Bhagat Singh in Prison

by Chaman Lal

Frontier | Vol. 51, No. 28, Jan 13-19, 2019

THE earliest record of Bhagat Singh’s writings dates back to 1918 when he was 11 years old, and they were postcards he had written in Urdu and Punjabi to his grandfather and an aunt, Hukam Kaur. Collections of Bhagat Singh’s writings began to appear only in the 1970s, and the latest collections in Urdu and Marathi comprise 125 writings of Bhagat Singh, including 53 letters. With the addition of five more letters discovered in 2017-18 to the collections, Bhagat Singh’s writings number 130, apart from his Jail Notebook.

In this process of searching for Bhagat Singh’s writings, this writer located five letters of his in his trial proceedings edited by MJS Waraich, which were then published in The Tribune in 2007. Following this, he found 10 more letters from the exhibition titled “The Trial of Bhagat Singh” held in 2008 in the newly built Supreme Court museum complex. The Supreme Court gave him a digital copy of the exhibition and the permission to use the contents with acknowledgements. The 10 letters were published in The Hindu of August 15, 2011, along with the rare photograph of Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt, first published on April 12, 1929, in Bande Matram from Lahore.

In 2013, this writer found a letter of Bhagat Singh that even Bhagat Singh believed was lost. However, it was a Hindi translation from the English original. This letter was retranslated into English, and both versions were published in The Hindu (Sunday Magazine) of March 23, 2014. In fact, before going to the gallows, Bhagat Singh took care to leave his writings in safe hands. Thus, he handed over his Jail Notebook to a younger brother, Kulbir Singh, along with a few other items.

Many of his writings were on loose sheets of paper, which he handed over to Kumari Lajjawati, who was secretary of the Bhagat Singh Defence Committee and reported directly to Jawaharlal Nehru on all steps taken to save the life of the three convicted revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Bhagat Singh wanted her to hand over these papers to his comrade Bejoy Kumar Sinha, who was serving life imprisonment in the Andamans in the Lahore Conspiracy case, on his release.

Kumari Lajjawati, who was a teacher in and later Principal of KMV College in Jalandhar, handed over the papers to Feroze Chand, editor of The People, an English weekly founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. The People published many of Bhagat Singh’s writings from these papers for the next two to three years.

The papers that Kumari Lajjawati handed over to Bejoy Kumar Sinha after his release from the Cellular Jail in 1938 were lost during the 1942 Quit India Movement. The person to whom Sinha handed over the writings to be kept in safe custody probably destroyed them himself out of fear of the colonial police.

Interestingly, in 2017-18, five letters of Bhagat Singh were found from the family papers of another younger brother of his, Ranvir Singh, whose son Sheonan Singh served in the Indian Army with distinction and retired as Major General a few years ago. Ranvir Singh had begun writing a biography of Bhagat Singh in Urdu, which he could not complete as he passed away.

Sheonan Singh could not read Urdu, so he gifted the papers to the Khatkar Kalan Bhagat Singh Memorial Museum set up by the Punjab government in the ancestral house of the Bhagat Singh family in its ancestral village of Khatkar Kalan near Jalandhar. Sheonan Singh sent the papers through an acquaintance sometime in 2017. In those Urdu papers, there were five letters in English, which were part of Bhagat Singh’s communication with British colonial officials regarding his surveillance. Interestingly, the most senior British officer of Punjab, the Chief Secretary, responded to a letter from 19-year-old Bhagat Singh in 1926.

This correspondence makes fascinating reading. When the existence of these letters was mentioned in the Punjab media, this writer requested Sheonan Singh for copies, which, incidentally, he himself did not keep even for the record, and the material was yet to reach Khatkar Kalan museum. However, Sheonan Singh did arrange to provide copies of these typed letters to this writer, and these have been reproduced here with due credit to Sheonan Singh.

The English material found among the Ranvir Singh-held papers included seven letters of communication between British officials and Bhagat Singh and one statement by ‘Azad’. Of the five letters from Bhagat Singh, three relate to his strong resentment at his mail being intercepted in 1926. Two letters relate to his arrest and subsequent release after five weeks in 1927. Bhagat Singh wrote all the letters on his father’s letterhead in typed form, and from this correspondence it seems that one letter of October 26 is missing, which had been responded to by The Postmaster, Lahore, on October 30. The first letter by Bhagat Singh from these discovered letters is dated November 1, 1926, and it is in response to the letter of October 30, 1926, from The Postmaster, Lahore.

The letter is as follows:
The Postmaster
I thank you for your favour dated 30th October 1926, No D2850. In reply to the same I may request that I tore off all the envelopes whenever I received them. Yet this one referred in my last letter, was preserved, and is being enclosed herewith. This was posted at Bombay on 13th October, two days before the other one, but was delivered on 23rd along with that one. The circumstances were quite normal. The letter box contained a few letters at first delivery. The letter box was emptied by myself. When at 12 or so at noon I again opened my letter box I found these two and another letter there. The circumstances were quite ordinary.

But I have been marking since one or two months that all the letters addressed to me were stamped and then stamped again [emphasis added throughout]. Cut exactly at the same place. This of course did arise suspecion in my mind. I had no desire to write at first but at the receipt of these two letters I was anxious to know the real cause. This envelope will help you upto some extent to prove the truth of allegation.

But may I request you to write a definite answer to my first letter—Are any letters opened or intercepted? If so why?

I am certain about one thing and that is this that they were not delivered to me by the first delivery but were detained for a day or two. This envelope will help you in this matter too.

The above letter was in response to The Postmaster’s letter of October 30, 1926, reproduced below:
The Postmaster
Lahore GPO
S. Bhagat Singh
C/O The Himalya Ass: Coy Ltd:
Lahori Gate, Lahore.
No. D. 2850 dated at Lahore the 30.10.1926
I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 26th instant: addressed to the Postmaster General Punjab and N.W.F. Circle, Lahore and request that you will send per bearer the covers of the letter which are alleged to have been restamped and delivered to you late.

The enclosed envelope does not bear the 2nd delivery stamp. The postmarks show that it was posted Bombay on the 15th and received in this office by the 11 A.M. delivery on Sunday the 17th: Kindly let me know the circumstances under which you state that it was delivered to you on the 23rd.

I have etc..,

Postmaster Lahore
The second and third letters of Bhagat Singh of November 17 and 26, 1926, are addressed to Secretary, Punjab Government, with reference to the interception of his post. Bhagat Singh addressed the Punjab government, Lahore, through its bureaucracy. In the first letter he refers to the Postmaster’s letter of November 16 (which was not among the matter found) telling him that his post was being intercepted as per the order of the Punjab government.

The November 17 letter, typewritten, of Bhagat Singh is as follows:

C/O The Himalaya Ass: Co: Ltd:
Lahore, 17th Nov: 26
The Secretary,
The Punjab Government,
I enclose herewith a copy of letter of Postmaster Lahore G.P.O dated 16th instant addressed to me. In reply to my letter dated 1st instant addressed to him, he wrote to me that my letter were detained by that department under the orders of the Punjab Government.

May I ask you whether any such orders have been issued to that department? If so, when & why? And are there any letters that were intercepted and never delivered to me?

I would request you to kindly give a direct plain and detailed reply to it. Moreover, will you please let me know what led you to issue such orders?

Awaiting an early reply,
Yours obediently,
Sd/- Bhagat Singh

When there was no response from the Punjab government, Bhagat Singh wrote a reminder on November 28, 1926, asserting his right to get a reply as an honest citizen:

C/O The Himalaya Ass: Co: Ld:
Lohari Gate
Lahore, 28th November, 26
The Secretary
The Punjab Government,
I beg to draw your kind attention towards my last letter dated 17th November, 1926, sent under a registered cover, which was received by you the very next day. It is more than a week since, and I have altogether failed to receive any reply to the same.

I had sent a copy of the Post Master’s letter dated 16th Nov: addressed to me telling me that my letters were intercepted under the orders of the Punjab Govt:. Naturally I was very anxious to know what led the Punjab Govt: to issue such orders. I think that as an honest citizen I have a right to enquire such a question relating to myself. But I have not received any reply to that letter. Will you kindly send a reply to the same at an early date and also let me know the cause of this delay?

Hoping to be favoured soon.

Yours obediently,
Sd/- Bhagat Singh

The letters to the Punjab government elicited a response from no less than the Chief Secretary of Punjab, H D Craik, on November 27, 1926, informing him that it was the Governor of Punjab himself who gave the order for interception and censuring of his mail/post. One wonders how such a powerful British colonial regime became so scared of a 19-year-old boy.

Chief Secretary H D Craik’s response was as follows:
No: 9349-S.B.
H D Craik, CSI, ICS,
Chief Secretary to Govt: Punjab
S. Bhagat Singh C/O the Himalya
Assurance Company Ltd:, Lohari Gate
Dated Lahore the 27th November, 1926.
In reply to your letter, dated the 17th November, 1926, I am directed to inform you that orders for the interception of your correspondence were issued by the Governor of the Punjab in council in accordance with the provisions of section 26(1) of the Indian Post Office Act, 1898(VI of 1898), as amended by section 6 of the Indian Post Office (amendment) Act of 1912 (III of 1912)

I have etc…

Sd/- H D Craik
Chief Secretary to Govt: Punjab

The next two letters by Bhagat Singh addressed to British officials are part of the correspondence relating to his first arrest on May 29, 1927, and release on bail bonds on July 4, 1927.

Interestingly, Bhagat Singh refers here to Punjab Assembly question in regard to his arrest and bail bonds by Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava, MLC, who became the first Chief Minister of East Punjab after Partition.

In this context, one letter of May 1929 was already available, now two earlier letters of May and June 1928 have also been found.

The following is Bhagat Singh’s letter to the District Magistrate of Lahore with regard to the cancellation of his bail bonds:

Shahanshahi Kutia,
Sutarmandi, Lahore 9.5.28
The District Magistrate
Kindly let me know the exact date on which my personal bond: for Rs 20000/- and bail bonds & surities for Rs 20000/- each (in the case Crown vs Bhagat Singh section 302 I.P.C.) were cancelled, as stated by the hon: Sir Geoffrey and De-Montmousery in reply to starred question no. 1386(d) put by Dr Gopi Chand Bhargwa MLC on the 8th instant in the Punjab Legislative Council.

An early reply will highly oblige

Yours etc.
(In the hand of S. Bhagat Singh. No Signature)

The last of Bhagat Singh’s recently discovered five letters was written to the Superintendent, Punjab CID, Lahore on June 19, 1928:
Shahanshahi Kutia
Lahore, 19 VI’28

The Superintendent
Punjab CID (Political)
Dear Sir,
I am sorry to say that I have not received any reply to my last letter requesting to return all my clothes and papers that were taken from my body at the time of my arrest on May the 29th 1927, and the clothes and books that were sent by my father while I was in the police custody. Will you kindly let me know by the return when and where can I get the same?
Hoping to be favoured soon.

Yours etc.
Shahanshahi Kutia
Sutarmandi, Lahore

One tribute to Bhagat Singh after his execution is also found in these papers. This tribute is by Azad, who could not be Chandrashekhar Azad as he was martyred one month before Bhagat Singh’s execution. At best as reflected from language and style, it could possibly be of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was a very senior Congress leader then and later too.
S Bhagat Singh (after death)

The execution of S. Bhagat Singh was felt in India as something more than a public calamity; men, women and boys turned pale, as if they had heard of the loss of a dear friend, they wept whole the night. An object of our admiration and affection, of our pride and of our hope was suddenly taken from us and it seemed as if we had never till then, known how deeply we loved and revered him. India had lost in its great hero-a patriot. He cannot be said to have fallen prematurely whose work was done. The most triumphant death is that of a martyr; the most awful of that of the martyred patriot. He has left us, not indeed his mentle (sic) of inspiration, but a name and example, which are at this hour inspiring thousands of the youth of Mother India, a name which is our pride and an example which will continue to be our shield and our strength. Thus it is that the spirits of the great and the wise continue to live and to act after them.
Sd/- Azad

It is interesting that one keeps on finding Bhagat Singh’s writings even after 88 years of his execution. Who knows, the writings handed over by Bejoy Kumar Sinha to an unknown contact for safe-keeping and said to be destroyed may one day be found and may help the people of India know Bhagat Singh better, more deeply.

[Chaman Lal, a retired Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of a few books on Bhagat Singh, has set up the Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre at Delhi Archives of the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s