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Bhagat Singh (1907 – 23 March 1931) was an Indian revolutionary socialist who was influential in the Indian independence movement. Born into a Jat Punjabi Sikh family which had earlier been involved in revolutionary activities against the British Raj, he studied European revolutionary movements as a teenager and was attracted to anarchist and Marxist ideologies. He worked with several revolutionary organisations and became prominent in the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which changed its name to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928.
Seeking revenge for the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, Singh assassinated John Saunders, a British police officer. He eluded efforts by the police to capture him. Soon after, he and Batukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs and leaflets inside the Central Legislative Assembly, and offered themselves for arrest. Held in jail on a charge of murder, he gained widespread national support when he undertook an 116-day hunger strike demanding equal rights for European prisoners, and those Indians imprisoned for what he believed were political reasons. During this period, sufficient evidence was brought against him for a conviction in the Saunders case after trial by Special Tribunal, and an appeal to the Privy Council in England. He was convicted and hanged for his participation in the assassination, at the age of 23.
His legacy prompted youth in India to continue fighting for independence and he remains an influence on some young people in modern India, as well as the inspiration for several films. He is commemorated with a range of memorials including a large bronze statue in the Parliament of India.
Bhagat Singh, a Sandhu Jat, was born in 1907 to Kishan Singh and Vidyavati at Chak No. 105 GB, Banga, Pakistan village, Jaranwala Tehsil in the Lyallpur district of the Punjab Province of British India. His birth coincided with the release of his father and two uncles, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, from jail. His family members were Sikhs; some had been active in Indian Independence movements, others had served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. His ancestral village was Khatkar Kalan, near the town of Banga, India in Nawanshahr district (now renamed Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar) of the Punjab and his family had moved to the canal colonies of Banga, Pakistan in the Lyallpur district at the time of his birth.
His family was politically active. His grandfather, Arjun Singh followed Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Hindu reformist movement, Arya Samaj, which had a considerable influence on Bhagat. His father and uncles were members of the Ghadar Party, led by Kartar Singh Sarabha and Har Dayal. Ajit Singh was forced into exile due to pending court cases against him while Swaran Singh died at home in Lahore in 1910 following his release from jail. Unlike many Sikhs of his age, Singh did not attend the Khalsa High School in Lahore. His grandfather did not approve of the school officials’ loyalty to the British government. He was enrolled instead in the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic High School, an Arya Samaji institution.
In 1919, when he was twelve years old, Singh visited the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre hours after hundreds of unarmed people gathered at a public meeting had been killed. When he was fourteen years old, he was among those in his village who welcomed protesters against the killing of a large number of unarmed people at Gurudwara Nankana Sahib on 20 February 1921. Singh became disillusioned with Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence after he called off the non-co-operation movement. Gandhi’s decision followed the violent murders of policemen by villagers who were reacting to the police killing three villagers in the 1922 Chauri Chaura incident. Singh joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and began to advocate for the violent overthrow of the British Government in India.
In 1923, Singh joined the National College in Lahore, where he also participated in extra-curricular activities like the dramatics society. In 1923, he won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, writing on the problems in the Punjab. Inspired by the Young Italy movement of Giuseppe Mazzini, he founded the Indian nationalist youth organisation Naujawan Bharat Sabha in March 1926. He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association, which had prominent leaders, such as Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil and Shahid Ashfaqallah Khan. A year later, to avoid an arranged marriage, Singh ran away to Cawnpore. In a letter he left behind, he said
My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of the country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me now.
In 1923, Singh joined the Nationa.