Ranjit Singh’s statue

August 15, 2019


IT was a shocking act. Two men, one faking a walking disability and the other pretending to help his companion, approached the Ranjit Singh statue inside the Lahore Fort last Saturday. Once there, they attacked their target with rods and sticks that they were armed with. Expert estimates of the damage to the statue are awaited. By the looks of it, considerable harm was done to the statue by the apparent zealots. They raised slogans as they went about their destructive job, hailing themselves as some kind of reincarnates of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi, known in subcontinental history for the sacking of temples and demolishing of idols. A gift from a UK-based organisation, the statue was installed at an area close to where Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the famous Sikh ruler of Punjab in the 19th century, resided. It could be readily assumed that the authorities who had okayed its display had been encouraged by some new positive insight into tolerance levels in Lahore — or perhaps by notions that while all minorities and chapters on non-Muslim rule are treated with equal hostility here, the relics and memories of some are still to be cherished and worth displaying to the public.

In any case, when it was put up for public viewing in June this year, the Ranjit Singh memento doubled the number of statues publicly displayed in Lahore. The other man whose statue has been allowed to stand in the city was Alfred Woolner, the founder of Government College Lahore. The city was cleansed of all other statues long ago — which speaks volumes for how narrow our understanding and interpretation of history has been. The attack on the Ranjit Singh statue came when the rest of the country was seeking to express its protest against the excesses committed against another subjugated religious minority — this time the Muslims of India-held Kashmir. That is a just cause. Meanwhile, the authorities here need to keep their eyes open for any unwanted adventurers likely to carry out violent acts.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2019