By Pawan Singh Arora
On 17 August 2021, the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was once again attacked and vandalized by young workers of an extremist religious organization. The statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been vandalized three times since its installation. Those who attacked the statue either didn’t know his contribution towards Lahore or were misguided by fabricated history.
“Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) captured Lahore after being invited to lead the city by its Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh elites”. In 1801 he became the Maharaja of Punjab, brought peace and security to Lahore, and revived its economic and cultural glory.
He repaired the Lahore Fort, built a wall around it, and used a portion of it as his residence. Today, his statue has been repeatedly vandalized because some fanatics dislike Maharaja Ranjit Singh over allegations, such as he used Moti Masjid as a temporary stable. These allegations usually come from unreliable sources.
It has been claimed in many news reports that the Ranjit Singh statue on a horse was gifted to the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) by a nonprofit organization in the UK on his 180th anniversary. It was vandalized three times; when broken, it looked like a hollow fiber structure, filled with raw plastic bags and trash. In Pakistan, Ranjit Singh’s personality is presented as a shadowy figure in textbooks and online.
One of the main reasons why some people are discriminatory towards religious minorities is the tempered history. The curriculum of school books begins with the accounts of the 8th century when Muhammad Bin Qasim first came to the subcontinent and presents that people (non-Muslims) in this region were living in ‘darkness’ before his arrival.
Content available and published on official websites of the Punjab Government (GOP) is also controversial and could be considered a source of hate speech. As described on the official Website it says, “the Sikhs ruled it in the 18th and 19th centuries, and even though it was their capital, they destroyed Muslim monuments and paid little attention to gardens. From the Mughal monuments of Lahore, it is said that enough marble was taken to build the Golden Temple at Amritsar twice. Most of the gems that decorated the palaces and the forts were also taken out”.
Following the Punjab Government website, the most efficient institution developed for the preservation of history, WCLA, on its official Website presents Mariam Zamani Masjid as, “Ranjit Singh used the masjid as a gun and powder manufacturer, and on that account came to be called the barutkhana wali masjid.” Whereas the records tell us that Ghaus Khan, a Muslim artillery officer for Ranjit Singh, was Darogha-e-Topkahan (in charge) of both Topkahan-e-Khas and Topkhana-e-Mubarak, and he also led Ranjit Singh’s army in many battles, including an attack on Kashmir.
Another distinguished Muslim in his Cabinet, Chief engineer Mian Qadir Bukhsh was designated to study and make copies of British guns. In these circumstances, the claim mentioned above doesn’t stand any ground. WCLA performed outstandingly in restoration works, as its the same institution that discovered the Barood Khana buried in the debris, conserved, and restored it. Even spent 3.8 million on 150 imported lights to illuminate this Barood Khana alone, as per the news. But sadly, we don’t see any effort in research work or even improvement in the content available on its Website.
Although confusing and contradictory statements of WCLA about Ranjit Singh’s personality are misleading and require serious attention at earliest as a slab placed under the statue of Ranjit Singh by WCLA states, “His reign where all races were equally respected depicts Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s farsightedness and generosity.” The steel plate has logos of both WCLA and GOP on it.
The current government of Pakistan is welcoming Sikh tourists. The recent and historical development of the Kartarpur Corridor is a fantastic initiative by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Pakistan’s religious and heritage tourism industry is worth billions of dollars. Punjab’s Governor has repeatedly said that Pakistan needs to improve its tourism policy and welcome foreign tourists to reap the maximum benefits. However, some people with extremist ideology are not ready for religious tourism and have taken extreme and aggressive measures, such as vandalizing Ranjit Singh’s statue in Lahore and attacking Mandirs in District Karak and Rahim Yar Khan.
Recently, a temple was attacked in Rahim Yar Khan, and the government took quick action, repaired, and opened Mandir again. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s statue has also been restored and reinstalled within days for the first two times, but the original problem has never been resolved. On the other hand, where the government is making peace efforts, it should also remove hatred content available on its online websites and in textbooks to change the narrative of the people and future generations.
Academics, along with the government, should play a role in guiding society’s mindset. As hate speech infiltrates the primary level of education, it is impractical to expect any other outcome. Vandalizing a statue does not take long, nor does repairing it requires much effort. Still, the intellectual loss is significant, and the consequences could be countless if not addressed. However, the collaboration of government, historians, and experts will help resolve upcoming such incidents by introducing policies and modifying content available online and in texts.