The recent ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign, carried out in Oxford University by students pushing for the removal of Cecil Rhodes’ statue because he was a controversial figure, has brought back memories of our own efforts to erase history or obscure historical facts.
In the aftermath of Partition, when emotions ran high and imperialism was still our deadliest enemy, the statues of British rulers as well as illustrious non-Muslims were damaged and removed. One can only guess what motivated those carrying out the destruction. As one writer commenting on the Rhodes Must Fall campaign said: “Future generations can and will interrogate the past.”
Contributing to this debate, in this feature, we try and trace some of the bits of our history that have been erased, but not forgotten.
Lahore’s long gone statues
As a cultural hub and main seat of learning in the region, the city of Lahore was home to the busts and statues of several personalities. But today, only one of the statues that once stood proudly in town squares still survive.
The days of the Raj were a golden age for the city’s aesthetics, and the British oversaw the construction of many of Lahore’s signature colonial era buildings. By some reckonings, up to seven or eight statues were, at one point in time, on public display in the city.
These illustrious names included Lala Lajpat Rai, the Punjabi author and politician who was injured during protests against the Simon Commission, and subsequently died on November 17, 1928. His statue used to reside near Kim’s Gun on The Mall, but was damaged in 1947. It is now confined to the warehouse of the Lahore Museum.
The man who was injured while trying to garland the statue was rushed to Sir Ganga Ram hospital, named after the same man whose likeness he had tried to pull down
Sir Ganga Ram, the philanthropist and engineer who built some of Lahore’s most iconic buildings, was also immortalised in marble and his statue also adorned The Mall pre-partition. But as the legendary Saadat Hassan Manto recounts in one of his short stories, the statue offended an inflamed mob that was out to attack a Hindu neighbourhood.
After pelting it with stones, the mob tried to garland the statue with old shoes. Although the police managed to disperse the rioting crowd, Manto notes with irony that the man who was injured while trying to garland the statue was rushed to the Sir Ganga Ram hospital named after the same man whose likeness he had tried to pull down.
The statue of Sir John Lawrence, the first governor of Punjab and later governor general of British India (1864-69), used to stand outside the Lahore High Court building. Holding a sword in one hand and a pen in the other hand, it was initially removed during the troubles following the hanging of Bhagat Singh and kept in the Lahore Museum.
Writer and journalist Majid Sheikh remembers that the statue was shifted to Simla, then taken to Britain in 1946 and placed outside a military school at Aldershot. Its final resting place is in the Irish town of Derry, where Sir John Lawrence came from.
There was also a statue of Queen Victoria, seated on her throne, installed at the Charing Cross intersection on The Mall. However, it was removed for the OIC summit in 1974 and placed in the Lahore Museum.
Legend has it that a sculpture of King Edward VII, depicting him riding a horse, used to sit outside the King Edward Medical College, but that is also long gone. The statue of Indian banker Dyal Singh, who also has a college named after him in the city, was also taken down and put in storage a long time ago.
The only surviving representation is that of Professor Alfred Woolner, a professor of Sanskrit and vice-chancellor of the Punjab University. The statue still sits outside the university’s Old Campus on The Mall.
In the regent’s memory
By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, she had amassed quite an empire. Her 63-year reign did not go unnoticed in the colonies, and in 1910, the Rawalpindi Queen Empress Memorial Fund commissioned a statue of the monarch.
The garrison town of Rawalpindi had already assumed great significance as it housed the headquarters of the Northern Command of the British Indian army.
According to the inscription on the statue, the fund chose to have the queen depicted as at her coronation, one of the three alternatives designed by Mr. J. Gardner, head of the Statuary and Granite Company of London.
The statue stood on a high plinth at the junction of The Mall and Murree Road in Rawalpindi until 1956, when, ostensibly due to the Suez Canal crisis, it was broken by hostile demonstrators and had to be taken down. It was probably at this time that its arms were broken off as well.
The statue, as its inscription recounts, was then discovered in the back garden of a PWD official.
It was found in a bad state in 1990, by Sir Nicholas Barrington, who acquired the statue on permanent loan from the Punjab government. It is now housed at the British High Commission in Islamabad.
This bronze statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was installed in Karachi in 1931, but was pulled down and damaged during riots around the year 1950.
Writing in Dawn in Sept 2015, writer and journalist Akhtar Balouch recalls the statue.
“According to a senior journalist, Abdul Majeed Chapra, the statue stood on the present Court Road, previously known as the Kings Way, opposite the Sindh High Court building.”
He cites another journalist, Abdul Razzaq Abro, as saying that the likeness was first raised by the Indian Merchants Association.
“The commemoration under this bronze Gandhi’s feet read: “Mahatma Gandhi – the reputability of freedom, truth and nonviolence,” Mr Balouch writes.
Later, pieces of the broken statue were handed over to Indian Consulate in Karachi in 1981.
According to Balbir Singh, press secretary at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, the statue was subsequently repaired and installed at the high commission, where it remains to this day.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2016