Historian digs out story of lesser-known Bhagat Singh

Shubhadeep Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, September 28

Shaheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh, whose 113rd birth anniversary is being observed on Monday is an inspiration for many.

However, there was another Bhagat Singh who too was a freedom fighter. Thus Bhagat Singh is hardly known and would have remained so had Jadavpur University historian Suchetana Chattopadhyay not dug out his story from the state archives.

Like his illustrious namesake, the lesser-known Bhagat Singh too believed in socialism and wanted to drive out the British from India.

According to Chattopadhyay, the Nau Jawan Bharat Sabha (a youth group founded in Punjab and influenced by the Ghadar movement) gained popularity among left inclined radical Sikh activists in Kolkata during the late 1920s and early 1930s. From the beginning, their activities were closely monitored by the police.

On February 15, 1933, five Sikh men (all five originally belonging to Hoshiarpur) were arrested for being ‘terrorists’. The police accused them of having links with the banned Bengal branches of Nau Jawan Bharat Sabha and Kirti Dal, the older organisation of communists from Punjab and Bengal.

The arrested activists occupied a room on the third floor of 6 Ganga Prasad Mukherjee Road at Bhabanipur, a prominent South Kolkata neighbourhood. Two aluminium bombs and a phial containing strong sulphuric acid were found among their effects. On May 20, they were convicted and sentenced to six years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Bhagat Singh, the alleged ring-leader, and his four associates were suspected of having imbibed a toxic mix of militant Left-wing convictions and terrorist violence while living and working in the city.

Bhagat Singh, born in 1908 in Mahilpur, had passed middle school in 1923 and arrived in Kolkata in 1924. He had learnt driving in the city and worked as a bus driver till 1933 when he was jailed. Among his four co-accused, three were bus drivers while one drove a taxi for a living. They were all literate. Diaries, leaflets and handbills in Gurumukhi script were found in their possession.

Amar Singh, who was among the five arrested, died in Multan prison. Bhagat Singh, Pakkar Singh and Dhanna Singh were released from Bengal jails during 1938, having been granted remission after 5 years. Banta Singh vanished from the records. Pakkar Singh’s friendship with a Sikh warder in Rajshahi jail (now in Bangladesh) led to the latter’s dismissal.

Before his release from Dum Dum Central Jail, Bhagat Singh had written a secret letter in Punjabi which was intercepted by police. He had wanted to know the opinion of communist and socialist leaders regarding hunger-strike undertaken by the prisoners in Punjab jails.

From his photograph, it appears that Bhagat Singh had given up observing religious customs. Nevertheless, the gurdwara at Kolkata’s Rash Behari Avenue, out of empathy for the freedom movement, had promised to help him after his release.

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