Lahore’s British-era hall on road to ruins

Saturday, November 13, 2010

LAHORE - The Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore, which bore witness to the freedom struggle and valiant freedom fighters like Lala Lajpat Rai, Surendranath Banerjee, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Syed Attaullah Shah Bukhari, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhagat Singh, is in a dilapidated condition now.

The building which was a centre of cultural activity for over half a century, has now seen a complete turn of fate. What should have been preserved as a museum of political revolution in Lahore now lies in shambles, the Daily Times said in a feature.

Named after Charles Bradlaugh, a British parliamentarian, it was inaugurated in 1900 by Surendranath Banerjee, the then president of the Indian National Congress.

Charles Bradlaugh was a staunch supporter of the freedom movement.

Unlike his fellow British conservatives, Bradlaugh belonged to a different school of thought. He was one of the most famous atheists of his time who refused to take oath on the Bible when elected to parliament. He was also one of those parliamentarians who said Indians should be allowed to choose their own fate.

The British government could not appreciate his sympathy for Indians, and so they initially took away from him the contracts of laying down railway tracks. Later, it ordered him to leave the country.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to this hall came from Lala Lajpat Rai.

As part of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, he founded inside the hall the National College to impart quality education to Indians who did not want to join British institutions.

In 1928, when the nationalists boycotted the Simon Commission there were speeches organised here against it hosted by Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Syed Attaullah Shah Bukhari.

In 1920, Raja Rammohan Roy gave a speech in the hall, exhorting the people to stand up for their rights and fight British imperialism.

Former Indian prime minister and freedom fighter Inder Kumar Gujral described the hall in a different tone. He said this was where his political journey began, where he and others formed their first students’ union, and where they had heard the revolutionary speeches of Jawaharlal Nehru for the first time.

After Partition, the famous hall reopened as a technical education centre, called the Milli Technical Education Institute. However, because of a dispute between the directors, one of them took possession of the hall and rented it out to private academies.

Finally, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), claiming to be the legal owners of the property, took possession of the building and it has been closed since 2009.

The building has become a sanctuary for criminal activities. There are around 25 to 30 families living there, while at the same time there is also a printing press.

Now the issue of preserving the hall has been raised in the Punjab assembly, and the government asked to take concrete steps to preserve the asset.

Filed under: India

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