Government representive returning keys of Golden Tempe
to Baba Kharak Singh
Marks a dramatic episode in the Sikhs' agitation in the early 1920's
for reforming the management of their places of worship. The Golden
Temple at Amritsar, which had a government-nominated sarbrah or
controller to manage it since 1849, came under Akali control in
October 1920. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee nominated
the old sarbrah, Sundar Singh Ramgarhia, member of the Committee
appointed to administer the affairs of the Golden Temple. The sarbrah
functioned under the directions of the Committee, but, since he
still retained possession of the keys of the toshakhana or treasury
of the Golden Temple, the Akali reformers felt that official control,
however nominal, still remained. On 20 October 1921, Shiromani Committee
resolved to ask Sundar Singh to hand over the keys to its president,
but before the decision was implemented, news reached the deputy
commissioner of Amritsar who forestalled the Akalis.
On 7 November 1921, Amar Nath, extra assistant commissioner, raided
the house of Sundar Singh Ramgarhia with a police party and took
away the keys. On 11 November, the government appointed Captain
Bahadur Singh to replace Sundar Singh. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak
Committee refused to recognize the new sarbrah. On 12 November 1921
a protest meeting was convened in Bagh Akalian at Amritsar which
was addressed by Baba Kharak Singh and other Akali leaders. Akali
meetings took place at Gujranwala, Gujjar Khan and other' places.
Captain Bahadur Singh resigned, but government remained adamant.
Dan Singh of Vachhoa and Jaswant Singh of Jhabal, two prominent
Akalis, were arrested at a divan at Ajnala on 26 November 1921.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, then in session at
the Akal Takht at Amritsar, adjourned its meeting and soon over
50 of its members reached Ajnala to continue the divan. The district
authority declared the divan to be an "illegal assembly"
and arrested all the prominent Akalis, including Baba Kharak Singh,
Sardar Bahadur Mehtab Singh and Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri. The
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 27 November condemned
the official action and called upon Sikhs to observe 4 December
as a protest day. Sikhs were further asked not to join any function
in honour of the Prince of Wales, who was likely to visit India
early in 1922. Arrests continued to be made and Master Tara Singh
and Amar Singh Jhabal were among those held. Failing to control
Sikh protest and foreseeing how it might affect Sikh soldiers and
the peasantry, the government announced on 3 January 1922 its decision
to return the keys to the executive of the Shiromani Committee so
that Poh sudi 7/5 January 1922 could be celebrated as the birth
anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, but the Committee refused to accept
them until Sikhs arrested during the movement were released unconditionally.
On 11 January 1922, Sir John Maynard, the Home Member announced
in the Punjab Legislative Council the release of all Sikhs under
detention. Still the Akalis refused to go and fetch the keys from
the deputy commissioner.
A government official was eventually sent to deliver the keys wrapped
in a piece of red silk to Baba Kharak Singh, president of the Shiromani
Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, at a divan (19 January 1922) at Akal
Takht. The Akalis' victory was hailed throughout the country. In
the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "First
decisive battle for India's freedom" had been won.