Historical Sikh Events: Saka Gangsar Sahib
At the time of accession to throne on the 25th January, 1912 A.D., Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, after performing the prayer to Guru Granth Sahib, had himself donned the sword, symbolising authority to rule. He did not get some British officer to bestow on him the symbol to Govern as was the custom. In his state, a Singh wearing a sword and black turban could move freely although it was banned by the British government. The day of the 20th February was dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of Nankana Sahib in the state of Nabha the responsibility of which happening lay on the Government. How could the British Government tolerate such a patriot on the throne?
The British Government was looking for an excuse to reomve him from the throne. The Maharaja of Patiala abducted a girl named Rajni from Nabha state. A quarrel arose between those two on account of that girl. Taking advantage of the oppurtunity, the British government dethroned the Maharaja of Nabha on the 9th July, 1923 A.D., and sent him to Dehradun with a yearly allowance of three hundred thousand rupees.
There was great unrest among the people of the state on the dethronement of the Maharaja. In this connection the Sikhs organised an ‘Akhand Path’ (continuous recitation of Guru Granth Sahib) in Gurdwara Gangsar in Jaito Mandi between 25th and 27th August, 1923 A.D. The police started taking down the names of those coming to the congregation and threatened those who brought rations for the ‘langar’ (free kitchen). The devotees kept coming to the Gurdwara inspite of this kind of attitude of the police. On the 27th August, the police arrested Sardar Inder singh Maur from the presence of Guru Granth Sahib without any warrant. The arrest of a Sikh in presence of Guru Granth Sahib became a religious matter for the Sikhs. The ‘Sangat’ (Sikh Devotees) decided that a chain of ‘Akhand Paths’ should be continued as long as the Government does not stop interference. The Shiromani Committee started sending squads of Singhs for the ‘Akhand Paths’ from Amritsar from the 1st September.
The Sikhs took out processions in the Sikh states and the towns of Punjab on the 9th September, 1923 A.D., to show their resentment against the interference of the Government. On the 14th September, policemen arrested those sitting in congregation, attendants and the reciter sitting in attendance of Guru Granth Sahib from Gurdwara Gangsar. The Shiromani Committee stated sending a squad of twenty-five singhs daily from Amritsar from the 15th September. Before the departure of the squad, the Singhs were asked to take the pledge. "My aim is to restart the interrupted ‘Akhand Path’ in Gurdwara Gangsar and to keep it going in the Gurdwara independently and collectively in the form of congregation according to Sikh tradition. If in doing so, I have to face hardship and trouble at the hands of the Government officials, I shall bear all very politely and without lifting my hand to strike."
The Government arrested those squads before they reached Gangsar. The Singhs of the squads were beaten up, kept hungry for two days at a stretch and lef off in the forest of Nabha. On the 13th October, the leaders of Shiromani committee and Akali Dal were arrested on the 7th January, 1923 A.D. The Government was of the view that the agitation would fail by the arrest of the members of the committee but contrary to their views the agitation intersified further.
On the 9th February, 1924 A.D., the first martyr squad of five hundred Singhs saffron attire marched from ‘Sri Akal Takht’. A band preceded the squad followed by five beloved ones with saffron flags (Nishan Sahib). The palanquin of Guru Granth Sahib was in the middle folowed by the squad of martyrs in the lines of four. This squad was proceeding towards Gangsar reciting hymns, shouting slogans and holding congregations on the way. The people were serving the squad with milk, water, sweets and fruits, etc. although the Government was exerting great pressure on people not to serve them.
When the squad reached near Tibbi Sahib on the 21st February, a British officer said ,"Stop, otherwise there will be firing." The squad kept on moving forward. The officer ordered to open fire. Firing continued from three sides for five minutes. Bearing the brunt of fire the squad continued to advance. As firing stopped, mounted soldiers and police beat the surviving members of the squad, tied them with ropes and took them inside the fort. Seven hundred singhs were arrested that day, about two hundred were injured and one hundred attained martyrdom. after the arrest of the squad of martyrs, the rulers of Nabha set up a special torture chamber in which the leading singhs were taken and tortured. they were hung feet up and were hit on the genitals. They were kept naked outside in cold. Inspite of these tortures on the Singhs, every time more Singhs presented themselves for the next squads than were asked by the Committee. Singhs came from as far off as Canada, Hongkong, Shanghai to join the Squads. After firing on the first squad of martyrs, this ‘Morcha’ (agitation) became an international movement.
The sixteenth squad of martyrs of five hundred Singhs started from ‘Sri Akal Takht’ on the 17th April, 1925 A.D., Before that Squad had reached Gurdwara Gangsar, Sri Malcolm Heely, the Governor of Punjab gave approval to the Gurdwara Act on the 11th July, 1925 A.D. All the Akalis were released on the 27th July. Freedom to hold ‘Akhand Path’ at Jaito was obtained after one year and ten months.