KISHAN SIṄGH GAṚGAJJ (1886-1926), founder of the Babar Akālī movement, was the only son of Fateh Siṅgh of Baṛiṅg, a village in Jalandhar district in the Punjab. He joined the army as a sepoy in 1906 and rose to be a havildār major in 35th Sikh Battalion. While in the army, he was much affected by events such as the demolition of the wall of the Rikābgañj Gurdwārā in Delhi, the firing on the Komagata Maru passengers at Budge Budge, near Calcutta, and the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh massacre. He started criticizing the government for the imposition of martial law in the Punjab for which he was court-martialled and sentenced to 28 days rigorous imprisonment in military custody. He resigned from the army in 1921 and joined the Akālī agitation for gurdwārā reform. The Nankāṇā Sāhib massacre of 20 February 1921 proved a real turning point in the life of Kishan Siṅgh. He blamed the British for the tragedy and nursed thoughts of revenge. At the time of the Sikh Educational Conference at Hoshiārpur from 19-21 March 1921, he and Master Motā Siṅgh held a secret meeting and resolved to slay those responsible for the bloody happenings at Nankāṇā Sāhib. Their first target was Mr Bowering, the British superintendent of police at Lahore. The attempt on his life aborted and the men involved were arrested on 23 May 1921. Warrants for the arrest of Kishan Siṅgh and Master Motā Siṅgh were issued, but both of them went underground. Kishan Siṅgh continued making violent speeches whenever he had the chance. At Palāhī, in Kapūrthalā state, he exhorted the people to don black turbans and become Akālīs, to wear khaddar (home-spun cotton fabric) and not to co-operate with the government. On account of his fiery speeches, he came to be known as Kishan Siṅgh Gaṛgajj (the Thunderer).

         Towards the close of 1921, Kishan Siṅgh formed a secret group which came to be known as the Chakravartī Jathā. Among his trusted colleagues were Dalīp Siṅgh Gosal, Sundar Siṅgh Babar, Karam Siṅgh Jhiṅgaṛ, and Sant Kartār Siṅgh (Sharaf Dīn before he converted a Sikh). They went around exhorting the people, especially army soldiers, to be ready for an armed rebellion against the British. From November 1921 to August of 1922, a series of dīvāns was held at Bhubiāṇā, Ruṛkā Kalāṅ, Bulenā, Paṇḍorī Nijjhrāṅ, Dhīṅgarīāṅ, Harīpur, Bhojovāl, Saṅghvāl and other villages. While Kishan Siṅgh and his companions carried on their campaign in Jalandhar district, with frequent incursions into the villages of Ambālā district and Kapūrthalā state, Karam Siṅgh of Daulatpur, who had organized a similar band of extremist Sikhs, worked in Hoshiārpur district. In October 1922, both groups joined together to form the Babar Akālī Jathā vowed to violence. Kishan Siṅgh was elected president of the Jathā, while Dalīp Siṅgh Gosal became secretary and Karam Siṅgh Jhiṅgaṛ treasurer. The Babar Akālī Doābā was the Jathā's official organ to which Kishan Siṅgh frequently contributed articles and poems. Additionally, a series of leaflets particularly aimed at the Indian soliders was issued regularly from August 1922 to May 1923. To obtain arms and ammunition, Kishan Siṅgh established contact with two Sikh army soldiers --- Amar Siṅgh and Ude Siṅgh. He directed the secret campaign for the "reformation", a euphimism for liquidation or murder, of the jholichuks (lit. robe-bearers, i.e. British stooges and toadies), especially those who spied on the Babar Akālīs.

         The Punjab Government came down upon the Babar Akālīs with a heavy hand. A proclamation was issued announcing rewards for the apprehension of absconding Babars. Kishan Siṅgh's arrest carried a reward of Rs 2,000. On 26 February 1923, he was seized at Paṇḍorī Māhal through the treachery of Kābul Siṅgh, a resident of his own village, Baṛiṅg. Kishan Siṅgh was the main accused in the Babar Akālī conspiracy case. The trial lasted from 15 August 1923 to 28 February 1925. His written statement, which ran into 125 pages, centred on the inequities of British rule. Beyond making this statement, he forbore from taking any further part in the court proceedings. Kishan Siṅgh was awarded death sentence, and was hanged on 27 February 1926.


  1. Mohan, Kamlesh, Militant Nationalism in the Punjab 1919-35. Delhi, 1985
  2. Nijjar, B.S., History of the Babar Akalis. Jalandhar, 1987
  3. Nijjhar, Milkhā Siṅgh, Babar Akālī Lahir dā Itihās. Delhi, 1986
  4. Pratāp Siṅgh, Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir [Reprint]. Amritsar, 1975
  5. Josh, Sohan Singh, Akālī Morchiāṅ dā Itihās. Delhi, 1972

Kamlesh Mohan