Posted by: Singh Is King | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Empire, Faith and Kinship : 1924 Jaito Protests

In the years following the Jallianwala Bagh incident at Amritsar, the Sikhs moved ahead with peaceful protests against British-backed control of many Sikh gurdwaras. One of the key protests was held at Jaito in 1924. A journalist, S. Zimand, describes the scenes he witnessed as the peaceful ‘shahidi jathas’ (martyrdom groups) faced the brunt of the British administration:
“…They were in great part rustics, but many trades and professions were represented. About noon the jatha started, marching like a regiment to war – as the Sikhs had marched in the British campaigns in Asia and on the western front in Europe. They had flags, a band, a separate kitchen and a small ambulance corps, but they had no arms. Every face was lit with the fire of religious devotion, and their continual shouts of “Satt Shri Akal” were like the murmur of an approaching storm. Five flags were borne in front and Guru Granth Sahib was carried on a palanquin in the middle…. The British administrator explained that if the jatha did not comply with his order, he would be compelled to open fire. The jatha kept on toward the shrine… The firing was in regular volley. The crowds rushed away, the jatha advanced. Ordered under arrest, they submitted cheerfully. With heads erect they marched to the local prison, while their wounded and dead were deposited in nearby places… During the firing only three Akalis left the ranks, after they were wounded. The rest stood their ground. They kept their vows of non-violence under fire.” (John Clark Archer, The Sikhs, 1946.)

Agitation of this non-violent nature was instrumental in the passing of the Gurdwara Act of 1925, which placed the control of the gurdwaras into the hands of an elected body of Sikhs.


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