SHAHĪDGAÑJ AGITATION (1935-40) marked culmination of the tussle between Sikh and Muslim communities in the Punjab for the possession of a sacred site in Lahore upon which stood Gurdwārā Shahīdgañj (shahīd = martyr, gañj = hoard, treasure or mart) in memory of Sikh martyrs of the eighteenth century and which the Muslims claimed as having been the location of an historic Islamic site. The Gurdwārā is located in Laṇḍā Bāzār midway between the Lahore railway station and the Delhi Gate at the site known earlier as Nakhās (Persian nakhkhās, meaning a marketplace for the sale of captives, horses and cattle taken as war prize). This was the place where thousands of Sikhs, including the celebrated Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh, and about 3,000 captives of the Chhoṭā Ghallūghārā campaign (1746) were executed or tortured to death. Here Mu'in ul-Mulk (Mīr Mannū, in Sikh chronicles), governor of Lahore during 1748-53, raised a building shaped like a mosque sitting where the muftīs, Muslim judges, gave their summary judgements after giving their victims a straight choice between conversion to Islam and death. Almost invariably the victims chose the latter. Close by was the place where Sikh women and children were kept in narrow cells to meet slow death through hard labour and starvation. The Nakhās, long soaked with the blood of martyrs, became for the Sikhs a sacred spot and, after they came into power in Punjab during the 1760's, they established a gurdwārā there which they named Shahīdgañj. Since then it had remained in the possession of the Sikhs as a sacred place. Soon after the annexation of the Punjab to the British empire, one Nūr Muhammad filed a case in 1850 for the reversion of the "mosque" to him as its rightful owner, but it was turned down as the court was not convinced of the genuineness of the claim. Similar claims raised in 1854 and 1883 were also dismissed on the ground that the place was no longer a mosque but a gurdwārā. According to the Punjab Government Gazette Notification No 275, dated 22 December 1927, the shrine was listed as Gurdwārā Shahīdgañj Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh. The Muslims again contested the Sikhs' claim to their "mosque" but the Sikh Gurdwārā Tribunal, established under the Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, in its judgement dated 20 January 1930 determined that the place was the property of Gurdwārā Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh. The Muslims went in appeal, but the Lahore High Court in 1934 upheld the verdict of the Gurdwārā Tribunal. The local Gurdwārā Prabandhak Committee, Lahore, got possession of the Shahīdgañj in March 1935 and decided to replace the old mosque-like building with a new one. The bulk of the clearing work having been completed by 7 June 1935, the demolition of the old building was taken in hand on 8 June. It continued uninterrupted for 20 days, but on 29 June a Muslim mob tried to enter the premises and, although they were successfully checked by the inmates, the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, Mr S. Pratāb, stayed further demolition. The political climate in the country was already charged with communal passions aroused by the Communal Award of 1932. The Sikhs, considering that, after the decision of the courts in their favour, the reconstruction of the Gurdwārā was their natural and legal right, resumed the demolition on 8 July despite the stay order. This was resented by the Muslims, but the government did not use force to prevent the demolition, forth a reason that the "Sikhs in taking this action were not committing any criminal offence." In fact Sikh leaders had asked many Akālīs to leave the city and sent out instructions to different centres not to send any more volunteers to Lahore. The tension did mount, but Lahore remained free from any communal incidents. On 2 December the government passed a general restrictive order under Arms Act, 1878, banning the carrying of swords and kirpān. The Sikhs resented the restriction on kirpān which was one of their religious symbols, and launched an agitation against the ban on 1 January 1936. The ban was withdrawn on 31 January 1936.

        Meanwhile, the Muslims had filed, on 30 October 1935, a fresh suit for the possession of the Shahīdgañj "Mosque". Though the suit was dismissed on 25 May 1936, an appeal was filed in the High Court. The Shahīdgañj issue temporarily receded into the background partly owing to the impending elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly under the Government of India Act, 1935. In April 1937 the Unionist party representing sections of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs formed the ministry under Sir Sikandar Hayāt Khān, who claiming his ministry to be neutral in character, made it clear to the Muslims that their claim in the Shahīdgañj case could not be accepted arbitrarily. He promised to strive for an amicable settlement of the problem and appealed to the parties to the dispute not to do anything which might worsen the communal situation in the Punjab. The Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, an elected body representing the Sikh people, unanimously passed a resolution at its meeting held on 10 11 March 1938 affirming that no compromise was possible on what it considered a vital religious issue. Meanwhile, the legal battle continued. The Muslims' appeal filed in the High Court was dismissed on 26 January 1938, and a further appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council met with the same fate on 2 May 1940. This virtually ended the dispute.


  1. Ganda Singh, ed., Some Confidential Papers of the Akali Movement. Amritsar, 1965
  2. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
  3. Tuteja, K.L., Sikh Politics. Kurukshetra, 1984
  4. Pratāp Siṅgh, Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
  5. Josh, Sohan Siṅgh, Akālī Morchiāṅ dā Itihās. Delhi, 1972
  6. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Prabandhak Committee dā Pañjāh Sālā Itihās. Amritsar, 1982

K. L. Ṭuṭejā