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“Give Me Blood, and I Will Give You Freedom”: Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose, and the Uses of Violence in India’s Independence Movement

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Last April, two Indian students visited my high school for a few weeks and joined my world history class. One day, during a discussion of the Indian independence movement, I asked all of my students in the class to hold up their hand if they had ever heard of Bhagat Singh or Subhas Chandra Bose. Only two hands went up, those belonging to our visitors from India. Our Indian guests expressed shock and dismay that their American peers had never heard these two names that are so familiar to Indians. The vast majority of Indians view Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose as critical figures in India’s struggle for independence, and many Indians view them as equally important as the Mahatma, Mohandas K. Gandhi, the individual most closely associated with the Indian independence movement. A history teacher at one of India’s leading secondary schools describes Bose and Singh as “British India’s most loved and most controversial figures.” In 2006, the top-grossing movie in India was Rang de Basanti, a Bollywood film about a group of disaffected college students in today’s India who find inspiration in the legend of Bhagat Singh. High school history textbooks in India often devote an entire chapter to Subhas Chandra Bose, whom many Indians call the “George Washington of India.” The tenth-grade text used at the aforementioned prestigious private school calls Bose’s contributions to Indian independence “unforgettable” and describes Singh as a prominent revolutionary “who will be remembered by history” for his contributions to the Indian struggle for independence. (note 1)

NOTES

1. B.B. Tayal and A. Jacob, Modern Indian History: Contemporary World and Civics, 9th Edition (India: Avichal Publishing Company, 2004), B-148, B-164.

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