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Sardar Ganga Singh Dhillon


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By Harbans Lal

DALLAS: Sardar Ganga Singh, popularly known as Ganga Singh Dhillon, left for his timeless journey, as we call it in Sikh tradition, on September 23, 2014, at the age of 86. The cause was injuries resulting from an accidental fall followed by medical complications over a period of several weeks.

Although I had known Ganga Singh from his student days in India, where he was an activist for the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), our more active collegiality began in the US. He immigrated to Washington DC a few years after I did.

Ganga Singh’s birthplace was only eight miles from the birthplace of Guru Nanak, Sri Nanakana Sahib, now in Pakistan. He finished his school in Guru Nanak Khalsa High School at Nanakana Sahib before joining Sikh National College at Lahore. His father, Sardar Kahan singh, was martyred near Sri Nanakana Sahib.

Ganga Singh’s life was turbulent but full of Chardi Kala (infinite optimism) and full of vigor for what he wanted to accomplish.

I remember him continuously pestering me to include the issue of Sikh shrines in Pakistan in my presidential address at the Annual Conference of AISSF, which I did with deep passion.

The partition of India played havoc with the destiny of the brave Sikh people when the future of Sikh historical places and the footprints of our Gurus in Pakistan were mischievously overlooked in the confused and haphazardly managed exchange of populations. They were erroneously lumped with rest of the problems of the Partition. We were told publicly that the arrangements between two governments were only provisional and the matter of the Sikh holy places would be resolved to our satisfaction.

But Ganga Singh was not going to trust these promises.

I would not forget the wintry day in 1974 when I was driving Ganga Singh from Washington DC to New York where both of us were scheduled to speak at the Richmond Hill Gurdwara on the formation of Sri Nankana Sahib Foundation.

The idea was to have free access to our shrines in Pakistan for visits and for the maintenance of the property. It began to drizzle, and the traffic slowed down. We had all the time to spend in the car chalking out programs of the Foundation to secure free access to the historical gurdwaras left in Pakistan.

Sardar Ganga Singh followed the plans and gathered a delegation of 25 prominent Sikhs from India like Sardar Joginder Singh Mann. Chief Justice Harbans Singh, Jathedar Man Singh Hambo, and others from abroad including our own Dr. Tarlochan Singh Nahal of the US. They all supported the idea and Ganga Singh officially launched the Sri Nankana Sahib Foundation at the very site of Guru Nanak’s birthplace in Sri Nanakana Sahib on November 11, 1975.

Sardar Ganga Singh, through his political connections discovered only in 1998 that the home ministers of India and Pakistan, Gobind Vallabhai Pant and Sikander Mirza, signed an agreement in 1955, which declared Sikhism’s birthplace, the Janam Asthaan, and other gurdwaras in Pakistan as the evacuee property.

Our eyes did not believe the smell of the 1955 arrangement, which designated the birthplace of Guru Nanak at Nanakana, and birthplace of Sikhism at Kartarpur, as evacuee properties. It just did not make sense to us.

It again goes to the credit of Ganga Singh along with the leadership of the Foundation to point out to the Pakistani leaders that, as long as any Sikh lived anywhere in the world, Guru Nanak’s place of birth could not be considered an evacuee property as Mecca and Medina could not be evacuee properties as long as any Muslim was alive. Guru and the prophets do not vacate their abodes with political ups and downs anywhere in the world.

These efforts resulted in the historical declaration on the formation of the Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PGPC) by the President of Pakistan in April 1999. The President announced his action as a Vaisakhi gift to the brave Sikhs. Immediately after the formation of PGPC, Sardar Ganga Singh asked me to contact the Foundation supporters to come up with plans to launch efforts to similarly identify and restore sanctity of the historical Sikh shrines in Bangladesh, Burma, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and other countries.

During our struggle to secure free visits and rights to manage our shrines in Pakistan, we also learnt that the Muslim public needed to learn more about the actual history of the Sikh-Muslim relationship so that the Sikhs could form a cordial basis of their interaction with them. Such relations were crucial especially with regards to the keeping up of their shrines in different countries. Without an understanding between the two communities, the desirable sanctity of the Sikh shrines in Pakistan and in Middle East could not be maintained.

Thus, Sardar Ganga singh marched ahead to form the Lahore Conference on Sikh-Muslim Understanding. Towards this goal, a joint statement was made at the All-Pakistan Ulemas Conference. Then the Foundation honored the Islamic scholars and artists at several public functions to promote networking with them.

The man I wish to remember today was vigorous, wise, full of burning desire to promote Sikhs’ national identity, and to preserve Sikh heritage. It will be difficult to fill the void he created by his departure. The community will miss him for a long time to come.

(A noted Sikh scholar, Dr Harbans Lal lives in Dallas, Texas. He can be contacted at japji08@yahoo.com)

Edited by chatanga1
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