Shaheed Bhai Surjan Singh Sarbala

In June 1984, a unique marriage took place, in which Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwala was the groom and the groom’s Sarbala was Bhai Surjan Singh, who was elder than the groom. Amongst the Bharat were warriors such as Bhai Amrik Singh, General Shabeg Singh, Baba Thara Singh, Bhai Rashpal Singh PA, Bhai Dalbir Singh Abhyassi, Bhai Dara Singh Driver, Bhai Gurmukh Singh Garvai and 250 plus more Jhujaru Singhs, who married death in high spirits. These warriors attained martyrdom and had their names written in the Sikh history with gold ink. Today we will try to write the biography and the martyrdom of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwala’s ‘Sarbala’, Bhai Surjan Singh, so that the Sikh nation can know more about this religious, political and sharp minded Sikh warrior.

The days were cold in February 1932, Bapu Kishan Singh, of Manavan village, near Kasoor, district Lahore (now Tarn Taran) was overjoyed with happiness and was greeting all well wishers with sweets. Bapu Kishan Singh was happy because his son, Sardar Buta Singh along with his wife, Bibi Joginder Kaur had a baby boy. Bapu Kishan Singh took the first alphabet of the Hukamnama from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj and named his grandson, Surjan Singh.

Bhai Sarbala was the eleventh generation of Bhai Lakhu, who did Sewa of ‘Shaheeda De Sartaj’ Dhan Sri Guru Arjun Dev Ji Maharaj, the 5th Guru of the Sikhs. The same Bhai Lakhu attained martyrdom fighting the Mughals in Kartarpur under the command of 6th Guru, Dhan Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji Maharaj. It was inevitable that Bhai Sarbala would follow the same path and all his family life, study life and work life would be in line with Sikh principles and values.

Bhai Sarbala studied up to Metric along with Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. Being class mates, and being from neighbouring villages of both Bhai Sarbala and Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale were very close to each other. After 10th class, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa went to Amritsar’s Khalsa College to study further and Bhai Sarbala started farming with his father. Sometime later Bhai Sarbala started working for Punjab Armed Police (PAP).

Bhai Sarbala’s Anand Karaj was done with Bibi Satwinder Kaur, from which they had 2 sons, (Bhai Daljit Singh and Bhai Jagmohan Singh) and 3 daughters, (Bibi Paramjit Kaur, Bibi Jagbir Kaur and Bibi Harmeet Kaur.

When Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale became the 13th Jathedar of Damdami Taksal, Bhai Sarbala was asked to come to Damdami Taksal also. Bhai Sarbala, left his job and came to Damdami Taksal to join his life long friend, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa. Here Bhai Sarbala started assisting Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa in preaching Sikhi. Bhai Sarbala encouraged thousands of people all over India into taking Amrit and also did Sewa as part of Panj Pyare also. Sikhs who knew Bhai Sarbala, called him Baba Ji or Giani Ji due to respect and love they had for him.

In 1975, when Indira Gandhi had declared emergency all over India, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa organised 37 Nagar Kirtans in remembrance of 300 years of Dhan Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s martyrdom. Bhai Sarbala did Sewa day and night to assist Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa with these Nagar Kirtans, millions of people attended and were preached Sikhi.

On 3rd August 1977, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa was travelling to Shimla from Jalandhar district to preach Sikhi. Near Phillaur, Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa was involved in a serious car accident in which he was seriously injured. When Bhai Sarbala receives this news, he immediately goes to Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa in Ludhiana’s hospital. Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa, being Bhai Sarbala’s good friends said two things. One was, that Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa would not allow to be operated on as he would not cut a single hair on his body and the second was to pass a message on to Baba Thakur Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale to make Bhai Jarnail Singh of Rode village the next Jathedar of Damdami Taksal. After Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa passed away, the discussion of next Damdami Taksal Jathedar took place and many Gursikhs were in favour of Bhai Amrik Singh to be given the responsibility, one because he was educated and second, he was the son of Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa. But at that time, Bhai Sarbala and Baba Thakur Singh Ji Khalsa made Bhai Jarnail Singh the Jathedar of Damdami Taksal, just as the orders of Sant Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa.

Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale, the 14th Jathedar of Damdami Taksal had huge amount of respect and love for Bhai Sarbala. During this time, Bhai Sarbala laid the foundation of Gurdwara Brahmgiani Baba Lakhia Ji (village Manavan) and did the Kar Sewa with his own hands under the guidance of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale. After this, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa made Bhai Sarbala the Jathedar of Damdami Taksal Headquarters in Chownk Mehta. Bhai Sarbala was also given the duty to fight the case of 13 Singhs that had attained martyrdom on 13th April 1978 and many other cases in-regards to Jhujaru Singhs. In 1979, when Sant Ji gathered Panthic members who would stand to take over Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Bhai Sarbala was given the ticket from the Valtoha area. Four of the Panthic members won elections with heavy number of votes under the guidance of Sant Ji. Amongst these 4 members was Bhai Sarbala who won from the Valtoha area.

On 12th September 1981, when the Punjab police released warrants related to the Lala Jagat Naraian killing case for the arrest of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale, many Singhs of Damdami Taksal wanted to be arrested with Sant Ji also. But on 20th September 1981, as Sant Ji prepared to give his arrest, he informed the Sikh Sangat from the stage, “In our people, there is a common practice when the groom is married, that a Sarbala accompanies them in everything on the day of the marriage. If the Punjab police have a Granthi Singh, they can do my Laavan with death and my Sarbala will be Bhai Surjan Singh.” One point has to be noted here, Sant Ji took Bhai Sarbala with him because he knew that Bhai Sarbala was man of religious values and also had a good understanding of politics. In jail the Indian government might want to speak to Sant Ji and having a person who knows about the Sikh demands of the time would be advantage, this person was no other than Bhai Sarbala himself.

According the Indian constitution, Bhai Sarbala could not be arrested along with Sant Ji, as the arrest warrant was only in Sant Ji’s name. Sant Ji had told the Indian government that he will not give his arrest without Bhai Sarbala. During this time, the Indian government added the name of Bhai Sarbala to the warrant and on 20th September 1981, both Sant Ji and Bhai Sarbala were arrested and in the process the Punjab police fired upon the Sikh congregation and made 18 Singhs martyrs.

On 19th July 1982 when the Dharam Yudh Morcha started, Bhai Sarbala was given and completed very important responsibilities. Kanwar Sandhu, a journalist said in one of his documentaries that Bhai Sarbala was part of Sant Ji’s kitchen cabinet. Also, Sant Ji would speak to Bhai Sarbala about the most important issues and Bhai Sarbala also had the responsibility of Sant Ji’s security. Bhai Sarbala would hand pick Sant Ji’s security and give them their duties. At the time this information was kept as a secret. In Kanwar Sandhu’s documentary on June 1984 attack, we find out that the planning of positions and bunkers of the Jhujaru Singhs defending Sri Darbar Sahib were done by 3 Singhs, General Shabeg Singh, Giani Mohar Singh and Bhai Surjan Singh Sarbala. The technic of these bunkers and positions were very rare, which had the Indian army struggling to progress. The responsibility of ammunition was also given to Bhai Sarbala during the attack.

Some things about Bhai Sarbala that happened during the battle of Amritsar June 1984, were given to us by the Singhs who were with him inside the complex. Bhai Mukhtiar Singh Mukhi told us that on the afternoon of 5th June 1983 at roughly 12pm, Bhai Sarbala along with another 4 Singhs (Bhai Amrik Singh, Bhai Gurmukh Singh Garvai, Bhai Dara Singh Driver and Bhai Tarlochan Singh) went to Sant as five Singhs to give an order, but Sant Ji knew what the order was going to be and said, “Brothers, I am putting my hands together in front of you and have one request, I do not want to be told to leave the complex of Sri Darbar Sahib. I am the 14th Jathedar of the Damdami Taksal, whose first Jathedar, Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed left Sri Damdama Sahib to fight against the disrespect of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj in Sri Darbar Sahib and attained martyrdom. I can’t leave Sri Darbar Sahib and give in to the hands of the enemy. But I will follow the orders of the five Singhs.” After hearing this, Bhai Sarbala and the Singhs did not order Sant Ji to leave the complex.

Bibi Pritam Kaur, wife of Shaheed Bhai Rashpal Singh PA tells us that Bhai Sarbala told her husband and another 7 Singhs that if they all survive another night than the victory of Akaalpurakh is guaranteed. One more thing, in the midnight of 5th June, Bhai Amrik Singh and Baba Thara Singh along with other Singhs come to Sant Ji at Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. These Singhs tell Sant Ji that the ammunition at Langar Hall bunkers is nearing end, then Sant Ji questions Bhai Sarbala what is happening, Bhai Sarbala replies, “Sant Ji, the ammunition is almost finished.” Sant Ji then orders Bhai Sarbala to distribute the remaining ammunition after which he gives Bhai Amrik Singh 2 rifles and a bucket full of ammunition.

On the morning of 6th June, a fierce battle took place between the children of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj and the Indian army. After which the Indian army bought tanks and cannons onto the complex and this caused heavy damage to the positions held by the Singhs. Many Singhs came out of their bunkers and shouted ‘Raj Karega Khalsa, Panth Ki Jeet’ and attained martyrdom. By the time when Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale attained martyrdom under the Nishan Sahibs of Miri Piri, the Indian army were all over the Sri Darbar Sahib Parikarma.

In one interview Baba Manmohan Singh Baranwale said, “I was inside Sri Darbar Sahib and on 6th June Bhai Sarbala was arrested from the Parikarma by the Indian army in a seriously wounded condition. Bhai Sarbala’s hands were tied to his back and he was laid down on the steaming hot floor due to the summer heat. Bhai Sarbala was kept in the army camp and the following day on 7th June, he was once again laid flat on the hot marble floor and due to the heat, his skin was turning black due to the direct heat from the sun. Throughout this ordeal, Bhai Sarbala was not given food or water. When Bhai Sarbala asked for water, the Indian soldiers spat in the water and gave it to Bhai Sarbala who pushed it away from himself. The Indian soldiers did not like this and they shot a burst of bullets in Bhai Sarbala’s mouth and made him a martyr.” And like this Bhai Surjan Singh Sarbala attained martyrdom and wrote his name on the golden pages of Sikh history.

Tavareekh Shaheed-e-Khalistan – Bhai Ranjit Singh Damdami Taksal