Located near the University of Vetrinary and Animal Sciences on Rettigan Road, Bradlaugh Hall remained a symbol of revolution for the entire British India from 1900 till 1947. Charles Bradlaugh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Ajeet Singh, Bhagat Singh, and Jawaharlal Nehru all towering figures of their times have been associated with this hall. Rettigan road in the late 19th century was occupied by massive British bungalows forming the elite section of the town. Charles Bradlaugh, an English Parliamentarian and advocate of Indian freedom from the British yoke, had bought a piece of land here. Bradlaugh unlike his fellow British conservatives belonged to a different school of thought. He advocated that the Indian people should be allowed to choose their own fate. The British Government could not appreciate his sympathy for the Indians so they initially took the contract of laying down railway tracks from him and then ordered him to leave Indian land immediately. He bought a boat, stocked it with food and anchored the boat on the bank of Ravi. His contestation was that since he was not on Indian ‘land’ therefore he was not disobeying the State. He was eventually forced to leave. Back in England, he gathered together members of the civil society and the labor class to advocate for the cause of Indian freedom.
After the departure of Bradlaugh, Surinder Nath Banarjee, the then president of the Indian National Congress, inaugurated the hall on October 30, 1900 to serve as a place for higher education to students from all walks of life. Perhaps the greatest contribution to this hall came from Lala Lajpat Rai. As part of Gandhi's non-cooperation movement he founded the National College inside this Hall to impart quality education to those Indians who did not want to join British institutions. In 1928, when the Nationalists boycotted the Simon Commission, there were speeches organized here against it, hosted by Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, and Syed Atta ullah Shah Bukhari. Bhagat Singh joined the National College in 1922 and this is where he met Sukhdev and Yashpal, his future compatriots in the freedom struggle. He remained here until 1926 and his political bearings were marked by his stay here. During that juncture and even after that many plays and other cultural activities were organized here with the focus on Indian freedom. In the 1920, the famous Mohan Roy, founder of the All India Communist Party and member of the International Communist Manifesto gave a memorable speech here, exhorting people to stand up for their rights and fight the British Imperialism. Inder Kumar Gujral, a freedom fighter and former Prime Minister of India mentions of this hall in the most reminiscing tone. He says that this is where his political journey began, where they formed their first Student Union, where they heard the revolutionary speeches of Jawaharlal Nehru and poetry of Josh Miliabadi for the first time.
It is a pity that a Hall, which remained so close to the Independence of British India and a center of cultural activity for half a century, saw a complete turn of fate after the creation of Pakistan. For a little time after 1947 it was used to store food products after which till 1980s, it served as a steel mill. It reopened as a technical education centre, 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) took possession of the Hall claiming to be the legal owners of the property and since 2009 it has been closed.
What should have been preserved as the museum of political revolution in Lahore lies in shambles. The gloomier aspect is that not many people of the city today are aware of the political, cultural and social significance of the Bradlaugh Hall.
*Photo courtesy of Syed Yasir Usman.