Honesty in History by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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The decision to announce a new medal – Tamgha-e-Azm – at the Pakistan Day parade on March 23 is no doubt a remarkable step to acknowledge the contributions of the security forces.

However, we should not forget the sacrifices rendered by revolutionary hero Bhagat Singh and his comrades who were hanged in Lahore Central Jail by British imperialists on March 23, 1931 – nine years before the Pakistan Resolution was passed. Twenty-three-year-old Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life in the Indian freedom struggle. But it is unfortunate that we are reluctant to acknowledge the role of non-Muslims in securing independence from the British in the Subcontinent.

Born in Lyallpur (present-day Faisalabad) and executed in Lahore, Bhagat Singh and his brave companions raised the slogan of ‘long live the revolution’ at a time when political parties in the Subcontinent were in favour of a political struggle to achieve freedom from colonial rule. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered a speech about Bhagat Singh in the Central Assembly. In his speech, Jinnah said that: “the man who goes on hunger strike has a soul”.

Bhagat Singh was born to a family who was known for its involvement in the freedom struggle against the British. His father Kishan Singh and uncles Ajit Singh and Soran Singh were diehard opponents of British imperialism. Bhagat Singh’s childhood memories included the tragic massacre at Jallianwala Bagh where almost 400 people who were celebrating Vaisakhi were killed on the orders of General Dyer. Bhagat Singh was just 12 years old at the time.

Bhagat Singh opposed the concept of gaining independence by simply replacing brown rulers with white ones as it would not serve the freedom cause. In a letter titled ‘To Young Political Workers’, he wrote: “ You cry ‘Long Live Revolution’. Let me assume that you really mean it. According to our definition of the term, as stated in our statement in the Assembly Bomb Case, revolution means the complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist order…the state, the government machinery is a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to further and safeguard its interest. We want to snatch it and use it for our ideal, ie, social reconstruction on a new, ie, Marxist basis. All along we have to educate the people to create a favourable atmosphere for our social programme”.

He further questioned that: “what difference does it make…whether Lord Reading is the head of the Indian government or Sir Purshottamdas Thakurdas? What difference for a peasant [sic] if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru replaces Lord Irwin!” He believed that the freedom struggle must be focused against a system that produces an exploitative ruling class.

An important event of Bhagat Singh’s life was the arrival of the Simon Commission in Lahore. Hundreds of people were protesting against the commission at Lahore Railway Station when the police started a baton-charge. As a result, Lala Lajpat Rai, a renowned politician and the leader of the protesters, lost his life. Bhagat Singh and his comrades retaliated by killing another police officer instead of the police officer Scot, who had ordered the baton-charge. However, Bhagat Singh managed to escape from Lahore.

In order to crush the Independence Movement, British imperialists presented two controversial bills – the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Safety Act – in the assembly. As a result, Bhagat Singh and his colleagues protested by hurling harmless crackers at the assembly hall. No casualities were reported as the purpose was to seek attention. Bhagat Singh and his colleagues voluntarily surrendered to the police so they could use the trial court to spread their message. Following the policy of ‘divide and rule’, British imperialists were not in the mood to tolerate anyone who believed in liberation and social justice. Bhagat Singh and his comrades were hanged on March 23, 1931 for the murder of the police officer.

The historic sacrifice of Bhagat Singh is remembered in various folk tales that have emerged from different cultures. Unfortunately, we are afraid to officially own the son of our soil who was born and martyred in present-day Pakistan.

Similarly, our national literature and curriculum doesn’t tell us that the first freedom fighter who initiated the War of Independence in 1857 was a Hindu named Mangal Pandey. He belonged to a Brahmin family and was hired as a sepoy in the East India Company. However, he raised objections against the use of controversial rifles. Mangal Pandey became an icon of freedom and was subsequently denounced as a traitor and mutineer by the British. It is a historical fact that Mangal Pandey’s public execution resulted in the outbreak of the war in 1857.

Who were Mangal Pandey, Bhagat Singh and other non-Muslim heroes railing against? Did they not want to end British imperialism? If they did, then why are we reluctant to acknowledge their freedom struggle?

In order to transform Pakistan into a peaceful, prosperous and tolerant country that adheres to Quaid-e-Azam’s vision, we need to be honest about our history and exclude any biases from it. The contribution of all those from diverse backgrounds who struggled against British imperialism must be acknowledged. There is also a dire need to initiate national awards in honour of these heroes to recognise their struggle for freedom.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of thePakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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