Debate on the image of Bhagat Singh

Chaman Lal, honorary advisor to the Bhagat Singh archives, says the painting bears little physical resemblance to the freedom fighter, opposes former minister MS Gill

Pheroz L. Vincent


New Delhi

Posted on 09.29.21, 01:30 AM

Archivist Chaman Lal, honorary advisor to the archives and the Bhagat Singh resource center here, lamented the use of an “unreal painting” of the freedom fighter to mark his 114th birthday on Tuesday.

However, former Union Minister and Chief Election Commissioner MS Gill insisted that the use of the turban image was ideal for celebrating Singh’s legacy, as the most known to the freedom fighter wearing a hat was only a disguise to escape arrest.

There are four known photographs of Singh, born in the village of Banga in western Punjab in 1907 – him aged 11, aged 17 in a turban at Lahore National College, in custody at the railway police station in Lahore. Lahore. in 1927 where we see him with his hair tied in a bun, his hair cut and wearing a hat. The last photo was clicked in photographer Sham Lal’s studio in 1929 before Singh bombed the Central Legislature.

However, the state governments of Punjab and Delhi used in advertisements commemorating Singh’s birthday a painting of him wearing a yellow turban. Lal said the painting bears little physical resemblance to Singh. It was attributed to artist Sobha Singh. Several other versions, including one in which Singh wields a gun, are widely used.

“Until the 1970s, the photo with the hat was the most popular. With the rise of identity politics in the 1970s, the image of the yellow turban was popularized as an affirmation of his Jat Sikh identity – something that Bhagat Singh himself never emphasized, ”Lal said.

“In fact, being from a congressional family, he and his relatives wore white turbans and khadi clothing, which was the hallmark of members of the national movement at the time. I don’t know why Congress is betraying its own heritage with its leaders now wearing the yellow turban in his memory, ”added the archivist.

The Bhagat Singh Archives and Resources Center, which operates under the Delhi government, released a brochure to officials on Monday containing three of the original photos. However, the governments of Punjab and Delhi both released ads on Tuesday with Singh’s portrait in a yellow turban.

The Punjab’s assembly elections are scheduled for next year and Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party has been promoting the yellow turban worn in the style of the painting with its MP Bhagwant Mann still wearing it in parliament. The PAA is a key player in Punjab, governed by Congress.

London-based Punjabi author Amarjit Chandan, also a specialist in Bhagat Singh iconography, said Congress Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh unveiled a statue of the freedom fighter wearing the hat to Khatkar Kalan – the ancestral village of Singh – in 1973. A now turbaned bronze statue stands on site, a change Chandan attributed to Gill who was the principal secretary to Akali Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal from 1978 to 1980.

Gill said he had no recollection of the 1973 statue or its replacement. He opposed the Youth Congress banners on Tuesday with the picture of the hat.

“Bhagat Singh is a hat that suits all heads, from the far left to the far right. His ties to the Arya Samaj and his revolutionary work are claimed by the right, his Marxist writings by the left, and his Sikh family heritage by the Sikh parties. An RSS man or a Khalistani may just ignore Why I Am an Atheist from Bhagat Singh (written to Lahore Central Prison before his execution in 1931), ”Chandan said.

He added: “The turban controversy is absurd. All the men in the Punjab – Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs – wore turbans before the partition.

Gill, who later became a congressman, was instrumental in establishing a museum in Khatkar Kalan in 1981 and in acquiring archival documents on the freedom fighter for the government of Punjab as an IAS officer.

He said he installed the first turbaned bronze statue of Singh on the Bhandari Bridge in Amritsar in 1979.

“Hell broke loose in the Punjab after the statue was unveiled. The press controlled by Arya Samaj began to shout, “How can a damn IAS officer play politics?” Of course, I was in politics…. ‘Ab Bhagat Singh ko pagdi baandh diya, jisko dum hai utaar ke dekho (I draped Bhagat Singh in a turban, whoever dares take it off)’ is what I said, ”said Gill.

He added, “Arya Samajis projected him as a hat-wearing Bollywood gunda. He was from a Jat Sikh Sandhu family who wore turbans. He is seen in photos with long hair and a turban. The hat was a disguise Netaji (Subhas Chandra) Bose escaped Kabul as a Pathan Is he honored as a Pathan?

Gill was also instrumental in soliciting support and installing the Singh statue in Parliament in 2008.

“It was mainly Sikhs who were sent to the cell prison and especially Sikhs who were hanged for the struggle for freedom. I asked (then Lok Sabha Speaker) Somnath Chatterjee, how come no Sikh has a statue here? “

The freedom fighter’s family complained that the turbaned statue, created by master sculptor Ram V. Sutar, in Parliament looked like a middle-aged man while Singh was hanged when he was not only 23 years old.

Lal pointed out that contemporary images of other Punjabi freedom fighters Udham Singh and Kartar Singh Sarabha often do not look like them as they are shown with beards. However, their photographs show them clean-shaven.

Singh’s nephew and scholar Jagmohan Singh chairs the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Centenary Foundation in Khatkar Kalan, which recently installed statues of Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar, who were executed for killing policeman John Saunders in 1928.

“These statues celebrate the centenary year of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, which was Bhagat Singh’s youth movement during which he wore a turban. Those who use either the hat image or the turban image should explain why they are doing it. Bhagat Singh was clear that his movement had to rise above the divisions of caste and religion and bring equality to society, ”said Jagmohan Singh.