Irfan Habib: “Bhagat Singh was not just a martyr”

Eminent historian Irfan Habib questions the penchant for celebrating Bhagat Singh’s legacy just as a martyr, ignoring his revolutionary ideas

Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images


"The legacy of Bhagat Singh that we want to recognise is confined to his martyrdom. Most of the people just want to celebrate him as a martyr, which is not fair. The freedom fighter was an intellectual who had a political as well as a social vision that people fail to take note of,” says eminent historian Irfan Habib.

The historian, who has authored the book "To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades", said being a prolific writer, the freedom fighter also fought for social evils and his ideas are relevant even today.

"Bhagat Singh had a revolutionary legacy and it is hard to celebrate it because it is not theoretical, you have to implement it in our lives, ideas and system to actually celebrate it," Habib said during a discussion on "The Idea of Bhagat Singh".

"Bhagat Singh wrote articles in Kirti on issues of untouchability, communalism and role of religion in politics, all these issues which are relevant even today,” he added.

"His ideals are alive even today because we are coping with the same problems which he talked about. Despite that we just do not want to recall what he stood for," the eminent historian said.

In fighting British tyranny, the freedom fighter did initially identify himself to be a terrorist. " But when you read Bhagat Singh, he says, 'I may have used such methods because the British occupied this country by terrorising all of us, and their terrorising methods could be countered only by terrorism'.

"He said that this is what we believed and tried to do but gradually realised that the best way was to mobilise people and youth, and that terrorism wouldn’t work," the historian recalled.

The historian pointed out about the slogans which Bhagat Singh thought were secular and said he finds problem with 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' being called as an "ultimate slogan".

"We have a debate today on nationalism, about the slogans to be chanted. I have no issue with Bharat Mata ki Jai, but to use it as an ultimate slogan, as a symbolism of idea of nation, as a kind of nationalism test is something which needs to be questioned, whereas according to Bhagat Singh there were only two secular slogans, Inquilab Zindabad and Hindustan Zindabad.

"He wanted a revolution which was not merely political but also a social revolution to break age old discriminatory practices," he said.

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Published: 12 Jan 2017, 6:49 PM