Tara Singh (activist)
|Born||24 June 1885|
|Died||22 November 1967 (aged 82)|
Master Tara Singh (24 June 1885 – 22 November 1967) was a 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. His daughter, the Indian journalist and politician Rajinder Kaur, was killed by Sikh militants in February 1989.
Tara Singh was born on 24 June 1885 to a Malhotra Khatri family in Rawalpindi, which was then a part of Punjab Province in British India. Later he became a high school teacher upon his graduation from Khalsa College, 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.
Tara 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 between 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 Gurdwara Management), an apex body that dealt with the Sikh places of worship known as gurdwaras.
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 killing. On 3 March 1947, at Lahore, Singh along with about 500 Sikhs declared from a dais "Death to Pakistan".
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 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 the creation of a state based on religious distinction was inappropriate. Nonetheless, Nehru did promise to consider the issue. Tara 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. Singh pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him and found his reputation in tatters. The community felt he had abandoned his ideals and replaced him in the SAD.
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. Tara Singh himself died in Chandigarh on 22 November 1967.
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