LAHORE: In most recent news, the government of Pakistan recently erected a statue of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh on horseback at the Lahore Fort. Behind the statue’s idea were NGOs of United Kingdom (UK) and United States of America (USA), it was prepared by one of the members of the Faqir family whereas, the Archaeology Department of Punjab and Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) and government of Punjab supported the idea.
The questions that come to mind are that were the sentiments of the general public, the Muslims, were kept in mind before the approval? And was it the right place to put the statue? This question is propelling in the minds of Lahoris and Pakistanis who are familiar with their past and stories of the Sikh rule here in Lahore.
From the looks of it, the public was considered completely unaware of the history of the Sikh rule and their antagonism in this part of the region.
On social media, the government officials who promoted the statue, with Fawad Chaudhry taking the lead by promoting Ranjeet Singh as an icon of Lahore, are being bashed by the public. Going through the public’s tweets I realised that the idea of placing this particular historical person’s statue in the city is not accepted by most and is only being applauded by a handful of so-called liberals.
Clearly, the sentiments of the majority have been trampled while a select few have been appeased. Here, more questions come to mind. Why was the statue not placed at the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh which is right outside the Lahore Fort? Why was it necessary to house it at the center of the fort where it directly faces the Moti Masjid, a place which is opposite to the canteen area and most thronged by the tourists and visitors?
I think the government of Pakistan, in order to support its impersonation, has forgotten that it is the peoples’ reaction which should be valued instead of a faction!
Like many other people who are shouting at this act, I do also not like this mark at Lahore Fort, which proves to be a reminder of the Mughal empire. A little research will quickly reveal the harsh acts of Ranjeet Singh while he was ruling Lahore and the then Punjab which are diffused by his so-called liberal followers and promoters.
Ranjeet Singh was born on November 13, 1780, in a small village located between Gujranwala and Wazirabad. His grandfather, Charat Singh, was a bandit warrior who fought against Abdali’s forces repeatedly. Mahan Singh, Ranjeet’s father, lorded over a small principality in Gujranwala region, known as Sukerchakia – one of the 12 misls (military bands) operating in Punjab at the time of Ranjeet’s birth.
He captured Lahore in the year 1799, which is also considered as the turning point for the Sikh empire. What entailed was massive destruction of the city and the very fort where his statue now stands. Historic references state that when the Sikh took over the fort, they damaged the embellishments at Sheesh Mahal and other places built by emperor Shah Jahan. Ranjeet Singh made his court outside Sheesh Mahal and build a private chamber inside. It can be said that he somehow wanted to gain more popularity than the Mughals and tried expanding his territories in pursuit of a lavish and extravagant lifestyle similar to the Mughals.
Never mind what he did with the fort. We can forgive it as the British also added to its destruction and disrespect. But being Muslims, can we miss out on the blows he delivered to our mosques?
Let’s start with Badshahi Mosque. If you ever get time, read “Tareekh-e-Lahore by Kanahiya Lal” and you will get to know the real picture of Sikh era in Lahore. Kanahiya Lal states in his book that the mosque was insulted by Ranjeet Singh as he converted it into an arsenal depot and a horse stable. The jewels, marbles, and hanging chandeliers were stolen by the Sikhs until the British decided to snatch it for themselves. Why do people think that he provided freedom to all religions?
The Begum Shahi Mosque is still called Barood Khana Masjid by the locals and the reason is that Ranjeet Singh, the one-eyed ruler, converted the beautiful mosque into another military house where he stuffed gunpowder.
Move forward to Sonehri Masjid from where the Imam was dragged out by Ranjeet and was not allowed to call out for prayers through Azan only because a Sikh woman started living behind the mosque and made a Baoli over there. Her brother, Akali Das, convinced the ruling Sikh to let the Akalis occupy the mosque, an account backed by Kanahiya Lal. However, the worst was yet to come…soon after, the entire mosque was covered with cow dung.
Similarly, Chinian Wali Masjid inside the walled city was also destroyed by the Sikhs and its beautiful entrance door was pulled off and taken away by the Sikhs and Moti Masjid was converted into a Sikh temple which was renamed as Moti Mandir.
The Sikhs’ destruction was not limited to mosques only. Another story is of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his wife Noor Jahan’s Tomb which is located in Shahdara. The Sikh’s left no stone unturned in defiling the tombs which are located in Shahdara. This complex, as per Kanahiya Lal, was equal to the Taj Mahal in its beauty but the Sikhs took every possible step to ruin it. The marble pavilion of Jahangir’s Tomb was moved elsewhere. Similarly, the gold and silver embellishments from other tombs were also looted. The marbles and embellishments of Asif Jah’s tomb were also stolen.
So what explains the placement of the maharaja’s statue at the Lahore Fort? Why has the nation been set aside to gratify a select few? If it is about art and history then why not get back the statues which were pulled off from Mall Road and Charring Cross and erect the lifesize statues of Mughal rulers.
Tormenters of the past should not be illustrated as heroes to the young age bracket. And the public shouldn’t be taken as a bunch of ignorant fools.