Bhagat Singh was an Indian socialist activist who at 23 years of age made him a hero of the Indian independence movement by two acts of dramatic violence against British citizens in India and his executions.
The Simon Commission was set up by the British government in 1928 to report on the situation in India. The Commission was boycotted by many Indian political parties because there were no Indians in it and there were protests throughout the world. Lala Lajpat Rai led a demonstration in protest against it when the Commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928. Attempts by the police to disperse the crowd have contributed to violence. Police Superintendent James A. Scott ordered police charges against the demonstrators and targeted Rai personally, who was wounded. On 17 November 1928, Rai died of a heart attack. Doctors suspected that the injuries he had suffered may have hastened his death. The British Government denied any involvement in Rai ‘s death when the matter was discussed in the parliament of the United Kingdom.
Bhagat was a prominent HRA member and was possibly primarily responsible for his change of name in 1928 to HSRA. The HSRA promised Rai ‘s death to avenge her. Singh conspired to destroy Scott in cooperation with revolutionaries such as Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad. In a mistaken identity, however, on 17 December 1928 the plotters shot John P. Saunders, an assistant police superintendent, leaving the Lahore Police Headquarters.
The current reaction to the killing differs significantly from the adulteration which occurred later on. In addition to the HSRA, the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, who coordinated the Lahore demonstration, noticed that attendance at subsequent public meetings was dropping drastically. Politicians, activists and publications, including The People, founded by Rai in 1925, stressed the preference for violence to not cooperate. Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress leader, denounced the killing as a retrograde step but later Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:
It was not his act of terrorism that made Bhagat Singh famous but because he seemed to comfort Lala Lajpat Rai for the moment, and the nation through it. In just a few months, each village and town of the Punjab and to a lesser extent in the rest of northern India, he became a symbol, the act was forgotten, the symbol remained and resounded with its name. Countless songs about him grew and the popularity that the man got was awesome.
The group escaped from the district police station through the D.A.V. college entrance after the killing of Saunders. Chanan Singh, the chasing head of the Constable, was wounded fatally by covering fire from Chandrashekhar Azad. They then raced away to safe houses by bicycle. A large search operation was conducted by police and all entries and exits from and to the city were blocked; all young men who left Lahore were tracked by the CID. For the next two days, the fugitives concealed. On 19 December 1928, Sukhdev appealed to Bhagwati Charan Vohra to support Durgawati Devi, often referred to as Durga Bhabhi, wife of a HSRA member. Early the next morning, they decided to take the train from Lahore to Bathinda on the way to Howrah.
The following day Singh and Rajguru left the house early, both with loaded revolvers. In Western clothes, Singh and Devi went as a young couple carrying Devi’s sleeping boy, while Rajguru wore their luggage as their servant. Singh managed to disguise its identity during ticket transactions at the station and the three boarded the train to Cawnpore. There they boarded the Lucknow train, as passengers in the direct train from Lahore normally were checked by the Howrah Railway Station CID. Rajguru left for Benares at Lucknow while Singh, Devi and the child went to Howrah and all of these people came back to Lahore a couple of days later, except Singh.