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"Is This How We Honour A Martyr?", Observes P&H HC While Granting Compensation To Legal Heirs Of Freedom Fighter Whose Land Was Confiscated By British Govt

Manu Sebastian
29 March 2019 6:44 AM GMT
Is This How We Honour A Martyr?, Observes P&H HC While Granting Compensation To Legal Heirs Of Freedom Fighter Whose Land Was Confiscated By British Govt
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"While on one hand, the Government of India is erecting National War Memorial, at the cost of rupee 150 crores to honour the martyrs of Indian Armed Forces, on the other the real plight of the family of a martyr, who only out of love for the motherland proudly gave his life for freedom of country, is reflected in the present case."
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"Is this how we honour and salute a Martyr who gave his life, at the prime of his youth at 26 years of age, for the independence struggle of our Nation?", the Punjab and Haryana High Court could not mince words while expressing anguish at the way the Government has been treating the legal heirs of Bakshish Singh, who was hanged to death by British Government in the 'First Lahore Conspiracy Case'.

The Court was dealing with the petition filed by grand children of Bakshish Singh for return of the piece of land which was confiscated by British Government in 1916 as punishment for the Lahore Conspiracy Case.

After independence, the daughter of Gurbachan Kaur filed representations seeking return of the 33 acres of land confiscated by British Government.  The Punjab Government sought to settle the claim by offering a paltry compensation of Rs.13,000 in 1988. After the death of Gurbachan Kaur, her children took up the cause. By letter dated October 10,2013, the Punjab Government rejected their claim, saying that they were already compensated in 1988.

In this backdrop, they approached the High Court.  Deeply moved by the plight of the petitioners, the Court observed :

"While on one hand, the Government of India is erecting National War Memorial, at the cost of rupee 150 crores to honour the martyrs of Indian Armed Forces, on the other the real plight of the family of a martyr, who only out of love for the motherland proudly gave his life for freedom of country, is reflected in the present case."

The single bench of Justice Arun Monga commented on the callousness of the state as follows: 

"The petitioners claim for return of their land has been declined by offering them a meager compensation of 13,000/- in year 1988, for 33 acres of land confiscated by British regime in the year 1916. What a homage! One must wonder, what a reverence shown by State, in appreciation and acknowledgment of the sacrifice of the Martyr!"

The First Lahore Conspiracy Case related to the attempts at the behest of Ghadar Party to initiate a pan-Indian mutiny in the British Indian Army in February 1915 to end the British Raj in India.  Bakshish Singh was one among the 82 individuals held guilty by a special court in Lahore for 'waging war against the King' with the intention to 'overthrow British Government in India'.

He was hanged to death on November 17, 1915. 

The Court held that the mere compensation of  Rs.13,000 did not absolve the Government of its obligation either to return/restore the land or to pay adequate compensation for the confiscated land of freedom fighter Bakshish Singh.

The Court also made references to earlier judgments which had directed that all such lands which have been confiscated before independence from persons who were engaged in the freedom struggle should be returned to them to their heirs/legal representatives. In the event of non-return, held the Division Bench, they have to be paid the market value of such land.

Therefore, the Court directed that the market value of the land, which was reckoned as Rs.25 Lakhs, should be paid by the Government to the legal heirs of the martyr. 

Justice Mongia narrated the brief history of the Lahore conspiracy case, and paid rich encomiums to the patriotic valour of those who were executed by the British Government.

"The death sentence did not overtake the love of the country in the heart of the condemned. While coming out of the Court, after hearing the death sentence, they are known to have sung songs from "Ghadar di Gunj" (a compilation of nationalist and socialist literature that was produced in the early stages of the Ghadar movement, published in the 'Ghadar' weekly) in sporting spirit", observed the Court. 

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