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1964 Paonta Sahib Massacre

Paonta Sahib is the only holy place after Anandpur Sahib where Guru Gobind Singh Ji resided the longest for a period of four years from 1685 to 1689. Situated on the bank of Jamuna, its ever pleasing peaceful surroundings touch every heart and soul. Many historical events took place here such as Guru Sahib writing and composing many parts of Dasam Granth, Pir Buddhu Shah fighting in the battle of Bhanghani in which four of his sons became martyrs and then blessing him with Kes and Kangha.

Guru Sahib erected a fort in 1685 and named it ‘Panvta' which was used in the battle of Bhanghani against the hill kings. In summary, it is a sacred place where Guru Sahib held his darbar (court) and taught Sikhs many valuable lessons. When Guru Granth Sahib was declared the last and final Guru of the Sikhs, the holy place became known as Paonta Sahib and a Gurdwara was erected in the memory of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Gurdwaras are source from which the Sikh nation draws its power. It is for this reason that whenever anti-Sikhi forces resorted to destroying the Sikh religion, Gurdwaras became the first target. Maharaja Ranjit Singh knew that Gurdwaras were strength of the Sikhs and spent large amount of money in building and repairing the Gurdwaras. Sikhs have always fought and sacrificed themselves for the sanctity of the Gurdwaras.

During Mughal Empire, Gurdwaras were under control of Nirmalas and Udasis and they managed the Gurdwaras according to Guru's rehat (code of conduct). By 1799, almost all of the Gurdwaras were under their control and management. As Sikhs grew in power, the money started flowing to Gurdwaras and Nirmalas and Udasis started using it for their personal benefits. Engrossed in the power of wealth they turned away from Sikhi and started considering Gurdwaras as their personal property. During British rule, they were given full support to run the Gurdwaras as they liked and engage in many anti-Sikhi activities for the purpose of weakening the Sikh nation.

These mahants started abusing their power and mismanaging the Gurdwaras. Idols were installed in Darbar Sahib. Smoking and drinking became normal at Nankana Sahib and Taran Taaran Sahib. Killers of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre were honored at Akal Takhat Sahib, Pro. Gurmukh Singh and martyrs of Kamagata Maru were excommunicated from the Panth. At last, Sikhs could not tolerate it anymore and started Gurdwara Reform Movement. Over time, all of the Gurdwaras were freed by Sikhs and SGPC was formed to properly manage and run the Gurdwaras.

Nankana Sahib Massacre of 1921

During the Gurdwara Reform Movement, Paonta Sahib was being managed by Mahant Lehna Singh who was a devout Sikh. He presented himself at Darbar Sahib and wished to hand over the control of the Gurdwara to SGPC but seeing his humbleness and devotion, Sikhs appointed him to manage the Gurdwara. After his death, his son Gurdial Singh took over the Gurdwara. He established political connections with many of the leaders after which he started misusing the Gurdwara for personal gains.

Management became worse and Sikhs in the area started complaining to the SGPC, jathebandis and leaders like Master Tara Singh, Karta Singh and Hukam Singh. Hearing about the mismanagement of the Gurdwara, Baba Chet Singh, head of Buddha Dal, went to Paonta Sahib. Fearing the Nihungs, Gurdial Singh summoned himself, apologized for his misdeeds and took Amrit.

After Buddha Dal left for Punjab, Gurdial Singh resorted back to his misdeeds. His everyday activities did not go unnoticed. Many of the local Sikhs went to Punjab and invited Baba Harbhajan Singh, head of Tarna Dal, to come with them and take over the Gurdwara. On March 10th, 1964 Baba Ji took control of the Gurdwara at the request of local Sikhs.

At the Gurdwara, Nihungs had started Akhand Paath Sahib (continuation of reading the Holy Scripture) and restored the Rehat Maryada of Guru Sahib. Kirtan, Katha and regular diwans were held everyday. Number of visitors to the Gurdwara started to increase. This was obviously not welcomed by Gurdial Singh but he found himself helpless in front of armed Nihung Singhs. He hired some thugs and sought help of the police to restore his control.

On May 22nd, the police called Baba Harbhajan Singh to resolve the issue with Gurdial and make compromise but instead he was arrested and held in custody. Then, the police marched towards the Gurdwara. The police announced on loud speakers informing the Nihungs to come out but no one did as they were reciting the Holy Scripture. At last, the police broke the doors and windows of the Gurdwara and entered the premises with shoes on. As soon as the police walked in they started firing at Sikhs. Many of the Nihungs cooking langar and doing seva were shot dead. Nihungs reciting the Holy Scripture were also not spared and shot dead by the police.

Guru Granth Sahib was drenched in the blood of the Sikhs. One Nihung who was reading Guru Granth Sahib raised his hand as a sign of stopping the police from shooting and interrupting the Akhand Paath. But the police shot his hand and he became wounded. Even then he continued to recite but the police went a step further and shot him in the chest. Nihung Singh died at the spot and fell on the saroop of Guru Granth Sahib. Baba Nihal Singh was standing next to him and wanted to take his place but the police shot him as well and he severely became wounded.

Total of 8 Sikhs were martyred inside the Gurdwara. The police loaded up their bodies in the truck and took them to a forest to be burnt. Three bodies were lying outside of the Gurdwara which were later cremated by the Sikhs. The entire Gurdwara was filled with empty gun shells and walls were full of bullet marks. The floor had turned red with blood. The police took saroop of Guru Granth Sahib, Dasam Granth and weapons of Guru Sahib with them. Nagara (war drum) also bore bullet marks. It was revealed later that one Sikh was beating the nagara to call other Sikhs and warn them of the attack but the police filled his body with bullets.

The police tried to clean up the floor and walls but left after unsuccessful attempts. The Gurdwara Sahib was later repaired by the Sikhs. Total of 11 Nihungs of Tarna Dal sacrificed for the sanctity of the Gurdwara. Baba Nihal Singh, a wounded Sikh, became the next head of Tarna Dal and became known as a ‘Jinda Shaheed' (Living Martyr). This bloody massacre gave a glimpse of what Mughal invaders had done to Darbar Sahib in 18th century. It leaves no doubt that although the government had changed but the oppressive policies against the Sikhs had not and continued to exist.

Based on Paonta sahib Khooni Saka published on Panthic Weekly.

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