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(A)theist Bhagat:Analysis of ‘Why I am an atheist’ by Bhagat Singh

“For the next 50 years, this alone shall be our keynote — this, our great Mother India. Let all other vain gods disappear for the time from our minds” – Swami Vivekananda, February 14, 1897, Madras

A student with a conviction and faith in idealism, the only bird’s eye this Arjuna could glance at was the freedom of the motherland; The freedom from the clutches of Poverty, of Slavery, of Dogmas and that of petty state of life, both on mental and physical plane. Born and brought up in a devoted Arya Samaji family, religiously following all the rituals and the prayers, Bhagat Singh truly stood upto the meaning of his name. The withdrawal of Non-Cooperation Movement, his association with HSRA, transition from being a follower to the leader of the revolutionaries, the series of events changed the outlook of the Sardar.

God, which happens to be a formless attribute for the Arya Samaji, took a form for this young man, an abstract was now concrete, the motherland was now the sole source of devotion, redressal to the sufferings of the countrymen was now the sole ritual, and as far as reward was considered, the means were ends in themselves. Reflection of Karma Yoga; One of the pivotal paths expounded over and over in the Indian tradition ,which instructs to work without any selfish motive, devoting the life for the sake of work, was clearly foreseeable from his outlook. He himself mentions:

“I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause. What more consolation can there be! A God-believing Hindu may expect to be reborn a king; a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries he hopes to enjoy in paradise as a reward for his sufferings and sacrifices. What hope should I entertain? I know that will be the end when the rope is tightened round my neck and the rafters move from under my feet. To use more precise religious terminology, that will be the moment of utter annihilation. My soul will come to nothing. If I take the courage to take the matter in the light of ‘Reward’, I see that a short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall itself be my ‘Reward.’ That is all. Without any selfish motive of getting any reward here or in the hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of freedom. I could not act otherwise.”

Being a dictator- a flagbearer of Vainglory, were the accusations alleged upon him during and even after his passing away, which seems to be an established fact when an outsider becomes cognizant of the essay titled ‘why I am an atheist’ by Bhagat Singh. ‘How could anyone be an atheist, moreover how could a role-model support the cause of anti-god?’ this becomes a subject of concern for the ‘Stakeholders’. But these are all mere allegations without much gravity. An analysis of the very same essay reflects to contrary of these depositions.

As far as the contemptible, obsolete, rotten values of our society were concerned, Bhagat Singh was extremely sceptical, but so does rationale demands. As Swami Vivekananda also puts down ‘To believe blindly is to degenerate the human soul. Be an atheist if you want, but do not believe in anything unquestioningly.’ Bhagat Singh canvassed the same spirit in the article as “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.”

Arbitrary- ignorant support to one’s belief was not the modus-operandi of Bhagat, he resorted to extraneous- extensive study to build up his mind upon the foundation of rationale. A young-handsome lad in the peak of his youth, despite all the potential distractions, yet versed with Bakunin, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, apart from the writings of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, other Indian revolutionaries and the Arya Samaj literature was in itself a commendable task. After going through the plethora of texts on religion, God and human interaction, what inspired him, as he mentions in this essay (why I am an atheist),was a book Common Sense by Nirlamba Swami, a Sanyasi in Advaita tradition, which believe not the world to be any creation but a Projection of the Existence.

In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna rebukes Arjuna as a hypocrite when the latter bragged about renunciation and religion, when faced with a dilemma, and asked him to follow not anything but the Swadharma (one’s own prescribed duty). Bhagat Singh was a true embodiment of this spirit. Never did he bragged about religion or mystified the God, and treaded his chosen path, without any undue reliance on Super-natural. As he penned down in the article “If you have no belief in Him, then there is no alternative but to depend upon yourself.”

‘The commoners replicate what the leader expounds’ Gita touches upon this theory but the Sardar lived the same. Had he indulged himself in any dogma or had portrayed any goal apart from the freedom of Motherland, as a Supreme goal, the same would have had an impact on the followers of his. Had he worked for the self, selfishness is what he would have propounded, but he did otherwise, which he himself canvassed as: “The day shall usher in a new era of liberty when a large number of men and women, taking courage from the idea of serving humanity and liberating them from sufferings and distress, decide that there is no alternative before them except devoting their lives for this cause. They will wage a war against their oppressors, tyrants or exploiters, not to become kings, or to gain any reward here or in the next birth or after death in paradise; but to cast off the yoke of slavery, to establish liberty and peace they will tread this perilous, but glorious path.”

The withdrawal of Non-Cooperation movement in 1922 marked the disjointment of the path with the Mahatma. Bhagat Singh, like a devoted follower gave himself to the movement, and when the victory was quite apparent, the movement was called-off, this proved as the division of hearts with the breaking of Bhagat’s. The injection of religion and God in politics by Gandhiji was a subject to widespread disagreement, be it from Pt. Nehru or from Dr. Hedgewar who later established the much eulogized Rashtriye Swayamsevak Sangh. Bhagat Singh was not an exception to this. The respect for the Mahatma was still intact but his path was no more the ‘sanctum sanctorum’, each pronouncement was scrutinized minutely. Bhagat noted “Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back”.

The dissent was against the rotting skeleton and not the spirit per se. “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.” His motive was not to create an anarchy and turmoil in the masses, but to portray a path, build up-on the gravel of rationale and conscious reasoning. He penned: “Any person who claims to be a realist has to challenge the truth of old beliefs. If faith cannot withstand the onslaught of reason, it collapses. After that his task should be to do the groundwork for new philosophy. This is the negative side. After that comes in the positive work in which some material of the olden times can be used to construct the pillars of new philosophy.”

Furthermore, rather than bragging on his beliefs and condemning the other views prima facie, Bhagat Singh humbly proposed “As far as I am concerned, I admit that I lack sufficient study in this field. But so far as I reject the old time beliefs, it is not a matter of countering belief with belief, rather I can challenge the efficacy of old beliefs with sound arguments.”
Taking the inquisitive legacy of Shankara, Ram Mohan Roy, Dayananda and Vivekananda ahead, Bhagat Singh put forward the questions like; ‘why did God created the world?’ ‘If there is any God, why there exists so poverty, hunger, grief, woe and misery in the world?’ ‘Why does the lord still follows the retributive theory of punishment when, even the brutes among the men have validated the Reformative theory?’ Just like an angry kid refuses to get into the lap of his mother, he threw the arrows of questions. “I don’t think that by strengthening my belief in God and by offering prayers to Him every day, I can bring improvement in my situation, nor can I further deteriorate it. I have read of many atheists facing all troubles boldly, so I am trying to stand like a man with the head high and erect to the last; even on the gallows.”, he reiterated with a firm conviction “I thought that I would settle it to myself whether I could brag only in days of peace and happiness that I was an atheist, or in those hard times I could be steadfast in my convictions”.

The idea of freedom was the only idea he had, and he lived up to what Vivekananda used to say ‘Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone’. The only desire left in him (Bhagat) was that of freedom of motherland, he lived for it. When the gallows confronted him, and the death-fairy was at the door, any attachment towards the ‘life’ would have had been a coward’s sign thus he firmly exclaimed “For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray”.

When the only thing to lose were the shackles, the only path to tread was that of self-belief and Bhagat Singh marched upon it with a valor and grace.

As Swami Vivekananda professed “If you have faith in all the three hundred and thirty millions of your mythological Gods, and in all the Gods which foreigners have now and again introduced into your midst, and still have no faith in yourselves, there is no salvation for you.”

Bhagat truly stood up to the genesis of his name, with the motherland as the deity and the self as the oblation.

Nitish Rai Parwani

Nitish is a Law student at GGS, Indraprastha University. A renowned name in mooting, he has deep interest and expertise in disciplines of constitutionalism, philosophy and criminal law. A disciple of Swami Vivekananda, he is also an active Member of Vivekananda Youth Forum, Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi.

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