On this day in 1931, Indian freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, and Sukhdev Thapar are hanged by the British Raj for murder during the Indian struggle for independence.
Singh, Rajguru, and Thapar came of age in an India ruled by the imperial British Raj, and grew to resent its heavy hand. Activists at an early age, the three were determined to join revolutionaries fighting for India’s independence. They found their calling in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HRSA), a revolutionary organisation whose goal was to uproot the British Raj from India through armed struggle. Thapar became a leader in the movement, educating youth in the National College in Lahore, encouraging others to join the freedom struggle, organising protests, and initiating the famous prison hunger strike of 1929.
On 3 February 1928, the Indian Statutory Commission—a group of seven British members of Parliament—had been sent to India to study constitutional reform there. Almost immediately upon the commission’s arrival in Bombay, it was confronted with throngs of protestors carrying black flags. The entire country, in fact, observed a strike and protests against the commission took place across India. One such protest would go down in history.
On 30 October 1928, Indian nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai led a protest against the commission in Lahore. Police began beating protestors with their batons, ostensibly to make way for the commission. But they beat Rai with particular fervour, and the nationalist leader eventually died from the injuries inflicted on him that day. Incensed, several protestors, including Singh, Rajguru, and Thapar, avenged Rai’s death by assassinating Deputy Superintendant of Police, J.P. Saunders. The trio was arrested, convicted of their crime, and sentenced to death. On 23 March 1931, at 7:33 in the evening, Singh, Rajguru, and Thapar were hanged in the Lahore Central Jail. Their dead bodies were secretly removed from the back of the jail and burnt on the banks of the Satluj River at Hussainiwala, some 80 kilometres from Lahore. Indians today honour the three as courageous freedom fighters sacrificing their lives for India’s independence struggle.