Dirty Hands: The tale of Bhagat Singh.
Look at the picture above. His name is Shaheed Bhagat Singh. ‘Shaheed’ is a hindi title given to a person who is a martyr. Shaheed Bhagat Singh was one of the most prolific freedom fighters in the Indian Independence struggle. He was also the most radical of them, using every form of action that Mahatma Gandhi condemned. He murdered a British officer who went by the name of J.P. Saunders in revolt of the Simon Commission. He also threw a bomb in a democratic assembly in opposition to a bill which became an act called the Defence of India Act. Furthermore, when he was convicted of and sentenced to life imprisonment and then death for the crimes he had committed, he made the courtroom and jailhouse his way of reaching out. He created havoc for the British officers in the jail, humiliated the court and led a major 67 day hunger strike in protest in the jail. Yet, he is identified among the greatest of Indian revolutionaries and is held in as high regard as Gandhi and other proponents of non-violence. Now the question here is that why is this so?
I turn to Michael Walzer to explain this. Walzer talks about Camus’ book The Just Assassins and according to me the revolutionary is just like the assassins. Walzer writes ‘The heroes are innocent criminals, just assassins, because having killed they are prepared to die – and will die’. The heroes here are Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his compatriots who rise up and force justice out of an unjust and suppressant regime. The revolutionaries have dirty hands, but these dirty hands are washed free once they get the ultimate sentence of death. In Walzers words, “On the scaffold they wash their hands clean and , unlike the suffering servant, they die happy”. Thus, the revolutionary is the figure who has dirty hands but for a cause that is greater than himself. Thus when he dies for his cause, the very act of dying for it makes him greater than the regime that has condemned him. A modern parallell of this is the man who let himself on fire in the Middle East in protest.
So, in conclusion, Bhagat Singh went on to fuel the socialist movement in India in the 1940’s and was the main reason behind a massive uprising from the youth. So was he a martyr? Yes. Did he have dirty hands? Yes. Was he a just assassin? Yes.
Inquilab Zindabad! [Hindi for ‘long live the revolution]