Professor Chaman Lal’s new book, ‘The Bhagat Singh Reader’, brings into prominence the martyr’s less widely known intellectual output. It presents in a single volume, a collection of all his writings and thoughts from his letters, telegrams, notices, articles and also his mails from prison to the Colonial administration and judiciary, that chalk out his subversive and progressive ideas. Bhagat Singh’s 43 sketches of Indian freedom fighters throw light on the larger picture of the Independence struggle. This is a book that reveals Bhagat Singh, the man and the thinker, the Marxist and the idealist. Professor Lal, who has researched and written extensively on Bhagat Singh and is an honorary advisor at Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi Archives.
Tell us about ‘The Bhagat Singh Reader’, its intent and the philosophy behind it.
The intent of the book is to bring to fore the unrecognised role of revolutionaries in the freedom struggle. This is to underline the fact that revolutionaries, especially Bhagat Singh and his comrades, had their own vision of a free India of not just change in rulers but of ways to overthrow the oppressive system of whites.
The book has been divided into five sections, with Section 1 being letters/telegrams. These letters are from school, college, Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary life, letters to the Colonial Administration and judiciary from jail, political and personal letters from jail and also telegrams from jail. Section 2 presents posters/notices/leaflets, while Section 3 is dedicated to court statements. Section 4 is essays, articles and sketches by Bhagat Singh that were published in various journals, while the last Section is the jail notebook.
What are your efforts for your continuing work on Bhagat Singh and your reason for extensive research on the topic?
It started from my young adult days. Like any person that age, I was attracted to Bhagat Singh, but I took to reading about him and their movement, which led me to research on finding his own writings. This was a long journey, which still continues.
I have been working on the subject since my days at JNU as a student. In 1986, the first anthology -‘Bhagat Singh Aur Unke Sathiyon Ke Dastavez’, was published in Hindi. Then, I started collecting Bhagat Singh’s writings, as he was the one who had advanced political thinking and the competence to express it in multiple languages — Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English. In Hindi, I brought out the complete writings in 2007. However, till December 2018, I kept retrieving more and more documents. That’s when I published six more letters of Bhagat Singh. In the 2007 anthology, I had 100 documents, while its Urdu and Marathi editions in 2014/16 had 125. Now, the latest English anthology has 130 documents and the jail notebook. I have been collecting material from archives like National Archives, British library London, Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hall, Jalandhar, and Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (Teen Murthy, New Delhi). . I gifted all this collected material to the Delhi Archives under Delhi Government for setting up Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, which was inaugurated on March 23, 2018. I am an honorary advisor to this centre.
What new light does the book shed on Bhagat Singh?
Bhagat Singh is the most popular icon of youth in India and South Asia. Yet, he is known as a fearless and brave revolutionary and not as an ideologically advanced revolutionary thinker as Che Guevara. His writings prove that he was not only brave and fearless, but a revolutionary thinker and organiser. If he was allowed to live, he would have organised peasants and workers of the country to overthrow not only British colonialism but system of feudal and capitalist exploitation and would guide them in building a people’s real democracy in India. With the publication of English edition of Bhagat Singh’s writings, he will now be recognised internationally like Che Guevara is. It will also become easier to get his writings published in many more Indian and foreign languages. This will lead to more academic research in India and abroad. Chris Moffat in England and Kama Maclean in Australia have already published their research abroad on him Singh and his revolutionary movement.