The Akali Movement For Gurdwara Reforms

The increasing wave of nationalism and democracy unavoidably spilled over into the religious and social realms, hurting the oppressed castes and classes. Many nationalists began to use the newly discovered practise of nonviolent Satyagraha and public opinion mobilisation to address issues that damaged India's internal structure. The endeavour to improve Indian social and religious institutions and practises frequently resulted in clashes between reformers and colonial authorities. As a result, the fight to transform Indian society became entwined with the anti-imperialist battle. This was also due to the fact that as the national movement gained traction, colonialism's social base shrank, and colonial rulers sought to seek support from socially, culturally, and economically regressive segments of Indian society. The Akali Movement in Punjab and the Temple Entry Movement in Kerala are good examples of this part of the national movement.


•    The Akali Movement began as a strictly religious movement, but it grew into a significant chapter in India's freedom struggle. 
•    The goal of the movement was to rescue the Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) from the rule of corrupt and illiterate mahants (priests). During the 18th and 19th centuries, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh chieftains, and other pious Sikhs generously gifted the Gurdwaras with revenue-free land and money. 
•    During the 18th century, these shrines were administered by Udasi Sikh mahants who avoided the anger of Mughal rulers by not wearing their hair long. With time, corruption spread among these mahants, and they began to use the Gurdwaras' gifts and other income as their own. Many of them began to indulge in opulence and frivolity. 
•    Apart from the mahants, some supervision over the Gurdwaras was held by Government-nominated managers and caretakers after the British invasion of Punjab in 1849, who frequently collaborated with mahants. The mahants were given full support by the government. 
•    It employed them and their managers to preach Sikh loyalty and keep them away from the growing nationalist movement. Sikh reformers and nationalists, on the other side, wanted the Gurdwaras to be completely reformed by removing them from the control of mahants and colonial agents. 
•    The priests of the Golden Temple in Amritsar issued a Hukamnama (directive from the Gums or holy seats of Sikh authority) against the Ghadarites, declaring them renegades, and then honoured General Dyer, the butcher of the Jallianwala massacre, with a saropa (robe of honour) and declared him to be a Sikh.
•    When the reformers organised groups of volunteers known as jathas to push the mahants and Government-appointed managers to hand over administration of the Gurdwaras to the local devotees, a popular campaign for Gurdwara reform erupted quickly in 1920. 
•    In the beginning, the reformers had a lot of success, liberating dozens of Gurdwaras over the course of a year. The Golden Temple and the Akal Takht were emblematic of this early accomplishment. 
•    The reformers requested that "the foremost seat of Sikh faith be placed in the hands of a representative body of Sikhs," and held a series of public gatherings to support their claim. The government did not want to anger the reformers at this point, so it sought to appease popular feeling in order to halt the swelling tide of discontent on such an emotional religious matter.
•    A representative assembly of almost 10,000 reformers met in November 1920 to elect the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee, which would control and manage the Golden Temple, the Akal Takht, and other Gurdwaras (SGPC). 
•    At the same time, a central body was thought to be required to coordinate the struggle in a more methodical manner. In December, the Shiromani Akali Dal was formed for this reason. It was to be the principal organiser of the Akali jathas, which had a Jat peasant backbone but were led by nationalist intellectuals. 
•    The Akali Dal and the SGPC chose total nonviolence as their ideology under the influence of the contemporaneous Non-Cooperation Movement — and many of the leaders were common to both parties.
The Akali Movement For Gurdwara Reforms


•    At February 1921, the Akali movement received its first blood baptism in Nankana, Guru Nanak's birthplace. Narain Das, the mahant of the Gurdwara there, was not inclined to peacefully hand over authority to the Akalis.
•    To face the peaceful Akali volunteers, he organised a force of roughly 500 mercenaries, arming them with pistols, swords, lathis, and other lethal weapons. An Akali jatha visited the Gurdwara on February 20th to worship. 
•    The mahant's soldiers immediately fired fire and attacked them with other weapons. Despite severe warnings from the Deputy Commissioner, about 100 Akalis were killed, and a huge number of jathas under Kartar Singh Jhabbar's direction marched into the Gurdwara and assumed complete control. 
•    The mahant had been apprehended. The government's policy remained ambiguous. It didn't want to enrage the Sikhs on the one hand, and it didn't want to lose control of the Gurdwaras on the other.
•    In the Akali struggle, the Nankana tragedy was a watershed moment. ‘The incident had woken the Sikhs from their slumber and the march towards Swaraj had been expedited,' said Kartar Singh Jhabbar, the liberator of the Nankana Gurdwara. 
•    The incident jolted the entire country's consciousness. To offer their support, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Lala Lajpat Rai, and other national figures came to Nankana. 


The government has now reversed its position. It opted to pursue a two-pronged strategy in response to the Akali movement's growing integration with the national movement. It pledged and began working on legislation that would please the Moderates and those solely concerned with religious reforms in order to win over or neutralise them. In the sake of upholding law and order, it chose to crush the Akalis' extreme or anti-imperialist wing. 

Encouraged by the country's nationalist forces, they broadened the scope of their movement to eliminate all government intervention in their religious institutions. 

•    They began to consider themselves as part of a larger national struggle. As a result, the non-co-operator nationalist portion of the SGPC took power as well. 
•    The SGPC passed a resolution in favour of non-cooperation, a boycott of foreign goods and liquor, and the use of panchayats instead of British courts of law in May 1921. 
•    The Akali leaders, who had been arrested for disobeying the law, likewise declined to defend themselves, claiming that foreign-imposed courts had no jurisdiction over them.

Achievement of akali movement:

1.    The Akalis achieved a major victory in the Keys Affair in October 1921. The government made a concerted attempt to safeguard the keys to the Golden Temple's Toshakhana. The Akalis reacted quickly, organising enormous protests and sending tens of thousands of Akali jathas to Amritsar. 

2.    Baba Kharak Singh:

•    The SGPC encouraged Sikhs to join the hartal on the day the Prince of Wales arrived in India. In retaliation, the government arrested major SGPC militant nationalist leaders like Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh. 
•    Rather than dying out, the movement spread to the most isolated rural areas and the army. In the rest of the country, the Non-Cooperation Movement was at its peak. The government has decided to avoid confronting Sikhs over a religious issue once more.
•    It freed all those detained in connection with the "Keys Affair" and handed over the keys to the Toshakhana to Baba Kharak Singh, the SGPC's head. ‘First battle for India's freedom won,' Mahatma Gandhi said in a message to the Baba. Congratulations.’

3.    Incident at guru-ka-bagh:

•    In August 1921, the mahant of the Gurdwara Guru-Ka-Bagh gave up the Gurdwara to the SGPC, but claimed personal ownership of the adjoining land. 
•    When the Akalis cut down a dry kikkar tree on the property to use in the community kitchen, he filed a police report alleging "theft of his property from his land." 
•    The officials took advantage of the situation to antagonise the Akalis. Five Akalis were arrested and put to trial on August 9, 1922. 
•    The Akali Dal was quick to respond to the new challenge. The Akali jathas arrived and began cutting down trees on the disputed land. The government began arresting them all on theft and rioting accusations. By the 28th of August, about 4,000 Akalis had been apprehended.
•    In Guru-Ka-Bagh, national leaders and journalists gathered. Protests were held in large numbers across Punjab. 
•    Swami Shraddhanand, Hakim Ajmal Khan, and others joined an Akali assembly in Amritsar on September 10th. The Congress Working Committee formed a committee to look into the police's actions. The government had to back down once more. 


•    Apart from its own accomplishments, the Akali Movement made a significant contribution to Punjab's political development. It awoke the peasantry of Punjab. 
•    ‘It was only during the Akali movement that the pro-British feudal leadership of the Sikhs was replaced by educated middle-class nationalists and the rural and urban classes joined on a same platform during the two-pronged Akali battle,' says Mohinder Singh, an Akali Movement historian. 
•    This movement was also a model for a religious movement that was completely non-communal. ‘It was this idea of liberation of the country from a foreign Government that unified all sectors of the Sikh community and brought the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs of the province into the fold of the Akali movement,' says Mohinder Singh. 
The Akali Movement For Gurdwara Reforms


The Akali Movement also awoke the inhabitants of Punjab's princely states to political awareness and participation. The movement promoted a form of religiosity that was eventually adopted by communalism.
•    After Gurdwara reform, the Akali Movement split into three streams because it represented three diverse political streams that had no need to remain unified as a single Akali party. 
a.    One of the movement's streams was made up of moderate, pro-government males who were drawn in by its religious appeal and popular pressure. These men re-joined the Unionist Party and returned to loyalist politics.
b.    Nationalists who joined the mainstream nationalist movement, becoming members of the Gandhian or leftist Kirti-Kisan and Communist Wings, formed another stream. 
c.    The third stream, which retained the name Akali despite not being the sole heir to the Akali Movement, exploited the movement's prestige among the rural masses and became the political organ of Sikh communalism, mixing religion and politics and instilling the ideology of political separation from Hindus and Muslims.
•    The Akali Dal vacillated between nationalist and loyalist politics in the years leading up to 1947.

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