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By Shanti Kaur Khalsa

Over the years, I have heard that Sant Hazara Singh, Yogi Bhajan’s teacher from his youth, may have once been jailed.

Sant Baba Sohan Singh

However, no one could confirm that information, tell me for how long he was in prison, or even what the circumstances were except to say that it had something to do with the struggle for India’s independence from Britain.  Thanks to a discussion with Baba Partap Singh ji at his cozy home in Punjab, we now know the story.  And yes, indeed, Sant Hazara Singh was once sent to jail.

In 1934, the struggle for Indian independence was in full swing and civil disobedience was the call of the day.  India and Pakistan were still one country then, and the British Government was trying desperately to hang on to rule of the subcontinent.  The Sikh Nihungs[1] were not easily controlled and when the British Punjab governor instituted a maximum legal length of the Sikh kirpan[2], the Nihungs of Lahore promptly disobeyed.  The Sikh leader Baba Sahib Singh Ji and the entire Buddha Dal[3] were imprisoned in Lahore Jail.

Baba Sohan Singh Ji was the leader of the Baba Bidhi Chandi Dal based in Amritsar and Sant Hazara Singh was his devoted student. They were very close and rarely separated. When Baba Sohan Singh found out that the Sikhs had been jailed he immediately traveled to Lahore with his people.  There, they steadfastly served the Buddha Dal by fighting the case in court and by preparing food for the Sikhs while they were in jail.

In Lahore, there are many places sacred to the Sikhs. One of them is Shaheed Ganj in Naulakha Market, near the old Lahore Fort, where tens of thousands of Sikhs were killed nearly 200 years earlier.  In 1745, under brutal rule of the Mughal governor Zakaria Khan and then Mir Manu, to be a Sikh was outlawed and a campaign of genocide unfolded. Historians believe that over 250,000 men, women, and children were slaughtered, many of them at this spot.  The Sikhs hold Shaheed Ganj as sacred ground in remembrance of this vast loss of life and erected a Gurdwara[4] there in the early 1800s. Sometime around 1910, the local Muslim leaders took control of Shaheed Ganj and converted the Gurdwara into a Mosque.

The confiscation of this Gurdwara hurt the Sikhs and they tried unsuccessfully to challenge this in the courts.  When Baba Sohan Singh relocated to Lahore to serve the Buddha Dal, this desecration of this place that was so sacred to the Sikhs was often discussed and fiercely debated.  One hot summer afternoon, Baba Sohan Singh and Sant Hazara Singh set-out to right the wrong. In the hours after lunch, when the markets were closed and people napped in the hazy heat, Baba Sohan Singh and Sat Hazara Singh went alone to Naulakha Chowk and destroyed the mosque, planting the Sikh flag instead.

When people returned from lunch and saw what had happened, pandemonium broke out!  The police arrived to control the mob and Sant Hazara Singh was arrested. He refused to let Baba Sohan Singh submit for arrest, taking the full brunt of the charges.  Sant Hazara Singh appeared before the lower court and the case was ruled against him. The Mosque was promptly rebuilt.

Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj in Naulaka Market, Lahore

Sant Hazara Singh spent five months in prison until the case was heard in the British High Court on December 1, 1934. British Governor Emerson found in favor of the Sikhs since the spot had originated as a Sikh Gurdwara.  Sant Hazara Singh was released and cleared of all charges, returning at once to the side of Baba Sohan Singh. On July 1, 1935 the British Government authorized the building of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj.[5]

India independence from Britain occurred in 1949 and Lahore became part of Islamic Pakistan. The ownership and management of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj has remained contentious. The last court case was dismissed on May 6, 1996 and it successfully continues as a Sikh Gurdwara today. Once you enter Naulakha Bazaar, there is a small door on the left side in-between two shops with an inscription “Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj.” Through there there is a small courtyard and Gurdwara. The Evacuee Trust Board maintains it, and both Sikh and Muslim prayers are recited there.[6]

[1] Nihungs are the Sikh order of warrior-saints.

[2] Kirpan is the traditional sword or dagger worn by Sikhs and is considered an article of faith.

[3] A “Dal” is a Sikh group, organized in a military fashion under a single Jethadar or leader.

[4] A Gurdwara is a Sikh temple.

[5] Twists and turns in the history of Naulakha Bazaar, by Majid Sheikh published February 28, 2016

[6] Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj,