Sukhdev Thapar is one of the most respected revolutionaries who fought for India’s freedom, and yet, little is known about him in the public domain. Sukhdev was born on 15 May 1907 in Naughara village in Ludhiana, Punjab. His father Sri Ramlila Thapar, a small businessman, passed away when Sukhdev was three years old. Young Sukhdev grew up in Lyallpur under the guardianship of his uncle, Sri Achintram Thapar who was a prominent member of civil society, a freedom fighter, and a member of the Arya Samaj. Sukhdev was only twelve years old when his uncle was arrested by the British police for organizing an agitation against the Rowlatt Act. This incident impacted Sukhdev, and his resentment towards the British authorities just grew. The arrest of his uncle again in 1921 during the Non-Cooperation Movement was the final nail in the coffin. It enraged him to such an extent that he was determined to make the authorities pay for their indiscriminate use of the law.
Sukhdev’s involvement in India’s freedom struggle can be traced to Lahore, where he was studying in the National College, which happened to be a centre of nationalist politics. While in college, for a brief period Sukhdev became a member of the Satyagraha League that was affiliated with the Indian National Congress. Later, Sukhdev came in contact with Bhagat Singh, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Yashpal, and others who were associated with the revolutionary organization that was originally called the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). coordinator for HRA in Punjab was his college Professor Jaichandra Vidyalankar. It is through them that Sukhdev was introduced to the revolutionary movement.
In 1926, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, and others formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Sukhdev was elected to the committee of this organization. In the years to come, the responsibility of running the organization fell upon his shoulders as both Bhagat Singh and Bhagwati Charan Vohra got involved in reviving the revolutionary movement.
When the Hindustan Republican Association transitioned into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), Sukhdev was elected to its central committee and given charge of the Punjab region. Under his leadership, the HSRA grew exponentially in Punjab. Sukhdev was cautious and took many precautions while recruiting new members to the revolutionary party.
Meanwhile, the HSRA deputed Batukeshwar Dutt and Bejoy Kumar Sinha to throw low-grade smoke bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly to protest against the proposed Trade Disputes Bill and the Public Safety Bill. Although Sukhdev was present during the meeting, he hardly uttered a word. After the meeting was over, it is said, he got into a heated dispute with Bhagat Singh and compelled him to lead the assignment. Sukhdev’s argument was that once the revolutionaries were caught, the world had to be convinced about their intent, and he felt only Bhagat Singh had the ability and power to present the ideas and programs of the revolutionaries globally. Bhagat Singh acceded to his plea, and at his behest, the central committee of the HSRA reconvened and paved the way for him to lead the attack in what came to be known as the Assembly Bomb Case.
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were caught and tried in the Assembly Bomb Case. In the course of the investigations, it was found that Bhagat Singh, along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, were the men behind the murder of Colonel J P Saunders, whom they had shot, mistaking him for the police officer who had ordered the lathi-charge in which Lala Lajpat Rai had sustained fatal injuries. This case was reopened, and Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were charged with the murder of Saunders.
The fearless and defiant attitude of the revolutionaries was reported in the newspapers. According to reports, they would enter the courtroom shouting slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Long Live the Proletariat’ and singing songs such as ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mei hai’ (“our heart is filled with the desire for martyrdom”). Sukhdev and his comrades went on a hunger strike to protest against the inhuman conditions in the jail. They demanded that they be treated as political prisoners and not as criminals. The entire nation was stirred and rallied behind these revolutionaries. However, the courts convicted them and on 23 March 1931, Sukhdev was hanged in Lahore Jail along with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru. The nation commemorates this day as Shaheed Diwas (Martyr’s Day) to honour their selfless sacrifice for the freedom of the country.