How do you imagine an 18-year-old millennial today? Probably too occupied with reels or stressing about exams. This luxury of independence comes at a price 18-year-old revolutionaries paid decades ago. The life of these young revolutionaries will leave you in horripilation. The undying spirit, the josh, the clarity of thoughts, the understanding of pain of fellow countrymen is a hard sight today. Times when Indians were agonised by the British. Freedom didn’t come easy and it cannot be overemphasized.
Batukeshwar Dutt was just 18 when on 8 April 1929, he, along with Bhagat Singh got arrested for bombing the Central Legislative Assembly with smoke bombs to mark their protest against the Trade Disputes and Public Safety Bills. Their fearless self didn’t budge bearing the consequence of the act under the nose of the supremacy betrothed by the British then. Instead, they chanted slogans of Inquilab Zindabad (Long live the revolution) and Samrajyavad ka nash ho (down with imperialism).
However, the valour of Batukeshwar Dutt has been sneaked into the cracks of the colonial past and what we get is the shadow of him behind the other revolutionary freedom fighters like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, Rajguru and Ashfaqullah Khan. Today ( July 20, 2021)marks the death anniversary of the long-forgotten working-class revolutionary who couldn’t be bogged down by any force but an ailment that took his life. He died in a hospital in Delhi in 1965. He was cremated beside where his comrades Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were cremated decades earlier.
How did Dutt’s revolutionary journey start?
The journey of Batukeshwar Dutt as a revolutionary activist started at a very young age when he witnessed the brutal beating of an Indian Indian child at the hands of the British on the Mall road in Kanpur. The child had walked on the road forbidden for Indians. The incident changed him forever, he indulged in anti-colonial activities. The destiny of such revolutionaries is carved strangely, with unwavering passion and intrepidness.
At this juncture, Dutt encounters Sureshchandra Bhattacharya, editor at Pratap, and through him got in contact with the revolutionaries like Sachindranath Sanyal (co-founder of the Hindustan Republican Association(HRA) in 1924). Both Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwarr Dutt joined the HRA party around the same time.
The famous Kakori conspiracy case in 1925 led to a massive disorder within the HRA party as several leaders were witch-hunted and arrested, while a few were able to escape and remain grounded. Among them was Dutt who then left for Bihar and later to Calcutta where he participated in Workers and Peasant Party activities. Later, when the HRA revamped under Chandrasekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, Dutt moved back to Kanpur. With that, the party’s plans came back to ‘action.’
Bombing the assembly: April 8, 1929
The HRA was shaping its politics around people and their interests, and hence, incorporated mass politics. HRA retaliated with armed struggles and challenged British supremacy. In the wake of people’s politics, in 1927, the party’s name was changed to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), recognising socialism as one of the goals to be achieved through freedom struggle. And soon the revolution by the masses vis-a-vis socialism literature began to surface.
The two controversial bills, Public Safety Bill and Trade Dispute Bill, immediate enforcement by the Viceroy amid nationwide protests were seen as an opportunity by the HSRA, to raise a strong voice against the colonial state.
On 8 April 1929, when the members of the Central Legislative Assembly had gathered together to discuss their regular affairs, marking an empty space, Bhagat Singh and Dutt threw smoke bombs and flew away leaflets that carried the slogan, “It takes a loud sound to make the deaf hear.” Within moments, smoke started filling the area and shouts of “Inquilab Zindabad” (long live the revolution) and Samrajyavaad ka naash ho echoed in the hall.
The agenda of the two young revolutionaries was to make their voices heard and they did not leave the commotion but stayed.
Batukeshwarr Dutt was given a life sentence in the assembly bomb case and was exiled to the Andaman Cellular Jail. However, it did not break his will and Dutt joined in two hunger strikes for the rights of political prisoners and against the inhuman torture. Writing about the ideological transformation B.K. Dutt underwent in Andaman Jail, Manmathnath Gupta, a fellow revolutionary, wrote:
“Although [Initially] Dutt was not a studious revolutionary, in the studious environment of Andaman Jail he thoroughly read and engaged with Socialist theory….He had become a hard-core Socialist ”.
From being transferred from Andaman jail in 1937 to Hazaribagh jail; from Delhi jail and to the Patna jail to ultimately being released on September 8. Dutt’s health began to deteriorate probably due to several ailments that he caught during his time in jail experiencing the inhuman torture.
The Life after
Dutt was amongst the few who survived and saw independent India, but unlike his revolution days, he struggled and led an “unrecognised life in independent India, while finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet”. His life oscillated carrying out varying jobs — from a cigarette company agent to tinkering in the transport business and even returning to independent India’s politics for a brief time.
History seems to have forgotten his role in the youth-led politics under the British raj. Today, only a token of recognition is extended to Dutt.
On 22 November 1964, when Dutt fell severely ill and arrived in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, he reportedly said, “I had never imagined that I would be carried like a cripple to the city where I had thrown a bomb and shouted slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.”