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Gateway to Sikhism


2nd October

1926 First meeting of General Members of SGPC held.

The first meeting of General Members elected under guidance of Gurudwara Act of 1925, was held to elect their office bearers. It was at this meeting the name Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) was approved through a resolution and adopted unanimously. Baba Kharak Singh elected President and Master Tara Singh became Vice President.

==> Baba KHARAK SINGH, popularly known as "the Betaj Badshah" was one of the greatest Sikh leaders, a religious reformer and freedom fighter. For more than three decades, he struggled boldly against mis-management of Gurdwaras and the British rule in India. He was tried by courts in every important agitation for independence, went to prison fifteen times and suffered incarceration for an aggregate of twenty years. In the liberation of Sikh shrines from the British agents his role was decisive. Giani Partap Singh calls him the most honored Sikh leader of Indian people and founder of Gurdwara Reform Movement who had firm determination, a sense of selfless service detachment and simplicity ("Akali Lehar de Mahan Neta", p. 5, tr. mine).

Baba Kharak Singh was born on June 10, 1868 in Sialkot (now in Pakistan). He came of a wealthy family. His father, Rai Bahadur Hari Singh Rais was a big contractor. So good education was achieved easily. He matriculated from Scotch Mission High School in his home town. After passing Intermediate from Murray College, Sialkot, he joined Government College, Lahore. He was fortunate to be one of the first batch to pass B.A. from Punjab University. Then he joined the law course in Allahabad University. But he had to discontinue the studies on account of his father's death. He was married in a rich family and had one son.

With the noble idea of devoting himself fully to public and national service, Kharak Singh renounced all comforts of a wealthy home. It was an act of great sacrifice on his part. In this respect he can be justly compared to Jawaharlal Nehru. Later he faced all difficulties and deprivation with good grace. During the days of poverty he did not seek help from any quarter.

Even in his early public activity his patriotic and religious spirit was evident. For some time he worked as Secretary, Municipal Committee, Sialkot. But he resigned because the President was the Deputy Commissioner, an Englishman. It was against his self-respect to salute that foreign officer and keep standing while presenting papers. He got the first honor to be the President of Sialkot Singh Sabha and Khalsa High School. At the same time he was also an active member of Chief Khalsa Diwan when it was free from the official influence.

The sphere of Kharak Singh's public life widened in 1912 when he became Chairman of Reception Committee of Fifth Sikh Educational Conference, Sialkot. In 1915 he acted as President of Sikh Educational Conference, Taran Taran. A bold action on his part here was to disallow a resolution conveying greetings to the British victory in World War I. As Sohan Singh Josh says, he tore the resolution to pieces and threw it in waste paper basket ("Akali Morchian da Itihas", p. 52). He did not care for the displeasure of some Sikh leaders inclined towards the authorities.

Baba Kharak Singh was closely associated with Gurdwara Reform Movement for many years. He revolted against closure of Gurdwara Babay-de-Ber at Sialkot by the "patit" Sarbrah Ganda Singh. He led a jatha to get the doors of that shrine opened. When his action was declared by the D.C. as violative of law, he replied, "I know law better than you" (Quoted by Kirpal Singh, "Chonvian Sikh Juwania", p.4). He broke open the lock and brought official control to an end.

Kharak Singh plunged into active politics in 1919 soon after seeing the horrors of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Along with others, he organized Central Sikh League, a purely political party of the Sikhs. On October 20, 1920 he presided over its Lahore Session. The issue of the demolished wall of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, Delhi, felled by officials was taken up. He also endorsed Non-Cooperation Movement of Indian National Congress. During those days mutual cooperation among political parties was quite common. Congress leaders like M.K. Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dr. Kitchloo participated in the Sikh League meetings.

Side by side he brought the representative religious body of the Sikhs - Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee - on sound footing. The previous committee formed by Panjab Govt. was elaborately extended. In August 1921 he became the first President of the real S.G.P.C. With his control (to quote Sohan Singh Josh again) the command of Sikhs came into the hands of such a leader who was sworn enemy of the English Raj, who hated selfish leaders and who could bear the worst blows to arouse the deadened spirit of Sikhs ("Akali Morchian da Itihas", p. 52, tr. mine). Under his guidance the objectives of S.G.P.C. were to bring the Sikh shrines under Panthic control, to abolish the influence of Mahants, to utilize the property and income of sacred places for religious purposes and to practice Sikhism as per teachings of the Gurus.

For missionary purpose Kharak Singh took bold initiative and determined stand. He ran one of the biggest factories manufacturing Kirpans without licence.

Contrary to the British Govt. instructions, he did not reduce the size of this weapon from three feet to nine inches. The police raided his factory on November 2 1, 1921 and seized 179 Kirpans. In the second raid on March 22, 1922, again 158 swords were seized. In the face of his determination the authorities had to yield. The people praised him for "liberating" the Kirpan irrespective of its length.

The brave Sikh crusader compelled the administration to hand over to him 53 keys of Toshakhana (Treasury) of Harmandir Sahib. These were still in the hands of officially appointed Manager though the whole complex had come in control of the Sikhs in October 1920. In a clever move these keys were obtained by Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, in November 1921. Baba Kharak Singh as President of S.G.P.C gave a call for agitation which came to be known as the keys Morcha. Along with some other leaders he was arrested on November 29, 1921 at Ajnala for violating prohibitory orders.

During the prosecution in that case in the court of Mr. Conor, he made bold statement against the British authorities. To quote an extract, "As the Government is a party to this prosecution and the Judge is one of its servants, I, therefore, do not wish to make any statement. My position as President of the Sikh Panth is like that of the President of the United States, France and Germany" (Quoted by Mohinder Singh, "The Akali Struggle", pp. 50-51). He was jailed for six months but had to be released earlier due to public protest.

Finally, the keys of Toshakhana were handed over to him by the District Judge on January 19, 1922. It was his great achievement and a big victory over the administration. Mahatma Gandhi called it decisive victory in "first Battle for India's Freedom". He also got Pandit Dina Nath released who was arrested along with Akalis. This glorious success made him a much esteemed leader of all the people. At this point people started calling him Betaj Badshah (Uncrowned King) and Baba Ji.

For his speeches against Colonial government, Baba Kharak Singh was again arrested in March 1922. Among other things he had said, "These Englishmen should leave India now. If they want to stay, they should live like tame persons" ("Akali Morchian da Itilias", p. 244; tr. mine). There were two charges against him - sedition and manufacture of large sword. He was sent to Dera Ghazi Khan Jail where his imprisonment was later extended to five years. In that jail he sacrificed A class facilities and lived like ordinary prisoners. The authorities there asked him to stop wearing black turban which irritated them. But he refused to carry out that instruction. As a result his turban was forcibly taken off. He protested against this outrage by removing shirt also. It is on record that he remained only in underwear for four years. When black turban was allowed he insisted on permission for Gandhi cap for Congressmen. Then his release was recommended by the Punjab Council. But he, like Master Tara Singh, refused to give any written or verbal assurance regarding his conduct.

When the Simon Commission arrived in 1928, he organized a big demonstration against it. Nothing less than absolute independence was acceptable to him. His protest against the demand of Dominion Status for India had to be considered by other leaders.

Baba Kharak Singh's open criticism of certain leaders of Congress Party brought about his alienation from it. In 1922 he was elected President of Panjab Pradesh Congress Committee also. But in 1929 the recommendation made by Nehru Committee annoyed him. Even the withdrawal of demand of Dominion Status could not appease him. Some Congress leaders said that his attitude was adamant. He organized a separate Akali Conference in Lahore.

As leader of the Sikhs he brought about many reforms in their shrines and organizations. Corruptions at religious places could not be tolerated by him. Influence of government agents was checked and then completely removed. He became the president of S.G.P.C. again in 1926. During his administration, the Sikh institutions were not used for honoring British officials, as had been done in the past. In 1929, he presided over All India Sikh Educational Conference for the second time.

During 1932-33 he had differences with Master Tara Singh who had been his companion. It was alleged that he had secret understanding with Maharaj Patiala who had employed his nephews Sunder Singh and Nirmal Singh. Baba Ji could not tolerate such petty things. He submitted his resignation from S.G.P.C. and Akali Dal. With that action the field was left completely opened for Master Tara Singh.

Meanwhile Kharak Singh continued playing his role in the struggle for independence. In 1931 he was detained, but released after six months. Next year he was again arrested for his active role in the movement and remained in jail for nineteen months. In 1935 he rejected Communal Award passed by the British Govt. This brought him imprisonment for two years. Like Subhas Chander Bose, he was not in favor of helping the British in World War II. In 1940 he was jailed for one year for speaking against the government.

Even in his old age Baba ji was active in the struggle for freedom. When the question of partition of the country came up, he raised the slogan - Undivided India. In 1944 he presided over United India Conference at Gujranwala. For his forceful speech there he was again arrested but released soon after.

After independence in l947 Baba Kharak Singh settled in Delhi. He did not seek any office or position on the basis of his sacrifices. On his 86th birthday Prime Minister Nehru and President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad praised his bravery, patriotism and determination. He breathed his last on October 6, 1963, aged 95, survived by three grandsons, his son having pre-deceased him in an accident.

-from "Baba Kharak Singh - The Betaj Badshah by Dr. Dharam Singh. Sikh Review, Sept. 1992 issue.

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras. brings to you a unique and comprehensive approach to explore and experience the word of God. It has the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Amrit Kirtan Gutka, Bhai Gurdaas Vaaran, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib and Kabit Bhai Gurdas . You can explore these scriptures page by page, by chapter index or search for a keyword. The Reference section includes Mahankosh, Guru Granth Kosh,and exegesis like Faridkot Teeka, Guru Granth Darpan and lot more.
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