The ancestral home of Indian socialist revolutionary Shaheed Bhagat Singh has been the pride of Khatkar Kalan village in Nawanshahr for over a century now. But a few know that the house was built in 1858 by Bhagat Singh’s great-grandfather Fateh Singh, who named it as ‘Deewan Khana’, as he would hold a darbar at the house to impart justice to the people of his village. Besides, he used to encourage people and tell them that governments may come and go but their problems will find solutions if they earmark them jointly.
It is said that after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the East India Company officials started suppressing the people, so to protect themselves; people took arms in their hands. During the 1857 revolt, the British government requested Fateh Singh for help against the rebels, but he refused to oblige. “Since then, the house has been the epitome of great values and resistance to the colonial rule exhibited by the family”, said Prof Jagmohan Singh, Ludhiana-based nephew of Bhagat Singh.
Prof Singh said it was after a great struggle that he managed to get the house converted into a protected monument in the 1980s, as many then questioned the fact the house had a connection with Bhagat Singh, claiming that he never visited the place. The truth is though Bhagat Singh was born and brought up in Faisalabad (now in Pakistan), he used to visit the house regularly, along with his grandfather Arjan Singh. He had many fond childhood memories associated with the house, Prof Singh said.
Throwing light on his struggle to protect the house, Prof Jagmohan said: “While portraits of Bhagat Singh have made their way to the offices of politicians, especially those from Punjab, who make a beeline to Khatkar Kalan village on every birth or death anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s or during elections, the martyr gets effaced from their memories in a matter of days.”
A walk through the past
As per information it was till 1975, Bhagat Singh’s mother lived in this house. It was then in 1982, the house was declared a monument under the Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Site and Remains Act 1964. After the family handed it over the responsibility of Government to keep it as national monument. But the legendary freedom fighter’s house was relatively ignored for a long time. Sources say it was first in 2005 when the chappar (sewer pond) found at the front of Bhagat Singh’s house was converted into a memorial park but the structure of the house was not touched and one of its walls remained in a bad shape and paint on its lower walls worn away owing to dampness.
Prof Jagmohan Singh said, “The Department of Archives/Culture used to be mostly out of funds whenever they approached them for restoration. It was like we have to beg the government for grants even though the house’s upkeep should have been its job.” It was only in 2015, the department of cultural affairs, archaeology and museums for the first time started to restore the house since it was handed over to it in 1984 by the family. Before that, the local panchayat used to take care of the house. The house was restored at a cost of Rs 42 lakh by the state government, he added.
Sharing an old instance, Prof Jagmohan recalled that in 2017 when then Punjab tourism minister Navjot Singh Sidhu went to the village to take stock of the ongoing museum work at the village, he handed over a cheque of Rs 2.5 lakh from his ministerial funds to then deputy commissioner Sonali Giri, in favour of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) as the state government miserably failed to clear the power bills of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s house and of the memorial park. “Such was the plight of the house and ignorance of the state government”, he said.
The house now
It was in July 2015, the state government hired a Chandigarh-based private firm to carry out the restoration work at the house in a way that it could attract more and more visitors. The restoration work was completed in 2016 and the roofs, which were in a dilapidated condition earlier, were removed and replaced with new ones keeping the original form.
The walls of rooms, kitchen are now repaired with a special technique to strengthen them by restoring their historical value. The floors of the building were restored and its level has been raised. Old doors and windows are replaced with new ones. Special cabins for displaying the belongings of the martyr and his family have been made so that these are not damaged by visitors by touching them frequently. The house has got a complete facelift and is one of the most visited places in Punjab.
Message from Prof Jagmohan
“As the country remembering Bhagat Singh on his 90th death anniversary today, this year, let’s all pledge to bring the change he dreamt of and instead of holding rallies, political events, we follow his ideology in true spirits.
Taking the message from this house people should strengthen Gram Sabha. Bhagat Singh raised the slogans of Inquilab Zindabad and Samrajwaad Murdabad, but the country’s leaders and some parties were limiting his message and thus restricting his ideology”, he said.