Bhagat Singh was one of the most potent youth icons in the Indian freedom struggle and was 23 years old when he was hanged after conviction in the murder case of British officer John Saunders. He wrote an essay between October 5-6, 1930, months before his hanging, in response to an inmate who tried to convince him of God's existence but failed. The fellow inmate criticized Singh saying, "You are giddy with fame and have developed an ego that is standing like a black curtain between you and God."
Bhagat Singh acknowledged that the cause of his lack of belief in God is a matter of debate. It is questionable if the lack of belief in the existence of an omnipresent, omniscient God resulted from his arrogance and vanity.
He accepted possessing human follies like pride and said that he was a human and nothing more. Any human, he said, could not claim to be more than a human. In his essay titled, "Why Am I An Atheist", the freedom fighter claimed that his 'friends' complained about him being bossy, boastful and wanted others to have opinions like his.
His Friends Told Him That His Fame Inhibited His Belief
Singh mentioned in his essay that some of his friends said that the Delhi Bombing and the Lahore Conspiracy had shot him to fame, and it was fame inhibiting his belief in God. To counter that, he mentioned that he believed in atheism even when he was an unknown figure. He substantiated, saying that a college student does not possess any extraordinary qualities that make him anything more than a human. Indeed, he was a favourite of some of his teachers, but others did not like him.
He was never hard-working or studious if that was something to be proud about. The icon lived with his father, for whom God was an all-prevailing entity, and Singh believed that his ideals motivated his cause of liberating the nation.
During the days of the Non-Cooperation Movement, Singh was admitted to the National College, and even though he grew sceptical about the religious polemics, he still was a staunch believer. Despite failing to convince himself of the efficacy of any religion, he considered himself a believer at that time. After joining the Revolutionary Party, the first leader Singh met did not dare to acknowledge his atheism and said, "You may believe in Him when you feel like it". He quoted one of the Kakori martyrs who had said, "Religion is the outcome of human weakness or the limitation of human knowledge", however, he too, did not dare to deny the existence of God.
Kakori Conspiracy Case
When the responsibility of the Revolutionary Party fell on Singh's shoulders, he understood that he needed to study as much as possible to counter the opinions of his opponents. That was when he took up studying seriously, and his old beliefs underwent a radical change. He adopted realism and let go of mysticism and blind faith. Since the group was waging an endless war, it was imperative to understand the ideology of the struggle. He read extensively about the anarchist leader Bakunin and the father of Communism, Karl Marx! All the leaders he read about, like Lenin and Trotsky, those who spearheads in their countries were all atheists.
By the end of 1926, Bhagat Singh was convinced that there were no foundations of the beliefs in the Supreme Being who is said to have guided the world for aeons, he mentioned in his essay. Until May 1927, when the Police arrested him for the first time, he did not know that the Police was looking for him. The Police had found that he was connected to the Kakori Conspiracy Case. He had also devised a plan to rescue the 'culprits'. Bhagat Singh was offered to be released only if he gave a statement mentioning the Revolutionary Party's plans, to which the 23-year-old laughed.
Singh mentioned in his essay that it was no easy ordeal to face the fact that he was an atheist. He believed that beliefs make it easier to endure the struggle and, in some cases, even make the struggle pleasant. He said that man finds strong support in God's name, but if the man is a non-believer, he does not have an option but to depend upon himself.
Criticizing Popular Beliefs
He said, "It's not a child's play to stand firm on your feet amid storms and strong winds." Countering his friends claim about his pride and vanity, Singh wrote that vanity evaporates, and it is difficult to find the courage to defy beliefs ordinary people hold in high regard.
Singh knew the verdict in the murder case of John Saunders even before it was announced. He said that a devout Hindu might believe in re-birth as a King, or a Christian might think the paradise as a 'reward' for all the struggle, however, Singh knew that when the rope is tightened around his neck and the rafters are displaced from under his feet, that would his end. He had devoted his life to the country without expecting any reward then or after that, and he said he could not have acted otherwise.
Singh wrote that a new era of liberty would usher in when people would take courage from the idea of serving humanity and liberating the country. That would be the day he believed that people would finally raise a voice against their oppressors, tyrants, and exploiters with the sole motive of casting off slavery and establish liberty. The newfound freedom would be their reward, not the hope of re-birthing as kings or obtaining paradise after death.
Singh also mentioned in his essay that when one criticizes popular beliefs and rationally questions the commoners, he is never answered practically. Instead, he is tagged as 'vainglorious'. He emphasized that merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two most essential traits of a revolutionary. He believed that if Singh was a believer, his struggle might have been much easier, but he was a realistic man.