The execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in March 1931 saw a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for the revolutionaries and protest against the British government across Tamil Nadu.
Be it in Arcot or Coonoor or Dindigul or Devakottai or Kodavasal or Nagapattinam or Panruti or Srirangam or Tindivanam or Tuticorin, people expressed their feelings. Hartals, public meetings, hoisting of black flags and processions were held, a perusal of issues of The Hindu in late March 1931 reveals.
Eminent historian Chaman Lal's compilation of rare documents on Bhagat Singh threw light on the revolutionary's inspiring facets and his impact on the people in different regions of the country.
On March 24, 1931, when Madras woke to the news of the execution, carried out in Lahore the previous evening, traders of the Kotwal Bazaar, China Bazaar, Rattan Bazaar and Godown Street immediately closed their shops. Black flags were hoisted on several buildings.
In the evening, a large number of people including women turned up for a public meeting at the Tilak Ghat on the Marina, then called Triplicane Beach. Processions from George Town, Triplicane and other parts of the city terminated at the meeting venue and those who took part in the processions carried the national flag, black flags and the picture of Bhagat Singh. The meeting began with rendering of national songs in Tamil, Hindi and Urdu.
Chaired by freedom fighter Vellore Kuppuswami Mudaliar, the meeting adopted a resolution, admiring the patriotic spirit and noble sacrifice of the three martyrs and condemning the government for having disturbed the atmosphere of peace created by the Gandhi-Irwin pact signed on March 5, 1931.
One speaker said however much one might disagree with the school of thought represented by Bhagat Singh and the other two, one could not help admiring their courage, patriotism and sacrifice.
In Coimbatore, members of the Congress party took out a black flag procession. Students of the Government College-High School came out of their classes. The Pollachi Municipal Council passed an urgent resolution, regretting the execution, before adjourning its meeting.
Hours before the execution, a public meeting at Tenkasi called upon the British government to stay it and commute the death sentence awarded to the three revolutionaries. At Kancheepuram, an organisation — the Conjeevaram Youth League — took out a procession from the Deverajaswami temple [of Vishnu or Chinna Kanchi] to the Javulikadai choultry in support of the demand for commutation of the death sentence.
On March 25, a huge silent procession was taken out through the main streets of Madurai, the State's important city in the south. A public meeting was held at Mayyamandapam on the Vaigai river bed. A. Vaidyanatha Aiyar, who presided, said the sense of grief was so great that all celebrations, originally planned for the successful conclusion of the Gandhi-Irwin pact, were abandoned.
The same day, a complete hartal was observed at Sankarankoil. At Thanjavur, a public meeting adopted a resolution, describing the execution as a “grave blunder.” When the resolution was passed, the entire gathering stood up.
The next day, Madurai and Tirunelveli observed a total bandh.
For some more days, people in different parts of the State continued to express their condemnation of the execution.
Years have rolled by. Still, the legacy of Bhagat Singh lives in Tamil Nadu. In many parts of the State, his services for the cause of freedom are remembered on his death anniversary every year.