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.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) seems intent on hoisting the tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. While patriotism might be the pretext for this ‘tiranga yatra’, the underlying narrative is vile nose-thumbing at a people who have been oppressed under distorted interpretations of patriotism and related politics. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising if the BJP bigwigs either hoist the tiranga under heavy paramilitary protection and curfew, or are forced to make a run for it amidst a barrage of stone-pelting.
This entire circus of faux-nationalism, meanwhile, finds a parallel in Balochistan, Pakistan’s restive south-western province, where sighting the chand-tara means that one is either close to a Frontier Corps (FC) check-post or near the entrance of the Balochistan University campus in Quetta. The latter is guarded by FC personnel in APCs, because students have made a sport of replacing the Pakistani flag with the colours of Azad Balochistan.
Early last year, I had the chance to witness firsthand the brutalities meted out to the people of Balochistan by the same people tasked with protecting the citizens of Pakistan. Perhaps the forces in question don’t consider the Baloch citizens of this country, in which case, it is ironic how we insist on holding on to an area and a people whom we otherise as traitors. Over a kilometre on Sariab Road in Quetta, I spotted no less than 10 FC check-posts, where vehicles were arbitrarily stopped and passengers were ordered to disembark. A thorough body search was then conducted, and further treatment depended on the whim of the officer in question. Those stopped were either ordered to recite the national anthem of Pakistan, or told to chant ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. If the sloganeering was not deemed ‘patriotic’ enough, a repeat performance was ordered for as long as the officer wished. …