SIKH STUDENTS FEDERATION. A front of the Sikh youth studying in schools, colleges and universities formed in 1944, at Lahore, with Sarūp Siṅgh, then a senior law student, as president. Its primary object was the promotion among the Sikh youth of the Sikh principles and values and to bring to them a living consciousness of their religious inheritance. The search was for the authentic Sikh personality and to this end all of their conscious energy and formulations were then directed. After the partition of India in 1947 the Federation shifted from Lahore and made its home in Amritsar.
Before the Federation came into being, there existed Bhujañgī Sabhās, societies of the Sikh youth, in schools to nurture Sikh ideals. Most of the Sikh schools had their Bhujañgī Sabhās. The origin was traced to 1888 when the first Sikh Vidyārthī Sabhās or Khālsā Clubs came into existence. These were the product of the new religious and cultural awakening the Sikhs were then experiencing. They had started questioning and caviling at some of the prevalent practices which were considered contrary to the teachings of the Gurūs. The Sabhās met every Saturday after which members went to the Harimandar Sāhib chanting the holy shabads. Another nomenclature then gaining the vogue was Sikh Youngmen's Association. The first President of the Association was Bhāī Harnām Siṅgh, a graduate of the Pañjāb University who later took a doctorate at London. The Association started publishing in 1905 a quarterly journal named Khālsā Youngmen's Magazine. It also sponsored tracts on religious and social topics.
The Sikhs entered the modern phase of their educational enterprise with the founding of that magnificent complex at Amritsar which went by the name of Khālsā College. In the line of distinguished men who led the movement were some of the British principals of the institution. The most popular among them was Mr. G.A. Wathen who initiated Coats Off Movement, encouraging students to participate in manual work on behalf of the college. That massive programme of labour of the two hands the youth willingly volunteered to join. Among them was that strappingly handsome youth, S. Pratāb, of the village of Nāraṅgvāl, in Ludhiāṇā district, then reading at the Khālsā College. He was born son of Col Hīrā Siṅgh on 1 June 1896 at the far-away capital of the princely state of Rewā where the latter had been, in his day, like his father, Rāi Bahādur Capt Hazūrā Siṅgh, commander of the state infantry. After his education at the Khālsā College, S. Pratāb proceeded to Great Britain where he qualified for service on the railways, but he chose to be in the Indian Civil Service. After his stints at Simla, Delhi and Lahore, he steered past the toughest challenge of his life--- Gurdwārā Shahīdganj agitation---smoothly. He dealt with the highly combustible situation with extraordinary coolness of mind and sang-froid.
The Sikh Students Federation came into being as such in the forties of the twentieth century. The purpose mainly was to stimulate Sikh thought and deals among the youth and to counteract the corrosive influence of Muslim and other groups which were forcing their identity issue rather obstreperously. The response of the Sikhs lay in energizing their own body-politic.
With the independence of India drawing close began the more dynamic phase of the Federation. The sphere of its activities widened. Sikh youth camps became the order of the day. Young men and old and tried leaders joined in enthusiastically, committed to carrying them through in their training in Sikh lore and scholarly discipline. The series was weighed in with the camp at Pāoṇṭā Sāhib which ranked as historic. Even the senior Sikh politicians of the day considered it a privilege to join and address these camps. Much intellectual novelty flowed from the discussions and lectures at these camps. The Sikh Panth felt the glow of a new life process through these camps and their influence which indeed was widespread and many-sided. The youth took to their work with a new zeal which brought to the Panth a completely fresh image of its future and destiny. Many new names sprang up on the Sikh horizon, and older men were filled with a new eagerness for action.
The camps became very popular and brought a new dimension to Sikh life. Many Sikhs from among the older generation came forward. Famous among them was Hukam Siṅgh, jurist and parliamentarian, whose photographs can still be seen bathing in the knee-deep waters of the Yamunā. Hukam Siṅgh was followed by a series of brilliant youth leaders such as Surjīt Siṅgh Barnālā, Amar Siṅgh Ambālvī, Jaswānt Siṅgh Nekī, Gurmeet Siṅgh, Satbīr Siṅgh, Bhāī Harbaṅs Lāl and Santokh Siṅgh of Indore. There were many others who had made themselves famous in their respective spheres. In fact, there is hardly a Sikh of any eminence who had not been touched by the Federation and its ideology. Men like India's fabulous finance minister Manmohan Siṅgh were no exception. Another name that became a legend was that of Bhāī Amrīk Siṅgh (1948-84), son of Giānī Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā, who was elected president on 2 July 1978. He remained its president even during his internment from July 1982 to August 1983 and thereafter until his death during Operation Blue Star in June 1984. This was a glorious period of Sikh youth resurgence and the Sikh youth found themselves profoundly moved. This was a momentous experience for the entire body of the Sikh youth and its impact lasts to this day. A permanent ambition of one of the senior members of the Federation who is internationally famous in his profession is to write a history of the Federation.
Apart from this political orientation the Sikh youth received from this experience a fresh religious leaven. This way they felt quickened to a new pace of life.
Morning and evening religious services took place at these camps regularly. Prayers constantly mingled with the murmur of the river water. Gurū kā Laṅgar was always ready to be served. The same regimen of prayer and meditation was repeated in the evening.