Bhagat Singh and the circle of blood


The Dawn: April 8, 2002


Bhagat Singh and the circle of blood

THERE is one story about Lahore that is close to my heart and that is the story of Bhagat Singh, that great freedom fighter of Lahore and of this sub-continent. No amount of sectarian hatred can erase the memory of man who walked tall in the streets of Lahore, and who was hanged in the now knocked down Central Jail.

There was a strange story we had heard about Bhagat Singh when we were small children. it was said that his ghost roamed around in the Shah Jamal area and near the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal. Many even claimed having seen an image of the saint talking to Bhagat Singh promising him revenge for the great injustice that had been done to him. I had heard of the story from our cook, who used to visit the shrine of Shah Jamal. My father was a storyteller par excellence. He never admitted that this was true, no matter how hard I pestered him. He always left the door of doubt open with a “maybe its true, maybe not, you will have to wait for the truth to come out one day.” And the truth did come out one day.

Not many people know that the area we know as Shadman and Shah Jamal was once known as Lehna Singh di Schaoni, or the military cantonment of Lehna Singh. This was the place where Sardar Lehna Singh, one of the three chieftains who ruled Lahore just before Maharajah Ranjit Singh forged his Punjab Empire to contain the spread of the British across the Sutlej. In the middle of this ‘cantonment’ was a huge house, just about where today exists the second roundabout coming from Jail Road. This is the roundabout nearest the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal, the sufi saint who lies buried just 200 yards from this point, and the reason the area is so called.

The legend goes that the Khans of Kasur, who were in league with the British to topple the Lahore Darbar, sent an envoy to negotiate with a Sikh chief to conspire the murder of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. During the discussions things went wrong and the head of the envoy was chopped off and sent to Kasur. The treachery of the Pathan rulers of Kasur had met its match. It is said that a seer had then predicted that the ghost of the envoy would seek revenge at this very place, and that the circle of revenge would not be completed with one killing alone. Chilling stuff. But then subsequent events were to prove that this prediction was true, and many say the circle of treachery still lives on.

The rule of the Sikhs gave way to the British, and the rulers of Kasur played their treacherous part all along. They had before them, through their mullahs, pestered the sufi saint Bulleh Shah, and had paid a heavy price for their bigotry. The house and cantonment of Lehna Singh was knocked down and in its place was built the largest jail in the Punjab, where long-term inmates, or death row servers, were imprisoned. At the place where the house of Lehna Singh was built came up the gallows, and here many a criminal and freedom fighter was hanged. The place of death continued to serve its purpose.

In 1928, the struggle to free our land from British rule was picking up, and during a procession in Lahore, just opposite the Lahore Museum, a well-known freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai was hit on the head during a police lathi-charge, resulting in his death. This sent a wave of anger all over the sub-continent and a young 21-year old revolutionary by the name of Bhagat Singh took it upon himself to seek revenge. On November 17, 1928, he positioned himself on the first floor window of the New Hostel of the Government College, and from there fired on what he thought was Mr Scott, a police official. Instead, he had shot dead the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Lahore, Mr Saunders. Bhagat Singh ran away to Calcutta, and then returned to Agra, where he allegedly set up a bomb-making concern. He was arrested while throwing bombs on the Legislative Assembly that was passing the draconian Trade Disputes Bill. One account states that he gave himself up shouting that the British could never kill him, and that he was consigned to history and his blood would flow redder if he was killed.

Bhagat Singh was tried and sentenced to hang on October 7, 1930. The British feared this young man so much that not a single magistrate could be found in the whole of India to sign his death warrants. In the end, they turned to Kasur, where a loyal magistrate by the name of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan later to be known as Kasuri, agreed to sign the necessary papers and supervise the hanging. Fearless and shouting slogans for the freedom of the sub-continent, the Ravian Bhagat Singh (one account says he was a student of the National College) was hanged on March 23, 1931, in the Lahore Central Jail at the place where once was the residence of Lehna Singh, where a relative of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri was killed for betraying the cause of the Punjab. Old timers say that all over the land not a single hearth fire burned that day.

Then comes an even stranger twist to this tale of blood. In 1975, in a now well-known assassination attempt on the son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri, the old magistrate who had ordered the hanging of Bhagat Singh was himself shot dead at the very place were Lehna Singh’s men beheaded a traitor from Kasur, where Bhagat Singh was hanged by the old magistrate. Revenge had come full circle and at the very same place. For that murder the famous Pakistani prime minister ZA Bhutto was to hang, keeping the circle of blood flowing. Where will it all end, we do not know ... maybe some seer will appear and tell us.— Majid Sheikh

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