[Book Review] The Execution of Bhagat Singh: Legal Heresies of the Raj

The Execution of Bhagat Singh: Legal Heresies of the Raj is an exceptional contribution to the Legal and Constitutional History of India. This book is authored by Professor Satvinder Juss who is currently a professor of law at King’s College London.

This book is divided into eleven chapters covering range of social, political and legal issues during the trial of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. The book contains rare documents and archives on the trial of Bhagat Singh. 90 years after the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Prof. Juss presents this trial in such a way that it seems relevant to contemporary Indian legal and political arena, for both good an bad reasons. It is published at such a time when India is caught in the struggle of ethno-nationalist politics.

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The author rightly says that the trial of Bhagat Singh was going to test the British Empire’s commitment to the Rule of Law. Prof. Juss hints at how contemporary Indian legal system still rests on the the British colonial legal reasoning to suppress the voices against the government of the day. The book further entails how the Lahore Conspiracy case became a blueprint for even post-colonial common law countries to negate the requirements of rule of law and to dispense a localised forum of justice peculiar to their own needs and wishes.

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Bhagat Singh was a young intellectual communist freedom fighter who never hesitated in condemning distressing socio-religious practices. Prof. Juss writes, Bhagat Singh was the only revolutionary who denounced the twin evil of capitalism and colonialism by linking capitalism with casteism. This book is truly an addition to understand the personality of Bhagat Singh. For those who are not well aware of India’s freedom struggle, this book may bring several surprises. Prof. Juss has broken several myth being narrated or buried for several year in India and Pakistan after the partition.

Since the Legal and Constitutional History of India has become an important part of India’s law school syllabus, the book should be read to understand the coercive colonial legalism. Additionally, this book is not relevant only to understand the legal fiasco of the British India, but also helps to understand the legal reasoning and the use of legislative powers in Indian sub-continent in the trial of people charged under preventive detention laws.

Author: Mohd Imran LLM candidate at South Asian University, New Delhi. The views are personal.

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