The date March 23 is etched in the pages of history as the day when freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar attained martyrdom in the pursuit of independence for India from the British. This year marks the 86th martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, the most revered figures of the anti-colonial movement. Bhagat Singh attained martyrdom at the young age of 23 and became an inspiration and the face of nationalism for generations to come.
On March 23, 1931, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged by the British Raj for their involvement in the killing of John Saunders, who they mistook for British police superintendent, James Scott. Scott was their target because they believed he was instrumental in the death of nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai.
- It all began with Lala Lajpat Rai succumbing to injuries caused during a lathi charge while he was protesting against the Simon Commission.
- Simon Commission was a report on the political situation in India, but the panel did not have any Indians in it.
- Bhagat Singh, a member of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), with the aim to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai conspired to attack James A. Scott, who had ordered the lathi charge.
- Rajguru, Sukhdev and Chandrashekhar Azad were also a part of this conspiracy.
- However, because of a case of mistaken identity they shot John P. Saunders instead.
- A massive manhunt was launched to capture the group.
- In the meanwhile, Bhagat Singh, accompanied by Batukeshwar Dutt, threw two crude bombs into the Central Assembly chamber to protest against the Public Safety Bill, and the Trade Dispute Act on April 8, 1929.
- The crude bombs were not designed to kill, but injured a few.
- Singh and Dutt instead of escaping stayed on after throwing the bomb shouting slogans of “Inquilab Zindabad” and threw leaflets that read: It is easy to kill individuals but you cannot kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled while the ideas survived.
- The duo was arrested and lodged in a series of jails in Delhi.
- Sukhdev was arrested during a raid on the bomb factory of HRSA in Lahore.
- All the three, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were convicted of the killing of Saunders in what came to be known as the Lahore Conspiracy case, and were sentenced to death.
- While the execution was slated for March 24, 1931, they were hanged a day prior on March 23, at 7.30 pm in Lahore.
- They were cremated at Hussainiwala at the banks of the Sutlej river in the Ferozepur district of Punjab.
Martyr’s Day, also known as Shaheed Diwas, is observed on March 23 every year in Punjab, Singh’s home state when homage is paid to the three bravehearts for their contribution towards the freedom struggle of India.
This year the Border Security Force (BSF) is planning to display the historic semi-automatic 32-bore Colt-make pistol used by Bhagat Singh to kill Saunders at the new arms BSF museum in Indore. At present, the pistol is on display at the old museum of the city-based Central School of Weapon and Tactics.
Martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru is also observed in Pakistan, where people assemble every year at the Shadnam Chowk in Lahore where the three were hanged on March 23, 1931.
The Lahore High Court has directed the police to ensure strict security as some religious groups had threatened Bhagat Singh’s followers and told them not to observe his martyrdom.
On the occasion of Shaheed Diwas, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to the three freedom fighters. “Remembering Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev on the day of their martyrdom. India will never forget their courage & sacrifice”, he wrote on Twitter.