Today in Sikh History – 19th January
First Gurdwara Sahib in Canada 19th,1908 the was officially opened at 1866 west 2nd Avenue Vancouver B.C., under the management of the Khalsa Diwan Society. This Gurdwara Sahib served the Greater Vancouver Sikh community until new Gurdwara Sahib was occupied on April 25th,1970. The 2nd Avenue property was sold for $100,000 to build a bigger (present) Gurdwara Sahib. It was very unfortunate to lose this historical Sikh monument.
The present Gurdwara Sahib’s foundation stone was laid on March 30th,1969 at 8000 Ross Street, Vancouver B.C. in 2.75 acre lot at the corner of Ross Street and S.E. Marine Drive. The construction was completed in 1970 by the Haebler Construction Co. Ltd. at the cost of $433,000. The building of the Gurdwara Sahib was designed and built by a well known architect M/S Erickson and Massey. On November 30th,1969, the 500th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the opening ceremony of the present Gurdwara Sahib was performed. Although the building was not occupied until April 25th,1970.
Keys to ToshaKhana (Panth Treasury) were returned to SGPC. Due to some misunderstandings, the keys to Sri Harimandir Sahib’s ToshaKhana (Panthic treasury) were seized by the Deputy Commissioner on Nov. 7, 1921. An agitation was launched to seek their return. The keys were subsequently returned to Baba Kharak Singh, who was president of SGPC at that time, during active diwan in front of the Akal Takhat, by the District Authorities of Amritsar. Mahatma Gandhi hailed this event as the first decisive battle for India’s freedom won.
==> Baba KHARAK SINGH, popularly known as the Betaj Badshah was one of the greatest Sikh leaders, a religious reformer and freedom fighter. For more than three decades, he struggled boldly against mis-management of Gurdwaras and the British rule in India. He was tried by courts in every important agitation for independence, went to prison fifteen times and suffered incarceration for an aggregate of twenty years. In the liberation of Sikh shrines from the British agents his role was decisive. Giani Partap Singh calls him the most honored Sikh leader of Indian people and founder of Gurdwara Reform Movement who had firm determination, a sense of selfless service detachment and simplicity (Akali Lehar de Mahan Neta, p. 5, tr. mine).
Baba Kharak Singh was born on June 10, 1868 in Sialkot (now in Pakistan). He came of a wealthy family. His father, Rai Bahadur Hari Singh Rais was a big contractor. So good education was achieved easily. He matriculated from Scotch Mission High School in his home town. After passing Intermediate from Murray College, Sialkot, he joined Government College, Lahore. He was fortunate to be one of the first batch to pass B.A. from Punjab University. Then he joined the law course in Allahabad University. But he had to discontinue the studies on account of his father’s death. He was married in a rich family and had one son.
With the noble idea of devoting himself fully to public and national service, Kharak Singh renounced all comforts of a wealthy home. It was an act of great sacrifice on his part. In this respect he can be justly compared to Jawaharlal Nehru. Later he faced all difficulties and deprivation with good grace. During the days of poverty he did not seek help from any quarter.
Even in his early public activity his patriotic and religious spirit was evident. For some time he worked as Secretary, Municipal Committee, Sialkot. But he resigned because the President was the Deputy Commissioner, an Englishman. It was against his self-respect to salute that foreign officer and keep standing while presenting papers. He got the first honor to be the President of Sialkot Singh Sabha and Khalsa High School. At the same time he was also an active member of Chief Khalsa Diwan when it was free from the official influence.
The sphere of Kharak Singh’s public life widened in 1912 when he became Chairman of Reception Committee of Fifth Sikh Educational Conference, Sialkot. In 1915 he acted as President of Sikh Educational Conference, Taran Taran. A bold action on his part here was to disallow a resolution conveying greetings to the British victory in World War I. As Sohan Singh Josh says, he tore the resolution to pieces and threw it in waste paper basket (Akali Morchian da Itihas, p. 52). He did not care for the displeasure of some Sikh leaders inclined towards the authorities.
Baba Kharak Singh was closely associated with Gurdwara Reform Movement for many years. He revolted against closure of Gurdwara Babay-de-Ber at Sialkot by the patit Sarbrah Ganda Singh. He led a jatha to get the doors of that shrine opened. When his action was declared by the D.C. as violative of law, he replied, I know law better than you (Quoted by Kirpal Singh, Chonvian Sikh Juwania, p.4). He broke open the lock and brought official control to an end.
Kharak Singh plunged into active politics in 1919 soon after seeing the horrors of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Along with others, he organized Central Sikh League, a purely political party of the Sikhs. On October 20, 1920 he presided over its Lahore Session. The issue of the demolished wall of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, Delhi, felled by officials was taken up. He also endorsed Non-Cooperation Movement of Indian National Congress. During those days mutual cooperation among political parties was quite common. Congress leaders like M.K. Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dr. Kitchloo participated in the Sikh League meetings.
Side by side he brought the representative religious body of the Sikhs – Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee – on sound footing. The previous committee formed by Panjab Govt. was elaborately extended. In August 1921 he became the first President of the real S.G.P.C. With his control (to quote Sohan Singh Josh again) the command of Sikhs came into the hands of such a leader who was sworn enemy of the English Raj, who hated selfish leaders and who could bear the worst blows to arouse the deadened spirit of Sikhs (Akali Morchian da Itihas, p. 52, tr. mine). Under his guidance the objectives of S.G.P.C. were to bring the Sikh shrines under Panthic control, to abolish the influence of Mahants, to utilize the property and income of sacred places for religious purposes and to practice Sikhism as per teachings of the Gurus.
For missionary purpose Kharak Singh took bold initiative and determined stand. He ran one of the biggest factories manufacturing Kirpans without licence.
Contrary to the British Govt. instructions, he did not reduce the size of this weapon from three feet to nine inches. The police raided his factory on November 2 1, 1921 and seized 179 Kirpans. In the second raid on March 22, 1922, again 158 swords were seized. In the face of his determination the authorities had to yield. The people praised him for liberating the Kirpan irrespective of its length.
The brave Sikh crusader compelled the administration to hand over to him 53 keys of Toshakhana (Treasury) of Harmandir Sahib. These were still in the hands of officially appointed Manager though the whole complex had come in control of the Sikhs in October 1920. In a clever move these keys were obtained by Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, in November 1921. Baba Kharak Singh as President of S.G.P.C gave a call for agitation which came to be known as the keys Morcha. Along with some other leaders he was arrested on November 29, 1921 at Ajnala for violating prohibitory orders.
During the prosecution in that case in the court of Mr. Conor, he made bold statement against the British authorities. To quote an extract, As the Government is a party to this prosecution and the Judge is one of its servants, I, therefore, do not wish to make any statement. My position as President of the Sikh Panth is like that of the President of the United States, France and Germany (Quoted by Mohinder Singh, The Akali Struggle, pp. 50-51). He was jailed for six months but had to be released earlier due to public protest.
Finally, the keys of Toshakhana were handed over to him by the District Judge on January 19, 1922. It was his great achievement and a big victory over the administration. Mahatma Gandhi called it decisive victory in first Battle for India’s Freedom. He also got Pandit Dina Nath released who was arrested along with Akalis. This glorious success made him a much esteemed leader of all the people. At this point people started calling him Betaj Badshah (Uncrowned King) and Baba Ji.
For his speeches against Colonial government, Baba Kharak Singh was again arrested in March 1922. Among other things he had said, These Englishmen should leave India now. If they want to stay, they should live like tame persons (Akali Morchian da Itilias, p. 244; tr. mine). There were two charges against him – sedition and manufacture of large sword. He was sent to Dera Ghazi Khan Jail where his imprisonment was later extended to five years. In that jail he sacrificed A class facilities and lived like ordinary prisoners. The authorities there asked him to stop wearing black turban which irritated them. But he refused to carry out that instruction. As a result his turban was forcibly taken off. He protested against this outrage by removing shirt also. It is on record that he remained only in underwear for four years. When black turban was allowed he insisted on permission for Gandhi cap for Congressmen. Then his release was recommended by the Punjab Council. But he, like Master Tara Singh, refused to give any written or verbal assurance regarding his conduct.
When the Simon Commission arrived in 1928, he organized a big demonstration against it. Nothing less than absolute independence was acceptable to him. His protest against the demand of Dominion Status for India had to be considered by other leaders.
Baba Kharak Singh’s open criticism of certain leaders of Congress Party brought about his alienation from it. In 1922 he was elected President of Panjab Pradesh Congress Committee also. But in 1929 the recommendation made by Nehru Committee annoyed him. Even the withdrawal of demand of Dominion Status could not appease him. Some Congress leaders said that his attitude was adamant. He organized a separate Akali Conference in Lahore.
As leader of the Sikhs he brought about many reforms in their shrines and organizations. Corruptions at religious places could not be tolerated by him. Influence of government agents was checked and then completely removed. He became the president of S.G.P.C. again in 1926. During his administration, the Sikh institutions were not used for honoring British officials, as had been done in the past. In 1929, he presided over All India Sikh Educational Conference for the second time.
During 1932-33 he had differences with Master Tara Singh who had been his companion. It was alleged that he had secret understanding with Maharaj Patiala who had employed his nephews Sunder Singh and Nirmal Singh. Baba Ji could not tolerate such petty things. He submitted his resignation from S.G.P.C. and Akali Dal. With that action the field was left completely opened for Master Tara Singh.
Meanwhile Kharak Singh continued playing his role in the struggle for independence. In 1931 he was detained, but released after six months. Next year he was again arrested for his active role in the movement and remained in jail for nineteen months. In 1935 he rejected Communal Award passed by the British Govt. This brought him imprisonment for two years. Like Subhas Chander Bose, he was not in favor of helping the British in World War II. In 1940 he was jailed for one year for speaking against the government.
Even in his old age Baba ji was active in the struggle for freedom. When the question of partition of the country came up, he raised the slogan – Undivided India. In 1944 he presided over United India Conference at Gujranwala. For his forceful speech there he was again arrested but released soon after.
After independence in l947 Baba Kharak Singh settled in Delhi. He did not seek any office or position on the basis of his sacrifices. On his 86th birthday Prime Minister Nehru and President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad praised his bravery, patriotism and determination. He breathed his last on October 6, 1963, aged 95, survived by three grandsons, his son having pre-deceased him in an accident.
-from Baba Kharak Singh – The Betaj Badshah by Dr. Dharam Singh Sikh Review, Sept. 1992 issue
Sirdar Sewa Singh ThikriWala died in Jail while fulfilling his promise of fast unto death.
==> Sardar SEWA SINGH THIKRIWALA (1878-1935): Political activities in PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) centered around economic and social but certainly not on religious considerations. The problem of antagonistic relations between the landlords and tenants was so enormous that it almost defied a solution. The biggest issue, absentee land-lordism in PEPSU, made the struggle between Haves and Have nots more bitter and even violent. All important posts were exclusively reserved for a few families that were near and dear to the Maharaja.
After the settlement of disputes over the Gurudwaras, the Akalis from the states began to agitate against the autocratic misuse of power by the maharajas, chiefly Bhupendra Singh of Patiala. Sardar Sewa Singh Thikriwala was the leader of this agitation. Therefore, Maharaja Bhupendra Singh retaliated by having him arrested on a false charge of theft and transferred from Lahore jail to Patiala. Akalis took up the case of Thikriwala and let loose a campaign publicizing Bhupendra Singh’s amorous escapades and the sadistic behavior of his police. Though Maharaja was able to win over a section of the Akalis, he could not silence the Punjabi and Urdu press. The pro-Patiala group was led by Giani Sher Singh and Jaswant Singh Jhabal. They condemned the Akali agitation against Bhupendra Singh as a murderous war against a brother.
In 1928, Akalis from the states joined with Hindu nationalists and founded the Praja Mandal (States People’s Association). The mandal was later affiliated to the All India States People’s Congress, which in turn was associated with the Indian National Congress. Sewa Singh Thikriwala was the moving spirit behind the Association. He was arrested several times and in 1935 succumbed to third degree torture by the Maharaja’s Jailers. As a result of the murder of Thikriwala, the anti-Maharaja, anti-British movement gained momentum in all princely states of the Punjab.
-Ref. The Illustrated History of the Sikhs (1947-78), by Gur Rattan Pal Singh