ĀKIL DĀS, an eighteenth-century head of the Handālī sect of Jaṇḍiālā in Amritsar district of the Punjab, also known as Haribhagat Nirañjaṇīā, was an inveterate enemy of the Sikhs. Giānī Giān Siṅgh, Shamsher Khālsā, describes him as "Ākul Dās who basked in the name of Haribhagat. " He was a State informer and revelled in spying on the Sikhs. He had many of them arrested and executed. Most prominent among his victims were Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh and Bhāī Matāb Siṅgh Mīrāṅkoṭīā. On his information, Adīnā Beg Khān, governor of the Punjab, in 1758, despatched him along with Dīwān Hīrā Mall against Sikhs, reportedly assembled in the neighbourhood of Adīnānagar, in present-day Gurdāspur district. In the fierce battle that took place near Qādīāṅ, Dīwān Hīrā Mall was killed but Ākil Dās escaped. At the open assembly at Amritsar on the occasion of Dīvālī, in October 1761, the Sarbatt Khālsā adopted a gurmatā or resolution to the effect that they must punish Ākil Dās for his Sikh-baiting. Information leaked out to Ākil Dās who forthwith despatched messengers to Ahmad Shāh Durrānī seeking his help and protection in consideration of his previous services. Sikhs besieged Jaṇḍiālā in January 1762 and would have captured the town but the wily Handālī suspended shanks of beef from the fort walls. This was a ruse he tried to exploit the religious scruples of the besiegers and make them retire from the scene. They did lift the siege and dispersed towards Sirhind.
Ākil Dās had figured prominently in the episode of the martyrdom of Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh in 1745. To quote Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, "Once the governor of Lahore asked his men, from where do the Sikhs obtain their nourishment? I have debarred them from all occupations. They realize no taxes. They do not farm, nor are they allowed to do business or join public employment. I have stopped all offerings to their places of worship. No provisions or supplies are accessible to them. Why do they not die of sheer starvation? My troops bar their way. They search for them and they kill them where they see them. I have burnt down entire villages with Sikh populations. I have destroyed their remotest kin. I have ferreted them out of the holes and slaughtered them. The Mughals are hawks; the Sikhs are like quail. Vast numbers of them have been ensnared and killed. No one can live without food. I know not how the Sikhs survive without it?'
“Haribhagat Nirañjaṇīā, who was a sworn foe of the Sikhs answered, 'There are Sikhs in this world who would not eat until they have fed their brethren. They may themselves go without clothes and food, but cannot bear their comrades' distress. They will pass the cold season by fireside and send them their own clothes. Some will sweat to grind corn and have it sent to them. They will do the roughest chores to earn a small wage for their sake. They migrate to distant places to eke out money for their brothers in exile. '
“The Nawāb shook his head in despair, 'They are unyielding people indeed. Their annihilation is beyond our power. God alone will destroy them. ' Haribhagat Nirañjaṇīā spoke again. 'In the village of Pūhlā, in Mājhā, lives one, Tārū Siṅgh. He tills his land and pays the revenue to the official. He eats but little and sends what he saves to his brothers in the forest. He has his mother and a sister who both toil and grind to make a living. They eat sparingly and they wear the coarsest homespun. Whatever they save, they pass on to the Sikhs. Besides the Sikhs, they own none other. They recite the hymns of their Gurūs. Death they do not dread. They visit not the Gaṅgā or the Yamunā. They bathe in the tank constructed by their own Gurū. '”
An officer was immediately sent with soldiers to apprehend Tārū Siṅgh. Tārū Siṅgh was captured and brought to Lahore. He was thrown into jail where he was given many tortures. But, says the Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, "as the Turks tormented Tārū Siṅgh, ruddier became his cheeks with joy. As he was starved of food and drink, contentment reigned on his face. He was rejoiced to comply with the Gurū's will. "
Eventually, Tārū Siṅgh was presented before the Nawāb. He greeted him with the Sikh salutation, Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā, Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh, defiantly uttered. The Nawāb felt startled "as if some one had slit his finger and sprinkled salt on it. "
Tārū Siṅgh spoke out, "If we till your lands, we pay the revenue. If we engage in commerce, we pay taxes. What is left after our payments to you is for our bellies. What we save from our mouths, we give to our brethren. We take nothing from you. Why do you then punish us?" The Nawāb was in a rage and pronounced, "if you become a Mussalmān, then alone will I remit your life. "
"How do I fear for my life? Why must I become a Mussalmān? Don't Mussalmāns die? Why should I abandon my faith? May my faith endure until my last hair, the last hair on my head-until my last breath, " said Tārū Siṅgh.
The Nawāb tried to tempt him with offers of lands and wealth. When he found Tārū Siṅgh inflexible, he decided to have his scalp scraped from his head. The barbers came with sharp lancets and slowly ripped Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh's skull. He rejoiced that the hair of his head was still intact.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)