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ACHCHHAR SINGH, JATHEDAR

ACHCHHAR SINGH, JATHEDAR (1892-1976), a Gurdwara officiant and Akali politician who twice held office as Jathedar (provost) of Sri Akal Takht at Amritsar, was born on 18 January 1892 in a farming family of modest means at Ghanienke, a village in Lahore district. The youngest son of Hukam Singh and Gangi, he learnt to read Gurmukhi letters and to recite the Scripture at the village gurdwara. At the age of 15, he migrated to Burma, where he learnt Burmese and Urdu. As he grew up, Achchhar Singh enlisted in the Burmese military police.

During World War I (1914-18), Burmese military police was converted into a regular army battalion and drafted to Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Achchhar Singh served there for about three years. At the end of the war in 1918, his unit was stationed at Tonk, in the North-West Frontier Province, until its departure back to Burma in 1920. In 1919, Achchhar Singh married Mahindar Kaur of Ichogil, a village in his native district of Lahore. He was promoted havildar, or sergeant, in 1920. The news of the Nankana Sahib massacre on 20 February 1921 came as a great shock to him.

He resigned from the army and, returning to the Punjab, he made a visit to Nankana Sahib to pay homage to the memory of the martyrs. He joined the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan and plunged into the agitation for the reform of gurdwara management. As the Akali campaign at Jaito started, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal were outlawed on 12 October 1923, and arrests began to be made all over the Punjab. Among those held were two successive Jathedars of the Akal Takht Teja Singh Akarpuri and Udham Singh Nagoke. Upon the latter's arrest.

Achchhar Singh was, on 10 February 1924, appointed to the high religious office. He, too, was taken into custody on 7 May 1924, was tried and sentenced to one and a half year in jail. Upon his release from the Central Jail at Mianwali at the end of 1925, he resumed his office in Amritsar which he retained until Teja Singh Akarpuri was set free in September 1926. Amar Singh, editor of the SheriPunjab, who had been a co-prisoner in Mianwali jail and who was now president of the Lahore gurdwara committee, persuaded Jathedar Achchhar Singh to take over as granthi at Gurdwara Dehra Sahib in Lahore.

For 14 years he served in this position. In 1940, he moved to Amritsar as a granthi at the Harimandar, and continued there until his resignation in 1962. From 1955 to 1962, he was also Jathedar of the Akal Takht. During the Punjabi Suba agitation, he was arrested from the premises of the Darbar Sahib on 4 July 1955, but was released two days later. He headed the Panj Piare named to judge if Master Tara Singh had not violated the vow undertaken at the Akal Takht before starting his fast unto death for the realization of the Sikh political objective of a Punjabi speaking state.

The Panj Piare made a close investigation of the circumstances leading to the abandonment of the fast and on 29 November 1961 pronounced Master Tara Singh guilty of having perjured his pledge and blemished thereby the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice. They had no comments to make on Sant Fateh Singh`s fast which, they said, had been given up under the orders of the Panj Piare and the sangat in general. He was, however, laid under expiation for having acquiesced in Master Tara Singh breaking his fast.

Master Tara Singh was awarded a severer penance. As the Shiromani Akali Dal split into two groups, one led by Sant Fateh Singh and the other by Master Tara Singh, Jathedar Achchhar Singh resigned the office of head of the Akal Takht to join the latter. He was elected president of this party in November 1962. In his address at the 15th All India Akali Conference held under his chairmanship at Karnal on 7 December 1963, he pleaded for unity between the two Akali factions. Jathedar Achchhar Singh died in the civil hospital at Amritsar on 6 August 1976 after a protracted illness.

References :

1. Sahni, Ruchi Ram, Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines. Ed. Ganda Singh. Amritsar, n.d.
2. Gulati, Kailash Chander, The Akalis: Past and Present. Delhi, 1974
3. Sukhdial Singh, Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Patiala, 1984

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