(Bhagat Singh wrote this article on the crucifixion of the six Babbar Akalis for the Hindi Paper Pratap, published from Kanpur by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. Tracing the history of the Babbar Akali Movement, he praised their acts of courage and bravery. He expressed his pain and anger at the fact that the leaders of the movement were executed on the day of the Holi festival, the 27th February, 1926.)
On the day of holi, February 27, 1926, when we were getting high on our enjoyment, a terrible thing was happening in a corner of this great province. When you will hear it, you will shudder ! You will tremble ! On that day, six brave Babbar Akalis were hanged in the Lahore Central Jail. Shri Kishan Singh Garhgajj, Shri Santa Singh, Shri Dilip Singh, Shri Nand Singh, Shri Karam Singh and Shri Dharam Singh, had been showing a great indifference to the trial for the last two years, which speaks of their fond waiting for this day. After months, the judge gave his verdict. Five to be hanged, many for life imprisonment or exile, and sentences of very long imprisonments. The accused heroes thundered. Even the skies echoed with their triumphant slogans. Then an appeal was prefered. Instead of five, now six were sent to the gallows.
The same day the news came that a mercy petition was sent. The Punjab Secretary declared that the hanging would be put off. We were waiting but, all of a sudden, on the very day of Holi, we saw a small contingent of mourners carrying the dead bodies of the heroes towards the cremation site. Then last rites were completed quietly.
The city was still celebrating Holi. Colour was still being thrown on the passersby. What a terrible indifference. If they were misguided, if they were frenzied, let them be so. They were fearless patriots, in any case. Whatever they did, they did it for this wretched country. They could not bear injustice. They could not countenance the fallen nation.
The oppression on the poor people became insufferable for them. They could not tolerate exploitation of the masses, they challenged and jumped into action. They were full of life. Oh ! the terrible toll of their dedicated deeds ! You are blessed ! After the death, friends and foes are all alike this is the ideal of brave men. Even if they might have done something
hateful, they sacrifised their lives at the altar of our nation. They should be worshiped. Despite Mr. Targat’s being on the opposite side, he could highly and uninhibitedly appreciate the courage, patriotism and commitment of the brave revolutionary of Bengal, Jatin Mukherjee, while mourning his death. But we the cowards and human wretches lack the courage of even sighing and putting off our celebrations even for a moment. What a disheartening deed ! The poor ! they were given the “adequate” punishment even by the standards of the brutal bureaucrats.
An act of a terrible tragedy thus concluded, but the curtain is not down as yet. The drama will have some more terrible scenes. The story is quite lengthy, we have to turn back a little to know more about it. The Non-Cooperation Gurdwara Reform Movement was at its peak.
The Punjab did not lag behind. The Sikhs also rose from their deep slumber and it was quite an awakening. The Akali Movement was started. Sacrifices were made in abundance. Master Mota Singh, ex-teacher of Khalsa Middle School, Mahalpur (district Hoshiarpur), delivered a speech. A warrant was issued against him, but the idea of availing of the hospitality of the crown did not find his favour. He was against offering arrest to fill the jails. His speeches still continued. In Kot-Fatuhi village, a big ‘Deewan’ was called. Police cordoned the area from all sides; even then Master Mota Singh delivered his speech. The whole audience stood up and dispersed on the orders of the President of the meeting. The Master escaped mysteriously. This hide-and-seek continued for long. The government was in a frenzy. At last, a friend turned traitor betrayed, and Master Saheb was arrested after a year and a half. This was the first scene of that horrible drama.
The “Guru ka bagh” movement was started. The hired hoodlums were there to attack the unarmed agitators and to beat them half-dead. Could anyone who looked at or listened to this, help being moved? It was a case of arrests and arrests everywhere. A warrant was also issued against Sardar Kishan Singh Garhgajj, but he also belonged to the same category and did not offer arrest. The police strained all its nerves but he always escaped. He formed an organisation of his own. He could not bear the violence against unarmed agitators. He felt the need of using arms along with this peaceful movement. On the one hand, the dogs, the hunting dogs of the government, were searching for the clues to get his scent; on the other, it was decided to “reform” the sycophants (Jholi Chukks). Sardar Kishan Singh used to say that we must keep ourselves armed for our own security, but we should not take any precipitate action for the time being. The majority was against this. At last, it was decided that three of them should give their names, take all the blame on themselves and start ‘reforming’ these sycophants. Sardar Karam Singh, Sardar Dhanna Singh and Sardar Uday
Singh stepped forward. Just keep aside the question of its propriety for a moment and imagine the scene when they took the oath: “We will sacrifice our all in the service of the country. We swear to die fighting but not to go to the prison.”
What a beautiful, sanctified scene it must have been, when these people who had given up all of their family affections, were taking such an oath! Where is the end of sacrifice? Where is the limit to courage and fearlessness? Where does the extremity of idealism reside? Near a station on Shyam Churasi-Hoshiarpur railway branch line, a Subedar became the first victim. After that, all these three declared their names. The government tried its best to arrest them, but failed. Sardar Kishan Singh Garhgajj was once almost trapped by the police near Roorki Kalan. A young man who accompanied him, fell down after getting injured, and was captured. But even there, Kishan Singh escaped with the help of his arms. He met a Sadhu on the way who told him about a herb in his possession which could materialise all his plans and work miracles. Sardarji believed him and visited this Sadhu unarmed. The Sadhu gave him some herbs to process and brought the police in the meanwhile. Sardar Saheb was arrested. That Sadhu was in fact an inspector of the CID department. The Babbar Akalis stepped up their activities. Many pro-government men were killed. The doab land lying in between Beas and Sutlej, that is, the districts of Jullundur and Hoshiarpur, had been there on the political map of the country even before this. The majority of martyrs of 1915 belonged to these districts.
Now again, there was the upheaval. The police department used all its power at its command, which proved quite futile. There is a small river near Jullundur; “Chaunta Sahib” Gurudwara is located there in a village on the banks of the river. Shri Karam Singh, Shri Dhanna Singh, Shri Uday Singh and Shri Anoop Singh were sitting there with a few others,
preparing tea. All of a sudden, Shri Dhanna Singh said: “Bhai Karam Singh! We should at once leave this place. I apprehend something very inauspicious happening.” The 75-year old Sardar Karam Singh showed total indifference, but Shri Dhanna Singh left the place, along with his 18-year old follower Dilip Singh. Quite suddenly Baba Karam Singh stared at Anoop Singh and said: “Anoop Singh, you are not a good person”, but after this, he himself became unmindful of his own premonition. They were still talking when police made a public declaration: “Send out the rebels, otherwise the village will be burnt down.” But the villagers did not yield.
Seeing all this, they themselves came out. Anoop Singh traitor escaped with all the bombs and surrendered to the police. The remaining four people were standing, surrounded from all sides. The British police Supdt. said: “Karam Singh ! drop the weapons and you will be pardoned.” The hero responded challengingly: “We will die a martyr’s death while fighting, like a real revolutionary, for the sake of our motherland, but we shall not surrender our weapons.” He inspiringly called his comrades. They also roared like lions. A fight ensued. Bullets flew in all directions. After their ammunition got exhausted, these brave people jumped into the river and bravely died after prolonged fierce fighting.
Sardar Karam Singh was 75 years old. He had been in Canada. His character was pure and behaviour ideal. The government concluded that the Babbar Akalis were finished, but actually they grew in strength. The 18-year old Dilip Singh was a very handsome and strong, well-built, though illiterate, young man. He earlier had joined some dacoit gang. His association with Shri Dhanna Singh turned him from a dacoit into a real revolutionary. Many notorious dacoits like Banta Singh and Wariyam Singh, too, gave up dacoity and joined them.
They were not afraid of death. They were eager to wash their old sins. They were increasing in number day-by-day. One day when Dhanna Singh was sitting in a village named, Mannanhana, the police was called. Dhanna Singh was dead asleeps and was caught without resistance. His revolver was snatched, he was handcuffed and brought out. Twelve policemen and two British officers had surrounded him. Exactly at that moment there was a thunderous noise of explosion. It was the hidden bomb exploded by Dhanna Singh. He died on the spot along with one British officer and ten policemen. All the rest were badly wounded.
In the same fashion, Banta Singh, Jwala Singh and some others were surrounded in a village named Mander. They all gathered on the roof of a house. Shots were fired, a cross-fire ensued for some time, but then the police sprinkled kerosene oil by a pump and set the house on fire. Banta Singh was killed there, but Variyam Singh escaped even from there.
It will not be improper here to describe a few more similar incidents. Banta Singh was a very courageous man. Once he snatched a horse and a rifle from the guard of the armoury in the Jullundur Cantonment. Those days several police squads were desperately looking for him; one such squad confronted him somewhere in the forest. Sardar Saheb challenged them immediately: “If you have courage, come and confront me.” On that side, there were mercenaries; on this side, the willing sacrifice of life. There was no comparison of motives. The police squad beat a retreat. This was the predicament of the special police squads deputed to arrest them. Anyway, arrests had become a routine. Police checkposts were set up in almost every village. Gradually, the Babbar Akalis were weakened. Till now it had seemed as if they were the virtual rulers.
Wherever they happened to be visiting, they were warmly hosted, by some with fear and terror. The supporters of the regime were demoralised. They lacked the courage to move out of their residences between the sunset and the sunrise. They were the ‘heroes’ of the time. Babbars were brave and their worship was believed to be a kind of hero-worship, but gradually they lost their strength. Hundreds among them were imprisoned, and cases were instituted against them.
Wariyam Singh was the lone survivor. He was moving towards Layallpur, as the pressure of police had increased in Jullundur and Hoshiarpur. One day he was hopelessly surrounded there, but he came out fighting valiantly. He was very much exhausted. He was alone. It was a strange situation. One day he visited his maternal uncle in the village named Dhesian. Arms were kept outside. After taking his meals, he was moving towards his weaponry when the police arrived. He was surrounded. The British officer caught him from the backside. He wounded him badly with his kripan (sword), and he fell down. All the efforts to handcuff him failed. After two years of suppression, the Babbar Akali Jatha came to an end. Then the cases started, one of which has been discussed above. Quite recently too, they had wished to be hanged soon. Their wish has been fulfilled; they are now serene.