I may request you to write a definite answer…Are the letters opened or intercepted? If so, why,” wrote Bhagat Singh to the then postmaster of Lahore on November 1, 1926. He was 19 years old. On November 17, Bhagat wrote again, this time to HD Craik, chief secretary to the government of Punjab: “I want to know whether such orders (to intercept his letters) had been issued. Kindly, give me a direct, plain and detailed reply.”
The letters are among six other recently-discovered documents claimed to be written by/to Shaheed Bhagat Singh. They were found by Bhagat’s nephew, Major General Sheonan Singh (retd), among his father Ranvir Singh’s papers. Ranvir was Bhagat’s younger brother. The letters are typed copies, and their authenticity is yet to be verified. “I guess the original handwritten ones must be there with someone who might be ignorant about their importance or deliberately keeping them away,” says Sheonan.
The typed letters, however, are now with Harish Jain, the Chandigarh-based publisher of Bhagat Singh’s Jail Note Book: Its Context and Relevance. “I got them nearly seven-eight months ago. I’m planning to put them in the biography by Ranvir Singh, which will be published around March next year. It was written in Urdu, and I’ve had it translated to English and Punjabi,” says Jain. Sheonan has asked Jain to give the letters to the Khatkar Kalan Museum, which is a memorial to Bhagat.
Two of the letters, written in 1928, relate to the time he was first arrested. Four are from 1926, before his arrest, and relate to the Punjab government’s surveillance policies. When Bhagat got no reply to his November 17 letter to Craik, he wrote once again: “…the letter 17th November 1926 sent on a registered cover, which was received by you the very next day…It’s more than a week since and I’ve received a reply…Naturally, I was very anxious to know what led the Punjab government to issue such orders. I think as an honest citizen, I have a right to inquire such a question relating to myself…also let me know the cause of the delay.” After this, Bhagat received a reply by Craik the same month: “…Orders for the interception of your correspondence were issued by the Governor of Punjab in Council in accordance with the law Postal Office Act…”
According to Chaman Lal, a former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) teacher and researcher on the freedom fighter, Bhagat had come under the radar of the colonial police right after the Kakori train robbery in 1925. Though Bhagat was not linked to the Kakori conspiracy, the police had come to know about his links with Chandrashekhar Azad, who supported the robbery. The two 1928 letters are related to his first arrest on May 29, 1927, in a “false” case following a bomb blast during Dussehra 1926 in Lahore. Bhagat got bail for a surety of Rs 60,000 after around five weeks on July 4, 1927.
Bhagat wrote to the CID superintendent on June 19, 1928, requesting him to release his belongings that were seized during his arrest. “Return all my clothes and papers that were taken from my body at the time of my arrest,” he signs off from his home address, Shenshahi Kutia, Sutramandi, Lahore. His arrest and release on a surety, paid by three people, became a huge issue in the then Punjab Assembly. A starred question, 136 (D), was put forth by then MLC Gopi Chand Bhargava who went on to become the first chief minister of post-partition Punjab. Following this, his bail bond was cancelled.
Bhagat then wrote to the district magistrate on May 9, 1928: “Kindly let me know the exact date on which my personal bond was cancelled.”
Besides these letters, Sheonan also found a tribute to Bhagat signed by “Azad”. Lal, though says the “Azad” who has signed the tribute could not be Chandrashekhar Azad, as he was killed in February, 1931, before Bhagat Singh’s execution.
Lal is also trying to get copies of the letters for the Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi, that was launched on March 23 this year. The material at the centre, mostly donated by Lal, includes Bhagat’s documents, and journals. It also has resource material on other freedom fighters, records on 1857, Ghadar Party, Punjab, Sikhism, Jallianwalan Bagh, partition, history of India, as well as some RSS books. Five manuscripts by Shiv Verma, Bhagat’s comrade, and nearly 200 original letters of revolutionaries are also available at the centre.