Note: This article was first published on The Wire Hindi on July 20, 2017 and is being republished on the occasion of Batukeshwar Dutt’s death anniversary, on July 20, 2020.
In the past few years, whenever I have seen on social media the ritual of remembering the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, I am reminded of Batukeshwar Dutt.
The same Batukeshwar Dutt who, along with fellow revolutionary Bhagat Singh, threw bombs inside the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi in 1929, raising slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long live the revolution) and embracing the punishment of the kala pani (black waters; imprisonment at the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands).
The same Batukeshwar Dutt who has been forgotten by this death-worshipping, idol-worshipping country, simply because he made it through the freedom struggle alive.
Extraordinary made mundane
Perhaps this country does not know how to value its heroes while they are still alive. This is why a revolutionary like Batukeshwar Dutt had to work as a cigarette company agent, shuttling between Patna’s tobacco shops, or sell biscuits and bread for a living.
The man whose tales of valour should have been on the tip of every Indian child’s tongue was sometimes forced to work as a tourist guide to fend for his family. Mostly though, his wife’s earnings sustained the family.
Once, when he met the commissioner in Patna in the process of obtaining a permit to start a bus service, the commissioner sought proof of identity from him. When the then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, learned of this incident, he expressed his personal regrets and the commissioner apologised.
In 1964, when Batukeshwar Dutt fell ill and needed to be admitted to a government hospital in Patna, he could not find a bed. His friend and fellow freedom fighter, Chamanlal Azad, wrote an angry letter to the editor of a newspaper, stating that India does not deserve a revolutionary.
“God has made a mistake by producing a valiant man like Batukeshwar Dutt in India. He is struggling to stay alive in the very country for whose freedom he sacrificed his whole life,” Azad said in his letter.
As a result, the Punjab government provided Dutt with medical aid of Rs 1,000 and offered him free treatment in Delhi and Chandigarh. But the Bihar government did not allow him to go to Delhi until he was at the brink of death.
He arrived at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on November 22, 1964, after his condition had deteriorated. Upon his arrival in Delhi, Dutt had 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’.”
Respect is for the present, not just the past
In December, he was shifted to AIIMS, where he was diagnosed with cancer. When the then chief minister of Punjab visited Batukeshwar Dutt in hospital and offered him financial aid, Dutt made only one request – to be cremated where his friend Bhagat Singh had been cremated.
Dutt breathed his last on July 20, 1965. He was laid to rest next to his comrades Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru at Hussainiwala on the Indo-Pakistan border.
A couplet by Shakeel Badayuni reads:
Now that my eyes are veiled by the sorrow of life
What use is beauty incarnate unveiled for me now?
Why are we unable to pay respects to our heroes (including soldiers, sportspersons, poets, activists, and others) while they are alive?
Why do we consider our duty done when we utter a few words of praise after their passing?
Batukeshwar Dutt died in 1965, but the memory of poet Adam Gondvi must still be fresh in the minds of the people of Lucknow.
[The author referred to the volume, Batukeshwar Dutt – Bhagat Singh ke Sahyogi by Anil Verma, National Book Trust in the course of writing the piece.]
Himanshu Bajpai is a dastango and connoisseur of the cultural heritage of Lucknow.