Lahore’s British-era hall on road to ruins


Lahore : The century-old Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore, which bore witness to the freedom struggle and valiant leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Surendranath Banerjee, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhagat Singh, is in a dilapidated condition now and has become a sanctuary for criminal activities.

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

Closed since 2009, the building has become a sanctuary for criminals. There are around 25 to 30 families living there, and there is also a printing press.

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

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

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.

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 in 1947, the famous hall reopened as 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.