by Haroon Khalid
There are few people who have challenged the status of Gandhi as being the most famous leaders of the Indian Freedom Movement. Bhagat Singh at the age of 23 was able to do that. This name has received immense coverage in the recent years, courtesy of the Indian cinema. Had it not been due to the recent popular Indian movies, not many people in Pakistan would have been aware of this young revolutionary, who shook the foundations of the British Imperial Empire, and gave a new impetus to the freedom struggle. His methods and methodology was a marked departure from the popular modus operandi of the Congress Party. Initially Bhagat Singh supported Gandhi’s cause, but after the sudden end to the non-cooperation movement following the Chauri Chaura incident, he was disillusioned by the non-violence of Gandhi, preferring doing things his own way. Bhagat Singh says in his writings that when the deaf can’t hear, their ears need to be pulled up; ‘To make the deaf hear’. His bombing of the Delhi Assembly was to achieve this purpose. The aim was not to kill anyone, as a low intensity bomb was used, and it was thrown at a vacant location, where minimum damage could be achieved. It was thrown only with the purpose of making their voice reach to the ears of the rulers. Gandhi rejected the ‘cowardly’ act; however both Jinnah and Nehru developed a romantic association with this young patriot and tried till the end to stop the hanging of Bhagat Singh.
Much has been brought in front of the public about the life and thoughts of the young revolutionaries by the movies; however what not many people in Pakistan know is that this part of India, which later became Pakistan, played a prominent role in the life of Bhagat Singh. He was born in a small village in the outer-skirts of Faislabad, where his ancestral house and primary school still stand. Bhagat Singh got his education from Lahore, and this is where he became a revolutionary in the true essence of the word. He also formed his Naujawan Bharat Sabha in Lahore. The office of the Party was in a small room in the precincts of Mozang. It is said that the room, where the office was still exists. Bhagat Singh was kept in Lahore Jail, which exists near Ichra today. At that time, the Jail was much bigger than what it is today, covering most of the area of Shadman, right up to the Hata Mul Chand Chowk.
Near the Main Market of Shadman, there is a roundabout, with a fountain, called the Shadman Chowk or Faware wala Chowk. It is said that the gallows of the jail were around this area, and this is where Bhagat Singh, along with his compatriots, Sukhdev, and Rajguru were hanged on March 23rd 1931.
The state of history in Pakistan is pitiable. Instead of being taught as a subject to illumine the mind of the pupil, it is used as a political weapon to mould the thoughts of the young. The results achieved so far have been more than satisfactory. It is bizarre how even the elitists’ schools in the country would begin teaching history from Indus valley, talk about Gandhara civilization and jump straight to the Mughals, leaving a void of more than a thousand years. The legacy of Bhagat Singh has also become a victim of this political victimization. Even though he is so closely associated with Lahore, not many people are able to make that connection. Despite receiving recognition from the founder of Pakistan, Bhagat Singh has failed to make an impact on the policy makers of the country, which sadly is not Bhagat Singh’s loss but our own. The reason seems to be the non-Muslim credentials of the martyr. Hopefully one day, we would be able to look outside of the pale of religious boundaries and admire and own people by their actions and thoughts and not by their dogmatic parameters.
There are nonetheless a few organizations and individuals in the country, who seem to admire the history of our land, and make an effort to own and disperse it amongst the people. On the 23rd of March every year, when most of the Pakistanis enjoy the Pakistan Day Holiday with their families, and friends, there are a handful of people, who protest at the Shadman Chowk. These people, who belong to the various Communist and Socialist groups of the city, have been gathering here on this particular day for many years. Their request is to change the name of this Chowk from Shadman Chowk to Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chowk, in memory of the child of Lahore, who sacrificed his life for the desolate people of India, irrespective of their creed, color or religion.
Over the years this particular group has been able to get its self recognition from local politicians, and the media. Some years ago, the Governor Punjab Lt. General (Ret.) Khalid Maqbool conceded to their demand verbally. However since this issue is for the local government and not for the Governor, the order could not be implemented. Some year ago somebody decided to call this roundabout the Chaudary Rehmat Ali Chowk and a board sprang up here from nowhere stating this name. On the 23rd of March 2010, the Bhagat Singh fans pained that chowk red and wrote Bhagat Singh chowk over it. In a couple of weeks the name was changed once again. Salman Rashid in an article pointed out that names of modern day chowks come up arbitrarily, generally based on the whimsical desire of the people and the criminal indifference of the concerned authorities and the people. However, it appears that when it doesn’t suit the authorities they are prompt in taking actions against these names.
There is another interesting story related to this area. The British rule was that at the hour of persecution there needed to be a Magistrate present at the gallows. However such was the support of these three people that no Magistrate in whole of India wanted to take the risk. The British in desperation turned to Nawab Muhammad Ahmad, who was an Honorary Judge from Kasur. He was present at the time of their hanging, and then their bodies were taken to the bank of river Sutlej, where they were cremated in his presence. Later on people build them Smadhis to mark the area. These are present on the Indian side of the border, and are visible from the Ganda Singh, Pakistan. The Irony is that later during Bhutto’s tenure, when Nawab Muhammad Khan returned to Shadman for a wedding procession, he was fired at and killed. His son Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri launched a FIR against Z A Bhutto at the Ichra police station for the murder of his father. Later Zia-ul-Haq hanged Bhutto for the death of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad. He is buried in Kasur inside Bulleh Shah’s tomb. On one side of Sutlej is the grave of this magistrate and on the other are the Smadhs of the Shaheeds. Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri is the same lawyer, whose face was blackened by the lawyers during the Lawyer’s Movement outside of the Parliament, as he was fighting the case for the Government.
Being a historical location and closely associated with Bhagat Singh, it is a reasonable demand on the part of the citizen’s of Lahore to rename this Chowk after Shaheed Bhagat Singh. In a city, where anybody can name a Chowk on his/her name, it would indeed be a pity if the name of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chowk is not accepted by the authorities, and the populace.