By Xari Jalil
Published: Pakistan Today – March 24, 2011
LAHORE – As evening fades away into the night, the dim, serene glow of candles light up against the dark gray sky, softly illuminating the crowd that has gathered together in remembrance of the martyred freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh.
They have collected at the Shadman Chowk near the Lahore District (Camp) Jail where Bhagat Singh was hanged by the British colonial powers in 1931, at the age of 30. And with him were others (Sukhdev and Raj Guru), but till today the majestic and powerful personality of Bhagat stands unarguably tall among the many freedom fighters produced by the Indian sub continent, whose only aim was to rid their land of the British infestation and attempt to resume their own lives once again.
It has long been part of the history of Lahore, that the Camp Jail was once a much larger complex, sprawling as far as – and even beyond – the current Shadman Chowk. It is said that the death row cells were built in this particular area and at the very spot where the Chowk is situated today, were the gallows – raised, terrible, beckoning, where Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on charges of ‘mutiny’ and conspiracy against the state. Today, the land which Singh fought for has been divided politically. The Punjab Lok Rahs joins them to perform a play on Bhagat Singh’s life, Chippan To Pehlan. A crowd gathers round. As the play flows residents of Shadman are accompanied by students of LUMS, BNU and PU to discover Bhagat Singh’s story.
Diep Syeda, who has organized the vigil, on behalf of the Institute for Peace and Secular studies, says that they are advocating for the Chowk to be renamed in remembrance of Bhagat Singh. But today 11 years have already passed by and there is no sign of this happening.
“We have approached the Government of Punjab countless times, but they are disinterested,” says Diep. “In fact we are now thinking of giving in a joint petition to the court for not only the Chowk, but also for Shadman Colony to be changed to Bhagat Singh Colony.” The Government has not just ever responded negatively. It has in fact never responded at all. “I think they must have lost our file,” she laughs bitterly. Other civil society activists, students, and several other professionals from various fields also took part in the vigil. There was a play done on Bhagat’s life just before the candlelight vigil. After that, the demonstrators raised the issue about renaming the chowk, saying that since Singh was a man of the sub continent, and he was hanged here, he has every right to be remembered.
“He was a freedom fighter, and this should never be forgotten,” says one other activist. “But today no one even knows his story, and why he was hanged or who he was. We are also proposing that Bradley Hall which is situated behind Zila Kachehri should be also reopened and used as either a school or as a museum of Bhagat’s artefacts – why has it been closed down like this?” Diep says, that often it is the local martyrs who have been forgotten rather than remembered. “We have roads named after British viceroys, and we have buildings like Faisal Mosque named after some Saudi king, and Gaddafi stadium named after the man, who is today killing his own people only to stay in power – but we refuse to name the road after a man of our own origin, who transcended beyond religious boundaries and wanted to fight for the right of every indigenous man.”