Just over 90 years ago, three heroes were sentenced, and hanged, for avenging the death of a legendary leader. While this, in itself, would have been construed as an act of defiance against the British Raj, which it was, what has been forgotten is the unlawful killing of Lala Lajpat Rai by John Saunders and the aftermath.
Executions, in India, have always been conducted during the early hours of the day. Well, not always! In the case of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, and Sukhdev, the hanging was scheduled to be done on the 24th of March, 1931 but, for reasons best known to the British, was moved to 23rd of March, 1931 at 7:30 PM. Were they expecting people to revolt? Possibly, but the fact remains, that 3 of India’s sons were hanged without any qualms. The trio was denied justice. The story of how this unfolded is given in the paragraph below.
Singh had said “My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of this country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me.”
Lalaji was leading a peaceful protest when an enraged Saunders led a lathi charge against the protestors. Lalaji was gravely injured and died a few weeks later.
Having been enraged at the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai, in 1928, in the city of Lahore, Bhagat Singh was furious. Raised in a Sikh family which had always been a part of the freedom struggle, be it with Maharaja Ranjit Singh, where his grandfather played a role, or with the Ghadar Party, where his two uncles were members, Bhagat Singh had role models to look up to. In retaliation, Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev shot and killed John Saunders, the Commissioner of Police. After a brief escape, where Singh cut his hair and shaved his beard, the three unsung freedom fighters were captured. The case was presented before the Lahore Courts.
The court was run by the Magistrate, Raisaheb Kishan. The general protocol was if a conviction was gotten, the Right to Appeal was to be granted. In this case, a conviction was gotten and the Right to Appeal was to be administered by the Lahore High Courts. The hearing itself went for around 10 months, with an innumerable number of witnesses being provided by both sides. While this was going on, the then Governor-General, Irwin, passed an ordinance, the Lahore Ordinance, that basically stopped these proceedings and moved it to a special tribunal. An unheard-of move, given that these hearings had been going on for 10 months or more. The three judges contained one Indian judge, Agah Haider. The other two were British.
The three entered the courts screaming patriotic slogans, which infuriated the presiding judge, a Britisher, who asked that the police restrain the accused. The police took this as an invitation to beat the protesters, leaving many, if not all, in need of medical assistance. All inside the four walls of the court. Sick of this abuse of power, Agah Haider resigned from the tribunal. One other person also resigned with Haider, leaving the tribunal, initially of three judges, with JUST ONE JUDGE, a Britisher who had no qualms in finding Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, and Sukhdev, guilty and ordered them to be hanged. Yes, there were two additional judges that were brought in, when the two initial judges resigned. However, they had not heard any of the evidence presented earlier and had to work on what was communicated to them by the leading judge.
Whether, or not, the Indian National Congress colluded with the British, in this legal miscarriage of justice, is up for conjecture. The fact remains that, on the face of it, the trial was one of politically motivated “justice”. The then INC leadership had a chance to set this right. However, a majority of them saw this trio as potential leaders who could take the limelight away from the INC. That Singh would never have agreed to partition was clearly known to his associates and people that knew him well. Would he have objected to the likes of Nehru and his coterie of advisors being “Leaders” to a population that wanted to get out of the clutches of the British Empire? YES, no second thoughts about it! Would this have suited a party that was, by all indications, an extension of the Raj? No, as events would demonstrate.
Rather than ask for clemency for the trio, Gandhi and his cohorts did not bat an eyelid, on that fateful day of the 23rd of March, 1931 when Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, and Sukhdev were hanged. To all, this will always remain a blot on this party, which for all purposes was an Indian wing to the British. As the old textbooks, from the 60s and 70s, will reveal, the trio of Singh, Guru, and Sukhdev never was once mentioned. Gandhi, in his writings in Young India, stated, “I could have made commutation a term of the settlement. It could not be made. The working committee (Kumar’s thoughts: I am assuming Gandhi meant the Congress Working Committee) had told me to not make commutation a condition to anything.” Does this sound like Gandhi and his cohorts didn’t really want the trio to live? You bet! He was supposedly quoted as saying, “If the boys are to be hanged, let them be hanged before the Karachi Congress meeting.”
Whatever the feelings may be about shooting John Saunders, the fact remains that most, if not all, members of the “esteemed” Indian National Congress were scared of the ramifications their opposition to the hanging may have. Ramifications not towards India gaining independence, Bose had already guaranteed that, but ramifications on who would be the Prime Minister. Bhagat Singh had already pledged his allegiance to Bose. In his musings, Singh had said “My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of this country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me.” Does this sound like someone that wanted to be a “part of the Nehru ministry”? Not at all. In fact, he would have been happy just being on the sidelines, watching India prosper. Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev are sitting up there in the skies, probably smiling at India’s emergence as a world leader. To those that put these young leaders down, all I can say is, whoever is trying to bring Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, and Sukhdev down has already fallen in the esteem of the people. The trio will live forever in the memories of India, even if the INC has tried to make us forget them!
जय श्रीराम। जय सीयाराम। उत्तिष्ठ भारत। जय माँ भारती
God Bless the USA.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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