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Sardar Master Tara Singh

Sardar Tara Singh was an Indian Sikh political and religious leader. He was instrumental in organizing Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee and guiding the Sikhs during the partition of India, which he strongly opposed. He later led their demand for a Sikh-majority state in East Punjab. He was a very honest and sincere leader of Sikhs. He was a champion of Sikh rights against the dominant Hindu, Muslim, and British. His spirit of service was evident early, and he would give Rs. 135 of his monthly salary of Rs. 150 to the school treasury towards the betterment of the school. After the Government took over the management of Khalsa College, Amritsar, he began to participate in anti-government agitations. His sympathy with the Canadian Sikhs, and his interest in the Komagata Maru voyage, the Budge Budge firing at Calcutta, Jallianwala Bagh massacre (April 13, 1919) in Amritsar, and Nankana Sahib massacre (February 20, 1921) agitated Tara Singh so he left his teaching job and became a full-time Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee worker, where he started working not only as an activist but a journalist as well.

Master Tara Singh (June 24, 1885- November 22, 1967) was born to a Khatri family in Rawalpindi, British Punjab, but while a student in Rawalpindi he (Nanak Chand) became attracted to Sikhism and underwent the required initiation ceremony. He did his graduation from Khalsa College Amritsar in 1907 and became a high school teacher in Lyallpur. He became very popular as a master, a title associated with him thereafter. He was a devout worker for the cause of Sikh religious and political integrity. He played a very important role as freedom fighter. In 1930, he became deeply involved with the Civil Disobedience Movement of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and was a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee. He was jailed for disobedience 14 times between 1930 to 1966. He was best known as an agitator for a Punjabi-speaking state as a means of keeping Sikh religious and political traditions intact.

Master Tara Singh and other Sikh organizations condemned the Lahore Resolution and the movement to create Pakistan, viewing it as welcoming possible persecution; he thus strongly opposed the partition of India, and his party would fight tooth and nail against the concept of Pakistan. Gandhi tried his best to convince Jinah but he did not agree. The Partition decision was taken by the non-Punjabi political leaders to divide Punjab. Practically, it was division of Punjab and Bengal but not India.

Master Tara Singh’s most significant cause was the creation of a distinct Punjabi-speaking state. He believed that this would best protect the integrity of Sikh religion and political traditions. He began a hunger strike in 1961 at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, promising to continue it to his death unless the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to his demand for such a state. Nehru argued that India was a secular country and the creation of a state based on religious distinction was inappropriate. Nonetheless, Nehru did promise to consider the issue. Sardar Tara Singh abounded his fast after 48 days. Tara Singh’s fellow Sikhs turned against him, believing that he had capitulated, and they put him on trial in a court adjudged by Pijaras. Singh pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him and he found his reputation in tatters. The community felt he had abounded his ideals and replaced him in the Shiromani Akali Dal, and Sant Fateh Singh was elected in his place.

The linguistic division of the Indian state of Punjab eventually took place in 1966, with the Hindi-speaking area re-designated as a separate state of Haryana. Master Tara Singh died in Chandigarh on November 22, 1967. Dr. BR Ambedkar was strongly impressed by Sikhism due to its casteless nature. The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), under Master Tara Singh, took the initiative to open an institution for the depressed class in Mumbai, thus the Guru Nanak Khalsa College in Mumbai came into being in 1937.

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