LAHORE: A man was arrested for vandalising the statue of Sikh leader Maharaja Ranjit Singh, located in the Lahore Fort, on Friday and several have come forward to condemn the act.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the ruler of the Sikh empire spread across many parts of Pakistan, with Punjab being the main territory, parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even southern parts of the country. His statue was unveiled in the Lahore Fort at the Mai Jindan Haveli, on the emperor’s 180th death anniversary, by Sikh historian, writer and filmmaker Bobby Singh Bansal. Bansal’s London-based organisation the S.K. Foundation had funded the statue. It was sculpted by local artists, under the aegis of the Fakir Khana Museum.
Bansal himself had stated earlier that the statue was a project meant to forge a lasting friendship amongst the people of Punjab and that the statue had been donated to the people of Pakistan by his foundation to promote Sikh heritage and tourism here.
However, not long after the statue was inaugurated was the first attack of vandalism, where two men struck it with wooden rods, resulting in the breakage of one of its arms and damage to other parts. The attackers were chanting slogans against the former ruler of the Punjab, and were protesting against the revocation of the special status from Jammu and Kashmir.
In the recent attack, the young man who was later arrested, broke an arm of the statue made of cold bronze. Like those before him, the suspect, Zeeshan, also told the police that the Ranjit Singh’s statue should not have been built as he had committed atrocities against Muslims during his rule.
Speaking to Dawn, Bansal said that there would always be people who would remain unaware of Punjab’s rich Sikh history — this had been the case since 1947. “There has been so much apathy and mistrust over the Partition that it has caused misinformation and misunderstanding between Muslims and Sikhs as well as other religions,” he said. “It is sad that people target a monument without knowing the facts.”
Bansal said that unfortunately Sikh History had never been taught in Pakistan’s schools.
Most students know about Mughal and British rule, but absolutely nothing about how Sikh’s ruled for so long in a secular manner, he said. The Sikh chapter is a link to Punjab’s identity both culturally and politically.
Bansal went on to specify how the rule had been and said that the Sikh period had been the most peaceful period. “Ranjit Singh had employed more Muslims and Hindus in his court than people of any other religion — there were hardly any Sikhs nobles in the darbar — Sikhs were usually sent to guard the frontiers,” he said. “Ranjit Singh had repaired and restored many mosques and the Sunehri Masjid was given gold and a facelift after he evicted occupying troops from it. He never forcibly converted anyone to any faith and even married a Muslim woman, Gul Begum.”
The act of vandalism has been condemned by some on Twitter. A user wrote: “So a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has again been vandalized for the second time in Lahore fort. What’s different between those Pakistanis who support this act, and #Modibhakts who call Aurangzeb Alamgir and Tipu Sultan terrorists?”
Although the teenager who has now been arrested had been influenced by the now deceased Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who had preached hate against the Sikh ruler, the colour of intolerance towards personalities of other religions have been tainting society since a long time and many academics and civil society activists have been uneasy about it.
Minority rights activist and chairperson of the People’s Commission for Minority Rights (PCMR), Peter Jacob, said that it was time to keep in check the kind of intolerance that has seeped into society, and which has also received impunity in the public discourse. “The sociology of this should be investigated — why are people behaving like this?” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2020