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Citizens of Lahore name Shadman Chowk after Bhagat Singh – by Afnan Khan

LAHORE: A large number of citizens, including students from various educational institutions gathered, at Shadman Chowk on Tuesday to mark the 79th martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh Shaheed, one of the pioneers of the struggle for an independent subcontinent.

It was at this very spot the British rulers hanged Singh on March 23, 1931, for his role in the freedom struggle. Participants of the rally carried candles, banners and posters, demanding the preservation of historic places that had linkages to revolutionaries like Singh.

The participants mainly consisted of students from the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, Punjab National Conference, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Beaconhouse National University, Punjab University, University of Engineering and Technology, Socialist artists front, National College of Arts, National Students Federation Punjab and several others.

Renaming: The participants demanded the government rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk, and in a token gesture, placed a plaque carrying details of Singh’s heroics at the square.

Rights activist Saeeda Diep told Daily Times that citizens of Lahore had taken the initiation for the preservation of city’s heritage by naming the square after Singh, and said the government should also rename Shadman Colony as Bhagat Singh colony, as he lost his life in a struggle for the independence of the subcontinent. She said the citizens had taken a significant step and would acquire other places like Bradlauch Hall from the government to convert them into a small museum or a library dedicated to the life of Singh. “The government has named cities and places after a number of foreigners, but it has failed to name a few places after a legendary person who received worldwide recognition and was the son of the soil. People wont tolerate this injustice anymore and that is why they have gathered here today,” she added.

She said the ruling establishment might not like heroes like Bhagat Singh, Dullah Bhatti, Rai Ahmad Khan Kharal, Peer Sibghat Ullah and Kartar Singh for being those who challenged the authoritarian agendas of the establishment, but they were heroes of the people and they would not be forgotten.

A Hassan Abdal-based Pakistani Sikh, Taranjeet Singh, told Daily Times that he came to Shadman Chowk all the way from his city to mark the martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh. He said Singh was the person who took up arms against the British and launched the freedom struggle taking along people of all colours and creeds, unlike political parties, which only talked about the people having similar ideologies. He said he had seen schools, colleges, colonies and other places named after Bhagat Singh in Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and India, but it was unfortunate that Singh had been ignored by the people of his own homeland.

Source: Daily Times

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  • We need to preserve our historical treasure for the coming generations. These are the people who in their own ways made contributions to who we are today. We must not only acknowledge them but celebrate them.

  • Beyond Bhagat Singh’s headgear
    By Jawed Naqvi
    Thursday, 25 Mar, 2010

    Far more integral to an honest discourse on Bhagat Singh is not what his preferred headgear was but the request he had made in a bone-chilling last letter to the British governor of Punjab about what his choice was in the method of his own execution. He desired to be shot like a soldier and not hanged as a criminal.

    South Asians in particular revel in starting debates that miss the point. It was the revolutionary icon Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary on Tuesday. It triggered a well-meaning discussion but one which was bereft of a clear objective.

    One side argued that Bhagat Singh was an avowed atheist, which he was. In the last three years of his life he used a European hat instead of a turban he wore as a Sikh. Fair enough.

    It was of course perfectly possible to remain an atheist and still wear a turban. This was the other point of view, valid no doubt. Writer Khushwant Singh and the late communist guru Harkishan Singh Surjeet were mentioned as cultural Sikhs who wore the turban in spite of their widely publicised agnosticism. To extend the debate to another ethnic group, not everyone who wears a turban or sports a beard in the NWFP is a proselytising Muslim, much less given to suicidal thoughts.

    Tuesday’s debate was perhaps triggered by the frustration that the supposedly secular Indian government in Delhi and a predominantly Sikh government in the northern province of Punjab had yet again published pictures of Bhagat Singh in a turban. So yes, the stubbornness could be indicative of a long-known symptom: that the Indian state, though it claims to be dispassionately secular, runs its discourse in religious motifs. In a family planning hoarding the Hindus would be shown with a sacramental tail on their heads and the Muslims with a fez cap, usually with a beard.

    In a sense the state gets into a quandary with its own citizens’ intellectual aloofness from the stereotypes it creates for them. The Indian state seeks to steer clear of Saadat Hasan Manto’s dilemma wherein he finds it difficult to tell a Hindu from a Muslim, visually, which forms the basis of his many tragic tales about the irony of partition. India’s truck drivers who ply the massive privately run transport system are less muddled. Their trucks, nearly all of them, sport drawings of Bhagat Singh with a hat.

    In Pakistan, a similar image makeover was dictated by the state’s expediency that left the Quaid wearing a cap to make him look more Muslim than he would have appeared in his less self-conscious nattily suited avatar.

    In India, even though brought up as an essential European, Sonia Gandhi might find it difficult to flaunt a wardrobe that strays from the Indian sari or a shalwar-kurta. She has to keep up with the requirements of an ethos in which she is hypocritically assigned the role of a widowed bahu, the nation’s daughter-in-law, with no leeway for her own views in the matter.

    Gone are the days for her when she would drive to India Gate in her jeans to share an ice cream with her beaming husband, as a beautiful picture at the foreign correspondents’ club in Delhi testifies. Now she plays, or is more likely compelled to play, the role of a pious widow that most Indians admire, even worship. Mother India cannot wear trousers. Bhagat Singh cannot wear a hat.

    It would be infra dig for the state to admit on the issue of Bhagat Singh that he was an atheist and that it didn’t matter to him what his headgear was. There is a view that he did so to mask his identity from the British police. So be it. What the Indian state would not want to disseminate of his ideas is the canny resemblance they bear to today’s hunted tribespeople’s struggle for justice in central India.

    Far more integral to an honest discourse on Bhagat Singh is not what his preferred headgear was but the request he had made in a bone-chilling last letter to the British governor of Punjab about what his choice was in the method of his own execution. He desired to be shot like a soldier and not hanged as a criminal. That is the less discussed ‘choice’ the legendary martyr had sought to make, which had no room for religion or cultural motifs.

    “With due respect,” he wrote to the Punjab governor, “The main charge against us was that of having waged war against H.M. King George, the King of England.”

    The court pre-supposed two things: firstly, that there existed a state of war between the British nation and the Indian nation and, secondly, that Bhagat Singh and his two condemned associates had participated in that war and were therefore war prisoners. Bhagat Singh was lethal in his humility. “The second pre-supposition,” he wrote, “seems to be a little bit flattering, but nevertheless it is too tempting to resist the desire of acquiescing in it.”

    As regards the first, “we are constrained to go into some detail. Apparently there seems to be no such war as the phrase indicates. Nevertheless, please allow us to accept the validity of the pre-supposition taking it at its face value. But in order to be correctly understood we must explain it further. Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites”.

    If we consider the war under way between the tribespeople of Chhattisgarh and the paramilitary forces of the Indian state we may be stunned to see similarities in how it revolves around Bhagat Singh’s notion of “the toiling masses and the natural resources (that) are being exploited by a handful of parasites”. This is the inescapable conclusion that Bhagat Singh leaves us to ponder. Not the preferred headgear. The state would indulge in false, meaningless debates to digress from the truer lessons to draw from an iconic young martyr. Why should we fall for the subterfuge?

    Bhagat Singh’s last words read like Arundhati Roy’s conclusion from her amazing visit to Chhattisgarh recently. Continuing his critique of the “parasites”, he wrote: “They may be purely British capitalist or mixed British and Indian or even purely Indian. They may be carrying on their insidious exploitation through mixed or even on purely Indian bureaucratic apparatus. All these things make no difference.

    No matter, if your government tries and succeeds in winning over the leaders of the upper strata of the Indian society through petty concessions and compromises and thereby cause a temporary demoralisation in the main body of the forces … The war shall continue.”

    The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.