When Allama Iqbal stood up for Bhagat Singh
If I tell you that the famous Urdu poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a supporter of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh and fought a legal battle for the great Indian revolutionary will you believe ? You should. Because, it is true.
In 1929 after Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw two smoke bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly, Delhi and offered arrests the latter was implicated in Saunders murder case as well. A number of Indian revolutionaries including Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were charged for the murder of police officer John Saunders in Lahore. The police did not have enough evidence against the revolutionaries and with a normal judicial procedure they could not have been hanged. So, the British government introduced ‘Lahore Ordinance No. III of 1930’ which facilitated formation of a Special Tribunal to try the revolutionaries. This Special Tribunal had special powers which allowed it to try the revolutionaries without even producing them in court or having any representative lawyer.
On 1 May, 1930, this ordinance was signed by the Viceroy Lord Irwin giving powers to the Chief Justice Shadi Lal to constitute the tribunal. The Next Day, Lahore High Court Bar Association challenged the tribunal on constitutional grounds. One of the most important members of the Bar Association was Allama Iqbal, the famous Urdu poet. The government rejected the plea of the association but the Indian lawyers would not be silenced so easily. A Sub-Committee was formed to look into the illegality of the tribunal formed to try Bhagat Singh. This sub-committee of the Bar Association had Allama Iqbal as one of its four members. The detailed report it submitted, denouncing the unlawful tribunal, on 20 June, 1930 was signed by four prominent lawyers of Lahore – Allama Iqbal, Barkat Ali, Gokal Chand Narang, and Nanak Chand.
Interestingly, during the proceedings one Indian judge, Sayyad Agha Haider, was sacked by the British for protesting against the injustice. Haider was a close friend of Allama Iqbal. Only God knows if his decision to oppose the British from the chair of judge, which cost him his job, had any contribution from Allama Iqbal or not.
On 7 October, 1930, the tribunal pronounced the death sentence to Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. Allama Iqbal was once again at the forefront of the agitation against this unjust sentence. On 27 February, 1931, he moved a petition against the death sentence which was signed by many people along with him. The Viceroy rejected the petition and the revolutionaries were hanged till death on 23 March, 1931. Every Indian wept that day. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas recalled later how students at Aligarh Muslim University wept with tears at the news of the great martyrdom of these nationalists.
(The author is a neurobiologist with an interest in history, politics and culture)