Monday, July 31, 2017

Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore, Pakistan


Bradlaugh Hall was built at the tail end of the 19th century along Lahore's Rattigan Road. It was established through the fundraising efforts of the Indian National Congress, which held its annual session in Lahore in 1893. Planning for that meeting had taken nearly five years, as the need for a dedicated space for political events in Lahore had long been acute. As early as 1888 a prominent newspaper publisher named Sardar Dyal Singh, was able to secure Lahore as the meeting place for the Indian association in 1893. Singh was elected chairman of the reception committee of the session, and ticket sales were sufficient to save Rs 10,000 after covering all expenses. This small sum became the nest egg enabling the construction of Bradlaugh Hall.

The name of the building honors Charles Bradlaugh, a British MP in the late Victorian era who was fond of India and outspoken in his belief in social justice. Mr. Bradlaugh visited India in 1889 and attended the 5th annual session of the Indian National Congress. In recognition for his activities, Surendar Nath Banerji--a senior leader of the Indian National Congress--installed the dedication plaque at Bradlahugh Hall on October 30, 1900.

Over the following decades the hall played host to a veritable "who's who" of advocates for the subcontinent, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 30's (see Aown Ali's article, below, for more detail). The building's golden years came to an end in 1946 when the Muslim League's majority in Pakistan meant that the the Indian National Congress could no longer meet here. The hall was then used as a storehouse for grain, a home for migrants from Amritsar, and a storehouse for ironworkers.

This interlude came to an end in 1956 when the hall and the surrounding neighborhood were flooded, making the hall useless as a warehouse and place of habitation. It was then handed over to the National Technical Institute ("Milli Techniki Idara'). Although the building was used by the school for several decades the institute closed down in the late 1990s. The management then rented the building out to teachers of nearby government schools and other short-term clients. Tragically, the partitioning and renting out of small portions of the hall to various tenants who had little understanding of the historical value of the property lead to widespread damage to the interior of the building. In its present state, the building is nearly a ruin, but enough of it is salvagable that a determined rehabilitation program could restore it to its rightful glory.

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