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Fear None, Frighten None: The Life of Giani Harinder Singh

by HARINDER SINGH

 

 

Guru Tegh Bahadar proclaims that a giani (insightful one) is the one whose mind is clearly on the path of "Fear none, frighten none."

Giani Harinder Singh is one such man who I had the great fortune of connecting with in the last decade.

A few years ago, I was listening to a lecture at a seminar organized by the Institute of Sikh Studies in Punjab. To be candid, the presenters were quite boring. Then, a tall man with an undeniably commanding presence took the stage. His oratory skills, Sikhi understanding, nuance in considering cultural context, and graceful humility overwhelmed me.

It was unlike anything I had seen in my periodic 'adventures' in the "Land of the Five Rivers". Mostly, I had witnessed retired diplomats, pseudo-intellectuals, or establishment sycophants presenting Sikhi in a way which was neither doctrinally accurate nor managing to honor its sovereign nature.

Amidst this grim backdrop of representatives, Giani ji's elegant elucidation of gurbani, coupled with penetrating political astuteness, made quite an impression on me. I must admit I have been quoting Allama Iqbal's comparison of the mahqum (slave) and the azaad (free) since I first heard it from Gianiji.

My wife and I were visiting relatives and the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in the vicinity of Nainital, Uttar Pardesh ("U.P.") in 2002. I asked our relatives if they knew where Giani Harinder Singh lived. They wanted to know why I wished to visit him. When I referred to the Pilibhit kand (incident), there was dead silence in the room. This is not an unusual response if you mention anything that even remotely alludes to a Sikh responding to the state's unjust practices.

Anyway, I went to see Giani ji and his wife, Biji Tarlochan Kaur, at his village Paigambarpur (literally, 'prophet-ville') near Bilaspur. I entered their house unannounced and walked inside to introduce my recently solemnized partner-in-crime, Gurpreet Kaur.

They were pleasantly surprised and enthralled; Gianiji asked Biji to bring something sweet to celebrate the good news. He took out all the cash from his pocket and without counting, gave the whole amount to Gurpreet, in the traditional Punjabi blessing/ gift. I had met him only a couple of times before this. I wasn't his biological relative, but our relationship transcended age or blood; it was Sikhi-based. Such was his incessant giving attitude, both in personal and civic life: to seize the here and now.

I remember asking my dad if he knew Gianiji, for I was born in Jhansi, U.P.,  and my father, S. Harbhajan Singh was too, where he held a leadership role in the railway union. I thought maybe the two may have crossed paths during the dictatorial "emergency" period declared by Indira Gandhi in 1976 across the length and breadth of India. My father had to go underground for weeks during that period for he refused to be coerced into joining the parallel "union" Mrs. Gandhi had set-up.

My father did not recall having met Giani ji personally, but he had heard of hm as being the sole daler (courageous) Sikh in U.P.

Last year Varun, one of the current scions of Nehru/ Gandhi dynasty, lost all pretense of decency when he openly abused Muslims and threatened to behead them in Pilibhit. A similar thing had happened in 1991 during the draconian TADA
days when all civil rights had been suspended by the Indian government under the pretext of battling dissension, which they had labeled "terrorism".

Eleven Sikhs were killed in fake encounters by the police in the jungles of Pilibhit, in the Terai region - an area region where Sikhs have a large presence. Giani ji tracked down the persons behind the Pilibhit massacre of the Sikhs. For this, he was imprisoned under the National Security Act in 1992 for challenging the then-Superintendent of Police, R.D. Trapathi - the same man who had massacred innocent Muslims a decade earlier as well.

Giani ji sacrificed much to bring to light the truth of the state terror in Terai; a truth which resulted in the arrest of 55 policemen, though their trial is still pending in a CBI court in Lucknow.

I visited Giani ji again in 2007, bringing my family to his farm house in U.P. After that, I met him a few times in Chandigarh to discuss the state of Sikhs affairs. A new disturbing and disgusting trend had developed among the panthak (activist) Sikhs: they now talked and acted in an unprincipled manner and compromising attitude, reducing themselves to subservient people. I would observe that Sikhs were behaving more like the mahqums of old India, rather than the azaads nurtured by the Gurus.

Giani ji would respond with a spirit of utter optimism every time, citing his belief that as long as a few Sikhs retain integrity, all will be fine. He would echo this belief with the refrain, "You, young man, you better train some young minds to do the same."

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to learn from a stalwart who was an intellectual as well as an activist.

My last few meetings with Giani ji - on my annual pilgrimages to Punjab - were in the Kendriya Singh Sabha, of which he was the President. Situated on a prime area of land on Madhya Marg in Chandigarh, Gianiji was interested in transforming it into a hub of Sikh activities. In fact, he went to the Panjab Digital Library office and told Davinder Singh, the library's co-founder, that he is politicking with the powers that be, in order to make that happen.

Gurnihal Singh Pirzada, a defiant former IAS officer, whom Giani ji confided in, is working diligently to fulfill his wishes.

Giani ji's journey was quite remarkable. Starting a newspaper in 1977 called Sikh Darpan (literally, 'mirror'); narrowly missing a Rajya Sabha seat in 1978 due to opposition from the Janta Party; leading the Meerut gurdwara agitation in 1980; contesting Vidhan Sabha (UP assembly) elections thrice between 1985 - 1994; and finally winning on his last attempt; consistently and genuinely representing the Sikh interests in U.P. for the last five decades, as well as serving as President of the Uttar Pradesh Sikh Pratinidhi Board; leading the Kendriya Singh Sabha in 2003 and 2008.

And this lists but a few of his milestones.

Giani ji lived a full life. His loving wife and three children - Harbaksh Singh, Baghel Singh and Navjot Kaur - are living testimony of Giani ji's legacy of inner strength and community service. An amazing 77-year old journey in both the religious and political arena for the tiller of the soil from Rampur, Panjab to end up in Rampur, U.P.!

I met Giani ji's son Harbaksh Singh in California a few years ago where, thru Ensaaf, Jaskaran Kaur is pursing "ending impunity in India." Now the new generation in the U.S. has taken K.P.S. Gill, the 'Butcher of Punjab', to task while Bollywood is busy furthering the state propaganda of lauding him as "supercop" through Indian cinema.

I see why Giani ji's faith was steadfast; it takes only a handful of young Sikhs to act in a sovereign manner; only a few to further the Guru's mission of fighting unjust religious and political hegemony. 

 

[The author, Harinder Singh, is the co-founder and currently serves as the Chief Programming Officer of the Sikh Research Institute, Texas, U.S.A. http://twitter.com/1Force.] 

October 25, 2010 

Conversation about this article

1: Khalsa Lakhvir Singh (Nairobi, Kenya), October 25, 2010, 7:29 AM.

Any recordings of Singh Sahib ji?

2: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), October 25, 2010, 1:55 PM.

Thanks for sharing this informaion. May Waheguru bless him!

3: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), October 25, 2010, 2:59 PM.

Excellent article. One person can indeed make a difference.

4: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), October 25, 2010, 7:40 PM.

Happy to know more about Giani Harinder Singh ji, he is one of the best Katha vachaks and intellectuals and draws a big crowd of sangat. He is popularly known as Giani Harinder Singh Alwar where he was born. Giani Sant Singh Maskeen lived at Alwar (Rajasthan) after migrating from Pakistan, and Giani Harinder Singh took some initial lessons in gurmat from Maskeenji; since then he has never looked back. I love his Vyakhyya, he is a great orator. Some of his video clips are available on YouTube and some of his gurbani discourses are also available on www.Shabadvichar.net. Often he does Vyakhyya at Bangla Sahib.

5: Harinder Singh (San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.), October 26, 2010, 3:01 AM.

I have requested Kendri Singh Sabha's (KSS's Khushal Singh) to load Gianiji's lectures (print/audio/visual) on their website: http://kendrisinghsabha.org. Giani ji's son Harbaksh Singh also conveyed to me about publications to be unveiled in the coming days. Perhaps, S. Roopinder Singh - son of former President of KSS, the late Giani Gurdit Singh - will do something through the Tribune, where he is currently the editor.

6: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), October 26, 2010, 6:09 AM.

Giani Harinder Singh Alwar is not the same as the Harinder Singh mentioned in this article. One is from UP and the other comes from Rajasthan.

7: Inderpreet Singh (Chelmsford), October 26, 2010, 6:47 AM.

Mohan Singh ji - you are referring to a different Giani Harinder Singh. The article is quite clear. There is no connection to Harinder Singh Alwar.

8: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), October 26, 2010, 2:57 PM.

Thank you for introducing us to Giani Harinder Singh. Please let us know when his talks have been posted online.

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