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In reminiscence of a giant_ Sardar Teja Singh Samundri

Ninety-seven years in the past, on today, July 17 1926, a person died in Lahore jail on the age of 44 because of the cruelty of the British Raj. His demise was tragic, however by his life’s work, Sardar Teja Singh Samundri left a legacy that lasts until today and can stay etched in Punjab’s historical past endlessly. It’s to true giants, heroes and martyrs comparable to Teja Singh Samundri that at present’s younger should return(Taranjit Singh Sandhu Twitter)

At a time when the controversy round Sikh id and its place inside wider Indian nationalism has obtained renewed consideration, recalling the life and occasions of Samundri, the one non-guru in whose identify there’s a constructing contained in the sacred Golden Temple complicated, will assist not simply the younger in Punjab but additionally the nation and past perceive the wealthy historical past of twentieth century Sikhism and its function in nation-building.

4 parts of Samundri’s life stand out.

The primary was his management of the gurdwara reform motion (GRM) which returned Sikh non secular establishments to their egalitarian and democratic roots. The second was his capability to intertwine the motion for non secular reform with the Indian freedom wrestle which impressed many others together with the legendary Grasp Tara Singh. The third was his dedication to training although his entry to formal studying was rudimentary. And the fourth was his dedication to an knowledgeable public sphere, by his function in launching newspapers, together with the Hindustan Instances, as part of a bunch of the unique Akali leaders earlier than it was taken over by Madan Mohan Malaviya and ultimately GD Birla.

And thru all of it, Samundri by no means hesitated to place the nation and his group earlier than the self, sacrificing his livelihood, his property, and ultimately his life.

Until the early Nineteen Twenties, the federal government appointed and supervised custodians to handle Sikh gurudwaras. The British-appointed mahants, nevertheless, quickly started portraying themselves as hereditary clergymen who had authorized entitlement to gurudwara properties. Given the large moveable and immovable property on the disposal of gurudwaras, acquired by endowments through the Sikh rule that preceded the Raj, many mahants started behaving like corrupt landlords, violating the tenets of the faith that had taken satisfaction in austerity and repair.

This was when Sikhs launched GRM, a mass agitation impressed by Gurbani, the sacred writings contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. On the opposite facet was the pro-British Sikh aristocracy that typically sided with the mahants. And it was on this mass motion that Sikhs discovered a frontrunner in Teja Singh Samundri.

Samundri was born in a household of Sandhu Jat Sikhs of Rai Burj Ka (Sarhali) village of the Tarn Taran district. In these days, his household additionally owned agricultural tracts in Samundri Tehsil of Lyallpur District of the then-unified Punjab, which is the place his household identify got here from. Like his ancestors, together with his father, Sardar Dewa Singh, Samundri had been within the British Indian Military. However as a religious Sikh, he was interested in the GRM which had its beginnings in Gurudwara Rakabganj in Delhi.

After having transferred the imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, the British, acquired some land belonging to the gurudwara. Within the course of, the Raj struck a take care of the native mahants and demolished its boundary wall. There was an instantaneous backlash from the broader Sikh group. Led by Harchand Singh Lyallpuri and Samundri, the protesting Sikh Jathas (teams) went to Delhi. The protest resulted at first in a truce whereby the British authorities pleaded for established order until the First World Conflict was over, after which, after the conflict ended, restored the boundary wall. This boosted the boldness of the Sikh group.

However the actual battle was fought in Punjab, as GRM intensified its quest to liberate the gurudwaras from the management of the mahants. And Samundri led this battle from the entrance, not solely agitating in opposition to the mahants however creating the infrastructure and offering the help to maintain the motion.

In the course of the historic 1921-22 wrestle in Amritsar referred to as the Guru Ka Bagh Morcha, Samundri was the Chairman of the Council of Motion arrange by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC). By the exceptional non-violent motion, even when confronted with British repression, Samundri remained calm and beneficiant, sensible and agency.

The famend social scientist and educationist Ruchi Ram Sahni of Punjab College, who got here to know Samundri properly, provided a glimpse of Samundri’s character in his e book titled “Wrestle for Reform in Sikh Shrines”. In regards to the Sikh chief, Sahni wrote, “He may grasp the necessities of a proposition instantly and study them individually from the non-essentials which could possibly be ignored. He was accommodating Within the excessive as far as the non-essentials have been involved, however on factors which he thought of to be important and basic he would stand agency like a rock.” Sahni added that he by no means noticed Samundri ruffled. “Tall and sturdy with out being stout like a typical village jat, he didn’t give one the impression of being a person whose broad rustic shoulders carried such a sensible head.”

Teja Singh Samundri led from the entrance. In the course of the gurudwara Nankana Sahib agitation in 1921, throughout which the native mahant ordered his males to fireside on protesters resulting in a bloodbath, the Akali newspaper revealed a bit to which native British authorities took offence and imposed a effective of ₹40,000, Samundri assured the newspaper publishers that he himself would stand surety for this cash by auctioning his agricultural tracts.

Equally, whereas going to jail within the context of one other agitation at Nabha, Samundri stood to ensure for a case the place the SGPC in had misplaced a swimsuit within the Excessive Court docket, and was planning to make an enchantment in Privy Council. For this goal, R 150,000 was required. SGPC had solely been in a position to accumulate R 75,000 and Samundri pledged 50 acres of his land to cowl the remaining quantity.

All through the GRM-Nineteen Twenties, Samundri was additionally actively concerned in offering financial and associated reduction to the agitators’ households. It led to the formation of the Sikh Desh Bhagat Parivar Sahaik Committee for reduction to be offered to the households of those that had been imprisoned or have been going through litigation. Later this physique was expanded into Desh Bhagat Parivar Sahaik Committee, in reminiscence of which Desh Bhagat Yadgar Committee Corridor stands in Jalandhar Metropolis at present.

These nuggets of his management and contribution illustrate an even bigger level; from the macro technique to the micro organisation, Samundri’s function was central to the GRM. The starkest illustration of the excessive regard during which the group held him was when Samundri, on June 17, 1923, was chosen as one among the many Panj Pyaras (5 beloved Sikhs) to steer the Kaar Sewa to start cleansing the Sarovar (holy pond) within the Golden Temple complicated. The Kaar Sewa was undertaken for the primary time after the top of the Sikh rule in Punjab in 1842.

Even because the Sikhs have been waging an agitation in opposition to the British for non secular reform, they may fairly clearly see the way it intersected with the broader freedom motion in opposition to the identical adversary. Samundri had seen this connection early on, beginning along with his participation in September 1923 within the All India Topics Committee organised by the Indian Nationwide Congress.

The British arrested GRM leaders together with Samundri. However the motion ultimately succeeded and led to the enactment of the SGPC Act of 1925, handing over the management of the shrines to the committee. The Raj, in return, needed the agitators to commit in writing that they might now not agitate, nor query any provisions of the Act.

This created a rift among the many 31 high leaders of GRM confined in jail. Whereas one group of about 20 individuals agreed to provide in to the federal government’s calls for, however 11 together with Teja Singh Samundri and Grasp Tara Singh refused to compromise with the federal government. Samundri stated that he would favor to “kick such humiliating phrases along with his shoe”. This group wasn’t launched from jail, and it was in Lahore, on July 17, 1926, that Samundri died in mysterious circumstances.

Following his demise, the Akali agitation intensified, and the British launched all of the others unconditionally. The British Authorities shortly referred to as for a common election to the newly accredited SGPC. Samundri’s loyalists swept the polls, reflecting the excessive respect individuals had for his sacrifices.

The GRM wrestle basically, and Samundri’s bravery particularly, performed a key function in radically altering the overall notion of Sikhs in colonial India. Until then, they have been considered British loyalists due to their overwhelming numbers within the British Indian Military, grossly disproportionate to their inhabitants in India. However the motion led to a shift in notion as the remainder of the nation woke as much as Sikhs as staunch non-violent and peaceable protesters who couldn’t be provoked to grow to be violent even within the face of dire repression. No marvel, when the gurudwaras in British Punjab have been liberated by peaceable agitations, and the administration of Sikh shrines have been entrusted to SGPC, Mahatma Gandhi, who, together with others, had supported the GRM, despatched a telling congratulatory telegram, “First Battle of Independence received!”

Samundri’s dedication to India’s freedom was vindicated by each side of the political spectrum. The INC-led freedom motion in India recognised him as a freedom fighter, whereas a British colonial authorities report stated his demise would undoubtedly discourage/dissuade future radical freedom fighters in India. How unsuitable was the Raj?

Proper from the start, regardless of having obtained essentially the most rudimentary of formal training and being fluent in solely his native language, Samundri had taken a eager curiosity in selling training among the many individuals.

He established Khalsa Excessive College in Lyallpur, Baar Khalsa Excessive College at Chak No. 41, Khalsa Center College at Chak No 140 in Samundri, and Guru Gobind Singh Excessive College at Sarhali. He was additionally on the forefront to finance training for kids and inspired the gathering of funds for this goal. His household, previously century, has sustained the academic initiatives and establishments he arrange.

Samundri additionally made earnest efforts to institute publications for the GRM-Nineteen Twenties in each Punjabi and Urdu languages. Together with Sunder Singh Lyallpuri and different Akali leaders, Samundri performed a key function in taking the initiative to mobilise funds and set up this newspaper in 1924.

However moreover his illustrious legacy locally and the broader nation-building. His son, Bishan Singh Samundri, was awarded a scholarship in 1957 to check overseas and this enabled him to safe his Grasp’s diploma from Ohio State College in the US (US). After returning house, Bishan Singh Samundri took over because the Principal of Khalsa Faculty, Amritsar and ultimately turned the founding Vice Chancellor of the Guru Nanak Dev College. Bishan’s spouse, Jagjit Sandhu, completed her PhD in training from the US as properly and retired because the Principal of Authorities Faculty for Ladies in Amritsar.

And Teja Singh Samundri’s grandson, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, is at present India’s Ambassador to the US, enjoying a key function in deepening Delhi’s ties with Washington. Amongst his varied diplomatic initiatives, two stand out as traits inherited from his grandfather — a dedication to deepen the data and training partnership between the 2 nations, and a dedication to inclusive Indian nationalism versus the sectarian tendencies seen at occasions inside extremist sections of the group.

It’s to true giants, heroes and martyrs comparable to Teja Singh Samundri that at present’s younger should return, for it’s lives like his that made the thought of India and the thought of Punjab a singular one.

Harmeet Singh is a former member of School Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev College, Amritsar and Nationwide College of Legislation, Sonipat. The views expressed are private