Understanding ‘Why I am an Atheist?’ by Bhagat Singh

Author: Himanshu Ranjan

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Without any selfish motive of getting any reward here or in the hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of freedom.” ~ Bhagat Singh

It was the 4th of October, 1930. Baba Randheer Singh had spent more than 15 years in prison due to his activities in the Ghadar Mutiny. The Ghadar Mutiny was carried out by the members of the Ghadar Party at a time when many of the British Indian soldiers were engaged in World War I to incite mutiny in the remaining soldiers left at home. Baba Randheer Singh was sentenced to life imprisonment in the first Lahore Conspiracy case and sent to Lahore central jail. 

Nearly, two years before, in December 1928, John Saunders was killed by Bhagat Singh and Rajguru, though they mistook him for James Scott responsible for ordering the lathi charge that took the life of Lala Lajpat Rai. Just four months later, in April 1929, Bhagat Singh with Batukeshwar Dutt exploded two bombs (designed such that it could not kill) in the Central Legislative Assembly, in Delhi. They wanted Britishers to get them arrested so that they can popularize the cause of HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) and the goal of Indian independence. Bhagat Singh was later also charged with the killing of Saunders and he was also in the same jail with Baba Randheer Singh. Baba Randheer Singh was a firm believer in God, a religious man while Bhagat Singh was an atheist. Both got involved in a religious polemics and Randheer Singh tried to evoke theism in Bhagat Singh. But, Bhagat Singh was a true atheist and he wrote an essay ‘Why I am an atheist?’ in a reply to Randheer Singh in the coming two days. 

Bhagat Singh refutes the claim that his atheism is born out of pride or vanity. He says that he was an atheist even before when he was not so popular due to events of the Delhi bombing and Lahore Conspiracy Case. Further, he says he doesn’t consider himself to have either Godly qualities or to be a prophet or God himself. A true atheist, according to Bhagat Singh rejects all the direct and indirect notions of God or any supernatural being. He completely rejected the idea of an Omnipresent, all-powerful, all-knowing God.  In his early years, though Bhagat Singh claims he was a believer due to the influence of his father who was an Arya Samaji. However, when he got admitted to the National College, Bhagat Singh started to question the existence of God after pondering over the existing debates and thoughts regarding God. Though his skepticism grew, he remained a believer. 

Later, when Bhagat Singh joined the Revolutionary Party, he met many revolutionary leaders such as Sachindra Nath Sanyal who had a very firm belief in God. He mentions about the ‘Revolutionary Leaflet’ created by Sachindra Nath Sanyal that had one full paragraph dedicated to God’s mystical ways. Sachindra Nath Sanyal had also written a book ‘Bandi Jivan’ during the time he spent in the infamous cellular jail at Andaman and Nicobar islands. In that book also, Bhagat Singh found praises to God and his mystical ways. Others in the Revolutionary Party such as Ram Prasad Bismil was an Arya Samaji and Rajan Lahiri believed in Upanishads and Gita. Bhagat Singh met one person who used to say that 

“Religion is the outcome of human weakness or the limitation of human knowledge.”

Though Bhagat Singh didn’t mention his name but mentioned that even that person also didn’t deny the existence of God. Till this point of time, Bhagat Singh had just transformed from a believer to a skeptic. 

Later, when Bhagat Singh got the responsibility of leading the revolutionary actions of the party because many of its leaders were either in jail or executed, he turned towards studies in order to be able to face the arguments that could be raised by his opponents. He says, during this process of responsibility and the learning he did, he left mysticism behind and became a realist. He went on to read the thoughts of many atheists such as Bakunin, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, among others. He also found the book titled ‘ Common Sense’ by Nirlamba Swami interesting. In this process, Bhagat Singh had developed solid reasoning to reject the belief in a Supreme Being that managed the Universe. 

Later, when Bhagat Singh faced imprisonment and trials regarding his connection with the Kakori Party Trial and even a false case of bombing during the occasion of Dussehra, he went through a testing phase of his life. He challenged himself whether he can be an atheist during the days of peace and happiness or even during the most testing of the times. Bhagat Singh said he emerged victorious in this inner strife and didn’t offer any prayers to God. Thus, he claims himself to be a true atheist. 

Bhagat Singh admits being an atheist is more difficult. Because during hard times, a man finds support in God but atheists have to remain firm and strong on their own. In those times, pride and vanity can’t be the source of atheism. It requires a remarkable strength. Thus, Bhagat Singh denies his belief in the existence of an afterlife and that his short life of struggle is his own reward. There is no selfishness behind the thoughts of an atheist. This, he claims would propel humanity to work for the welfare of people as there is no other way, no God who is looking after them. This would make them realist and realize that success and failures in lives could be a matter of chance and consequences.

Bhagat Singh substantiates why he rejects belief in God. He says that in the absence of concrete proofs people resort to some form of mystical beliefs. And this explanation of nature without concrete proofs led people to propagate ideas of mysticism for different people in different ways at different times and places leading to all sorts of different religious beliefs. He goes on to propound upon the differences in the beliefs of Buddhists, Jains, Arya Samajis, Sanatan Dharmis, Charwaks, among others. The most fanatical thing contained in them according to Bhagat Singh is that though they differ on answers to very fundamental questions and yet claim that theirs is the only true path. Bhagat Singh calls this the root of all evils. Bhagat Singh holds the tool of reasoning dear because wrong reasoning can be corrected but it is nearly impossible to correct a blind belief. Blind belief makes a person reactionary and deprives him of his power of understanding. 

An atheist believes in nature and the attempt of humankind to exploit it based on scientific developments. There is no conscious power apart from this. This is what the atheists believe in according to Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh asks the believers the reason why God made this world full of woe and grief. He denies that such a thing could be part of His laws as God couldn’t be bound upon by any law if he is an omnipotent being. He says history is full of violence and struggle and how could a conscience omnipotent being enjoy all this in his kingdom? He goes on to question the theory of next births and the previous births and calls them hoaxes for it fails the test of the best among the three theories (namely Retribution theory, Deterrent theory, and the reformative theory), the reformative theory. Thus, he says that if the consequences of one’s actions get transferred to the next births it can’t lead to any reformative effect on a human being. 

Further, he says such beliefs hinder social reform as people would blame a person’s actions in his previous birth that resulted in his birth in a lower caste or poverty. Instead of uprooting the caste system and ensuring an even distribution of wealth to promote equality and liberty such beliefs prove detrimental to human progress. These theories also justify the actions of the rich and oppressor in the words of Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh questions that if people reject the ideas of socialism based on the fact that they are not practically executable, then why not the almighty just God interrupts to ensure the same? The Britishers kept us under subjugation not with the consent of God but with the help of their military and guns. He says that religion acts as a tool in the hands of the oppressor as revolting against a king could be declared a religious sin.

Bhagat Singh says that we evolved from a chemical soup that took birth on earth that was born out of a star’s nebulae. Thus, he supports Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species.’ He says that diseases are a mere biological phenomenon and not the effect of one’s past actions in previous births. Just as people believe in ghosts and spirits, they developed a belief in God. Bhagat Singh says men created God in their own image after they realized their own weaknesses and limitations. Thus, God came as a supporter in times of distress. 

Thus, Bhagat Singh supported his claim that he is a true atheist and that his atheism didn’t arise due to vanity but it was his mode of thinking that made him so. He remained a true atheist till his last days as just five and a half months later he was hanged till death by the British government. 

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