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Owning Bhagat Singh

The state is clearly beginning to acknowledge his legacy and its tourist potential

Owning Bhagat Singh
An inside view of the Punjab Archives. — Photo by the author

Bhagat Singh’s house, because it is privately owned, has been well-maintained and approachable. But Saqib Virk is willing to hand this property over to the government. This might not be a good idea earlier, because no other place related to Singh has ever been commemorated with his name by the Pakistan government. There are some serious legal impediments in renaming the Shadman Chowk, where the 23-year-old Singh was hanged, after him. The Bradlaugh Hall, in the centre of Lahore, which served as his alma mater, is a picture of dilapidation. Civil society groups and activists have protested against this but weren’t quite successful.

Today, however, it seems the state is ready to own Singh. Eighty-seven years after the legendary freedom fighter was hanged for murder of a British police officer, all records of his trial were displayed at Anarkali’s Tomb, late last month. The documents have been lying with the Punjab Archives department in the Secretariat for decades. Singh’s death warrant, letters to the jail superintendent to allow him toiletries and daily newspapers, books with notes scribbled by Singh on the sides and his library cards were all exhibited in this landmark event, organised in collaboration with the National College of Arts.

Documents related to his shift to Mianwali Jail and, eventually, Lahore Central Jail; the case proceedings in Delhi and Lahore; the transfer of his case from a magistrate to a special tribunal; the eye-witness testimony in his case, and a list of those who visited him in jail were also exhibited. Besides, there were documents relating to the trial and convictions of his comrades Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru.

The display was well presented, thanks to the students of NCA who had selected the background music, the posters to welcome guests, and pamphlets to acquaint them with the documents.

This is a clear sign that the government has started to take Bhagat Singh’s legacy and its tourist potential seriously. Hopefully, it will also translate into saving the Bradlaugh Hall, where Singh was groomed as the Marxist leader he later became. Other landmarks in Lahore, including the New Hostel Government College, Poonch House, Islamia College, Shadman Chowk, and the space formerly occupied by the Lahore Central Jail must be marked with Singh’s name. This will add to the Lahore’s lure and gravitas, particularly for foreigners of the Punjabi origin, for whom Bhagat Singh is a cult figure.

Ammara Ahmad

Ammara Ahmad1.
Ammara Ahmad is a writer based in Lahore who tweets as @ammawarites. Her work has appeared in the Malaysiakini, Indian Express, Newslaundry and The Print. Her complete works are available on www.ammaraahmad.com

One comment

  • Bhagat Singh’s worldview was shaped by reading of eclectic variety. The list of authors in his library show many books of Western authors. His reading list included Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Alfred Barton, Thomas Paine, Upton Sinclair, Morris Hillquit, Jack London, Theodor Hertzka,Patrick MacGill, Scott Nearing, Victor Hugo, Dostoevsky, Bipin Chander Pal, Valentine Chico,Spinoza, Henry Van Dyke, Bertrand Russel, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Kautsky, Bukharin, Burke, Lenin, Thomas d’Aquinas, Locke, Austin, Danton, Charles Edward Russel, Omar khyyam, James Russel Lowell, William Wordsworth, Tennyson, Figner, Tagore, N.A. Morozov, Horace Greeley, Wendell Phillips, Fredric Harrison, J. Campbell, George Herron, Herbert Spencer, Henry Maine, and Rousseau. The list is derived from the notes taken, while in prison by this incredible man, executed at the age of 24. I wonder how many of us in this age may have read even one tenth of what he did. His books made him a rationalist and a socialist.
    And also his reading list also explains his current complete rejection of religion in a magnificent text, “ Why I am an atheist”, written in prison while waiting for his execution.

    How I wish our younger generation of Punjabis especially from Lehnda Punjab becomes more aware of what Bhagat Singh really stood for and died for. Such person are rare, even in our nook of woods.

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