He was born at village Sirhala Khurd, District Hoshiarpur. His father, Khem Singh was an army Havaldar who sought the cooperation of his people in opening a school in the village on nationalist lines, where education should be free for all children. The appeal that he made on this occasion evoked an immediate response. He said. ‘Brothers, the schools started by the British are preaching slavery. Let us boycott them and open a national school of ours in which children should receive education free of charge." However, the school was forcibly closed in 1921 and Hav. Khem Singh was arrested for taking part in the Alkali movement.
Harbans Singh, who was at that time studying at the Khalsa School, Baddon consulted some of his school friends and forthwith left his studies to take an active part in the Akali struggle against the British. At that time Guru Ka Bagh Morcha was in full swing. Giani Harbans Singh immediately proceded to Amritsar and joined one of the Akali jathas commissioned to take pan in the said morcha. Alongwith other members of the jatha, he was subjected to ruthless lathi blows which he braved with unique courage and composure of mind. After the lathi-charge, he was arrested and detained in the Campbellpor Jail. While in prison, he was was subjected to harassment and torture but he remained undaunted as before. After his release, he joined the Babbar Akali Party in the conviction that only revolutionary methods could be effective in fighting an enemy like the British. The Babbar movement was. however, crushed by the Government. But Giani Harbans Singh was lucky enough to survive and take part in subsequent national movement. In 1930-31, be participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement of the Indian National Congress and had to undergo imprisonment for one year.
After the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-45). Harbans Singh again became active in his anti.govemrnent activities. And to keep eyes on his activities, the Government posted a police chauki at his village Sirhala Khwd. But he proved too clever for the police and went underground to carry out his revolutionary programme. A big reward was announced by the Government for anyone who helped them effecting his arrest. For a long time he could not be traced. But then through the treachery of a colleague of his, he was arrested at village Jama Rai, District Amritsar. A dangerous man, as he was considered, he was at once retrieved to the Lahore Fort where he was put under trial for charges connected with the Kalka Shooting Case and the Kiratpur Murder Case. The court sentenced him to death and be was hanged on April 3, 1944