The Dhaka Gurdwara Hunt: La Tribune India

Lt Gen KJ Singh (ret’d)

The reign of terror and tyranny unleashed by General Tikka Khan, military governor, and his predecessors, such as Lieutenant General Yaqub Ali Khan, targeted minorities in the former East Pakistan. They triggered the wanton destruction of historic Sikh shrines. These gurdwaras had appeared following the visit of Guru Nanak, followed by Guru Tegh Bahadur, to spread the message of Sikhism in these remote areas.

The first set of gurdwaras appeared in 1504, after the visit of Guru Nanak, also called “Udasis”. Later, the sixth and ninth gurus anchored the establishment of 18 gurdwaras in important cities like Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong and Mymensingh. However, the relentless persecution resulted in the destruction of a dozen gurdwaras and damage to others. The vast lands and property attached to the shrines have been taken over by the government and even by squatters. The most historic Sikh shrine, Gurdwara Nanak Shahi, also known as Ramna Shahi, had to cede its land for the expansion of Dhaka University. In the chaos and religious frenzy unleashed by the Razakars, Granthi Bhai Swaran Singh and Mohd-ul-Malik Haq, his Muslim associate, were killed and buried, Maryada was hung up and the place walled up.

The 1971 operations brought hope to the crumbling Sikh shrines. The PT-76 tanks of the 5th (Independent) Squadron of the 63rd Cavalry Squadron were at the forefront of a final race to Dhaka. The search for the gurdwaras was started by a veteran of the army, reconverted as editor-in-chief of The Sikh Review, Captain Bhag Singh, based in Kolkata. He was assisted by Takht Patna Sahib and officials of the SGPC. They reached Dhaka on December 27, along with Bhai Hari Singh, who had spent decades in East Pakistan and escaped just before the carnage. Capt Bhag Singh, in his article titled “Liberation of the Gurdwaras in Bangladesh”, said that “it is interesting to note that Baba Pritam Singh Panchi, Granthi of 5 Sqn of 63 Cavalry and an educational havildar had already started to prowl in search of Ramna Gurdwara. ‘Once located, the pace of the restoration matched that of a thunderbolt from the squadron’s tanks. The crowning achievement came when Interim President of Bangladesh Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and other ministers joined a special congregation two days later to restore the maryada in the gurdwara.

Troops from all units made kar sewa to restore other shrines like Gurdwara Sangat Tola and Nanakshahi Sarovar. The Sikh population of Bangladesh, around 23,000, has declined and largely shrunk in Sehajdharis, Kabeer Panthis and Nanak Naam Lewas. Only five gurdwaras are functional. The 63 Cavalry maintained its association with the Gurdwaras. Capt Bhag Singh says, “I salute the Sikh officers and jawans whose pioneering efforts continue to rediscover, recover and restore our historic gurdwaras.

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