One would certainly be disappointed if one were to attempt locating the house of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s ‘wife’ in Raj Nagar area of Ghaziabad, a bustling UP town that borders Delhi. And one might then ask: Did a bachelor revolutionary really have a wife after all?
A lady by the name of Durga Devi Vohra lived in Raj Nagar along with her son Sachi. Durga Devi passed away in 1999 at the age of 92. While she was not Bhagat Singh’s wife in reality, she took on the role of his spouse to protect him from the clutches of the police in those heady days of revolutionary fervour in British India.
Better known as ‘Durga Bhabi’, the lady bravely assisted Bhagat Singh in hies scape from Lahore in 1928 following the murder of a British police officer.
Also Read: Bhagat Singh: A Hero in Pakistan, Too
Durga Devi and Her Husband’s Story
Along with his comrade Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh shot dead JP Saunders on 17 December 1927. The duo managed to escape but not before Lahore was plunged into disturbance after the assassination and the Punjab police made all efforts to arrest Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev. As Lahore teemed with policemen, the Hindustan Socialist Republic Association (HSRA) requested Durga Devi to “act” as Bhagat Singh’s wife and pave the path for his escape.
At an appointed time, Durga Devi along with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev left for Lahore railway station. Bhagat Singh was dressed in a suit and a felt hat. Durga Devi, who knew that the real target JA Scot had escaped, carried her son in her arms.
After killing Saunders, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev went to Durga Devi’s house where, in the presence of her husband Bhagwati Charan, they discussed plans for the duo to leave for Calcutta. Bhagwati Charan was familiar with Calcutta where he had earlier attended a Congress session.
Bhagat Singh as an Anglo Indian
The small party hired a tonga for Lahore railway station on 17 December. They purchased two first-class rail tickets. As Bhagat Singh was travelling with his “family”, he was given a coupe. It is said that over 400 policemen were at the platform in the lookout for Bhagat Singh, but he escaped.
Durga Devi played the role of Bhagat Singh’s “wife” with aplomb. Sukhdev turned to become the family’s domestic help. To conceal his identity, Bhagat Singh disguised as an Anglo-Indian. The three were questioned by the police once they boarded the train for Calcutta, but they acted their parts brilliantly and managed to hoodwink their interrogators.
What Happened to HSRA?
While speaking with me way back in 1996 in her Ghaziabad house, Durga Bhabhi was candid enough to admit that after Bhagat Singh’s execution in 1931, the HSRA wound up. She was active in the HSRA thanks to Bhagwati Charan who was an ideologue, organiser, orator and campaigner.
Born to wealthy parents in Lahore, Bhagwati Charan married Durgawati Devi at a young age. He passed away in Lahore on 28 May 1930 while testing a bomb on the banks of the Ravi. He played a key role in infusing intellectual ideology in the organisations that he worked for. He was not influenced by caste prejudices and worked for Hindu-Muslim unity as well as the upliftment of the poor by use of socialist principles. He was also party to murder of Saunders and the throwing of bombs in Central Assembly Hall by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt.
Revolutionary Turns Teacher
After HSRA’s demise, Durga Bhabhi moved to Lucknow in 1940 and started a school called the Lucknow Montessori School for children belonging to poor families. Prior to setting up the school, Durga Bhabhi visited Madras in 1939 and received montessori training. She ran the school till 1975 when she moved to Ghaziabad.
When I met her along with some activists of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, her memory had begun to fade. Ravi Arora, a social worker from Ghaziabad, informs: “Her family sold the Ghaziabad house after the demise of Sachi in 2000 and migrated to Canada.”
It is unfortunate that neither in Ghaziabad nor in Lucknow nor even in any other part of the country has a road been named after Durga Bhabi who was arguably among the early women revolutionaries of pre-independence India. As long as India remembers Bhagat Singh with gratitude, it cannot ignore the role of Durga Bhabhi.
(The writer is former Editor, Somaiya Publications. He can be reached@VivekShukla108. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)