New Delhi: The statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been vandalised for the second time since it was placed at Pakistan’s Lahore Fort in June 2019 in commemoration of his 180th death anniversary.
As per a news report in The Dawn, a teenager, identified as Zeeshan, who is suspected to have broken an arm of the statue on December 12, has been arrested. As per Express Tribune, the teenager is a resident of Harbanspura in Lahore.
The Walled City of Lahore Authority told PTI, “The security guards deployed there arrested the boy and handed him over to the police. The suspect has been booked under sections 295, 295-A and 427 of the Pakistan Penal Code.”
The Dawn report said Zeeshan had told the police that the statue should not have been built “as he had committed atrocities against Muslims during his rule.” He is said to have been influenced by late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who had preached hate against the 19th-century Sikh ruler. The Dawn said although he was influenced by Rizvi’s thoughts, “the colour of intolerance towards personalities of other religions have been tainting society since a long time and many academics and civil society activists have been uneasy about it.”
In August last year, soon after the Narendra Modi government removed the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, two men affiliated to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan of Khadim Rizvi had struck the nine feet tall statue made of cold bronze with wooden rods, breaking one of its arms and damaging some other parts. In that incident, the attackers chanted slogans against the former ruler of Punjab while protesting against the Modi government’s decision.
Sikh historian and filmmaker Bobby Singh Bansal, through his London-based organisation, the S.K. Foundation, had funded the statue, and collaborated with the Walled City of Lahore Authority to install it with a gala event in June last year. The statue made by local artisans under the watch of the Fakir Khana Museum, shows the Maharaja sitting on a horse with a sword in hand.
After Saturday’s incident, Bansal told The Dawn, “There has been so much apathy and mistrust over the Partition that it has caused misinformation and misunderstanding between Muslims and Sikhs as well as other religions.” He said, “It is sad that people target a monument without knowing the facts.”
Ruing about how Sikh history has never been taught in Pakistan’s schools, he said the Sikh chapter is a link to Punjab’s identity both culturally and politically. “Ranjit Singh had employed more Muslims and Hindus in his court than people of any other religion – there were hardly any Sikh nobles in the darbar – Sikhs were usually sent to guard the frontiers…Ranjit Singh had repaired and restored many mosques and the Sunehri Masjid was given gold and a facelift after he evicted occupying troops from it. He never forcibly converted anyone to any faith and even married a Muslim woman, Gul Begum.”
The news report said the act of vandalism was condemned by many on social media. “A Twitter user wrote: So a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has again been vandalised for the second time in Lahore Fort. What’s different between those Pakistanis who support the act, and Modibhakts who call Aurangzeb, Alamgir and Tipur Sultan terrorists?”
Reacting to the news, Peter Jacob, Pakistan Minority Rights activist and chairperson of the People’s Commission for Minority Rights, called for a check into the “kind of intolerance that has seeped into society, which has also received impunity in public discourse.”