KIRPĀN MORCHĀ, campaign started by the Sikhs to assert their right to keep and carry kirpān, i.e. sword, religiously obligatory for them, which was denied to them under the Indian Arms Act (XI) of 1878. Under this Act, no person could go armed or carry arms, except under special exemption or by virtue of a licence. Whatever could be used as an instrument of attack or defence fell under the term "Arms." Thus the term included firearms, bayonets, swords, daggerheads and bows and arrows. Under the Act, a kirpān could be bracketed with a sword. Early in the 20th century various Sikh religious bodies, particularly the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, made representations to the government demanding freedom for the Sikhs to keep kirpān as enjoined by their religion. At the time of World War I, the British government, fearing that the ban on the keeping of kirpān would affect the recruitment of Sikhs to the Indian army, thought it advisable to relax the enforcement of the provision. Thus between 1914 and 1918 by separate notifications issued by the Home government, the Sikhs were given the freedom of possessing or carrying a kirpān all over British India. However, the terms of these notifications were vague; the size and shape of the kirpān having remained undefined; prosecution of Sikhs for wearing, carrying and manufacturing the kirpān continued.

        During the Gurdwārā Reform movement (I920-25) the kirpān question became a major political issue. As the agitation started by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal gained momentum, the British Indian government shelved the two notifications. Sikhs possessing kirpān began to be prosecuted and imprisoned, and many of the Sikh soldiers in the armed forces were court-martialled for keeping kirpān and dismissed from service.

         The Akālī Dal's kirpān agitation remained in full swing during the years 1921-22 when black turbans and kirpāns became the symbols of the Sikh defiance. The Punjab government resorted to several measures : any Sikh carrying a kirpān could be arrested without warrant. As an act of defiance, the Akālīs began carrying full sized kirpāns. Thousands of Sikhs were sent to jail for contravening the Indian Arms Act. The kirpān factories at Bherā and Siālkoṭ were raided in 1921, all kirpāns exceeding 9 inches in length were seized, and the owners of the factories put under arrest. Excesses were committed by police upon non-violent kirpān carrying Sikhs who bore these with stoic resignation and unfaltering faith; by the Sikh religious organizations they were honoured with the title of Kirpān Bahādur, Hero of the Kirpān. A weekly newspaper, the Kirpān Bahādur, edited by Sevā Siṅgh, was launched in 1922 from Amritsar to support the agitation.

         In 1922, the Punjab Governor opened negotiations with the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. A compromise was arrived at according to which an announcement was made on behalf of the Punjab government that the Sikhs would not be prosecuted for wearing, keeping and carrying the kirpān. In March 1922, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee issued instructions to the Sikhs that they must carry kirpān which was one of their religious emblems but it may be unsheathed and drawn out only for prayers (ardās), initiatory ceremonies (amrit prachār), and by the Five Beloved (Pañj Piāre) leading a religious march. As a sacred symbol of the faith, it should not be unsheathed and brandished except on these occasions. In this manner ended the Kirpān Morchā, a confrontation between the Sikhs and the British Indian government for the restoration to the Sikhs of their right to keep and carry kirpān.


  1. Josh, Sohan Siṅgh, Akālī Morchiāṅ dā Itihās. Delhi, 1972
  2. Pratāp Siṅgh, Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir. Amritsar, 1975

Rājinder Siṅgh