Bhagat Singh's Essay On Atheism Is Essential To Understanding Him Better

23/03/2016 7:57 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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ALLAHABAD, INDIA - 2014/09/27: Students offer flowers for the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh on the occasion of his 106th birth anniversary at Azad Park in Allahabad. (Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In 1931, March 23 was a pivotal moment in India’s battle for freedom. On this day, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in the Lahore conspiracy case and were hanged.

At a time when people are expected to chant 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' to showcase patriotism, or as Sandip Roy points out in this article, "it is being refashioned as a performance sport", it's probably important to understand about the nationalism of Bhagat Singh.

ALSO READ: Chanting 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' Cannot Be A Litmus Test For Patriotism

On his death anniversary, we revisit the essay, titled--Why I Am An Atheist-- he had written between October 5-6, 1930, in response to a prison inmate who tried to convince him of the existence of God, and upon failing, berated him, "You are giddy with fame and have developed an ego that is standing like a black curtain between you and God."

The essay was originally written in Gurmukhi (Punjabi), converted to Urdu/Persian script by Maqsood Saqib. It was later translated from Urdu to English by Hasan for marxists.org, in 2006.

Here are excerpts from the essay:

"I totally reject the existence of an Omnipresent, all powerful, all knowing God. Why so? I will discuss it later in the essay. Here I wish to emphasise that I am not an atheist for the reason that I am arrogant or proud or vain; nor am I a demi-god, nor a prophet; no, nor am I God myself. At least one thing is true that I have not evolved this thought because of vanity or pride."

In May 1927, when Singh was arrested in Lahore, he was told that if he did not give a statement as demanded by them, they would be send him for trial for conspiracy to wage war in connection with Kakori Case and also for brutal killings in Dussehra gathering.

Singh writes, "....I was completely innocent, but I believed that the police had sufficient power to do it if they desired it to be so. The same day some police officers persuaded me to offer my prayers to God two times regularly. I was an atheist. I thought that I would settle it to myself whether I could brag only in days of peace and happiness that I was an atheist, or in those hard times I could be steadfast in my convictions. After a long debate with myself, I reached the conclusion that I could not even pretend to be a believer nor could I offer my prayers to God. No, I never did it. It was time of trial and I would come out of it successful. These were my thoughts. Never for a moment did I desire to save my life. So I was a true atheist then and I am an atheist now. "

According to the freedom fighter, this is what 'reward' meant: "A God-believing Hindu may expect to be reborn a king; a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries he hopes to enjoy in paradise as a reward for his sufferings and sacrifices. What hope should I entertain? I know that will be the end when the rope is tightened round my neck and the rafters move from under my feet. To use more precise religious terminology, that will be the moment of utter annihilation. My soul will come to nothing. If I take the courage to take the matter in the light of ‘Reward’, I see that a short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall itself be my ‘Reward.’ That is all. Without any selfish motive of getting any reward here or in the hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of freedom. I could not act otherwise."

"Did it not occur to your All Knowing God or he could learn the truth only after millions had undergone untold sufferings and hardships? What, according to your theory, is the fate of a person who, by no sin of his own, has been born into a family of low caste people? He is poor so he cannot go to a school. It is his fate to be shunned and hated by those who are born into a high caste. His ignorance, his poverty, and the contempt he receives from others will harden his heart towards society. Supposing that he commits a sin, who shall bear the consequences? God, or he, or the learned people of that society? What is your view about those punishments inflicted on the people who were deliberately kept ignorant by selfish and proud Brahmans? If by chance these poor creatures heard a few words of your sacred books, Vedas, these Brahmans poured melted lead into their ears. If they committed any sin, who was to be held responsible? Who was to bear the brunt? My dear friends, these theories have been coined by the privileged classes. They try to justify the power they have usurped and the riches they have robbed with the help of such theories."

"Society must fight against this belief in God as it fought against idol worship and other narrow conceptions of religion. In this way man will try to stand on his feet. Being realistic, he will have to throw his faith aside and face all adversaries with courage and valour.... I don’t think that by strengthening my belief in God and by offering prayers to Him every day, (this I consider to be the most degraded act on the part of man) I can bring improvement in my situation, nor can I further deteriorate it. I have read of many atheists facing all troubles boldly, so I am trying to stand like a man with the head high and erect to the last; even on the gallows."

Read the complete essay here.

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