Tara Singh (activist)

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Tara Singh
Master Tara Singh.jpg
Born (1885-06-24)24 June 1885
Rawalpindi, Punjab, British India (present-day Pakistan)
Died 22 November 1967(1967-11-22) (aged 82)
Chandigarh, India
Nationality Indian

Master Tara Singh (24 June 1885, in Rawalpindi, Punjab – 22 November 1967, in Chandigarh) was a prominent Sikh political and religious leader in the first half of the 20th century. He was instrumental in organising the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee and guiding the Sikhs during the Partition of India. He later led their demand for a Sikh-majority state in Punjab, India. The Indian journalist and politician Rajinder Kaur was his daughter.


Tara Singh was born on 24 June 1885 to a Mohyal Brahmin family in Rawalpindi,[1] which was then a part of Punjab Province in British India. Later he became a high school teacher upon his graduation from Khalsa College in Amritsar in 1907. Singh's career in education was within the Sikh school system and the use of "Master" as a prefix to his name reflects this period.[2]

Singh was ardent in his desire to promote and protect the cause of Sikhism. This often put him at odds with civil authorities and he was jailed on 14 occasions for civil disobedience beteween 1930-1966. Early examples of his support for civil disobedience came through his close involvement with the movement led by Mohandas K. Gandhi. He became a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) political party, which was the major force in Sikh politics, and he was similarly involved with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (Supreme Committee of Temple Management), an apex body that dealt with the Sikh places of worship known as gurdwaras.[2]

During the Partition of India, over one million Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims were killed and families were displaced as they migrated across the new India-Pakistan border. During this period, many alleged that Tara Singh was endorsing the killing of Punjabi's. On 3 March 1947, at Lahore, Singh along with about 500 Sikhs declared from a dais "Death to Pakistan".[3]

Singh's most significant cause was that favouring the creation of a distinct Punjabi-speaking state. He believed that this would best protect the integrity of Sikh religious 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 that this meant the creation of a state based on religious distinction was inappropriate. Nonetheless, Nehru did promise to consider the issue and thus Singh abandoned his fast after 48 days. Singh's fellow Sikhs turned against him, believing that he had capitulated, and they put him on trial in a court adjudged by pijaras. He pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him and found his reputation in tatters. He was thought to have abandoned his ideals and was replaced as leader of the SAD.[2]

The linguistic division of the Indian state of Punjab eventually took place in 1966, with the Hindi-speaking areas redesignated as a part of the state of Haryana. Singh himself died in Chandigarh on 22 November 1967.[2]


  1. ^ "Ranjit Singh’s statue unveiled in Parliament House". The Tribune (Chandigarh). 21 August 2003. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Tara Singh". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  3. ^ "Sikh Social Warriors". 

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