By:Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
How is Bhagat Singh more Indian than Pakistani?
Revolutionaries never die; definitely not until what they strived for is achieved. They can also reincarnate when liberation is threatened by incarceration. The cause they fought for can wake up again, the struggle they gave birth to can be born again, the noise they generated can resonate again, the slogans they chanted can reverberate again – if recent events are anything to go by, Lahore should echo with “Inquilab zindabad!” again.
Bhagat Singh’s revolution could reawaken 81 years after the British hanged him in Lahore. The indirect skirmishes between the Tehreek Hurmat-e-Rasool (THK) led fundamentalists and the Dilkash Lahore Committee, over renaming Fawwara Chowk (or Shadman Chowk) back to its pre-partition name of ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’, is a throwback to the clash between suppression and freedom that the man gave his life for. Apparently dying for the sake of the independence of this country and its people isn’t reason enough for the square – where he was hanged on 23 March, 1931, aged 23 – to be named after the freedom fighter himself. It is a pity that people and groups, who now have the luxury to openly express themselves – something that they didn’t have back then –, choose their expression to oppose tributes to those very personalities that made this freedom possible, owing to their religious identity.
Following City District Government Lahore’s (CDGL) decision to rename the square in late September, a petition has been filed by Zahid Butt, a THK member, which has forced the Lahore High Court to stop CDGL from issuing a notification. As all concerned parties await CDGL’s riposte, Fawwara Chowk, has become the battleground as religious radicalism faces ideological tolerance, as medieval insularity faces enlightened ideas, and one can’t help but feel that the final decision on the matter would give the final verdict on the battle and the future of religious minorities in Pakistan.
Religious discrimination and intolerance are the forces of suppression in modern day Pakistan, and THR – an amalgamation of over a dozen religious groups – is the principal antagonist in the aforementioned battlefield. According to THR, only a Muslim deserves homage in Pakistan, anything divergent would mean directly questioning Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Pakistan’s ideology. They are also claiming that naming the square after a “Sikh” hero would “hurt the feelings” of the Muslims whose ancestors were killed by Sikhs at the time of partition. And they took it upon themselves to announce “Hurmat-e-Rasool Chowk” as the square’s “new name”, while threatening to launch an anti-government movement if someone “dared to” propose any other name.
Being religious bigots and failing to recognise that massacres were served up on both sides of the border by all religious groups in 1947, is nothing new as far as the right-wing fundamentalists are concerned, but it is the proposal of the new name that is a quintessential low blow. For, you see, ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’ has now been pitted against ‘Hurmat-e-Rasool Chowk’, and the latter wins this matchup – or any matchup for that matter – by default. Using the fragility of religious sentiments to emotionally blackmail and influence decision making in our country has become a norm, and there are whispers being generated opposing the use of religion as a tool to stifle all other voices. Whether these whispers can gather enough momentum to eventually clamour against this repression, and scream out Bhagat Singh’s chants of ‘Inquilab zindabad’ facing religious animosity, remains to be seen.
Using ideological identity to categorise nationalities is the logical corollary of religion annexing mindsets in Pakistan. This is precisely why not only the fundamentalists are opposing the move to rename Fawwara Chowk but a multitude of ‘intellectuals’ are also contesting the decision, flaunting their anti-India rhetoric as rationale. They claim that since India does not pay tribute to our heroes, we should not pay homage to their heroes as well. If “our heroes” connotes Muslim leaders, then you have myriad sites from the Mughal era, there are roads in New Delhi named after Mughal emperors – Aurangzeb, Shahjahan, Humayun – to give a few examples. How can we accuse India of discrimination on the basis of religion when they’ve had a Sikh and a Muslim as the prime minister and the president over the past decade? In any case, to question Indian tributes to Pakistani icons in the current context is to bizarrely claim that Bhagat Singh was somehow Indian and not Pakistani. And the only way this bias can be conjured with regards to someone who had died before the idea of Pakistan was conceived, is by discriminating on the basis of religion.
So who benefited more from Bhagat Singh’s 116-day fast in jail against discrimination between European and Indian prisoners, India or Pakistan? Who profited more from his revolutionary writings? Whose freedom was more influenced by his constant struggle against the British? The youths of which of the two geographically contiguous lands were more stimulated by Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom? Which part of the divide had more echoes of ‘Inquilab zindabad’?
It is quite simply deplorable to disown Bhagat Singh, and to oppose naming a landmark after him in Lahore – a city where his family originated from, where he studied, where most of his revolutionary struggle was carried out, where he was imprisoned before being hanged, and where he spent his final days. And by doing so we’re sending out a clear message to the minorities: no matter what you achieve for this country, no matter how hard you struggle for its betterment, no matter if you sacrifice your life for its people, we just won’t recognise you as a part of our nation. This message was criminally sent out to Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate in 1974, whose death anniversary was ignored by the Pakistanis as a non-event on November 21, as is the annual norm.
Naming the Fawarra Chowk after Bhagat Singh would instigate the Inquilab against religious fundamentalism in this country. Succumbing to the religious repression this time around might just be the curtain call on any hope that the minorities might have of surviving in this country. In case the final decision is in favour of the religious bigots, the square should ideally be renamed ‘Mumtaz Qadri Chowk’ or ‘Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Chowk’ – that way we’d once and for all get a clear picture of what lies ahead for this country.
The writer is Editor, Business and City (Karachi) Pakistan Today. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @khuldune
Courtesy: Pakistan Today