MOTĀ SIṄGH, MASTER (1888-1960), patriot and revolutionary, was born the son of Gopāl Siṅgh on 28 February 1888 at Patārā, a village 7 km east of Jalandhar. His grandfather, Sāhib Siṅgh, was a soldier in the Sikh army and had fought against the British. After passing the matriculation examination, Motā Siṅgh trained as a junior anglo-vernacular teacher and served in different schools in Jalandhar and Hoshiārpur districts. He also passed Giānī (Honours in Punjabi) and Munshī Fazīl (Honours in Persian) examinations of the University of the Pañjāb and took his B.A. in English at the same University. He was headmaster of the Sant Siṅgh Sukkhā Siṅgh Khālsā Middle School at Amritsar in 1914-15 and later taught at Khālsā High School, at Damdamā Sāhib; at Akāl College, at Mastūāṇā and at Khālsā Kuārī College, at Bhasauṛ. He also associated himself with the educational work of the Central Mājhā Khālsā Dīwān and helped set up several Khālsā schools for boys and girls.
Master Motā Siṅgh plunged into politics during the anti-Rowlatt Bills agitation of 1918-19. His first major public speech before a huge gathering at Shāhī Masjid, Lahore, on 11 April 1919 offended the British authority and he was imprisoned under the Martial Law regulations. In the jails those days Sikh prisoners were not permitted to wear turbans as enjoined by their religious faith. Master Motā Siṅgh went on a hunger strike to assert his right to wear a turban. He was released from jail in December 1919, on the eve of the Amritsar session of the Indian National Congress, which he attended. He joined the Akālī movement for the liberation of Sikh holy places from the control of a corrupt and effete priestly order, but did not approve of its policy of non-violence. The incident at Tarn Tāran on 26 January 1921, when an Akālī jathā was treacherously attacked by the priests, seriously injuring 17 of the reformists of whom two later died, and the massacre of Sikhs at Nankāṇā Sāhib on 20 February 1921 finally drove him to radicalism.
At the time of the Sikh Educational Conference at Hoshiārpur from 19 to 21 March 1921, he and Kishan Siṅgh Baṛiṅg along with a few others held a separate secret meeting and made up plans to liquidate those responsible for the Nankāṇā Sāhib tragedy. Their first attempt aborted and the men assigned to the task were arrested on 23 May 1921. Warrants were also issued for the arrest of Master Motā Siṅgh who went underground. For full one year he played hide-and-seek with police. He would suddenly appear at a Sikh dīvān or religious gathering, deliver a fiery speech against the British government in full view of police, and then, to their utter discomfiture, disappear. During this period he guided and assisted Kishan Siṅgh in organizing the radical group of Babar Akālīs, and made a trip to Kābul where he met Indian revolutionaries who had close contacts with the Bolsheviks of Russia. Arrested at last on 15 June 1922, he was sentenced to imprisonment for seven years which he spent in different jails in India and Burma.
Released on 23 June 1929, he was rearrested on 23 July 1929 for his anti-British speeches delivered at Tarn Tāran and Jalandhar, and was awarded, on 16 September 1929, a long sentence in jail. He was, however, released in July 1931, as a result of the compact between the British Viceroy Irwin and Mahātmā Gāndhī whereby political prisoners were released and the passive resistance campaign was called off. But Motā Siṅgh returned to jail soon after on a two-and-half-year sentence for a speech he made at the Naujawān Bhārat Sabhā conference at Jhaṅg on 25 November 1931. On 11 July 1938, he earned two years' imprisonment, with a fine of Rs 150 (or another six months in jail in default) for speeches made at ḍaraulī Kalāṅ and Manko, both in Jalandhar district. Master Motā Siṅgh went to jail again during the Quit India Movement, 1942-45, launched by Mahātmā Gāndhī. In 1952, he was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly as a nominee of the Indian National Congress, but later parted company with the party, and devoted himself actively to work in the Kisān movement, becoming president of the District Kisān Sabhā, Jalandhar.
Master Motā Siṅgh never married. Struck by paralysis, he died in Civil Hospital, Jalandhar, on 9 January 1960.
Jagjīt Siṅgh Anand