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Across borders, Bhagat Singh lives in millions of hearts

By Jaideep Sarin

Amritsar/Khatkar Kalan (Punjab), Sep 27 (IANS) Bhagat Singh is a name that resonates instantly in Punjab – be it in India or Pakistan. Across the border between the two countries that separated 60 years ago, the legend of the martyr who fought the British Raj and embraced death at the prime of his youth continues to live.

If on the Indian side, the Sikh holy city of Amritsar is being decorated and illuminated to mark the birth centenary of the revolutionary Friday, in Pakistan the government proposes setting up a memorial for the martyr at his birthplace in Banga village of Lyallpur district.

Call it coincidence or curious fact, but the native village of Bhagat Singh’s ancestors on the Indian side – Khatkar Kalan – is just five km from another town called Banga.

Bhagat Singh laid down his life fighting to throw the British out of his homeland. Today, young men of Khatkar Kalan have left that homeland, spread all over the world and sent home lots of money – making the village one of the most modern and prosperous in Punjab.

“Khatkar Kalan is proud to be associated with Bhagat Singh. The village has seen a transformation is recent years, especially after (former) president A.P.J. Abdul Kalan came here in 2002,” Nihang leader and former headman of the village Kashmira Singh told IANS.

The ascent of Bhagat Singh as a revolutionary in India’s years of freedom struggle was meteoric. He shot dead British police officer J.P. Saunders in 1928 and later threw bombs at the central legislative assembly in Lahore in April 1929.

He was arrested and charged with waging a war on the British empire. An atheist, Bhagat Singh was finally hanged by the British at Lahore prison March 23, 1931 along with freedom fighters Sukhdev and Rajguru. He was not yet 24.

The birth centenary celebrations in Indian Punjab will be spread from Khatkar Kalan to Amritsar and several other places in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

Bhagat Singh’s nephew, Jagmohan Singh, a professor, has said that contrary to the popular image of the martyr that he was a revolutionary fighter, Bhagat Singh was actually a revolutionary thinker.

“Bhagat Singh laid down his life fighting against the system which exploits the poor, farmers and the labour class. The ailing system and not white-skinned people was his target. But 60 years down the line, the system of exploitation continues unabated,” Jagmohan Singh said here on the eve of the martyr’s birth centenary.

He said certain vested interests did not want Bhagat Singh to be projected as a revolutionary thinker. “Regimes thought nothing beyond projecting Bhagat Singh as a revolutionary fighter who always kept a revolver in his hand,” he pointed out.

A contingent of relatives of Bhagat Singh from across the globe descended here Wednesday to be part of his birth centenary celebrations.

Around 3,000 youth will take a procession of “mashaals” from Khatkar Kalan to Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh for the birth centenary event.