Canadian Sikh Heritage | Contemporary Sikh Movements
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Contemporary Sikh Movements

Namdhari Movement

Founded by Ram Singh, the Namdhari aim was to oppose the sometimes oppressive British forces and presence in India in order to promote freedom for the entire nation of India. Ram Singh’s devotion to such a cause came as a result of seeing the destruction of Punjab following its annexation by the British from 1849-1853. Prior to the beginnings of the First Indian War for Independence in 1857, Ram Singh had called for a meeting at his local village in the district of Ludhiana. What made Ram Singh’s moral and religious speech so significant, was not so much the rhetoric, but rather the audience whom he spoke in front of. Comprising of local villagers consisting of those from different castes, those from all different career positions, and even the so-called “untouchables,” Ram Singh recognized the power that these classes had in the Indian struggle for freedom. Once the Namdhari’s role as patriotic freedom fighters had been established, there were a number of incidents where their roles became predominant. From the period of 1857-1947, certain individuals and incidents proved to be key in the freedom movement. For example, Ram Singh and eleven of his followers were arrested in January 1872 because of their advocating of anti-British sentiments. Other Namdharis such as Baba Gurcharan Singh were also arrested on suspicions that they were working as spies for the Russians. Such unwarranted arrests upon the Namdharis were common and tragically even resulted in the deaths of some of these patriots.

Singh Sabha Movement

The formation of the Singh Sabha Movement came about because of the efforts on part of the Namdhari’s, which had ignited frustration and anger from the British. The British hoped to counter the patriotism as seen in the Namdhari movement with the formation of the Singh Sabha Movement. The British hoped that by introducing the Singh Sabha Movement, the Namdhari’s efforts could be hindered. The great difference between the two respective movements was the Namdhari’s belief that the final Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji did not pass away at Nanded and instead passed the Guruship on to a man named Guru Balak Singh. The Singh Sabhas on the other hand, contest this belief and instead promote the idea that the Guru did pass on, and passed the Guruship onto the holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. However, even within the Singh Sabha, two separate fractions were formed. On the one hand, there were the Sanatan Sikhs, who recognized that Sikhs were also part of Hindu framework, and advocated the original teachings of the Sikh Gurus especially in recognizing a casteless society. The Sanatans advocated such original Sikh thoughts through preaching, education, social reform, and even literature. The other fraction in opposition to the Sanatans, were the Tat Khalsa, who wanted to separate Sikhism from the Hindu connection by stressing that the true Sikh was a member of the Khalsa. Despite the radical differences in their ideologies and beliefs, both the Sanatans and the Tat Khalsa factions of the Singh Sabha Movement promoted positive social change in Punjab such as: the improvement of the economy through effective communication and extending the canal system, through the encouragement of education, as well as providing aid to these schools.

Gurdwara Reform Movement

The Gurdwara Reform Movement came about because of the desire for Sikh values and traditions to once again be revived and adhered to. Brought on by the efforts of the Singh Sabha Movement as well, what the Gurdwara Reform Movement responded to more specifically, was the authority of the “Mahants,” or professional priests who belonged to the Udasi sect, in all Sikh gurdwaras. According to the movement, the Mahants were believed to have been stealing the offerings and income made to the gurdwaras for their own personal uses, such priests therefore needed to be abolished from all Sikh temples. Although at first, the British tended to support the Mahant priests, the pressures from the Sikh community forced them to change positions and instead they passed the “Sikh Gurdwaras and Shrines Act” in 1922. According to the Act, a committee was to be chosen by the British government, which would in turn handle all matters pertaining to the gurdwaras in India. Because the control of the committee was chosen by the British, the Akali leaders opposed the original draft of the bill. Therefore, a second draft of the bill was made which granted the Akali council members more authority. In general, what the Act ensured was the betterment of all Sikh gurdwaras through positive control and leadership.

Jaito Morcha Movement

The Jaito Morcha movement refers to the movement by those Sikhs who protested the forced abdication of the ruler, Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, of the princely state of Nabha from 1912-23, by the British. Because Ripudaman Singh was an Akali supporter who was sympathetic to the nationalist movements on behalf of Indians, the British forced his abdication in favour of his young son Pratap Singh. When a number of Sikhs came together to protest and attempt to reinstate Ripudaman Singh, the police interrupted and made arrests. 500 Akali Sikhs had begun a peaceful march to protest the abdication of the Maharaja on February 9, 1924 and the situation escalated to a point of violence. When the Akali Sikhs had marched more than 10k in order to reach the Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, they were stopped by the British administrator Wilson Johnston. As the Sikhs refused to stop in reaching their destination of the Sikh temple Tibbi Sahib, Johnston ordered his troops to open fire. This senseless act resulted in the death of 19 Akali Sikhs and the injury of 29.

Ghadar Movement

Literally meaning “mutiny” or “rebellion” in Punjabi, the word Ghadar is synonymous in Indian history as an overseas movement to liberate India from British rule in the early 20th century. The co-founder of the Ghadar party, Lala Hardayal, declared in the first issue of the Ghadar weekly paper on November 1st, 1913, that those within the party were dedicating themselves to rid India of all British authority. As an overseas party, much of the predominantly Sikh Ghadar party members, volunteers and enthusiasts came from the United States and Canada. In addition to publishing the Ghadar paper weekly, there were some key incidents in which Ghadar members were involved in. One such incident occurred following the tragic Komagata Maru incident in 1914 when a boat of Sikhs travelled to British Columbia in accordance with the “continuous passage” laws, only to be denied entry due to racist Canadian policies. Following this incident, thousands of Indians living in the U.S sold their businesses, returned home to India in order to force the British out. Because of the party’s anti-British sentiments, many leaders either fled in fear, or were arrested by Indian authorities under command from the British. For example Lala Hardayal fled to Europe while another important figure in the party, Sohan Singh Bakhna had already been captured by the British.