Punjab Research Group

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.


%d bloggers like this: