Why ‘Naya’ Pakistan Should Celebrate Heroes Like Bhagat Singh

On Pakistan’s National Day, let’s remember our shared past through Bhagat Singh’s legacy, and revive our bond.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Every year on 23 March, Pakistan celebrates its Republic Day, by putting on display its military might. This year is no different. There are joint military parades happening across the country to mark this national day, and the army has come out to display its nuclear capabilities, along with a show of other offense and defence strengths.

Most of Pakistan’s military posturing is directed towards India – perceived as Pakistan’s number one enemy – and after last month’s confrontation and escalation over Kashmir, the mood in the country is even more geared towards the Indian threat.

But the hate in the country for neighboring India runs deeper than the recent month. In recent years, India has also increasingly responded with similar hatred. Most of this hatred is on religious grounds, and playing up the Hindu-Muslim divide.


Fighting Hate-Mongering and War-Mongering

Such hate-mongering gives way to war-mongering, which is a dangerous path for the two neighbors to take, given they are both nuclear-armed. Instead, both countries should find common ground to come together and look beyond such differences. And a national day like Republic Day can be the best occasion to do so, if only Islamabad recognises the country's pluralistic past that is being rapidly erased and forgotten, in favour of a more Muslim and anti-Hindu identity.

One such common ground can be that of Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary Indian freedom fighter who was hanged by the British colonisers on 23 March, the same day as Pakistan’s Republic Day, in 1931.

Nine years later, the founders of Pakistan passed a resolution in the same city where Bhagat Singh was hanged. That resolution is believed to be the founding stone of Pakistan's creation in 1947.

While everyone knows about this Lahore resolution, very few know anything about the twenty-three year old freedom fighter, who was arrested on charges of murdering a British police officer, and subsequently hanged. It is believed that the hanging took place at a location known today as Fawara Chowk (Square) in Shadman area of Lahore city. The square is also referred to as Shadman Chowk.


Attempts to Celebrate Pakistani Diversity Amid Religious Extremism

In 2012, some activists, in an effort to celebrate this more diverse history of Pakistan, pushed for the square to be renamed after Bhagat Singh. The group wanted to show that the South Asian independence movement transcended religious beliefs, and that the country should also celebrate people from different faiths.

It successfully convinced the government to change the name of the square to Bhagat Singh’s name.

But this soon attracted a major controversy and the government started receiving threats from religious groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s front organisation Jamat-ud-Dawa, who argued against it, given Singh’s non-Muslim background.

The government soon reverted its decision. Seven years later, the location is still known by its old name, and there are no signs that Bhagat Singh will get any recognition.


Fighting Narrow Ideas of Pakistan Through Bhagat Singh’s Ideals

Many of these are religious zealots who are protected by the Pakistani military – that runs the country's security policy – and uses such extremists as its proxy in stoking regional conflicts against neighbouring countries like India. In turn, India threatens Pakistan with consequences, thus giving Pakistan the excuse to have an over-sized military to defend itself from any potential Indian aggression.

But these groups are becoming larger than their military sponsors and increasingly gaining influencing within the country, and radicalising the Pakistani youth at an alarming rate. 

Just this week, a college student killed his professor and justified it because he believed the teacher was anti-Islam. Two years ago, a student was murdered by his classmates on campus over similar blasphemy accusations.

Many laws continue to discriminate against non-Muslims. And the official school curriculum also contains hate material against religious minorities.

But if the policymakers in Islamabad truly want a progressive Pakistan, and by extension a peaceful region, it must make efforts to fight such narrow-minded ideas of Pakistani identity, as it’s causing conflict not just in the region, but at home too.

And what better way to fight this than promote heroes like Bhagat Singh, whom the country's own founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, also praised. And given that Bhagat's hanging occurred on 23 March too, the country can perhaps focus on that aspect of history this Pakistan Day, rather than organising elaborate military parades that only encourages more hyper-nationalism, militarisation and division in South Asia.

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in Paris since February 2018 and is currently writing a book about Pakistan. He teaches journalism at SciencesPo and runs a digital platform called, which documents censorship in the media. He tweets at @TahaSSiddiqui 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.)

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