When Pritilata Waddedar was my age, twenty-one, she led a team of 15 revolutionaries in an attack against a European clubhouse that displayed a sign saying “no dogs or Indians allowed”. Upon being caught by British police, she swallowed potassium cyanide, preferring death to being held in the custody of imperialists. Just over a year before her death, three members of the Hindustan Socialist Republic Alliance, Shivaram Rajguru, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar were hung to death, none of them older than twenty-three. Faced with execution by hanging, Bhagat Singh made one last petition, “we claim to be shot dead instead of to be hanged. It rests with you to prove that you really meant what your court has said and prove it through action.” It was his belief that, if they were convicted as war prisoners, they should be treated as such. His request was never met.
The reason I raise the examples of Pritilata Waddedar and Bhagat Singh is for two intimately related reasons. Firstly, I am of the strong belief that the freedom my people and I enjoy today is because of people like them. Their decisions may not have been popular, both in broader society and to those close to them. Nor would they be venerated to the same degree as the Indian figures that chose the path of non-violence, sipping cups of tea as they “negotiated” with their oppressors. However, when faced with the worst of conditions, they chose to take arms and fight meaningfully for something they believed in.
Secondly, they remind me of a powerful and often forgotten notion; that of cultural inheritance. When thinking about Bhagat Singh and Pritilata Waddedar, I am reminded not only of the abstract notion of freedom, but of all the beautiful things that have come with it – literature, music, cinema, free thought and the formation of my very identity. Somewhere, buried deep within that reflection, is also a sense of profound loss over the writers, poets, thinkers and leaders whose lives were cut short.
I understand that for many, it is difficult to experience any sort of connection to figures like Singh and Waddedar. They may think that the revolutionaries of the past emerged from a simpler time, untroubled by the personal tribulations that many of us face today. Perhaps they believe that their context is different from ours – claiming that the broader system of colonialism has functionally been dismantled. It is my hope that this edition dispels those myths. The feature this week discusses the vices of neo-imperialism and the resistance to it. We also have articles on political situations developing in Venezuela and the revolution in Haiti. In light of those pieces, I hope that readers are made aware of the fact that student revolutionaries do have a place in modern society. We have power, whether we choose to seize it is up to us.
sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamāre dil men hai dekhna hai zor kitna bazu-e-qatil men hai