New Delhi: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2006 masterpiece Rang De Basanti — that came to be regarded for its profound message, representation and creativity that weaved India’s colonial past with the 21st century seamlessly — shows the story of revolutionary freedom fighters like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, Rajguru and Ashfaqullah Khan.
But like many representations of that time and struggle, this too forgets Batukeshwar Dutt — a revolutionary and close associate of Singh and Azad who failed to be remembered a hero “simply because he made it through the freedom struggle alive”.
On his 110th birth anniversary, here is a look at the life of India’s forgotten revolutionary.
Dutt was all of 18 when on 8 April 1929, he, along with Bhagat Singh, fearlessly chanted slogans of Inquilab Zindabad (Long live the revolution) and Samrajyavad ka nash ho (down with imperialism) as they were getting arrested for storming the Central Legislative Assembly with smoke bombs, registering their protest against the Trade Disputes and Public Safety Bills.
Often regarded as one of the most regressive, oppressive and controversial Acts in British India for being anti-worker, the Trade Disputes Bill was subsequently passed by 56 votes to 39. “If the deaf are to hear, the sound has to be very loud,” the two said during their trial for the bombing.
Born on 18 November 1910 to Goshtha Bihari Dutt and Kamini Devi in Bengal’s Burdwan district, Dutt spent his early childhood in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur and studied at the Theosophical High School and Prithvinath Chak High School. He married Anjali Dutt in 1937 and became father to a girl, Bharati, soon after he was released from the Andaman Jail — where he had continued his fight for the right of prisoners against inhumane treatment — in connection with the legislative assembly attack.
Dutt’s desire for revolutionary activism was sparked when he witnessed the British beat an Indian child for standing on a road they were not supposed to. Both Dutt and Bhagat Singh were part of the Hindustan Republican Association, which was founded in 1924 and became Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in 1927 to factor in its socialist ideology.
An ‘unrecognised life’
Unlike his comrades such as Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, who died during the freedom struggle, Dutt emerged alive as India became Independent and was partitioned. And then, unfortunately, began his downfall.
A revolutionary activist at the peak of the freedom struggle, Dutt led an “unrecognised life in independent India, while finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet”. He shuttled between varying jobs — from a cigarette company agent to dabbling in the transport business and even returning to politics for a brief four months.
The national capital has many roads and inroads named after India’s revolutionaries, and this was one token of recognition extended to Dutt as well.
In 1964, he fell severely ill and was in urgent need of a hospital bed in Patna. When the news made headlines owing to a passionate letter written by Dutt’s friend and fellow comrade, Chamanlal Azad, to the then President of India, the Punjab government offered him an aid of Rs 1,000 and free treatment in Delhi or Chandigarh. But the Bihar government did not allow him to go to Delhi until he was at the brink of death, reports note.
On 22 November 1964, when Dutt 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’.”
In December, he was shifted to AIIMS and he breathed his last on 20 July 1965 after being diagnosed with cancer. He was cremated at Hussainiwala on the India-Pakistan border, alongside Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru.