Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar
Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar was born in 1874 in a Virk family in the village of Jhabbar, district Sheikhupur, Pakistan. He was the grandson of Sardar Mangal Singh, whom Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed Kumedan in his forces after compromise with the Jhabbars.1 Jhabbar’s early life was like that of any other spirited young man of rural agricultural family, whose passion was to look after their buffalo herds, take plenty of milk and butter, build muscles and take courageous and a firm stand for righteous causes.
Since early life, his demeanour and behaviour and his social environment were of superior nature. Bodily, he looked noble, was well built and appeared destined to play some great role in the future. Fear was foreign to his nature. All through his youth, he wore rural dress with a turban on his head and a Dang with iron knob, in his hand. He would neither indulge in light talk, nor let anyone do it in his presence. He would not bow before anybody.
During this period, his first meeting with Bhai Mool Singh Gurmula took place in 1904, when, along with his young companions, he listened to his speech at a conference in village Varan. He was so captivated with it, that wherever Bhai Gurmula delivered his lectures, Jhabbar would attend with his party. This was the period when the campaign for shudhi (i.e., conversion of Muslims and scheduled castes to Sikhism) had been launched. In such meetings, often there was commotion and strong opposition to the campaign for shudhi. At such moments, Jhabbar and his party proved useful. The more faith Jhabbar reposed in Bhai Gurmula, the more he began to be appreciated by the latter. Earlier, at an amrit ceremony at Nankana Sahib, Bhai Gurmula had declined to initiate Jhabbar for his undeserving appearance, but on his insistence, which Bhai Gurmula appreciated, Jhabbar was initiated. By and by Jhabbar had become Bhai Gurmula’s companion. Sometimes fighting seemed imminent just for Jhabbar’s over enthusiasm in such meetings. Therefore, Bhai Gurmula forbade him to speak anywhere when there could be a chance of a quarrel.
In the late autumn of 1904, a huge Shudhi conference was held in the village Kotli Dasu Singh, district Sialkot, Pakistan, with the efforts of missionary Sant Sarup Singh, in which Gurmat preacher Bhai Lall Singh Gujranwala, Sardar Tirath Singh Gharjakh, Bhai Takht Singh Ferozepur and Bhai Ganga Singh participated. This conference was held to convert and initiate the progeny of Sardar Ganda Singh from his Muslim wife. Bhai Mool Singh was speaking at the stage when a group of 50 to 60 Muslims attacked the audience. Two prominent Sikhs were seriously injured. The Muslims advanced towards Bhai Mool Singh shouting “Get that long bearded man”. Jhabbar was standing close by, but he was under vow not to speak whatever might happen. However, Jhabbar spoke out, “Bhai Sahib, now it is your turn to be assaulted”. Bhai Sahib observed, “what are you then waiting for?”. At this signal, Jhabbar snatched a lathi from one of this companions and hurriedly struck down several of the attackers. Frightened, they fled and the danger was averted. Sardar Tirath Singh Gharjakh witnessed this scene and began to cherish regard for Jhabbar.
The same year at the time of annual fair at Nankana Sahib, Sardar Tirath Singh summoned Jhabbar to Gujranwala through the would-be martyr Bhai Lachhman Singh and persuaded Jhabbar to join the Gharjakhar Vidyala and acquire Gurmat knowledge. Jhabbar joined this seminary in 1906 and learned Gurmat with faith and vigour until 1909. Thereafter, he adopted the life of a Gurmat missionary. On the suggestion of Sardar Lall Singh of Lahore, he shifted his residence there and began his missionary career.
One day he reached village Mudhoke Sham in the evening after getting down at Railway station Kahana. A group of about twenty young men were sitting at a central place. Jhabbar began his Gurmat lecture there. Soon a person came and announced that a prostitute’s party had arrived and their performance was about to start in the Dharamsal. All the young men left for the place at once. Jhabbar also followed and reached the Dharamsal. The party was getting ready for their performance. Jhabbar warned them that the place was a Gurdwara and that they must not perform there. There was silence for a while. Soon a villager asked Jhabbar who he was. Jhabbar replied that he was a Gurmat preacher and had come from Lahore for that purpose. The villager retorted that they were not interested in his preaching. The place belonged to them and they could do anything there, adding that he better leave the place or face the consequences. Jhabbar asked them to be sensible. They were Sikhs, and were having song and dance performed by prostitutes in the Gurdwara. Also, he warned the performers to leave the place. Another young man got up and said, “Let us get him … he is unnecessarily interfering”. Thereupon a few young men pushed Jhabbar out of the Dharamsal.
Jhabbar reached the nearby village Haloke where some Gursikhs resided. After publicity in the morning, there was an appreciable congregation which Jhabbar addressed. After preaching for about a week in the neighbouring villages, Jhabbar returned to Lahore. At village Bhojian, Jhabbar met a 15 year old Mohabat Singh, who after listening to Jhabbar, got interested, acquired Gurmat knowledge and became a Sikh preacher. For a long period, he remained in the services of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as a preacher. After initiation, he was named Ganga Singh, who later became known as Professor Ganga Singh. At that time there were only 19 members of the Lahore Singh Sabha. Neither there was any scheduled programme of the Sabha nor any weekly congregations. Except for the local meetings of the Kaniya Pathshala, there was no other Sikh religious institution in the whole of Lahore city.
Jhabbar began enrollment and in two months he listed 500 members of the Singh Sabha. Also he started weekly congregations in the Baoli Sahib Gurdwara. The Singh Sabha had already hired a room for a store there. Publicity for weekly meetings was made through newspapers and pamphlets, and Jhabbar used to address the audience in thousands.
Baldev Singh, son of Giani Dit Singh, whom Tika Sahib Ripudaman Singh of Nabha had sent to England to acquire higher education with a stipend, had returned to Lahore after completing his studies. The Lahore Singh Sabha decided to honour him, being the son of the legendary Sikh theologian, and appointed him Chairman of the Sabha. He decided that instead of sitting on the ground, the congregation should sit on benches and chairs, and some furniture was purchased. Jhabbar noted some benches in the hall. Jhabbar asked the audience not to sit on them as it involved disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib. But Dr. Baldev Singh informed Jhabbar that a resolution to this effect had already been passed by the Singh Sabha. Jhabbar retorted “President Sahib, you have completed your education in UK and the Singh Sabha members are mostly clerks in Government offices. You hardly understand what Gurmat is.” The President replied, “We had committed no act of apostasy, as according to tradition, Sangat was considered equivalent to the Guru”. Jhabbar replied, “Such traditions were concocted under Western influences for selfish purposes. Otherwise, some Singh Sabha may pass resolution against observances of the 5Ks and even amrit initiation. What would be the end result? Nobody has the authority to undo the moral code prescribed by the holy Gurus.” In this manner, the exchange of views continued for an hour, and eventually it was decided that the benches be removed from the hall.
Jhabbar remained at Lahore for seven years, doing the Gurmat missionary work honorarily. In fact, he did Panthic sewa all through his life as such. Although he resided at Lahore, he travelled throughout Punjab for preaching Gurmat on invitation. He constituted the “Khalsa Diwan Khara Sauda Bar” in 1912 and remained associated with it all his life. Although this organization was linked to Gurdwara Khara Sauda and most of its members were from the local Virk families, yet under the leadership of Jathedar Jhabbar, the monumental Panthic services which this organization performed throughout Punjab, would be described in the following pages.
This period was devoted for the spread of education among the Sikhs. Under the guidance of the Education Committee of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, new schools were being opened. In 1913, Bhai Mool Singh Gurmula purchased 13 kanals of land in village Bhanaur close to Gurdwara Khara Sauda, and constructed a school building. In 1917, Jhabbar opened a Middle School in this building. The school functioned there for one year. Close to this site was sanctioned and established the Mandi Chuhar Kana. Residents of the Mandi persuaded Jhabbar to take the school there and promised to provide funds. Accordingly, Jhabbar started the school there in 1918 which functioned smoothly under the management of Jhabbar and a committee constituted by the Mandi administration.
In April 1919, Jhabbar with a school teacher Bhai Arjan Singh, came to Lahore to purchase text books for the new classes. During those days, his passion of life was to spread Gurmat knowledge among young students through Khalsa schools. But hardly could anyone imagine, how vast his sphere of activity would spread, and what trials he would soon go through when he would perform the noblest deeds of his life.
The movement which made Jhabbar prominent and which catapulted him from preacher to Sikh leadership, rather to the position of Panthic Generalship, needs to be explained, so that his life story is succinctly brought home to the masses. Before it is recorded, it is necessary to relate some details of that movement.
Movements which Awakened the Sikhs
After the demise of Guru Gobind Singh, Gurmat preaching almost came to an end. On the termination of the tumultuous warfare period of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, his capture and massacre along with eight hundred companions at Delhi, in 1716 A.D., the genocide of the Sikhs by the Government of the day and their seeking safety in jungles, were such dreadful episodes which, not to speak of preaching Gurmat fear from, even the word ‘Sikh’ excited fear of massacre. Even such holy places as Sri Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar, were reduced to rubble. If any Sikh religious places still existed, these remained under the management of the Udasi Sadhus. Because of, the Government, they called themselves Hindus. Thus, these Gurdwaras ceased to be places for Sikh worship. If any Sikh happened to come there because of his true faith, that too could be only for a short while. There was hardly any chance for Sikhs to preserve their Rehat Maryada in their Gurdwaras. If the Sikhs ever happened to get together, the opportunity was availed of for adopting security measures or to examine the ways how to punish the enemy. In such abnormal circumstances, deliberations among the Sikhs were few and far between. Thus it was impossible to think of ways and means for the improvement or spread of the Sikh religion.
When the Sikhs after forming themselves into different Misls appeared in the Punjab, they engaged themselves more in strengthening their respective Misls politically and in liquidating the Mughal and Afghan forces, rather than taking up steps to improve the religious services in the Gurdwaras. Later the Misl Sardars clashed among themselves. During this period of about a century of Sikh ascendancy 1765-1849, the Sikh Rehat Maryada suffered severe setbacks. Although, a strong Sikh political regime had come into being, it remained a barren period so far as Gurmat preaching or improvement in religious services in Gurdwaras was concerned. This can better be called the sword wielding era of the Sikhs.
During the beginning of nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh laid the foundation of his state on the west of river Sutlej, and on its south were formed the Phulkian states which were under the British influence. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s whole life was spent first in consolidating his empire and later in confrontation with the Afghans in the northwest. However, he paid considerable attention in establishing and constructing new buildings for historical Gurdwaras, but could do little in improving their management and the ongoing religious practices in them. Even if he ever made an attempt in this respect, he could not have succeeded, for, a century long non-Sikh practices in Gurdwaras had entered deep into the Sikh psyche. A person of Maharajas’s inclinations, always busy extending and strengthening his empire, could not have brought about the needed religious reforms in the Gurdwaras which remained under the control of Udasi Sadhus with Hindu inclinations.
After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s demise in 1839, there was chaos in the Punjab administration which the legendary Shah Mohammad thus described being an eye witness to this scenario, “whoever occupied the throne was butchered and they treated the saints and religious elders likewise”. No religious preaching could be possible during such circumstances. In 1849, Punjab became British territory. They were so hostile to the Sikhs that under no circumstances could they tolerate any improvement in their religious services, for, it was faith from which they obtained their vigour and basic characteristics.
By that time the Sikh social customs, manners and moral code had become like those of the Hindus. Their ceremonies from birth to death were performed according to Hindu tradition. The Sikhs had forgotten the simple ways of life which the Gurus had laid down for them, and were again adopting the rituals from which they were saved. This resulted into some Sikh families of note turning away from Sikhism. For instance, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s former General Jowand Singh Mokhal’s whole family embraced Islam. From amongst Beharwala Sikh family, Sardar Isher Singh became Muslim under the influence of a prostitute. Sardar Harnam Singh of Kapurthala royal family turned Christian. Sardar Dayal Singh Majithia adopted Brahmo Samaj sect, donating his multimillion worth of property to run Dayal Singh College, Dayal Singh Library and the Daily Tribune. In the same way, Sardar Mangal Singh Virk of Bhikhi and Sardar Charahat Singh of Barhar, big landlords, forsake Sikhism for Muslim women.
Dr. Ganda Singh in his “Kookian Di Vithia” (pp 13-14) records about the indifference towards Sikhism and the ways and means to restore it to its original purity, “Some God oriented Sikh saints at different places began criticizing the new trend of discarding and indifference towards Sikh religion. They started persuading people to grasp Sikh values so that the Sikh barons become public saviours rather than tyrants like the Mughal and Afghan officials”.
In the Malwa region there were Nirmala Sikhs. At Anand Pur Sahib resided Baba Nayana Singh Nihang, among whose progeny was Baba Phoola Singh Nihang. Baba Jujhar Singh of Dera Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, persuaded the Majha Sikhs to hold to Sikhism in its pristine form. Baba Sahib Singh Bedi exercised great influence on the Sikh nobles and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In the west, the Adan Shahi Saints had great influence. Likewise, Sikh preaching was begun in Chhachh Hazara region of Pothhar, where a prominent centre was established at Hazro and where saintly Bhagat Jawahar Mal was a model of Sikhism who attracted people to this religion. Bhai Balak Singh, the most prominent Sikh saint, was from this centre, whose followers ultimately proved the forerunners of the present day Namdharis or the Kookas.
In the same way, the Nirankari Movement, which had its beginning earlier than the Namdharis was founded by Baba Dayal Singh during the last decade of the eighteenth century. His maternal grandfather Bhai Vasakha Singh had lived at Anandpur Sahib at the time of Guru Gobind Singh, which influenced Bhai Dayal Singh’s life. Both Bhai Dayal Singh and Bhai Balak Singh greatly criticized the Hindu rituals which had been again adopted by the Sikhs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh paid his respects to Bhai Sahib during his campaign of Peshawar in 1823 and sanctioned an extensive Jagir for the seminary. After Bhai Dayal Singh, his son Bhai Darbara Singh, also made it a mission of his life to preach and spread the Sikh faith. Once he visited Amritsar and went to pay respects to Baba Bikram Singh Bedi, Jathedar Sri Akal Takht Sahib. He offered sweets by way of Prasad and Rs 5 in cash. On that day the Pujaris of Harmandar Sahib had decorated the entire complex, for they were engaged in sending the earthly remains of the late Head Granthi to Hardwar for immersion in the Ganges. Bhai Darbara Singh greatly resented this and observed that according to Gurbani, Ram Das Sarowar Nate, Subh Uttre Pap Kamate. Head Granthi Jasa Singh was a life long preacher at Harmandar Sahib. Was he not blessed by the Guru, that his remains were being sent to Hardwar? Is this in accordance with Gurbani?” The Jathedar replied, “We are feeling helpless. It is just in keeping with the public view.” Bhai Darbara Singh was greatly agitated at heart. He put Rs 5/0 in the Golak and went away.
In this way the devout Gursikhs continued preaching the Sikh gospel as far as they could. But as there were no institutional arrangements for spread of Gurbani, Hindu rituals were being adopted by the Sikhs. Besides, many zealots of other religious institutions like Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Deva Samaj, followers of Mirza Qadian and the Christian missionaries, were establishing their preaching centres and making inroads into Sikhism. Christianity was preached among students by opening Government high schools in places like Amritsar. In the summer of 1873, four Sikh students, Aya Singh, Attar Singh, Sadhu Singh and Santokh Singh, got ready to have their hair shorn at the instance of school authorities. This created a stir in the city which saved the Sikh boys from committing apostasy.
During this period, Pandit Sharda Ram, a preacher of Phillaur, who used to hold congregations in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, used derogatory remarks against Guru Nanak which awakened the Sikhs. Such incidents were happening in routine, which made the Sikhs to sit up and devise means to stem these assaults on their identity. During July 1873, a gathering of prominent Sikh elders such as Baba Khem Singh Bedi, Kanwar Bikram Singh of Kapurthala, a descendant of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, took place in Amritsar. The first Singh Sabha was established at Amritsar as a result of its deliberations and Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia was appointed its President. This was the first Sikh institution which took up the Sikh missionary work in its hands. Then, another devout Sikh young man Bhai Gurmukh Singh, who under no circumstances could see Gurmat principles eroded, came on the scene. His father, Bhai Wasawa Singh, a small farmer of Akal Garh, Gujranwala, and being poor had served in the kitchen of Maharaja Sher Singh. Later, he served in the household of Maharaja Nihal Singh of Kapurthala, and lastly, was a cook in the house of Kanwar Bikram Singh. Here, a son Gurmukh Singh was born. Kanwar Bikram Singh was very indulgent towards this child. He got him educated at Kapurthala. He later graduated at Lahore. The Kanwar wanted him to join law college. But his devotion to Sikhism, which he had acquired from Kanwar Bikram Singh, stood in his way of going in for law. He was a fine artist. During his student days, he drew the portrait of a senior university official. The latter was so pleased with the drawing that he arranged for his admission to the Engineering College. But Gurmukh Singh’s inherent inclination to study the Sikh religion did not let him join there either. In 1877, Gurmukh Singh was appointed Professor in the newly established Oriental College at Lahore. Through his efforts, arrangements for higher studies in Punjabi language were made in this college.
Since his early life Gurmukh Singh was a companion of Kanwar Bikram Singh. Often, he accompanied him to attend Panthic gatherings and Singh Sabha meetings which stimulated his yearning for Gurmat preaching.
In 1885 Bhai Gurmukh Singh started Khalsa Akhbar in Punjabi at Lahore and Giani Dit Singh was appointed its editor. Giani Dit Singh was also from an ordinary Ramdasia family. He was earlier Arya Samaj preacher known as Dit Ram. Jawahar Singh, head clerk railway office, was secretary Arya Samaj in those days. Both of them renounced Arya Samaj and joined Sikhism under the influence of Bhai Gurmukh Singh. They joined as members of Lahore Singh Sabha founded by Bhai Gurmukh Singh in 1878 and did Gurmat preaching.
Differences had cropped up in the Amritsar Singh Sabha on the point of Baba Khem Singh Bedi sitting with a cushion in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Kanwar Bikram Singh and Bhai Gurmukh Singh objected to this practice. This led to opposition against Bhai Gurmukh Singh. During this period, Maharaja Faridkot arranged translation of Guru Granth Sahib by Mahant Sumer Singh of Patna Sahib. The Mahant would interpret Gurbani in the hall. On hearing Gurbani explanation, Bhai Gurmukh Singh found it based on pristine Hindu tradition which was against Gurmat and requested the Maharaja not to have it done by the Mahant, for he found the latter incapable of understanding Gurbani. This also became known to other members of the Singh Sabha which excited greater opposition to Bhai Gurmukh Singh.
These two incidents spread dislike for him within the Sant Samaj. Therefore, they boycotted social contact with him. Thereafter Bhai Gurmukh Singh went to stay with Kanwar Bikram Singh at Jalandhar. Bhai Dit Singh reported these incidents in the Khalsa Akhbar and exposed the anti Gurmat elements among the Sikhs. He even released a book and contradicted views expressed by Baba Khem Singh Bedi and the like minded people. Giani Dit Singh was charged on this count. A fine of Rs 50 was imposed upon him which was set aside in appeal. Thereupon Professor Gurmukh Singh returned to Lahore and along with Giani Dit Singh began Gurmat preaching with greater vigour and energy.
During this period the Arya Samaj preaching was at its peak by its founder. He often visited Punjab. He had compiled Satyarath Parkash Granth and had criticized founders of all other faiths including Guru Nanak in the fourteenth chapter. The Sikhs greatly resented this. Public discussions on religious issues were then in vogue. Giani Dit Singh who was earlier an Arya Samaj preacher, challenged Swami Daya Nand, founder of the Arya Samaj, to prove his writings and other statements. Accordingly, there was a public discussion thrice between the two. On every occasion, Swami Daya Nand could not answer the questions of Giani Dit Singh and stood speechless. Giani Dit Singh published the entire discussion in question and answer form in a book titled “Mera Te Swamy Daya Nand Da Sambad”. Giani Dit Singh also published some more works like “Durga Parbodh” and “Nakli Sikh Parbodh” and exposed anti-Sikh writings and sayings and preached Gurmat extensively.
Professor Gurmukh Singh had influence with British officialdom. He used his contacts to open the Khalsa College, Amritsar. The Singh Sabhas Amritsar and Lahore had earlier differences whether to open the College at Amritsar or Lahore, but finally the choice fell on Amritsar. In 1892, its foundation was laid and a College Council was constituted. Professor Gurmukh Singh took great pains in starting the college. He expired at Kanda Ghat in 1898, where he had gone to collect donations for the College from Maharaja Dhaul Pur, who was camping at this hill Station. Giani Dit Singh also expired three years later in 1901. He served the Panth through Khalsa Akbar till the last. In this manner these two Gursikhs, born to ordinary families, served the Panth throughout their lives by preaching and living Gurmat and left their foot prints on the golden pages of history.
With the demise of these two Gursikhs, Panthic activities received a set back. But according to Gurbani, “he whose task it was accomplished it, what is poor man?” Another set of devout Sikhs, Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia, a member of the Khalsa College Council, his life long friend and companion in Panthic activities, Sardar Harbans Singh Attari, and the legendary theologian Bhai Vir Singh appeared on the scene and engaged themselves in this task. Later Bhai Jodh Singh joined them. They not only made the College run smoothly by 1901, but also established a sound institution. “Chief Khalsa Diwan” with Sardar Arjan Singh Bagrian as President and Sardar Sunder Singh as Secretary. In consultation with the Governor of Punjab, they organized a grand Darbar at the College premises in which all the Sikh Maharajas, nobles and sardars participated. Sardar Sunder Singh made a passionate appeal for donations. Maharaja Hira Singh of Nabha was the first to make a handsome offer and later all the rest followed generously. Instantly many lakhs were collected. In the same year, the Punjab Government charged one anna per rupee extra with the land revenue from all the Sikh land owners and paid it to the college management. In this way, the present magnificent college building came into being.
Establishment of a Gurmat institution as the “Chief Khalsa Diwan” and founding of an educational centre as the Khalsa College was tantamount to laying firm foundation of Gurmat preaching and spread of knowledge. Soon thereafter, with the efforts of Bhai Gulab Singh and under the aegis of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, a Sikh Educational Committee was formed. The first ever Sikh Educational Conference was held at Gujranwala in April 1909 during the Easter holidays. The first positive result appeared in the form of three educated young men, Master Tara Singh, Master Sunder Singh of Layall Pur, and Master Bishan Singh vowing to dedicate their lives for the spread of education among the Sikhs. They promised to open a high school at Layall Pur on a meager remuneration of taking meals in the Guru Ka Langar, which they did admirably. This institution in the Sandal Bar soon flourished into a magnificent centre of Sikh advancement.
Now every year a Sikh educational conference was held and funds raised. This made opening of new schools possible. In this way a large number of Khalsa schools were opened throughout Punjab where elementary Gurmat knowledge was also imparted from the beginning. This resulted in a higher percentage of educated Sikh youth as compared to other communities. Besides, Punjabi language and the Gurmukhi script so far neglected by the Punjab Government and ignored by the prevalent social scenario, began to come into its own.
In addition, under patronage of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, large number of Singh Sabhas came into being enabling all forward looking Sikhs to become part of a single enlightened establishment. Although some Hindus and some Sikh centres under their influence continued opposition to the Singh Sabhas, yet these Sabhas resulted into a torrent which washed away every form of resistance and became a stepping stone for a still greater “Akali Movement”.
Government’s Vicious Policy and the
Birth of the Akali Movement
Although the main advantage of the Akali agitation was Gurdwara reforms, yet it is a fact that this movement had an element of anti-government struggle as well. How much undesirable Government deemed Gurdwaras going into Panthic hands, is clear from the following letter dated August 8, 1881, from the Punjab Governor, Mr. R. E. Egerton to the Viceroy of India, Lord Ripon.
“My dear Lord Ripon,
I think it would be politically dangerous to allow the management of Sikh temples to fall into the hands of a Committee emancipated from Government Control, and I trust your Excellency will assist to pass such orders in the case as will enable to continue the system which has worked out successfully for more than thirty years.”
Simla 8 August, 1881
The Government of India firmly believed that the Sikhs were the only potential adversaries in India. Although the glorious era of Sikh rule had still not gone out of their psyche, yet it was the strength of their faith in Guru Granth Sahib, placed in their Gurdwaras, which always kept them in high spirits. Their history and astonishing tales of martyrs proved this again and again. The British were wise statesmen. They took measures to keep them deficient in all these three spheres. The writings of the British, the non-Sikhs and some of the Sikhs of this period, prove how they endeavoured to obscure history and Sikh tradition. They managed to start controversies regarding authenticity of Sri Guru Granth Sahib by raking up discussions regarding the desirability of retention of Bhagat Bani or Rag Mala etc in the holy Granth. Sri Harmandar Sahib and the entire complex were managed by the Government appointed Sarbrahs since the advent of the British rule in Punjab. The remaining Gurdwaras were looked after by the Udasi Mahants where introduction of Hindu practices was natural, and these Mahants were being used as tools. In spite of all this, Government was still not satisfied with this state of affairs, which one incident narated by some Sikh elders, clearly proves. However, I would request historians to further probe it. The Government of India once devised a plan to sell or mortgage Sri Harmandar Sahib, including Sri Akal Takht Sahib to some non-Sikh, so that under the law of ownership and possession, the Sikhs would be permanently deprived of these holy shrines. This was deliberately leaked out to gauge the Sikh reaction. Sardar Mangal Singh, Sarbrah, came to know of this. Despite being a pro-government person, the mischievous news left him distraught. Along with some Sikh respectables, he met the Punjab Lt. Governor and enquired about the truth of this news. Although the Governor did not tell them anything specific, but his demeanour and his suggestion to enquire it from the Viceroy, further convinced them about this secret plan.
The Viceroy was to hold his Darbar in the Gobind Garh fort Amritsar. Soon Sardar Mangal Singh and a Sikh deputation met the Viceroy there. They became extremely worried when they heard the Viceroy tell them that the British were lawfully entitled to own, manage or even dispose of all properties previously owned or managed by the Sikh regime, as the Government deemed fit. They came out of the fort and sat in a nearby Gurdwara. As they found themselves incapable of standing against the Government, they decided that an Akhand Path be organized in the Harmandar Sahib and Ardas offered to the Guru to help save the dignity of the holy shrine.
Next day the Sikh Sangat reached Harmandar Sahib in the early morning. An intelligence official was following them since their meeting with the Viceroy. He too reached the holy shrine. According to tradition, recitation of Asa Di Var began. Thousands of Sikhs were enjoying the Kirtan when at 4:30 a.m., there was a sudden flash inside the temple. A round blaze of light entered the northern door of Harmandar Sahib, halted for a while in front of Guru Granth Sahib, went out through the southern door and disappeared passing over the holy tank. This miracle touched the innermost cords of the Sangat and everyone began reciting “Great is Gur Ram Das, Great is Guru Ram Das”. This happened on April 30, 1877. Even the intelligence official was so impressed with the incident that he advised the Government not to proceed with the intended measure. There was a lot of publicity about this. The Government sent for Sardar Mangal Singh, Sarbrah, and some other Sikhs and advised them to arrange Akhand Path and serve food to the poor. Besides, a 4 feet x 2 ½ feet metallic board with an entry explaining the entire incident of April 30 in English, with a holy verse in praise of Guru Ram Das, inscribed thereon and linking it with the glorious empire of Queen Victoria, was signed “B.K.” and was hung in the main entrance gate to the temple.2
Although this incident needs further probe, yet it leads to the conclusion that the Government was opposed to Gurdwaras managmeent passing into the hands of the Panthic leadership, for they deemed the Reform Movement as anti- Government.
M. K. Gandhi’s telegram to Baba Kharak Singh on the successful conclusion of “Keys Morcha” that the “First decisive battle of India’s freedom won. Congratulations” shows that Akali Movement was generally taken as anti-government rather than being only religious one.
The radical Sikhs have always claimed that in Sikhism religion and politics are inseparable. The British Indian Government always advised the Sikhs to keep them apart. On this issue the Government was able to create dissension amongst the Sikh people. Yet, whenever a question of honour and respect for their institutions was involved, they always faced the challenge jointly. As such, it would be a folly to consider the Akali Movement as merely a result of their preaching Gurmat or spread of education. No doubt, Gurmat preaching, formation of Singh Sabhas, the Sikh educational conferences and opening of schools and colleges did contribute towards the organization of the Akali Movement, yet it was the political consciousness among the Sikhs which was primarily responsible for it. Before we explain the beginning of the Akali Movement, it would be appropriate to briefly record some episodes which gave impetus to this movement.
The Ghadarite Movement and
Koma Gata Maru
First of all Bhai Bhan Singh of Daska (Pakistan) comes to mind. He studied Gurmat in the Gharjakh Vidyala. In 1907 he went to the USA. An insignificant incident touched his inner chords and started “Ghadar Di Goonj”. A Caucasian had described Indians as bearded women being slaves to the British. The paper was published in Canada and sent to India in thousands. It was distributed to young students in the Punjab. Its subject matter and its impact on the readers can be judged from the following poem:
Plant the Flag of Rebellion
Eliminate the oppressor and render their women widows,
There are forty million of them only,
Indians are three hundred and thirty million there,
Only one comes to the share of eight
Eliminate the vicious ruler and render their women widows,
Awake O Indians, you are being annihilated,
You suffer unbearable heat in summer and cold in winter,
We are being starved and unable to pay land revenue
We had our own judiciary and abundance of milk and animals
Now our food is the barest minimum,
Awake O Indians, you are being annihilated.
Simultaneously, there appeared on the Punjab landscape a uniquely dedicated son of the soil who inspired the injured psyche of the Punjab peasant in the fertile lands of Sandal Bar. Impressed by him, the lyrical Bankey Dyal had echoed, “Pagri Sambhal Jatta” (O peasant, save thy honour). This was the first call to the aggrieved owners of these vast lands to make them conscious of the dangers ahead. But this legendary hero, Sardar Ajit Singh,3 unmindful of the consequences, as it were, remained an exile for whole of his life, but he gave a loud call for the country’s independence.
The British were averse to any such movement which could create freedom consciousness among the Indians. They designed ways and means so that Indians could not travel to foreign lands. With this in view, the Canadian Government enacted laws that no Indian could go to Canada through other regions. But a ship could go from India direct to Canada. As there were no Indian ships available, this legal pre-condition was laid in accordance with the policy of Indian Government. But the patriots could find ways to meet such legal hurdles. A noble knight of Majha region rented the Koma Gata Maru, a Japanese steamer. It was christened Guru Nanak ship which would sail direct to Canada. Wide publicity was made for this purpose. Many Sikhs thronged to get a seat in it, some even by mortgaging household goods. In short, the Koma Gata Maru set sail for Canada on April 4, 1914, from Hong Kong.
Soon the ship covered the long sea route and reached near Canadian shores. Still some distance away from the harbour, the Canadian authorities obstructed its path. The Sikh Canadian immigrants and others took counsel among themselves and were convinced that according to the law, the ship could not be denied entry. They filed a civil suit against the Canadian Government in a court of law. The inmates of the ship had to stay there till the decision of the court. But Justice could not be expected where the Government was party to the suit. The court gave an adverse ruling and the ship resumed its course back to India.
Compelled by circumstances, the ship returned with its passengers in depressed spirits. It was hard to fathom the intensity of their grief. This incident turned them into rebels and they resolved to throw the British out of India. They purchased fire arms in Japan during the return voyage. In the meantime, the first World War broke out which they learned from Emdon, a German steamer which they crossed.
Back home, the Government applied stringent preventive measures against the hostile passengers. The steamer was still in the mouth of Hugli River, when Captain Sukha Singh of Indian Police, along with his staff and other officers, entered the ship under Government orders, and search of passengers began. The Japanese workers in the ship showed sympathy and dumped the illegal fire arms in the coal wagon. As such, Captain Sukha Singh could not find anything incriminating.
On the forenoon of September 29, the ship arrived at Baj Baj harbour. British officers, army and police were present. There were 321 passengers in all, 17 Muslims, and the remaining Sikhs and all from Punjab. The Government wanted to take them to their homes so that they do not spread dissatisfaction in Calcutta or other places. It is not known how the Government intended to treat them after they reached their homes. A special train was ready at the harbour to take them to Punjab. They were ordered to embark the train. Fifty nine passengers including the 17 Muslims complied. The remaining 262, accompanied by Guru Granth Sahib, began moving towards Calcutta. They were prevented to proceed further. A British officer misbehaved with Baba Gurdit Singh. This resulted in a scuffle, when Baba Gurdit Singh received a body blow from that officer. The deeply aggrieved Sikh passengers could not pocket insult to their leader when a young man fired from his pistol and left the officer dead with several others wounded. The crowd which had assembled, ran hither and thither. On the other hand, the British army contingent began shooting the passengers. Soon a good number of passengers were massacred. By then it was dark and many escaped. Majority of passengers were arrested by the army and police. However, Baba Gurdit Singh with several companions escaped. The Government constituted a Commission of enquiry comprising three British officers, a ruling prince of Bengal and Sir Daljeet Singh of Punjab to hold the enquiry. They submitted its report to the Government of Indian on December 3, 1916, saying that 20 passengers, 4 British officers, and 2 others were killed. Twenty two passengers, six Britishers and five policemen were injured. (These facts were related by a Koma Gata Maru passenger, wrestler Bishan Singh, nephew of Baba Vaisakha Singh).
Sixteen year old Harnam Kaur described the tragic scene of Baj Baj in a poem which was published in the “Khalsa Sewak,” which invited punishment of confiscation of surety amount of Rs 2000/- and closure of the paper.
O countrymen we travellers have been done to death,
We are leaving empty handed
Neither coffin nor a piece of wood,
Nor anyone shed a tear for us
O countrymen, we travellers have been done to death.
Although the Government took several measures to condemn this incident,4 yet this was not to be. This incident ignited a spirit of revenge among the Guru’s initiated Sikhs of Punjab. The Koma Gata Maru passengers reached their villages, resolved to turn the British out of India and began preparations for it. An underground construction was built in village Dadehar near Taran Taran which was actually a bomb manufacturing factory. Contacts were established with revolutionaries from Calcutta to Peshawar.
The news about the Koma Gata Maru episode reached the North American immigrants who were already feeling greatly agitated at the Canadian government’s policy of discrimination. It flashed a wave of hatred against the British. They decided to quit the country and help Indian revolutionaries back home, get independence and take revenge through blood and arson. These patriots travelled home in Tosha Maru ship. They reached India and went to their villages. Although these passengers travelled in two different ships, but their sentiments, plan of action and final target were the same. They fixed February 21, 1915, as the day of revolution and massacre of the rulers throughout India in military cantonments and other towns. The Dadehar village revolutionaries were to act in Lahore, Sant Randhir Singh and his companions were to tackle Ferozepur. In this manner, detailed programme was chalked out.
A private room was hired inside Mochi Gate at Lahore where a member of the Dadehar group took up his residence. Bhai Wasakha Singh of village Gilwali and Bhai Kala Singh reached this place with boxes full of bombs a few days before the date of action. But fate played its celebrated trick. Kirpal Singh of village Madoke Brar was a member of Dadehar group and was in the know of carrying the bombs and its placement in Lahore. As soon as the materials reached its destination, Kirpal Singh informed the police, who raided the site and arrested the revolutionaries. Bhai Randhir Singh was arrested in a Gurdwara in Ferozepur. Many other places were raided and the revolutionaries were arrested. After the blood soaked Baj Baj episode, the second attempt at independence by the Punjab heroes also failed.
The Government was taking all possible measures against political activities. But this episode set in motion yet another wave of brutalities against the Koma Gata Maru and Tosha Maru passengers. Out of those arrested 75, were given death sentence. They were lodged in different jails of Punjab. Arrangements for simultaneous hanging of 75 persons were not available. Therefore, along with one gallow three more in each jail were installed.
Kanwar Harnam Singh of Kapurthala sought interview with the Viceroy and impressed upon him the desirability of not hanging 75 persons, for it would be a grave injustice besides bringing bad name to the British among foreign governments. The Viceroy concurred with his views and ordered life imprisonment instead of the death sentence for 50 convicts, while the remaining 25 were hanged. Among them was the legendary nineteen years old Kartar Singh Sarabha of Ludhiana who had travelled home in the Tosha Maru ship.
The intensity of gloom that these convictions cast on the minds of people of Punjab, particularly the Sikhs, cannot be appreciated by the present generation. Not only those horrendous happenings could not be published, it was not even considered safe to talk about them inside the houses. The intelligence net was so thoroughly cast, that no institution could claim immunity from its operations. But the sacrifices made for the country’s independence seldom go waste and these bear fruit sooner or later. The heroic deeds of these noble knights and the hardships they went through entered the psyche of the people, which within four years laid the foundation for further struggle for independence. The vigour and tenacity of the Punjab patriots, coupled with their future sacrifices during the year 1919, proved landmarks in the country’s freedom struggle.
The Jallianwala Tragedy and its aftermath
The year 1919 has a special significance throughout India particularly in Punjab history. During this period communal harmony was at its peak when different communities began common catering. The Ram Naumi Hindu festival was jointly celebrated by the Hindus and Muslims. This was the golden era of communal harmony. The Government passed the Rowlat Act against which people organized demonstrations and passed resolutions for its annulment. In this conncetion a meeting was arranged in the Shahi Mosque, Lahore, on April 11. Congress leaders Harkishan Lal Pandit, Ch. Ram Bhaj Dhutt, Dr. Gokal Chand Narang, Dr. Kitchlu and Master Mota Singh delivered speeches from the pulpit. There was a general strike in the city and there were multitudes of people in attendance in the Mosque. A Muslim intelligence agent was noticed in the gathering who was assaulted by the people. Soon, six aeroplanes were seen flying overhead. They threw pamphlets warning people to disperse. A horse troop arrived and encircled the Mosque complex. Around 1:00 PM, the Deputy Commissioner along with some officers was seen coming towards the Mosque. Some college students were going to the city when one of them threw a pellet which hit the Deputy Commissioner’s face. A Muslim Honorary Magistrate, who was accompanying the Deputy Commissioner, shot at the student named Khushi Ram. This news reached the audience in the Mosque. The meeting was dispersed and the people reached the site where the wounded student was brought to the house of a doctor. The student expired there. The entire audience of about a hundred thousand was accompanying the dead body taken out in a procession for his last rites. They were cursing the Government aloud. Jathedar Jhabbar was also at Lahore on school business and was accompanying the procession. At the burning Ghat, Jhabbar delivered his maiden political speech against the Government.
The Baisakhi day of April 14, 1919, is a memorable event in the annals of Indian history when Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs attended a Congress meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh. The foreign Government functionaries opened fire on them and hundreds of people perished. This was the second unparalleled slaughter of patriots after the Baj Baj tragedy. The news spread far and wide like wildfire. Khalsa Diwan Khara Sauda was celebrating the Baisakhi festival in Gurdwara Sacha Sauda at Chuhar Kana. Jathedar Jhabbar, while addressing the congregation, also explained the details of the Rowlat Act.
Jhabbar’s Role in the Happenings at Chuhar Kana
News about the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy was flashed in the dailies. The public was greatly agitated. On the 15th when two trains from Wazirabad for Lahore passed through Sangla, one of the trains halted at Chuhar Kana Railway Station. On enquiry, the railway driver informed that the people at Gujranwala had burnt the Railway station and dismantled the bridges and the railway track. Therefore the trains were passing through the other route. Thereupon the young men of the area held a meeting, and on the following day, the conflagration began. Canal bridge, electric wires, railway station and the track and Government offices were blown up. Around 5 PM, a train arrived from Lahore side and the agitated mob looted Government goods from the railway carriages. Jhabbar was indisposed on that day. When he learned that people were looting trains, he reached the railway station so that the passengers did not suffer. He noticed that a considerable amount of money had fallen out of the container of an old man getting down the train. The mob helped the man in collecting his amount and again began looting Government goods. Diwan Chand, a railway official, was present at the site. This official had once taken action against his subordinate, who now struck a blow against Diwan Chand. The official appealed to Jhabbar for help. On Jhabbars shouting at the attacker, the official was saved. Jhabbar heard another cry for help from a 2nd class compartment. Jhabbar noticed that he was Bawa Budh Singh, Superintending Engineer PWD. He confided to Jhabbar that apart from his entire family including ladies, he had considerable amount of cash with him and that he should be helped. On Jhabbar’s assurance, the family accompanied him. He took them to the residence of Sardar Jiwan Singh Lamba, a commission agent in the local market, along with their luggage carried by two men of Jhabbar, where the family passed the night. Next morning, a carriage was arranged for them and they took the train from a nearby railway station and reached Layall Pur.
The same midnight, another train reached from Lahore carrying British troops accompanied by Ram Chand Sood, Assistant Commissioner Sheikhupura. With the help of search lights they could see up to a long distance. Soon they started indiscriminate firing which killed some people, while many were injured. They started arrests at day break. Jhabbar went to the shop of Hari Singh Bajaj where several other persons were present. The Assistant Commissioner accompanied by the British contingent reached the spot, encircled them and began beating Hari Singh. Sensing trouble ahead, Jhabbar escaped and informed the residents of the Mandi area and the school staff and students that fire had broken out in the market and therefore they should urgently seek safety elsewhere. The people ran helter skelter and saved themselves from the British contingent. This force arrested about four hundred people by the afternoon. They took them in trains from Mandi Chuhar Kana railway station to a site near the village and began shooting at the people. Many of the arrested people were killed and wounded. Jhabbar along with school teacher Balbir Singh, Master Arjan Singh and 12 students, passed the night at village Dhilwan. In the morning it was decided that everyone should go to his village and return to the school when law and order was restored. Future was uncertain. Jhabbar took shelter in the bushes and reached the village in the darkness of night. He took Rs., 400 with him and went to village Fulerwani to enquire from Sardar Gurbachan Singh who had returned from Malaya, as to how one could escape to a foreign land. There he learned that his warrants of arrest and order for confiscation of property along with Bhai Teja Singh of Chuhar Kana had been passed and that the father and the brother of Teja Singh had been arrested and taken away. On hearing this he returned home, left the money there and next day appeared in the court of Sardar Amar Singh, Ilaqa Magistrate.
The Magistrate detained Jhabbar at Sangla for the night and sent him to Chuhar kana the following day. Here, the arrested people had been locked in the wagons of goods trains and Jhabbar was also placed among them. Next day Teja Singh was also brought here and locked. Commissioner Lahore Division reached Chuhar Kana on April 28 and Jhabbar was produced before him as the ringleader.
On April 29, a public meeting was held at the Canal rest house at the government’s instance. The arrested people were seated in a separate block and the Government supporters including the Mahant of Nankana Sahib were in another block. The newly arrived Deputy Commissioner Mr. Balsmith addressed the gathering in anger. He named this gathering as a meeting of shame. Then he began explaining the blessings of the British Raj, as providing canals, railways, pacca roads, telegraph and telephone system. In the end he threatened the people by saying that the Government had armed forces, guns, and large quantity of war material with which people could be butchered in no time. The more he spoke, the more furious he was becoming until he called them names ie: ‘You are pigs, you are dogs, and you are mere insects’.
After the meeting people were categorized into four parts. First were the ringleaders numbering about thirty. They were told that cases against them would be proceeded in courts at Lahore. The money lending commission agents were convicted to two years punishment and a fine of Rs., 500 each. The rest were convicted to six month rigorous imprisonment each. The children among the accused were awarded dozens of lashes on their bodies. The ring leaders were sent to the Lahore Borstal jail and each one was locked separately on the first floor. When they were taken out of the jail for trial, those arrested from Gujranwala which included lawyers and other respectables, were also brought out. All of them looked dejected and dispirited. Looking at their condition, Jhabbar asked them why they looked sad and gloomy. The Government was going to punish them hard, why not face that rather courageously? Why show cowardice to the British? They would take pride in believing that we just could not stand this difficult situation. In this way Jhabbar consoled all of them.
The court proceedings continued from May 19 to 21. The accused were taken into the court on foot, two abreast, handcuffed together and the Chuhar Kana group leading. On the very start, Jhabbar and Teja Singh would recite Gurbani Shabads in loud voice and others would follow till they entered the university hall where court proceedings were taking place. They returned to the jail in the like manner.
The evidence recorded against Jhabbar is worth noting. A prosecution witness Bhai Shisha Singh of Sheroka deposed that Jhabbar had broken the window panes of the train, b) ungrateful Diwan Chand, the railway official, whom Jhabbar had rescued from his assaulting subordinates, deposed that Jhabbar was instigating the mob to thrash him and loot the goods from the train, c) Defense witness Bawa Budh Singh and his Sikh sentiment. Jhabbar summoned Bawa Budha Singh, Superintending Engineer, PWD, as a defense witness. When he learned about it Bawa Budh Singh readily agreed. The police threatened him of dire consequences including dismissal from service and possibly some punishment, but he stuck to his resolve to appear as a defense witness.
On May 22, the accused were led towards the university hall, reciting Gurbani Shabads. They were made to stand in a line. Three session judges constituted the bench. They had a close look at each of the accused. This continued for about half an hour. Those who had impressive bearing but wore somewhat spoiled clothes were set free. They were seven in number including Dial Singh Nazaria from whose residence stolen property from the train had been recovered.
Seventeen persons were convicted to transportation for life to Andaman Islands. Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Teja Singh and Kahn Singh of Chuhar Kana, Jagir Singh of Mareedke, Mahna Singh and Mehar Din blacksmith were awarded death sentence. On hearing this, Jhabbar recited “Sat Sri Akal” slogan in a loud voice for five times, which echoed the university hall. He then spoke to the sympathizers who had assembled to witness their trial to return to their homes and bid them his last Guru Fateh exhorting all of them not to worry over their conviction.
These 23 convicts were taken to the Central jail and made to sit in a separate room in the main entrance gate of the jail. A clerk began recording their addresses with castes, and sub-castes. In the meanwhile Jhabbar had sound sleep for an hour and half and then gave his particulars. Those convicted to death sentence were taken to ward No 16 and locked in separate cells alternately with other convicts.
Adjoining the Jhabbar’s cell was another Sikh convict, Kirpal Singh of Tehsil Ajnala. Jhabbar heard him reciting the Reh Ras prayer in the evening and weeping all along. Jhabbar enquired of him about his whereabouts and then explained to him the importance of Gurbani and then advised that his prayer and simultaneous weeping were not in accordance with the Will of God. He informed Jhabbar that he had committed a double murder, was convicted to death sentence and that his last appeal had been rejected. Now when he imagined the hanging scene he could not help weeping. Jhabbar compassionately advised him to read the Gurbani verses in the Sukhmani Sahib - no one is born nor any one dies, it is all the play of the Lord (GGS p.281). The soul is imperishable, only the body takes a new form. Therefore he should be brave and not be afraid on this account. Jhabbar continued preaching Gurbani to him for three days and consoled him. On the fourth day Kirpal Singh said that he was grateful to Sat Guru who showered his blessings on him by sending Jhabbar to this jail adding that he was no longer afraid of death. On the 5th of June, this man faced the gallows unafraid shouting Sat Sri Akal slogan.
Guru Gobind Singh ji’s Darshan
The convicts were supplied only a mug of water daily. They washed their faces and hands and recited the usual Sikh prayers, read Gurbani and offered Ardas. One day, after reciting his prayer and Ardas, Jhabbar had a nap. In a dream, he saw Guru Gobind Singh ji in blue costume along with the five devout Sikhs standing at the door of his cell. Greatly impressed with the Godly blessing, Jhabbar stood up. In the meantime Guru ji moved further. Jhabbar prayed to take him along also, but Guru ji desired him to stay back, for, he should not accompany him. Now Jhabbar woke up. Teja Singh’s cell was close by and Jhabbar enquired if he was awake. He then explained to Teja Singh about his dream and said that the matter had gone awry. He interpreted the dream as their having been spared the death sentence. Teja Singh took the incident as a mere dream. Jhabbar said it was his ardent wish to die for the country’s independence but now this appeared to have gone amiss.
In Borstal Jail, Lahore, nine convicts were hanged for riots at Kasur. Now it was their turn. These patriots were waiting for the day when they would proudly stand among the line of martyrs. But fate intervened.
On the evening of May 30, the superintendent jail came to ward no 14 and informed the six Chuhar Kana convicts that their death sentence had been changed into transportation for life and therefore they were being taken to ward no 12.
In ward no 12, iron cages each six feet long and two and a half feet wide had been constructed. Arrangement for call of nature were inside the cages. During the summer, life in them was extremely miserable. In the evening Jhabbar began reciting Rehiras prayer in loud voice. There was a guard for their supervision. He told Jhabbar not to shout aloud and to keep quiet. Jhabbar told him that he was performing his prayers. In the morning the guard made a complaint against all of them and they were given shoe beatings. When the superintendent came to Jhabbar, he asked if the superintendent himself were in that cell, would he perform his Namaz as a Muslim or not? Jhabbar added that he was just performing the daily evening prayer. The superintendent was satisfied and advised that he may do so in a low voice. Jhabbar replied that he always recited like that. Nobody complained thereafter.
On June 6 these six life convicts were medically examined before sending them to Andaman islands. Those above forty could not be deported there under the rules. Jhabbar was then forty four years old. On the asking of his companions, he reported his age as 39 years. The doctor imagined that he seemed older. Jhabbar confessed that he was doing so on the request of his companions. Convicts from Gujranwala, Amritsar and Nizam Abad informed their villages by telegrams that they were being taken to Andaman islands on June 7, and that they should come and see them.
On June 7, fifty convicts, 25 being martial law convicts, were taken out of the jail, were chained and after handcuffing in twos were handed over to the police. They were taken to the military platform under escort of a mounted defense force. Two wagons, with iron bars on them, were attached close to the engine. The convicts were made to sit in them. The convicts and their relatives were weeping bitterly. It was an extremely heart-rending scenario. The wagons were partitioned with iron bars. Arrangements for the call of nature and a pitcher full of water was placed on one side of the wagons.
The relations of the convicts were allowed to meet their dear ones while they were sitting inside the wagons. The meetings began in a highly emotional atmosphere. Parting with dear ones when they were not to see each other again, was exceedingly tormenting. According to Gurbani, ‘Torture of separation are like terrible pincers unbearable’ ( p. 520. GGS). Such scenes were before every window, but the one exhibited by Din Mohd blacksmith, sitting in front of Jhabbar, and his newly wed wife was especially the most heart rending, indescribable as it was.
Din Mohammad’s wife was accompanied by his mother. The newly wed was weeping bitterly and repeatedly asking what was her future now? Din Mohammad would merely say he was helpless. Both of them were repeating these words again and again. The old woman standing closeby by was in great distress. Din Mohammad’s wife had placed her husbands hand on her chest and the same words were being said with their throats chocked and tears welling from their eyes.
When the train whistled, the police started separating the visitors but this woman would not leave the window. At last the train started and she would run along for a while and then throwing away her veil and raising both of her hands, shouted in extreme desperation, ‘O the cruel train may thy wheels break for thou are carrying away my husband’.
The fidelity of this love lorn woman intensely moved every one around and they shed tears of pity over this. The train reached Delhi in the morning. No one from the city was allowed to come near these wagons. The people of Delhi had come to know about the arrival of the convicts by train. Sardar Kartar Singh of Saranwali, a bank employee at Delhi, stood at the platform in front of Jhabbar and enquired about refreshments. Jhabbar declined but asked for some books. In about two hours time, he brought a Sikh prayer book and a copy of Hanuman Natak. The Central Intelligence Division reported this fact and his increment was stopped for three years and he was black listed.
The train started from Delhi in the late afternoon reaching Aligarh at 1 a.m. the following morning. Some one from Delhi had sent telegraphic information regarding the arrival of the convicts by this train. About 200 young Muslim students shouted Bande Matram slogans at the platform and forcibly threw fruits and other eatables inside the convict’s wagons.
Next day the train reached Calcutta. The convicts were taken to Ali Pur police station, and eight of them namely Jhabbar, Teja Singh, Shangara Singh, Mangal Sen, and Ram, etc. locked into separate rooms. They were taken out of their cells only for an hour in the morning and evening.
Journey to Andaman and Hunger Strike
The convicts remained at Calcutta for 10 days. Next day they were taken to the Ali Pur Ghat. They were made to stand in a line. Each one was called by name and informed that they were no longer citizens of India. In the evening a vessel of Raja Company took them on way to Andaman. It had gone about five miles when Mohammad Din of Amritsar began reciting verses from the Punjabi folk tale “Heer”.
No one can alter the course of fate,
When Moses had crossed the sea
The fate drowned the chasing Pharaoh and his hordes
The free birds have been caged
None can predict what fate might bring about.
On hearing this soul stirring song in a melodious voice the passengers were in ecstasy,
for, it depicted their own condition.
Evening meals were served to the convicts. Muslims were provided with rice and pulse which they relished. The Hindus and Sikhs were given parched gram and sugar which they declined. The matter was reported to the Captain of the ship. He came to the convict’s apartment and explained his inability to meet their demand, for, he had been given such provisions for them. Out of the 125 passengers, 80 were Hindus and Sikhs. Martial law passengers decided to go on strike till they reached Andaman, for such rations were intended to starve them. For one meal all the Hindus and Sikhs observed hunger strike. Next day there was a violent storm in the sea and the ship could not go further. It took the steamer six days to reach port Blair. The Police took them to jail. Master Chattar Singh, a life convict, was standing on the 2nd floor of the jail. He was convicted for his murderous assault on a British professor which he mistook for the principal of Khalsa College, Amritsar. Earlier, he was a teacher in the Sangla Hill School. He recognized Jhabbar and said “Jhabbar ji you too have arrived!” Jhabbar replied that they had come to take him back home.
The convicts were kept for a fortnight in the wooden barracks. The eight Martial law convicts were still on hunger strike. On the seventh day, they were produced before the Commissioner. They repeated their demand for change of rations which was accepted. Thereupon the convicts gave up the hunger strike.
On the 16th day their shoes were removed and sent to the cells where manually operated oil crushing machines were installed. The convicts were required to extract oil by crushing sixty pounds of coconut. Earlier, Sikh convicts of 1915 conspiracy cases had warned the newly arrived convicts not to do that hard labour. On the third day, a white man came and made these convicts stand in a line. He gave each of the convicts two pounds of coconut strands to twist into ropes.
Jhabbar was included among the previous political convicts. He was pleased to meet the old associates. He was transferred to apartment no 6. Master Kirpa Ram of Gujrat, a conspiracy convict of 1915, and another convict Hirde Ram of Hoshiarpur, were also there. The latter was well-versed in English and was conversant with political thoughts. For one month he daily explained to Jhabbar political theories as contained in a book Science of State. Also, among them was Bhai Kapur Singh of Ludhiana. He had returned from USA leaving immense property behind to take part in the freedom movement and was convicted in the Burma case. Jhabbar was briefed by them in politics. In return, Jhabbar imparted to them basic Gurmat knowledge.
During these days Bhai Parma Nand used to be in the hospital. His duty was to check temperatures of the sick and to distribute milk among them. If the political prisoners wanted to see each other, they would go to the hospital. One day Jhabbar received a message from a previous convict, Bhai Udham Singh,5 to come to the hospital. Both were highly pleased to meet each other. The latter guided Jhabbar regarding the whole gamut of a convict’s life in Andaman.
Likewise, Bhai Parma Nand also expressed regards for Jhabbar. Another old convict of Burma case told Jhabbar that he had been to this jail thrice. During his first term, a Namdhari Saint lived for 2 years in Jhabbar’s cell. Then caps were given to the convicts as head gear. The saint did not wear the cap and was given a sheet of cloth a yard and a half in length. Then it became a precedent for all future Sikh convicts.
On the night of June 27-28, Jhabbar woke up at 2 a.m. and heard some convicts in the front barracks reciting Gurbani Sukhmani Sahib. From another cell he heard Japji being recited. He imagined this place to be a village of Gursikhs rather than a jail. He peeped through a ventilator towards another side and heard Asa Di Var being read. Jhabbar realized that actually he was in Sach Khand. But when he looked towards the door, he noticed the usual iron gate and the same dark dungeon. In the adjoinging cell was a Muslim convict, Jhallah by name, from Jhelam District. Jhabbar enquired of him about those reciting prayers. Jallah replied they are Bhai Jees. “Who Bhai Jees?,” Jabbar asked. “Baj Baj Wala Bhai Jees,” he replied. Hearing this reply, Jhabbar greatly regretted the historic blunder of Sarbrah Aroor Singh who had issued a distorted edict from Sri Akal Takht Shib that they were not Gursikhs who had bravely faced the British and police brutalities at Baj Baj Ghat.
There was a library of convicts’ own books at a lower floor of the jail central tower. Bhai Kapur Singh brought a book for Jhabbar by Lala Hardial “Our Mother Tongue”. Jhabbar had already read his “National Education”. Jhabbar noticed that the author had strongly pleaded for adoption of Hindi as the National language. After finding fault with all other regional languages, ie: Bengali, Mahrati, Sindhi, Punjabi, etc., he had described ‘Punjabi’ as undeveloped. Guru Teg Bahadur’s name in Persian words was described rather sarcastically. Jhabbar threw away the book in anger resulting in its being torn. Bhai Kapur Singh used to speak high of Lala Hardial. Jhabbar exclaimed, “You deem this idiot your leader who does not understand that martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur remains engraved in millions of Hindus hearts. How does he dare disrespect the Guru in the name of Punjabi language being undeveloped? Thousand pities on such a leader and his attainments.” After discussion, Kapur Singh agreed with Jhabbar’s views. This became a subject matter of talk among all political prisoners.
After 5 months Jhabbar was transferred to number 4 barrack There he met Bhai Hardit Singh Lame wala and other Gursikhs from the Malwa region. After two months, he was sent to Barrack number 3. There he met Baba Nidhan Singh of Chugha. He was very old, yet he would wash with a mug of water at 9 p.m. and begin reciting Gurbani till 8 A.M. of the following morning. He would not speak to any one until he had performed his prayers.
After six months, entries on the martial law convicts cards were changed from life imprisonment to “seven years imprisonment”. They learned that this had been done through the efforts of Lokmanya Tilak in England. The Hunter Commission had arrived in Punjab. After scrutiny of all the cases, the Commission had identified 86 leaders, including Lala Hakrishan Lal, Gokal Chand Narang, and others, who had delivered speeches during the martial law days. Life sentences were then changed into seven years imprisonment. There was one life convict of Mandi Chuhar Kana, Babu Ram Narayan, who was released the same day. He had a shop at Calcutta. He requested Jhabbar to meet him at Calcutta on his release. At that time both the Savarkar brothers were also at Andaman, and so was Bhai Madan Singh Gaga there.
Return to Punjab after Release
In March 1920, the martial law prisoners learned about their release through a Government press release in a local daily. Soon they received orders to this effect. But as ship was to arrive after three days, they were detained in Barrack 6. There were two Muslim convicts in jail. When Jhabbar met one of them, he requested Jhabbar that on reaching Calcutta, he should pay obeisance to the motherland on his behalf. Jhabbar got permission to meet all the political prisoners.
After four days sea voyage the convicts reached Calcutta. The police took them to a police station where they were to report twice daily. They passed the night at the police station. After report in the police station they went out to bazaar. They were still wearing the clothes provided in the jail.
They reached the shop of Ram Narayan who gave them rupees one hundred. They were sitting at a tailor’s shop where their clothes were being stitched. A procession in connection with a Khilafat meeting was passing by and some Congressmen from Punjab were participating in it. Jhabbar was accompanied by wrestler Chirag from Amritsar whom Dr Kitchlu recognized. The latter made further enquiries about the return of the martial law prisoners.
The convicts went to the police station to report their presence. Some Congressmen came there and invited them to lunch at the residence of Mohd Ali and Shaukat Ali, Congress leaders so that they would meet them the following morning. When the convicts reached the leader’s residence they were welcomed by a contingent of about 500 Khilafat volunteers in uniform and were taken in a procession.
The procession terminated at the residence of Mohd Ali around mid-day. Leaders from Punjab received them and expressed warm regards. Later Mohd Ali, while inviting all of them to lunch, requested that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs should sit in separate blocks, so that meals could be served. Jhabbar intervened and said that they would share the vegetarian meals together. They had undergone extreme hardships for the sake of unity of the nation. Now they would not part from each other. Together the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs ate from same plates. Everyone was surprised at this symbolic unity. After the meal was over, the household steward asked his assistants to separate the left over part of food so that part of it could be distributed to the scheduled castes. A Muslim barrister sitting close by observed that the food left overs was consecrated Parsad at the hands of the patriots and would be distributed among the people as such. Thereafter, he began eating from the left over desserts in Jhabbar’s plate. Jhabbar also joined him. It became a news item in the morning dailies.
Next day the convicts were arrested and detained in police lock-up. They began reciting shabads in loud voice using iron plates which they had brought from Andaman, as musical instruments. The station house officer arrived and enquired why they were crying? Jhabbar told him to shut up as they were praying. Jhabbar had to repeat his threat to silence the police sub inspector. Another police party came and took them to the railway station. Police officers in charge of different groups purchased railway tickets and took them to their respective districts in Punjab from where they reached their villages each escorted by a police constable.
In the Midst of Political Arena
The early part of Jhabbar’s career was devoted to the spread of Gurmat knowledge and organizing of Sikh religious institutions on sound basis. He had delivered his first political speeach on April 11, 1919 at the Hindu Muslim joint conference at Lahore. After about one year Jhabbar returned to his village in Sheikhupur district. Since then the Government considered him a dangerous political leader. His activities were closely watched by the Central Intelligence Division, for, besides being an ardent religious preacher, now he had been catapulted into a political leader after being convicted to death sentence and transportation for life.
It was a quantum jump in his career. Not only Jhabbar went through extreme brutalities of jail life for about a year but also availed of this period in studying and understanding political theories. This changed his view point of life. When he returned home, he was taken as a political leader. No Sikh meeting was deemed successful until Jhabbar spoke on the political situation of the times. It would be safe to record that the history of India’s indpendence movement and Gurdwara Reform Movement would be incomplete without telling the life story of Jathedar Jhabbar. His contribution in freedom struggle is exemplary. He was more of an institution than an individual. He was a devoted and consistent leader whose exploits are an epic. He considered himself a humble cursader. For his fearlessness and steadfastness, the principal ingredients of leadership, he can be called an eminent Sikh leader of the time. In short, Jatehdar Jhabbar was like one of the brilliant stars of the Guru period 1469-1708, whom Professor Hari Ram Gupta described thus: “They kept the heights around them ablaze with noble and enduring lessons of valour. Their deeds of daring dazzled history. To strive, to brave all hazards, to persist, to persevere, to grapple with destiny, to hold fast and to hold hard, such is the example which nations need to electrify them and the period was full of such examples.”
This period was the beginning of political awakening among the Sikhs. Since 1849, the beginning of British ascendancy in Punjab, Government had undertaken such measures that the Sikhs had almost forgotten their glorious past. After the first half of the nienteenth century, the period of their glory, this was the era of deprivations and difficulties. Although there were still some instances of excellence here and there, but the Government was determined to extinguish them as well. Inspite of their so called victory during the Anglo-Sikh wars, they were always keen to deprive the Sikhs of all the means which could strengthen them. They gave the Sikhs jobs and put them on the way to business and commerce. Also, they kept them engaged in clearing jungles for the development of new lands in western Punjab.
In this manner the Sikhs were not only weaned from political activity but wherever Government noticed such movement it was forcibly crushed as the Koma Gata Maru episode.
Holding of political meetings and criticizing Government is routine these days. But it was a tough job in the beginning of the 20th century. Government reaction had to be kept in view while holding political meetings. Attendance in these meetings was a bug bear for Government sympathizers, its helpers and the student community.
At such a difficult period Jhabbar began his political career. Hardly had he reached his village after release from Andaman jail, when he received an invitation from village Bachiwind where a conference had been arranged. So far, Jhabbar was known as Gurmat preacher. After his sojourn at the Andaman, Jhabbar realized that the Sikhs were far behind other communities in political conciousness. Although the Amritsar Congress session of 1919 had left its political traits resulting in the formation of Sikh League, yet there was hardly any general awakening among the Sikh people. When Jhabbar began speaking on political situation in detail in the Bachiwind conference, its managers and the audience were worried regarding Government reaction. But when after the meeting, Jhabbar counselled the elderly people there, they were satisfied.
Along with political activity, preaching for conversion of the apostates had also begun. On the following day Jhabbar spoke in a meeting on the subject of conversion. A Muslim young woman of village Rani Ke was in the audience. She was the daughter of a Muslim wife of a Sikh who had lately embraced Islam. She was married to a Muslim young man of Gujranwala. She was not satisfied in the social atmosphere of her in-laws home and was inclined to adopt Sikhism. She was attending the meeting with some people of her village. On listening to Jhabbar’s sermon, she made up her mind to be initiated as a Sikh. In the company of her village people, she met Jhabbar and expressed her desire. Jhabbar pointed out the difficulty of her stay in her parents or inlaws house after initiation as a Sikh. She disclosed that she was in love with Harnam Singh of her village who was prepared to marry her. It was decided that Harnam Singh should also be present and a date was fixed for the purpose. Jhabbar reached their village on the appointed date. Harnam Singh and that woman were initiated and thereafter were married in the presence of her mother. Her former Muslim husband filed a civil suit, which on Jhabbar’s evidence, was dismissed.
After the Bachiwind conference, Jhabbar came to village Attari and passed the night at the residence of Sardar Harbans Singh Attari, the great grandson of the legendary Sardar Sham Singh Attari. Jhabbar counselled the Sardar to enter political arena but he gently replied as was his wont, that he considered Gurmat preaching to be his life’s mission for it was the antidote for the troubled psyche of humanity, and that he always prayed to Satguru to bless him to continue that sewa. He spoke with such passion from the inner recesses of his heart that tears rolled down from his eyes. In this manner they talked of Panthic problems till late at night. In the morning, Jhabbar left Attari after taking breakfast.
This period can be described as one of political awakening amongh the Sikhs. Although the elderly Sikhs like Sardar Harbans Singh Attari were still engaged in Gurmat preaching, yet some young men like Jhabbar and Master Mota Singh were delivering political speeches in Sikh congregations where even resolutions were passed against those who cooperated with the Government. One such resolution was passed in the conference at Faisalpur which was published, “O Khalsa ji, this meeting has passed a resolution that the Sikh leaders who organized a farewell function in honour of the retiring Governor O’Dwyer, should be ex-communicated from the Panth, especially Sardar Bahadur Sunder Singh Majithia, Aroor Singh Sarbrah, Harmandar Sahib, S. B. Gajjan Singh of Ludhiana, Risaldar Gopal Singh Bhagowalia. No Sikh should wish them Fateh”
Both Jhabbar and Master Mota Singh made political speeches in a conference at Baharwal which resulted in confiscation of two and half thousand worth of Jagir of Sardar Hardial Singh who presided over the meeting. Such conferences were held at several places like Laliani in Lahore district, Vacchoa in Amritsar district, Dharowali in Sheikhupura district and Khushal Pur Kotha in Gurdas Pur district. Government functionaries like Zaildars and Lambardars worked hard against the success of such conferences, while the general public condemned such Government activities. People were influenced by the speeches of political leaders and freedom fighters. At the time of Dharowali conference, Headmaster Khalsa High School, Sangla Hill, put up a notice warning students not to attend the conference and those disobeying would receive flogging punishment. However, the school manager, Sardar Dalip Singh received such inspiration that he turned a freedom fighter. He donned cotton clothes and became an ardent supporter of Gurdwara Reform Movement. The very next day he joined the Jatha with ten companions whose journey expenses to Sialkot he paid for taking posession of Gurdwara Babe Di Ber. Within one year he received the crown of martyrdom at Nankana Sahib during the Gurdwara Reform Movement.
When Jhabbar was speaking at the Dharowali conference, Mahant Sunder Dass of Shatab Garh and Sant Hari Das of Sayyad Wala stood among the audience. Jhabbar noted that they had come to gather information regarding future panthic plans to assume control of Gurdwaras. Jhabbar changed the subject of his speech and exposed Mahant Narain Dass of Nankana Sahib’s evil deeds. He declared that time had come to finally deal with the arrogant Mahant who threatened Sikh pilgrims who visited the holy shrine, and was keeping a prostitute there.
Instantly, a young man stood up with folded hands and begged permission to cut off Mahant’s head. Jhabbar counselled him to sit down. Later, the stage secretary wanting to dilute this impression said that the young man actually did not mean what he had said. The young man again stood up and repeated his words adding that he also had a spear in his posession. He further said that he only wanted permission. He would be a bastard if he failed to perform this deed. Soon, that young man was to receive martyrdom along with the130 of them at Nankana Sahib.
The Beginning of Gurdwara Reform Movement
Jhabbar received a telegram on the last day of Dharowali conference from Bhai Teja Singh Bhuchar requesting to reach Gurdwara Babe Di Ber (Sialkot) with his Jatha, for the anti-Sikh elements were increasing and that Hindu rituals were being performed in the historic Gurdwara. Jhabbar announced the contents of the telegram to the congregation and appealed to young men to get ready for this mission. Many offered their services. Others showing willingness to join the Jatha, but regretted inability for want of journey expenses. Several members offered to pay for the needy. Bhai Dalip Singh offered to pay for ten members. Rs 150 were collected in cash on the spot. The Jatha was to reach Sangla railway station the following morning for the onward rail journey.
Panthic Control over Babé Di Bér Gurdwara
Management of this Gurdwara was very well administered under Mahant Prem Singh as compared to all other Mahants during the British period. He had helped Giani Gian Singh when he was compiling his Khalsa Tawarikh. Also, he contributed towards other panthic activities. On his demise, his young son assumed charge. The Gurdwara income was susbstantial which he could not administer properly. He indulged in vicious life resulting in his early death. He had one son. His young widow was inexperienced. The local Hindus misled her. She appointed her minor son as Mahant and Ganda Singh as manager, who had become an apostate after a visit to England. The local Sikhs were greatly agitated over this. But no one could legally intervene in this arrangement. Nor was there any Sikh institution that could help.
The local Sikhs of Sialkat had formed a Kirtani Jatha who performed Kirtan in all Gurdwaras in the town on weekends by turn. When the Jatha went to Babe Di Ber Gurdwara for Kirtan, the manager did not allow this. This resulted even in a scuffle. Next day the Kirtani Jatha again went there and gain they were not allowed. In the meantime, the manager filed a case in a court against the five members of the Jatha under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code. As no local Sikh came to their help, they reached Tarn Taran and reported the situation to the Central Majha Diwan. Sardar Jaswant Singh Jhabal was present there. It was decided that Sardar Jaswant Singh should accompany the Jatha members to Sialkot. He promised to comply with this. On reaching home, he learned that his elder brother, Sardar Amar Singh had already decided to go to Sialkot on a private visit who would attend to this work also. Sardar Amar Singh, on return reported the situation as it obtained there to the Diwan.
The Central Majha Diwan sent a 50 member Jatha under Bhai Teja Singh Bhuchar. The Jatha members with black turnbans and kirpans in their hands wearing shorts and marching in great style surprized the local people. There assembled a crowed of about 1,500 people, who reached the courts in a procession. The Magistrate came out of the court room and took the accused inside the court. He asked the accused to provide sureties of Rs 1,000 each, which they refused. Then he asked for personal bonds, which also they declined. The Magistrate then ordered them to go saying that they would be summoned when required. This encouraged the local Sikhs who felt happy at the outcome of the case. The Jatha then went to Gurdwara Babe Di Ber to pay obeisance. Later, they settled themselves in a room in the Gurdwara. Next morning the manager saw the superintendent of police and returned to the Gurdwara with a police party. The police officer in charge threatened Bhai Teja Singh and the Jatha members. They retorted that they were pilgrims and that he need not talk nonesense. Incidently, some Sikh cavalry horsemen from the nearby catonment were riding that way in routine exercise. The police officials thought that the horsemen were coming in support of the Jatha and soon left the place. The Hindus were intrigued over the situation. Bhai Teja Singh then telegraphically summoned Jhabbar along with his Jatha, who reached there the following morning.
In the evening the Jatha took rations from the Gurdwara and prepared their langar. In the morning the same local Jatha performed Asa Di Var Kirtan and Guru Ka Langar was served. The Jatha now comprised about 300 members. Manager Ganda Singh and local Hindus felt concerned. Next day Jhabbar broke open the lock of store room and took posession. By then it was widely known that the Jatha had taken posession of the Gurdwara. In about four days time Sikhs from rural areas also arrived. A meeting was held. A local person proposed that Gurdwara Management Committee comprising representatives of Singh Sabhas from all over Punjab be constituted including Jathedars Jhabbar and Teja Singh Bhuchar. Both of them declined and instead suggested that the Committee memebers should be from the district alone. This was approved. It was further decided that the members should be amritdharis, teetotallers and observing Sikh Rehat Maryada. A committee comprising nine members was formed, and on Jhabbar’s suggestion Sardar Kharak Singh was appointed President. In this way Sardar Kharak Singh entered the Akali Movement. A sub committee was formed to prepare a list of Gurdwara asssets. Control over this Gurdwara thus formed the beginning of Gurdwara Reform Movement.
About 25 members of Central Majha Diwan were left in the Gurdwara for any emergency. The Jatha returned to attend the political conference being held at Khushal Pur Kotha in Gurdaspur district. Some members walked on foot and reached Khushalpur after paying obeisance at Gurdwara Kartarpur and Dehra Baba Nanak.
By the evening of October 9, 1920, Jhabbar reached there. Next day Bhai Teja Singh Chuhar Kana also arrived. Bhai Teja Singh Bhuchar, Pandit Ram Bhaj and some other Hindu and Muslim Congress leaders also arrived. On October 11, Lamberdar Wasawa Singh resigned his post. There were such a multitude of people that even Guru Ka Langar ran short. The election of the Punjab Legislative Council was due and the Congress had boycotted it. Jhabbar and Teja Singh Chuhar Kana had composed a poem on this subject which they recited. Its refrain was somewhat like this, “The Muslims have been denied access to Mecca and the Sikhs to the Golden Temple, therefore, we shall not vote. The wall of Rakab Ganj demolished and reconstruction not allowed, therefore we shall not vote. Chattar Singh is locked in a cage and is not released, therefore, we shall not vote. In all, there were 12 cantos in the poem which greatly impressed the audience.
Panthic Control over Harmandar Sahib
Sikh religion’s basic tenets are peace and harmony. The first five Gurus promoted it through God oriented thought. The fifth Guru Arjan Dev even received the crown of martyrdom which further strengthened it. The Sixth Guru constructed a platform and called it Sri Akal Takht in front of Sri Harmandar Sahib, where the dhadis would sing melodious ballads of brave warriors in the afternoon and enthuse the audience with patriotism and chivalry. This was the first court of Sikhs where the Guru disposed of disputes among Sikhs. Such were the findings of the Guru that he began to be addressed as the Sacha Padshah (the true king). During the Misal period of Sikh ascendancy, their mutual conflicts were also resolved there. On petittion by a brahmin of Kasur at Sri Akal Takht for recovery of his wife from the Pathan ruler, the Khalsa warriors rescued her after sacrifice of many lives.
The present building of Sri Akal Takht Sahib was contructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Jhabbar and Teja Singh Chuharkana boarded the train at Batala and reached Amritsar. Master Chanda Singh, editor Panth Sewak, informed them that some newly converted Sikhs had gone to Harmandar Sahib but the Pujaris were not accepting Parsad from them.
Hearing this, they hurriedly reached Harmandar Sahib and occupied front seats.
In consultation with the Chief Khalsa Diwan, the Khalsa brotherhood,6 the Ravdasia Sikhs from all over Punjab, held a convention in the Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, on October 10-12, 1920. They passed a resolution that as Pujaris of Harmandar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib do not generally accept parsad from them, they would repeat the exercise to end the discrimination against this practice. They were encouraged in passing this resolution by some professors and students of Khalsa College. Accordingly, on October 12th Khalsa brotherhood accompanied by Khalsa College Professors and students (this writer also accompanied as a student) reached Harmandar Sahib in a procession. The Pujaris first objected to their entry into Harmandar Sahib. But as they were in large number they forced their entry to go in. When they requested for Ardas for their Parsad, the Pujaris straight away refused. The professors and students pleaded with the Pujaris in vain. At this point of time Bawa Harkishan Singh, Professor, observed that the Pujaris had no monopoly to offer Ardas. They could themselves do it as Sikhs. A Khalsa college student peformed Ardas for the Khalsa brotherhood.
The distribution of Parsad was yet to begin when Jathedar Jhabbar and Bhai Teja Singh arrived. Jhabbar learned that the Pujaris had neither accepted the Parsad nor offered the Ardas nor had they acceded to the pleadings of the congregation. Jhabbar stood up and asked not to distribute the Parsad for a while. Addressing the Pujaris he asked whether Harmandar Sahib was their ancestral property? Was not the temple built by Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan Dev? As such the Sikh Panth was the rightful owner of that holy shrine. The Pujaris were mere employees. Could they quote scriptural or any other evidence in support of their refusal to accept Parsad from the Khalsa Brotherhood ? Satisfy the congregation about this.
A Pujari replied that they were not scholars to provide evidence on this. Jhabbar replied that they must comply with the sentiments of the congregation, otherwise they would be turned out and others would be employed instead. After some argument on Jhabbar’s suggestion, it was decided that Guru Granth Sahib’s “Hukamnama” be sought which the head Pujari did : (Sorath 3rd Guru ji P. 638)
“Brother! Himself the Lord saves those without merit,
inspiring them to the holy Masters devotion.
Brother!ennobling is the holy masters service
in which the heart to the Lords name is devoted (1).
Himself the Lord saves and grants union.
Devoid of merit, sinful are we brother!
The holy master to us union has granted (pause).
Countless are the sinners saved, my cherished one,
by contemplating the holy word.
The Holy master seating them in his boat
has rowed them across the ocean of the world (2).
The master with his touch like the philosopher’s stone,
our iron dross into gold has turned and to himself united us,
by his guidance have we discarded egoism,
and in the mind lodged the name brother!
Our light merged with his light (3)
May I be a sacrifice time and again,
Everlastingly to the holy master.
Who the treasure of the holy Name on us has bestowed
and by his guidance, in spiritual poise absorbed us (4).
Brother! Ask the enlightened ones –
without the master’s guidance comes not spritiual poise
serve ever the holy preceptor,
eliminating the ego (5)
By englightenment by the master given arises fear of God
whatevere in the Lords fear is done, is true and holy.
From prop of the holy name, Brother!
Is formed boon of devotion (6)
Brother, I bow at the feet of those
that serve the holy Preceptor,
saved themselves, their family are saved too (7)
In the holy word lies the essence of revealed truth
this by the masters grace is realized.
Saith Nanak one in whose self is lodged the holy name,
never any impediment faces (8) (2)
For the faithfuls, the “Hukamnama” was holy injunction in accordance with the situation. The congregation began reciting “Great is Guru Ram Das.” This was new hope for the wavering minds.
The head Pujari observed that they submitted to the holy injunction, and asked for fresh Parsad to be brought. Bhai Mehtab Singh complied.
The Ardasia performed the Ardas. There was huge congregation inside Harmandar Sahib. Jhabbar asked that distribution of Parsad should begin with the granthis for they were the managers of the shrine. At this point some of the Pujaris left the place. When enquired why they were leaving, it was stated that they were the Pujaris of Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Jhabbar requested the congregation not to leave the complex as they would soon perform the same ceremony at Akal Takht Sahib as well.
Panthic Control over Sri Akal Takht Sahib
The congregation then reached the Akal Takht Sahib. Jhabbar learned that the Akal Takht Pujaris had left for their homes. He enquired if there was any companion of the Pujaris so that they were informed of the same ceremony as at Sri Darbar Sahib, being performed at Akal Takht Sahib and that they should be present within 20 minutes. Mahant Sunder Singh accompanied by Master Chanda Singh, Bhai Sunder Singh and others reached the house of the Pujari. All the Pujaris were discussing about the situation there. Master Chanda Singh asked them to come to the Akal Takht Sahib but they declined. Thereafter, Jhabbar addressed the congregation.
“While in Andaman jail, I woke up at the small hours of June 28, 1920, and heard some Gursikhs reciting Japji, Asa Di Var and Sukhmani Sahib in different cells. I was a martial law convict condemned to transportation for life. But it seemed as if I were in a blissful place. It seemed as if I was having a dream. But I soon realized that I was in the same dark dungeon. I learned from a convict in the neighbouring cell that those reciting Gurbani were the convicts of Baj Baj Ghat tragedy. This reminded me of Sardar Aroor Singh’s having got issued through these Pujaris a bogus edict from Sri Akal Takht Sahib, that those patriots were not Gursikhs. Sardar Aroor Singh formed a Committee of these Pujaris under his chairmanship which forbids observing Singh Sabha code of Rehat Maryada in their homes and social contact with them. For instance, Jhabbar pointed towards Bhai Narayan Singh whose services as a Pujari were terminated for he had taken Parsad at the residence of Sant Lakhmir Singh. Then Jhabbar posed a question to the congregation whether a person who boycotts social contacts with Gursikhs and observes Hindu rituals at his home could be a Gursikh ? There was a loud chorus of “No, No.” Then Jhabbar propsed the following Gurmatta. “This congregation at Akal Takht Sahib resolves that those who faced the British brutalities at Baj Baj Ghat were Gursikhs and not those who observe anti-Gurmat Rehat Maryada at their homes. Sardar Aroor Singh who is anti-Gurmat and is a Government stooge is not a Gursikh. The Gurmatta was unanimously passed with the resounding slogans of Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal.
In the meantime Master Chanda Singh and his companions returned and informed that the Pujaris were at the residence of Mahant Sunder Singh and had refused to come over, whatever might take place there at the Akal Takht Sahib. Jhabbar then had a hunch and observed that he had a directive from Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib. Twenty five young men are needed to convey it to them. I offer myself as one of them. Their qualifications are : to face the gallows willingly, to face transportation for life and confiscation of property without hesitation, life imprisonment should be acceptable.
Jhabbar called for volunteers, besides himself. Firstly there were only two whom Jhabbar repeated the conditions which they accepted. Then there were seventeen of them all who accepted their supposedly rigorous future. Jhabbar asked them to come forward and requested the audience to keep sitting. Jhabbar performed the Ardas, the seventeen volunteers standing beside him, “O Lord these Gursikhs offer their body, mind and soul in thy service. Bestow them the strength to perform it.”
Jhabbar declared that as the Pujaris had declined to serve at this holy Takht any more, so this service is now entrusted to the Guru Panth. This is the directive of the Guru. As such these seventeen volunteers may go on the rostrum and begin service.
Jhabbar asked Bhai Mehtab Singh Bir to bring Parsad, which he did. The Bhai also made cash offering of Rs 25. The Parsad was distributed after Ardas. Jhabbar again addressed the congregation “Khalsa ji : these Pujaris had shut the doors against Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib, when he came to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandar Sahib. Also, when Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia after the marriage of his son Kirpal Singh came to sri Akal Takht Sahib with his son and daughter-in-law to offer Parsad and Rs 10 as cash offering, the Pujaris declined, for, the marriage ceremony had been performed according to Gurmat. The story of their follies and sins is long. Today this has ended. The services at Sri Akal Takht Sahib would henceforth be performed by the Panth.” There should be a Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and he proposed the name of Bhai Teja Singh Bhuchar.
Bhuchar ji was wearing black turban with a steel khanda over it, like the stalwarts of yore. Jhabbar requested him to stand up and meet the congregation. The Jathedar with his commanding bearing was loudly cheered with the slogan of Sat Sri Akal. Jhabbar then requested the Jathedar to take his seat at the rostrum. Parsad was brought and distributed by members of the Khalsa brotherhood. They also brought two swords and presented to the two Jathedars, Bhuchar ji and Jhabbar ji, as siropas.
A False Rumour
Out of the seventeen persons who had offered to serve at Sri Akal Takht Sahib, ten were Ramdasia and lower caste Sikhs. The Parsad was also brought by the Khalsa brotherhood. Jathedar Bhuchar also was not of fair complexion. All of them were sitting at the rostrum. The anti-Sikh elements spread mischievous rumours in the city that the holy Akal Takht was under seige by the lower castes. The news spread even to the rural areas. Next day armoured groups from the Majha region began pouring in the Goldent Temple complex. But on meeting Jathedar Bhuchar and Jhabbar they felt satisfied. Jathedar Bhuchar selected some young men out of them and retained them at Akal Takht Sahib. More than 300 young men stayed with them at the complex.
The Pujaris incited some rowdy elements in the city to fight with them. A sympathizer informed the Jathedars of this mischief. They also bought some sticks etc. Some more young members of Khalsa brotherhood also arrived. Jhabbar counselled everyone that they must avoid fighting in the holy complex. But in case some ruffians attacked them, they should be firmly dealt with. If anybody demanded our leaving the complex, we should throw them away.
On October 11, 1920, Sarbrah Sunder Singh Ramgarhia arrived at Harmandar Sahib and informed that the Deputy Commissioner had desired Jathedar Bhuchar and Jhabbar to see him. He asked them to accompany him to the Deputy Commissioner.