Before the Federation came into being, there existed Bhujahgi Sabhas, societies of the Sikh youth, in schools to nurture Sikh ideals. Most of the Sikh schools had their Bhujahgi Sabhas. The origin was teaced to 1888 when the first Sikh Vidyarthi Sabhas or Khalsa Clubs came into existence. These were the product of the new religious and cultural awakening the Sikhs were then experiencing. They had started questioning and cavilling at some of the prevalent`practices which were considered contrary to the teachings of the Gurus. The Sabhas met every Saturday after which members went to the Harimandar Sahib chanting the holy shabads.
Another nomenclature then gaining the vogue was Sikh Youngmen`s Association. The first President of the Association was Bhai Harnam Singh, a graduate of the Pahjab University who later took a doctorate at London. The Association started publishing in 1905 a quarterly journal named Khalsa Youngmen`s Magazine. It also sponsored tracts on religious and social topics. The Sikhs entered the modern phase of their educational enterprise with the founding of that magnificent complex at Amritsar which went by the name of Khalsa College.
In the line of distinguished men who led the movement were some of the British principals of the institution. The most popular among them was Mr. G.A. Wathen who initiated Coats Off Movement, encouraging students to participate in manual work on behalf of the college. That massive programme of labour of the two hands the youth willingly volunteered to join. Among them was that strappingly handsome youth, S. Pratab, of the village of Narangval, in Ludhiana district, then reading at the Khalsa College.
He was born son of Col Hira Singi on 1 June 1896 at the faraway capital of the princely state of Rewa where the latter had been, in his day, like his father, Rai Bahadur Capt Hazura Singh, commander of the state infantry.After his education at the Khalsa College, S. Pratab proceeded to Great Britain where he qualified for service on the railways, but he chose to be in the Indian Civil Service. After hi o stints at Simla, Delhi and Lahore, he steered past the toughest challenge of his life Gurdwara Shahidganj agitation smoothly. He dealt with the highly combustible situation with extraordinary coolness of mind and sangfroid.
The Sikh Students Federation came into being as such in the forties of the twentieth century. The purpose mainly was to stimulate Sikh thought and ideals among the youth and to counteract the corrosive influence of Muslim and other groups which were forcing their identity issue rather obstreperously.The response of the Sikhs lay in energizing their own body politic. With the independence of India drawing close began the more dynamic phase of the Federation. The sphere of its activities widened. Sikh youth camps became the order of the day.
Young men and old and tried leaders joined in enthusiastically, committed to carrying them through in their training in Sikh lore and scholarly discipline. The series was weighed in with the camp at Paonta Sahib which ranked as historic. Even the senior Sikh politicians of the day considered it a privilege to join and address these camps. Much intellectual novelty flowed from the discussions and lectures at these camps.The Sikh Panth felt the glow of a new life process through these camps and their influence which indeed was widespread and many sided.
The youth took to their work with a new zeal which brought to the Panth a completely fresh image of its future and destiny. Many new names sprang up on the Sikh horizon, and older men were filled with a new eagerness for action. The camps became very popular and brought a new dimension to Sikh life. Many Sikhs from among the older generation came forward.Famous among them was Hukam Singh, jurist and parliamentarian, whose photographs can still be seen bathing in the knee deep waters of the Yamuna.
Hukam Singh was followed by a series of brilliant youth leaders such as Surjit Singh Barnala, Amar Singh Ambalvi, Jaswant Singh Neki, Gurmeet Singh, Satbir Singh, Bhai Harbans Lal and Santokh Singh of Indore. There were many others who had made themselves famous in their respective spheres. In fact, there is hardly a Sikh of any eminence who had not been touched by the Federation and its ideology.Men like India`s fabulous finance minister Manmohan Singh were no exception. Another name that became a legend was that of Bhai Amrik Singh (1948-84), son of Giam Kartar Singh Khalsa, who was elected president on 2 July 1978.
He remained its president even during his internment from July 1982 to August 1983 and thereafter until his death during Operation Blue Star in June 1984. This was a glorious period of Sikh youth resurgence and the Sikh youth found themselves profoundly moved. This was a momentous experience for the entire body of the Sikh youth and its impact lasts to this day.A permanent ambition of one of the senior members of the Federation who is internationally famous in his profession is to write a history of the Federation.
Apart from this political orientation the Sikh youth received from this experience a fresh religious leaven. This way they felt quickened to a new pace of life. Morning and evening religious services took place at these camps regularly. Prayers constantly mingled with the murmur of the river water. Guru ka Langar was always ready to be served. The same regimen of prayer and meditation was repeated in the evening.
1. Constitution of All India Sikh Students Federation. Amritsar, 1983
2. Khalsa Akh bar. Amritsar, 1888
3. Gurmukhi Akh bar. Amritsar, 1893
4. Golden Jubilee Book (Sikh Educational Conference). Amritsar, 1958
5. Sarhadi, Ajit Singh, Punjabi Suba. Delhi, 1970
6. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983