Bhagat Singh: The Boy Who Sowed Rifles

There was a lot of activity in the house. Mango saplings were being planted in the garden. The little boy watched the men dig the soil, plant a sapling and push the earth around it into a mound. After watching for a while, he set to work. He picked up bits of straw and planted them into the earth, pushing the earth round it, just as he has seen the men do. Just then his father’s friend came into the garden.

“What are doing?” he asked the three-year-old boy, who was busy with his ‘planting’.

“I’m sowing rifles”, replied the boy without lifting his head.

“Why, my boy?”

“To make my country free”, the boy replied solemnly.

The man who asked the question was Anand Kishore Mehta, a great nationalist and a friend of the boy’s father, Sardar Kishan Singh. The little boy was Bhagat Singh.

For Bhagat Singh, fighting for the freedom of the country was everything. His grandfather, uncles and father were all nationalists and so he grew up listening to the talk of British atrocities on Indians. He heard his elders discuss plans and make speeches. To him, therefore fighting for the country was the most natural thing in the world.

There was another reason for his fierce determination. One of his uncles had died for his country, while another, Ajit Singh, who was his favourite uncle had to flee the country to avoid arrest by the British government. Seeing his aunts weep made him very sad.

“Aunty, I will drive away the British, when I grow up. Please don’t cry”, he would wipe their tears with his small hands, angry with the British for causing sorrow to them.

Bhagat Singh loved reading and read everything he could lay his hands on — including copies of revolutionary speeches and articles, which were there in the house. He also read the pamphlets urging Indians to rise in revolt which were printed clandestinely and stored in their house. His house was also the meeting place for political leaders and revolutionaries like Sufi Amba Prashad, Anand Kishore Mehta, Lala Lajpat Rai and Rash Behari Bose.

When he was about 12 and a student of D.A.V School in Lahore, the ghastly Jalianwala Bagh massacre took place. The entire nation was plunged in sorrow and anger. To Bhagat Singh, it was as if a tragedy had befallen his own family. He resolved to visit Amritsar. It was almost like a pilgrimage for him.

He left home one morning as usual, but instead of going to school, he boarded a train to Amritsar. The entire city was tense. British soldiers patrolled the streets shooting anyone and everyone at the slightest provocation. But Bhagat Singh was least afraid. Eyes shining with anger at the British, he stealthily entered the place where thousands of innocent people including children had been brutally killed some days ago.

He stood there, tears pouring down his cheeks. Then he bent down and picked up some mud, soaked with the blood of his countrymen, and smeared it on his forehead. He put some of it in a small bottle he had brought along. Before leaving the place, he made a vow to avenge the outrage committed by the British.

Heavy of heart, he returned home late at night. Everyone was worried about him since he had not informed anyone about his going to Amritsar, not even his friends at school. But no one scolded him for what he had done, when they took one look at his face. Before going to bed, he placed flowers around the bottle, just as one would offer flowers to a deity.

Around 1920, various agitations like the Anti-Rowlatt Act agitation and the Khilafat were already taking place. The Jalianwala Bagh tragedy spurred the Non Co-operation Movement, which was launched by Mahatma Gandhi. This consisted of the boycott of schools, colleges, courts etc. Many national institutes were started in various states. And in response to the call by Mahatma Gandhi to the youth of the country, thousands of students left their respective schools and colleges to join these national institutes.

How could Bhagat Singh be left behind? So, when he was in the ninth standard he left school to join the National College in Lahore that had been set up by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand. Though he was not old enough to join college, he and another boy, Jai Dev Gupta were allowed to appear for an entrance exam, which they both passed. Bhagat Singh thus entered the first year of college in 1921.

The flames of revolution were spreading in several parts of the country, like Bengal, Kanpur and Punjab. It was in the National College that Bhagat Singh come into contact with the well-known revolutionaries of the time, including Bhagwati Charan, Sukhdev, Yash Pal and Ram Krishan.

But it was his history professor Jaichandra Vidyalankar, who influenced him the most. His talks on socialism and about the great revolutionaries down the ages, inspired him and other students to follow their path.

Bhagat Singh was a good student, but was also interested in extracurricular activities. He took part in plays and the singing of patriotic songs with great enthusiasm.

A few years later, his family members began persuading him to get married. For Bhagat Singh, it was unthinkable to get married when India was still under British rule. To avoid being forced into marriage, he decided to leave college and go to Kanpur with Prof. Vidyalankar’s help and join the revolutionaries there. Before leaving, he told his friends, “…if my marriage takes place in the slave India, my bride shall be only death. The barat will take the form of a funeral procession and the baratis will be the martyrs of the country.

In Kanpur he changed his name into Balwant and worked with Ganesh Shanker Vidyarthi in the ‘Pratap’, a nationalist newspaper published by the latter. It was here that he founded the Hindustan Republican Association and developed contacts with revolutionary leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad, Batukeshwar Dutt and Bejoy Kumar Sinha. Bhagat Singh wrote and distributed pamphlets to people who came to attend ‘melas’. He later served as the Principal of a nationalist school before returning to Lahore in 1925, when his grandmother fell ill.

Bhagat Singh and his associates subsequently changed the name of the Hindustan Republican Association, into Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and formed a cell within it, called the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army with Chandrashekhar Azad as the ‘Commander-in-Chief.’

The police, which had got wind of their activities were hot on their trail. With great ingenuity Bhagat Singh escaped arrest by dressing up in a policeman’s uniform.

It was during the agitation to protest against the Simon Commission, that Bhagat Singh became completely motivated to take revenge on the British through violent means.

Lala Lajpat Rai was leading a peaceful procession of protestors who shouted “Simon go back!” and held placards echoing similar sentiments. Bhagat Singh was in the vanguard of the procession.

The police warned the protesters to disperse and when they didn’t, began beating them up. Mr. Scott, the superintendent of the police beat Lala Lajpat Rai mercilessly till he collapsed.

Bhagat Singh watched, his eyes red with anger, but unable to act because the orders were to avoid violence.

Just as he had done in Jallianwala Bagh a few years earlier, he vowed to avenge Lalaji’s death. Subsequently the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army workers made a plan to kill Mr. Scott, on 10th December 1928. Those who were present included Bhagat Singh, Azad, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Jai Gopal and Durga Devi.

On 17th December 1928, Bhagat Singh Rajguru, Jai Gopal, Azad and Sukhdev set out to execute their plan. The first two were to fire at Mr. Scott and the last two were to cover them. Jai Gopal was to give the signal on the approach of Mr. Scott. At the appointed time and the signal, Rajguru fired at the white man who emerged from the Punjab Civil Secretariat building. When he fell, Bhagat Singh rushed to him and fired more shots to kill him. However it was not Scott, but J.P. Saunders the assistant Superintendent of the police. After this dreadful mix up, when they had killed the wrong person, they managed to escape from Lahore.

Bhagat Singh eventually reached Calcutta, where a bomb factory was set up in the headquarters of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army. The representatives from various states got training and set up factories in their respective states. A factory was also set up in Lahore by Sukhdev and Shiv Verma.

The Hindustan Socialist Republican Association met to discuss further plans, where it was decided to drop a bomb in the Assembly Hall on the Day the Public Safety Bill was to be introduced. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were selected for the job.

On 8th April 1929, Bhagat Singh and B.K Dutt got into the Assembly and sat in the visitor’s gallery. As soon as the Bill was read out, Bhagat Singh threw the bomb, taking care to avoid hurting anyone. Even as chaos spread the two shouted “Inquilab Zindabad” and threw pamphlets which read: “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear……”

Though they had the chance to escape, they both stood and courted arrest. The trial began in June 1929.

On March 23rd, 1931, Bhagat Singh was executed along with Sukhdev and Rajguru. Their last words were, “Down with the British Empire!” as they cheerfully laid down their lives for his country.

(A version of this post first appeared in Children’s World, March ’98)

22 comments

  1. Jo bhara nahin hai bhavon se
    behti jisme rasdhaar nahin
    woh hridya nahin Pathar hai
    jisme swadesh ka pyar nahin

    jisme na nijh gaurav
    na nijh desh ka abhiman hai
    woh nar nahin hai
    Passu hai nira Mritak ke samaan hai

    IT is such a good feeling to read this post here MAMI, Thank you, Sardar Bhagat singh was such a important personality in our nations history , sadly we the people are forgetting. how independance was gotten.

    Sadly the indian politics has been in chaos .. we need such men to be born in each house, if we want out nation to be what it should be..

    Thank you for this post …

    Like

    1. This was part of a series I had done for children long back, Bikram. But seeing how even educated politicians like Shashi Tharoor was equating some upstart student leader to the great Sardar Bhagat Singh, I thought I should share this one on the blog too. How many of us don’t know how these great men lived and died! Glad you liked it 🙂

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      1. Not just like mami I loved it.. anything on those who thought more for the nation then their own life is worth reading again and again..

        It is said that nations who don’t remember their heroes those who gave their life for it.. will never be successful and by writing posts and remembering them we are keeping their legacy alive.

        People like shashi tharoor what do they know..They are but politicians and the word politician says it all..such people will never know what it is to actually love the nation they were born in..

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        1. Thank you Bikram. India must be one of those countries you mention, because we forget our real heroes if we know about them at all in favour of glamorous poster boys that the media fawns over and builds up as the heroes. Sometimes I wonder if media is running this country, setting up agendas and creating narratives to define us — and none of them complimentary but showing us up in poor light to the world. 😦

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  2. Re-read this one, and enjoyed it again. Thanks for writing it so beautifully. I just forwarded it to several children/young adults I know. It is really important that our youngsters are reminded and shown how to revere the sacrifices of our fellow country men and women who gave up their lives for our motherland.

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    1. That you forwarded it to youngsters in your family really warmed my heart! It feels good that the story is being read by those for whom it is intended. I have asked for permission to publish it in a collection. Waiting for it. You know, succeeding generations sometimes are so divorced from the history, both recent and ancient of our country that they fail to empathise with those who fought to give them the freedom which they are now merrily abusing for political gains 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My son has India’s independence lessons in history and I just read it out to him. He really liked listening to it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Hey Asha, that is so good to hear! I am happy too that your son liked the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. upasna1987 · · Reply

    I wish History was taught this way in my School. It was an interesting read. Though, History was one of my non-favourite subject.

    Like

    1. We need to read up more about our real heroes, the great achievements of our nation and feel proud of them instead of dwelling on isolated and insignificant events that make us feel ashamed of ourselves as a nation. No wonder you didn’t enjoy history 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An informative post and a glowing and richly deserved tribute to the great martyr.i would welcome from you such write ups on martyrs in the cause of freedom from South whose contribution is no less inferior but who sadly get less recognition from the governments and historians alike.

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    1. I remember the amount of research I had done for this series. I would love to add short biographical sketches of freedom fighters not just from the south but also from the east. Hope I find the energy and resources to do it 🙂 You are right about many of them being ignored or not even known about!

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  6. I know a bit about Bhagat Singh but not in detail. Thank you, Zephyr! Great man!

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    1. Glad you liked the story, Sandhya!

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  7. A lovely tribute and more such tales need to be shared where people are only blinded with glitz of money in present times!

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    1. Not just money, Rahul, but also the glamour and power of politics!!

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  8. Thankyou for sharing this story. We all need to appreciate and remember the tales of our heroes, to whome we owe all the luxury and freedom that we have today.

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    1. Very true, Dashy. Especially today, when such freedom fighters are being forgotten in favour of cardboard heroes.

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  9. Very nice,interesting and educational post.

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    1. Thank you Suman!

      Like

  10. jaishvats · · Reply

    Lovely narration Zephyr… It was like a movie playing in front of my eyes as I read your post….it takes stories like these to remind us the value of freedom and also sadly remind us of how this hard earned freedom is not being put to the best of use….hope some say the country overcomes all of its current challenges

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    1. Oh yes, we do need such stories to be shared, read and remembered, so that we know wheat from the chaff! In times of political expediency, ideals and lofty notions of freedom can’t find any place and when uttered, sound most hollow, don’t they? Glad you enjoyed reading it, Jayashree

      Like

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