Sardar Darshan Singh Pheruman’s martyrdom, like Christ’s, was expiatory. He died to atone for the egregious sins of others, namely, the so-called Sants and leaders of the Sikhs. But has his supreme self-sacrifice done any appreciable good to the quality of subsequent Akali leaders? The death anniversary of Sardar Pheruman falls on October 27.
Only one Indian dies for the liberation of Goa and he, for sure, is a Punjabi – S. Karnail Singh of Issru. And who can count the number of Punjabi’s who died for the freedom of India? And even after Partition the number of Punjabis who have willingly embraced tribulation and death is legion. How many were sent to jail for agitating against the imposition of the infamous Emergency when the rest of Indians had been browbeaten into silence and acquiescence? The record of the Punjabi Suba.
Movement and the Anti – SYL Canal Movement constitutes some of the most tumultuous pages of our history. Nineteen eighty-four was a watershed. The post – 1984 events, however, cannot be dispassionately studied and evaluated by anybody at present.
S. Darshan Singh Pheruman (1883-1969) was a staunch Sikh and a staunch nationalist.
Ever since he came of age he actively participated in every notable agitation for the liberation of the country and the Panth. To start with, he actively participated in the Akali movement for the liberation of the gurdwaras (1921-25). He was arrested and imprisoned for a year in connection with the Keys Morcha. He courted imprisonment again by leading a jatha in the Jaito Morcha. After his release he emigrated to Malaysia in 1929, but there too he continued to work for India’s independence. He was arrested and imprisoned. In the prison he went on his first hunger strike in protest against being denied a kachhehra . The strike went on for 21 days, that is, till his demand was conceded.
After returning from Malaysia Sardar Pheruman joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and was sentenced to imprisonment thrice. He took part in the Kisan Movement in 1930. Later, he participated in the Quit India Movement and was arrested and jailed again and again. By 1945, when he was finally released by the Government he had spent as many as 15 years of his life in Colonial prisons.
Like the distinguished Sikh leaders of yore — such as Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh — he made no distinction between the Akali and the Congress Parties. Pandit Nehru was arrested in Jaito Morcha and Mahatma Gandhi described the success of the Gurdwara Agitation as the first victory in the battle for India’s independence. Sardar Pheruman remained a member of the SGPC for a number of years and for two terms he was elected its General Secretary. He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1951 to 1964.
Sardar Pheruman was not only a firm and true Sikh as well as a nationalist to the core, but was also sensitively alive to the post-independence deterioration of moral, political, and religious standards. This sensitiveness compelled him to leave the Congress in 1959. He was no less disillusioned and disgusted by new crop of thick-headed, ignorant, uneducated, and selfish “Sants”–Fateh Singh, Chanan Singh et al — who with their pusillanimity had made the virile Sikh community a laughing stock of the world. Sant
Fateh Singh went on a fast unto death twice and, as had been predicted by one and all, survived each time, with a vengeance. To add insults to injury, before starting his second fast he got constructed two havankunds projecting out of the third floor of the Holy Akal Takhat in one of which he was to burn himself to death on the fifteenth day of his fast. But, as even a most naive person could have predicted, the havankunds remained unused. But long after the farcical drama of the fast his havankunds was kept intact, of course despite the loud and angry protests of people like Sirdar Kapoor Singh who described it as a monstrosity and an insult to all the Sikhs. I personally remember that the havankunds bore the following (or something like the following) words in Punjabi in bold characters: Is than te Sant Fateh Singh ji ne agnibhaint hona si.
Sant Fateh Singh’s fast was not unto his death, but it certainly led to the death of Sardar Pheruman. The question of merger of Chandigarh in Punjab, for which Sant Fateh Singh had undertaken his fast, was still hanging fire. Some vague assurances from Mrs. Indira
Gandhi communicated to him through S. Hukam Singh had provided him the all-toowell-anticipated escape route to save his precious life (for, maybe, yet another fast unto death), completely forgetting his ardas and pledge before Guru Granth Sahib.
Sardar Pheruman’s fast unto death was, at long last, the real thing. Ostensibly Chandigarh as also the control of Bhakra-Nangal were also the issues mentioned by him, but if one examines all the evidence minutely one feels convinced that primarily he died in protest against the gross perfidy of the Akalis headed by Sant Fateh Singh who enjoyed all the privileges which an Akali Government could grant. As Sardar Pheruman said again and again, he had decided to immolate himself in order to redeem the honour of the Panth which had been brought down by the fraudulent showmanship of its leaders.
His sacrifice was to be a practical demonstration of what a true and humble Sikh could do. When he launched his fast on Aug 15, 1969, leaders like Jiwan Singh Umranangal and Sant Fateh Singh decried his “stuntmanship” wrongly thinking that he was also of their ilk. He was put first in Amritsar Jail and then shifted to the hospital where he successfully resisted being injected or force-fed. As per her old practice Mrs. Indira
Gandhi also sent him messages of promise to reconsider the Chandigarh and other issues. A shamefaced and confused Sant Fateh Singh also arrived in propria persona a day or two before his death, obviously to persuade him to break his pledge and fast like he himself had done twice. Sardar Pheruman expired on Oct. 27, 1969 on the 74th day of his fast. All through his fast he remained either reciting or listening to Gurbani, particularly the Sukhmani Sahib. Here is an excerpt from his testament which was published in several newspapers on Oct 28, 1969:
“For the last half a century I have worked through sufferings and tribulations for the freedom of my country and for ensuring ever increasing ascendancy and expansion of the Panth. The country is now free but the Panth is still in bondage. In the country corruption and moral degradation have vastly increased. The management of the Sikh Gurdwaras and the conduct of Sikh politics have fallen into the hands of hypocrites, styling themselves pious men and sants and those who did not wish the Panth well. The doctrines of the Sikh religion, the traditions of the Sikh religion, the traditions of the Khalsa, the historical splendor of the Sikh Nation had been thus trampled under the feet of these undesirable persons. Those who had played up the drama of undertaking solemn vows before the Akal Takhat to immolate themselves have, by taking recourse to lies and cowardice, captured the decision-making centers of power . . . The traitors of the Panth and the pious frauds, called sants, have successfully hatched an ugly conspiracy to eliminate every vestige of the wholesome influence of Sikh religion from Sikh politics with the purpose of making Sikh people………… slaves of others…… This grave sin can be washed away only through a genuine and pure martyrdom. The ugly and audacious memorials which Sant Fateh Singh has got constructed, as rivals of the holy
Akal Takhat, are calling loudly for genuine sacrifices from the Singhs………To achieve this end, I am going to lay down my life. “Thus Sardar Pheruman’s martyrdom, like Christ’s was expiatory. He died to atone for the egregious sins of others, namely, the so-called Sants and leaders of the Sikhs. But has his supreme self-sacrifice done any appreciable good to the quality of subsequent Akali leaders?