Pakistan’s Bhagat Singh: Tracing the Martyr’s Footsteps in Lahore
Bhagat Singh thrives in the folklore of Pakistan and people of the older generations still seek to commemorate him.
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Much of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s remarkable and dramatic life unfolded in Lahore.
Bhagat Singh is not a part of the school curriculum and official narrative of Pakistan that revered only the leaders of the Pakistan Movement and “Muslim” heroes of pre-partition India.
However, Bhagat Singh thrives in the folklore of Pakistan and people of the older generations (like my grandfather) still seek to commemorate him for his services to the cause of Indian freedom. Singh’s birth and death anniversary are celebrated every year, usually on the very roundabout where he was hanged.
Lahore famously missed a window of opportunity to name that roundabout after their icon – Bhagat Singh. In the late 2000s, activists in Lahore protested vehemently for the name of this chowk, from the rather vapid ‘Fawara (fountain) or Shadman Chowk’ to ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’.
The city government was about to rename it in October 2012 but a Tehreek-i-Hurmat-i-Rasool member and Shadman traders’ Union president Zahid Butt challenged this move in the Lahore High Court.
The court restrained the city government from issuing an official notification. The case is at a standstill now.
National College, Now Bradlaugh Hall
Singh moved to Lahore to study in the National College set up in the famous Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road behind the Central Model School. The building is red, shaped like a hut and has striking arched windows symbolic of the British architecture.
Lala Lajpat Rai established the National College in Lahore to educate those opposing and boycotting the British colonialists as part of the non-cooperation movement. Bradlaugh Hall served as the building.
The National College nurtured the young Bhagat and helped him hone his skills as a speaker and writer.
Lahore as a hub of culture, multi-ethnic and cross-section of ideologies that eventually not just made Shaheed Bhagat Singh who he is but also provided him a prominent platform for his political work and struggle for freedom.
He won an All-Punjab debate here, as well as an essay competition, spent long hours in the library and became influenced by the Giuseppe Mazzini's Young Italy Movement. He also contributed to newspapers. This is where he met and befriended his fellow revolutionaries.
The building of Bradlaugh Hall is said to have been constructed in the 1880s with the funds of the Indian National Congress and bought by Sardar Dyal Singh in 1888. This hall’s name commemorates Charles Bradlaugh, a British MP in the late Victorian era who admired India and supported equality and women’s rights.
Today the hall is locked and owned by the Evacuee Trust Property Board. The building is still majestic but dilapidated thanks to the neglect of the government. The walls and the floors are still strong while the roof is in a poor shape. It can be recovered if there is significant pressure.
Islamia College, Lahore
Lala Lajpat Rai, a freedom fighter, and pre-partition political leader died after lathi charge by another police officer, James Scott. Scott is the one Singh wanted to kill to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai but instead shot John Saunder, another police officer.
The lathi charge took place outside the Lahore’s Railway Station, just where the Landa Bazaar (market of used imported clothing) begins. Rajguru, Singh’s close companion was the one who fired the shot.
This event took place outside the DAV (Dayanand Anglo Vedic), now known as the Islamia College Civil Lines in Lahore.
They fired from the second story of the Government College New Hostel near the District Courts of Lahore. The two friends then jumped from the hostel wall, crossed the road and went into the DAV College. A police constable who witnessed this tried to chase them and was shot by their third companion, Chandra Shekar Azad, who was there to help his companions flee.
Rajguru and Azad are said to have crossed the Ravi river and reached Shahdara where they had established a factory of explosives while Singh is said to have escaped in a walled city of Lahore nearby.
This means he ran past the College of Veterinary Sciences on the Rattigan Road, across the Data Saheb (Ali Hajvery’s shrine ) into the walled city.
He probably lived with his relative near Lohari gate and later in the hostel of Dyal Singh College where he was hidden by the superintendent there – Mr Malhotra. He did go to Lakshmi bazaar nearby occasionally. He was later joined by Azad and Rajguru and they left.
Bhagat Singh is also said to have stayed for one night in the house of Khawaja Ferozuddin, whose daughter eventually became one of the three wives of Allama Iqbal. Khawaja Ferozuddin’s grandson has recently verified this. Other claims still need verification.
They were on the run for a long time before finally setting off bombs, rather firecrackers that harmed no one, in the Legislative Assembly in Delhi in April 1929.
The trio believed in getting arrested and did that to show they are not absconders but freedom fighters. Eventually, they were charged with the murder of Saunders in Lahore after the case was transferred there from Delhi.
But during the trial, Singh’s flamboyance and sheer courage made him a national figure. Public demonstrations were held against the verdict and his hanging.
So much so, that national leaders like Nehru and Gandhi are said to have felt threatened by Singh’s rise and accused of not stopping his hanging for this very reason.
Lahore’s Central Jail
He was hanged in Lahore’s Central Jail on the 23 March, 1931 – perhaps one of the most famous events to take place in Lahore ever. Since Singh was so popular, no magistrate was willing to take up this hanging.
Muhammad Ahmed Khan Kasuri from Kasur took up the deed. Ironically, he was shot dead near the same chowk where Bhagat Singh was hanged and eventually former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan was hanged in his murder case.
Interestingly, 23 March is commemorated as the day of the Lahore Resolution which originally took place on the 24 March in 1940.
Hussainwala Village Near Lahore
He was cremated in the village Hussainwala which is Kasur district and his Samadhi is still visible from there across the Ganda Singh Border. It was transferred to India in exchange for the 12 villages next to the Sulemanki Headworks.
Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Qureshi, who also runs the Lahore-based Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation, filed a petition in the Lahore High Court last year for the early hearing of his case to prove Bhagat Singh’s innocence.
The division bench of the Lahore High Court had in February last year asked the Chief Justice of Pakistan to constitute a larger bench to hear this petition.
This year, the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation, once again demanded that Shadman Chowk in Lahore, should be named after Singh and his statue should also be installed in the Lahore High Court. Since statues are considered un-Islamic, they have become rare in post-partition Pakistan.
Qureshi also asked the government of Pakistan to award Shaheed Bhagat Singh with Pakistan’s highest gallantry award, Nishan-a-Haider, an honour given posthumously to the military personnel’s alone. So far, none of these demands have been fulfilled.
However, all is not lost. Bhagat Singh is deeply revered as a hero for many of Pakistan’s Punjabi-speaking elite. Sometime in the future, a public memorial will surely be resurrected.
(The writer is based in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work can be found on www.ammaraahmad.com)
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