Martyrs’ Day it is
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar, and Shivaram Rajguru – some of the most revered figures of the Indian freedom struggle – were hanged on March 23, 1931 in Punjab’s Hussainwala (now in Pakistan). Their execution spurred many youth to take up the revolutionary path, playing a vital role in energizing the fight against the British empire.
On Martyrs’ Day, also knowns as Shaheed Diwas or Sarvodaya Day, Indians pay homage to the martyrs who infused fresh blood in the fight for India’s independence.
Childhood of Bhagat Singh
At the age of 23, if anyone was smiling just before he was being hanged, he was Bhagat Singh.
Born on September 27, 1907 in Punjab’s Banga village near Jaranwala (now in Pakistan), Bhagat Singh grew up in a freedom fighters family. His uncle, Sardar Ajit Singh, as well as his father- Kishan Singh, were great freedom fighters. At an early age, Bhagat Singh started dreaming of growing guns in the fields so that he could fight against the colonial rule.
The Ghadar Movement left a deep imprint on his mind. Kartar Sing Sarabha, hanged at the age of 19, became his hero. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919 drove him to go to Amritsar. He was preparing fof his B.A. examination when his parents planned to have him married.
He vehemently rejected the suggestion and said that, if his marriage was to take place in Slave-India, my bride shall be only death.
Shivaram Rajguru, born on August 24, 1908, had witnessed British’s atrocities on India and its people.
This instilled within him a strong urge to join hands with the revolutionaries in a bid for India’s freedom struggle. He joined HSRA with a motive to strike fear into the heart of the British empire.
Rajguru made British to take notice of the growing domestic uprising when they dealt crucial blows with attacks like in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and the bombing of the Central Assembly Hall in New Delhi.
Born on May 15, 1907, Sukhdev Thapar had witnessed the brutal atrocities that the Imperial British Raj had inflicted on India, which then led him to join the revolutionaries, vowing to set India free from the shackles of British dominion. As a member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), Sukhdev Thapar organised revolutionary cells in Punjab and other areas of North India.
He even went on to educate the youth at the National College in Lahore, greatly inspiring them about India’s glorious past. He along with other renowned revolutionaries started the ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’ at Lahore that was an organisation involved in various activities, mainly gearing the youth for the freedom struggle and putting an end to communalism.
He also took active part in several revolutionary activities like the ‘Prison hunger strike’ in 1929; however, he is best remembered for his courageous attack in the Lahore Conspiracy Case.
Assembly Incident Trial
The dramatic protest was met with widespread criticisms from the political arena.
Bhagat Singh responded – “Force when aggressively applied is ‘violence’ and is, therefore, morally unjustifiable, but when it is used in the furtherance of a legitimate cause, it has its moral justification.”
Trial proceedings commenced in May where Bhagat Singh sought to defend himself, while Batukeshwar Dutt was represented by Afsar Ali.
The court ruled in favour of a life sentence citing malicious and unlawful intent of the explosions.
Lahore Conspiracy Case
Soon after the sentencing, the police raided the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) bomb factories in Lahore and arrested several prominent revolutionaries.
Three individuals, Hans Raj Vohra, Jai Gopal and Phanindra Nath Ghosh turned approver for the Government which led to a total of 21 arrests including those of Sukhdev Thapar, Jatindra Nath Das and Shivaram Rajguru. Bhagat Singh was re-arrested for the Lahore Conspiracy case, murder of Assistant Superintendent Saunders and bomb manufacturing.
Trial started against 28 accused in a special session court presided over by Judge Rai Sahib Pandit Sri Kishen, on July 10, 1929.
Prison Hunger Strike
In jail, Bhagat Singh and his fellow inmates declared an indefinite hunger strike in protest of the prejudiced difference in treatment of the white versus native prisoners and demanded to be recognised as ‘political prisoners’.
The hunger strike received tremendous attention from the press and gathered major public support in favour of their demands. Death of Jatindra Nath Das, after 63 days long fast, led to the negative public opinions intensifying towards the authorities.
Bhagat Singh finally broke his 116-day fast, on request of his father and Congress leadership, on October 5, 1929.
On December 17, 1927, Bhagat Singh and Shivaram Rajguru shot and killed assistant superintendent of police John Saunders.
They were supported in this act by their compatriots Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad. However, their original target was not Saunders but superintendent of police James Scott who had ordered his men to lathi-charge protesters leading to the death of the nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai.
Owing to the slow pace of the legal proceedings, a special tribunal consisting of Justice J Coldstream, Justice Agha Hyder and Justice GC Hilton was set up on the directives of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin on May 1, 1930. The tribunal was empowered to proceed without the presence of the accused and was a one-sided trial that hardly adhered to the normal legal rights guidelines.
The tribunal delivered its 300-page judgement on October 7, 1930. It declared that irrefutable proof has been presented confirming the involvement of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru in the Saunders murder. Bhagat Singh admitted to the murder and made statements against the British rule during the trial. They were sentenced to be hanged till death.
On March 23, 1931, 7:30 am, Bhagat Singh along with his comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged in Lahore Jail.
It is said that the trio proceeded quite cheerfully towards the gallows while chanting their favourite slogans like “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Down with British Imperialism”.
India’s beloved sons were cremated at Hussainiwala on the banks of Sutlej River.
At the time of their execution, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar were just 23 years old. And Shivaram Rajguru was only 22 when he was hanged on March 23.