Punjab Research Group

The meditative revolutionary – The Hindu

Posted in Articles by Pippa on January 2, 2014

Bhagat_SinghRead full article: The meditative revolutionary – The Hindu.

In the 100-year-old fight for Indian independence, quite a few martyrs are constantly alive though there are sharp differences in assessment about their contribution. Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) and his fellow revolutionaries, Rajguru and Sukhdev, are among the most discussed and written about.

Following the death of the Lion of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928), by brutal police badgering, countless Indians were enraged and they silently prayed for revenge. The revenge came in the killing of J. P. Saunders, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Lahore, in December 1928 [a month after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai], and the bombing of the Central Assembly, New Delhi, in April 1929.

Bhagat Singh was just over 20 when he was arrested and charged along with his colleagues for the revolt against British imperialism. One does not have to say that the worst of torture was inflicted upon them though they openly admitted the charge. In March 1931, Bhagat Singh and his colleagues were hanged at the Lahore Jail and their bodies were disposed of in a great hurry and in an unprecedented manner.

It is well known that Bhagat Singh was not an impetuous rebel but a meditative revolutionary who could articulate his thoughts and action with lucidity. Though in his early twenties, he did a great quantity of writing on his vision of the revolution and of free India.

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PRG meeting University of Cambridge, 26 October

Posted in PRG Meetings by Pippa on October 29, 2013

The meeting was very kindly hosted by Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge and Tahir Kamran.

Chris Moffat

Chris Moffat

Chris Moffat, Placing Bhagat Singh

This paper raises some questions around the political life of monuments and the spectral potentiality of the past in contemporary India and Pakistan. It is an attempt to square the resonant and often ideologically-promiscuous meaning of the revolutionary martyr Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) with the seemingly insatiable compulsion among individuals and groups to ‘ground’ his ghost in space and place, to offer tribute to this iconic figure through memorial site and toponym, statue and museum. Interrogating this desire, I will consider the breathless calls for bigger museums, more statues, newly-named buildings and worthy events, caught, however they may be, in the uncertain space between genuine sentiment and populist politicking. Such calls are matched in volume by critiques of those memorials that already exist, lamenting their shortcomings or corruption. It is the elusiveness of consensus and the impossibility of ‘full’ recognition that interests me here: Bhagat Singh appears to exceed these place-making efforts in the same way he exceeds the language of nationalism. There is a challenge, perhaps, in monumentalizing a political death that was not in any clear sense foundational, that submits to no easy lineage, that was embraced by the revolutionary himself as a means to incite, to propel action: the infinite demand of rebellion standing against the comfortable finitude of statues. This tension becomes clear in the scene of a crowd shouting Bhagat Singh Zindabad, ‘Long Live Bhagat Singh’, before a memorial– as if to conjure his return, to offer him life, denying his entombment in bronze. This is not mourning nor genuflection but a call that affirms ongoing responsibility. Moving from New Delhi to Chandigarh, Jalandhar to Khatkar Kalan, Hussainiwala to Lahore, I will also consider those who resist monumentalization; who seek to fight alongside the ghost in a battle they see as ongoing, not yet ‘past’. Monuments, here, make way for street theatre groups and new pedagogical initiatives, activating different relationships to space and place. Through these preliminary reflections I hope to open a discussion on the work of the spectre, the problem of memory, and the public life of history in contemporary Punjab.


Priya Atwal with Virinder Kalra

Priya Atwal with Virinder Kalra

Priya Atwal, Politics Behind the Purdah: Maharani Jind Kaur and Anglo-Sikh Relations

The Anglo-Sikh Wars of the 1840s were a huge turning point for British imperial power in Asia, as victory over the Sikh kingdom finally allowed the East India Company to control India’s perilous north-western frontier, threatened as it was by Russian and Afghan advances at the time. My paper will introduce the research ideas that I am about to start work on as a DPhil student. The focus of my research is to study Sikh and British colonial narratives on the wars and their origins. The aim of my paper is to demonstrate some of the tensions and conflicts that exist within these narratives, which I intend to highlight by re-examining in particular their portrayal of Maharani Jind Kaur and her political activities during the 1840s and beyond. Central to this analysis will therefore be an attempt to deconstruct the historical split in the Maharani’s image as “saint” or “sinner”, further asking how and why such representations became important political weapons in Anglo-Sikh colonial relations. In addition to this, the paper will make the case for a deeper exploration of how gender politics had a significant impact on shaping events during the 1840s. It will be argued that the manner in which Jindan flouted gender conventions within a male-dominated and militarised society had a strong part to play in destabilising both internal and external political relations for the Lahore kingdom. Such an analysis will attempt to provide fresh insights into the socio-political conditions that characterised and brought on the expansion of British imperial power into the Punjab and up to the northern frontiers of India.


Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul with Pippa Virdee

Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul with Pippa Virdee

Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul, The Making of New Delhi & Unmaking the Punjab’s Village Community and its Village Commons 1911-2011

Delhi became the southern-most district of the Punjab after the upheaval of 1857 and remained a very important link of the Punjab to the rest of British India till 1911 when it was catapulted on to the national stage by the pronouncement of the King George V and Queen Mary at their  Coronation Durbar of 12th December 1911 to shift the captital from Calcutta. Thus the city of Shahjahanabad became Old Delhi. The new  Imperial City of New Delhi was centred on Raisina hill enclosing, to begin with the common property resources of more than one hundred and thirty six village communities of the surrounding  countryside. Therefore a narrative of what we have almost lost in these last 100 years of New Delhi may be valuable in the context of ecological lessons from the past. In the debris of a century we can still resurrect narratives of survival strategies characteristic of an abiding culture of indigenous ecology – that of sedentary communities who cohered with nomadic cultures of distant deserts to the north west stretching as far back as Afghansitan and with shepherdic transhumance from the foothills of the Siwaliks and upper Himalayas.


Virinder Kalra and Waqas Butt, with Tahir Kamran

Virinder Kalra and Waqas Butt, with Tahir Kamran

Virinder Kalra and Waqas Butt ‘In one hand a pen in the other a gun’: Punjabi language radicalism in Punjab, Pakistan

The relationship between language and politics in South Asia has provided a rich vein for academic analysis as it is tied up with issues related to nationalism and political mobilization. However, much of this analysis has been based on the Indian reorganization of states along linguistic lines or the role of language in the Bangladeshi liberation movement. This article discusses the role of language in the mobilization of the Left in Pakistan, specifically the way in which Punjabi was utilized by the Mazdoor Kisan Party at the theoretical and practical levels, in its mobilizing in the early 1970s. The role that language played in the site of student politics is illustrated through a case study of Sahiwal College. Overall, the role that Punjabi played as a mobilizing tool for the Left in Pakistan demonstrates a practice where culture and politics are inseparable and in this sense the article contributes to the wider debates on language and politics in South Asia.


Kamalroop Singh and Harminder Singh Ragi

Kamalroop Singh and Harminder Singh Ragi

Kamalroop Singh and Harminder Singh Ragi, ‘Preserving the Northern Indian Musical Heritage Performed in 1970s Britain.’
In the 1970s great musicians from the Panjab visited the UK where they performed and shared their art over three years. The musicians were masters in their art, and they performed the khyal and dhrupad styles of music. Dhrupad literally means ‘fixed words’, and was developed for singing verses that were written in specific rhythms. The newer khyal genre has gained popularity at dhrupad’sexpense, as it places fewer constraints on the singers and allows displays of virtuosity. As a result the dhrupad art form is now becoming rare, especially since many maestros have now passed away. Luckily, some of their live performances were recorded on spool machines, which private collectors have donated to the Panjab Cultural Association.  We are currently cataloguing and digitising fifty of the recordings for posterity and we will be presenting the project to date. In our paper we explore how the Sikh music tradition has evolved from dhrupad, to khyal, along with the modern influence of ghazals and Hindi popular music.  Finally, we will examine and demonstrate how the introduction of new instruments has led to the original style of Kirtan to become endangered.


Professor Chris Bayly

Professor Chris Bayly











IMG_5707 IMG_5710

How our entire history was dumped in a horse stable by Majid Sheikh

Posted in Articles by Pippa on October 9, 2013

Published in Dawn, 6 October 2013. http://dawn.com/news/1047719

Away it went in ignominy, on hundreds of wheelbarrows to be dumped in a dirty, humid and putrid discarded horse stable. I am talking about one of the world’s finest, and surely the second largest collection of rare books, manuscripts and document dealing with the history of Punjab, from Kabul to Delhi and from Kashmir to Sindh over the last 500 years.

In the old horse stable of the Lahore Civil Secretariat, in dark, moldy, dingy conditions, lies this amazing collection, all official record let me clarify, of over 70,000 rare books and under one million rare manuscripts and documents, piles upon piles, on the floor, on old broken desks, in cupboards without glass panes. The stink and humidity overwhelms the senses. Only in the British Museum Library of London is there a better collection, all kept in mint condition. They respect our rich history. In terms of our own history, we are the wretched of the earth.

I do not know the daft former chief secretary who ordered this evil move. All I have learnt from officials inside the Secretariat, and I have no reason to doubt their opinion, that after retiring he sits on judgment on the fate of other bureaucrats. His antics, they claim, still reads like a mad hatter’s tea party. But then that is what our present rulers probably want. I leave his bizarre ways for younger journalists unearth.

My attention today is focused on the old official horse stable in Lahore’s Civil Secretariat and the damage done to our heritage. In any other sane society he would be arrested and tried. In his reign he got vacated the old world-famous library and record-room in General Allard’s old home, where once Lawrence, Kipling and Garrett studied and researched and produced books that will live forever. Small men need a lot of space; such is their ‘imagined greatness’. A spacious second conference hall and a new rest room emerged. The brown ‘sahib’ acted his part with a vengeance.

In wheel-barrows by the thousands went the world’s finest record, rare manuscripts, rare documents and books, even the first litho prints the world had ever seen from the year 1600 onwards. In heaps he got them stacked in the horse stable, throwing them on the floor to decay. Mind you I am talking about over 70,000 rare books and under a million documents and manuscripts, the world’s second largest collection after the British Museum Library. If you are shocked, I am not surprised, for you have no idea what the Punjab bureaucracy has morphed into. The brilliance of Hallard is a distant dream.

You might well ask just why I am stung. Well let me share just a few, only a few examples of what lie in these heaps, in the putrid humid environment with the smell of dampness and decay heavy in the air. Initially I did not believe what an honest official had told me, so I went to the place myself. Let me begin by telling you that the original letter written by the great poet Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ in his own hand seeking a restoration of his pension lies among this heap. What would the poet have said? But then who really cares, save a few sorrowful ‘letters to the editor’ that might, maybe, follow this piece.

Forget the fact that by any measure this is a national crime. Bureaucrats are never punished, especially of the ilk I am talking about. When the rulers are ignorant and insolent, bureaucrats fear for their jobs. Heritage has no place in the scheme of traders, who only know how to sell what everyone collectively owns.

Next let me tell you of a rare document that once lay in the record of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is the 1616 original litho print, among the first of two left in the world, of Sir Thomas Roe. It is an original, and in Lahore original rarities lie on the floor. The only other version in the world is in the British Museum Library in a nitrogen-filled glass casing, a rare manuscript that the British are proud of. In Lahore such rarities lie in heaps, only to be picked up and put on a table by an enlightened public servant. Beyond that he dare not. Honesty brings no laurels.

The original record of the Bhagat Singh incident, known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, also is in this collection. Among the books are the original prints of all the great masters of Punjab, which once included Delhi and Kabul. Just run your mind from the year 1600 to 2000, a full 400 years of rich heritage, a collection of the Mughals, the Afghan rulers, the Sikhs, the British and the finest record of the early Pakistan years, and all you can see of this glorious period lies on the floors of the dark main halls and verandahs. Our retired bureaucrat ordered a huge bathroom to be built in the middle of the horse stable, one last stab at immortality which adds to the stench.

The roof of the main hall collapsed just six months ago, and given the way bureaucracy runs in Punjab, funds for the roof’s repair were denied. The rain did the rest. A deft educated bureaucrat of another department spared funds from another project to erect a makeshift roof. But then it is a matter of time before it gives way and we will have a massive deluge, which will, all things going the way they are, produce a massive killing field of the finest collection of rare books, documents and manuscript the world has ever seen.

Yes Sir, it is a matter of time only. The fun is no one is bothered, least of all the ruling family. The funds allocated for the library repair, in a stroke of ‘genius’ were diverted to construct a huge new ‘canteen’ serving burgers and sandwiches. Life goes on and the heap continues to grow where once horses treaded.

Tucked away in the heaps are the rare manuscripts of letters from royalty and rulers of the world over 400 years to the various rulers of Lahore. There is an array of secret documents about the hundreds and thousands of happenings in Punjab and its neighbourhood over the centuries. This is a researcher’s goldmine. The original record of the entire 1857 Uprising (War of Independence) is there. Mind you Lahore was the epicenter from where was controlled the fight for Delhi. This is a world original that not even the British have. Our khaki rulers demolished the historic ‘1851 Barrack’ which was the operations headquarters to make way for housing plots. Who dare challenge their intellect?

Mind you among the record are even older manuscripts, one almost 1,000 years ago which, in Sanskrit, records the invasion feared from the ‘looting Afghans who know no morals’. Excuse me, morals. That concept died a thousand years ago. In any other country all this would need 20 massive libraries the size of the Quaid-e-Azam Library, built by the British, to hold. Mind you these foreigners – the British – left behind almost 900 libraries in Punjab, of which only 179 remain. Who needs libraries now?

The head of libraries sits in the Lahore Civil Secretariat with just one typist. That is his department and mind you he is a secretary level bureaucrat. Full stop. That is his status in the present scheme of things in Punjab. A very hurt friend signed and commented: “There is a difference between the strokes of an ironmonger and a goldsmith”. Aptly put.

The table on which the chief of Punjab libraries sits is the original teak table built by the former principal of Government College, Lahore, and once Punjab’s first Record-Keeper, the great Lt. Col. Garrett. Even that was retrieved from the rubble that our daft former chief secretary created in the horse stable. I am not surprised at just where we are headed.

Infinite Inquilab Celebrating a revolutionary past in Pakistan’s present By Chris Moffat

Posted in Articles, News/Information by Pippa on October 9, 2013

Published in The Caravan A Journal of Politics and Culture, 1 August 2013

JUST SOUTH OF BAGH-I-JINNAH, in the heart of Lahore’s Shadman Colony, a fountain stands at the centre of an otherwise unremarkable chowk. No water flows from this dusty structure, though markings on its base betray signs of life. A name is inscribed in black spray paint—not the colloquial ‘Shadman Chowk’, nor the official ‘Choudhry Rehmat Ali Chowk’, but a dissident’s epithet: ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’, scrawled in both English and Urdu.

The unsanctioned nature of this inscription seems appropriate for a man effectively barred from official history in Pakistan. ‘Bhagat Singh’ is not a name found on commemorative plaques; it does not appear in school textbooks or amidst the national stories promulgated by Pakistan Studies curricula. It evokes a figure allocated to India and Indian history: an atheist to some, a Sikh to others, but a figure necessarily outside the narrative of Muslim struggle curated by the Pakistani state.

The spray paint defies this partition of memory, suggesting this name still means something in Lahore. In spite of several attempted exorcisms, a stubborn spectre remains, bound to the city where Bhagat Singh lived his political life and faced his death on 23 March 1931.

In this alternative history, the chowk is central. Built on the former grounds of Lahore Central Jail, it is widely believed to mark the spot where colonial authorities executed Bhagat Singh for conspiracy. Since 1995, a small group of Left and secular activists have been honouring this connection, meeting annually at the chowk on the martyr’s death anniversary. Banners are raised, candles lit and the revolutionary’s life celebrated in story and song. In recent years, the activists have demanded the site be officially renamed.

“How can we forget our heroes?” said campaigner Saeeda Diep in the south Lahore office of her Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS). For Diep, who initiated the chowk campaign, militarised borders with India cannot negate a history of shared struggle. “Bhagat Singh shaheed is a son of the soil,” she said. “You should be proud of that.”

For Shahid Nadeem of Lahore’s Ajoka Theatre, “the struggle of Bhagat Singh is an ongoing struggle.” The writer’s 2011 play Mera Rang de Basanti Chola places the chowk at the centre of a history of state violence, opening at the Baba Shah Jamal shrine a short walk from the fountain. Here, an old man recalls his life in the area: first, as a jail official meeting the condemned Bhagat Singh, and later as witness to a political assassination before Zia-ul-Haq’s coup. For Nadeem, the revolutionary remains a symbol of a fight “between exploitation and the forces of freedom.”

Conjuring Bhagat Singh is no anodyne gesture in Pakistan. In March this year, the provocatively named “Bhagat Singh Chowk Naamanzoor [Disapproval] Action Committee” was formed to oppose the chowk’s renaming. Echoing earlier condemnations from the Islamic group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the committee declared in the Daily Express that, because Bhagat Singh was an “atheist” and a “terrorist”, he should never be recognised as a hero in Pakistan; this, they asserted, would be an affront to the nation and to Islam.

On 23 March, this group announced plans to establish an “Istihkaam [Strengthening] Pakistan Camp” at the chowk. As Diep and other activists assembled to mark the death anniversary, the ‘camp’ materialised as a counter-demonstration. Participants shouted slogans and hurled insults at the activists, sparking a confrontation; police soon arrived to disperse both groups.

The malice behind this attempted exorcism appears, perhaps counter-intuitively, to demonstrate the political promise of Bhagat Singh’s name in contemporary Pakistan. This is, after all, a spirit that thrives on confrontation. The IPSS condemned the counter-demonstration as “yet another example” of how spaces for peaceful protest are being hijacked by those who “believe in imposing their version of Islam and nationalism on everyone.” Drawing “namanzoor” becomes productive for the cause: it makes explicit the intolerance and intimidation Bhagat Singh is conjured to fight.

From this vantage, the revolutionary’s potential lies not in his absorption to official history, but in the way he restlessly challenges foundations. Renaming the chowk would certainly be an accomplishment, but when activists gather in Shadman every year, they realise the spirit of struggle itself. The famous slogan “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live Revolution) evokes this call for unrelenting critical movement: the promise of provocation. Official recognition, in contrast, can never satisfy the infinite scope of Bhagat Singh’s demand, communicated from prison in 1929: “Old order should change, always and ever, yielding place to new, so that one ‘good’ order may not corrupt the world.”

– See more at: http://caravanmagazine.in/lede/infinite-inquilab#sthash.afN168K5.Rdh8GnWh.dpuf

Naming of Shadman Chowk, Lahore as Bhagat Singh Chowk welcomed in India

Posted in News/Information by Pippa on October 1, 2012

New Delhi, Eminent personalities and groups from India have welcomed the renaming of Shadman Chowk in Lahore-Pakistan to Bhagat Singh Chowk on the occasion of birth anniversary of the martyr. Eminent journalist and author of ‘Without Fear’, book on Bhagat Singh-Kuldip Nayar, Justice(Retd.) Rajinder Sachar, Editor of Bhagat Singh’s documents and author of several books in many Indian languages on Bhagat Singh-Prof. Chaman Lal from JNU, New Delhi, activists from Indo-Pak Dosti Manch, Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy(PIPFPD), National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers(NFFPFW), People’s Saarc, Bhagat Singh’s family members, have welcomed the notification issued by Lahore officials to this effect as reported in Pakistan daily ‘Dawn’(Link attached).

Pakistan civil and political groups have been demanding the renaming of Chowk, which was the location, where Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were actually hanged on 23rd March, 1931, as it was execution ground of Central Jail Lahore at that time. In 1961, the jail was demolished and new colony Shadman colony was set up and at execution ground Shadman Chowk was built. Civil society activists from both countries have been holding candle march at this location on every 23rd March and have many times themselves put up the signboard of ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’. This year on 23rd March, Kuldip Nayar has extracted promise from former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party is ruling in Punjab (Pakistan) to get the chowk officially named as Bhagat Singh Chowk, that promised has been fulfilled on the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh. Kuldip Nayar has complimented Nawaz Sharif and other Pakistani leaders for this gesture, strengthening Indo-Pak peace process further.

This year for the first time, Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary was celebrated in Dayal Singh College hall in Lahore on 28th September by Pakistan Labour party and 23 more organizations, where Bhagat Singh was described as the representative of struggling [people of whole Asia. The organisers demanded to set up a museum in birthplace of Bhagat Singh in Chak no. 105, Lyalpur Bange in Faislabad district. Advocate Iqbal Virk, who is now occupant of Bhagat Singh’s birth house participated in the function and offered all cooperation in this regard.27 member Indian delegation, which included Bhagat Singh’s nephew Kiranjit sandhu and author of several books on Bhagat Singh-Prof. Chaman Lal, could not join the jointly planned anniversary due to non-clearance of visa till last day.


Dalit Pachan, Mukti Atey Shaktikaran (Dalit Identity, Emancipation and Empowerment) by Ronki Ram

Posted in New Publications by Pippa on March 1, 2012

Ronki Ram’s second book on Dalit Pachan, Mukti Atey Shaktikaran (Dalit Identity, Emancipation and Empowerment) in Punjabi is released on February 1, 2012 at the International Punjabi Development Conference (February 1-3, 2012), organized by Punjabi University, Patiala (India). This book is a detailed account of Dalit identity as it emerged in the border state of Punjab in North-West India where concentration of Dalit population is highest in the country. The central thesis of the book revolves around the critical processes of the emergence of Dalit identity and the ways it facilitates Dalit emancipation and empowerment since the beginning of the Dalit movement (Ad Dharm) in the state in the second half of 1920s. The book also provides an in-depth account of the role of the philosophy and teachings of Guru Ravidass, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh in the rise of Dalit consciousness in Punjab. How the complex process of Dalit identity has been represented in the grass-roots Dalit poetry is another interesting aspect of this book, which lays special emphasis on the importance of doing research in Punjabi for the better understanding of Dalit question in Punjab. The book is based on ethnographic study done during the last two decades in the villages of East Punjab.

The book is published by the Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala (India).

Prof Chaman Lal

Posted in Networking, News/Information by Pippa on September 14, 2009

Life and Ideas of Revolutionary Bhagat Singh and his Associates

Posted in News/Information by Pippa on May 4, 2009

Bhagat Singh as ‘Satyagrahi’: The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India by Neeti Nair

Posted in New Publications by Pippa on April 15, 2009

Bhagat Singh as ‘Satyagrahi’: The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India by NEETI NAIR, University of Virginia, Email: nn2v@virginia.edu



Among anti-colonial nationalists, Bhagat Singh and M.K. Gandhi are seen to exemplify absolutely contrasting strategies of resistance. Bhagat Singh is regarded as a violent revolutionary whereas Gandhi is the embodiment of non-violence. This paper argues that Bhagat Singh and his comrades became national heroes not after their murder of a police inspector in Lahore or after throwing bombs in the Legislative Assembly in New Delhi but during their practice of hunger strikes and non-violent civil disobedience within the walls of Lahore’s prisons in 1929–30. In fact there was plenty in common in the strategies of resistance employed by both Gandhi and Bhagat Singh. By labelling these revolutionaries ‘murderers’ and ‘terrorists’, the British sought to dismiss their non-violent demands for rights as ‘political prisoners’. The same labels were adopted by Gandhi and his followers. However, the quality of anti-colonial nationalism represented by Bhagat Singh was central to the resolution of many of the divisions that racked pre-partition Punjab.


Published in Modern Asian Studies 43, 3 (2009) pp. 649–681. 2008 Cambridge University Press. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=ASS

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