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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 35, New Delhi, August 15, 2020

Jagmohan Singh — Life Devoted to Carrying Forward the Legacy of Shahid Bhagat Singh

Friday 14 August 2020, by Bharat Dogra

When the village student who daily cycled 20 km. to reach his college in Jalandhar city noticed the respect he got each time when someone introduced him as the nephew of Shahid Bhagat Singh, he wondered what a great man his maternal uncle must have been that so that his very name evoked so much reverence so many years after his martyrdom at a very young age. This strengthened the resolve that he had nurtured from his childhood days—that he will try to understand him and his compatriots and then devote life to taking forward the legacy of one of the noblest and most loved freedom fighters of India.

Today at the age of 76 Jagmohan Singh can take solace in the fact that he has lived up to this resolve of his young days. Whether it is his untiring efforts to take the ideas and writings of Bhagat Singh and his fellow-revolutionaries to an increasing number of people, or to document inspiring episodes of their life, or to wage a relentless battle against sectarian elements who try to misinterpret the message of revolutionaries to suit their narrow ends, or oppose numerous atrocities and repressions, Prof. Jagmohan Singh has been in the thick of all this while at the same time sustaining high professional achievements and close involvement in several constructive activities including educational reform.

“Whatever I could achieve was possible only because of the generous help and close cooperation of many friends and colleagues. In addition I had the blessings of great freedom fighters from early childhood days” —these were the first words Jagmohan Singh spoke when I recently talked to him about numerous aspects of his eventful life.

Jagmohan’s mother was the famous Bibi Amar Kaur, the younger sister of Shahid Bhagat Singh who also participated at several levels in the freedom movement. His father Sardar Makhan Singh was known as a hard-working farmer active in social work and eager to contribute to the ideals of his inspiring brother-in-law. Jagmohan was born in 1944 in village Chack 206 Sialwala, located in Lyalpur district ( now in Pakistan).

Bibi Amar Kaur was sentenced to imprisonment in 1945 for one and a half years for her speeches against colonial rule, and one year baby Jagmohan also went to Ambala Central Jail with his mother to make his first contribution against imperialism! This jail also had INA prisoners and when they met Bibi Amar Kaur they insisted on taking the baby to play with him in their part of the prison!

When the child went back to the village of his birth, political activities of his mother were increasing. This political family had a tradition of involving friends in the care of children and for some time Jagmohan too was given in the care of a young lady Bibi Jaan who too belonged to a family of freedom fighters. In the run-up to partition various families got separated. 3 year old Jagmohan was sent with other children to a Jalandhar village while his mother stayed on till weeks after independence to take care of women and children in refugee camps.

For several months after being shifted the three-year old Jagmohan continued to ask—where is my Jaan. His reference of course was to Bibi Jaan who took very loving care of him and to whom he had become very deeply attached. About six decades later when at a meeting in London he was telling people about the memories of his mother, a lady got up to introduce herself as Bibi Jaan actual name was Santosh Sanghar. Imagine the great joy this unexpected meeting brought to both of them. She became Amijaan to him.

To come back to childhood days in Jalandhar, however, he collected many memories of courageous exploits of freedom fighters, particularly those freedom fighters who were closely involved with this family. As a small child he was present in Delhi when his Grand uncle Ajit Singh( Uncle of Shahid Bhagat Singh) of Pagri Sambhal Jatta fame, returned to India after 38 years of struggles abroad for freedom of India. Ajit singh died on 15th of August 1947 with his last words,” the task we took upon ourselves in the beginning of this century has reached a frutation , but with a pain of communalism .Now it is the challange for youth to built India on socialist ,secular traditions which will bring social , economic and political equality and justice . But the more Jagmohan heard about him and his close friends like Sufi Amba Prasad, Lal Chand Falak and others the more his admiration grew for their great struggles for freedom carried out in most difficult conditions. He also heard very inspiring stories about freedom fighters of Gadar Party particularly Kartar Singh Sarabha. When he grew up he was able to meet some of these highly inspiring veterans of the freedom movement like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the first President of the Gadar Party, and seek their guidance and blessings for his work.

There was a tradition in this freedom fighter family of giving great importance to education and they had contributed in particular to education of girls and poor students including orphans. Young Jagmohan was conscious of this responsibility and even though going to college meant 40 kms of cycling every day for him, he had a record of complete attendance. On rainy days he would cycle away merrily in his undergarments, his main dress wrapped in water-proof cover. At the college cycle-stand he would change clothes, emerging in classroom in dry clothes cheerfully.

He was initially reluctant to join engineering college for further studies to avoid the burden on his farmer family, but when he won a national scholarship for this he joined Guru Nanak Engineering College Ludhiana. True to form he struggled for improvement in scholarship scheme and these efforts helped by some senior persons led to timely disbursement of scholarships. In 1967 he graduated from here with honors and went to teach in the same college after a short teaching assignment in Chandigarh. In the Ludhiana college he became close to students with rural background and improving their education ( particularly engineering education), a concern that keeps him involved even today. From here he also went on a year long assignment to IIT Kharagpur where again he distinguished himself. All this while he continued his abiding social concerns and study of freedom movement, involving his student to cycle alongside him in search of elderly freedom fighters living in obscure places.

With the blessings of Baba Bhakna and Mata Vidyawati ( mother of Shahid Bhagat Singh) a constructive program was started in ancestral Kharkat Kalan village called Youth Centre to link youth more closely with the ideals and wider aims of freedom fighters for a just and equal society, and to take up projects for improvement of rural life by forging cooperation. This was greatly helped by Prof. Malvinder Jit Singh Waraich and Advocate R.S.Cheema, and our guide was Harbans Singh Waraich. This group brought out a magazine called Kaumi Lehar to connect the youth with rich heritage of freedom struggle through original documents. Jagmohan Singh learned a lot from this work, and also contributed to it.

 Meanwhile marriage bells also rang and Jagmohan found his life-partner in Dr. Amarjeet Kaur. She was serving in a hospital dedicated to health of rural women and was deeply committed to working there. Jagmohan agreed whole-heartedly to support her mission. However when he had to join Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana (PAU) in a new job, she finally agreed to leave the hospital and adventure private practice but with a commitment to give more attention to rural and poor patients at affordable cost . They decided not to take a bank loan as the commitment to paying back a loan installment may lead to drifting away from the objective of need-based medical service. Gradually Dr. Amarjeet built up a nursing home which became reputed for care of women and mothers. At the same time she remained an invaluable support for Prof. Jagmohan Singh in all his efforts and struggles on wider social issues.

In his new PAU job he invented an electronic device for farmers known as self-starter for tubewells which proved successful at farm level. When he was asked to obtain a patent for this invention he refused and instead made it available in the public domain without claiming any royalty. He was awarded UNESCO fellowship to study computer application and made an important contribution in introducing computer applications at an early stage in PAU. He was widely published in engineering research and social applications. He was awarded gold medal by Institution of Engineers. He was secretary of Teachers’ Association and worked with his colleagues successfully for democratic reforms, better housing and pensions. He raised issues like weaknesses of narrow green revolution centred approach beyond the calling of his own specialized fields. He retired as Prof. and Head, Department of Computer Sciences, from PAU in 2004.

What is very remarkable is that Prof. Jagmohan Singh managed successfully to combine this busy professional life with an even more productive activist role. It was during the emergency that in accordance with felt needs with the help of a senior advocate Harbans Lal Dogra, a freedom-fighter, he was able to start a Society for Human Rights. Efforts for a broader organization which could reach out to all parts of Punjab continued after the emergency was lifted and these efforts culminated in the formation of the Association for Democratic Rights ( AFDR) in Punjab. The AFDR has regularly sent fact-finding teams and prepared reports on police atrocities and various acts of repression. It has highlighted the injustice caused time and again to dalits, women and other weaker sections. It has contributed to spreading greater awareness of people’s right to information at an early stage. Jagmohan Singh has been the General Secretary of the AFDR since 1978. Number of people contributed to the making and running of this organisation, He mentions guidance by Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga of Ghadr Party, Bibi Amar kaur participated enthusistically even in failing health. Prof Sujan Singh a Punjabi writer of great acclaim, Dr Dharamvir, Mohinder Singh Sandhu, Col Harbans Singh Waraich, Prof A K Maleri, Prof Sucha Singh, Prof R S Ghuman and many more participated dedicatedly to keep it working for all these years.

When the AFDR published a report on widespread violence against Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of the country in Punjabi language in December 1984, a case of sedition was initiated against Jagmohan Singh, a move which was very widely criticized all over the country. I remember travelling to Hussainiwala to participate in the homage to Shahid Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev on their death anniversary around this time and got a sense of the very strong feelings among people against this case. It was probably due to expression of such strong feelings that the government did not go ahead with this case.

The AFDR advanced the scope of democratic rights by insisting on basic economic and development rights to be included. Its suggestions to this effect achieved recognition at international conferences as well. It was emphasized that atrocities and violations not just by the State but by non-state actors should be highlighted and resisted. Hence all incidents of indiscriminate violence against people were resisted and condemned, whether this involved the rabid communal elements in Ayodhya, the Khalistanis in Punjab or the instigated violent mobs in Delhi.

Prof. Jagmohan Singh has consistently highlighted a firm opposition to all forms of communalism and sectarianism as a very important and integral part of the legacy of Shahid Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries. This has sometimes brought him into a confrontation with communal and sectarian forces who tried to distort this legacy in such a way as to suit their narrow concerns. Truth has prevailed but a lot of effort had to be made to ensure this. Hence an abiding concern of Jagmohan Singh throughout his life has been to spread the views of Shahid Bhagat Singh and his fellow-revolutionaries in the wider perspective of justice, equality, communal harmony and unity of people of all faiths to secure justice, real freedom and democratic rights. Several colleagues and efforts of Jagmohan Singh have contributed to these efforts which had the blessings and support of several veteran freedom fighters and revolutionaries as well. These efforts took more organized form with the establishment of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Research Committee in 1981 with Jagmohan Singh as secretary.

As a part of these efforts several documents and photographs relating to Shahid Bhagat Singh and his comrades have been published in book form as well as on web-sites dedicated to this in English, Hindi and Punjabi. Books relating to Sardar Ajit Singh and Sufi Amba Prasad have also been published, as also books on present-day problems of Punjab. Web-sites include http://revolutionarybhagatsingh.blogspot.com and (for Hindi complete works), http://www.shahidbhagatsingh.in/

A special part of this effort has been the living interaction with veteran freedom-fighters and revolutionaries—history as told by history-makers themselves. Bibi Amar Kaur was always there to bless these efforts and contribute. It was a big challange for Jagmohan and his family to carry her legacy forward when she expired in 1984. A few months before this she distributed pamphlets against anti-democratic laws in the Parliament, a repeat of the much-discussed daring act of her brother and his comrade Batukeswar Dutt some decades earlier. In her will she specifically mentioned that when she dies, dalit brothers should be definitely included among her pall-bearers, no religious ceremonies as they divide .She wrote in her will if you think that by prying you can give me peace , forget till a child is hungary and half clad,how could I be at peace. Yes if you wish me peace serve them. A strong commitment to equality for dalits and their rights was another legacy of Bhagat Singh carried forward by his sister and then by her son Jagmohan.

Jagmohan Singh and his family experienced a huge setback due to the untimely demise of Dr. Amarjeet Kaur in 2007.

Jagmohan Singh also played a leading role in setting up the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Centenary Foundation at Khatkar Kalan, with family resources, ancestral village in Jalandhar district to act as a nodal centre for social actions in keeping with the vision of the great martyr and his fellow-revolutionaries. Bibi Amar Kaur Memorial Public Library has been set up in Ludhiana with a rich collection of thousands of books with a special focus on this theme.

Jagmohan Singh has also continued his abiding commitment to rural education by helping to establish and then guiding the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Creativity Centre at Sant Baba Bhag Singh University Campus in Padhiana, Jalandhar.

Jagmohan Singh has become increasingly involved in sustainable agricultural practices including SRI innovative farming and ensuring optimal use of water and local village resources. He has emphasized protection of natural fertility of soil, protection and promotion of bio-diversity with nutritional herbal plants spreading to as many homes as possible. This should be backed with the strengthening of gram sabha and empowering villagers to take control of their affairs with emphasis on rights of weaker sections, dalits and women with increasing equality at all levels including gender.

He has been choosen to discharge responsibility of chairperson of All India Forum for Right to education. This is an organisation which is a collective of educationists, teacher organisations, student organisations and concerned citizens and work for equalitarian, and free education from KG to PG.

(Contact for Prof. Jagmohan Singh: jagmohan08 at gmail.com

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. His latest book as co-author is When Two Streams Meet—Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle, Published by Vitasta. )

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