The lives and ideals of the revolutionary martyrs of India’s freedom struggle take a cue from a philosophy of life that asks for self-sacrifice for human freedom from socio-economic and political tyrannies. The saga of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru inspired an entire generation of youth leaders of India’s freedom movement. While a word-portrait of Bhagat Singh was drawn in these columns in a previous issue, it is apt to also underscore the contribution of Sukhdev and Rajguru.
Sukhdev Thapar was born in Ludhiana on May 15, 1907. His father Ram Lal died in Sukhdev’s infancy and he was brought up by his uncle Achintaram, who had revolutionary leanings. Sukhdev’s association with the freedom struggle began at the age of 12 when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place. When students from all the city schools were gathered by force to salute the ‘Union Jack’, Sukhdev did not attend.
After completing his early education at a village school, Sukhdev took admission in Punjab National College founded by Lala Lajpat Rai, who greatly influenced him. Here he met Bhagat Singh, Yashpal, Jaidev Gupta, Jhanda Singh and other revolutionaries. During the non-cooperation movement, he gave up English clothes and started wearing khadi. He set up study circles in Lahore for studying India’s past as well as world revolutionary literature.
Sukhdev’s revolutionary companion Shivram Rajguru was born in Khed near Pune on August 24, 1908. After his father’s early death, Rajguru shifted to Varanasi at the age of six and studied Hindu religious texts and Vedas. Rajguru came in contact with revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad and became a member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, a radical organisation involved in revolutionary activities against the British rule. Its members included Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Azad, Bismil, Jai Gopal, Yatindranath Das and Jatin Das etc.
Rajguru’s field of activity was UP and Punjab; he was a good shooter and regarded as the gunman of the HSRA. He also became instrumental in forming ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’ in Lahore in 1926 along with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and others. The main aims of this organisation were to activate the youth for the freedom struggle, inculcate a rational scientific attitude, fight communalism and end the practice of untouchability.
When veteran Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai was killed in police lathicharge, ordered by the Superintendent of Police James Scott, while leading a nonviolent protest against the Simon Commission on October 30, 1928, the young revolutionaries decided to avenge his death and planned to kill Scott. However, in a case of mistaken identity, ASP John Saunders was shot by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh on December 17, 1928. Head constable Chanan Singh was also killed when he came to Saunder’s aid.
After committing the act, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru made good their escape. However, they were soon apprehended along with other revolutionaries, put on trial and sentenced to death. When clamour for their pardon grew louder throughout the country, Sukhdev wrote a letter to Mahatma Gandhi in which he stated: “The three prisoners of the Lahore Conspiracy Case have been awarded capital punishment …. The country will not gain as much by the change of their sentences as it would by their being hanged.”
All three were hanged on March 23, 1931. Their bodies were cremated on the banks of the Sutlej River in Ferozepur district of Punjab. Rajguru was 22- year-old at that time, while Sukhdev and Bhagat Singh were 23. They, thus, became the evergreen icons of the Indian youth. (The author is a litterateur and educationist)