Sant Baba Visaakha Singh jee Dadehar was a great freedom fighter who fought against the British rule in India. He was a Gadri Baba who along with other great leaders of Gadar Party e.g. Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Bhai Nidhan Singh Chugha etc. was sentenced to life-imprisonment and sent to the notorious jail of Kala Paani which was located at the Andaman Islands.
Baba Visaakha Singh, as per his own writings, reached the high mystical state of attaining the Dasam Duaar (the secret tenth door) at his early stage. While reading Siri Anand Sahib, he came across the 38th pauri and wondered what the tenth door meant. When he found out from his spiritual teacher that this is the door from where Vaheguru is attained, he felt that he could not live without attaining the Dasam Duaar. Life for him was worthless without attaining the Dasam Duaar. He meditated day and night to get Darshan and the merciful Lord fulfilled his wish.
Presented below are some highlights of Baba jee’s stay at Kala Paani jail. This account is based on Baba jee’s own writings:
The Hell of Andaman (Kala Paani)
As per Baba jee there were 3 big thugs in Andaman – the Chief Commissioner, the Jail Superintendent Murray and Jailor Berry. These three thugs used to suck the blood of prisoners and commit heinous atrocities against the political prisoners related to Gadar Party.
The living conditions of the jail were very poor. The prisoners were kept confined in their cells for long periods of time and the air quality of the jail was very poor due to poor ventilation system of the jail. In order to increase security, the ventilation system was compromised. Due to the poor air quality, many prisoners developed diseases like TB. The prisoners were served dirty water and the food given was of very low quality.
Baba Visaakha Singh was one of the 40 Gadri freedom fighters who were sent to this jail and 8 out of them were martyred as a result of poor conditions of the jail and atrocities committed by the jail staff, against the freedom fighters.
Master Chatar Singh jee – the Living Martyr
Master jee jee was from village Maneli of Fatehgarh Sahib district. In olden days this village was apparently under district Ambala. They had settled in Lyalpur district because his father had received land from the British there. He was quite educated and later on worked as a professor at Khalsa college. He was tall and handsome; and on his face was always the Gurmukhi smile.
While working as a professor at Khalsa College he found out about a cruel British officer. In those days, the British used to treat Indians very badly. Master jee armed with an axe, attacked the officer and seriously injured him. After injuring him, Master jee found out that he had attacked the wrong person and greatly regretted his action. He was arrested and sentenced to death by the British court. On appeal by his father, the death sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
He joined other Gadri freedom fighters in the Lahore jail and his first agitation started when he refused to wear the jail cap, in place of turban. He had to undergo many hardships as a result of this agitation but he did not succumb to pressure. Later he was sent to Kala Paani jail along with the Gadri freedom fighters.
Baba Visaakha Singh asked Master Chatar Singh to not get involved with the Gadri freedom fighters but so much Master jee was in love with other Singhs that he could not keep quiet when cruelties were done on them. He openly challenged the superintendant to mend his ways or else he would have to suffer consequences. Instead to heeding to Master jee’s request, the superintendant insulted him and refused to change his ways.
Master jee at that time kept quiet but later on at the time of monthly meeting with the superintendant, Master jee got his chance to settle score with him. This superintendant had committed many atrocities against the Singhs. Master jee was alone with the superintendant who had only couple of guards with him. Master jee attacked the superintendant by punching him. Thereafter, Master jee beat him up badly and avenged his wrongdoings against the Singhs. Sooner than later, more guards came and they controlled Master jee and severely beat him up. He was confined to solitary cell and not given food for many days.
When other Singhs found out that Master jee was being kept hungry, they all protested strongly. The authorities started giving food to Master jee but he was kept in very inhuman conditions for many years. Master jee’s body became very weak but he kept doing simran and Naam all this time. Baba Visaakha Singh has written that Master jee used to stay in Smadhi (mystical trance) all the time.
Master jee was not a Gadri and for this reason his living conditions were not as bad as the Gadris. If he had kept quiet, his life could have been comfortable but he could not keep quiet when his beloved companions – the Singhs – were suffering. He suffered for them and for this reason Baba Visaakha Singh and other freedom fighters really respected him,
Martyrdom of Bhai Bhaan Singh
Shaheed Bhaan Singh was of village Sunet, district Ludhiana and was imprisoned for life at Kala Paani. He used to work in the jail very diligently and was a mild person but one day as he was standing in the queue, he heard the British staff talking about Indians in a very derogatory way. Bhaan Singh understood some English and was upset at what he heard. He answered back to the British staff, who got upset at this. He was sentenced to another term of 6 months as a result of this. One day he was singing a Gurbani Pankiti with love that the jailor – Berry – heard him and got upset. The pankitis was singing was as follows:
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥
ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥
ਇਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਪੈਰੁ ਧਰੀਜੈ ॥
ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥20॥
These pankitis were favourite pankitis of the Gadri freedom fighters and the British authorities were allergic to them. Mr Berry asked him to stop singing Gurbani but Bhaan Singh continued singing. At the order of Mr. Berry he was severely beaten which resulted in his martyrdom. He had ordered that he be handcuffed. Bhaan Singh resisted this order and then challenged Mr Berry to try his best to handcuff him. They tried in vain but could not handcuff him. They beat him very severely and this resulted in Bhaan Singh’s martyrdom.
Bhai Bishan Singh and his challenge
When Bhai Bishan Singh heard of the shaheedi of Bhah Bhaan Singh, he got very upset. He and other Singhs questioned the superintendant and the jailor about their despicable act of martyring Bhai Bhaan Singh. Hot words were exchanged by both sides and as a result, all the Singhs were sentenced to solitary confinement.
Bhai Bishan Singh had spoken much that day and the superintendant was upset at this. He came over to Bishan Singh and ordered him to be handcuffed. Bishan Singh refused as follows:
ਹੱਥਕੜੀ ਲਗੇ ਫਿਰ ਲੌਣ ਬਿਸ਼ਨ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ, ਅਗੋਂ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਨੇ ਆਖ ਬਤਾਇਆ ਸੀ।
ਸੁਪਰਡੰਟ ਨੂੰ ਆਖਿਆ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਸੂਰੇ, ਮੌਕਾ ਰੱਬ ਨੇ ਚੰਗਾ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਸੀ।
ਹੱਥਕੜੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਲੁਔਣੀ ਲਾ ਲੈ ਜ਼ੋਰ ਸਾਰਾ, ਵਾਹਵਾ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਨੇ ਹੱਥ ਵਖਾਇਆ ਸੀ।
ਕੱਠੇ ਗੋਰੇ ਤੂੰ ਕਰਕੇ ਡਾਹ ਸਾਰੇ ਸੁਪਰਡੰਟ ਨੂੰ ਆਖ ਸੁਨਾਇਆ ਸੀ।
ਆ ਪਾਜੀਆ ਵੇਖ ਤੂੰ ਹੱਥ ਛੇਤੀਂ, ਹੱਥਕੜੀ ਲਾ ਤੂੰ ਜਿਸ ਤਰਾਂ ਆਇਆ ਸੀ।
ਮਰੂੰ ਆਪ ਜਾਂ ਚੀਰ ਦਊਂ ਤੁਸਾਂ ਤਾਂਈਂ, ਭਾਨ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ ਤੁਸਾਂ ਕਿਉਂ ਢਾਹਿਆ
This way Bishan Singh refused to be handcuffed and declared that he would himself die and kill anyone who tried to force him to wear handcuffs. He was of a strong body and seeing him in such rage, everyone got scared. The authorities softened up after the Singhs revolted and a compromise was reached. This is how the daily life was at Kala Paani.
Singhs suffered a lot in the Kala Paani jail but they kept their Sikhi spirit alive. The jail conditions at that time were very bad and the prisoners were subject to inhuman treatment by the British but the Singhs expressed exemplary valour while resisting them.
JWALA SINGH STORY
Baba Visaakha Singh jee Dadehar was a Gadri Baba i.e. freedom fighter of Gadr movement. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee too was a Gadri Baba who went to jail for 16 years trying to liberate India from the British.
Baba Visaakha Singh jee was caught and tried in the Lahore Conspiracy case at Lahore in 1914-1915. The trial was very unfair. Baba jee used to narrate one incident involving Bhai Jawahar Singh. While the trial was going on, witnesses were required to identify the accused Gadrees. On one occasion, a witness failed to recognize an accused and the prosecutor (govt. lawyer) got upset and scolded him. The witness replied saying that he could not recognize the accused because everyone was wearing turbans in a different style. At this Bhai Jawala Singh started laughing.
The prosecution lawyer got upset when he saw Bhai Jawala Singh, a renowned Gadri freedom fighter, laughing. He and Bhai Jawala Singh started arguing. Seeing the defiant attitude of Bhai Jawala Singh, the judge ordered that Bhai Jawala Singh to be caned 30 times right in the front of the court.
Bhai Jawala Singh was grabbed by the police officers and taken in the veranda i.e. just out side the door, and tied with a pillar. Then he was caned with a leather stick. Each cane had a huge impact that was very visible. It tore away the skin where it hit. Drops of blood could be seen all over the wall on the outside. The courtroom was stunned at this punishment. Baba Visaakha Singh jee Dadehar has recorded this incident very beautifully in one of his poems:
NAAL TIK TIKEE BANN KE JWALA SINGH NOO,
PYAARE VEER NOO BAINT PHIR LAGAUN LAGAE ||
(They tied Jawala Singh and then starting caning my beloved brother)
MAAR MAAR KE BOTIYAAN KADHIYO NE,
PAINJAY VAANG PHIR MAAS UDAUN LAGAE||
(By hitting again and again, skin got torn and was flying like cotton)
UDON KHOON DE VEERO, GHARAAL VAGG PAYE,
KAYEE VEKH KE NEER VAHAUN LAGAI||
(At that time, blood was flowing out like river. Seeing this scene many of our brothers burst into tears)
DAAS SINGH VISAAKH DEE BENTI JEE,
JWAAL SINGH NAA MOOL GHABRAUN LAGAE||
(Servant Visaakh Singh writes that, Jawala Singh did not falter at all)
Bhai Jawala Singh jee stayed adamant and did not even make a sound. He kept a smiling face. Seeing this brutal treatment of Bhai Jawala Singh, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna declared in the court that this court was a butcher house and that from that day on, no one would cooperate with the court proceedings.
Presented below is an incident after Baba jee was releaseed from the jail and even after India got independance from the British.
How Baba jee helped a poor waiter
Once Baba jee was travelling in train. He got on the train from Delhi and was travelling in second class coach. After eating some food he lied down on his seat. On the front of his seat was a Madrasi (Tamil) Jamadaar (army rank above Subedar) and his friend. The Tamil Jamadaar ordered some food and the waiter brought the food he had ordered. When the waiter came back to get dishes and money, the Tamil Jamadaar refused to pay saying that the rice were not fully cooked.
The waiter said, “You can complain at the office. If the food is not fully cooked or is not tasty, it is the fault of the cook. If you don’t pay for this food, they will deduct this money from my salary. Since you have eaten all the food, you will have to pay for this. If you had complaint, you should not have eaten this food.”
The train started moving and the waiter was standing by the door, waiting for the Tamil to pay money.
The Tamil guy got agitated and threatened to kick the waiter out. The waiter in return, stayed humble but insisted for money. The Tamil fellow, who was proud of his army rank got furious and slapped the waiter across his face. After slapping him few times, he tried to push the waiter out of the train.
Sardar Joginder Singh who was travelling with Baba Visaakha Singh jee, quickly got up and grabbed the waiter, thus saving him from falling off the train. Hearing shouting and loud noise, Baba jee got up and inquired what was going on. Upon finding the facts of the incident, Baba jee’s soft heart melted for the poor waiter. He moved forward and hugged the crying waiter and consoled him.
After consoling the waiter, Baba jee got filled with Khalsa Bir Rass. He always carried big sword with him. He was tall and strong. Then in his typical Majha accent of Punjabi, he lashed out at the Tamil Jamadaar and his friend. Seeing a Khalsa of Siri Guru Gobind Singh jee in full Bir Rass form, the Tamil and his friend started trembling with fear.
Baba jee continued, “for 700 years you (you Hindus) got trampled by the Mughals and got humiliated by them. Where was your self-respect and strength then? Then for 200 years you licked the shoes of British but did not fight them. Seeing poor and helpless people you start abusing your power. Have you not got any shame?”
Hearing such words, a lot of people gathered on the scene. By now the train had stopped at the next stop. Baba jee ensured that the waiter got paid by the Tamil guys and they had to apologise to them in public. The embarrassed Tamils moved from the coach to another one.