Lost in time

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What a true Pakistan Day should be

On 23rd March, 1940, the famous “Lahore Resolution” was passed when the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent realised after waking up from a long slumber that their love for freedom was above all other imaginable human desires. So they waited for 24th March, 1940, to actually celebrate the famous first step taken towards the journey that would ensure their freedom in the near future. One entire day was consumed by inaction, until it dawned upon our leaders that the event that was to be celebrated had actually passed on the preceding day. Could it be possible that our forefathers were as forgetful of important dates as we Pakistanis presently are, or did we, by chance or by design, miss an important chapter of our valuable history while growing up in a complex society? Nine years before the Lahore Resolution, another important event that took place on 23rd March was the hanging of an indigenous revolutionary Bhagat Singh in the now bustling Pakistani city of Lahore.

History books available outside the pure reach of Pakistan’s historians have suggested, or rather directly stated, that the actual resolution was approved on 24th March, 1940, and only moved on the preceding day. What is it with the spell of dates that mesmerise us as a nation? Is it necessary to blatantly support fabrications and forget the real events that actually happened on any particular day of our collective history? The walls of glass that we have erected around us to shield ourselves from the destructive truth disease, usually shatters when most Pakistanis find themselves in the unforgiving position of defending the validity of their national custom made historical dates abroad, especially in the United Kingdom where a great part of the Indian subcontinent’s history rests documented. Maybe, the situation would have been different if we had erected mirrors around us instead.

Excavation of historical facts from history books proves beyond the slightest shred of doubt that 23rd March is actually celebrated passionately by Pakistanis as the day when the policy-makers and leaders of the country realised for the first time after the emergence of Pakistan and India as sovereign countries, that they could achieve the target of becoming the “Asian tigers”. The day was not commemorated officially or unofficially from 1941 to 1956, and only came to be known as Pakistan Day when the first constitution of the country was promulgated on 23rd March, 1956. When the constitution was abrogated by General Ayub Khan, the national government decided to preserve a dead and spiritless day for reasons that are now lost to history.

Further digging into history books and other related references reveal that the initial draft of the resolution was loosely worded and was not a definitive agreement of any sorts. The founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah was alive when the important day passed on 23rd March, 1948. Interestingly enough, the day came and passed by silently without any mention of the Lahore Resolution by anyone in the government or otherwise. Nevertheless, 23rd March is an important day in the history of the Indian subcontinent’s freedom struggle against the British rulers when three fiery revolutionaries namely Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were executed in Lahore on the same day in 1931.

History tells us that Bhagat Singh was introduced to radical philosophies and concepts at a very young age as his family was already brimming with indigenous revolutionaries, both old and young, when he was born. Therefore, his introduction and subsequent involvement with the struggle for independence was only a natural path that he would have walked upon. Young Bhagat was greatly influenced by Jallianwala Bagh tragedy and ardently supported Mohandas Gandhi in his Non-Cooperation Movement. Later, he lost interest in the Congress and other political parties, and instead became involved in revolutionary organisations until he followed his destiny into the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which was later renamed on Bhagat Singh’s insistence as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928.

Bhagat Singh was elevated to the level of a legend in his own time after he killed a British police officer named John Saunders in an act of revenge committed as a protest against the murder of a local leader Lala Lajpat Rai who was assaulted by a low ranking police official on the orders of the then Superintendent of Police James A Scott. Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad were the other three revolutionaries who aided Bhagat Singh in his plans. Bhagat, Rajguru and Sukhdev later surrendered themselves to the police and were sent jailed.

Later, Bhagat and his comrades went on a 116-day hunger strike in jail while fighting for the equality and rights of his country in the face of ruthless imperialism. On receiving news of the hunger strike, Mohammad Ali Jinnah acknowledged the services of Bhagat Singh for the cause of Indian independence while Jawaharlal Nehru visited the prisoners at Mianwala Jail and termed them as heroes of the independence movement. Bhagat Singh was executed on 23rd March, 1931, along with his two comrades in the now Pakistani city of Lahore. “I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there can be no gallows. Put me into the mouth of a canon and blow me off,” stated Bhagat Singh’s last letter. The place where he was hanged changes name between Bhagat Singh Chowk and Shadman Chowk while recently a few other proposals have also been put forth.

Sometimes Pakistani historians have sacrificed their own identity and the identity of the country by showing undue tilt towards Islamic history while preserving important events in words. Why do we have to take inspiration from Muslim revolutionaries only? What kind of obedience has been drilled into us that has made us short-sighted? Bhagat Singh was a son of the soil and he sacrificed his life to attain for his people complete freedom from the unforgiving grip of imperialism. He gave the Indian freedom struggle a different direction and outlook by merging secular ideas into his philosophy. Often he would talk about how British imperialism was a scourge for all Indians, irrespective of their class, creed and colour. He committed his efforts to the downfall of the same imperialism that Pakistan’s right wing so ardently opposes in the present times. Only this time, the player is different but the game remains the same.

Permanently naming Shadman Chowk of Lahore as Bhagat Singh Chowk would not threaten our national security. The pressure groups who feel that the same place should be named as “Khatim-un-Nabiyeen” should know that Bhagat Singh did not preach religion but dedicated his soul in all its entirety to the service of his country and his people. He might have been a Godless man, but he served His best creations with utmost passion, respect and dedication. We should not forget that among many other men of stature, the city of Lahore is indebted to Bhagat Singh and his comrades who electrified the city’s atmosphere with their unbound insanity and the bustling life and energy of Lahore today shows how the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province has retained the strength to produce another hero and revolutionary when the need arises. So while our leaders and people remember a day that never was on the 23rd of March every year, the least they could do is to acknowledge the services of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh on the same day and maybe accept him as Pakistan’s national hero because he did not fight for the supremacy of any religion but for the dignity and independence of his people. Young Bhagat’s passion showed in his writings and following are his words:

“Lovers, lunatics and poets are made of the same stuff.”

As long as we do not recognise Bhagat Singh and others like him, as says the ideology of Pakistan, 23rd of March would never be a true national day.

The writer is a staff member.