To quote Khushwant Singh: “In the history of every nation. Some figures stand out as landmarks by whose presence we recognise the events of time– Baba Kharak Singh is such a landmark–not only in the history of the history of the Sikhs, but that of India itself.”
Baba Kharak Singh was born on 6 June 1868 in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) and died on 6 October 1963. Baba ji was the first student from his batch who graduated in 1889 from Punjab University, Lahore.
Baba Kharak Singh supervised the session of the Central Sikh League held in Lahore in 1920 where he guided the Sikhs to take part in the non-co-operation movement. In 1921, he helped to find S.G.P.C. for which he was elected as the President. In 1921-22, he successfully led the first Agitation which against the British government which is popularly known as the Keys Morcha. This was majorly a Sikh protest whose agenda was to acquire the keys of the Toshakhana (treasure) of the Golden Temple, which had been clenched by the British Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. Kharak Singh was the first one who was arrested and also the first one to be in numerous jail terms under the British.
He was one of those leaders who without a second thought took up the cause of the INA into consideration in 1945. He opposed both the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and the Akali proposal for an Azad Punjab.
He was imprisioned for six months starting from 26 November 1921 for making an anti government speech, but he was released on 17 January 1922 when the keys of the toshakhana were also surrendered to him. He was rearrested soon on 4 April 1922 for one year in jail as he ran a factory that manufactured kirpans which is one of the religious symbols of the Sikhs. Another three years were added to it as he made rebellious speeches.
He was jailed for the protest against the forced removal of the turbans of Sikh and the ‘Gandhi caps’. There he discarded all his clothes except his kachahira (underpants), which is another religious symbol of the Sikhs. Despite the cold weather conditions, he remained bare until he was released after his full term imprisonment which was twice extended for non-obedience of orders on 4 June 1927.
According to Jawaharlal Nehru, Babaji had never surrendered to anything evil during his whole life; not being afraid of the consequences. Nehru also said of Babaji: “There are few hands which can uphold the honour and preserve the dignity of the national Flag better than those of Babaji.”
In his honour, the famous Irwin Road in Delhi has been renamed as Baba Kharak Singh Marg.