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KARACHI: ‘Bhagat Singh was a Pakistani martyr’

November 26, 2007


KARACHI, Nov 25: The movement launched by lawyers and civil society after Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s suspension from the post of chief justice on March 9, 2007, was reminiscent of Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh and his associates’ movement against the British in pre-partition India as the colonial powers of yore are the same forces pulling the strings in today’s world.

These views were expressed by acclaimed writer and intellectual Zahida Hina at a memorial seminar organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences here on Sunday to remember Bhagat Singh, labelled by some as “martyr”. Singh’s birth centenary falls in the current year as he was born into a Sikh family in erstwhile Lyallpur – now Faisalabad – in 1907, while he was hanged for shooting a British police officer in 1931in Lahore.

Ms Hina claimed that the Pakistani government was trying to co-opt Bhagat Singh’s legacy as the present governor of Punjab – a retired military man – had claimed that he was inspired by Singh and had announced that a memorial commemorating the fiery young revolutionary would be unveiled in Lahore.

“This is an insult to his memory and is like Hitler unveiling a statue of Mandela or Gandhi,” she said.

Ms Hina said that it was a great coincidence that the 150th anniversary of 1857’s war of independence against the British and Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary had fallen in the same year. She said that Pakistanis should particularly commemorate Singh as he was a “Pakistani shaheed.”

Zahida Hina recalled that while on a recent visit to Lahore she was increasingly reminded of Singh and another “martyr”, Hasan Nasir, who, she said, was interred in an unknown grave somewhere in the Punjab capital. She added that several films had been made about or inspired by Bhagat Singh, dating back to 1965’s Shaheed and more recently motion pictures such as 2002’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh and 23 March 1931: Shaheed as well as the award-winning 2006 picture Rang De Basanti, all made in India, of course.

She said that with a handful of youth – reportedly 100 – Singh managed to strike fear into the British Raj while his literary works were translated into various languages of the subcontinent.

“He was the pied piper of the Punjab whose flute played the tune of freedom. He was not a bloodthirsty terrorist nor was he power hungry. He was a thinker”, she said.

Earlier, Dr Jaffar Ahmed of the University of Karachi said that though a few conferences had been organized locally to commemorate the events of 1857, not enough had been done. He said there was the urge to organize something more befitting for Bhagat Singh, but due to the country’s political situation nothing major could be organized.

The roads to freedom

He said there were two ways in which independence was pursued in the Indian subcontinent: the first was the legal, constitutional method that was actually advocated by the British as, he claimed, they were much more politically shrewd compared to their contemporary imperial European powers. Through this method the British encouraged feudal landowners, emerging industrialists and the mercantile community to “play by the rules”, which eventually led to partition.

The other method, Dr Jaffar said, was the revolutionary path pursued by the likes of Bhagat Singh and company, which, he claimed, attracted followers of all faiths and was advocated by such forces as the Ghadar Party. The British, he said, came down hard on the revolutionaries, as was evident by Bhagat Singh’s hanging.

Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqui of Biztek, who spoke after Ms Zahida Hina’s paper, also reiterated that Pakistan should be in the forefront of remembering Bhagat Singh. He said that according to Indian scholar Dr Ajeet Jawed, Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah had defended Bhagat Singh while adding that great men were owned by all of humanity and not by any single group.

Preceding Ms Hina’s lecture Iqbal Alvi read out a summarised translation of Chaman Lal’s biographical sketch of Bhagat Singh, in which his gravitation towards Marxism and atheism were touched upon.