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Sikhs in 1900s

Baba Kharak Singh

Baba Kharak Singh was a Sikh political leader and virtually the first president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, was born on 6 June 1868 at Sialkot, now in Pakistan His father, Rai Bahadur Sardar Hari Singh, was a wealthy contractor and industrialist.

Kharak Singh, having passed his matriculation examination from Mission High School and intermediate from Murray College, both at Sialkot, joined Government College, Lahore, and was among the first batch of students who graduated from the Panjab Univesity in 1889 He then joined law College, Allahabad, but could not complete his coursc owing to the death of his father and elder brother in quick succession He returned to Sialkot to manage the family property. He started his public life in 1910 as chairman of the reception committee of the 5th session of the Sikh Educational Conference held at Siakot Three years later, as president of the 8th session of the Conference held at Tarn Taran, he surprised everyone by walking to the site of the conference breaking thc custom of being carried in state on a buggy driven by six horses He also refused permission for a resolution to be moved at the conference wishing victory to the British in World War I.

It was the Jallianvala Bagh massacre of 1919 which brought Kharak Singh actively into Sikh politics In 1920, he became president of the Central Sikh league council, which under his direction led the Sikhs to participate in the non-co-operation movement launched by Mahatma Galldlll In 1920’S, he was elected president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and in the year following also president of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee. He successfully led in 1921-22 the agitation for the restoration to the Sikhs of the keys of the Golden Templc treasury seized by the British Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, and underwent during this campaign the first of his numerous jail terms. He was jailed on 26 November 1921 for making an anti government speech, he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on 2 December 1921, but was released on 17January 1922 when the keys of the toshakhana were also surrendered to him. He was, however, rearrested soon and, on 4 April 1922, was awarded one year’s jail for running a factory for manufacturing kirpans, one of the religious symbols of the Sikhs, and another three years on charges of making seditious speeches. He was sent to jail in distant Dera Gazi Khan (now in Pakistan), where in protest against the forced removal of the turbans of Sikh and Gandhi caps of non-Sikh political prisoners, he discarded all his clothes except his kachahira or drawers. Despite the extreme weather conditions of the place, he remained barebacked until he was released after his full term (twice extended for non-obedience of orders) on 4 June 1927. He had unanimously been elected president in absentia of the Gurdwara Central Board (later redesignated Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Commitee) constituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, and was reselected to the high office after fresh elections in 1930. He resigned soon after, although he continued to work both for national independence andfor the protection of Sikh interests.

Earlier during 1928-29, he had vehemently opposed the Nehru Committee Report until the Congress Party shelved it and undertook to secure Sikhs’ concurrence in the framing of constitutional proposals in the future. He opposed, though without success, the Communal Award, which gave statutory majority to Muslims in the Punjab, and was in and out of jail on several occasions for making what the government held to be seditious speeches. He was a firm protagonist of national unity and opposed both the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and the Akali proposal for an Azad Punjab. After 1947, he stayed in Delhi in virtual retirement, and died there on 6 October 1963 at the ripe age of 95.


Excerpts taken from these books.
Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Harbans Singh ji.
Published by Punjabi university, Patiala


Mohinder Singh, 7/le Akali, 1978
Harbans Singh, The heitnge of the Sikhs.


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