Marked culmination of the tussle between Sikh and Muslim communities
in the Punjab for the possession of a sacred site in Lahore upon which
stood Gurdwara Shahidganj (shahid = martyr, ganj = hoard, treasure)
in memory of Sikh martyrs of the eighteenth century and which the
Muslims claimed as having been the location of an historic Islamic
site. The Gurdwara is located in Landa Bazar midway between the Lahore
railway station and the Delhi Gate at the site known earlier as Nakhas
(Persian nakhkhas, meaning a marketplace for the sale of captives,
horses and cattle taken as war prize). This was the place where thousands
of Sikhs, including the celebrated Bhai Taru Singh, and about 3,000
captives of the Chhota Ghallughara campaign (1746) were executed or
tortured to death. Here Mu'in ul-Mulk (Mir Mannu, in Sikh chronicles),
governor of Lahore during 1748-53, raised a building shaped like a
mosque sitting where the muftis, Muslim judges, gave their summary
judgements after giving their victims a straight choice between conversion
to Islam and death. Almost invariably the victims chose the latter.
Close by was the place where Sikh women and children were kept in
narrow cells to meet slow death through hard labour and starvation.
The Nakhas, long soaked with the blood of martyrs, became for the
Sikhs a sacred spot and, after they came into power in Punjab during
the 1760's, they established a gurdwara there which they named Shahidganj.
Since then it had remained in the possession of the Sikhs as a sacred
place. Soon after the annexation of the Punjab to the British empire,
one Nur Muhammad filed a case in 1850 for the reversion of the "mosque"
to him as its rightful owner, but it was turned down as the court
was not convinced of the genuineness of the claim. Similar claims
raised in 1854 and 1883 were also dismissed on the ground that the
place was no longer a mosque but a gurdwara. According to the Punjab
Government Gazette Notification No 275, dated 22 December 1927,
the shrine was listed as Gurdwara Shahidganj Bhai Taru Singh. The
Muslims again contested the Sikhs' claim to their "mosque"
but the Sikh Gurdwara Tribunal, established under the Sikh Gurdwaras
Act, 1925, in its judgement dated 20 January 1930 determined that
the place was the property of Gurdwara Bhai Taru Singh.
The Muslims went in appeal, but the Lahore High Court in 1934 upheld
the verdict of the Gurdwara Tribunal. The local Gurdwara Parbandhak
Committee, Lahore, got possession of the Shahidganj in March 1935
and decided to replace the old mosque-like building with a new one.
The bulk of the clearing work having been completed by 7 June 1935,
the demolition of the old building was taken in hand on 8 June.
It continued uninterrupted for 20 days, but on 29 June a Muslim
mob tried to enter the premises and, although they were successfully
checked by the inmates, the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, Mr S.
Pratab, stayed further demolition. The political climate in the
country was already charged with communal passions aroused by the
Communal Award of 1932. The Sikhs, considering that, after the decision
of the courts in their favour, the reconstruction of the Gurdwara
was their natural and legal right, resumed the demolition on 8 July
despite the stay order. This was resented by the Muslims, but the
government did not use force to prevent the demolition, for the
reason that the "Sikhs in taking this action were not committing
any criminal offence." In fact Sikh leaders had asked many
Akalis to leave the city and sent out instructions to different
centres not to send any more volunteers to Lahore. The tension did
mount, but Lahore remained free from any communal incidents. On
2 December the government passed a general restrictive order under
Arms Act, 1878, banning the carrying of swords and kirpan. The Sikhs
resented the restriction on kirpan which was, one of their religious
symbols, and launched an agitation against the ban on 1 January
1936. The ban was withdrawn on 31 January 1936.
Meanwhile, the Muslims had filed, on 30 October 1935, a fresh suit
for the possession of the Shahidganj "Mosque". Though
the suit was dismissed on 25 May 1936, an appeal was filed in the
High Court. The Shahidganj issue temporarily receded into the background
partly owing to the impending elections to the Punjab Legislative
Assembly under the Government of India Act, 1935. In April 1937
the Unionist party representing sections of Muslims, Hindus and
Sikhs formed the ministry under Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, who claiming
his ministry to be neutral in character, made it clear to the Muslims
that their claim in the Shahidganj case could not be accepted arbitrarily.
He promised to strive for an amicable settlement of the problem
and appealed to the parties to the dispute not to do anything which
might worsen the communal situation in the Punjab. The Shiromani
Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, an elected body representing the
Sikh people, unanimously passed a resolution at its meeting held
on 10-11 March 1938 affirming that no compromise was possible on
what it considered a vital religious issue. Meanwhile, the legal
battle continued. The Muslims' appeal filed in the High Court was
dismissed on 26 January 1938, and a further appeal to the judicial
Committee of the Privy Council met with the same fate on 2 May 1940.
This virtually ended the dispute.