Amazing spiral of killings in the freedom fight

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Jan 19, 2014


There are a lot of places that we pass by every day and never think of the important events that took place there, events that surely shaped our history, threw up new heroes’ and villains both, changing our very way of life.

On Saturday I happened to pass by Court Street, just behind the Punjab Civil Secretariat, and noticed the huge beautiful bungalow that is Two Court Street.

It houses the Forensic Laboratory of the Punjab Police. It was once, almost 100 years ago, the home and house of Lala Lajpat Rai, the great freedom fighter of Independence, who

was killed by the British, or more correctly, the Punjab Police, in 1928, when it ‘lathi-charged’ a peaceful gathering outside the Lahore Railway Station at crossing where Landa Bazaar starts.

The reason for the ‘lathi-charge’ was that Sir John Simon of Simon Commission fame was due at the station on October 30, 1928, and a huge ‘Go Back Simon’ procession was planned on his arrival.

The Landa Bazaar end was barricaded with barbed wires and the protesters were allowed to shout peacefully from behind the barrier.

The fiery orator, Ataullah Shah Bokhari, had the crowd spell-bound when the SSP Lahore, Mr Scott, suddenly attacked and Lala Lajpat was hit several times on the chest as his supporters protected his head.

From these wounds he died on the morning of November 17, 1928.

His death triggered off massive demonstrations across the sub-continent, which led to Bhagat Singh shooting Inspector Saunders from a window of the Government College Hostel, thinking that it was Scott standing outside the District Police Lines behind the Lahore District Courts.

Bhagat Singh was hanged for this killing. Within this hanging lies a story which I will narrate at the end of this piece. A bit about Lajpat Rai first.

Lala Lajpat Rai was a student of Government College, Lahore, and coined the freedom fight strategy: ‘Swaraj, Swadesh, Boycott’.

It was a brilliant move that shocked the British, and one on which Gandhi modelled his ‘non-violence’ movement.

In those days politics was not communal. Being a student of Government College, Lahore, he was greatly influenced by his Arabic teacher Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad.

Ironically, Lajpat Rai’s father was also greatly influenced by Islam and almost converted, though he continued to pray like a Muslim.

But then Lajpat Rai after a lecture by Azad allegedly stated that the origins of Indian Muslims lay in Persia and Arabia and not India, sought solace in his Indian origins, and naturally, his religion.

He went on to lay the foundations of DAV schools and colleges, which after 1947 became Islamia colleges and schools.

The Lal-Bal-Pal trio, of which he was a member, went on to found a number of Hindu communal organizations. For this reason he is, wrongly, seen as a communal freedom fighter. The fact remains that the influence of Azad, Shibli and other Muslim intellectuals played a big role in his life.

As the freedom fight began to unfold three major newspapers caught the imagination of the people. They were: ‘Kesari’ in Bombay edited by Bal Tilak, ‘Bandemataram’ in Bengal edited by Pal and Aurobindo Ghose, and ‘Punjabee’ in Lahore owned by Lala Lajpat Rai and edited by K.K. Athavale.

On a story about the mysterious death of a Muslim police constable of the walled city, the rulers panicked on the protest and arrested and jailed the editor and printer of ‘The Punjabee’.

Lala Lajpat was also arrested on the vague and bizarre charge of being “the secret leader of a deep-laid revolutionary movement with 100,000 desperadoes”.

He was picked up from Two Court Road and driven to the Mian Mir Railway Station, and on to Mandalay in Burma. For six months and nine days he was in solitary confinement.

The weekly speeches of Ataullah Shah Bokhari at Mochi Gate led to a ‘Free Lala Lajpat’ movement. On his return, the crowds gathered at Two Court Road. He was now India’s most important freedom leader.

Now to the story I promised. At the Lahore Railway Station on October 30, 1928, Sir Simon was received by Nawab Kasuri, the grandfather of Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Lajpat Rai was killed by Scott. Bhagat Singh killed Saunders thinking it was Scott.

Bhagat Singh’s death warrant was signed by Raza Kasuri’s father, who was killed in the days of ZA Bhutto, who was hanged for the crime. Bhutto’s step-maternal mother was the step-aunt of Lala Lajpat Rai.

The forensic record of Lala Lajpat now lies in his own house at Two Court Road, as does that of Saunders and Nawab Kasuri. Such are the twists of history.




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