20th February marks the day of the Sri Nankana Sahib Massacre, in which 150 Singhs became Shaheed when peacefully protesting and trying to take control of the shrine. Many Singhs and Singhnian have given their lives for our Gurdwaras. May we always remember their sacrifices and in their memory always be conscious and ready to serve our Gurdwaras. Shaheedaa Nu Lakh Lakh Parnaam.
A GLIMPSE AT SAKA NANKANA SAHIB
Management of Gurdwaras
After 1708, whilst the Khalsa were trying to survive holocausts and genocidal campaigns by escaping to the jungles and deserts, Udaasi Saadhs (holy men), who were sympathizers of the Sikhs, took charge of the management of the Sikh Gurdwaras and shrines. In the late 18th century, the Khalsa gained political strength and made memorials at historical shrines linked to the Gurus. These caretakers of the Gurdwaras, who were non-Sikhs, were known as Mahants (caretakers). Then soon came the Raaj of Raja Ranjit Singh. Although the Khalsa had returned to the cities and villages, the majority of Gurdwaras remained under the control of the Mahants. During Raja Ranjit Singh's Raaj, the Mahants were given property rights and estates (Jageers). As a consequence, the non-Sikh Mahants become more powerful and began to treat and accept the Gurdwaras as their personal property and later came to not only distort Sikh practices and traditions of the Gurdwaras but also commit acts of sacrilege and disrespect. In 1849, the British come into the power and employed their own Sarbrahs (managers) at major Sikh shrines like Tarn Taran and Amritsar. The British knew that if Sikhs came to control their Gurdwaras they would be able to control the large amounts of money that the Gurdwara land generated and from donations. Furthermore, the Gurdwaras would allow Sikhs to empower the masses with knowledge and spirit which could cause a revolution and threaten the rulers.
The Misdeeds of Sri Nankana Sahib's Mahant
Mahant Narain Daas was in control of Sri Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak Dev jee. He was linked with the British authorities. The two Mahants before him died of sexually transmitted diseases due to their immoral lifestyle they practiced whilst managing the shrine. The British warned Mahant Narain Daas that he should behave and not end up like his previous predecessors. In 1917-18, Sri Nankana Sahib had 18,750 acres (750 marabbe) of land which generated 1 Lakh rupees revenue, (approximately £1,000), which back in those days was worth lots more. The donations of the Gurdwara Sahib was extra income. In 1917, the Mahant arranged for prostitutes to dance in front of the Gurdwara Sahib. In 1918, a retired Sindhi ACC Officer visited the Gurdwara with his 13 year old daughter. The young girl was raped by the Mahant's men. Then in 1918 during Puranmaashi (full moon), 6 women from Lyallpur (village Jaranwal) were raped in the Gurdwara by the thugs of the Mahant.
The Sikh Sangat's response
In October 1920, the Sikhs asked the Mahant to mend his corrupt ways. The Mahant refused to give the Gurdwara to the newly formed Shrimoni Gurdwara Prabandhak Committe (SGPC), a Sikh run committee for the management of Sikh shrines and Gurdwaras. A Snaatan Sikh Group was formed by the anti-Sikh Mahants with the support of the British authorities, who planned a conference in Lahore for 20th February 1921. The Sikhs thought this was the perfect time to take over Sri Nankana Sahib. Whilst the Mahant attends the Lahore conference, the Sikh leaders (Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowal, Bhai Mehtab Singh, and Bhai Lehna Singh etc) planned to peacefully go to Sri Nankana Sahib and take over. However, the Mahant got hold of the news before he even reached Lahore. The British Commissioner of Lahore, Mr. King, helped the Mahant to prepare to kill the Sikhs who planned to come to Sri Nankana Sahib on 20th February. The Mahant was supplied with arms and ammunition. He collected the guns from Lahore, reinforced the Gurdwara gate and made holes in the walls for firing bullets. He brought and stored 14 tins of flammable paraffin.
Sikhs gathered in small groups ready to die and embrace martyrdom for freeing Sri Nankana Sahib from the clutches of the evil Mahant. These groups were Shaheedi Jathas. 150 Singhs got together to go as part of the Shaheedi Jatha. It was decided that all women and children who came to join should go back. Bhai Lachhman Singh's wife was made to turn back and Bibi Inder Kaur was given 18 rupees and told to use the money for arranging the Akhand Paaths for the funerals of Singhs who become Shaheed (martyred). One member of the Sangat was Bhai Kehar Singh who was accompanied by his 9 year old son, Darbara Singh. From the age of 7, young Darbara Singh would ask his mother whether he can become a Shaheed after his mother told him stories of amazing sacrifices of our Gurus, their brave children and the Singhs and Singhnian throughout history. His mother would say, "Shaheedi is expensive. You have to earn to get Shaheedi." The innocent child took this to heart and would collect money, hoping one day he would get enough to become shaheed. When the women and children were asked to leave the Jatha, the young Darbara Singh refused to leave and grabbed hold of his father's leg. Seeing his determination, the elders decided to allow him to come.
On 19th February, the Singhs find out that the Mahant had cancelled his trip to the conference and was coming back to Sri Nankana Sahib, had gathered thugs and gangsters, and received help from the British. Evidence of the British's involvement in providing arms and ammunition to the Mahant to kill the Sikhs is found in letter written on 18th December 1920 by the Commissioner of Lahore, Mr. King, to the arms dealer, which today is kept in India House in London. The Sikh Sangat arrived in the early hours of 20th February 1921. They entered the Gurdwara, sat in the inner sanctum, Darbaar Sahib, and then performed the morning Keertan of Aasa Ki Vaar. After Aasa Ki Vaar was completed, the Sangat began to chant Vaheguru. The Mahant gathered his thugs and gangsters and using holes made in the walls, began firing bullets at the Sangat. Singhs became Shaheed and Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee was stained with blood (which is today preserved at Sri Amritsar). Once the Sangat had become wounded or killed, the Mahant entered the Darbaar with his men and began hacking Singhs into pieces using saws and blades. Oil was put on top of the dead bodies burnt in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee. Bhai Kehar Singh locked his son, Darbara Singh, in a cupboard in the main Darbaar. Hearing all of this, young Darbara Singh, screamed from the cupboard, "Let me out, I want to become Shaheed... I want to become Shaheed!" The thugs broke open the cupboard lock and found the 9 year old child. Darbara Singh put his hand in his pocket and showed the men some money and said, "I hope I have collected enough to buy Shaheedi. I want to become Shaheed as well." The thugs threw his body on top of his dead father's corpse and burnt him alive. The injured Jathedaar Bhai Lachhman Singh was mercilessly tied upside down on a Jand tree and set alight from Kes (hair).
Response of the Jathedaar
Jathedaar Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar was informed about the massacre. On the same night (20th February 1921), Jathedaar Jhabbar gathered a Jatha of 2,200 armed Singhs on horseback. Gandhi, the so-called Father of the Indian nation, sent a memo to Bhai Mehtab Singh asking that no Jatha is sent to Sri Nankana Sahib and instead the Singhs should patiently wait for a few days. The memo said, "When [our] Raaj comes we will give you control of the Gurdwaras." Jathedaar jee asked for a reply to be sent back telling Mr. Gandhi that "Sikhs have no issue with the British on racial grounds. We can seize control from the British, but when the Raaj comes (independence from the British), it will be difficult to [later] take control of the Gurdwaras from the Brahmins."
Taking control of Sri Nankana Sahib
On 21st February, Jathedaar Jhabbar jee with 2,200 armed Singhs on horseback arrived at Sri Nankana Sahib. Mr. Curry, the British Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, had already arrived at Sri Nankana Sahib the day before to see the aftermath of the massacre. Mr. Curry got his army to surround Sri Nankana Sahib with guns ready to fire at any Singhs that planned to come to take over the Gurdwara. When the Singhs arrived, Mr. Curry came forward and told Jathedaar Jhabbar jee that if the Singhs come forward any more the army will open fire and kill them. Jathedaar jee laughed, and replied, "Mr. Curry we have come here to die. Who are you trying to scare with death?... Singho! Take out your Kirpaans and get ready to attack the British!" Mr. Curry got worried hearing this. Jathedaar jee said, "Mr. Curry, you have two and half minutes to hand me the keys [of Sri Nankana Sahib]." Mr. Curry handed over the keys immediately and asked his army to step down. All the Shaheed Singhs were given their last rites and the Gurdwara Maryada was restored. After 1947, Mahant Narain Daas, the murderer of 150 Singhs, was given security and provided a hide out in U.P. by the then Gandhi-Nehru Congress government, which exposes their anti-Sikh agenda. The evil Mahant passed away in 1971.
Dhan Hai Guru! Dhan Hai Teree Sikhee!