Shaheed Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala
Shaheed Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala
Martyrs of June 1984
Bhai Santokh Singh was born in the year 1951 to the blessed womb of mother, Mata Dhan Kaur and father Jathedar Sardar Karam Singh in the village of Tanda, near Batala, Gurdaspur. Bhai Santokh Singh was one of nine children and the fourth eldest of his siblings. He had seven sisters and one brother, eldest being Bibi Harbans Kaur, Bibi Simar Kaur, Bibi Nirmal Kaur, Bibi Balbir Kaur, Bibi Jagir Kaur, Bhai Santokh Singh himself, Bibi Aagaya Kaur, Bibi Kulwinder Kaur and youngest Bhai Avtar Singh. Bhai Santokh Singh studied up to eleventh grade and began working in the forest industry. His father earned a living by cultivating and farming land he had acquired on lease and selling the crops.
One day Bhai Santokh Singh went to Amritsar to visit Sri Harmandir Sahib. Whilst doing selfless service in the Langar Hall, he came into contacts with Singhs from the Damdami Taksal. From there he got to know about the headquarters of Damdami Taksal, Gurdwara Gurdarshan Prakash and made his way there to the village of Mehta. At the time, the head leader of Damdami Taksal was Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. It was as if Sant Kartar Singh JI Khalsa Bhindranwale was already waiting to receive Bhai Santokh Singh.
During those days, when Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale would conduct Katha and share teachings of Sikhi to the sangat, a blessed individual by the name of Bhagat Jaswant Singh had the duty to record these events onto cassette. Prior to this he had also made recordings of all sermons and teachings by Sant Gurbachan Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. Bhagat Jaswant Singh had been requesting Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale for many days, that may he be granted permission to return home. Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa replied, “Do not worry, give it a few more days and another Gursikh is due here any time and will take on the responsibility, then you can go.”
Upon arriving, Bhai Santokh Singh met Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa with so much love between them, as if they were long lost souls meeting again from a previous life. Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa did not take a moment to tell Bhai Santokh Singh that he was now to take over the responsibility of recording all Kathas and sermons, hence he was given the nickname Tepawala. Bhai Santokh Singh immediately began fulfilling this duty alongside Bhagat Jaswant Singh and acquired all the learning and knowledge on how recordings were done.
Bhai Santokh Singh began living at the premises of the Damdami Taksal institution. There had been no prior plan to stay but he was bestowed this order to serve so he stayed. His family had no idea where he was and for many months went from one relative’s house to the next in search of him. There was no direct means of making phone calls in them days. It was only when the Jatha of Damdami Taksal came to their home village of Tanda to conduct a congregational programme, this is where Bhai Santokh Singh spotted by local villagers as he serving Langar and washing the dishes. The villagers went back to the family and joked by saying, “You had said that Santokh Singh had not been seen for months, yet he is here in the village right now with Jatha of Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale doing selfless service and is wearing a long-robed garment. He has become a Baba (Saint).
The family immediately went to meet Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa and asked Bhai Santokh Singh to be sent back home. Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa said, “Have a very careful look, is he really a member of your family? If so then you can keep him, we did not have him with us by force.” To the family’s surprise, Bhai Santokh Singh said, “I do not wish to go home, I will continue to serve Sant Ji and I have surrendered my body and soul for the Khalsa Panth (Sikh brotherhood).” Bhai Santokh Singh bid final farewell to his family there and returned with Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa back to Mehta and continued serving selflessly and fully dedicating himself to all duties and tasks. He recorded many sermons and teachings by Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa, as well as the daily prayers known as Nitnem.
Then on 16th August 1977, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale passed away in a car accident and returned to his heavenly home. The next appointed leader of Damdami Taksal was Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. At the ceremony of Dastarbandi, Bhai Santokh Singh was amongst those bestowing the Dastar to Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. He can be seen in the pictures taken on that day, alongside Sant Baba Thakur Singh Ji Bhindranwale. At this time, Bhai Santokh Singh was highly respected and was a prominent figure within the Jatha of Damdami Taksal. Bhai Santokh Singh then served day and night with Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. Both Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale and Sant Baba Thakur Singh Ji Bhindranwale admired and wholeheartedly loved Bhai Santokh Singh. All the Singhs of the Jatha highly respected and showed a lot of love to Bhai Santokh Singh. Bhai Santokh Singh had a very sweet nature and would treat everyone as his own.
As Bhai Santokh Singh lived at the institution, he had acquired full learning and reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj, as well as the knowledge to do Katha and preaching. Bhai Santokh Singh was dedicated to his faith, with steadfast routine adhering to reciting his daily prayers and wearing the traditional Khalsa attire (Bana). He remained absorbed in selfless service and in the remembrance of the Almighty. Wherever Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale would go, Bhai Santokh Singh would follow and record everything. In those days cassette players were the common media player, then came VCR tapes and Bhai Santokh Singh began video graphing too.
In 1979, Bhai Santokh Singh was married to Bibi Sukhwinder Kaur (daughter of Sardar Harbans Singh, village Abadgarh, near Pathankot) and had 1 daughter and 2 sons. Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale took care of all the arrangements of the Anand Karaj at Bhai Santokh Singh’s home village and even sent all prominent Singhs of Damdami Taksal Jatha including Baba Thara Singh to help at Bhai Santokh Singh’s home. Bhai Santokh Singh travelled with Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale to places such as Delhi, Bombay, Haryana and Rajasthan. Bhai Santokh Singh’s wife told how he even stayed with Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale in Bombay for six months.
Following the killing of Lala Jagat Narain, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale gave his voluntary arrest to Punjab police on 20th September 1981 at Mehta. Bhai Santokh Singh majorly detested the Indian government for its anti-Sikh policies. The day Sant Giani Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale was arrested the police fired bullets and killed up to 18 Singhs. Bhai Santokh Singh and Bhai Rasal Singh Arifke charged at the police with rods and served them with a thrashing making them all run away. Immediately after Bhai Santokh Singh took all the injured Singhs to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Punjab police had arrested Bhai Ajaib Singh, Bhai Narinder Singh and Bhai Jagir Singh for no reason as they were dropping of Baba Utam Singh to Sri Khadur Sahib. The same day, Bhai Amrik Singh Khalsa and Baba Thara Singh went to meet with the then Punjab Governor Marri Chenna Reddy, on behalf the All India Sikh Students Federation to voice the injustices perpetrated on to the Sikhs. As soon as Bhai Amrit Singh Khalsa and Baba Thara Singh had left the Circuit House, both were arrested by the Punjab police. Bhai Santokh Singh along with other Singhs went to the police station to also give their arrests in release of Bhai Amrik Singh Khalsa and Baba Thara Singh. The Singhs continued to shout slogans and knock the door of the Deputy Commissioner. The same day, on 19th July 1982, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale did Ardas from Sri Akaal Takht Sahib and announced the start of the Dharam Yudh Morcha, to release the Indian noose of slavery from around the neck of the Sikhs.
During the Dharam Yudh Morcha Bhai Santokh Singh recorded every piece of footage of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa addressing the Khalsa Panth and the congregation on a daily basis. Bhai Santokh Singh also surrendered to self-arrest along with his family up to 3 to 4 times during this period. Bhai Santokh Singh lived at the Guru Nanak Nivas accommodation during the time alongside Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. It was during these days that traitor Harchand Longowal played dirty politics and caused feuds between Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale and the Jhujaru Singhs of Babbar Khalsa. This caused Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale to leave the Guru Nanak Nivas and move into the nearest rest place next to the Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. Bhai Santokh Singh also moved into a room there with his wife and children.
The Dharam Yudh Morcha was peaceful and moved ahead in full force. The Government was beside themselves and quickly realised this was spearheading into a much stronger campaign than expected. The Government became rampage in not knowing how to deal with this. Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale would daily delivery sermons and messages to the Sikh Nation on the injustices occurring. Both the Indian Central and Punjab governments were heavily ridiculed and criticised. In the same breath, the Akali Dal traitors were in full fledge colluding with the central government, having regular meetings. Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale knew of the Akali Dal’s ploy and thus was preparing for what was to come. Knowing an army attack was imminent, General Shabeg Singh was given the duty to orchestrate the defence systems of Sri Harimandir Sahib complex.
The day came when the Battle of Amritsar sieged over onto the Sri Harmandir Sahib complex on 4th June 1984. Under the command and saintly eye of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale, all the Jhujaru Singhs and Singhnia fought fiercely and laid their lives to protect their Guru and his house. Bhai Amrik Singh Khalsa, Baba Thara Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala, Bhai Dara Singh Driver, Bhai Rashpal Singh PA, Bhai Gurmukh Singh Garvai, Bhai Dalbir Singh Abhyassi, Bhai Swaran Singh Rode, Bhai Major Singh Nagoke, plus up to 250 Singhs and Singhnia defended the sanctity of Sri Harimandir Sahib. Of the 100,000 army men deployed by the Indian state, none could get past the Singhs nor reach the Sri Akaal Takht Sahib.
After two full days of battle, by late night of 5th June, the army had failed to get their men into the complex and show any significant impact. They then pursued with the cowardly move of bringing in tanks and Cannons completely destroying the Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. On 6th June at around 9.30am, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale came out of the Sri Akaal Takht Sahib and fought back against the Indian army under the Nishan Sahib’s of Miri Piri. It was here, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale, Bhai Amrik Singh and Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala attained martyrdom (Shaheedi), returning back to their heavenly home.
Bhai Santokh Singh’s wife mentioned how he was very eager to lay down his life and attain martyrdom. Bhai Santokh Singh would position himself right in the firing line of the Indian army from the second building continuously firing bullets at them, in a bid that he too would receive a bullet and sacrifice his life defending the heaven on earth, Sri Harimandir Sahib. Each time Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale would call him back to base and say to him, “Santokh Singh, we will attain Shaheedi together don’t you worry.”
In the early hours of 6th June, Bhai Santokh Singh gave a satchel of Gur (Sugar) to his wife and said, “Take the children and leave from here. But if you too, attain martyrdom here then we are blessed to have sacrificed our lives for the Guru. Should you survive then keep my belongings safe and please rejoice on my martyrdom, do not cry. I want to hear loud slogans in praise of the Almighty and be thankful to Sri Guru Ram Das Ji Maharaj for bestowing this blessing on us. There is nothing larger than the blessing of martyrdom, only the chosen ones receive this.”
On the evening of 6th June, Bhai Santokh Singh’s wife Bibi Sukhwinder Kaur took her children, along with Bibi Pritam Kaur (Wife of Bhai Dara Singh Driver), wife of Baba Thara Singh and few other Singhnia and made their way-out past Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed’s memorial place, to the house of Singh Sahib Giani Puran Singh Ji. They told how the Parikrama was laid of bodies of the Jhujaru Singhs and countless army men. Firing could still be heard as they made their way out. The army with their boots had now made their way into the complex.
Bhai Santokh Singh’s wife told that by 9-10pm on 6th June all the Jhujaru Singhs and Singhnia had attained martyrdom and become Shaheeds. None of the Singhs were ever fearful, they continued to recite Gurbani, roar slogans in praise of the Almighty, tell stories to each other on the vision of Khalistan, a free homeland. Their faces were radiant, like nothing ever seen before. They were wholeheartedly there alongside Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale to protect Sri Harmandir Sahib at all costs. Not one army-man was successful in setting foot past the entrance and reach Sri Akaal Takht Sahib even after 3 days of battle.
The family was later taken care of by Baba Thakur Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale and were given much love and respect for the sacrifice by Shaheed Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala. However, after Baba Thakur Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale left the earth for heavenly abode, there was no one to support the family and have since been struggling. By Maharaj’s Kirpa, the family is now being supported financially by the charity group Guru Nanak Aid. We cannot ever forget the fight fought by these amazing Singhs, Singhnia and their families who sacrificed all worldly comforts to dedicate their life to the Guru. The Khalsa Panth needs to collectively look after such families. We are forever indebted to these great Martyrs of the Sikh Nation.
Information given by the family of Shaheed Bhai Santokh Singh Tepawala