By the beginning of 20th century, a new form of political trend had come to occupy the framework of the national movement in India. As explained by historian Bipin Chandra in his classic work, “India’s Struggle for Independence,” these impatient young men “took to the path of individual heroism and revolutionary terrorism. This was primarily because they could find no other way of expressing their patriotism.” Three youths among them, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Guru and Shivaram Rajguru went on to play an eminent role in this aggressive form of nationalist uprising and are remembered for the brave sacrifices made by them. Audacious, determined and pragmatic, these young men consciously decided to betray the path laid out by the Congress leaders to reach the goal of independence.
Today as we pay homage to them on their death anniversary and celebrate their bravery, it might be worthwhile to look back and examine their social and political philosophies that are more pertinent in contemporary India than ever before. Writing about the radicalism of Bhagat Singh, historian S. Irfan Habib says that “Bhagat Singh and his associates were fervent about two fundamental issues, both of which have contemporary national and international relevance: one is the increasing religious and cultural discord, and the other is the reorganization of society on a socialistic basis.”
In present times as the country struggles to find religious liberation in political governance, it is Bhagat Singh’s ideas of atheism that needs to be reflected upon and drawn inspiration from. Though in his early twenties, Singh had developed an idea of independent India that was free not just from the British but also from any kind of socio-religious oppression. One of the foremost factors leading to this free space, according to Singh was the necessity to question and then do away with religion all together. If at all religion were to exist, it should be a private affair and kept away from political activities. As noted by political scientist, Nirmal Singh, according to Bhagat Singh “if religion is separated from politics, we can come together in political matters while remaining aloof from religious point of view.”
On September 27, 1931 an article of Singh appeared in the newspaper, “The people”, by the title “why I am an atheist” which he had written the previous year while in jail. Celebrated for being a logical analysis of all religious faiths, in this piece of strong evocative writing, Singh questions the value in blind submission to any religious belief without demanding a logical basis for it. Read here, an excerpt from Singh’s work translated from Gurmukhi to English and currently archived by the website, “marxists.org.”
“I think that any man who has some reasoning power always tries to understand the life and people around him with the help of this faculty. Where concrete proofs are lacking, [mystical] philosophy creeps in. As I have indicated, one of my revolutionary friends used to say that “philosophy is the outcome of human weakness.” Our ancestors had the leisure to solve the mysteries of the world, its past, its present and its future, its whys and its wherefores, but having been terribly short of direct proofs, every one of them tried to solve the problem in his own way. Hence we find wide differences in the fundamentals of various religious creeds. Sometimes they take very antagonistic and conflicting forms. We find differences in Oriental and Occidental philosophies. There are differences even amongst various schools of thoughts in each hemisphere. In Asian religions, the Muslim religion is completely incompatible with the Hindu faith. In India itself, Buddhism and Jainism are sometimes quite separate from Brahmanism. Then in Brahmanism itself, we find two conflicting sects: Aarya Samaj and Snatan Dheram. Charwak is yet another independent thinker of the past ages. He challenged the Authority of God. All these faiths differ on many fundamental questions, but each of them claims to be the only true religion. This is the root of the evil. Instead of developing the ideas and experiments of ancient thinkers, thus providing ourselves with the ideological weapon for the future struggle, – lethargic, idle, fanatical as we are – we cling to orthodox religion and in this way reduce human awakening to a stagnant pool.
It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.”