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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bhagat Singh as a Protester in Hyderabad Central University

Yesterday was the Martyrdom day of Sh. Bhagat Singh, Sh. Sukhdev and Sh. Rajguru. Their huge contribution in the freedom struggle of our country will remain alive in the hearts of the people as long as our country exists on the face of the earth. Young men, only 23 years old, challenged the hegemony and imperialism of the mighty British Empire and raised their voice against communalism, sectarianism and the exploitation by man of man and happily went to the gallows for the cause of independence. The independence they desired was not only political, but was also economic and social and bravely demanded an end to the oppression in the name of religion, caste, sex, language etc. As citizens of India, we should be proud that such bold and fearless sons have risen from the soil of our country and have shown us the way forward with their sacrifice.

Yet, sometimes, given the current political, economic and social condition of our country, one is forced to introspect, and then, hang one's head in shame. The question that strikes one's mind, like a thunder bolt, again and again is, have we betrayed the struggle and sacrifice of these freedom fighters? Have we lived upto the standards of democracy that guided their vision and soothed their souls? Have we, as free Indians living in a free country, done justice to the hard work and labor of these revolutionaries, whose blood provided the fuel for our independence?

News announcing the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore. The Tribune, March 25, 1931.

The answer to such a question must not venture into the laborious details of our achievements in our past, for the achievements of the state are not a charity by its politicians but the right of its citizens. Therefore, the true measure of our independence cannot be provided by the well off and the haves; it can only be narrated by the deprived and the marginalized - the have nots. And whenever one tries to listen to the voice of the have nots, the cries of injustice and cruelty ring out in the same manner as they have since the ages.

Who are these have nots to whom we must ask these questions? At least, who were these people in Bhagat's imagination? He had an affinity for the entire Indian society, and one can even say, the entire human society. However, more specifically, peasants, workers, youth and women formed the centerpiece of his vision and ideology. Where do these four sections of our society stand today?

A Broken Peasantry

One can know about the overall condition of the peasantry by glimpsing Maharashtra, where 14,708 villages out of a total of 43,000 villages have been declared drought hit for the second consecutive year. In Latur, authorities had to invoke Sec. 144 in order to prevent mobs from resorting to violence due to acute lack of drinking water. More than 60,000 farmers in Maharashtra and more than 300,000 farmers nationwide have committed suicide since 1995. Just last month, a task force appointed by the Maharashtra government to deal with the agrarian crisis suggested pretty much everything under the sun to bring the situation under control. The Government's very own Attorney General has demanded separate statehood for Marathwada, accusing the government of total failure in curbing farmer suicides.

How has the Government responded?

Firstly, that inconvenient Attorney General has been sacked. Secondly, the data submitted to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) by the state has been fudged to the very end so as to make sure that farmer suicide levels do not cause unnecessary outrage. A BJP Member of Parliament has said that it's fashion among farmers to commit suicides. While the state government of Maharshtra has been trying to pinch the money meant as compensation for the farmers through bureaucratic jugglery, the union government at the same time has written off more than Rs 5,51,000 crores in corporate debt - money that could have significantly expanded the NREGA in a time of great agrarian distress.

Students on the Streets

Even as I write this, students in Hyderabad Central University, protesting the institutional murder of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the reinstatement of the VC Appa Rao, have been brutally lathi charged and denied access to water, food, and electricity. 36 students have gone missing while some of them are battling for their lives in ICU.

This shameful state of affairs comes on the heels of massive protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Film and Television Institute of India, IIT Madras, Osmania University and Jadavpur University against the massive fund cuts in the sphere of education and a contemptuous disregard for the will and opinion of the student community regarding the appointment of University administrators, protests against the curbing of constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech, expression and association as well as the institutional murder of Dalit scholars by the university administration.

Today, the field of education has become a battleground in the name of wresting control of the minds of young students by the people who had no role at all to play in the fight for our freedom. In fact, the RSS actively colluded with the Britishers to break the back of the freedom movement in the country. The government, which is making a great pomp and show out of the matyrdom anniversary of these valiant young men, does not give two hoots for their sacrifice in reality. Is it surprising then, that Bhagat Singh opposed these communal opportunists tooth and nail while he was alive?
Workers and Women in Revolt

Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt famously threw bombs in the Central Assembly to protest against the draconian Trade Dispute Bill being passed by using the Emergency powers of the Viceroy. Interestingly, today independent India's very own government is making changes to labor laws that would have left these young martyrs red faced. According to the proposed changes, it will become tougher to form trade unions and easier to fire workers. What about Child Labor? Forget trying to stop this abhorrent practice, the government is set to make it easier for children aged between 14-18 years to work by diluting the definition of 'hazardous industries'. All this is done in the name of ease of doing business.

At the same time, women protesters cutting across various issues are being brutally lathi charged, molested and threatened with rape. Soni Sori, tribal activist and AAP politician from Chhattisgarh, has been tortured, beaten and attacked with an acid like chemical for speaking out against police atrocities. Now her family is being targeted. Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, has completed more than 14 years of continuous hunger strike against the draconian AFSPA which allows army men to kill without consequences. Several women protesters and public figures, speaking out on social media, are daily targets of constant abuse and vilification. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that women face in India today.


How would Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru respond to these atrocious happenings under a democratic government in India today? For one thing, they would refuse to be a part of the system which lets these atrocities take place with such impunity in the first place. If they were really alive today, they would have sat in protest against the government in each of the universities mentioned, especially JNU and Hyderabad Central University, against the unconstitutional diktats of a casteist and neo-fascist government.

Anybody familiar with the life and works of Bhagat Singh would know that he would have proudly lend his voice to the thousands of voices crying "Lal Salaam!" and "Jai Bheem!" across various campuses today. He would have taken part in marches, participated in sit-ins and morchas and would have hit out against the communal frenzy promoted by this government.

Perhaps it is a hyperbole to compare any protester with Bhagat Singh today. But what cannot be denied that each and every protester fighting for the constitutionally guaranteed rights of his brothers and sisters marching beside him embodies the same spirit of revolution that these martyrs promoted and died for.