Why I am an atheist – The Bhagat Singh Story
The nation knows Bhagat Singh as the revolutionary leader who challenged the British and sacrificed his life for the country. But Bhagat Singh was also a fiercely independent thinker, who rejected the mere idea and the existence of God at a time when India was riddled with superstitions and speaking out against God or religion was considered a sin.
Just a year before his execution in 1931, during his imprisonment in Lahore jail, Bhagat Singh had a conversation with a fellow inmate, Baba Randhir Singh. Randhir Singh, a religious man and a member of Ghadar Party who was convicted in the first Lahore conspiracy case, tried to incite his belief in God. However, Bhagat Singh did not change his stand and said that he will remain an atheist.
Thereafter, Randhir Singh said, “You are giddy with fame and have developed an ego which is standing like a black curtain between you and God”. In reply to Randhir, the freedom fighter penned an essay titled ‘Why I am an atheist’, discussing his atheism and how he came to the conclusion about God’s non-existence – which, he wrote, did not come because of his vanity.
Bhagat Singh explained how a religious boy who chanted prayers for hours, became an atheist and also questioned theists about the existence of God. After his execution, the essay was published on September 27, 1931, in Lala Lajpat Rai’s English weekly The People.
Bhagat Singh began his essay by talking about how people were so quick to assume that his beliefs stemmed out of vanity. He wrote that he had never imagined that his beliefs and opinions on God would garner so much criticism.
It is a matter of debate whether my lack of belief in the existence of an Omnipresent, Omniscient God is due to my arrogant pride and vanity. It never occurred to me that sometime in the future I would be involved in polemics of this kind. As a result of some discussions with my friends, I have realised that after having known me for a little time only, some of them have reached a kind of hasty conclusion about me that my atheism is my foolishness and that it is the outcome of my vanity.
Once he had come out as an atheist, it was tough for him to deal with questions of faith that were thrown at him. He wrote how his friends believed that the fame he received after the Delhi bombing and Lahore Conspiracy had gone to his head, which led him to dismiss the existence of God – an allegation he denied saying that he was an atheist even when he was an unknown name.
My friends say that after Delhi bombing and Lahore Conspiracy Case, I rocketed to fame and that this fact has turned my head. Let us discuss why this allegation is incorrect. I did not give up my belief in God after these incidents. I was an atheist even when I was an unknown figure.
He then spoke about his duration at the National College, which is where he said he became skeptical about God’s existence, despite being a firm believer at the time. He wrote that in spite of growing a beard and ‘Kais’ – a religious custom among the Sikhs – his belief in religion as a whole started wavering.
In the Non-cooperation days, I got admission to the National College. During my stay in this college, I began thinking over all the religious polemics such that I grew skeptical about the existence of God. In spite of this fact I can say that my belief in God was firm and strong. I grew a beard and ‘Kais’ (long head of hair as a Sikh religious custom). In spite of this, I could not convince myself of the efficacy of Sikh religion or any religion at all, for that matter. But I had an unswerving, unwavering belief in God.
However, Bhagat Singh knew that he had turned into an atheist when the entire responsibility of his party fell on his shoulders. This is when he wrote, he became an avid reader in order to equip himself with knowledge so that he could defend his party against any kind of contemptuous ridicule with logic. His belief during that time underwent a dynamic change and by the end of 1926, he had fully embraced atheism. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).