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Recalling Evolution Of A Revolutionary Past


Jun 1, 2004
Recalling evolution of a revolutionary past

By Majid Sheikh <!--Author END-->
<!--Date Start--> Teh Dawn, Sunday, 15 Aug, 2010 <!--Date End-->

On the 23rd of March every year we celebrate the day we decided to create “a nation free from the grip of sectarian discrimination”. It had no name then, but the idea was there. Along the way many a freedom fighter took part. Most are unknown. It all depends which side of the line you are standing.

On this day – the 23rd of March, 1931 - three martyrs were hanged in Lahore’s Central Jail. On this very day – the 23rd of March, 1940 – a resolution was passed seeking justice for the minority population of British India in the shape of “greater Muslim autonomy”. Yet another revolutionary from Sindh called G.M. Syed presented this very ‘Lahore Resolution’ before the Sindh Assembly - the ‘first Indian legislative assembly before which it was presented’ – for approval. The resolution condemned the Indian National Congress and the ‘orthodox Muslims’ for opposing the idea. History takes strange twists, for it was in Lahore, on the banks of the River Ravi, on Dec 31, 1929, that the Indian National Congress declared it demanded ‘full independence’ from the British and unfurled the flag of India.

The three ‘revolutionaries’ hanged were part of the common effort to seek freedom for their land, yet they are not recognised as contributors along the way. G.M. Syed was maltreated, jailed and condemned for seeking human rights in a free Pakistan. In the end the ‘orthodox Muslims’ took over. For them G.M. Syed was a traitor. Today they have changed the very nature of the original idea that led to Pakistan.

But let us return to the three men hanged on March 23, 1931, at the Lahore Central Jail. Their names were Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdeva. The first to mount the gallows himself was Bhagat Singh. He smiled confidently and said to the magistrate on duty: “Well Mr. Magistrate, you are fortunate to be able today to see how Indian revolutionaries can embrace death with pleasure for the sake of their supreme ideal”. The magistrate sneered. That magistrate was Nawab Mohammad Khan Kasuri. The place was where today is the Shadman Colony roundabout. Ironically, it was at this very spot, where he stood and sneered, that he, an old man, was shot and killed by an assassin’s bullet in 1974. For that killing the ‘judicial murder’ of Z.A. Bhutto took place. The ‘orthodox Muslim’ had finally got his grip on the throat of Pakistan.

Bhagat Singh and his two friends belong to the history of Lahore like very few revolutionaries do. From the window of the Government College Lahore Hostel he fired the shots that killed Inspector Saunders standing outside the police lines next to Lahore’s District Courts. The boys, all students, jumped over the hostel walls and entered the DAV College, now ironically known as Islamia College, a hotbed of ‘orthodoxy’. From there they split and Bhagat Singh ended up as a ‘guest’ of the hostel superintendent of the Dyal Singh College near Lakshmi Chowk. There Prof Malhotra looked after him and four days later assisted in his escape. Last year his son, Ayun Malhotra, who lives in Delhi but originally belongs to Bhera, visited his father’s room to find the roof caved in. It was a sad moment for Arun, shattering a dream he had nurtured all his life.

In a last letter to his younger brother Kultar Singh, whom he dearly loved, Bhagat Singh wrote: “In the light of dawn, who can withstand destiny? What harm even if the whole world stands against us? Dear friend, the days of my life have come to an end. Like a flame of candle in the morning, I disappear before the light of the dawn. Our faith and our ideas will stir the whole world like a spark of lightning. What harm, if this handful of dust is destroyed!"

Brave words of a very brave freedom fighter, a man of Lahore that Lahore has forgotten. For quite some time a group of people have tried their very best to get a monument built in their honour at that crossing in Shadman. They have failed because the government of Pakistan feels that his bravery does not tie in with the ‘now official’ culture of the ‘orthodox Muslims’ who make up the ruling classes of Pakistan. In that sense even Z.A. Bhutto does not tie in well with the ‘orthodoxy’ that our official culture represents. But Bhagat Singh lived here and died in Lahore, and here people never forget.

The actions of Bhagat Singh have their roots in the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre at Amritsar. Brig. Dyer and his small band of Gurkha and Baluch soldiers emptied their rifles into a Baisakhi holiday crowd. They shot to kill to “teach these bloody Indians a lesson”. Though officially 385 were acknowledged as ‘killed’ by the British, the real figure is 1,607 and all these numbers have names. That incident in 1914 changed the struggle for freedom dramatically, and a few days later near Lahore’s railway station a procession led by Lala Lajpat Rai was attacked in which he was killed. His bust outside the Lahore Museum was smashed in the riots of 1947. Sectarianism had won, and since then the ‘orthodoxy’ that opposed Jinnah and Pakistan have had a field day.

In that sense even a great patriot like G. M. Syed, the man who presented the Lahore Resolution in the Sindh Assembly and won, was condemned as a ‘traitor’. He was harassed and jailed in the Pakistan he helped to bring about. The list of freedom fighters is long, and that is why at the end of this piece, I would like to return to the huge Shadman crossing where Bhagat Singh was hanged, and where the man who signed his death warrant was killed 43 years later – surely it was justice of a higher order.

Bhagat Singh was a tall handsome Punjabi from Lyallpur, who spent his time in Lahore organising resistance against the British. He studied in the National College of Lahore and lived in the famous Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road. He was exceptionally well-read. In the Special Magistrate's Court near the Civil Secretariat, during his trial he began to read aloud a passage from the novel “Seven That Were Han*ged” by Leonoid Andrieve. One character in it shuddered at the idea of execution, and kept uttering the words: “I shall not be hanged”. He began to believe in it, and kept uttering this line as he was led to the gallows and hung. Bhagat Singh read the last scene as a trained actor would. He smiled towards the judge: “How can you triumph over death if you succumb before it?” asked the freedom fighter. It had an electric effect on the listeners.

Though Socialism was his special interest, he had deeply studied the history of the Russian Revolution. The economic experiment in Russia under the Bolshevik regime greatly interested him. According to British intelligence reports, now in the British Museum Library, in jail he read the works of Charles Dickens. Other books of fiction which he liked were ‘Boston’, ‘Jungle’ and ‘Oil’ by Upton Sinclair, ‘Eternal City’ by Hall Caine, Reed's ‘Ten Day's That Shook The World’, ‘Mother’ by Maxim Gorky and even Oscar Wilde's ‘Vera or the Nihilists’. The British jailers kept a keen eye on everything this handsome Punjabi revolutionary did.

But the books that greatly influenced his life were Kropotkin's ‘Memoirs’ and the works of Michail Bakunin, which really transformed his life. In jail he told his interrogators that the Indian National Congress was a party of landlords, capitalists and rich lawyers, who could never launch an action which would lead to complete “economic freedom” for Indians. About Gandhi he said: “Gandhiji is a kind-hearted philanthropist, we do not need philanthropy, we need a dynamic scientific social force”. According to the intelligence reports, Bhagat Singh was of the view that what was needed most was a band of selfless young men who would organise and work for that social revolution, even if it meant going to the gallows.

While in Lahore Jail’s ‘condemned cell’, Bhagat Singh prepared a comprehensive almanac of those who had ended their lives in the gallows. He sent out drafts for several revolutionary pamphlets, including the famous ‘Philosophy of the Bomb’. Just a short time before his execution, he sent out a statement for ‘Young Political Workers’, which many regard as his last will.

We may, or may not, agree with the ways of Bhagat Singh or G.M. Syed or even Dulla Bhatti. But at this sacred crossing, there is a need to not only honour him and his comrades, but also a long list of revolutionaries over the ages. My suggestion is that a final list of 99 revolutionaries starting from Dulla Bhatti of Mughal times, to revolutionaries of the Afghan and Sikh eras, to the people’s heroes of 1857, to the revolutionaries of the freedom struggle, to the forgotten heroes of the Pakistan Movement, including Jinnah and G. M. Syed, to the great honest jurists of Pakistan like Rustam Kayani and Samdani, to men of letters like Daman and Faiz, and martyrs like Z.A. Bhutto, and to the last in a long line our very own Benazir Bhutto. Let the circular crossing hold their plaques and busts in a grand circular multi-layered monument. It is about time we repented our ways and returned to sanity, to be part of an evolution that many a revolutionary graced.<o:p> </o:p>



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