A Tribute to Virender Sindhu, Bhagat Singh’s Niece and a Chronicler of the Family

Virender Sindhu, who passed away on February 22, had written the most authentic description of three generations of Bhagat Singh's family, including his grandfather, father and uncles, in Bhagat Singh's biography.

Freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s niece, Virender Sindhu, passed away on February 22 in Minster-on-Sea town, South England. She was 83 years old.

She had detailed the most authentic description of Bhagat Singh family’s three generations, including his grandfather, father, and uncles in Bhagat Singh’s biography.

She was bed-ridden with multiple diseases since her husband, Naresh Bhartiya, passed away a few years ago.

Her funeral procession and cremation took place on March 11.

In the West, families have to book a crematorium and set a funeral procession date, so her cremation took place after more than two weeks of her demise.

She is survived by her son Sidhesh, a granddaughter, and a grandson in the UK. She is also survived by her two brothers living in India and two sisters living in the US and Canada, respectively.

She identified herself as Virender Sindhu, and not Sandhu, her clan title.

In fact, Bhagat Singh, in a letter to the editor of Maharathi, a Hindi journal from Delhi, had signed as B.S. Sindhu.

Virender and her uncle Bhagat Singh, probably, linked themselves to the Sindhu civilisation, and preferred using this title rather than their caste.

Virender was born on June 30, 1940 in Lahore. At the time of her birth, her father Kultar Singh, the younger brother of Bhagat Singh, was incarcerated in Deoli camp jail. Virender’s elder uncle Kulbir Singh was also jailed along with him.

Both were living with socialist revolutionaries in the camp.

In 1945, when Virender had turned five, her father was released from the camp jail.

After partition, Bhagat Singh’s family first moved to their ancestral village Khatkar Kalan in East Punjab.

Later, Bhagat Singh’s four brothers were settled in different places in Uttar Pradesh. All the three sisters were married in Punjab.

Virender Sindhu, Bhagat Singh’s niece. Photo: author provided.

The last surviving sister of Bhagat Singh, Prakash Kaur, had passed away in Canada in 2014.

Kultar Singh moved to Saharanpur. He was an MLA and a minister in the N.D. Tiwari-led UP government. Virender was the eldest daughter.  She had two brothers and two sister, as mentioned earlier.

Kultar Singh had passed away on September 5, 2004.

Virender wrote her everlasting workBhagat Singh and His Immortal Ancestors (Biography)in Hindi, first published from Bhartiya Gyanpeeth in 1967, when she was 27 years old.

Virender’s grandmother and Bhagat Singh’s mother, Vidyawati, had told her all the stories [about the family] and shown her records. She could, therefore, trace the history of Singh’s ancestors from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when one of her ancestors had served in the Khalsa army. But her main focus was Singh’s grandfather, Arjan Singh, and grandmother, Jai Kaur.

The writings on Bhagat Singh’s family

In her book, she narrates the story of their life, and then shifts her focus on Singh’s father and mother, Kishan Singh and Vidyawati. She also writes about his uncles, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, and their wives.

Ajit Singh was the founder of the Pagdi Sambhal Jatta movement and Bharat Mata society, along with his brothers, Kishan Singh and Swarn Singh, and Lala Lajpat Rai.

Also read: A Century-Old Punjabi Song of Defiance Resurfaces in the Farmers Protests

Ajit Singh spent 38 years in exile. He returned to India in March 1947, when the provisional government of India was formed under Jawaharlal Nehru, who also facilitated his return to India.

He passed away at the dawn of August 15, 1947 after listening to Nehru’s address to the independent nation – Tryst with Destiny – on the midnight of August 14 and 15 in parliament.

Virender tells about the agony of Harnam Kaur, who waited for the return of her husband Ajit Singh, and could not even recognise him when he had returned.

She also writes about another uncle of Bhagat Singh, Swarn Singh, and his widowed wife, Hukam Kaur. Swarn Singh had passed away in 1910, at the age of 23, due to tortures suffered in jail.

Bhagat Singh’s biography tells all big and small stories of his life, including his engagement with a girl, and how he left his house for Kanpur to avoid marriage. The book was later published by Rajpal and sons, Delhi, and it continues to be their bestseller book of all times, running into many editions and reprints. The book was translated in Punjabi and published by the Punjab government (publication – language department, Patiala), but it was never reprinted.

Since the book was out of stock for many years, a private publisher was selling it at a much higher price than the government publication, without even informing Virender or her family in India.

The current Punjab and Delhi governments ascribe to the name of Bhagat Singh, but do not bother to publish and circulate authentic books on  him, like this biography, to libraries of schools, colleges, universities, or even public libraries. A number of fictitious biographies of Bhagat Singh have been published in many languages, but many good ones like that of Virender Sindhu.

After getting married to Naresh Arora or Naresh Bharatiya, a well-known BBC Hindi announcer, later, who predeceased her, Virender moved to the UK. Her next book, Patr aur Dastavez (Letters and Documents), was published in 1977, in Hindi. This was the first time Bhagat Singh’s writings were published in a book form in Hindi.

Patr aur Dastavez also continues to be bestseller of its publisher Rajpal and Sons, Delhi.

Prior to that Mukti, a Hindi journal edited by Manglesh Dabral, Trinetra Joshi, and Suresh Salil had brought out two special issues on Bhagat Singh in early 70s, which included his collection of writings. Incidentally, two of them had passed away during the COVID-19 pandemic. Salil and Virender passed away on same day – February 22.

The first collection of Bhagat Singh’s writings in the form of a book came out in 1974. It was named as Likhtan, edited anonymously by now-UK based Punjabi poet, Amarjit Chandan. However, Why I am an Atheist was not included in Likhtan.

Virender brought out another collection of Bhagat Singh’s writings, Mere Krantikari Saathi, which included stories of 48 revolutionaries, published in Chand’ Ka Fansi Ank in November 1928.

These stories were jointly written by Singh and Shiv Verma, but had been published in Singh’s name only.

Manmathnath Gupta, another chronicler of the revolutionary movement in India and a convict of Kakori case, had questioned Verma why he was not claiming joint authorship of the stories.

Verma had replied saying it did not matter if Virender had published them in Singh’s name only. He had said that ‘she is as much my close kin as of Bhagat Singh.’

But Virender, after realising her mistake, never republished or reprinted the stories.

Also read: Bhagat Singh: An Unsung Hero of Political Journalism

No due credit given

The Union government’s publication division continues to publish her short biography on Singh under the chidren’s and young adults’ book category.

I had met Virender in 2004, when she had come to India with her family when her father had passed away. She was accompanied by both her sons at the time.

Her elder son, Veeresh, had passed away at a young age.

I met her again in 2008 when she had visited India when Bhagat Singh’s statue was installed in front of the Parliament House by the then President Pratibha Patil. They stayed in Punjab Bhavan, Delhi, and also visited me in JNU. We met Shashi Bhushan, former Congress MP, whose Secular House is located in front of JNU’s east gate.

Congress MP Shashi Bhushan with Virender Sindhu at Secular House, Delhi, in 2008. On the sides are Virender’s brother Zorawar Singh and Shashi Bhushan’s son Prashant Bhushan. Photo: Chaman Lal

In the same year, the Punjab government had conferred her with the Hindi Sahit Shiromani award.

Her contribution to Indian society in the form of writing biography of the family and preserving and publishing Bhagat Singh’s writings will live long. She has not been given due credit for her own immense contribution in the form of her authentic writings.

In 1967, she had proclaimed Bhagat Singh as a socialist revolutionary and highlighted how Soviet leaders were so impressed with his personality that they had invited him to visit the Soviet Union and get trained in Marxism in the University of the Toilers of the East, for Afro-Asian anti-colonial liberation fighters.

No government functionary from any state or the Union government has issued even a tweet on Virender Sindhu passing away. Some close family members, but not all, were present in the funeral procession in UK.

I and innumerable admirers of Bhagat Singh pay tribute to Virender Sindhu on her fulfilling and productive life.

Chaman Lal, a retired professor from JNU, is an honorary advisor of Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi Archives, New Delhi.