Karam Singh, Bhai
One of the Nankana Sahib Martyrs (1885-1921)
Was the son of Bhai Bhagvan Singh, a priest of Takht Kesgarh, at Anandpur Sahib. He was born on 14 November 1885 and given the name of Sant Singh. He received instruction in the Sikh sacred lore and in devotional music from his father and grew up to be an accomplished singer of the holy hymns. At the time of the Guru ka Bagh agitation in 1922, Karam Singh and his wife, Kishan Kaur, went on a pilgrimage to Gurdwara Panja Sahib where he so impressed the sangat with his kirtan that the Gurdwara committee employed him permanently as one of the choir. Here he also took the pahulof the Khalsa and was renamed Karate Singh.
The agitation at Guru ka Bagh, a shrine near Amritsar taken over by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee after a negotiated settlement with the erstwhile mahant or priest, had started on 8 August 1922 over the question of the right of felling trees from the Gurdwara land for the Guru ka Langar. The mahant, going back on his word, sought help from police against the alleged trespass, and Sikhs had recourse to a non-violent resistance campaign. At first Sikh volunteers were arrested and tried for trespass, but from 25 August police began beating them with canes and lathis. The volunteers would go to the disputed site unarmed, in groups of four at a time, with the declared intention of felling trees and the police would beat them mercilessly. They would take the beating with a stoic. calm and would not budge until rendered unconscious, removed and replaced by the next batch.
As the news of police atrocity spread, the number of volunteers who came forward to take the beating increased. The reverend C.F. Andrews visited Guru ka Bagh on 12 September and reported what he had seen to the Punjab Governor, who visited Amritsar on 13 September. The beating stopped from the next day, but arrests recommenced. The prisoners were kept in the Gobindgarh Fort at Amritsar for a few days, and when they made a trainful of load, they were despatched to distant jails such as Multan and Mianvali.
On 29 October 1922, one such special train left Amritsar for the Attock Fort. It was to touch Hasan Abdal (Panja Sahib) railway station the following forenoon. The Panja Sahib Sikhs prepared a meal to be served to the detenues. But when they reached the railway station, they were informed that the special train was not scheduled to halt at Hasan Abdal. The Sikhs pleaded that on earlier occasions such trains had been stopped at places like Jehlum and Gujjar Khan for prisoners to be fed, but the station master expressed his helplessness in face of the instructions he had received.
The signals were lowered and the sound of the train could be heard from a distance. There was no time for further pleading or argument. Bhai Karam Singh and his colleague, Bhai Pratap Singh, treasurer of the local Gurdwara committee, sat cross-legged in the middle of the railway track determined to stop the train. They were followed by several others, men and women, who sat next to them. The locomotive driver slowed down and whistled without knowing who the squatters were. The train steamed on, but the Sikhs did not move. As it came to a screeching halt, it had run over eleven of the squatters. The rest of the sangat rushed forward and pulled out the injured. Badly mangled but still retaining consciousness, Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Pratap Singh told them not to waste time on them, but first serve food to the prisoners.
The train whistled and moved on. The injured were brought to the Gurdwara Panja Sahib and given medical aid. Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Pratap Singh were, however, beyond recovery and they died on 31 October 1922. Their dead bodies were taken to Rawalpindi on 1 November and cremated there on the bank of the Lai stream. Until the partition of 1947, an annual fair used to be held at Gurdwara Panja Sahib on 14, 15 and 16 Kartik in memory of the martyrs.