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Give Me Blood And I Will Give You Freedom
Last April, two Indian students visited my high school for a few weeks and joined my world history class.
One day, during a discussion of the Indian independence movement, I asked all of my students in the class to hold up their hands if they had ever heard of Bhagat Singh or Subhas Chandra Bose.
Only two hands went up, those belonging to our visitors from India.
Our Indian guests expressed shock and dismay that their American peers had never heard these two names that are so familiar to Indians.
The vast majority of Indians view Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose as critical figures in India’s struggle for independence, and many
Indians view them as equally important as the Mahatma, Mohandas K. Gandhi, the individual most closely associated with the Indian independence movement.
A history teacher at one of India’s leading secondary schools describes Bose and Singh as “British India’s most loved and most controversial figures.”
In 2006, the top-grossing movie in India was Rang de Basanti, a Bollywood film about a group of disaffected college students in today’s India who find inspiration in the legend of Bhagat Singh.
High school history textbooks in India often devote an entire chapter to Subhas Chandra Bose, whom many Indians call the “George Washington of India.
The tenth-grade text used at the aforementioned prestigious private school calls Bose’s contributions to Indian independence “unforgettable” and describes
Singh was a prominent revolutionary “who will be remembered by history” for his contributions to the Indian struggle for independence.
While most historians, whether Western or Indian, agree that Gandhi should be recognized as the most important figure in India’s independence movement,
few Americans understand the critical role played by Singh and Bose.
Most Americans are taught that Gandhi brought about Indian independence virtually on his own, mostly through his deep commitment to nonviolence (ahimsa).
Gandhi, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture in 1982, captures this thoroughly Western view of India’s long and tortuous struggle for independence.
Westerners who view the Indian independence movement as the victory of nonviolence over oppression may be quite surprised to learn about
Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose because these two figures were anything but nonviolent.
Singh assassinated a British police officer in 1928 and then a year later threw two bombs onto the floor of India’s fledgling legislature.
Bose, once a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress, collaborated with the German and Japanese governments during World War II to raise an army of Indian soldiers with which to fight the British.
months, the story of his daring exploit and clever escape attained mythical status especially in the Punjab and northern India. In a clear rebuke to Gandhi, ordinary Indians began calling Singh and compatriots “Freedom Fighters.”
One year later, Singh and two of his co-conspirators emerged from hiding and attacked the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi, an important symbol of growing Indian autonomy but one that many nationalists such as Singh denounced as a rubber-stamp body under British control.
Singh and his accomplices threw two bombs from the visitors’ gallery during a session.
According to Singh, no one was intentionally injured in the ensuing explosions.
He and his co-conspirators quickly surrendered, knowing that a public trial would afford them a pulpit from which to proclaim their cause and possibly win converts.
Sure enough, the resulting trial was front-page news throughout India for months, and Singh’s reputation was enhanced as he and his supporters in the courtroom taunted the British authorities with cries of “Inquilab zindabad!” (“Long live the revolution!”).3
The spectacle of a small group of brave, young Indians standing up publicly to the British authorities placed Gandhi in a quandary.
If he denounced the bombers, Gandhi risked alienating huge segments of India’s population who admired Singh.
Gandhi’s solution was to let his subordinates contain the damage by offering legal support to the defendants during the trial and issuing vague statements that neither condemned nor praised Singh’s actions.
During the trial, Singh issued a statement that mocked Gandhi’s strategy as “utopian nonviolence, of whose futility the rising generation has been convinced.”
4 Unfortunately for Singh, new evidence at the trial linked him to the earlier killing and led to his conviction for murder and a death sentence.
After Singh’s 1931execution, his supporters immediately proclaimed Singh a Shah
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