The contest for Shadman Chowk

Hemant Chopra

IF you Google Shadman, you will know that it is a Persian word meaning ‘happy’. Shadman Chowk in Lahore, hence, can be loosely translated as ‘happy crossing’. But it epitomises the politico-religious realities in Pakistan and it is not at all unimportant to keep them in sight while making an assessment of our neighbour.

For years now, this place has been besieged by not-so-happy members of civil society of that country on the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, who was hanged at this spot along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, on March 23, 1931. Sometimes these protests have been held under police protection to avoid any violence. Bhagat Singh belonged to the whole subcontinent, they say, and his memory should be permanently enshrined in a monument at this place.

It is not that these efforts have not met with success, but it has been shortlived. In 2012, a decision was taken by the federal government to rename it Bhagat Singh Chowk. But the decision was reversed in face of protests by shopkeepers of surrounding markets, many of whom were members of Jamat-ud-Dawa of Hafiz Saeed. Not deterred by this absolute capitulation by the state government, the protests continued and the federal government again appointed the Dilkash Lahore Committee to give its recommendation. It said yes, but this time an organisation, Tehrik Hurmat-e-Rasool, having links with the ‘banned’ Jamat-ud-Dawa, moved the Lahore High Court, alleging that this whole gamut of renaming was being funded by RAW and recommended that it be quashed. The other objection was that since Pakistan was a Muslim state, no major landmark or crossing should be named after a non-Muslim. All through this struggle, Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation, headed by Imtiaz Rashid Qureshi, has been in the forefront. In his petition filed in the high court, he has argued that if the statue of Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan can exist in India, why can’t the statue of Bhagat Singh on Shadman Chowk! After all, he is a martyr hailed by even Jinnah as the bravest of the brave.

The court has again ruled in favour of the petition. The decision came recently. But instead of directing the federal government of Punjab to do the needful, it has thrown the ball in the court of the Mayor of Lahore. Will he be able to implement the decision in the face of opposition by many militant outfits? Qureshi himself faces death threats.

No other personality linked with the freedom struggle can be an icon of absolute fearlessness, spirit of sacrifice and commitment to the cause of free India as this 22-year-old lad, hanged secretly by a jittery British government in the early hours. Bhagat Singh belongs to the entire subcontinent. This makes the renaming of Shadman Chowk as a test case for the new regime in Pakistan. Will it resist and will the writ of fundamentalist organisations prevail?

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