Cover Feature
Remembering Batukeshwar Dutt
Remembering Batukeshwar Dutt

"I am leaving behind a part of myself in Batukeshwar Dutt" : Bhagat Singh

On 16 July 1930 the atmosphere in Lahore Central Jail was gloomy. On that day Batukeshwar Dutt was to be sent from Lahore Central Jail to Multan Jail and thus he was going to be separated from his dear comrade Bhagat Singh. The British had realized that there were only two main revolutionary leaders--Bhagat Singh and Batukehwar Dutt. So they had made the plan to separate the two and weaken the coordination between revolutionaries. As Batukeshwar was getting ready to leave Lahore Central Jail, the faces of all the revolutionaries were sorrowful but their eyes were full of dreams for the future. Bhagat Singh took out his diary and took Batukehwar's signature in it. After the verdict on the Lahore conspiracy case, Bhagat Singh wrote a very moving letter to Batukeshwar Dutt--"I will die on the gallows and show the world that we have to sacrifice ourselves willingly for the fulfillment of revolutionary ideals. I will die, but you will remain alive to bear the punishment of life imprisonment, and it is my firm belief that you will prove that a revolutionary can gladly suffer lifelong torture for the sake of his objectives. You have escaped death sentence and through the tortures you will suffer you will be able to show that the noose, to embrace which I am ready and waiting, is not a means of escaping from torture. Revolutionaries have the strength of will to remain alive and bear lifelong torture and suffering".

In a letter to his mother Bhagat Singh wrote, "I am going, but in Batukehwar Dutt I am leaving behind a part of myself". And in truth, Batukeshwar Dutt kept alive and carried forward the dreams of the revolutionary group throughout his life despite innumerable hardships. The jails of Lahore, Multan, Salem, Andaman and Bankipur Jail in Patna are replete with the history of his struggles. Until the time of Independence his life was spent in incarceration. His body was broken by the series of brutal tortures in jails and he became prey to bone cancer but not for a second was his revolutionary fervour dimmed.

Early Days in Batukeshwar Dutt's Life

Batukeshwar Dutt's family was from Oadi village in Khandaghosh Thana, Burdwan District, West Bengal. He was born on 18 November 1911. He had his early schooling in Kanpur. Even as a student he was imbued with a feeling of patriotism. In those days Kanpur City was an important centre for the revolutionary movement. He came into contact with revolutionaries abd read books on patriotism by Garibaldi and Mezzini. In 1924 Sacindra Nath Sanyal formed a revolutionary party in Kanpur, the Hindustan Prajatantrik Sangh. Dutt came into contact with him and, along with Vijay Kumar Sinha, Ajay Ghosh and Surendra Nath Pandey, formed the Kanpur Gymnastic Club and also started a hand-written magazine, Kranti. He left his studies half-way because of his involvement in the revolutionary movement. He soon became very popular in the revolutionary group.

How Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt Met

Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt met for the first time in Kanpur and they became a very popular duo. Both were extremely bright and studious. Dutt started reciting to Bhagat Singh revolutionary poems written by the celebrated Bengali poet Nazrul Islam. These had a deep impact on Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh learned Bengali from Dutt and with his help began reading Karl Marx. He also joined the Hindustan Prajatantrik Sangh. In those days the 'Pratap' office was the centre of the revolutionary movement and Bhagat Singh wrote many excellent reports as the representative of the newspaper.

Dutt's Journey from Kanpur to Calcutta

Batukeshwar Dutt's mother used to live in Banaras. He travelled to Banaras to meet her, but after her death he went to Calcutta instead of returning to Kanpur. At that time Calcutta was an important hub for revolutionary activities. The workers' and peasants' movements were also in full spate. In Calcutta Dutt met communist movement leader Muzaffar Ahmed. As he was born and brought up in Kanpur, Dutt's hold over Hindi was good. Muzaffar Ahmed entrusted him with the work of organizing Hindi speaking workers. He became a member of the Bengal Workers and Peasants Party and worked there for a time.

Formation of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association

The nationalist movement which had abated for a while resurged with renewed vigour after the coming of the Simon Commission. Huge protest meetings were organized across the country. There was a new energy in revolutionary groups also. There was no dearth of revolutionary groups, but most were regional organizations. There was no all India organization. It was in this light that the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association was formed in 1928 amid the historic ruins of the Ferozeshah Tughlaq Fort in Delhi. The word 'Socialist' was added to the name of the Association in response to Bhagat Singh's proposal. The ultimate aim of this Association was to gain Independence and establish a socialist state.

The Killing of Sanders and Bhagat Singh's Journey to Calcutta

The revolutionaries protested the murder of Lala Lajpat Rai by killing Sanders. This killing shook the entire British machinery and an intense repression drive was launched for arresting the revolutionaries. As a result, all the revolutionaries were forced to move out. Bhagat Singh shed his Sardar look and reached Calcutta in a long coat and hat. There he once again met Batukeshwar Dutt. Dutt took him to his ancestral village Oadi where both stayed for some time, but the police got wind of their whereabouts and they went underground. The tunnel in which they hid is present to this day in the village.

Bhagat and Batukeshwar

* Batukeshwar Dutt's daughter Bharti Bagchi's message to the People's Convention

Today is the birth anniversary of the great revolutionary Batukeshwar Dutt. On this occasion, to all of you who are inspired to walk on the path of secularism, equality and fraternity shown by Batukeshwar Dutt and Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh and to work for the upliftment of the poor, I, Batukeshwar Dutt's only daughter, extend all best wishes. Inquilab Zindabad!

I am sorry that due to physical incapacity I am unable to send this message through voice message. I wish great success to the people's convention being organized on the birth anniversary of my father the revolutionary Batukeshwar Dutt.

Assembly Bomb Blast

On Bhagat Singh's suggestion the HSRA made a plan to throw a bomb in the Assembly and court arrest against the Trade Dispute Bill and the Public Safety Bill. The plan was to take their ideas to the people through this. The names of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev were suggested for this job. The usually calm Batukeshwar erupted in anger at this. He demanded to be included in this as one of the oldest comrades in the Association. After a lot of debate, it was decided that Bhagat Singh and Dutt would be the two revolutionaries to throw the bomb while Azad and two other comrades would try to rescue them. Bhagat Singh came forward in support of Dutt's name and this made the latter very happy.

Bhagat Singh and Dutt jointly inspected the Assembly building on 3 April and 6 April 1929 and prepared a comprehensive strategy. They had their photos taken by photographer Ramnath at Kashmiri Gate in Delhi. These were the photos that were later used at all places. The Assembly session started on 8 April 1929 at 11 am. As soon as Assembly Speaker Vithal Bhai Patel rose from his seat, Bhagat Singh and Dutt removed the bombs wrapped in newspaper and threw them on the seat right behind Finance Minister Sir George Schuster. The House reverberated with slogans of Inquilab Zindbad, Down with Imperialism, and Workers of the World Unite. Meanwhile Dutt also threw several pink coloured pamphlets into the Assembly. The pamphlets were a Notice from HSRA and began with the words, 'Raised voices are necessary for the deaf to hear'. After throwing the bomb both remained in their seats. Inspectors Johnson and Terry arrested both of them. As the two young men were arrested and led away the entire House resonated with the slogan Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live Revolution).

Writing about this incident in his autobiography, Jawaharlal Nehru said--when the Trade Dispute Bill was passed in the Assembly on 8 April, two bombs and red leaflets were thrown into the House from the spectators' gallery. According to the statement given by the accused persons later, the objective of throwing the bombs was to create a noise and draw attention, and not to injure anyone.

Countrywide Reactions

This incident stunned the British government. Their governance came in for sharp criticism from all sides. This incident became the epitome of a forceful medium of protest against repressive policies across the world. There were sharp reactions in Bihar also. Copies of notices with photos of Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were sold in Bihar. Two notices were pasted: 1) Stand in solidarity with those on hunger strike, donate to the defence fund; 2) Every country has the right to protest against repression and atrocity.

The Public Safety Bill could not be passed due to the bomb explosion. A dispute ensued between Vithal Bhai Patel and the government. Patel refused permission for the Bill to be presented a second time in the House.

Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were detained at the Chandni Chowk Kotwali and Raisina Hill Kotwali respectively. Both revolutionaries were sent to judicial custody on 22 April.

Pretense of Legal Proceedings and Life Imprisonment

The legal proceedings began in the Delhi Jail. On the first day Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt reached the court raising slogans of Inquilab Zindabad and Down with the Bureaucracy. The British government wanted to wrap up the case as quickly as possible. On 4 June the Sessions Court hearing of the case started inside the jail. After the Prosecution laid out its case, Bhagat Singh and Dutt began reading out their statements through which the revolutionaries started conveying their aims and objectives to the world. On 12 June the court announced its verdict. Both Bhagat Singh and Dutt were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Sessions judge declined to accept any of the arguments put forward by the accused.

After being sentenced Bhagat Singh was taken to Miyanwali and Dutt to Lahore Central Jail. Bhagat Singh reached Miyanwali Jail on 15 June. The Gadar movement leaders were also incarcerated there. In jail Bhagat Singh came to know that the Sanders killing case was due to be heard from 26 June 1929. The other accused persons in that case were imprisoned in Lahore's Borstal Jail. Bhagat Singh demanded that all the accused persons in the Lahore case should be transferred to the same jail so that they could fight the case. Finally, Bhagat Singh was transferred to Lahore Central Jail.

Jinnah Erupts in Anger at Injustice to Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt

Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted to fight the case for both of them in the Additional District Magistrate's Court but both the revolutionaries wanted to fight their own case. But finally the renowned lawyer Asaf Ali argued in this case for them.

Jinnah was very unhappy with the sentence given to Bhagat Singh and Dutt after their hearing was completed within just one month. Citing the letter written by the two revolutionaries in the Central Assembly he strongly condemned the repression unleashed by the government on citizens and said that it would be better if the government tried to understand the root of the problem. Jinnah questioned, are the two being tried or are they being tortured? He also said that Punjab seems to have turned into a fearful place under the British Raj.

Hunger Strike in Jail

Within a few days Bhagat Singh and Dutt went on a hunger strike to demand the status of political prisoners. The other accused persons in the Lahore conspiracy case said they would also go on strike if Bhagat Singh and Dutt's demand was not met. On 15 June 1929 both the young men started their hunger strike against ill-treatment in jail. In their support, 30 June was observed across the country as Bhagat Singh-Dutt day. Both became very weak due to the hunger strike. Dutt was brutally beaten, making his health deteriorate further. The jail authorities tried various kinds of torture to break the hunger strike. Meanwhile at the Lahore Borstal Jail Yatindranath Das was forcibly made to drink milk. The milk went into his lungs and his condition became serious. Upon this, Bhagat Singh sent a message to all the revolutionary comrades that only he and Dutt would be on hunger strike; all the others should end the strike. But none obeyed him in this. The strike was ended after the formation of a sub-committee called the Punjab Jail Enquiry Committee, but Jatindranath still continued his hunger strike. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited the jail to meet the revolutionaries and gave statements to newspapers. As Jatindranath was still on strike, Bhagat Singh also resumed his hunger strike. Jatindranath Das died after 63 days of hunger strike on 13 September 1929.

Lahore Conspiracy Case Hearing and Bhagat Singh and Dutt Separated Forever

As the accused persons in the Lahore conspiracy case stood in the dock at the Special Magistrate's court, a representative picture of the future and a new nation was seen to be emerging, with people from all regions--Bhagat Singh, Batukeshwar Dutt, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Vijay Kumar Sinha, Jitendra Sanyal, Jaidev Kapoor, Agyaram, Mahavir Singh, Ajay Ghosh, Kamalnath Tiwari, Kishori Lal, Shiv Verma, Gaya Prasad, Surendra Pandey, Kundan Lal, Deshraj and Prem Dutt.

Dutt was acquitted in the Lahore conspiracy case on the grounds of insufficient evidence; whereas Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were sentenced to death by hanging. Thus Dutt's aspiration to mount the gallows along with Bhagat Singh remained unfulfilled. Both Bhagat Singh and Dutt had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the Delhi Assembly bomb blast case. That sentence stood in the case of Dutt. He was sent first to the Multan Jail and then to the Salem Jail in Madras Presidency where he was given Grade C status, whereas as per law he should have been placed in Grade B. Incomplete without Bhagat Singh, Dutt remained in Salem Jail for about two years. After some days Kamalnath Tiwari and Kundan Lal were also transferred to Salem Jail. Soon Batukeshwar Dutt became friends with the Satyagrahi prisoners.

Kala Pani for Dutt and the Historic Struggle by Andaman Prisoners

After two years of stormy struggles the HSRA movement started losing its edge slightly. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged to death. Chandrashekhar Azad, Jatindranath Das and Bhagwaticharan Vohra were martyred and all the other revolutionaries were arrested.

But the light of hope was not snuffed out. The sentenced revolutionaries were on their way to Kala Pani, but they were together. On 23 January 1933 Batukeshwar Dutt, Vijay Kumar Sinha, Kamalnath Tiwari, Mahavir Singh, Kundan Lal and Dr Gaya Prasad reached Andaman. Not for nothing was Andaman known as Kala Pani. It was, in its own way, a torture chamber. Dutt could not bear to see the dire condition of the prisoners and with a firm will he once again took charge of the fight against inhuman treatment of the prisoners. This was the only work he could do in prison, and he turned this work into a synonym for freedom. He emerged as the hero of the Andaman struggle. In February 1933 he began a hunger strike along with other revolutionaries. All 56 Grade C prisoners joined in support of the hunger strike.

On the fifth day of the strike the jail authorities came down like a ton of bricks on the prisoners. 10-12 people flung Mahavir Singh down on the ground, thrust a pipe down his nose and forcibly poured milk into it. The milk entered his lungs and he died in the night. This was a normal incident for the Andaman administration but the prisoners stood their ground and continued the hunger strike. They were relentlessly and brutally beaten but their faces showed no fear. Two prisoners from Patna, Mohit Mitra and Mohan Kishore, were martyred during the hunger strike. After 46 days the demands of the prisoners were met and the hunger strike was ended.

After this struggle the revolutionaries fought for and secured relaxation in the organization of intellectual-cultural programs. The jail started getting magazines and papers at government expense. The authorities acceded to demands for improvement in meals, better lighting, facility to send and receive letters, and medical facilities. Control of the kitchen also came into the prisoners' hands.

After that Batukeshwar Dutt along with his comrades started publication of a handwritten magazine and organization of debates and political discussions dedicated to the country's independence. About 35 prisoners together founded tge Communist Consolidation. Batukeshwar Dutt, Vijay Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma, Dr Narayan Rai, Jaidev Kapoor and other revolutionaries were at the centre of these political discussions.

In 1937 183 prisoners in Andaman once again went on strike. The rights the prisoners had managed to maintain for three years were being snatched away. Meanwhile as per the 1935 Act, the country now had a national government. Questions regarding the Andaman hunger strike were raised in the Bihar Assembly. At the time prisoners in Andaman included 339 from Bengal, 19 from Bihar, 11 from UP, 5 from Assam, 3 from Punjab, 2 from Delhi and 2 from Madras. The then Prime Minister of Bihar Shrikrishna Singh wrote a letter in this regard to the Central government and the Port Blair government. The effect of the Andaman hunger strike was felt in other jails of the country also and people started coming out in support. The release of the prisoners started becoming a widespread issue. The jail authorities wanted to end the strike by force-feeding milk. Meanwhile several big national leaders wrote to the government calling for an end to the hunger strike. The jail authorities had to bow down to the prisoners. The government finally gave the assurance that prisoners in the Andaman Jail would be transferred to jails in India. Thus by 18 January 1938 all the Andaman orisoners were transferred to jails on the mainland.

Batukeshwar Dutt Arrives in Bankipur Jail, Bihar

Dutt was first brought to the Delhi Jail as he was a prisoner in the Delhi bomb case. But by then his condition had become very bad. Dr Rajendra Prasad went to the jail to visit him and apprised Jawaharlal Nehru of his condition. At that time there were about 40 prisoners in the Bankipur Jail in Bihar associated with HSRA, most of whom were from Andaman Jail. The Political Prisoners Relief Committee had been forned under the chairmanship of Dr Rajendra Prasad. Rajendra Prasad felt that if Batukeshwar were in the company of other prisoners from the Andaman Jail his condition would improve. At his suggestion Dutt was transferred to Bankipur Jail in Bihar. However, his condition continued to deteriorate.

On 28 July 1938 Dr Rajendra Kumar wrote to the Prime Minister of Bihar Shrikrishna Singh requesting that Dutt be released on health grounds. On 1 September 1938 Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram to the Bengal Governor and the Executive Viceroy requesting Dutt's release on medical grounds. On 3 September 1938 Central Assembly member Mohan Lal Saxena visited Dutt in jail to enquire after his health. On 4 September the newspaper Searchlight demanded Dutt's release. After all these calls for release, Batukeshwar Dutt was finally released on 8 September 1938 from Bankipur Jail abd started living with his brother Vishveshwar Dutt at his house in Jakkanpur.

Active Participation in the Quit India Movement and Imprisonment

Dutt's health was steadily worsening, but the surge for freedom was on the rise. In April 1939 Dutt was present at the Kanpur Kisan Sangh district political conference. In 1939-40 he also attended the Congress conference.

He once again played an active role in the 1942 Quit India movement. He was again incarcerated in the Motihari and Muzaffarpur Jails and tortured badly, causing him to go on a hunger strike once again. His lungs were severely affected by the bad atmosphere in the jail. In 1945 he was placed under house arrest in Patna as a home intern. For some days he was also under house arrest in Devghar. He could be released only after India became independent.

The Post-Independence Period

Dutt's life was one of struggle even in the days after Independence. He had to do 'low' jobs for livelihood but he never felt ashamed of this. Some relief was obtained when his wife became a government school teacher. In 1963 he was nominated to the Bihar Legislative Council for one year but he never availed himself of any benefits, so much so that he did not even use government housing.

Dutt was very much hurt when the Indian Parliament published a document in 1963-64 declaring Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt to be terrorists, and he met Prime Minister Nehru in this regard and conveyed his strong opposition to this. Nehru realized his mistake and said that it was his privilege to meet a great person like Dutt. He also said that all of them shared the same objective. When Nehru died after some days, Dutt was very sad and termed his death the end of an era. Communist leader Muzaffar Ahmed writes in his memoirs that Dutt was not a member of the Communist Party but always remained close to us. Many people had been made Communist Party members on Dutt's request.

When Dutt Arrived in Khatkal Kalan

In 1963 Batukeshwar Dutt went to Bhagat Singh's village Khatkal Kalan. As soon as he arrived, a thrill of happiness went through the village. The villagers felt as if after 33 years it was Bhagat Singh who was returning to them in the form of Batukeshwar Dutt. Mother Vidyavati Devi embraced Dutt and kept crying as though she was meeting Bhagat Singh himself. Vidyavati Devi adopted Batukeshwar Dutt's family as her own and took up full responsibility for his daughter's marriage.

Mother Vidyavati Devi keeps Vigil over Batukeshwar in Hospital

In the early months of 1965 Batukeshwar Dutt's health deteriorated further. He was suffering from bone cancer. When Bhagat Singh's mother Vidyavati Devi came to know of this she was very sad. During his treatment she spent most of her time in Delhi, though she herself was 85 years old. She spent whatever money she had on Dutt's treatment. On 13 July 1965 his condition suddenly became critical. On hearing this Vidyavati Devi reached Delhi by car. As soon as she reached the hospital she laid Dutt's head on her lap. At that time she was remembering Bhagat Singh's last words to her before going to the gallows--I am going now but I am leaving behind a part of myself in the form of Batukeshwar Dutt. In the night of 20 July 1965 Dutt passed away. As per his wishes his last rites were performed on 21 July at Hussainiwala not far from the Indo-Pak border where the samadhis of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were already located. Thus after a gap of 34 years Batukeshwar Dutt once again joined his inseparable revolutionary comrades.

Batukeshwar Dutt always remembered Bhagat Singh's final words and bore torture and oppression all his life in order to carry forward revolutionary objectives and the struggle for freedom.

The oppressors tried to erase in a myriad ways
But the memory, the picture remained etched in every heart.