“Tiny-being that wrought big events!” very much applies to the life story of Bibi Joginder Kaur Jee. She was the wife of my companion friend, Sri Surjan Singh Jee, resident of village Gujerwal. She was born at village ‘Muthde’ Doaba in prominent ‘Namdhari’ family. Bhai Surjan Singh was also from a well-known ‘Namdhari’ family. In Divine-dispensation, Bhai Surjan Singh Jee resolved to get baptised in Gurmat Samagam of Akhand Kirtani Jatha. The Sikh tenets require both husband and wife to be baptised, as a couple. Thus it became mandatory for Bibi Joginder Kaur to join her husband in Baptising ceremony. However, her parental family was deadly against this and even advised her to break off the marriage. Bibi Jee replied very boldly,”It was your selection to find my husband for life long. With what face do you ask me to divorce your own choice? My loyalty to him is my sacred duty now. In fact I am even more eager than my husband to seek Baptism in Gurmat Samagam. In pursuing this Divine- prompted desire of Faith and high spirituality we are not committing any sin”. She was threatened of social boycott, but she never cared.
Yet another strong opposition came from Bibi’s father-in-law. He promised to make her the only nominee to inherit all his assets, if she would decline Baptism. However she refused to be trapped by this snare of greed and instead accepted to lead a life of beggary as faithful wife. In short, trampling over all opposition, the couple got baptised. She had instant experience of intense spirituality and was completely lost in Naam-Simran. Saturated with Naam-Nectarian, she could cope with the unbearable spiritual Bliss. Her head was now adorned with double turbans, ‘Dumala’. She proved to be thorough in word and action in the wont of Braves of Faith all her life.
It was most gratifying to behold her pious sight of short stature, sharp beautiful natural features. She acquired new vigor of youthfulness and glowing face after Baptism. It was difficult to face her majestic, spiritual look that was characteristic of olden Sikh ladies. She appeared delicate in body and yet enshrined limitless bravery of spirit. To illustrate this following should suffice:
The entire Jatha, including ladies, used to visit Chamkaur Sahib during annual commemoration of Martyrdom Day of the two elder sons of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Jee. We used to travel by foot up to Doraha and then on it was through ferry-boat in canal. The Samagams at Chamkaur Sahib offered many blissful events. However it was most unpleasant that during procession of Hola-Mohalla, the then controlling Nihang Singh priests did not allow Sangat entry into the Gurdwara Katalgarh Sahib historical place of Martyrdom of Elder Sahibzadas, Baba Ajit Singh Jee and Baba Jhujhar Singh Jee. We could only circumambulate at the outer periphery. Though Jatha was ever irresistible, yet we were restrained by humble request made by convener of these Samagams, Babu Vir Singh Jee, and Bhai Hira Singh Jee ‘Ragi’. This was repeated every year. However it was a different story during pilgrimage in 1914. When we disembarked from the ferry-boats at the Canal-bridge, we were received by a large gathering of local Sangat, including Babu Vir Singh Jee and Bhai Hira Singh Jee. Some fiery Singhs informed us that priests have gathered hundreds of Nihang Singh and they were spoiling for trouble. They had already pushed out of the Gurdwara a party of pilgrim-ladies most disgracefully. Like the proverbial saying, “When pierced by an arrow, then alone full fury is evoked,” the entire Jatha got infuriated and charged with religious fervor. It was announced there and then that no earthly power could hold back Jatha from paying homage inside the Gurdwara by making circumambulation of inner periphery: ‘Parkarma’. Thus started Kirtan in do or die mood and Jatha was proceeding towards Gurdwara. Hearing the irrevocable decision, even the peacemakers felt helpless. None dared to intervene, even Bhai Hira Singh Jee commented that none could stop them now. Following the Jatha was multitude of people in thousands. The lion-hearted, Bibi Joginder Kaur, holding an arrow in hand was leading the Jatha. A mere fleeting sight of her splendorous Glory was unbearable for me. Like a river in spate the entire assembly singing Kirtan neared the Gurdwara. Many more people joined there. Gurdwara was being guarded by Nihang Singhs. They were armed with arrows and bared swords. The sinners were haunted by their sinful thoughts. Their claim to hold back Sangat from paying homage inside Gurdwara was hollow. Who could hold back surge of emotional religious love of the devout with firm determination? It was decided to carry on the march to enter Gurdwara while singing Kirtan. One mindless burly Nihang Singh of good build shot an arrow aimed at my neck, but it missed with Provision-Divine. Bhai Surjan Singh Jee, accompanying me stopped the arrow with his hand. His injured hand bled profusely. The on lookers thought that a murder had been committed. The Nihangs were also frightened, thinking consequences of a murder. It was mere flow of blood that did not amount to murder, yet not in vain!
Seeing this stage of violent confrontation, Bibi Joginder Kaur leaped into action like a lioness. Challenging my attacker, she snatched away arrow from the giant-like Nihang Singh and said, “O’ evil-being! Have you no fear of the Piety of Gurdwara Sahib and the holy congregation, Sangat, that you shoot arrow at your own brethren? This single act of boldness was enough to arouse reaction from Singhs and they attacked the priests to push them out of Gurdwara Sahib. We continued to advance and singing Kirtan. All the Nihang Singhs fled away. Their abandoned weapons came as booty to the Jatha. We circumambulated around both inner and outer peripheries, singing Gurbani Kirtan. It was now time for evening prayer, So-Dar. Standing in presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib we sang So-Dar. Bibi Joginder Kaur in her mood of bravery and Love–Divine requested for Chaupae Sahib’ Kirtan, Gurbani of Supplication to Lord by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib Jee. This was done with utmost devotion and gusto. All enjoyed the rare Bliss of this Soulful Kirtan.
The priests after their disgraceful retreat started sending telegrams to high Government officials in Ambala and Ropar to inform of ‘Dacoity’ and making plea for relief. We did not take any serious note of their reporting to Government. We were thrilled by this first homage inside the Gurdwara Sahib. The organisers were quite shaken by the events. Observing the ambrosial hours, we started ‘Asa-Di-Var’ Kirtan within the holy precincts of Gurdwara Katalgarh Sahib; The Kirtan was still to be concluded, when police party with rifles and bayonets arrived at about 11A.M. from Ropar. They were headed by a British Captain and included one Muslim inspector and one Arya-Samaji Magistrate. They were put up in the adjoining School building. A message was received that, Bhai Randhir Singh is wanted by ‘Sahib’. I burst out that, “There is no ‘Sahib’ other than Guru Gobind Singh Sahib.” Bibi Joginder Kaur boldly added, “Singhs are not bound to report to any petty ‘Sahib’. Bhog ceremony was performed of ‘Asa-Di-Var’ Kirtan. At about that time the weak-minded leading personalities of Chamkaur Sahib presented themselves at the school. A paper of Mutual Settlement was made out and passed around for signatures. When a resident of Chamkaur Sahib, Sardar from Behlolpur, was signing, a bold advocate commented in loud voice, “There is no significance of signature by the local people. The dispute is between the visiting Sangat and the priests. There cannot be any agreement without their participation and concurrence.” Now that we had free time, we got information about the attempted agreement. With a view that a wrong agreement may not be arrived at, I went to the school in fully saturated spiritual state. I loudly voiced the Khalsa Salutation on entering. The British Captain, other officials and everybody around stood up. I was offered a chair, and then I noticed that all of the Nihang Singh Jatha were disgracefully seated on floor. I could not bear this insult to Nihang Singhs. I said, “It is highly disgraceful that the Beloved Soldiers of Guru’s House are prostrating on the floor. How can I accept a chair?” I addressed Nihang Singhs, “Don’t you realise this as insult to you?” With this all were seated on benches. The Captain requested me humbly, “This is an application for mutual-settlement of the dispute. Kindly append your signatures.” I asked the agreement to be read out to me first. I noticed the following wording, “The local and visiting devotees shall take out Hola Mohalla processions and pay homage at Gurdwaras, but the circumambulation of outer periphery of Gurdwara Katal Garh Sahib alone is permissible. To visit inside the Gurdwara devotees shall be permitted one by one. However if some devotee is suspected to belong to Scheduled caste, ‘Choohra’, that person shall not be allowed.” On hearing this I snatched away papers of agreement and tearing away trampled under my feet. The British officer got flabbergasted and asked, “What is this?” I replied, “Have you come to start a disturbance or arrange for peace?”
He agreed that his purpose was to establish peace. I convinced him that the last sentence would only brew more trouble. If mischievous people keep pointing at random as ‘Choohra’, who would put up with this insult? I told him that he had not understood the real mischief behind this wording. On his asking for elucidation, I advised him, “It appears you are new to this country and are unaware of the prevalent conditions. Your subordinates will ignite public disturbance and earn the blame for you.” In his fury he wanted to say something, but I stopped him. I proceeded thus:
I asked the ‘Samaji’ Magistrate, “What is your religion?” He replied that he was ‘Arya Samaji’. I enquired. “After purification of the Scheduled castes according to your Faith, are they allowed to freely visit your temples or not?” Magistrate said, “Yes, they enjoy equal freedom of entry.” Then I asked the Muslim inspector, “What is your Faith?” He replied that he was Muslim. I further asked, “Those who get initiated in Islam do they still face discrimination as Scheduled castes? Are they allowed entry into Masjids?” He said, “Yes, they are free to go.” Finally I asked the Captain, “What is your religion?” He replied that he was a Christian. I asked him, “Is there any discrimination on the basis of caste for getting baptised as Christians?” He replied, “No”. I then stated, “Likewise our ceremony of Baptism too has the efficacy to purify many folds.” Thus the British officer gained awareness of reality.
The ‘Samaji’ officer now instigated the Captain that Gurdwara was property of the priests and none could be allowed to trespass. This initiated further discussion. I protested, that the Holla Mohalla would always be taken out and those guilty of creating trouble should be brought to book under the law.
When general Sangat became aware of the details of our discussion the organisers shivered sensing more trouble in future, but the vast majority was aroused with religious fervour. On the suggestion of Master Chanda Singh, it was decided to form a Committee of eleven people and their decision would be binding for further action. The Committee went into session at ‘Garhi Sahib’ to come out with ‘Gurmata’, decision made according to Gurmat and in presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee. Meanwhile Babu Vir Singh’s brother came to announce, “Why are you so down-cast in lowly spirits? I am coming from the school. The officer-incharge has sent for the head-priest of Gurdwara.” I asked the advocate to bring the Head-priest first to me. I urged him to state facts truthfully. The Captain asked him about ownership of the Gurdwara. He replied that it belonged to Panth, entire Sikh Nation. He was then questioned about his status. To this he replied, that he was a servant of the Panth. “Who are these other priests?” Captain asked further. The reply came, “These are my employees.” The decision was made in favour of Sangat. The British Officer also joined in Hola Mohalla celebrations. This was a truly magnificent procession.
This was a fore-runner victory of Panthic-Control of Gurdwaras and first event of Gurdwara Sudhar Lehar (Movement for improved – Management of Gurdwaras). Sri Bibi Joginder Kaur was a living example of old-timer Sikh ladies of Guru’s House, who had fought shoulder to shoulder with their Singh brethren in soaring spirits. She had impressive and commanding personality.
In 1915 leading personalities of Jatha had been arrested in connection with ‘Lahore Conspiracy case’. Warrants were also issued to arrest Bhai Surjan Singh Jee, husband of Bibi Joginder Kaur. A police party arrived in village Gujjarwal to search Bhai Surjan Singh’s house. However he was not present then. Bibi Joginder Kaur put a lock on her outer gate and stood on guard like a lioness. She warned the police party that they could not search in absence of her husband. She roared further, “Be warned and stay away! Any attempt to approach shall lead to serious consequences.” Blue turban adorning her head and a sword in hand, She presented an awe-inspiring personality. This discouraged the police from any action. The law also prevented search in absence of a male family member, but law was never cared for then or even now. It was only the bold challenge of Bibi Joginder Kaur that restrained the police. Many other houses had been searched in absence of male members. Only Bibi Joginder Kaur proved exception and worthy example of outstanding Sikh-lady. She faced police courageously and checked their nefarious activity.
She was embodiment of brimming Spiritual Divine-Love, pining with utmost yearning. She was blest with soaring spirit of high spirituality. When she found that many of the Jatha Singhs were arrested, she too felt the urge to volunteer for being arrested and join them. What held her back was the absence of her absconding husband. She was filled with fury of indignation hearing of the acts of cruelty of British Government in dealing with arrested Singhs. Most of us had been arrested, but Bhai Surjan Singh was still absconding. One day he came home. Immediately brave-hearted Bibi proposed to him, “Let us join our brethren in jail. What have we to gain remaining outside?” Vir Surjan Singh Jee was able to refrain her from this after great struggle. However he presented himself at the jail. This was the result of promptings of his wife. Our case was under trial in Lahore Jail by a special Court. Three judges constituted the court, two being staunch Britishers heavily biased against us and one Indian, adulating his foreign masters. With court in session there was heavy guarding outside the jail. That is the time when Bhai Surjan Singh presented himself before the Jail-Superintendent for being taken inside. He was highly surprised with this and asked, “Who are you and what brought you here?” Bhai Surjan Singh replied, “My companions are under trial and my warrants have also been issued. So please, take me inside. I was not aware of all this, but as soon I came to know I have come here.” Superintendent enquired, “Did your family members not stop you from coming to jail?” Bhai Surjan Singh replied, “There is none other than my wife.” Superintendent, “Did your wife not try to hold you back?” Bhai Surjan Singh replied that “On the contrary, only her strong pleas have brought me here.” This astounded all the jail officials. Bhai Surjan Singh was presented in jail along with us. The Chief Judge, Mr. Scott, wanted that the accused be handcuffed before bringing him to the Court. However Jail-Superintendent, E.L.Ward, commented, “Don’t you realise, that the accused has presented himself voluntarily? You are just exhibiting your cowardice by getting him hand-cuffed.” Well, Divine-Will came to pass. All the Jatha Singhs were sentenced to life- imprisonment and some of us were sent to Central Jail, Multan.
Bhai Surjan Singh was imprisoned with me in Multan Jail, locked up in different cells. Sri Bibi Joginder Kaur Jee came to the Jail for interview. She had requested for meeting me first and then her husband, Bhai Surjan Singh Jee.
Her first request was not acceded, but she was allowed to meet Bhai Surjan Singh Jee. During the meeting Dr Ram Lal Jee was also present as one of the jail officials. The words conveyed by Bibi Joginder Kaur Jee were most astonishing to all the jail officials. Dr. Ram Lal Jee narrated all this to me as follows:
“I read books like Bije Singh, Sundri of Bhai Sahib Vir Singh Jee repeatedly. I thought of these as mere flights of imagination and failed to believe that such bold Sikh-ladies could have existed in flesh and blood. However in beholding and listening to a Bibi, who came for and interview today, I am not just astonished beyond measure but also extremely delighted. The reason for my delight is that all my earlier doubts have been banished. What I had thought to be mere fiction about bravery of Sikh-ladies, I saw in this lady of flesh and blood. I am now fully convinced that there are souls blessed with ‘True Khalsa Spirit’ in full measure. This lady has surpassed all that I read in books like Bije Singh, etc. about bravery of Sikh-ladies. Whatever I witnessed with my own eyes and heard with my own ears leaves no room for any further confirmation.”
He described all that was said during that meeting, however only a sample of those words is presented to avoid lengthy presentation. “Facing Bhai Surjan Singh Jee, Bibi told him that he was blessed to agitate against British Rule. She too wished with all her heart to be able to participate. She reminded him that he was Sikh of the Guru Sahib, who had sacrificed all his four sons and the entire family in service of the Panth and country. That he must remain unshaken in pursuit of his Gurmat ideals and never bring the Spirit of Bravery of Gursikhs to disgrace. She assured him that she was safe in Hands of the Lord and there was nothing to worry about her. There could never be any obstacle to the spiritual meeting between the two. The gifted Naam- Fearless, bestowed by Satguru on Baptism, was enshrined in the hearts of both and must become their life-sustaining Force. Thus fear of any kind had to be shunned. In any case body was perishable and would come to an end. If one could dedicate life to religious duty what could be better end than that? Here in this world and in the hereafter Naam- imbued souls were bound together in Bliss. That the Sacrificing Services must bear fruit and bring freedom to the Country one day. She stressed to make Divine-Naam as the only support of life. That adversity was the testing time of firmness in Faith. That following in the footsteps of Bhai Randhir Singh Jee would ensure radiance of one’s face in glory both here and in the hereafter. At this Bhai Surjan Singh disclosed inadvertently that Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh Jee had not taken any food or drink for last twenty-one days. This disclosure ended the meeting abruptly. The interviewees were sternly told to part away immediately. Bhai Surjan Singh wanted to say something in protest. However Bibi Jee checked him from pleading with the cruel. She assured him that they would talk to each other every day at will and who could ever stop? The spiritual meeting was irrevocable. The jail officials threatened Bibi Jee that if she failed to leave immediately, she would be pushed out. Hearing the insulting words, Bibi Jee’s face reddened with Divine-Fervour and challenged the threatening officials to approach her. She warned that she would tear anyone making such attempt to pieces. None could bear the look of her face in fury and splendorous with Divine-Glory. Jailor then requested her humbly with folded hands to leave. Dr Ram Lal described that all the jail officials were shivering from head to foot in fear. Such was the unbearable sight of her face in fury, like a lioness. This became talk of the day throughout the jail and mere thought was causing shivering in the cowards.” Dr. Ram Lal resolved that he too would seek Baptism of Gurmat with all his family and sought my blessings for bestowing of Sikh Faith by the Guru. I hope this would suffice as specimen of what thoughts were transpired.
After that day, I envisioned the glorified face of Bibi Joginder Kaur every day during my jail period. Finally I envisioned the sight of her moment of death in Hazaribag jail. I noted the date and it was confirmed after a lapse of many weeks that Sri Bibi Joginder Kaur had indeed departed from this world on that very day. Too many are the miraculous events of her life to write about. Dedicated to selfless service, ever-ready for any sacrifice, she was always soaring in Spirit. Rare are such persons. Her life would verily serve as Lighthouse for coming generations of Sikh-ladies.
She had her only son, who contacted the epidemic of influenza in October 1918. Bhai Surjan Singh was then in Multan Jail, when both mother and son died with a gap of one day. She was an embodiment of patience and gratitude to divine in her last moments.