Vandalised statue of Sikh ruler awaits fate Ranjit Singh’s sculpture has been damaged multiple times over the past thre
Increasing polarisation and nationalism has led to history being rewritten according to the perspectives of those who wield force or breed hateful sentiments; resultantly, freedom of speech and expression have both suffered and the latest affectee is the statute of Punjab’s first Sikh ruler. First erected three years ago on his 180th death anniversary, in front of Rani Jindan’s mansion in the Royal Fort, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s statue has since seen the ire of extremist groups who contend that the Sikh ruler was an enemy of Muslims. The bronze statue which depicts the Maharaja riding on an Arabian horse named Kaif Bihar, was built under the supervision of Faqir Saifuddin, Director of the Faqir Khana Museum. Saifuddin, while talking to The Express Tribune about the hate the statute has been subjected to, expressed his sorrow at the fact that we only look at our historical and cultural heritage through the lens of religion. “Non-Muslim heroes of the region are seen as villains. A similar attitude is found in India where those with Hindutva ideology have played a role in the development of India and have made the Muslim rulers seem evil in the minds of extremist Hindus.” The statue which took Saifuddin 8 months to build and was a gift by Bobby Singh Bansal, President of the UK’s SK Foundation, has been damaged three to four times in three years. “We have repaired the statue again and restored it to its former glory, but the Walled City Authority has not decided where to re-install the statue yet,” Saifuddin informed. Some fear that re-installing the statue will only result in it getting damaged again. When asked why the presence of a sculpture angers religious factions, Dr Muhammad Hameed, Head of the Department of Archeology, Punjab University, said that unfortunately we were not aware of our history and historical facts. “To date we have not been able to decide who our real heroes are. The foreigners, who constantly attacked India considering it as a golden bird, are our heroes or the local warriors and rulers, who resisted these foreign invaders, our heroes?” Dr Hameed further added that Islam teaches tolerance and we have to prove by our words and actions that Muslims respect all religions and harming the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh depicts otherwise. Dr Kalyan Singh Kalyan, Punjabi Professor at the Government College Lahore, concurring with Dr Hameed’s views said that it is incorrect to say that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a tyrant and he oppressed Muslims. “Unfortunately, we have been taught the history that was written by the British. The facts have been distorted and attempts have been made to prove that the people of different religions living in the region are enemies of each other,” Dr Kalyan regretted. Talking about the Sikh ruler’s reign, Dr Kalyan informed that the Maharaja was a secular ruler and his most important ministers included Muslims. “He attacked Lahore at the invitation of the Muslims in order to save them from the tyranny of the rulers who had occupied the city. Despite being a Sikh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh maintained Persian as the official language and all decisions regarding Muslims were made in accordance with Islamic law.” As Sikh pilgrims from all over the world frequent the country for religious rituals, the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee has appealed to the government to re-erect the statue. The Express Tribune contacted officials of the Walled City of Lahore Authority to inquire if they would listen to requests of the Sikh community but did not receive any responses. It is worth mentioning that a few months prior, officials of the Walled City of Lahore Authority had suggested that instead of installing the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in an open space, it should be installed inside the Sikh Gallery of the Royal Fort.