Shaheed Diwas March 23, 2024: Supreme Sacrifice of Great Patriots Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar

 Every year, March 23 is observed as Shaheed Diwas because, on this date in 1931, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, and Sukhdev Thapar were hanged by the British Government for their participation in the freedom movement. My salute to three valiant patriots who were hanged to death by the British rulers in Lahore jail. Our history books highlight a few names as if they only contributed to the freedom movement.  

On April 8, 1929, they threw bombs at the Central Legislative Assembly while shouting the slogan – Inquilab Zindabad and killing John P Saunders, a British police officer. It may be mentioned that any sort of killing is undesirable but during British rule in India they (British) treated Indians with imperialistic attitude, the reason is obvious as British came thousands mile away with the attitude of exploiting our resources including human resources. 

Because of the freedom movement and the effect of the Second World War, they left India by partitioning India based on religion. Also, the Naval Mutiny/Revolution in 1946 upset the British Government.   Both the INA (Indian National Army) trials and Subhas Chandra Bose's personality served as inspiration for the strikers of the Indian Naval force in Bombay. The strike quickly became a public rebellion as more cities joined the Bombay sailors. Food and living circumstances were the revolt's immediate concerns. There were 66 ships and shore services with sailors from Calcutta, Karachi, Poona, Vizag, Cochin, Madras, Mandapam, and the Andaman Islands participating. There was a lot of tension in Bombay, in particular. Anyway, the rest is history, as some top leaders of United India did not support the sailors. 

Anyway, I wish to highlight a few lines about the background of the killing of John P Saunders by Bhagat Singh and his associates. In 1928, the British Government set up a commission headed by John Simon to report on the political situation in India. The political parties of India boycotted the Commission, and in many places, protests erupted because the Commission did not include a single Indian as a member. When the Commission visited Lahore on October 30, 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a non-violent march in protest, and the protesters uttered, “Simon go-back.” Then, the superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordered the police (most of the police personnel were Indian) to lathi (baton) charge among the protesters. It is believed that Scott personally assaulted Lala Lajpat, and later on, Lajpat died. This incident created severe resentment among Indians. To take revenge, Bhagat Singh and Shivaram Rajguru shot and killed Assistant Superintendent of Police John Saunders on December 17, 1927. Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad supported them in this act. However, their original target was not Saunders but James Scott, who ordered a lathi charge. Because of the slow pace of the legal proceedings, a special tribunal, consisting of Justice J Coldstream, Justice Agha Hyder, and Justice G.C. Hilton, was set up on the directives of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, on May 1, 1930. The tribunal delivered its 300-page judgment on October 7, 1930. The tribunal confirmed the involvement of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar, and Shivaram Rajguru in the Saunders murder. On March 23,  1931, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged in Lahore Jail.

Before their death, they chanted, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Down with British Imperialism’. A famous quote from Bhagat Singh is, “They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit”. At the time of execution, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar were just 23 years old, and Shivaram Rajguru was only 22. 

Prof Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad 

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