Kishan Singh Gargajj
Founder of the Babbar Akali Movement (1886-1926)
Was the only son of Fateh Singh of Baring, a village in Jalandhar district in the Punjab. He joined the army as a sepoy in 1906 and rose to be a havildar major in 35th Sikh Battalion. While in the army, he was much affected by events such as the demolition of the wall of the Rikabganj Gurdwara in Delhi, the firing on the Komagata Maru passengers at Budge Budge, near Calcutta, and the Jallianvala Bagh massacre. He started criticizing the government for the imposition of martial law in the Punjab for which he was court-martialled and sentenced to 28 days rigorous imprisonment in military custody. He resigned from the army in 1921 and joined the Akali agitation for gurdwara reform.
The Nankana Sahib massacre of 20 Feburary 1921 proved a real turning point in the life of Kishan Singh. He blamed the British for the tragedy and nursed thoughts of revenge. At the time of the Sikh Educational Conference at Hoshiarpur from 1921 March 1921, he and Master Mota Singh held a secret meeting and resolved to slay those responsible for the bloody happenings at Nankana Sahib. Their first target was Mr Bowering, the British superintendent of police at Lahore. The attempt on his life aborted and the men involved were arrested on 23 May 1921. Warrants for the arrest of Kishan Singh and Master Mota Singh were issued, but both of them went underground. Kishan Singh continued making violent speeches whenever he had the chance. At Palahi, in Kapurthala state, he exhorted the people to don black turbans and become Akalis, to wear khaddar (home-spun cotton fabric) and not to co-operate with the government. On account of his fiery speeches, he came to be known as Kishan Singh Gargajj (the Thunderer).
Towards the close of 1921, Kishan Singh formed a secret group which came to be known as the Chakravarti Jatha. Among his trusted colleagues were Dalip Singh Gosal, Sundar Singh Babar, Karam Singh Jhingar, and Sant Kartar Singh (Sharaf Din before he converted a Sikh). They went around exhorting the people, especially army soldiers, to be ready for an armed rebellion against the British. From November 1921 to August of 1922, a series of divans was held at Bhubiana, Rurka Kalan, Bulena, Pandori Nijjhran, Dhingarian, Haripur, Bhojoval, Sanghval and other villages.
While Kishan Singh and his companions carried on their campaign in jalandhar district, with frequent incursions into the villages of Ambala district and Kapurthala state, Karam Singh of Daulatpur, who had organized a similar band of extremist Sikhs, worked in Hoshiarpur district. In October 1922, both groups joined together to form the Babar Akali Jatha vowed to violence. Kishan Singh was elected president of the Jatha, while Dalip Singh Gosal became secretary and Karam Single Jhingar treasurer. The Babar Akali Doaba was the Jatha’s official organ to which Kishan Singh frequently contributed articles and poems. Additionally, a series of leaflets particularly aimed at the Indian soldiers was issued regularly from August 1922 to May 1923. To obtain arms and ammunition, Kishan Singh established contact with two Sikh army soldiers – Amar Singh and Ude Singh. He directed the secret campaign for the "reformation", a euphimism for liquidation or murder, of the jhorchuks (lit. robe-bearers, i.e. British stooges and toadies), especially those who spied on the Babar Akalis.
The Punjab Government came down upon the Babar Akalis with a heavy hand. A proclamation was issued announcing rewards for the apprehension of absconding Babars. Kishan Singh’s arrest carried a reward of Rs 2,000. On 26 February 1923, he was seized at Pandori Mahal through the treachery of Kabul Singh, a resident of his own village, Baring.
Kishan Singh was the main accused in the Babar Akala conspiracy case. The trial lasted from 15 August 1923 to 28 February 1925. His written statement, which ran into 125 pages, centred on the inequities of British rule. Beyond making this statement, he forbore from taking any further part in the court proceedings. Kishan Singh was awarded death sentence, and was hanged on 27 February 1926.