At the time of India's Independence, no other Asian city had so many educational institutions as Lahore. Lahore occupied pride of a place in Punjab's history, but in 98 years of British rule over Punjab, it saw only one Indian deputy commissioner, Ram Parsad Singh Grewal, a.k.a. S Pertab.
A 1921-batch ICS officer of the Punjab cadre, Pertab had many firsts to his credit. He was also the first Indian deputy commissioner of Delhi and Shimla.
Pertab was the deputy commissioner of Lahore from April 20, 1933 to October 16, 1933 and again from May 5, 1934 to August 17, 1935. A native of Narangwal village of Ludhiana district, he was born on June 1, 1896 at Rewa in the present-day Madhya Pradesh, where his father Col Heera Singh was commander-in-chief of the Rewa state forces.
While doing his graduation from Khalsa College, Amritsar, he opted to serve in the British army as a jawan from 1914 to 1916. After his graduation, he went to Oxford for higher studies. He qualified for the Indian Railway Service and later in 1921 for the Indian Civil Service.
He was promoted provisionally as deputy commissioner in April 1928 and was posted first in Rohtak, and then in Delhi, Ferozepur and Lahore. He also served in Montgomery for three years and lastly in Shimla.
He died on June 16, 1939 after battling leukemia for two years when he was serving as DC in Shimla. His daughter Shiela was married to 1936-batch Indian police officer Kanwar Shamsher Singh of the Punjab cadre, who belonged to a prominent Hindu Jat family. Shamsher's father Rai Bahadur Lal Chand was one of the biggest landlords of Punjab. His elder brother Chaudhry Raghuvendra Singh was the founder of the DLF, a construction firm.
Many incidents from Pertab's life show the greatness in him. He is particularly known for his adroitness in restoring Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj in Lahore in the summer of 1934 to the SGPC. The case pertained to a dispute over the ownership of land near the Lahore railway station, where a gurdwara and a mosque were situated.
A full bench of the Lahore high court had ruled in favour of the gurdwara and ordered the demolition of the mosque. Muslim organisations had strongly opposed the judgment, which was followed by bandhs, 'hartals' and agitations all over Punjab, particularly in Lahore. Passions were running high and the atmosphere was tense. Some Muslim organisations had even warned the administration of bloodshed if it razed the mosque.
The then British governor of Punjab, Sir Herbert Emerson, told Pertab to take charge of the situation and directed SSP Denys Killburn to obey the district magistrate's orders. Emerson told Pertab that the Viceroy wanted the British army to be deployed in Punjab.
Fearing another Jallianwala Bagh in Lahore, Pertab told the governor that no army would be required. Unperturbed, Pertab contacted the Muslim elite of Lahore and told them "Look, you are much more conservative than the general run of the Sikhs and the Hindus; your ladies move out in 'burquas'. If Lahore is taken over by goondas, you and your womenfolk would suffer seriously." He got their approval for taking any necessary steps to maintain law and order.
He also told the governor that if there was any lack of confidence in him, he was ready to be
relieved, and the government could assume direct charge. Herbert asked, "If I take over here, Pertab, where would you go?" The ICS officer replied in his own style, "Sir, I would prefer the cool climate of Simla and a governor's job." Pertab got a free hand from the governor. He identified the ringleaders and directed the police to fire at their legs and no other place. The prodigious summer of June 1934 was no deterrent to the provoked sentiments of certain Muslim zealots.
They agitated, created ruckus and attacked the police with stones on the day the mosque was to be razed. He identified the ringleaders who were taking shelter behind women and children and ordered the SSP to fire at their legs. The police obsequiously obeyed the orders.
One ringleader was killed and a few others injured in the firing. The 50,000-strong mob ran helter-skelter. The mosque was finally razed and Gurdwara Shaheedganj handed over to the SGPC.
Pertab plausibly got much accolades for his sagacious and prudent handling of a vexatious and communally charged situation. The then Viceroy, the Earl of Willingdon, appreciated in writing the cogent implementation of the high court orders.
While in Ferozepur as DC on December 19, 1931, Pertab, along with a British SP, had chased and killed a dacoit and got a kidnapped girl restored to her family.
It will not be out of tune to mention that when Lord John Simon was to visit Delhi in October 1928, Pertab was shifted from Rohtak to Delhi as provisional DC to handle the visit and the massive demonstrations planned to oppose it. In the last week of October 1928 when Lord Simon arrived in Delhi, Pertab tackled the demonstrators firmly, wisely stopped them in the Sadar Bazaar area and personally took Lord Simon to the Viceroy's office.
It's one of the ifs and buts of history that had he been in Lahore during the Simon Commission's visit on October 30, the brutal lathicharge on Lala Lajpat Rai and its aftermath could have been avoided.
Wherever he was posted, Pertab opened parks, worked for the welfare of the downtrodden and got ladies clubs and hospitals opened. While posted as Shimla DC in 1938, he had passed orders that nobody would stand at the Ridge. When Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, the then premier of British Punjab, along with a few Unionist followers, stood there, Pertab had the guts to firmly tell him to move from there.
The illustrious ICS officer was cremated in his native village on June 17, 1939.
(The author, an IAS officer of the Punjab cadre)