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  • Writer's pictureShamsher singh


The Sikh history of the 18th century is replete with the martyrdom of Sikhs at the hands of Afghan and Mughal rulers who invaded India which was at that time considered a 'sparrow of gold'. The primary aims of these invaders were to loot the people and convert them to Islam. These invaders generally returned to their home countries after amalgamating booty although they also established their rule in Punjab, Delhi and some other parts of India. But soon after the atrocities waged by these cruel invader-rulers ended the Britishers entered India to grab power and started their onslaught on the Sikhs because they had heard about the bravery and steadfastness of the Sikhs. They knew that they cannot establish and extend their territory in India without crushing this brave community. The bravery and steadfastness of Sikhs had become an established fact since the invasions of Babar during 1720-1724. During his first invasion in 1720 Babar ordered to kill mercilessly the innocent people in Saidpur now called Eminabad which presently falls in Gujranwala District of Pakistan. During this invasion Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru (prophet-teacher) of the Sikhs was also imprisoned. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has narrated Babar's massacre at Eminabad in his hymns. During his fourth invasion Babar ordered that the whole city of Lahore be set on fire. Bhai Tara Ji, who belonged to a nearby village came to Lahore with a mashak (a large leather bag for carrying water) to extinguish the fire and save the lives of people. As per orders of Babar he was thrown into the fire which he was trying to extinguish. Bhai Tara Ji became the first Sikh martyr. During the same invasion of Babar, as per his orders Bhai Popat Ji who was running langar (community kitchen1) i.e. serving food free of cost to the surviving wounded persons was trampled by the horses.

Pic of Jaito morcha

The Britshers who wanted to establish their rule in Punjab made Sikhs their main target. During their campaign Punjab was on their foremost agenda and thus they attacked the Sikhs at several places for various reasons. They initiated steps to conquer the princely states of Punjab. To ward off the atrocities being waged by the Britishers against the Sikhs the Sikhs formed two organizations (i) Gurdwara Sudhar (Reform) Movement and (ii) Akali Movement and these organizations played a very significant role in Jaito Morcha (agitation) which is among the main tussels which took place between the Sikhs and the Britishers.

Ripudaman singh day of Tajposhi with Sant Atar Singh ji

The initial cause of Jaito Morcha was that on 9 July 1923, Maharaja Ripudaman Singh (1883-1942) who had ascended as Maharaja of the Nabha state on 24 January, 1912 after the demise of his father was forcibly abdicated. His four-year old son Prince Partap Singh, born on 22 September 1919 was proclaimed ruler of Nabha who being a minor, the state was placed under a British administrator. The Britishers, however, proclaimed that Maharaja Ripudaman Singh had himself relinquished his gaddi (throne) voluntarily. Maharaja Ripudaman Singh was The references used in this write-up include (i) Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol. I, II, III and IV published by Punjabi University, Patiala, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 (ii) Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha's book Mahan Kosh, 1930 and (iii) Bhajan Singh's book Sade Shaheed (Our Martyrs), 1991 although reference has not been indicated at each place.2 sent to a jail in Dehradun, which presently falls in Uttrakhand state of India but later on in 1926 he was sent to a jail in Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, where he died in 1942. The Britishers abdicated Maharaja Ripudaman Singh because (i) he had pro-Akali sympathies (ii) in 1921 had donned a black turban as a protest against the massacre of Sikhs at Nankana Sahib, the sacred birth place of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, which now falls in the Nankana Sahib District of Pakistan and (iii) in 1922 had vehemently supported the morcha of Guru Ka Bagh in village Ghukkevali which is at a distance of about 20 kms from Amritsar in District Amritsar, Punjab. The Britishers were disturbed at his activities and were determinded to take vengeance by abdicating him. As a protest against the abdication of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh and to get him re- installed a Committee was set up by the Sikhs which fixed 29 July, 1923 to be observed as a day of prayer for the re-installation of the Maharaja in all the main towns of Punjab. On 2 August, 1923 the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) sent a telegram to Lord Reading, the then Viceroy of India wherein (i) they challenged the Government's proclaimation that Maharaja Ripudaman Singh had relinquished his gaddi voluntarily and (ii) demanded an independent enquiry into this matter. On 5 August, 1923 the SGPC passed a resolution to organize a peaceful campaign to have Maharaja Ripudaman Singh re-installed. Ignoring the demands of the Sikhs, the Nabha State authorities passed an ordinance prohibiting public discussion of this issue. On 25 August, 1923, a divan (congregation) was held by the Sikhs at Jaito (a small market town) which fell in the jurisdiction of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh's Nabha state wherein resolutions were passed condemning the government action. The divan was followed by a peaceful public march. On 27 August, 1923, Nabha State authorities arrested the organizers of the divan. This divan which was started on 25 August, 1923 was to be continued for three days. But the arrest of the organizers provoked the Akalis so much that they decided to continue it indefinitely. It was also decided that in Gurudwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin, Jaito a series of Akhand Paaths should be carried on. Akhand Path is an uninterrupted recitation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib the holy scripture of the Sikhs. This Holy Scripture consists of 1430 pages and its uninterrupted recitation takes about 48 hours. On 14 September, 1923 the police occupied Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin and the Nabha State authorities interrupted the Akhand Paath which was being recited in this Gurdwara to express sympathy for Maharaja Ripudaman Singh. The paathi who was reciting the hymns from the Holy Scripture was almost dragged from his place and in his place the Nabha State authorities introduced their own paathi named S. Atma Singh. Also, all the Sikhs numbering more than 100 who were present there were arrested. The interruption of Akhand Paath is considered a sacrilege by the Sikhs. This sacrilege further enraged the Sikh community. The morcha started on 9 July, 1923 to get Maharaja Ripudaman Singh re-installed enhanced its momenturm. To express their agony the Sikhs decided to intensity the morcha and start a series of divans at Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin, Jaito.

On 15 September, 1923 the first Sikh jatha consisting of 25 Sikhs reached Jaito which was to be followed by jathas of equal strength for about 6 months continuously. In the meantime  Now Jaito falls in Tehsil Jaito of District Faridkot, Punjab3 the Secretary of State directed the Viceroy "to put an effective stop to the Akali operation by the arrest and prosecution of all the organizers as abettors". As a result, the Punjab Government declared SGPC and Shiromani Akali Dal as unlawful organizations. All the 60 members of the interim committee of the Shiromani Committee were arrested on charges of treason against the King Emperor. On 29 September 1923, the SGPC condemned the official action and declared that the Sikhs were determined to get their right to free worship reaffirmed. As per orders of the British authorities all the jathas were stopped on entering the Nabha state territory and all the members of jathas were beaten mercilessly, tortured and then imprisoned. Due to lack of space in the jails, after some time these Sikhs were left in remote jungles where no food and water was available. After six months the Sikhs decided to intensity the morcha by increasing the number from 25 to 500. On 9 February, 1924 the first jatha consisting of 500 Sikhs left Akal Takht Sahib, Amritsar for Jaito. This jatha was given a cordial reception by the Sikhs in all the villages and towns through which it passed. S. Zimand, a New York Times correspondent who witnessed the jatha marching towards Jaito stated that "The Jatha was moving in perfect order and non-violence with large crowds of public on its right and left, five Nishan Sahibs in the front and Guru Granth in the middle." On 20 February 1924 this jatha reached Bargari, a village on the Nabha-Faridkot border about 10 kms short of Jaito. In the meantime at Jaito, the Nabha Administrator Wilson Johnston was stationed near Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib which is at a distance of about 200 yards from Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin, with large contingents of army with a view to crush all the Sikhs in the jatha. On 21 February 1924 thousands of Sikhs had come out and reached Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin to have a darshan (holy glimpse) of this shaheedi jatha. Thus, when this peacefully marching jatha was at a distance of about 200 yards from Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin the British Administrator Wilson Johnston ordered that the jatha should stop further movement. Ignoring the demand of the British Administrator the jatha neither dispersed nor stopped and continued to march forward towards the Gurdwara. The British Administrator ordered the army to open fire. In two volleys of fire lasting about five minutes the bodies of the Sikhs were crushed to pieces and there was blood everywhere. A doctor was present in the jatha but he was not allowed to undertake first aid. What astonished the British Administrator was that even in the face of bullets, the surviving Sikhs continued to march forward reciting 'Satnam' 'Waheguru'. The bullets did not deter even a single Sikh. So much so that when a child being carried by her mother got killed with a bullet, the mother laid down the dead body of the child on the ground and continued to march forward alongwith her companions. However, soon thereafter she was also killed through a gunshot. As per Government proclaimation 22 Sikhs had died, 29 had gotten injured and 450 had been imprisoned. But the Shiromani Committee announced that 100 Sikhs had been martyred and 200 had been injured. The Government did not allow the surviving members of the jatha to lift the dead bodies of their fellow members. In addition to these 100 Sikhs about 50 Sikhs died during the morcha in accidents and tortures inflicted upon them in jails. The Sikhs in the Nabha jail were killed after being inflicting severe tortures upon them wherein their flesh was pulled with pliers.4 On the night of 21 February, 1924 the Government loaded the dead bodies of the martyrs in a specially requisitioned train and drowned them in the river Sutlej. The dead bodies of only 22 Sikhs were handed over to the Sikhs for cremation. The dead bodies of these 22 martyrs were cremated near the market of Jaito, which is at a distance about ½ km from Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin. To commemorate the martyrs, at the place of their cremation Gurdwara Angitha Sahib has been established. The Shiromani Committee was able to identify the names and addresses of only 17 out of these 22 martyrs which are given below. No information could be traced about the remaining shaheeds

This gruesome incident caused resentment among the Sikhs not only in India but also in some foreign countries. In addition to one jatha from Calcutta, one jatha including 11 Sikhs came from Canada, two jathas came from China, one from Shanghai and the other from Hong Kong, Inspite of the atrocities waged by the Britishers 13 more 500-strong shaheedi jathas reached Jaito and courted arrest. On 28 February, 1924 another shaheedi jatha consisting of 500 Sikhs started from Akal Takht Sahib, Amritsar and reached Jaito on 14 March where it was arrested. The British Government did not attack this jatha and only arrested it because they were upset that even machine guns had not detered a single Sikh to withdraw from the jatha. The Jaito March was continued for two years, each jatha consisted of 500 Sikhs. By the time 16 jathas consisting of 500 Sikhs had reached Jaito the British Government had to bow. Feeling helpless the Governor of Punjab Sir Malcolm Hailey cunningly created a paralled Sikh Sudhar Committee wherein a 101-strong jatha was allowed to recite Akhand Paath at Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin, Jaito. This act of the Governor further infuriated the Sikhs. Thus the government was forced to initiate steps for reconciliation with the Sikhs with the help of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Bhai Jodh Singh. But this bore no fruit5 because the British Government was not willing to re-install Maharaja Ripudaman Singh in his state. In the meantime the Punjab Government introduced Sikh Gurdwara Bill which was passed unanimously on 7 July, 1924 by the Legislative Council. After the Bill was passed the Governor of Punjab in his speech in the Punjab Legislative Council announced that the Administrator of Nabha would permit bands of pilgrims to proceed to Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshahi Dasvin for religious worship. As a result of which most of the Akali prisoners were released. The police was withdrawn from Gurdwara Gangsar Sahib Patshashi Dasvin and the Gurdwara was handed over to the Sikhs who now had got the freedom to start an Akhand Paath. Thus the Sikhs finally emerged as conquerors of Jaito Morcha.In the whole country the word got spread that in the Jaito March even the machine guns of Britishers could not stand in the face determination steadfastness and bravery of the Sikhs. The tradition of martyrdom initiated by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth prophet-teacher of the Sikhs strengthened by Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib the ninth prophet-teacher of the Sikhs, and further followed by the martyrs of the 18th and 19th centuries was still in its full bloom in the 20th century. The Britishers who were trying to abdicate the Maharajas of all the princely states had to bow finally. The agitation which was started on 9 July 1923 lasted for two years until the Sikhs attained victory on 21 July, 1925. This victory was celebrated by the Sikhs by holding 101 Akhand Paaths in batches of 25, starting from 21 July, 1925 and concluding on 6 August, 1925. It may be added that in the Jaito Morcha Bibi Kishan Kaur (1860-1952) played a fearless role wherein she helped in arranging rations for the shaheedi jathas as well as the Sikh Sangat which accompanied them. With a fear still lurking in the minds of the Britishers, in 1926 Maharaja Ripudaman Singh was shifted from Dehra Dun Jail to a jail in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu where he died on 13 December, 1942. In Sikh religion Ardas has evolved over a long period of time and in this process every new incident relating to sacrifice by the Sikhs is included. The incidents of tortures and martyrdom of Sikhs which occurred during the 18th century have been added in this Ardas (prayer). As such the deeds of heroism and sacrifice of Sikhs are recounted every morning and evening by the Sikhs in their Ardas (prayer) which is recited after Nit Nem (daily prayer) as well as when any task is initiated. Ardas is also recited for the uninterrupted conclusion of this task. Ardas is also recited at the conclusion of family, public and religious functions.

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