Lahore - How it underwent Cultural cleansing after 1947

Lahore - How it underwent Cultural cleansing after 1947

By Dr. Ajay Chrungoo

Many communities e.g. Palestinians, Jews, Tibetans, Sindhis, Kashmiri Hindus, have been banished from their homeland through an act of religiouscleansing.

Invariably, the aggressor community resorts to cultural effacement in the aftermath of ethnic-cleansing to deny that the victimised community ever belonged to its homeland. Recording the story of this effacement is always a painful journey for the members of victimised communities.

Lahore Nama, a travelogue written by Shri Santosh Kumar Gurtoo, has with subtle sensitivity summed up the cultural cleansing Lahore has undergone in the wake of 1947 partition.

The travelogue also unwinds the social knots and depicts how the praetorian state is bulldozing the aspirations of its own people - writers, Trade Union leaders, political workers etc. Santosh Kumar is a scion of the well-known Gurtoo dynasty. His grandfather, Pt. Mukand Ram Gurtoo (1831-1897) had left Kashmir in mid-nineteenth century, to seek employment in Lahore. Pt. Mukand Ram was an institution builder. He went on to launch Akhbar-i-Aam(Urdu) and Mitra Vilasa (Hindi) papers and also established a printing press. Shri Santosh Kumar, a person of great integrity and depth, has carried forward the family legacy of fearless, truthful journalism. Joining Urdu dailyPratap in Lahore in 1945, he retired as its news editor in 1987. He subscribes to left views and has been actively associated with country's trade union movement under the aegis of AITUC.

An ardent patriot, he was dismissed from service for organising a strike in a British Company, which he was serving, against the INA Trials in November, 1945.

Like other Hindus and Sikhs of Lahore, Shri Santosh Kumar had to abandon his place of birth in September, 1947 under helpless and humiliating conditions.

From June to August, 1947, the Muslim League National Guards, blinded by passion and hatred, succeeded in burning down street after street from Shah Alami gate area to Rang Mahal, finishing and driving out the surviving non-Muslims from the ancient city. The author has included in this travelogue the photographs, depicting this destruction and frenzy that Lahore underwent in 1947. The photographs were taken by Shri Govind Lal, a free-lance photographer of Lahore.

Hindus ethos

Pre-partition Lahore was a town with distinct Hindu ethos, where Hindus formed the substantial majority. It was home to Dr. Gopi Chand Bhargava (later Chief Minister of East Punjab), Mrs. Swaroop Rani Nehru-Thussu (mother of Pt. JL Nehru), Kedar Nath Sehgal, a legendary revolutionary leader etc. Sehgal braved British jails for many years and had worn black clothes on the death of Tilak. He vowed to remain in black till freedom was won. After he came to Delhi as a refugee, he refused to discard the black robes retorting, “Is this what you call freedom”.

Prof. Tirath Ram, who became famous later as Swami Ram Tirath, lived in“Telian di Khi”, near Sanatan Dharam Complex. Santani Swami Shraddhanand, who composed “Om Jaya Jagdeesh Harey”, resided in the Hari Gyan Mandir, situated on Mohan Lal Road, the famous text-book market of Lahore. Pt. Tota Ram Naqqash, a master-painter of Kashmiri School of Painting lived in Harcharan dia Pauriyan, near Wachhowli area. Some of his master paintings were retrieved by Shri Santosh Kumar from his burning house in July 1947 and form part of Lahore Nama.

Lahore had a good number of Kashmiri Pandit families. These lived in Wachhowali quarter of Lahore. Shri Santosh Kumar's family used to live in the Kucha Badri Bhagat. Badri was a disciple of the famous Chhaju Bhagat of Lahore. Santosh Kumar's other relations, including Prof. JP Gurtu, used to live in Kutcha Mehtian.

The famous scholar of Sanskrit, Pt. Laxmi Narain Ji used to teach Sanskrit in the temple complex of Ramdwara. This temple finds reference in the history of Lahore authored by Syed Muhammed Latif. Pt. Laxmi Narain's brother, Pt. Paras Ram was a great Katha-Vachak, while his youngest brother Pt. Madan Gopal, culled the teachings of Bhagwat Gita and presented the results through the medium of a set of playing cards. Shri Santosh Kumar used to learn Sanskrit here. He has also managed to preserve a set of these cards, which are displayed in the book.

Maharaja Gulab Singh's younger brother, Raja Dhyian Singh once served as Prime Minister to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. It was in a house located in Haveli Dhyian Singh that Pt. Bal Krishna, father of Shri Santosh Kumar was born in 1880.

Another part of haveli housed Dyal Singh High School. Haveli belonged to J&K government. In 1864 Maharaja Ranbir Singh of J&K had allowed Lahore College to be established in another part of haveli. Sardar Dyal Singh, a Brahmo Samajist had established the school and the college. Prof. PN Pandit, a Kashmiri used to teach sciences in this college till 1947.

Another historic building was huge Sanatan Dharam Sabha Complex.Besides housing offices of SD Sabha, it had a school, a temple and a pathshala attached to it. Its vast enclosure was a venue of many social functions.

Leading Congress stalwarts, Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilk and others used to address meetings here. Vishnu Digamber, who established Gandharv Maha Vidyala in Ram Nagar, Lahore, had sung the popular arti “Om Jaya Jagdish Harey” in the courtyard of this complex.

Nationalist bastion

Lahore has also remained the bastion of nationalist and left movements. ItsBrad-Laugh Hall, once the headquarters of the Punjab Congress Committee had seen such veteran leaders -  CR Das, Moti Lal Nehru, Mrs Sarojini Naidu, Bi-Amma (mother of Ali Brothers of Khilafat movement), Mahatma Gandhi, JL Nehru, Hiren Mukerjee, Dr. Kunwar Mohd. Ashraf, Mian Iftikhar Uddin, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew etc. addressing Lahoris. Dedicated to the great British libertarian Charles Brad-laugh, its foundation stone was laid by Shri Surendra Nath Banerji, the Congress President (1895-1902). Shri Santosh Kumar recalls with nostalgia his association with Brad-laugh Hall during his student years. Following Gandhi's call to boycott Govt/Govt. aided educational institutions, the National College was established in a part of this complex. Bhagat Singh, the Indian revolutionary used to be a student of this college when Prof. Chabil Das was its Principal.

Gandhi had once presided over this college's convocation. The Pakistan Govt. to erase this historical memory, has converted it into a technical institute.

‘Pratap Building’, which used to be the head office of Daily Pratap, is another link to Lahore's past. Shops of Umrao Singh and Megh Raj were famous sweets shops. Gul-Bahist (Flower of Heaven) was innovation of Megh Raj. Lahore has also produced great singers -  Nur Jehan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Shamshad Begum etc. who lived in Hiramandi quarter of the city.

Cultural Effacement

Shri Santosh Kumar does not feel shy in telling the readers how Lahore has undergone cultural effacement since 1947, to erase its Hindu past. During his recent visit to Lahore when a young boy asked him to tell the difference between pre-partition Lahore and 1980 Lahore, Shri Santosh Kumar spontaneously reacted, “Pehle is mohalle vich mein wai Mahinder sunda sa, hun wai Sikandar sun reha aan”. (Earlier in this mohalla I used to hear Wai Mahinder and now can hear Wai Sikandar). What used be “Kutcha Kali Mata” (Gumti bazaar) has now become “Kutcha Aurangzeb”.

The temple of the goddess Kali Mata has been turned into a human habitation. Similarly, Grand Trunk Road has been renamed after another tyrant, Mahmud Ghaznavi, “Shahrah-e- Ghazanavi”. The author protested to Pakistanis, “who was Ghazanavi? For 16 long years, he did not annex Punjab lest he becomes responsible for the maintenance of law and order. He just carried out yearly raids.

A raider cannot be hailed as a hero

Before 1947, two shrines -  Sunehri Gurdwara (Baoli Sahib) and Sunehri Masjid stood near Dabbi bazaar. Sunehri Masjid still stands, but the Gurdwara is no more there. It was burnt down during communal violence in 1947. The famous Hanuman Mandir is also not there. In its place an embroidery shop has come up.

A massive statue of Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, gave name to the chowk which housed it. The statue was burnt after the partition. Gita Bhavan on Nisbet Road was a huge building constructed by Sewak Ram, son of famous philonthropist-engineer Sir Ganga Ram. The message of Gita in Devnagri script was engraved on its outer wall. With the initiation of Zia's Islamisation in early 1980's, this engraving was removed.

According to historians Multan town's historical name was Mool Sthan(original place).

On a maund here stood a temple dedicated to Prehlad, son of King Harnakashyap. Its story commemorates the celebration of Holi. The spire of the pre-historic shrine is still visible. The temple has been closed since 1947. Instead, a hostel has been built within the old boundary wall. Of and on, attempts were made to pull down the old temple, but saner sections voiced strong protests. Finally, the temple was pulled down in 1992.

A photograph of this demolished town has been included in the travelogue. In the past many Indian rulers tried a number of times to liberate the temple but the Arabs threatened to demolish the shrine if Indians advanced towards Multan. The offerings at the shrine had to be deposited in Bait-ul-Maal (Islamic treasury) of the Khalifa.

The believers of two-nation theory have not spared even anti-colonialist symbols. The prison where Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev went to the gallows has been demolished and a fountain erected. Santosh Kumar notes with pain that this has been done “not to commemorate their martyrdom but to erase the memory of the martyrs of India”.

In Golbagh, near the famous Anarkali bazaar, there used to be the statue of Sher-e-Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai. Santosh Kumar refers to its demolition, “After partition, one finger of this statue of a Kafir (infidel) was broken by the bigots”. On the intervention of Dr. GC Bhargava, the erstwhile Chief Minister of East  Punjab, the statue was brought to Simla and after repairs installed on the famous ridge there.

Punjab Library was inaugurated in December 1885. It used to preserve the old files of the Lahore press. On a visit to the Library, Santosh Kumar found that all the newspapers published before independence had been removed or deliberately destroyed.

The objective was to keep the new generation of Lahoris ignorant about the glorious role played by the Lahore press in the anti-colonial movement.

Kissa Jag Maaye Kya

In 1947, in Gumti Bazaar, one old Hindu lady had continued to live in her house, while all non-Muslims of the area, including her son, a goldsmith shifted out. The Muslim refugees from East Punjab were occupying Hindu houses. One day, the refugees advised the old lady to move to the refugee camp at Lajpat Bhawan (run by Lala Achint Ram, a prominent social worker of Punjab and father of Late Krishan Kant, former Vice- President of India), and leave the house. She flared up and shouted back,” I shall not leave. It is my house and I shall continue to dwell here”. Weeks passed by.

She still had some rations left and continued to cook her food herself. On the Diwali night of November, 1947, the old lady celebrated Diwali by lighting earthen lamps outside main door. Her house was the lone house that was lit up. She herself prepared sweets and distributed these to her new neighbours. Gradually, human feelings took over as baser passions subsided.

The new neighbours started talking to her. Whenever anybody in the neighborhood fell sick, she would visit the family and nurse the sick. It so happened that the family she would visit would receive good tidings. This deepened the affection of new neighbours for her. Her fame spread from Gumti to Syad Mitha and she came to be hailed as Jagmayee (the revered lady of the earth). They took full care of her food. She passed away in 1962. Her neighbours decided to bury her in the Muslim cemetery, as the ancient Hindu crematorium, Ramu da Bagh, had been closed down. Maulvi of the local mosque intervened and advised the neighbours to perform her last rites as per Hindu custom as she died a Hindu. The body of the old lady was carried to the banks of Ravi and neighbours lit the pyre. On the third day, her ashes were collected and consigned to the river. In late 1970s the house collapsed and was auctioned.

Shri Santosh Kumar, on his visit to Lahore met a Lahori Muslim, who used to run a shop in the Mochi gate area. Before 1947 his association with Hindu neighbours had turned him into a vegetarian. He was admirer of Sufi Lachhman Parshad and his monthly Mastana Jogi, the popular magazine of Lahore.

This gentleman belonged to the clan of Bhatti Rajputs, who centuries ago had converted to Islam. Bhatti gate, named after these Rajputs, is the oldest gate of the walled city.

The first edition of Lahore Nama made such an impact on Mrs. Indira Gandhi that she got it translated into English for her perusal.


Author: Santosh Kumar

Price: Rs 150

Published By: Vibha Publications, J-22, BK Dutt Colony Jor Bagh Road, New Delhi- 110003.

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