Gurdwara Sealed in Pakistan, Sikhs Miffed Over Justice Denied

by Iqbal Singh Dhillon

In the news since 2022 CE, the dispute over the site of Gurdwara Bhai Taru Singh at Lahore has had a long history. Bhai Taru Singh was a devout Sikh inhabiting Poohla village located in the Kasur district of pre-partition Punjab. The village fell in the Indian Punjab subsequent to the partition of India in 1947 CE. Since the middle of the third decade of the 18th century CE, a number of well-organized bands of Sikhs had been daring the Moghul rulers as well as the foreign invaders and fighting vigorous battles adopting guerilla tactics. Having tasted political power under Banda Bahadur’s leadership for a brief period of six months, the Sikhs had developed a keen desire for their sovereign rule, especially in view of the speedily crumbling Moghul empire. Treating them as incorrigible rebels, the Moghul rulers of the time unleashed a reign of terror and persecution on the militant and civil members of the Sikh community including women, children and even infants. A spirited yet humble young man of 25 years, Taru Singh, was brutally tortured, scalped with a hoe and put to death in 1745 CE at Lahore.

Eventually, the representatives of the Sikh Misls took over the control of the city of Lahore in April, 1765 CE and, with Taru Singh having been recognized as a martyr (‘Shaheed’) by the Sikh community, the new rulers at Lahore set up a memorial dedicated to his supreme sacrifice at a spot located near the Delhi Gate outside the walled city. The area around was named Shaheed Ganj by the Sikhs since most of their comrades made captives around the Punjab region by the Moghul rulers over the last three decades were brought there from time to time for execution. The area came to be known as Naulakha Bazaar in due course of time. Interestingly, quite close to the memorial, there stood a structure named Abdullah Khan Mosque which had been completed in the year 1735 CE during Moghul emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur’s regime. Previously, the area had been a palace site erected by the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb’s elder brother Dara Shikoh the erstwhile governor of Lahore. Besides the Mosque, the area also housed a shrine named after Pir Shah Kaku.

Normalcy prevailed here till 1849 CE when the British snatched the control of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire from his successors. A legal dispute ensued in 1950 CE over the ownership of Shaheed Ganj area when the Muslims challenged the presence of the Sikh memorial on a land which they claimed to have belonged solely to the Mosque. However, the verdict issued by the court concerned went in favour of the Sikhs when it decreed that the status quo be maintained. The memorial was converted into a Gurdwara by the Sikhs. The Muslims, however, did not let their grouse die down in view of which the government continued with its efforts to arrive at some mutually agreeable settlement. But over-enthused by the success of the Gurdwara Reform Movement launched in the twentieth century culminating in the enactment of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925, the Sikhs unilaterally demolished the Mosque on July 7-8, 1935 CE igniting massive resentment among Muslims and even triggering communal riots. Nonetheless, the situation was under control and the Gurdwara at the site continued to remain functional even after the partition of the country when it, along with 150 other historical Gurdwaras, had fallen under the jurisdiction of Pakistan.

While the Sikhs’ assertion that the Shaheed Ganj memorial was originally raised with due permission of the then Governor Mir Manu in 1747 CE does not hold good, their claim to the ownership of Gurdwara land gains validity on the ground that it was raised during the period of Sikh occupation of Lahore without harming the structure of the Mosque and, subsequently, the court also had upheld their claim to the site. But the demolition of the Mosque in 1935 CE by the Sikhs unilaterally was simply outrageous and against the law. As such the Muslims could reclaim the site of the Mosque and demand its reconstruction at least after 1947 CE.

While 75 years had passed peacefully, the closing of the doors of Bhai Taru Singh Gurdwara in December 2022 CE, unilaterally in this case too, and claiming it to be a Mosque was equally outrageous. This has led to widespread resentment among the members of the Sikh community even beyond the borders. The situation has been created by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) of Pakistan in connivance with some fundamentalists. Since ETPB is a statutory body pf Pakistan, it is the duty of the Government there to ensure justice for all. While both of the parties seem to be equally peeved and genuinely aggrieved, each in its own way, the solution lies in restoring the normal functioning of the Gurdwara and reconstructing the Mosque at its original site, if not already restored. A cordial and warm gesture similar to the one shown while setting up of common corridor at Kartarpur is the need of the hour.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Iqbal Singh Dhillon

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