HARKISHAN SIṄGH, BĀWĀ (1892-1978), educationist, lover of poetry and intellectual, was born at Ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān on 26 July 1892, the son of Bāwā Dasaundhā Siṅgh. After taking his Master's degree in English literature from Forman Christian College, Lahore, in 1912, he joined the Khālsā College at Amritsar, as a lecturer in English. Later, he had a long spell at Khālsā College, Gujrāṅwālā, where he remained Principal for many a long year. Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh was among the pioneers of the Sikhs' Gurdwārā Reform movement of the 1920's. He attended the dīvān of the Khālsā Barādarī in Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh, Amritsar, on 12 October 1920, and accompanied the group to the Harimandar and the Akāl Takht, which event ushered in the movement for Panthic control of the Sikhs' sacred shrines. He was a member of the 9-member provisional committee appointed by the Amritsar deputy commissioner for the management of the Gurdwārās. The Sikhs formed on 15 November 1920 their own 175-member Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. Its first meeting was held on 12 December 1920. Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh was one of the Pañj Piāre who on this occasion checked on the religious claims of those present.
Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh took an active part in the Gurū kā Bāgh agitation of 1922. During the Akālī campaign demanding the restoration of the deposed Sikh Mahārājā of Nābhā to his throne, both the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal were outlawed by government. Three Professors of the Khālsā College -- Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh, Professor Tejā Siṅgh and Professor Nirañjan Siṅgh -- were taken into custody on 13 October 1923. Professor Tejā Siṅgh was released on medical grounds, Professor Nirañjan Siṅgh because of his basic objection to the aims of the movement. Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh served a longer term in jail and was released only when an overall settlement was arrived at with the government. Sardār Bahādur Mehtāb Siṅgh, a senior leader of the agitation, offered to implement the provisions of the Gurdwārā Act as proposed by government. So did some other leaders, among them Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh. The hardliners such as Tejā Siṅgh Samundrī and Master Tārā Siṅgh who refused to accept the terms suffered further detention. In March 1927 when all detainees were set free the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee set up a forum to formulate the Sikh Rahit Maryādā, i.e. code of conduct for the Sikhs. Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh was one of the members of the committee.
The Sikh Gurdwārās Act provided for democratic elections to the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. This gave birth to factionalism. Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh not only kept himself aloof from these internal acrimonious wranglings but also worked for amity among the groups. He along with some other Sikh leaders formed a society, Gur Sevak Sabhā, for this purpose in December 1933. After several months of protracted talks and arguments, the Sabhā managed to bring round certain contestants from the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal and the Central Akālī Dal to agree on a common list of candidates for the 1936 shrine elections prepared by Sant Vasākhā Siṅgh and Sant Javālā Siṅgh. The unity so achieved however proved short-lived.
Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh himself had no political ambitions nor had he ever sought any official position. He was of a shy and retiring nature. However, during the Punjabi Sūbā agitation of 1955, he was co-opted a member of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and, after the arrest of Master Tārā Siṅgh on 10 May 1955, elected its president. The morchā or agitation continued with the jathās or bands of volunteers daily shouting the banned "Punjabi Sūbā Zindābād" (long live the Punjabi state) slogan and courting arrest. In spite of the restraint shown by the Akālīs, police raided the Darbār Sāhib complex on 4 July 1955, burst tear gas shells on pilgrims and made many arrests. The morchā continued until the ban on sloganeering was withdrawn on 12 July 1955. Master Tārā Siṅgh on release resumed the presidentship and Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh again became an unencumbered intellectual committed solely to the Panthic weal. He remained till the end the adviser and counsellor of the Sikh Panth. At all crucial moments and on all crucial issues, his advice was avidly sought. He never hankered after power or position. Positions of honour and dignity came to him unasked. In 1960, he was nominated a member of the prestigious Punjabi University Commission, but he did not take part in any of the meetings of the Commission. He was totally indifferent to fame and exhibition.
Earlier in 1955, he had been called upon to assist a very important Sikh committee in its political negotiations with the Government of India. He was named among the six Sikhs to conduct the talks with the nominees of the government. He kept himself aloof from all active transactions, although he stayed put in Delhi for all those days in Sardār Hukam Siṅgh's residence to make himself available for advice and consultation. The committee on the government side was led by the Prime Minister Jawāharlāl Nehrū himself, but Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh did not attend any of its sittings. He was of a unique calībre among the Sikhs of his time.
Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh died on 20 August 1978 at the Military Hospital, Delhi Cantt.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)