Inspiring Thoughts, Powerful Words|Jul 22, 2009 5:16 AM| by:

The Rise and Decline of Nations

Amongst the hundreds of unsung heroes of the freedom struggle was Ajit Singh from Punjab, better known as Bhagat Singh’s uncle. At a young age he came in contact with leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Sri Aurobindo, B. C. Pal and others and decided to devote his life for the emancipation of the country. His fiery speeches and equally fiery pamphlets which he published unnerved the British government and he was interned, along with Lala Lajpat Rai, for six months in Mandalay. On his return he renewed his activities very vigorously. Fearing another imprisonment, he fled the country in 1909 and reached Persia. From there he visited several countries in the Middle East and Europe and lived in Brazil for fourteen years. During World War II  he came to Europe, met Mussolini and was broadcasting against the British from Radio Rome. In Germany he tried to form the Azad Hind Fauj and met Subhas Bose, who was later more successful in organizing the Indian National Army in Southeast Asia. Ajit Singh was arrested in Germany by the British and later released in 1946; he reached India in March1947. He died when India was celebrating her first Independence day -15 August 1947.

In the following speech delivered at Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore, exactly a hundred years ago, he points out that internal conflicts and discriminations caused the downfall of nations. He attacks the Hindu caste system which had weakened the country and believed that no country could rise with the help of another country. The Indians would have to rely on themselves.

Gentlemen and beloved countrymen, Pandit Shradhanand of Phillaur has written a poem, the last lines of which are:

Where seven times twenty make a hundred
It is advisable to be silent there.

Which means that before the mighty, argument is of no avail. The British are powerful, and this is true of them. Selfish people at once become ‘yes men’ to the powerful. People often give priority to their selfish ends over truth and justice. Those who sing songs in praise of liberty in their country are enslaving other people in perpetuity. One who forms a habit of ruling over others, finds it difficult to forsake this.

The fact is that unless a country makes a study of history, it will not be in a position to determine as to what causes the rise and fall of nations. It is God’s decree that he does not allow anything to remain static. By studying history we know that God creates and destroys nations in a similar manner. When He wishes a nation to rise, an unknown force begins to work slowly and silently. People begin to aspire for liberty and freedom. The desire for freedom gets an impetus from the excesses of a despotic ruler. Quite often a poem or a heroic act kindles the spark of freedom in a nation. Sometimes working for religious, moral and class reform prepares the ground for the attainment of final emancipation. The proof of all this is to be found in the awakening in Japan, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. However, no nation has ever arisen using other nations as a prop. Dependence on others, therefore, is harmful. The strength of a nation comes from within. One lakh Morleys and Mintos can hardly be equal to one Tilak or Aurobindo in their love and devotion for India. Why should they be interested in formulating plans for the welfare and prosperity of India? A nation has to rise with her own efforts.

What we need is a concerted effort which is only possible when we forsake mutual hatred, jealousies and feelings of unnatural superiority over others. Whenever a nation succeeded in obliterating mutual differences and jealousies, its advance could not be resisted. But a nation which has these evils certainly suffered decline and humiliation. The caste system is one such evil which has retarded the progress of the country and made her weak. All the communities of India calling themselves Hindu are bound by the same tenets and holy books that they universally identify with their religion. No Hindu has ever thrown out any Hindu of another caste from within the folds of Hinduism. There is still such an acute enmity among them which knows no limit, and this has harmed all the communities of India to such an extent that it seems they do not belong to one religion.

In Egypt, quite like India, there were distinctions of caste, and Egypt had to suffer. It remained under Roman rule for seven centuries. Later it was under the Persians, Greeks and again, the Romans. Finally, at the beginning of the Hijri era the Egyptian nation was completely annihilated by the Arabs. Egypt suffered because of the abuses of the caste system and a country which was once the crown nation of the world was reduced to the position of permanent servitude. The Greeks also met the same fate because of internal dissensions. India too is in the grip of the evils of the caste system and untouchability. I say these things not from the point of view of religion, but from the political point of view. The caste system is pernicious and this silly idea has decayed our country and whatever remains will also crumble. What is the fault of a ‘bhangi’ or a ‘chamar’ that we look down upon him as low? His only fault is that he is poor. If that is so then why do you blame the British? They are at present the ruling nation. Why should you complain if they consider you low or humiliate you, or they do not allow you to sit by their side in a train and discriminate in favour of their own countrymen in legal cases? You should not grumble about this. Tell me honestly, how you all feel about it? When you yourself do not dispense justice to others, how do you expect justice from foreigners? I feel that Lala Lajpat Rai did not devote himself to the upliftment of the poor and downtrodden merely on account of religious consideration, but after considerable study, he had discovered the real cause of the rise and fall of nations.

A ‘chamar’, whom we do not allow to sit by our side, converts to Islam, takes on the name Sheikh Din Mohammed and sits beside us; a ‘bhangi’, whose mere touch compels us to take a bath for purification comes to us as ‘Padre sahib’ after converting to Christianity, we are not tired of calling him ‘sahib’ and give him all honour and respect – do we thus encourage these people to embrace Islam or Christianity? Remember, high castes are less in number and if you doubt this then peruse the census reports. You count yourself as twenty-four crore only by adding these low-castes. When you do not touch them, what right have you to take advantage of their numbers? If they all convert to Christianity or Islam, your number would then be considerably reduced. We shall then have to make our own shoes and clean our latrines. You will feel sorry at that time. Had we not committed this mistake of looking down and ill-treating our own brethren, who in this world could have overwhelmed us?

I have already told you that the caste system and feelings of high and low have destroyed nations. I will now go on to explain to you how those nations progressed where such feelings did not exist. Rome made progress when its people attached importance to service and likewise qualities and did not care for the caste-system and wealth. Look at America. Thirteen nationalities distinct from one another in religion, language, and in every other respect live there. The English, the French, the Dutch, Russians, Turks, Arabs, Germans, Italians and people of different religions—Protestants, Roman Catholics, Theosophists—all live together and no one regards the other as his inferior. They are all free and enjoy equality in human rights and it is like heaven on earth.

I have told you briefly about the rise and decline of nations. When you reflect on this, you will discover that discord generated by social order and religious differences has been the root cause. Unity fostered by sympathetic and equal treatment of underprivileged people is at the root of all progress. Brothers, I appeal to you to love these downtrodden communities. Do not despise them; associate with them. Devote yourselves to the service of the downtrodden; shun hating them. Take moral courage, forsake cowardice. Young men, this is your work. Consider this as your religion.

Ajit Singh


Singh, Pardaman and Dhanki. Buried Alive; Autobiography, Speeches and Writings of an Indian Revolutionary Sardar Aiit Singh. New Delhi, Gitanjali Publishing House, 1984.. p.139-58.

Note: The English translation has been done from an Urdu-publication   Taqarir-e-Ajit ed. by Lal Chand Falak, Lahore, 1909.