Why India needs Bhagat Singh archives

This writer grew fascinated with the freedom fighter at an early age, nearly 50 years ago, by reading about him in journals/books.

 |  3-minute read |   16-11-2015
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I am sure innumerable people have been fascinated by Bhagat Singh. I translated in Punjabi - my mother tongue - a Hindi book of those days - Bharat Ke Krantikari - by a revolutionary himself, and later an authentic historian of revolutionary movements - Manmathnath Gupt, which was serialised by Ghadar party memorial Jalandhar’s journal Desh Bhagat Yadan in the early 1970s.

This was my first serious exposure to an entirely different narrative of the Indian freedom struggle, which never found any detailed mention in school history textbooks or standard history texts otherwise. Mostly the Congress and the movements led by Mahatma Gandhi-Jawaharlal Nehru found more detailed mention.

Somehow Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary movements of the freedom struggle became my abiding interest, despite being a student and later faculty member of Hindi literature in different universities.

In 1985 I brought out the writings of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Hindi along with Jagmohan Singh, a nephew of Bhagat Singh, who had earlier brought out a volume in Punjabi. Bhagat Singh’s niece Virender Sandhu and his comrade Shiv Verma also brought out volume of his writings in Hindi and English. Interestingly, some of these writings were published in 1931, the year of Bhagat Singh’s execution, but almost forgotten.

Periyar has published "Why I am an Atheist" in Tamil in his journal Kudi Arsu as early as in 1934. Credit goes to Bipan Chandra, who came out with another edition of "Why I am an Atheist" in the 1970s, with his enlightened introduction, presenting Bhagat Singh as a budding socialist/Marxist thinker. It was only after this that the academia took some interest in this aspect of the freedom struggle, but it was still marginal. After the 1985 editions of Bhagat Singh’s writings, his Jail Notebook, lying with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library since decades, was published in 1994 by Bhupender Hooja, which brought Bhagat Singh’s intellectual development into focus.

From 2006, after shifting to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as a faculty member, Bhagat Singh's birth centenary was celebrated during 2006-2008 at both government and non-government levels throughout the country and I started collecting material on Bhagat Singh, as well as revolutionary movements prior to, or after him from all over the country - from archives, libraries, individuals - and it was fantastic collection I got hold of.

I got many rare books, photocopied from many places, now completely unavailable. With this material available with me alone, when I proposed a "Bhagat Singh Chair" to be established in the JNU, I included Bhagat Singh Archive as a part of it. My proposal duly forwarded by the JNU authorities was accepted in toto by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) and Rs 2 crore was sanctioned for the Chair in 2008.

However for certain reasons the first-ever Bhagat Singh Chair has still not become functional. I started making efforts to establish "Bhagat Singh Archives on Revolutionary Freedom Struggle Movements (1757-1947)", separated from the Bhagat Singh Chair. My proposal for Bhagat Singh archives was recommended by Romila Thapar, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and JS Grewal - all three of them eminent historians and two of them former vice-chancellors as well. I understand that the JNU has accepted in principle to establish the Bhagat Singh archives in its prestigious library, as it had established the PC Joshi archives on the Communist movement in the early 1970s.

I am hoping that this important archive, which shall focus on a major strand of India's freedom movement, shall see the light of the day and be available to scholars/common readers to know many unknown and underplayed aspects of freedom struggle.


Chaman Lal Chaman Lal @profchaman

The author is a retired professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the author of Understanding Bhagat Singh.

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