Kharak Singh, Baba
Sikh Political leader and the First President of the SGPC (1868-1963)
He 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 Panab University in 1889. He then joined Law College, Allahabad, but could not complete his course 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 1912 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 the 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 which under his direction led the Sikhs to participate in the non-co-operation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. In 1921, 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 Temple treasury seized by the British Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, and underwent during this campaign the first of his numerous jail terms. Arrested on 26 November 1921 for making an antigovernment speech, he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment on 2 December 1921, but was released on 17 January 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 Ghazi Khan (now in Pakistan), where in protest against the forced removal of the turbans of Sikh and Gandhi caps of nonSikh political prisoners, he discarded all his clothes except his kachhahira 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 Committee) constituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, and was re-elected to the high office after fresh elections in 1930. He resigned soon after, although he continued to work both for national independence and for 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 snaking 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.