(Last Updated on : 22/06/2015)
Babbar Akalis were residents of Punjab, when the riots and protests and further crushings were at its height. Sikhs were being slaughtered indiscriminately. Even, Indians were assisting the British on the sly. The Jallianwala Bagh episode just added fuel to fire, and the Sikhs rose up in arms to fight back. During such an instance, when the Babbar organisation were praying in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura, the British-assisting Mahants attacked them by surprise and were butchered mercilessly. This could not hold the Akalis back, and they released their aggression in full fury. Revolts, bombings, publishing of seditious articles started to take momentum. However, just like umpteen other instances previously, they were also captured, beaten and sent to Cellular Jail to rot to death and decay.
The freedom fighters convicted in the Babbar Akali Conspiracy Cases were sent to the Andamans during the period 1926 to 1931 for undergoing the sentence imposed on them. They were shipped forcibly and were subjected to the same kind of heartless treatment meted out to the political prisoners
The Babbar Akali militant organisation started in Punjab in 1921 when the British government did not stop treating the citizens with monstrous force and the extent of cruelties surpassed every limit. The Ghadr Movement
was crushed by employing all sorts of appalling means. The properties of the revolutionaries were seized and their families harried. The Jallianwala Bagh Amritsar massacre
added fury to the dormant feelings of the masses. Then started the Gurdwara Reform Movement in which the Sikhs rose up against the encroachment of the gurdwaras by the Mahants who were being endorsed by the British. On 20th February 1921, a Jatha of 150 Sikhs led by Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowalia reached Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, district Sheikhupura (now in Pakistan). They were offering prayers when they were attacked with firearms, swords, axes by the gang of Mahant Narain Dass in the gurdwara. Bhai Lachhman Singh was burnt alive, while others were killed, cut into pieces and were burnt to ashes by dousing them with kerosene oil. The police did not reach the spot on purpose and the butchery went on. The incident shattered the patience of Sikh Sangat, consequently giving birth to the Babbar Akali Movement.
Jathedar Kishan Singh Garhgaj, who was serving in the army, revolted against the government and jumped into the disturbance. He decided to raise a force to avenge the excesses carried out on the Sikhs. He also blessed the killings of the deputy commissioner (King) and the superintendent of police (Browning) of Sheikhupura who had supported the Nankana Sahib carnage. He held meetings and conferences and addressed gatherings in a number of villages preaching sedition and spreading hostility against the government. Many other important leaders like Master Mota Singh, Babu Santa Singh, Bhai Sunder Singh Maksuspur and Karam Singh Jhinger joined him and under the name of 'Chakravarti Jatha' they educated and attracted the Sikh multitudes.
On 19th March 1922, the Chakravarti Jatha was to hold a conference in village Sangwal, but police informers created hitches for them. The Jatha decided to punish, terrorise and debase the agents of British rulers, police informers, spies, considering them as enemies of the national cause. Another Jatha with the same ideology led by Karam Singh Daulatpura was also active in Garhshankar and Nawanshahr area. They installed a cyclostyle machine and started publishing a newspaper titled Babbar Akali Doaba in August 1922. By the end of August 1922, both the Jathas united under the name of 'Babbar Akali Jatha'. Elections were held and Jathedar Kishan Singh Garhgaj was elected as president, Dalip Singh Gonsal as secretary and Babu Santa Singh as the treasurer. Karam Singh Daulatpura became the editor of the newspaper. Now the propaganda of the Babbar Akalis gained momentum. The government felt the first jerk and issued the declaration on 30th November 1922 for the arrest of Jathedar Kishan Singh Garhgaj, Karam Singh Daulatpura editor, Karam Singh Jhinger, Dalip Singh Gonsal and Asa Singh Bakhrudi.
The Babbar Akalis became more vigorous and from February to March, four of the police agents were murdered. To avoid the harassment of the general public, the Babbars issued an open letter under the signatures of Karam Singh Daulatpura, Dhanna Singh Bahbalpur and Udhey Singh Ramgarh Jhugian, in March 1923 addressed to the governor of Punjab fessing up responsibility for the killings of these police agents. A number of other individuals of this 'agents of the British' class were killed by the Babbar Akalis later on and the killings continued. Jathedar Kishan Singh Garhgaj was arrested on 26th February 1923. Many other leaders were arrested while some were killed. The government now published declarations in April and August 1923 for the arrest of the Babbars. The prizes, not only in cash but also in terms of huge tracts of cultivable land, were offered to the informers and those helping the arrest of these Babbar Akalis. All of them were booked in a case known as Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case under section 120-B, 302, 307, 394-397 of Indian Penal Code. The government awarded challan against sixty-two persons on 15th August 1923, in the court of ILA Bull, special magistrate, Lahore. Two of them died and five were discharged. However, thirty-six more wanted in this case were arrested and in all, ninety-one people were committed to the Sessions on 8th April 1924. The trial started on 2nd June 1924 in the court of J.K. Taip, additional sessions judge, Lahore. Jathedar Kishan Singh Garhgaj and eight others boycotted the proceedings, as they expressed no confidence in the British courts. The judgement was pronounced on 28th February 1925.
Five Babbar Akalis were sentenced to death, eleven were sentenced to transportation for life, thirty-eight were sentenced for short-term imprisonments, three died during the pendency of trial and thirty-four were discharged. Appeals filed by the convicts in the high court and the revision filed by the government was heard by Justices Bradway and Harrison. The judgement was delivered on 19th January 1926. Four of the Babbars discharged by the additional sessions judge were sentenced to life imprisonment by the high court. Four others who were sentenced to short-term imprisonments by the sessions court were now sentenced to life imprisonments. One of the Babbars (Dharam Singh Hiatpur) who was given life imprisonment by the session's court was given death sentence by the high court. Some other sentences were also modified. One lifer and nine term-convicts were acquitted. After the high court judgement became final, six Babbar Akalis - Jathedar Kishan Singh Baring (Garhgaj), Karam Singh Manko, Nand Singh Ghurial, Babu Santa Singh, Dalipa Dharnia and Dharam Singh Hiatpurwere sentenced to death. Seventeen of them stood sentenced to life imprisonment while thirty-one to term imprisonments.
In the supplementary Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case, thirty-six Babbars were challaned. One died, ten were discharged and the remaining were committed to the sessions for trial. The trial was held in the jail by Harris, sessions judge, Lahore. The judgement was delivered on 28th February 1926. Seven of them were sentenced to death and sixteen were sentenced to life imprisonment. In appeal, the death sentence of Isher Singh was converted to life imprisonment, while four lifers were acquitted by the high court. Nika Singh son of Buta Singh, Nika Singh son of Daunkal Singh, Mukand Singh son of Bhan Singh, Gujar Singh son of Karam Singh, Banta Singh son of Sohan Singh and Sunder Singh son of Labh Singh who were awarded death sentence were sent to the gallows on 28th February 1927 in Central Jail Lahore. Thirteen of them were sentenced to expatriation for life.
In January 1927, Sunder Singh Maksuspuri, Partap Singh Chabelpur (Sialkot) of the first Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case and Bhola Singh Katha, Surain Singh Kang, Munsha Singh Samravan, Udham Singh Suranusi, Gian Singh Alowal and Banta Singh Alowal of the supplementary Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case, all lifers, were send off to the Andamans.
In March 1927, the government announced that the prisoners volunteering to go to the Andamans would be entitled to take their families there at government expenses; they would be exempted from their sentences and helped financially to settle in the Andamans. None of the Babbar Akali convicts were willing to go to the Andamans and thus, none volunteered. Still Karam Singh Jhinger, Man Singh Gobindpur (Hoshiarpur), Piara Singh Dhamian and Thakar Singh Bharata (Mandiala) of the first Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case and Bachint Singh Damunda and Isher Singh Dichkotia (Manko) of the supplementary Babbar Akali Conspiracy Case were sent to the Andamans against their wishes. They were coerced to volunteer themselves, but they did not give in to the government pressure.
These Babbar Akali prisoners were also kept in the Cellular Jail
. They were deployed on hard manual labour work outside the jail, like cutting the jungles, levelling the land where they were exposed to rain and sun. When the Babbars protested against unkind treatment, they were punished and confined in the cells of the Jail continuously. To get rid of this agonising jail life, Surain Singh Kang and Munsha Singh Samrava called their families for settling there permanently and adopted cultivation of land as their profession.
The other prisoners fought against the barbaric punishments awarded to them and demanded proper treatment as political prisoners
. They also warned the authorities that they had been deported to the Andamans against the policy of the Government of India as only those could have been brought to the Andamans who themselves volunteered and wanted to settle there permanently. Since they had not volunteered nor did they want to settle there, they should be sent back to the Indian jails.
The authorities were not prepared to listen either to send them back or to extend proper treatment to them. However, the Babbar Akalis were made of sterner stuff. They went on a hunger strike. Forced feeding was resorted to, but they did not yield. The strike went on for twenty-eight days. In the end, the authorities had to acquiesce. The chief commissioner visited the jail personally and heard their grievances. Karam Singh Jhinger was their spokesman. The authorities agreed to their demands. They were permitted to take a blanket or a sheet of cloth while going outside for work to protect themselves from sun or rain. They were given soap, oil or gur as demanded. The chief commissioner also guaranteed to send them back to Indian jails within a year and accordingly within a year they were back in Alipore jail in Calcutta. However, both Surain Singh Kang and Munsha Singh Samrava who had taken their families there for settling permanently expired and their families returned in grief.
Thus ended the heartbreaking story of the Babbar Akalis in the Andamans. However, it is surprising that the names of these Babbar Akali patriots are not included in the list of individuals imprisoned in the Andamans in connection with the freedom movement published by Andaman and Nicobar Administration.