RIKĀBGAÑJ AGITATION (1913-20) marked the Sikh protest against the demolition by the British of one of the walls of the historical Rikābgañj shrine in New Delhi. Gurdwārā Rikābgañj, sacred to the memory of Gurū Tegh Bahādur, at present a splendid marble edifice, was, in the early years of the present century, a small structure in what was then known as the Rāisīnā village. This was close to the site where the new imperial complex was to be raised in consequence of the colonial government's decision to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. To Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, the chief architect, Gurdwārā Rikābgañj with its modest looking building, a large barren estate and an uneven boundary wall, appeared to be an eyesore ill becoming the neighbourhood of the planned Viceregal Lodge. He wanted the Gurdwārā to be demolished for the sake of his architectural design, but the local authorities were unwilling to take such a drastic step. The Chief Commissioner of Delhi, W.M. Hailey, in consultation with the chief engineer, decided instead to pull down the hexagonical stone wall enclosing the Gurdwārā and replace it with a quadrangular iron railing and convert the inner area of the shrine into a garden. To acquire the land which was part of the Gurdwārā estate, a sum of Rs 39,133 was deposited in the name of a charitable trust, controlled by the mahant or custodian of the Gurdwārā. In May 1913, the wall enclosing Gurdwārā Rikābgañj — 78 feet on the north and 322 feet on the east — was demolished to lay out a straight road from the northeast corner of the shrine to the Viceregal Lodge. Initially, the government action went unnoticed because of sparse Sikh population in Delhi and because of the Gurdwārā being located outside the city, but, as the news spread to the Punjab, a wave of resentment arose. Telegrams, petitions and memoranda protesting against the sacrilege began to pour into the offices of the Viceroy, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, the commander-in-chief of the army and the chief commissioner of Delhi. Sikhs residing in Burma, China, Hong Kong and the United States sent telegrams asking for the reconstruction of the dismantled wall. In February 1914, a series of dīvāns was held at Lyāllpur, Lahore, Shimlā, Amritsar, Ludhiāṇā, Jalandhar, Tarn Tāran, Rāwalpiṇḍī, Paṭiālā, Montgomery and various other places, criticizing the government and urging it to rebuild the demolished wall at its own expense. As the agitation became widespread, the Punjab Government adopted a sterner policy. Harchand Siṅgh, a prominent leader of the movement, was threatened with prosecution. The security of the Khālsā Akhbār, a weekly newspaper financed by him, was confiscated in July 1914. But just when the agitation was beginning to spread to the rural areas, World War I started. The protest was muted, but it was revived as soon as the hostilities ceased. Master Motā Siṅgh, Harchand Siṅgh and Tejā Siṅgh Samundrī, all of whom had initially played a prominent role in the Rikābgañj movement sought the help of Sardūl Siṅgh Caveeshar, then a prominent leader of the Central Sikh League, which had been formed in December 1919, to act as a political spokesman of the Sikhs. Sardūl Siṅgh convened a public meeting in the Bradlaugh Hall at Lahore, under the auspices of the Sikh League, and had a resolution adopted that a Shāhīdī Jathā, or martyrs' band, comprising one hundred volunteers should proceed to Delhi on 1 December 1920 to reconstruct the demolished wall of the holy shrine. If the government obstructed, the jathā should lay down their lives.

         Sardūl Siṅgh, who had already inserted a call in the Akālī, a Sikh newspaper published from Lahore, inviting one hundred men who should be willing to sacrifice their lives, received an overwhelming response. Within a fortnight, seven hundred volunteers, including some Hindus and Muslims, had offered to join the Shāhīdī Jathā. The British administrators had meanwhile decided to find an "honourable solution" to have the Rikābgañj wall reconstructed. In March 1920, the local authorities and a committee of the Khālsā Dīwān, Delhi, decided at a joint meeting to have a new wall enclosing the Gurdwārā built, on a pattern approved by the chief engineer. The Gurdwārā and the entire estate were to be placed under the management of the Khālsā Dīwān, Delhi.

         Sardūl Siṅgh's Shāhīdī Jathā was thus forestalled. The plan for the reconstruction of the Rikābgañj wall was given wide publicity. When the wall was built, government had its photograph published in newspapers.


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  2. Teja Singh, Gurdwara Reform and the Sikh Awakening. Jalandhar, 1922
  3. Mohinder Siṅgh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
  4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  5. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. II. Princeton, 1966
  6. Trilochan Singh, Historical Sikh Shrines in Delhi. Delhi, 1972
  7. Sangat Singh, Freedom Movement in Delhi. Delhi, 1972
  8. Harjot Singh, "From Gurdwara Rikabganj to the Viceregal Palace : A Study of Religious Protest," in The Panjab Past and Present. Patiala, April 1980
  9. Nāhar Siṅgh, Giānī, Azādī dīāṅ Lahirāṅ. Ludhiana, 1960
  10. Tārā Siṅgh, Master, Merī Yād. Amritsar, 1944
  11. Pratāp Siṅgh, Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
  12. Josh, Sohan Siṅgh, Akālī Morchiāṅ dā Itihās. Delhi, 1972

Harjot Siṅgh