Rekindling the Revolutionary Spirit
This incident dates back to 1898. The farmers in Vidarbha region were severely hit by a drought. When Sardar Kishan Singh came to know about this, he, along with Lala Bishambhar Sahay, Lala Shivram Vakil and other colleagues, reached Vidarbha. They had brought along foodgrains. Imagine the distance between Jalandhar in Punjab and Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, and that too nearly 125 years ago! However, Sardar Kishan Singh’s patriotism and his compassion for fellow farmers did not let him sit quiet. He did not merely distribute the relief material and return; he, in fact, took around 50 orphaned children from Vidarbha with him. These children were of the farmers who, unable to deal with their desperate situation, had committed suicide. Kishan Singh started an orphanage at Ferozepur for these children. At that time, Kishan Singh was just 20 years old. If you wonder who Sardar Kishan Singh was, well, he was the father of India’s great son Shaheed Bhagat Singh!
Bhagat Singh was born in such a patriotic family. He grew up seeing the life of farmers and the common people. No wonder, bringing about a change in the life of ordinary farmers was his idea of revolutionary work. Today is the 90th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. Unfortunately, the issues facing the farmers are just the same even today. One is pained to say that the dreams of the revolutionaries who made the supreme sacrifice for creating a new India are still unfulfilled.
The current issue of the farmers is not limited to Punjab, Haryana and the Jat farmers of western Uttar Pradesh; farmers across India face similar issues. Today, the farmers have taken to the streets raising the slogan ‘Pagdi Sambhal Jatta’, but the slogan echoes the feelings of farmers over a century ago. In 1907, the British had passed three Acts regarding agriculture. Bhagat Singh’s paternal uncle Ajit Singh had raised his voice against them by mobilising the farmers of Punjab. He addressed public meetings all over Punjab and had even invited Lala Lajpat Rai, a veteran Congress leader, to these meetings. Lala Banke Dayal had quit his job to join the agitation. He read out the poem ‘Pagdi Sambhal Jatta’during this agitation. The poem had a description of the farmers’ issues and the injustice being meted out to them. The poem became the signature slogan of the agitation. It became so popular that the agitation itself came to be known by that name. The agitation grew so strong that the British government had to withdraw the Acts. Today, it is our own government. Yet, the agitation has been going on for the past almost four months. History is being repeated.
During my meetings and discussions with Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s colleagues, Durga Bhabhi and Virendra ji, and his brother Kultar Singh, the topic as to why Bhagat Singh who had received the Arya Samaj doctrine and who belonged to a religious family, became an atheist, came up often. In this context, I was told about an incident when some of Bhagat Singh’s fellow revolutionaries talked about the help his family, Sardar Ajit Singh and Sardar Kishan Singh, extended to the countrymen affected by droughts, floods, earthquakes and other natural calamities. They especially praised the act of adopting orphaned farmer children from Vidarbha. Bhagat Singh had said then, “It was our duty but we need to bring about a change in the system so that no farmer or labourer is forced to commit suicide ever!” It is clear from his words that his journey towards atheism had begun with the farmers’ agitation in Punjab.
Bhagat Singh asked himself some questions after witnessing the plight of farmers and the ordinary people. These questions led him to atheism. He asked himself, ‘If this world is created by the Almighty, why is it filled with destitution and sorrow?’ Next, he asked, ‘Why doesn’t He free the entire humanity and the workers from the slavery of capitalism?’ Bhagat Singh had unequivocally said that the real age of freedom would truly begin only when countless men and women came forward thinking about the farmers and ordinary people and when they would be thinking only about serving the mankind and nothing else.
“The farmers and labourers are the most important elements of society; however, they are exploited the most by society. They are even deprived of their basic rights. The farmers who produce food for everyone are forced to die in hunger. Artisans who weave cloth for others cannot buy enough clothes for their own children. Those who build huge mansions do not have even a simple house to live in. On the other hand, the capitalists who exploit them live a comfortable life,” he said. These thoughts of Bhagat Singh clearly show that he was moved by the plight of farmers and the ordinary people.
A couple of months before he was hanged, Bhagat Singh had written a letter, in which he had highlighted issues such as ‘End of landlord system’, ‘Loan waiver for the farmers’, ‘Nationalisation of lands in order to boost community farming’, ‘Home for everyone’, ‘Complete exemption to farmers from taxation’, ‘Nationalisation of industries’, ‘Education for everyone’, ‘Reduction in the working hours of the labourers’, etc. As a nation, we are still grappling with precisely the same issues.
In this backdrop, the irony of the current farmers’ agitation in Delhi is worth noting. The agitators and the government both are using Bhagat Singh’s photos! Rekindling faith in the minds of hardworking farmers so that they can lead a life of dignity would be a true tribute to martyrs Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.