singh wanted to counter this propaganda. He wanted to take his
case to the public and to show that they were not terrorists but freedom
fighters. He wanted people to sit up and listen to the voice calling for
independence. For this he needed a forum and an event. So he planned to explode
a bomb in the Legislative Assembly to make a sound loud enough for the ‘deaf
people of India’ to hear.
Azad wanted them to escape afterwards but Singh and Dutt
wanted to stay and get arrested. They used their trial very effectively to
propagate the views of the revolutionaries. In lengthy court statements, they
carefully laid out their ideas and thoughts like, "We are next to none in our
love for humanity. Far from having any malice against any individual, we hold
human life sacred beyond words." They wanted to give the heedless a timely
warning, as he said, "We dropped the bomb on the floor of the Assembly Chamber
to register our protest on behalf of those who had no other means left to give
expression to their heart-rending agony." They explained that they had carefully
chosen the vacant spot within the wooden barriers in the Assembly Hall and the
bombs were also deliberately made to be weak so as to avoid human injury. Even
government’s forensic experts agreed that bombs could not have hurt anyone.
The defense of the Singh and Dutt in the Assembly Bomb Case and of Singh,
Rajguru and Thapar in Lahore Conspiracy Case wasn’t conventional rather it was a
set of nationalistic speeches designed to rouse the feelings of passion and
pride in people. Naturally such a defense would not have acquitted them. Bhagat
Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were convicted of killing Saunders and were
sentenced to death. They were hung on March 23 1931. Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev
were 24 and Rajguru was 23.