The Dilkash Lahore Committee of the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) has finally dropped the idea of renaming Shadman Chowk after freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, who was hanged there in 1931. The decision was taken, most probably, because of opposition by a rightwing religious group. It is now being renamed after Habib Jalib. The final development was a disappointing one, even though there had been indicators that it was the direction where things were headed. The religious party first issued statements against the proposal and then put up banners denouncing it. After news that the committee had approved naming the chowk after Singh, the group went to the Lahore High Court, saying that an Indian lobby and India-sponsored human rights activists were behind the suggested move. The court issued a stay order and then extended it.
The DCO had earlier approved the change in name. A committee member told this newspaper that none of the members opposed the proposal, and this included the two ulema on the committee. The Indian media had lauded the decision, appreciating Pakistan’s recognition of a man who had opposed the British rule without distinguishing between a Hindu and a Muslim struggle. Once again, it has showed how our government balks at the mere threat of trouble by rightwing groups. Our false notions of ‘being true to our religion and our country’ have been exposed to the world all over again because of our actions. That we marginalise our minorities — even the heroes within them and even after death — has rendered all our claims of being moderate, liberal and enlightened false. What is distressing is that a step taken in the right direction has been retracted. It will leave behind no imprint. That we thought about honouring a freedom fighter is not something to be proud of. That we chose, once again, to let the reactionary right bully us and make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons is something to be ashamed of. That we did not have the strength to stick to our decision and stand up for what was right is mortifying. That we failed to honour a hero is a dishonour to us, more than anyone else.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2012.