LAHORE: Bradlaugh Hall, where one of South Asia’s most influential revolutionaries – Bhagat Singh – once studied is, today, the focus of a campaign to not only rescue it from disrepair but to rename it and other landmarks of Lahore after him. Named after the social reformist and radical member of British parliament Charles Bradlaugh, the college was built on October 30, 1900, to provide secondary higher education to students from all walks of life. In the decades following Partition, the institute has had its share of turmoil, according to residents of Rattigan Road who briefly recounted its history to Daily Times. Shortly after 1947 Bradlaugh Hall was used to store foodstuffs; it then found life as a steel mill up until the 1980s, when it reopened as a technical education centre, the Milli Technical Education Institute.
A dispute between the directors of the institute led to an abrupt occupation of the property by one of the board members in the mid-1990s, who later rented it out to private academies. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) took legal action against the occupation, claiming to be its legal owners, and as of mid-2009, Bradlaugh Hall remains officially empty. Residents claim that in its waning years leading up to and including its present state, the property has become a sanctuary for criminal behaviour, with drug addicts and others entering Bradlaugh Hall through ‘secret entrances’. The grounds have also gained their share of neighbourhood locals, who now live in parts of the property, and who are now embroiled in a court case with the ETPB, residents told Daily Times.
Campaign: Supporters of Bhagat Singh are campaigning to restore Bradlaugh Hall to its original pre-1947 state, and to turn it into a functioning school with a small museum dedicated to the independence movement, with a focus on Bhagat Singh. They have also petitioned to have the school renamed after the famed revolutionary, just as they want Shadman Square, the place where he was hanged, to be a memorial renamed after him. They have petitioned previous and current chief Punjab ministers, the district government of Lahore and the ETPB to allow for the restoration to take place, but have not as yet received any positive response from the authorities.
Daily Times spoke to some of those behind the campaign about the man that Jinnah once defended in the Indian Central Assembly in 1929, in spite of their political differences.
Saeeda Diep, head of the Institute for Secular Studies in Lahore, told Daily Times that hearing of the exploits of Bhaghat Singh as a student inspired her and others to join student political movements, pushing for the establishment of democracy and rule of law in Pakistan. She said that the early generations of Pakistanis who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s knew of and were greatly inspired by revolutionaries such as Singh, but that over the years their importance has waned amongst Pakistanis – a legacy of what she regarded as the conservative and authoritarian mindset that prospered under the regime of General Ziaul-Haq.
President of the National Workers Party and Supreme Court lawyer Abid Hasan Minto, echoed Diep’s sentiments, saying that the youth of Pakistan should learn about the active and vital role played by Bhaghat Singh and his contemporaries in the struggle for independence, arguing that he and others remain a vital part of their nation’s young history. Daily Times attempted to contact ETPB for comments on the campaign and on the status of Bradlaugh Hall, but they declined to respond.
Bhagat Singh: Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 in the village of Khatkar Kalan, in the Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) district of Punjab. Brought up in a Sikh family that had taken part in Indian independence movements, he started to support Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement at the age of 13. Developing an interest in anarchism, or libertarian socialism, Singh moved away from Gandhi’s stance of non-violence, and began advocating more militant forms of protest against the British. He joined the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Youth Society of India) and then went on to join the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). After senior members of the HRA were captured and executed, Singh rose to the leadership of the organisation, renaming it the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Imprisoned for bombing the Central Legislative Assembly (CLA) on April 8, 1929, Bhaghat Singh garnered public support when he underwent a 64-day fast in jail in protest against the lack of equal rights for Indian and British political prisoners. Though he did not agree with Singh’s actions, Jinnah defended him in a speech in the Central Assembly on September 12, 1929, calling for his release and condemning the political system that led to his imprisonment. On March 23, 1931 Bhaghat Singh and his comrades were executed for the shooting of the British Deputy Superintendent of Police JP Saunders, in response to the police beating of veteran independence activist Lala Lajpat Rai – who succumbed to his injuries – at a nonviolent protest on October 30, 1928.
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