[The writer is the Principal and Head, Research Centre in History, Raju’s College, Rajapalayam, Tamil Nadu]
Bhagat Singh, the rebel mounted the gallows with smile on his face and ‘inquilab lindabad' on his lips on 23d March I931 at 7.00 p.m1 Bhagat Singh's fearlessness and sacrifice electrified the Indian political atmosphere at a time lethargy had set in Thecry of' ‘Long live Revolution' was popularized in this countiy by him. Bhagat Sing raised the slogan in a British Court of Law, and the echoes are heard even today, everyday in every Indian heart.2
Gandhi made the following statement, six days after hanging of Bhagat Sing, “There never has been in living memory, so much romance round any life as had surrounded Bhagat Singh.” The romance continues even today3. Bhagat Singh, who was borne on 28 September 1907 at Lyallpur Banga in West Punjab, is a household name in the country4. He was born in a family which had produced a galaxy of freedom fighters. His uncle Ajit Singh, his father Krishna Singh and his grand father Arjun Singh were also involved in the struggle for freedom5. The patriotic life of Bhagat Singh is well known to the people of India and there is no need of reproduction of the facts, which related to his patriotic life.
Bhagat Singh and his reammates were in Lahore Jail for two years from April 8, 1929 to March 23, 19916. Bhagat Singh was charged for murder of Saunders A.S.P. and throwing bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1929. Later, the Government of India formed a Special Tribunal for conducting the Lahore Conspiracy Case in the Lahore Jail7.
During his stay there in Lahore Jail, Bhagat Singh wrote four manuscripts. (1) The Idea of Socialism; (2) Autobiography; (3) History of Revolutionary Movement in India; (4) At the Door of Death. Among the four manuscripts of Bhagat Singh, Why am I an atheist?, written by him was a semi-biographical sketch, published after his execution, on 27 September 1931. Bhagat Singh planned to write a full-fledged book on the Science of the State, but he could not complete the same8.
Bhagat Singh wrote a lengthy article entitled, Why am I an atheist?, it was a reply to a question raised by Bhai Randhir Singh, a Ghadarite, who was imprisoned in Lahore jail in 1930-31, and a God fearing religious man seriously discussed with Bhagat Singh on the existence of god in the condemned cell of Lahore Jail. Randhir Singh lost his temper and said tauntingly; “You are giddy with fame and have developed an ego which is standing like a black curtain between you and the god.” Then Bhagat Singh replied to Randhir Singh on the existence of god by writing this article, Why am I an Atheist? The content of article is self-explanatory in nature9. Later, the article of Bhagat Singh was translated into many Indian languages between 1931 and 1934.
The booklet in Tamil Why am I an Atheist? (Nan Nathikar Yen?) was translated by P.Jeevanantham10, Secretary to the Madras Provincial Atheists’ Association, Madras and published by the Pahutharivu Publishing House Limited, which was constituted by E.V.Ramasamy11 at Erode. The book was originally written by Bhagat Singh from the Lahore Jail with the permission of the Lahore Jail authorities, when the Lahore Conspiracy Case was going on. The booklet consists of 46 pages in Tamil, which includes the editorial which appeared in the Kudiarasu, a Tamil weekly edited by E.V.Ramasamy at Erode, in its issue dated 29th March, 1931 in connection with the execution of Bhagat Singh and his fellow men in the Lahore Jail on 23rd March, 193112.
In the preface of the Tamil booklet, the publisher stated that though he did not approve of the political doctrines of Bhagat Singh in toto, their object in publishing this booklet was to apprise the people of Tamil province in general and Congress men in particular of his views regarding god. Bhagat Singh wrote this book to his father intimating his stand on worshiping god. It is very interesting to study the fact that the original version, written by Bhagat Singh in English was not prescribed by the British Raj13. When supporting the deeds of Bhagat Singh, the Kudiarasu published an article on 29th March, 1931. E.V.Ramasamy, the editor exhibited his sympathy over the martyrs14 . He said, “There is none who has not evinced sympathy regarding the execution of the heroic Bhagat Singh this week. There is none again who has not censured the British government for their action in having executed him.” Further the paper stated, “. . . It is our strong conviction that India really wants only Bhagat Singh’s doctrine. For, as far as we know, we think that Socialism and Communism alone constitute his doctrin.15”
By stating the inner content of Bhagat Singh’s doctrine, the editor strongly supported the doctrine of Bhagat Singh, he sayd : “If we should state the trueth as far as we are concerned, we think that the fact Bhagat Singh had to give up his life and disappear instead of living for a long time in a country wherein there are foolish and ignorant people, who have no responsibility or care, as well as selfish persons, who without earing for the consequences, are content with securing honour for themselves somehow or the other, witnessing their activities and experiencing suffering every second labouring under the obstaclesd placed by them, will result in great peace and benefit to Bhagat Singh. We even feel soory that we could not attain this bliss116.
The paper praised the sacrificed of Bhagat Singh and his fellow patriots, and appreciated the real meaning of Bhagat Singh to the Governor of Punjab. The letter clearly clarifies the consciousness of Bhagat Singh’s mission. It reads: “Our war will certainly continue until the Communist party attains power and differencesf in status among the people disappear. The war will not terminate with you killing us. It will certainly be waged both publically and secretly17 .
Further, we are under the only impression that even in regard to god, he had no faith in the saying “All is God’s work” and he had self-confidence. Hence we would say that this doctrine of his cannot constitute an offence under any law and that even if it does no one need to be afraid. Because we are convinced that this will cause no less or hardship whatever to the public. Even if per chance some such thing is likely to result, we are trying to give effect to this doctrine only with a feeling of sacrifice, which agrees to subject us to any amount of suffering, without deliberately entertaining prejudice against any particular individual or any particular class or any particular country and without causing harm to the body of any particular individual. That is why we say we need not care for or fear anything.18”
Bhagat Singh wrote the above letter to the Governor of Pubjab, when he was arrested in June, 1929 after the Central Legislative Assembly Bomb episode. Bhagat Singh was a very confident and fearless person, when he was produced before the Special Court for conducting Lahore Conspiracy Case being held in the Lahore prison from April 1929 to March 193119 .
The editor of Kudiarasu, further clarified his stand of supporting the doctrine of Bhagat Singh by making the following statement. He writes, “we say that if poverty should go, capitalism and labour should certainly go even as we say that, if untouchability should go, the distinction that constitutes Socialism and Communism and nothing else. It is only these doctrines that are the doctrines of fpersons like Mr.Bhagat Singh.20 ”The editor further praised the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh and exhorted that in every province, least four persons like Bhagat Singh should be hanged. The hanging of Bhagat Singh and his fellow patriots gave a new fillip to the national movement more than the Gandhian way of non-violence.21
The paper said: “It so happened that Bhagat Singh, who would otherwise have fallen ill in the ordinary course suffered, died, and been reduced to ashes, lost course, suffered, died, lost his life so as to far helpful in showing to the Indians may even to the people of the world, the path that leads to real equality and peace. We heartily praise Bhagat Singh saying that this is a great achievement which is ordinarily beyond the reach of any other person. At the same time we sincerely request our government to choose such sincere persons even her after and execute them at the rate of atleast four persons for every province22.
The paper vehemently criticised the wrong doings of the British authorities for executing the real martyrs and condemned boldly Gandhi for not taking care of the execution of Bhagat Singh. E.V.Ramasamy, the once the staunch supporter of non-cooperation movement, came forward to criticize the Gandhian way of non-violent satyagraha during Civil Disobedience movement in 1930s by analyzing very deeply the doctrine of Bhagat Singh in his paper tghe Kudiarasu on 29 March, 1931, just after a week of the execution of Bhagat Singh.23
E.V.Ramasamy, the President sof Madras Provincial Atheists’ Association, Madras requested his fellow atheist P.Jeevanantham, Secretary of the same association to translate the original version of Bhagat Singh’s “Why am I an Atheist?” in to Tamil. The main purpose of translating Bhagat Singh’s doctrine was to circulate the same among the Tamil people in general and the atheists in particular24. The Kudiarasu was one among the pro-justice party journals of Tamil province which came forward to write editorial on the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and his fellow comrades. P.Jeevanantham, a prolific communist writer paid much attention towards the doctrine of Bhagat Singh and translated the whole book of Bhagat Singh verbatim. The booklet in Tamil was published from Erode in 1934 by E.V.Ramasamy and circulated among the Tamil speaking population25.
Why am I an Atheist? Content Analysis
C.N.Saravana Mudaliar, Tamil translator to the Government of Madras sent his office memorandum No. 504, Public Department dated 16 October 1934 to G.T.H.Bracken, the Chief Secretary to Government of Madras along with the translated objectionable passages found in the booklet entitled Why am I an Atheist? of P.Jeevanantham. He marked the very objectionable passages in red color, and suggested the Government of Madras to take immediate actgion by forfeiting the booklet which contains seditious matter against the government26.
The booklet consisted of 46 pages, out of which the first forty pages are the translatewd version of Bhagat Singh doctrine on god. The remaining six pages are the content of the editorial published in the Kudiarasu on 29 Martch 1931 by E.V.Ramasamy.
In the editorial of Kudiarasu, the editor condemned Lord Irwin and Gandhi for making truce without giving any support to withdraw the execution of Bhagat Singh. It reads: “While these things are taking place on the one hand, when we see what is sbeing done by this same group of persons on the other (we find that they) are applauding the viceroy Lord Irwin, the Head of the Government praising Mr.Gandhi, who concluded a pact with him, and not stopping with being greatly satisfied with the pact, which does not contain (any) provision that Bhagavat Singh should not be executed, indulging in celebrations of victory deeming the pact to be a great victory28.
Further the editor criticized Gandhi for calling Lord Irwin Mahatma. In the fofllowing passage of his editorial he writes Mr.Gandhi called Lord Irwin a Mahatma and directed the people of the country also to call him likewise, while Lord Irwin proclaimed to the Europeans that Mr. Gandhi was a great and eminent person endowed with divine nature29 .
The paper appealed to the common people to raise the cry : “Down with Gandhism”, ‘May Congress perish’ and ‘May Gandhi go’, to show black flags in places where Mr.Gandhi goes and to create disturbances in the meeting which Gandhi addresses. Moreover, the paper criticized Gandhi for misleading the Congress and the people30 . It says: “My Gandhi had deceived the poor people. He is doing these things only to get rid of the socialist doctrines. Mr.Gandhi must go, the Congress should perish.” But our so-called national heroes and patriots danced with dizzy heads and in a blind manner with out minding anything and without realizing the consequences, just like dashing against a rock laying a wage (therefore). As a result of it, they went to prison and came back as heroes wearing the garland of victory31.
P.Jeevanantham while translating the original version of the booklet, made a sincere attempt by bringing the real facts, which are availble in the original context. In the Tamil book and its page No.10, a passage occured in Bhagat Singh’s leltter, he justified the resorting to violence. It reads, “We realized that, it was lawful to resort to violence under unavoidable circumstances and even then if a necessity arose. But non-violenc essential for all public movements for achieving the desired object of getting independence.32” In this context, Bhagat Singh, favoured violence as the only way to achieve freedom under unavoidable circumstances.
Further, Bhagat Singh narrated the goal to attain freedom for the nation and justified his plan of action by dedicating his life to the cause. He said, “Without selfishness or a desire to be rewarded either in this life or in the next and with complete self-denial. I have dedicated my life in order to attain freedom, because I have no other alternative than this. It is the time when heroic men and women come forward with such a desire and without diverting their attention to anything else even in the least and dedicate their lives for serving humanity for carrying on a strugfgle for the liberation of the poor people, who have become victims of hardship, calumny, cruelty and exploitation and are crying aloud distressingly with tears in their eyes that will be the dawn of the era of Independence33.
Bhagat Singh further stated that he was not in the mood of getting reward in this birth or in heaven by doing his recent anti-British deeds, but for sacrificing his life for the cause of the nation. He writes: “Itr is not with the object of becoming kings of kings or ofd gettiong a suitable reward in this birth or inthe next birth or in heaven after death and enjoying happiness and pleasure,that these persons put up a vigorous fight with the oppressors, exploiters and despots with sincerity, enthusiasm and ardour. On the other hand, they are following the path, which is capable of causing danger as far as they are concerned and which viewed deeply in a noble spirit appears to be a very great, unique and righteous path, only with a view to bring down the yoke of slavery from the neck of humanity and to establish peace and liberty.34”
Bhagat Singh formulated his doctrine on god, what forced him to be an atheist. In his leltter to his father, he stated the reasons for his attitude on god. Bhagat Singhsets forth the reasons for his doubting the existence of god and turning an athiest. Further he asserted that he had become an atheist not on account of arrogance or self-conceit but only as a result of deep deliberation. He said that he read some of the books written by persons such as Karlmarx, Lenin and Trotsky and came to the conclusion that the belief in the existence of god was entirely unfounded. He then asked the theists why god created the world, ‘which is full of misery, distress, hardships and cres’ and how they are going to approve the wicked acts, which he is doing every moment and which were causing misery and sorrow35.
Bhagat Singh argued that the god should protect the sufferers from their hardship. In his statement, which is available in the pages 28 and 29 of the booklet36 , he said, “Let him (god) see well with open eyes everything from the very dark, ill-ventilated and cruel prison cells – from the formidable hunger granaries, which tormet cores of human beings sitting and living in hovel and huts, eat, suck and swallow them up and belch from the labourers who keep watching in a spirit of tolerance nay in a manner indicative of a lack of sensibility, the cruel capitalist demons ceaselessly sucking their blood and the human capacity being abused to an inordinate extent in such a manner that even an ordinary person would dread to think of it, and become the victims of exploitation from the mentality which would rather choose to throw kin the sea and destroy the article manufactured excessively than distribute them for satisfying the needs of the people who manufactured them, to the gigantic palaces of the Emperor which have been raised on the foundation of the very bones of human beings and let Him say “all is well”37 .
Further, Bhagat Singh said some doubts on the Hindus and their irrational beliefs by treating their fellow Hindus on the basis sof their previous birth. He stated, “Well! Hindus! You say that all those that are suffering today belong to the group of persons who committed sin in their previous birth. You say that, all those that belong to the class exercising power, who control, oppress, crush and treat under foot the people today, were hightly virtuous and great persons in their previous birth, they are exercising dominatiofn and enjoying ruling powers in this birth, they are exercising domination and enjoying ruling powers in this birth.38”
Bhagat Singh made frequest questions on the existence of god why god is not preventing a man from committing a sin or an offencew even when he commits the same. By stating the above, he writes: “It will indeed be an easy thing for him to do so! Why should he not have averted the incoloable and excessive grief -the unfortunate result – which fell to the lot of the people of the world on account of the recent Great War, either by killing the War Lords or by putting out the fire of revolt which was raging high in their minds? Why has he not created some sort of good feeling in the minds of the British people, urging them to grant independence to India?39”
Further he questioned the god why he does not kindle a philanthropic feeling in the hearts of all the capitalists, make them convert all private properties into the public properties of their own accord and protect the laborers nay humanity itself, by releasing them from the bondage of capitalist. You may like to know whether the programme enunicated by the socialists is a practicable one. If necessary, I am prepared to leave the responsibility for making it practicable to your god alone who is omnipotent. The people generally approve of the nature of socialism and the benefit derived there from. But they oppose it saying that it is “ impossible” and “impracticable”. Hence, cannot the omnipotent god intervene in this matter and organize and set right everything?40 ”
(To be continued in the next issue…)