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Sikh History 1912- 1926

Gaddar, commonly translated as "mutiny," was the name given to the newspaper edited and published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast which was founded at Portland, United States of America, in 1912. The movement this Association gave rise to for revolutionary activity in India also came to be known by the designation of Gaddar.

As land holdings were becoming uneconomical in the Punjab, the farmers started, by the turn of the century, going abroad to seek new pastures. East Asian countries where new opportunities were opening up offered attractive prospects. Farmers in considerable numbers started moving in that direction. Learning of still better prospects there they began trickling out to Canada and to the United States of America during the first decade of the twentieth century. They were mostly small farmers, ex-soldiers and artisans; as Sikhs they had no taboos against crossing the seas.

For the development of the Western Coast of North America, labour was required. The American and Canadian employers encouraged inflow of cheap and hardworking labour available from among the Chinese, Japanese and Indians (mostly Punjabis). By 1908, about 5,000 Indians had entered Canada. Almost 99% of the Indian immigrants were Punjabis, out of which 90% were Sikhs.

To help Indians in Chicago and New York, Americans established the Indo-American Society. Under its auspices was formed another forum - Indo-American National Association, which invited Indian students for, study in the U.S.A. and rendered them financial help. The forum also started an "India House" where Indian students were provided with free lodging and board. Many students of middle classes joined Berkeley University, in San Francisco. They had to earn to pay for their expenses. Lala Har Dayal (Stanford University), Sant Teja Singh (Harvard University) and Bhai Parmanand decided to get more students belonging to poor families for study in the U.S.A. and Canada. Bhai Javala Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh and Sant Vasakha Singh also joined hands and agreed to render financial help to the students. Along with the students many Indian rebels also found their way into the U.S.A. After some time, owing to financial difficulties, the Society disappeared but similar associations and India Houses sprang up in London and Paris.

The Indians who went to the United States and Canada came from the rural farming middle classes and labour, a large number among them being ex-servicemen. In the beginning, the Indians went to San Francisco and Stockton in California, Portland and Saint John in Oregon and Washington States, and to Vancouver and Victoria, in British Columbia, in Canada. Such persons as Amar Singh and Gopal Singh who had gone to America in 1905, and Tarak Nath Das and Ram Nath Puri, who followed them, started preaching against the British rule in India. They also started a paper called "Azadi ka Circular" in Urdu. This paper was distributed among the armed forces in India to rouse them against the British.

There was constant tension between the White and Asian labour. The latter was low paid, had no facilities such as provided for the White labour. This created jealousies, and the White labour started harassing the Asian labour. They organized attacks on Asian habitations. The Whites even taunted the Indians with being slaves. The governments of China and Japan sent strong protests against the maltreatment of their nationals but there was no one to fight for Indians. The result was that the Canadian government started further harassment of the Indians already there, and also tried to stop further immigration of Indians, also termed as "turbaned tide" or the "ragheads".

During 1908, the Canadian government tried to persuade Indians in Canada to shift to the British Honduras (Central America) and settle there. An Indian delegation visited Honduras and found the climatic conditions there unsuitable and the wages too low. Hence they refused to migrate to the British Honduras.

The Canadian Government further tightened measures against the entry of Indians into Canada. It passed a legislation that newcomers would not be permitted to land on the Canadian soil "unless they came from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey, and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship." They were also required to possess $ 200 against the previously fixed sum of $ 25. These terms hit the Indians the most as they neither possessed any ships of their own nor was there a direct service between India and Canada. The shipping companies were directed against issuing direct tickets to Indians. The British Government in India gave wide publicity to these new terms in order to discourage the people from going to Canada.

The Indians in Canada had created large properties, and, having lived there for three years, had obtained Canadian citizenship. Now they wanted to get their families to join them, but this was not permitted. Many Indians returned to India. Protests to the various authorities concerned made no difference. Indians became victims of racial discrimination, which, they had realized, was the outcome of their country being held in the shackles of slavery. It became a continuous struggle for Indians to enter Canada and to live an honourable life there. Even those who had gone to the United States, and wanted to return to Canada to dispose of their properties were not allowed to come to Canada.

In order to fight the unjust immigration laws, the Indians (mostly Sikhs) organized a Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver in 1907 with branches in Victoria, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Fraser Hill, Duncan Coombs and Ocean Falls. Under its guidance, the Indians successfully thwarted the Canadian Government's attempt to send them to the British Honduras. The Sikhs built a gurdwara at Vancouver which was inaugurated in January 1908, and later a few more at other places. These gurdwaras became the rallying places for the Indians.

During 1909, only 6 Indians were allowed entry into Canada. The same year the Indian immigrants organized Hindustan Association under the presidentship of Bhai Bhag Singh Bhikkhivind. Its objects were: formation of a purely Indian (national) government in India; spread of national education; industrialization of India; provision of safeguards from loot by foreigners, and so on. The association started two papers - Pardesi Khalsa in Punjabi and Svadesh Sevak in Urdu. Pamphlets like Khalsa and Maro Firangi Ko (Kill the Foreigner) were widely distributed. A Svadesh Sevak Home was opened on the lines of India House. These activities helped create national feeling among the Indians.

On 15 December 1911, the Society was replaced by another organization called United India League. These activities awakened the Indian immigrants. Persons like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Harnam Singh Tundilat, Udham Singh Kasel, Rakha Ram, Ishar Singh Marhana and others would collect on Sundays or on other holidays and ponder over the problem. St. John and Seattle (U.S.A.) became the centres of their activities. They protested against the maltreatment of their countrymen in the United States and Canada.

In 1911, the White labour resumed their attacks on Indians. By now, the Indians were politically awake. At many places they had organized themselves, procured arms and ammunition, and put up strong resistance. In 1912, at Portland, Hindustani (or Hindi) Association of the Pacific Coast was formed with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president and G.D. Kumar as the general secretary. The Association started a weekly, Hindustan, in Urdu. As Mr Kumar fell ill and could not cope up with the work, Lala Har Dayal was asked to take his place. The association during May 1913, at a largely attended meeting, decided to open a Gaddar Ashram also known as Yugantar Ashram, and also to form a Gaddar party with its headquarters at San Francisco and its branches at various places in the United States and Canada. The aim of the party was explained thus:

"Today, there begins in foreign lands... a war against the British raj... What is our name? Gaddar. What is our work? Gaddar. Where will Gaddar break out? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink."

In simple words, their aim was to get rid of the British raj in India through an armed rebellion.

Each factory or a railway workers' party selected its own committee to work directly under the Gaddar party headquarters. Out of the members taken from these committees was formed an executive committee to run the party paper and control its press. The party decided to publish a weekly called Gaddar. Every member was to pay a minimum subscription of $1 a month. A three-member cell was formed out of the executive committee to deal with political and secret affairs. Under the rules adopted, no religious subject was to be discussed in the committee. The officials selected were: Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (president), Bhai Kesar Singh Thathgarh (vice-president), Lala Har Dayal (general secretary), Lala Thakar Das Dhuri (joint secretary) and Pandit Kanshi Ram (treasurer).

The first issue of the Gaddar, in Urdu, came out in November 1913 and that in Punjabi a few weeks later. The paper carried the words "Enemy of the British Government," under its masthead on the front page. The paper was distributed to politico-Indian centres in United States (Western Coast), Canada, Philippines, Fiji, Sumatra, Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hankow, Java, Singapore, Malaya, Siam, Burma, India and East Africa. Occasionally, the Gaddar published the following advertisement:

Renumeration :


Reward :


Pension :


Field of work :


Later, Hindi, Gujarati, Pashto, Bengali and Nepali editions of the paper were also brought out. The paper brought about a new awakening among Indians. The British government tried to stop circulation of the paper, but failed in its efforts. Instead, the circulation of the paper increased and the party had to spend a great deal of money on it. Besides, a number of small pamphlets, many of them in Punjabi, such as Firangi da Fareb, Shabash (openly preaching the use of bombs for throwing the British out of India), Ghadar di Gunj, Zulam! Zulam! Gore Shahi Zulam, Tilak di Rihai, Navan Zamana, Panjabi Bharavan de Nam Suneha, Angah di Gvahi were issued. The Hindustani Sipahi was published to instigate Indian soldiers against the British rule. "Bande Matram" became the party slogan. The Gaddar party president, with some of his companions, often visited the Indian groups to exhort them to join the freedom movement.

The British thought that if Har Dayal were sent out of America, the Gaddar movement would automatically die. Har Dayal was arrested on the pretext of a speech delivered by him three years earlier. The party got him out on bail and managed to send him away to Switzerland. Thereafter he took no part in the Gaddar movement. Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna now decided to stay at the party headquarters, Bhai Santokh Singh became the general secretary, and the editing of the party paper was taken over by Bhai Harnam Singh of Kotla Naudh Singh. The party's plan was to invade Kashmir from China; then go for the Punjab, followed by other provinces. The members started getting training in the use of weapons and making of bombs; several got training in flying aircraft also. One of them, Harnam Singh, had his hand blown off while in the process of bomb making, and he was thence onwards known as Tundilat, the armless knight (tundi = armless; lat= lord or knight).

The party carried out considerable propaganda in Japan where Maulawi Barkat Ullah was a professor in Tokyo University. Later, when the British had him removed from the appointment, he reached San Francisco. His presence attracted many Muslims to the party. The Maulawi and Bhai Bhagwan Singh went together and addressed the gatherings one after the other. This had a healthy effect on the movement.

The Gaddar party did not restrict its activities to the Indians in the United States and Canada only, but covered also those living in Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Malaya, Siam and Japan. Bhai Bhagwan Singh and Bhai Santokh Singh worked among Indians in those countries. Many Indians were externed from these places for such activities. In these places also, gurdwaras became the centres of political activity of Indians. In Hong Kong, the British Government once placed the gurdwaras under police control to check these activities. The party also influenced soldiers of 25 and 26 Punjabis located in Hong Kong. Hira Singh, a millionaire of Hong Kong, rendered much help to the Gaddar party.

The Komagata Maru
incident added fuel to the fire. In San Francisco, the Gaddar gave the clarion call for mobilization as soon as the Komagata Maru was turned back. The First World War broke out in July 1914. On 5 August, leading members of the Gaddar party gathered at Yugantar Ashram, discussed the situation and decided to take advantage of the involvement of the British in the war. The Gaddar party declared war on the British and decided to come to India to carry out armed revolution against the British.

Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, with his companions, left for India. On 22 August 1914, the first ship with 26 Indians left Vancouver on 29 August, another ship with 60-70 Indians left San Francisco for India. The latter included Bhai Kesar Singh, Bhai Javala Singh Thathiati, Bhai Nidhan Singh Chuggha, Udham Singh Kasel and Pandit Jagat Ram. The Gaddar leaders wound up their businesses and from October 1914 started pouring in India from United States, Canada, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Sumatra, Hong Kong and other countries. They also included women workers, such as Bibi Gulab Kaur (originally from the village of Bakhshivala, in Sangrur district of the Punjab) from Manila. Her speeches impressed the listeners including the Malaya State Guides and other units of the Indian army.

According to government records, 2312 Indian Gaddar men had entered India between 13 October 1914 and 25 February 1915. Their influx continued till 1916 when their number increased to more than 8,000. But it is likely that the Gaddar men had entered India in greater numbers than the government knew.

The British Government was not unaware of these activities. It issued an Ingress Ordinance (5 September 1914) giving powers to the provincial governments enabling them to deal with the entrants in any way they considered proper. Most of the entrants were got hold of at the ports of entry, especially at Calcutta. They were either instructed to report to the Central Enquiry Office at Ludhiana, or, such as Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, were sent there under detention. Out of those apprehended, 2,500 were confined to their respective villages and 400 considered dangerous were kept under detention. About 5,000 were released with a warning.

The capture of Gaddar leaders had upset the plans to some extent, yet the party as a whole was not disheartened. New leaders came forward and reorganized the movement. They established their headquarters at Amritsar, later shifting to Lahore. The party established a new press and published small pamphlets such as : Gaddar Sandesh, Ailan-i jang, Tilak, Nadar Mauqa, Rikabganj, Canada da Dukhra, Naujavan Utho, Sachchi Pukar, and so on. These pamphlets were published in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, and were distributed among the public and the soldiers. The party also produced their own flag having red, yellow and green colours. Dr Mathura Singh supervised factories producing bombs.

The party members contacted students; they contacted soldiers stationed especially at Mian Mir (Lahore), Jalandhar, Firozpur, Peshawar, Jehlum, Rawalpindi, Mardan, Kohat, Bannu, Ambala, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra cantonments. The soldiers were generally in sympathy with the movement. Many party workers joined the army with a view to obtaining arms and ammunition.

Contacts were also established with Bengal revolutionaries such as Rash Behari Bose whose close companions were Sachin Sanyal and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle. Pingle acted as a link between the Gaddar party and Bengalis. The movement faced financial difficulties in India. The expenses had increased owing to opening of various branches, travelling, purchase of arms and ammunition and publications. Money was not easily available as it was in foreign countries. To overcome this difficulty, the party had to resort to forcible acquisition of funds by undertaking political dacoities.

All the preparations completed, the party executive met on 12 February 1915, and decided to start the rebellion on 21 February. Their plan was simultaneously to attack and capture Mian Mir and Firozpur cantonments; 128th Pioneer and 12 Cavalry were to capture Meerut Cantonment and then proceed to Delhi. Units in cantonments in northern India were expected to join the rebellion.

The British Government had intelligence men posted at railway stations in cities and in important villages. The lambardars, zaildars and other village functionaries were also alerted to provide information. The government had managed to plant informers in the Gaddar party itself. Before the new leadership came forward and reorganized the movement's plans, the British Government "knew much more about their designs and was in a better position to cope with them." In spite of this, the Gaddarites in the central Punjab murdered policemen and informers and attempted to derail trains and blow up bridges. Factories for preparing bombs were established. All this made the government feel that they were "living over a mine full of explosives."

When the party learnt that the information about the D-Day had leaked, they advanced the date of rebellion to 19 February, but this information also reached the police through their informer, Kirpal Singh. The police raided the party headquarters at four different places in Lahore and arrested 13 of the "most dangerous revolutionaries. All cantonments were alerted and the Indian troops placed under vigilance; some were even disarmed. Arrests of Gaddar men took place all over the Punjab. Rash Behari Bose, with the help of Kartar Singh Sarabha, escaped from Lahore to Varanasi: Vishnu Ganesh Pingle was arrested at Meerut on 23 March 1915. All the leaders were put in the Lahore jail.

The Government of the Punjab sought and the Government of India passed under the Defence of India Act wide powers to the Punjab Government who formed a special tribunal of three judges, including one Indian, to try the Gaddar men in the Central Jail, Lahore. Thus the rebellion was smashed by the government before it had really taken shape.

The Gaddar men were tried by the Special Tribunal in what are known as Lahore conspiracy cases in batches. The trial of the first batch began on 26 April 1915. In all, 291 persons were tried and sentenced as under: death for 42, 114 were transported for life, 93 awarded varying terms of imprisonment, 42 were acquitted. Confiscation of property was ordered in the case of many. No one appealed against the punishments. Those who were hanged included Kartar Singh Sarabha, Jagat Singh (Sursingh) Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Harnam Singh (Sialkoti), Bakhshish Singh (son of ishar Singh), Bhai Balvant Singh (Khurdpur), Babu Ram, Harnam Singh, Hafiz Abdulla and Rur Singh (Sanghval).

Under the circumstances, the army units which had promised to join the revolution kept quiet. However, some units such as 26 Punjabi, 7 Rajput, 12 Cavalry, 23 Cavalry, 128 Pioneers, Malaya State Guides, 23 Mountain Battery, 24 Jat Artillery, 15 Lancers, 22 Mountain Battery, 130 Baluch and 21 Punjabi did come out in the open. About 700 men of 5 Light Infantry, located in Singapore, mutineed on 15 February and took possession of the fort. The rebellion was subdued by the British troops; 126 men were tried by court martial which sentenced 37 to death, 41 to transportation for life, and the remaining to varying terms of imprisonment. Soldiers from other units were punished as following:




Transportation for life

















The party workers also went to Iran and Iraq to instigate Indian troops against the British, and to Turkey to exhort Indian prisoners to fight for India's freedom. In Iran, the party was able to raise an Indian Independence Army. The Army advanced towards Baluchistan, and en route captured Kirmanshah. Then they advanced along the coast towards Karachi. Meanwhile, Turkey was defeated and the British had occupied Baghdad. The Indian Independence Army thus losing its base was also defeated.

The Gaddar party contacted Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and other countries, but not much help came from any of these. Germany sympathized with the Gaddar party and occasionally tried to render some help in the form of weapons and money, but these often failed to reach the party. For instance, 5,000 revolvers on board Henry S. which sailed from Manila were captured en route by the British. Germany had also formed an Oriental Bureau for translating and disseminating inflammatory literature to the Indian prisoners of war in Germany.

During World War I, revolutionaries from most countries had gone to Switzerland, which was a neutral country. The Indians there formed Indian Revolutionary Society, also known as Berlin-India Committee. The Society had formed a provisional government at Kabul, but had no contacts with the Indian public. The Gaddar party established links with the Society and both agreed to help each other. Germany sent financial help to the Society but, on learning that it was being misappropriated, discontinued it. The Society soon collapsed. No sum ever reached the Gaddar party.

Gaddar movement, as says O' Dwyer, "was by far the most serious attempt to subvert British rule in India." Most of the workers were illiterate - only 2% of them knew Urdu or Punjabi. Still they organized a strong movement which for the time being thrilled the country and made the British panic. Although the movement was suppressed, it provided nucleus for the Akali movement that followed a few years later. The Gaddar leaders were especially prominent among the Babar Akalis.

Source: Encyclopaedia of Sikhism - Harbans Singh


Komagata Maru was a Japanese trampsteamer, renamed Guru Nanak Jahaz, launched from Hong Kong by Baba Gurdit Singh (1860-1954), an adventurous Sikh businessman, to take a batch of Indian emigrants to Canada.

In the year 1900 the census reported that there where 2050 people from India on the North American continent. The majority of these people were Punjabis who had settled in Canada who had come with the hope of finding work so that they could improve their economic situation from what it had been in Punjab. Canadians wanted the "brown invasion" to stop. They felt that the growing number of Indians would take over their jobs in factories, mills and lumber yards. It was these insecurities which led British Columbia to pass stringent laws discouraging the immigration of Indians to Canada. Indians had to have at least $200 on their person to enter British Columbia and had to have come via direct passage from India. These were very unreasonable laws as the average Indian only earned about ten cents a day. The Canadian government was also pressuring steamship companies to stop selling tickets to Indians. In 1907 a bill was passed denying all Indians the right to vote. They were prohibited to run for public office, serve on juries, and were not permitted to become accountants, lawyers or pharmacists. All this was done to stop the "brown Invasion." On the other hand Japanese and Chinese were immigrating in unlimited numbers.

In 1914 the Komagata Maru was an outright challenge to these exclusionist laws. The Komagata Maru was a Japanese trampsteamer, renamed Guru Nanak Jahaz, launched from Hong Kong by Baba Gurdit Singh (1860-1954), an adventurous Sikh businessman, to take a batch of Indian emigrants to Canada. The ship's route departed from Hong Kong, stopped in Japan and then headed to Canada. Its passengers included 376 Indians, all Punjabis, among whom 340 were Sikhs, 12 Hindus, and 24 Muslims. The ship was eventually turned back at Vancouver where landing was refused, and terminated eventually at Calcutta.

Bhai Gurdit Singh, Bhai Daljit Singh and his friend Bhai Vir Singh from Ferozepur were staying in a Gurdwara in Hong Kong in 1914. The story of Chief Justice Hunter's judgment in Victoria, B.C., about the release of 39 Asian Indians was on everybody's lips. The emigrants were overjoyed. Bhai Daljit Singh began selling tickets for departures to Canada. However, the British Government of Hong Kong was watching the activities of Bhai Gurdit Singh because the charter of Komagata Maru was in his name. Two days before the ship was due to sail, Bhai Gurdit Singh was arrested by Hong Kong police on the charge of illegally selling tickets for an illegal voyage and the ship placed under police guard. The Sikh Police of Hong Kong were often used to terrorize prospective emigrants.

According to all accounts, when it was announced that the ship was going to Canada, its full 500 accommodations were booked, but when Gurdit Singh was arrested by Hong Kong authorities, almost two-thirds of the prospective passengers decided to cancel out.


Gurdit Singh was released after having been held for three days and the ship sailed from Hong Kong on 4 April 1914, making intermediate stops to pick up more passengers at Shanghai, Moji and Yokohoma. When the Komagata Maru arrived at Vancouver on 23 May 1914, there were 376 Indians aboard the vessel, of whom all but 30 were Sikhs.

The progress of the Komagata Maru was reported in British Columbian papers as a "mounting Oriental invasion." When the ship arrived in Canadian waters, it was cordoned off and only 22 men who could prove their Canadian domicile were allowed to land. Pressure was brought to bear upon Gurdit Singh to pay the charter dues immediately or suffer the ship to be impounded. Gurdit Singh's protests that he could only pay the money after he had fulfilled his contract with the passengers by getting them into Canada and had sold the cargo which he had on board were ignored.

Sikhs in Canada raised $22,000 to pay for the charter. They appealed to the Canadian people and government for justice, sent telegrams to the King, the Duke of Connaught, the Viceroy, and Indian leaders in India and England. There were public meetings in several towns of the Punjab to express sympathy with the passengers of the Komagata Maru. The Shore Committee of Vancouver Sikhs ultimately took the case of the Komagata Maru to court. A full bench of the Supreme Court decided that the new orders-in-council barred judicial tribunals from interfering with the decisions of the Immigration department. At the end of the two months only 24 passengers were given permission to legally stay in Canada. On July 23, 1914 the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Victoria harbor and return to Hong Kong.

As The Komagata Maru approached Calcutta on September 26, 1914, a European gunboat signaled the ship to stop. The ship was put under guard and the passengers were held as prisoners. The Komagata Maru was taken to a place called Budge Budge, about seventeen miles away from its original destination of Calcutta. These new developments took the passengers of the ship by surprise. After two months of litigation in Canada they were not interested in any new developments of this kind. Baba Gurdit Singh inquired upon as to the change of their course, an official informed him that the passengers were being sent to Punjab via a special train. Many of the passengers did not want to go to Punjab. They had business to attend to in Calcutta, some wished to look for work there, and most importantly, the passengers wanted to place the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which they had taken with them on their journey, in a Calcutta Gurdwara.

The British officials did not care what the passengers wanted. They were going to be put on a train to Punjab and that would be the end of it. But the passengers were adamant on going to Calcutta. They were the rightful owners of the ship and the British officials had no reason to keep them on the ship or send them to Punjab. They felt that some action had to be taken, so they decided to march to Calcutta.

Their main purpose on reaching Calcutta was to hand over the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and to see the governor. The journey was long and after numerous threats by the police, they were left with no choice but to head back to Budge Budge. At Budge Budge, they were ordered to board the ship once again. The passengers, led by Baba Gurdit Singh, refused. A policeman attacked Baba Gurdit Singh with his baton but was stopped by a fellow passenger. It was at this point that firing started. Baba Gurdit Singh was carried to safety. But not all passengers were to be so fortunate. Twenty-nine fell victim to the bullets of British officials and 20 died. Here was another senseless massacre of innocent Indians at the hands of the British. The was the tragic end of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

The heroic deeds of the Komagata Maru men and their trials aroused the admiration and sympathy of the entire Indian nation.


The Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre took place on 13 April 1919 in the heart of Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs, on a day sacred to them as the birth anniversary of the Khalsa. The Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre lead by a senior British military officer, involved the killing of hundreds of unarmed, defenceless Indians.

On 9 April, the governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer (1864-1940), suddenly decided to deport from Amritsar Dr Satyapal and Dr Saif ud-Din Kitchlew, two very popular leaders in the region. This led to a general strike in Amritsar. Groups of citizens soon merged together into a crowd of about 50,000 marching on to protest to the deputy commissioner against the deportation of the two leaders. The crowd, however, was stopped and fired upon near the railway foot-bridge.

There was an uneasy calm in the city on 11 April. In the evening that day, Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer (b. 1864, ironically at Murree in the Punjab), commander 45th Infantry Brigade at Jalandhar, arrived in Amritsar. He immediately established file facto army rule, though the official proclamation to this effect was not made until 15 April. The troops at his disposal included 475 British and 710 Indian soldiers. On 12 April he issued an order prohibiting all meetings and gatherings.

On 13 April which marked the Baisakhi festival, a large number of people, mostly Sikhs, had poured into the city from the surrounding villages. Local leaders called upon the people to assemble for a meeting in the Jallianvala Bagh at 4.30 in the evening. Brigadier-General Dyer set out for the venue of the meeting at 4.30 with 50 riflemen and two armoured cars with machine guns mounted on them. Meanwhile, the meeting had gone on peacefully, and two resolutions, one calling for the repeal of the Rowlatt Act (2 bills passed by a Sedition Committee, popularly known as Rowlatt Committee on the legislation necessary to deal with criminal conspiracies connected with the revolutionary movement in India.) and the other condemning the firing on 10 April, had been passed. A third resolution protesting against the general repressive policy of the government was being proposed when Dyer arrived at about 5.15 p.m. He deployed his riflemen on an elevation near the entrance and without warning or ordering the crowd to disperse, opened fire. The firing continued for about 20 minutes whereafter Dyer and his men marched back the way they had come. 1650 rounds of .303-inch ammunition had been fired. Dyer's own estimate of the killed based on his rough calculations of one dead per six bullets fired was between 200 and 300. The official figures were 379 killed and 1200 wounded.

According to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who personally collected information with a view to raising the issue in the Central Legislative Council, over 1,000 were killed. The total crowd was estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, Sikhs comprising a large proportion of them.

The protest that broke out in the country is exemplified by the renunciation by Rabindranath Tagore of the British Knighthood. Mass riots erupted in the Punjab and the government had to place five of the districts under martial law. Eventually an enquiry committee was set up. The Disorder Inquiry Committee known as Hunter Committee after its chairman, Lord Hunter, held Brigadier-General R.E.H. Dyer guilty of a mistaken notion of duty, and he was relieved of his command and prematurely retired from the army. The Indian National Congress held its annual session in December 1919 at Amritsar and called upon the British Government to "take early steps to establish a fully responsible government in India in accordance with the principle of self determination."

The Sikhs formed the All India Sikh League as a representative body of the Panth for political action. The League held its first session in December 1919 at Amritsar simultaneously with the Congress annual convention. The honouring of Brigadier-General Dyer by the priests of Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, led to the intensification of the demand for reforming management of Sikh shrines already being voiced by societies such as the Khalsa Diwan Majha and Central Majha Khalsa Diwan. This resulted in the launching of what came to be known as the Gurdwara Reform movement, 1920-25. Some Sikh servicemen, resenting the policy of non-violence adopted by the leaders of the Akali movement, resigned from the army and constituted the nucleus of an anti-British terrorist group known as Babar Akalis.


The Akali Movement also known as Gurdwara Reform Movement came into full swing from the early 1920's. It's aim was to bring reform in the working and management of Sikh Gurdwaras.

The campaign which gained tremendous support, especially, from the rural masses, took the form of a peaceful agitation-marches, divans, religious gatherings, and demonstrations for Sikhs to assert their right to manage their places of worship.

The Gurdwaras, its property and wealth were being misused by the Mahants and Priests of the temple. With the establishment of British rule in Punjab, the lands and property attached to the Gurdwaras were entered against the names of the Priests or Mahants. Thus Mahants considered the Gurdwara as their personal property and misused the income of Gurdwara on drinking and loose living. Bad characters flocked around them as Chelas to lead easy and immoral lives. In this way the Mahants converted these sacred places of virtue and religion to centres for immoral life.

Gurdwara Reform Movement or Akali Movement was created to free the Sikhs historic Gurdwaras from these Mahants who were supported by the British rule. The Sikhs had to give supreme sacrifices and endure untold brutalities to free to historic Gurdwaras like Tarn Taran, Nanakana Sahib and Guru-Ka-Bagh. In addition Sikhs had to fight for the freedom of faith and management of the Gurdwaras against the Government in respect of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, and Gurdwara Jaito.

In this movement the Sikhs faced with great calm and courage the cruelties and death inflicted on them by the British Government and the Mahants, supported by the British. Eventually the Gurdwara Reform Act was passed in July 1925 which placed all Gurdwaras in Punjab under Panthic control. This control was to be exercised through elected Panthic bodies viz, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee and local Gurdwara Committees. Thus holy places were rid of the corrupt elements and practices and their income could be used for propagation of the Sikh faith and good of the community.


The Babbar Akali Movement came into existence when the peaceful Akali struggle for Gurdwara reform was passing through a crucial stage. Popular Sikh shrines like Nankana Sahib, Tarn Taran Sahib and Guru-ka-Bagh were occupied by the Mahants, who had made the shrines into their personal property, vanquishing the sanctity of the holy places. The Mahants had become the puppets of the government of the Punjab. With the open backing of the Punjab Government, the Mahants stood against the Akalis and attempted to finish them off and put an end to their peaceful struggle for Gurdwara reformation.

The Babbar Akali Movement took place during the years 1921 to 1925. The majority of the Babbar Akalis were returned immigrants from Canada. Some of them had actively participated in the Gaddar Movement and were also known as Gaddaries (Gaddari Babbeys).

The Babbar Akalis were GurSikhs, who were against the imperialist policies of the British Government. Babbar Akalis did not approve of the Congress leadership and were against the Gandhi formula of non-violence and noncooperation. They were upset because of the tragedy of Nankana Sahib in which hundreds of innocent Sikhs were massacred. They rejected the peaceful struggle for reformation in the Sikh shrines and decided to lead their movement separately without the company and cooperation of the dominant Akali leadership.

The Babbar Akalis made their first appearance during the Sikh Educational Conference held at Hoshiarpur on March 19th through the 21st, 1921. Later on, they organized their own meetings which were attended by renowned personalities like Master Mota Singh, Kishan Singh, Amar Singh, Tota Singh Peshawari, Gurbachan Singh and Buttan Singh and some of the returned emigrants from Canada. The working committee of the Babbar Akalis was elected in 1922 with Sardar Kishan Singh as Jathedar, Dalip Singh Gosal, as Secretary and Baba Santa Singh as Treasurer. To reinforce the propaganda machinery and to promote the cause of the movement, the working committee decided to publish a newspaper called Babbar Akali Doaba Akhbar, with Sardar Karam Singh Daulatpur appointed as Editor. Their main objective was to "eliminate" certain officials and non-officials condemned as enemies of the Khalsa Panth.

Babbar Akalis declared it necessary to teach a lesson by eliminating the toadies (stooges) and those who were responsible for the massacre of the Akalis at Nankana Sahib. It was generally felt that Mr. C.M. King, the Commissioner of Lahore, J.W. Bowring, the Superintendent of Police, Mahants Devi Dass and Basant Dass, Sunder Singh Majithia and Baba Kartar Singh Bedi were responsible for the Nankana Sahib Massacre.

They appealed to the Hindus and Muslims through articles, leaflets, Babbar Akali Doaba Akhbar and the religious congregations to join them in their war against the foreigners for freedom. To fulfill their programme Bela Singh and Ganda Singh were sent to Lahore on May 23, 1921 to take care of Mr. J.W. Bowring. They were suspected by the police at Lahore Railway Station and arrested. During the interrogation the two let out the secrets, which resulted in the arrest of Amar Singh, Narain Singh, Tota Singh, Chatar Singh, Chanchal Singh, Thakur Singh, Shankur Singh and many more members of the group. warrants for the arrest of Master Mota Singh, Bijla Singh and Kishan Singh were also issued, who had managed to dodge the police.

Babbar Akalis also aimed to paralyse the supporters of the British Government such as Zaildars, Sufedphoshes, Lambardars, Patwaries, police informers and other toadies by terrorising them through various forms of punishments. According to the plans of the Babbars an attempt was made to take care of Arjan Singh Patwari of Haripur who had allegedly helped in the arrest of Master Mota Singh. Somehow the attempt failed. Then, Zaildar Bishan Singh, a retired official of the Canal Department was shot dead on February 10th, 1923.

The elimination of Zaildar Bishan Singh greatly alarmed the government authorities. Spies were sent to villages. The government announced rewards for the arrest of the Babbars. Lambardars were ordered to inform the government authorities in case they came across a Babbar or learnt about his whereabouts. Through betrayal or through information supplied by informers the important leaders of the Babbar Akali Movement like Jathedar Kishan Singh, Master Mota Singh and Sunder Singh were arrested. The arrests of these leaders actuated the rest of the Babbars to set up their programme of eliminating those responsible for these arrests. Consequently a series of continuous "eliminations" took place. Buta Singh Lambardar and his grandson were eliminated in the village of Nangal Shaman of district Jullundur on March 11, 1923. On March 19th Labh Singh, an employee of the Police Training School, Phillaur, was shot dead in the Hoshiarpur district. He had helped in the arrest of Jathedar Kishan Singh. The Babbars issued an open letter addressed to the Governor on March 22, 1923. They claimed the credit for the eliminations and threatened that other toadies would also face the same fate. Hazara Singh of Hoshiarpur district was killed on March 27, 1923. On April 17th, ex- Subedar Gainda Singh was shot dead in the village of Ghurial. Gainda Singh had helped the police to arrest certain Babbars. In the Hoshiarpur district Chaudhri Ralla Ram and his brother Ditta were killed in the village of Kaulgarh on May 27th, 1923.

The continuous "elimination" created panic among the toadies and the Government authorities. Numbers of village officials and other loyalists to the Government started expressing fear for their lives and the desire to resign from their posts. The government took stiff measures to meet the Babbar challenge and tried to restore peace and confidence among the loyalists. Special C.I.D. was deputed to assist the police. The police force at Jullundur was increased by adding another fifty men. Above all, a special enrollment of 150 was sanctioned, and an Indian infantry of 250 and a squadron of armoured cars was deputed to assist the police in making the arrests of the Babbars. Leaflets were scattered by airplane over the affected area in order to restore peace, and the Babbars were proclaimed as an unlawful association under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1908. The government offered handsome rewards of Jagirs and cash prizes if someone provided useful information leading to the arrest of any Babbars.

Undettered by the arrests and deaths of the important leaders, the Babbars continued their programme of eliminating the toadies and the supporters of the Government. Simultaneously, they continued preaching against the British rule. The threats by the Babbars and the continuous elimination of toadies and the government officials caused considerable anxiety in the official circle in London. Members of the British Parliament raised questions about the deteriorating condition of law and order in the Punjab. The government of the Punjab was critized, and fears were expressed about the safety of the British officials in India.

On June 4th, 1923, Sir C. Yates drew the attention of the House of Commons to the Babbar programme of murdering officers and the foreigners and wanted the Government to make a statement on the stiuation in the Punjab. The motion was again tabled on June 14th, 1923 in the British Parliament regarding the seriousness of the Babbar Akali Movement. Upon pressure of the British Parliament, London, the government of the Punjab introduced more stringent measures against the Babbars. Hideout places of the Babbars were raided, with similar raids carried out in the villages of Pandori Nijran, Kishanpur, Jassowal, Paragpur, Kot Fatuhi and Daulatpur. As a result, 186 arrests were made. By the middle of 1924 all the important Babbars were either killed or arrested. However, the Akali leaders and the Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi did not approve of the Babbars' programme of violence. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.) issued communiques appealing to the Sikhs to disassociate with the activities of the Babbars. writes Mohinder Singh, author of The Akali Movement:

"Though the Akali leadership disowned both the Babbars as also their methods and went even to the extent of passing formal resolutions against them, the Babbars contribution to the Akali Movement cannot be ignored. They increased the bargaining power of the Akali leadership by terrorising the bureaucratic machinery and its supporters in the Punjab and thus compelling the Government to come to terms with them. The Babbars equally contributed towards the weakening of the opposition by vested interests in the villages to the Akali Movement by announcing their plan of eliminating all those responsible for the Nankana tragedy and by actually assassinating some of the loyalists who had helped the authorities in the province."

Saka Tarn Taran

A religious gathering was held at Akal Takht, Amritsar on 15th-16th November 1920. In this, a committee of 175 was formed which was named Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Commitee (SGPC). The aim of the SGPC was to manage Gurdwaras and uplift the religious moral and cultural level of the Sikhs. As such, the committee was taking the management of the Gurdwaras in their hands from the mahants who had been occupying them.

The committee of the Sikhs was in control of managment of Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar since 13 October 1920. The managment of Gurdwara, Tarn Taran fell under Sri Darbar Sahib but the mahants (priests) had become self-willed being far away from Amritsar. They divided the income of the Gurdwara among themselves. Many of the mahants had become extreme alcoholics and drug addicts. They used to say openly, "Gurdwara is our shop. One may come if he wishes and anybody who does not like may not come."

In the full congregation at Akal Takht on the 24th January, 1921, a lady said, "The priests of Gurdwara Tarn Taran threw my son into the pool after tieing a stone round his neck and teased and molested my daughter inside the Gurdwara." Hearing this, the Committee decided to take the management of Gurdwara, Tarn Taran into their hands.

On 25 January, 1921, Bhai Teja Singh Bhuchar with a jatha of 40 Singhs reached Gurdwara Tarn Taran at 8 A.M after reciting Guru's word for two hours in Gurdwara, the jatha told the priests the purpose of committee. A meeting took place between the Singhs of the jatha and the priests at 4 P.M, when another jatha led by Bhai Kartar Singh Virk (alias Jhabbar) also reached there. In this meeting Singhs placed five conditions before the priests. At 8.30 P.M. a priest came and informed the jatha, "All priests are ready to accept the conditions of committee. Let some prominent persons of the jatha come inside the Gurdwara and get their signatures on them."

Bhai Sharan Singh and some other Singhs went inside Darbar Sahib. Bricks started raining on the Singhs sitting in the congregation from an adjoining house. Intoxicated priests attacked the Singhs who had gone inside with choppers and clubs. The Singhs remained calm. The priests put out the lamps inside the Gurdwara and put curtains on the doors so that the happenings inside may not be seen from outside. Out of the Singhs who had gone inside, seventeen were injured. On arrival of more jathas on 26 January, the priests handed over the management of the Gurdwara to the Prabhandak Committee.


The Nankana Sahib Massacre refers to the grim episode during the Gurdwara Reform Movement/Akali Movement in which a peaceful batch of reformist Sikhs were subjected to a murderous assault on 20 February 1921 in the holy shrine at Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

In October 1920, a congregation was held at Dharowal, District Sheikhupura to inform the sangat of the the misdeeds being committed inside Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. This shrine along with six others in the town had been under the control of Udasi priests ever since the time the Sikhs were driven by Mughal oppression to seek safety in remote hills and deserts. The priests not only treated the Gurdwaras as their private properties but had also introduced practices and ceremonial which had no sanction in Sikhism.

At the meeting, it was unanimously resolved that the Mahant be asked to mend his ways. When Mahant Narian Dass was asked upon to do so, he started making preparations to oppose the Panth instead. He did not feel it necessary to pay heed to the suggestions of the Committee. He was the owner of the estate attached to the Gurdwara with an income of one hundred thousand rupees besides the offerings of the Gurdwara.

Almost simultaneously a Sikh shrine, Gurdwara Babe di Ber, at Sialkot, was liberated from priestly control and taken over by the Sikhs on 5 October 1920, which marked the beginning of the Gurdwara Reform movement. Darbar Sahib and the Akal Takht were occupied on 13 October 1920.

Narain Das, with the help of the Government started recruiting a private army and laying in arms. The Government was using every available weapon to make Akali movmement of Gurdwara reform, a failure. Narain Das got the Gurdwara gate strengthened and got holes made in it so that bullets could be fired through them.

In the meeting of Parbhandak Committee on 17 February 1921, it was decided that two jathas one led by Bhai Lachhman Singh and the other by Bhai Kartar Singh Virk (alias Jhabbar) should meet at Chander Kot on 19 February. From there they were to reach Nankana Sahib early in the morning of 20th February, to talk to the Mahant, Narain Das. Upon seeing the preparation of the Mahant, the Parbhandak Committee held a meeting on 19th February, in which it was resolved that the jathas should not be taken to Nankana Sahib on the 20th February. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar was present in the meeting. He was informed about the changes and was told to inform Bhai Lachhman Singh. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar immediately dispatched Bhai Waryam Singh to Chander Kot so that other jatha could be stopped.

Bhai Lachchman Singh, in accordance with the original programme had reached Chander Kot on the night of 19th February with his jatha of 150 Singhs and waited for Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and his jatha.

Bhai Waryama Singh arrived with news not to lead the jatha to the Gurdwara, Bhai Lachchman Singh said to the Singhs of his jatha, "When we have started for a good cause, we should not waste time." All members of the jatha agreed. Bhai Lachhman Singh got a promise from the Singh's not to strike and remain peaceful no matter what. After that the jatha prayed for their success of their nobel resolve. After the prayer, as the jatha was about to move forward, Bhai Waryam Singh arrived. He showed them the letter about the new decision of the Committee. Bhai Tehal Singh Said, "Dear Khalsa, we have taken our resolve at the prayer (Ardaas)and cannot turn back now. It is imperitive for us to move forward." The jatha as a whole moved forward following Bhai Tehal Singh.

Thus on the morning of 20 February 1921, the jatha of 150 Sikhs lead by Bhai Lachhman Singh entered the sacred precincts. The Mahant had got the news of their arrival at Chander Kot on the evening of 19th February. He had gathered his men at night and briefed them about their duties.

After the jatha of Singh's had sat down, the Mahant signalled his men to carry out the predetermined plan. The Sikhs were chanting the sacred hymns when the attack started. Bullets were mercilessly rained on them from the roof of an adjoining building. Bhai Lachhman Singh was struck down sitting in attendance of the Guru Granth Sahib. Twenty-six Singhs became martyrs to those bullets in the courtyard while another sixty or so sitting inside the Darbar Sahib became targets of bullets. When the Mahant's men saw no one moving, they came down with swords and choppers. Any Singh they found breathing was cut to pieces.

Outside the main gate, Narain Das, pistol in hand and his face muffled up, pranced up and down on horseback directing the operations and all the time shouting, "Let not a single long-haired Sikh go out alive."Bhai Dalip Singh, a much-respected Sikh who was well known to him, came to intercede with him to stop the bloody carnage. But he killed him on the spot with a shot from his pistol. Six other Sikhs coming from outside were butchered and thrown into a potter's kiln. Firewood and kerosene oil were brought out and a fire lighted. All the dead and injured were piled up on it to be consumed by the flames. The body of one alive Singh said to be Bhai Lachhman Singh was fastened to a tree near by and burnt alive. The total number of Sikhs killed has been variously estimated between 82 and 156.

As news reached back to Panjab, 20 pathans had been arrested, the Gurdwara had been locked and the city was handed over to Army which cordoned it to restrict any Akali movement to take over Gurdwara. Sardar Kartar Singh Jhabbar arrived with his jatha on 21st February. Commissioner, Mr. King, informed him that if he tried to enter city with his jatha army will open fire. Kartar Singh Jhabbar and his jatha of twenty two hundred Singhs did not listen to the Commissioner and kept on moving towards city. At end, Commissioner Mr. Curry handed over the keys of Gurdwara to Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar.

On the 22nd/23rd February, the bodies were cremated according to Sikh tradition. Charred, mutilated bodies were collected and torn limbs and pieces of flesh picked from wherever they lay in the blood stained chambers. A huge funeral pyre was erected. Bhai Jodh Singh, in a measured oration, advised the Sikhs to remain cool and patient and endure the calamity with the fortitude with which their ancestors had faced similar situations. The Sikhs, he said, had cleansed by their blood the holy precincts so long exposed to the impious influence of a corrupt regime.

An urdu newspaper called 'Zamindara' wrote in its editorial of 23 February 1921, "what more proof of shamelessness of muslims is required than that they have helped the Mahant. O, Shameless Muslims, isn't the cup of your shamelessness and impudence full as yet? You used your guns and swords against those who went to Nankana Sahib to perform religious duties. You are not fit to be called Muslims. You are worse than infidels." Mahant, 20 Pathans and other of his group were sentenced by British. Only Mahant and couple of Pathans got death sentence for this crime of more than 50 murders. (The High Court delivering on 3 March 1922, its judgement on Narain Das's appeal, reduced his sentence to life imprisonment.)

News of the Nankana Sahib massacre shocked the country. Sir Edward Maclagan, Governor of the Punjab, visited the site on 22nd February. Mahatma Gandhi, along with Muslim leaders Shaukat 'Ali and Muhammad 'Ali, came on 3rd March. Princess Bamba Duleep Singh, daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, came accompanied by Sir Jogendra Singh, to offer her homage to the memory of the martyrs.


Gurdwara Reform Movement/Sikh Gurdwara Act

The Sikh Gurdwaras Act refers to the legislation passed by the Punjab Legislative Council which marked the struggle of the Sikhs from 1920-1925 to wrest control of their places of worship from the mahants (priests) into whose hands they had passed during the 18th century when the Sikhs were driven away from their homes to seek safety in remote hills and deserts. Later when the sikhs established their way in Punjab they rebuilt their shrines.

However, the management remained with the priests whom were mainly belonging to the Udasi sect. This sect began to consider the shrines and lands attached to them as their personal properties after the advent of the British in 1849, and began to use the Gurdwara incomes for their private use. Some of them even went as far as selling Gurdwara properties.

The mahants introduced rituals and ceremonies which were totally against the teachings of Sikhism. There had also been complaints of immorality against them. All these factors gave rise to what is known as the Gurdwara Reform Movement in which Sikhs had to face imprisoment, suffer atrocity and death.

The British government eventually gave in under popular pressure and passed, in the first instance, Sikh Gurdwaras and Shrines Act, 1922, in which a committee was nominated by the government to take over control of the Gurdwaras. This, however, was not accepted by the Akali leaders and remained for this reason a dead letter. The agitation/morcha continued and the government had another draft. worked out.

Akali counsel was required this time and the principal demand about the shrines being handed over or management to a representative body of the Sikhs was conceded. The bill was moved in the Punjab Legislative Council by Sardar Tara Singh of Moga on 7 May 1925 and piloted by another Sikh member, Bhai Jodh Singh. The bill was put into operation on 1 November 1925 known as The Sikh Gurdwaras Act. The mahants and there rituals and ceremonies were removed from all the Gurdwaras and Sikhi maryada had been restored.