Shaheed Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke

Based On "Jujharoo Yodhe" By Maninder Singh Baja
Translated By Zorawar Singh

In the Jagroun District of Punjab is a very blessed village called Kaunke. The Master of Miri Piri, Sahib Siri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji blessed this village stating the diamonds would be born from this village. Guru Ji stated this when he rested at the village on his journey to the Sind region. When he stayed at Kaunke village, one of its resident Gursikhs, Bhai Hira ji did keertan seva. Guru ji was very moved by the keertan and at this point stated in a “Bachan” that many more diamonds would be born here.

So it happened, as well as Bhai Hira Ji, Sardar Sham Singh Attari, the Great Mata Kishen Kaur Kaunke, Bhai Gurdev Singh Kaunke, and many countless young Gursikhs who have given all to the Sikh struggle, all were born in the village Kaunke.

The list of names that stood by the mission and ideologue of Baba Jarnail Singh Bindranwale from this village is long, but one name stands out. That name is Jathedar Gurdev Singh ji.

Bhai Gurdev Singh was born in 1949 in house of Bhai Gurdial Singh and Mata Chand Kaur ji. Bhai Sahib's grandfather was Jathedar Totha Singh, who was a companion of Baba Nand Singh ji of Nanaksar. Hence Gursikhi was a part of the family tradition.

At a young age, Bhai Sahib was blessed with Amrit at the Siri Akal Thakht sahib. Bhai Sahib's worldly education was only up to level 6. However he continued to study in his religious study at the Damdami Taksal. He was tutored by Baba Vir Singh Madoke and Giani Inder Singh Badni wale, both of whom were companions of Baba Gurbachan Singh Khalsa. From here Bhai Sahib began to do seva of katha of Sahib Siri Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth.

Due to the fact that Bhai Sahib inherited considerable land, his family needs were always satisfied, and therefore Bhai sahib always did katha in a Niskam nature.

In 1970, Bhai Sahib's Anand Karaj to Bibi Gurmel Kaur happened. Before the Anand Karaj, Bibi ji took Amrit and adorned a Keski.

Bhai Sahib was a very strict Gursikh and followed the practice of Gurmat Bibek. This meant that would only eat food prepared by Amritdhari hands. Bhai Sahib was also strict in his Amrit vela, rising everyday at 2am. From 2am to 8am, Bhai Sahib would do his nitnem, and would never speak to anyone during this period. Bhai Sahib influenced by Baba Jarnail Singh Bindranwale. Throughout the Dharam Yudh Movement, Bhai Sahib with his whole family would accept imprisonment.

Operation Bluestar in 1984, had a deep impact on Bhai sahib. From this period, Bhai Sahib in his katha openly started condemning Brahmin Authorities, and their devious practices. Due to the sincere nature of Bhai Sahibs character, the “parchaar” that Bhai Sahib did had a lot of influence on the sangat. Bhai Sahib was against all types of Gurudooms, sant-dooms, and as a result of his parchaar in the Jagroun area, many deras, businesses of Brahmin-vaad, blind worship and ritualism were removed from every village and town.

Due to Bhai sahib parchaar, the drug-ridden area of Jagroun, witnessed many Amrit Sanchaars, and kesri dastaars and black gatras could be seen everywhere. Once again the Malwa region strangled by drugs, witnessed a Khalsa revolution. At weddings, where previously dirty songs were heard, now Gurbani keertan was heard. In buses, the Bollywood songs were replaced Dhadi Vaars and religious songs. Much of this social change was credited to Bhai Gurdev Singh ji.

As a result of this, in January 1986, Bhai sahib was chosen to the highest Seva in the Khalsa Panth, the Seva of Jathedar of Siri Akal Thakht Sahib ji.

The times were difficult, but Bhai Sahib did this Seva as a fearless general. It was only the first two days of Operation Black Thunder. Jathedar ji's first action was to remove all the Government agents dressed as Sikh youth jujarhoos from Sri Darbar Sahib. Next, he ensured that the corrupt karkoos who were having langars in their rooms in the Darbar Sahib complex were stopped from doing so, and everyone was made to have langar only in the Guru Ram Dass langar hall. Throughout his period as Jathedar, Bhai Sahib ensured he had only from Guru Ram Dass langar hall to ensure the Maryada of Sangat and Pangat was upheld.

At this time, the Kar Seva (building) of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib was happening. Jathedar ji took control of the Golak to ensure it would not being siphoned off by unscrupulous characters. Bhai Sahib was completely sympathetic to the Khalistan cause, and felt that the Khalsa needed to fight for its independence. In his lectures, Jathedar ji would say, those who have internal differences, kill innocent Hindus, give threats like gangsters, were traitors to the Sikh struggle and cause. He would often speak about the need to Sikhs to develop a revolutionary spirit.

In his Katha, Jathedar ji would often speak against the ills of Punjabi society, and encouraged social change. In his period, he helped thousands of poor girls who were abandoned by their husbands because of the greed of dowry. Bhai Sahib would himself become involved in individual cases and ensure the girls were accepted back into their homes. As a result of this parchaar, in the Jagraon area, social ills such as dowry, alcoholism, domestic violence greatly reduced.

Such was the impact of Jathedar ji's sincere nature, that the population stopped taking their disputes to courts and police stations. Instead they would come to Kaunke village, to Jathedar ji, where they felt they would get justice. In disputes, the sweet words of Jathedar ji would leave both parties walking away happy.

As a result of this social change, the Police and other Sarkari (government) agents saw their incomes significantly decrease, as the money the received as bribes or extortion from these disputes dried up. They became dangerous enemies of Jathedar ji, and started to plot against him.

In 1989, some karkoo Singhs fired on the Ludhiana headquarters of the RSS ( a right-wing Hindu fascist group). Jathedar ji's enemies saw their opportunity. At that time, Ludhiana was under the control of an extremely vicious and brutal SSP called Sumedh Saini. To get Bhai Sahib to admit responsibility for the attack, he was hung upside down, and tortured for many hours.

Then later on, Jathedar ji was once again arrested and was falsely implicated in the Bidar attack. However, after one year, Jathedar ji was again released. Then on 19th May 1991, Bhai Sahib was again arrested and tortured. He was imprisoned for another 18 months.

Jathedar ji would never allow the sangat to bail him out and always fought his cases with truth and full faith in Guru Maharaj, which ultimately resulted in his release. In fact, the Government was often forced to admit in court that the charges against him were false. This led to great embarrassment for them. For the mud they slung at Jathedar ji, he always came out whiter than white. The population witnessed the difference between the character of the Khalsa Singh and the devious nature of the Brahmin authorities. As a result, the aura of Jathedar Ji's revolutionary Khalsa character was a huge thorn for the Brahmin agencies.

On 20th December 1992, the cowardly Police forces, at 4am, came to arrest the Lionhearted Jathedar Gurdev Singh. However due to the fact that the body of Bhai Sahib's young nephew lay at his house awaiting preparation for cremation, they had to release Bhai Sahib a few hours later.

Five days later, under the command of Inspector Gurdeep Singh, the Police arrested Jathedar ji as he finished Katha at Gurdwara Sahib in the early hours of the morning. Bhai Sahib asked them if he could go home first, and that then he would accompany them. Bhai Sahib walked home, followed by the Police party, and many local villagers. Once he arrived home, Bhai Sahib did 'ishnan' and changed his clothes, and then went and sat in the Jeep. The whole road was filled with villagers. Jathedar ji rose to address them. In a sincere manner, he asked the sangat to accept his final “Waheguru Ji Ke Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ke Fateh!!”. Jathedar ji was aware his time had come, and sweetly accepted the will of Akal. Fearing the wrath of the sangat, the police quickly sped off.

Jathedar ji was tortured by the infamous and brutal Head of Jagraon Police Swaran 'Gotna', thus named for his use of the “Gotna” in interrogation. The latter is a large log placed on the legs and rolled up and down them while two policemen stand with their full weight on each end. He was assisted by Harbhagwan Sodhi and Inspector Gurdeep Singh, who today is a DSP in the Punjab Police. Then Jathedar ji was further interrogated by CIA staff of Jagraon.

In those days, a rumour spread through the villages of Jagraon. When Swaran 'Gotna' swore at Jathedar ji and told him to remove his Kirpan and gatra, Jathedar ji in a state of Bir Rass replied, “Stop, who are you threatening?……….this is worn because of the many Great Sacrifices…….. A dog of the Brahmin like you will never understand its value..”. A scuffle broke between the two and it took 5-7 commandos to restrain Bhai Sahib. His Kakkars were removed and he was mercilessly beaten and tortured.

Jathedar ji because he kept Gurmat Bibek would never eat at the Police station. Everyday his family would bring prepared meals for him, but the brutal Police always refused to let him eat, and sent the family away. As a result, Bhai Sahib health decline, but he never compromised his religious principles of Gurmat Bibek.

Hailing from the nearby village Chaharchak, an old Bibi arrived at the Police Station in relation to a case. She saw Bhai Sahib and he was in a very fragile state. At this point, local villagers and Akali Leaders began putting pressure for Jathedar ji's release. When local villagers with Akali leader Captain Harcharan Singh Rode met with Police officials, they were told that Bhai Sahib would be charged and sent to prison.

However on 1st January 1993, Swaran Gotna satisfied his taste for revenge. As a result, on the 3rd January 1993, the newly appointed SSP Harinder Chahal stated to newspapers that Bhai Sahib was leading them to a cache of arms used by militants, when on the way they were attacked. He said Bhai Sahib had escaped. However everyone knew that these stories by Punjab Police were always made up. In reality, Bhai Sahib became Shaheed on 1st January and was thrown into a river.

Anger grew throughout Punjab as the news of Jathedar ji's Shaheedi spread. Panthic Leaders throughout the world gathered at the bhog. However the Police and Army sealed off Kaunke village. The cameras of the attending members of the press were confiscated and destroyed. Akali leaders in attendance were beaten with lathis (wooden poles). Even the highly suspect Akali leader Parkash Badal demanded an investigation into the murder of Jathedar ji, but decades later, nothing has materialized. Whenever Bhai Sahib family raised the issue, many more innocents became victims of Police excesses. Through infiltration by shady elements, the use fear tactics, threats, and bribery, the case is always held up or shelved.

Even Jathedar's ji's young son, Hari Singh was not spared. A false case of a bombing was placed on him, even though on that day he was at school. Because the registrar confirmed his attendance, it eventually led to his release. Bhai Sahib's elder son, Bhai Ram Singh was also picked up and tortured by Police on many occasions.

The Akali party fought the next election stating it would investigate the period of 1984 onwards and produce a white paper. It won the election by an overwhelming landslide, but Badal soon forgot every promise and used his time to expand his own wealth.

When Bhai Sahib's family approached the Akali party for a full investigation, Police Officer Tiwari held an investigation. However just as what happened to the report on the investigation of the murder of the 13 Singhs in 1978, the murder report of Bhai Sahib mysteriously disappeared somewhere in Badal's administration and was never seen again.

Police Probe In Question - Kaonke 'tortured nearly to death'
Amit Sharman, Hindustan Times, April 18, 2008

Fresh evidence has emerged on the alleged murder of former Akal Takht Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaonke inside a Jagraon police station, with a serving Senior Superintendent of Police's "eyewitness account" in a new book.

The SSP in a recorded interview - reproduced by human rights activist Ram Narayan Kumar in his book "Terror in Punjab: Narratives, Knowledge and Truth", scheduled for release on April 19 -disclosed how the Sikh priest was "tortured nearly to death" inside Sadar police station in his presence. And how sympathetic cops were humiliated by interrogators, including two senior Punjab Police officers with one of them now an SSP and another on deputation with the Union government.

He claimed the then SSP of Jagraon, Swaran Singh, decided to kill Kaonke as he wanted to get his transfer deferred. Swaran Singh has denied the charge, saying interviews in a book carry no weight when the Supreme Court has al ready disposed of all petitions related to the Kaonke case.

Then Jagraon SSP Swaran Singh (now retired) and then Sadar SHO Gurmeet Singh, now SP (Detective), Khanna, said if the SSP's interview was true, it should have been produced before court. Mention of such interviews in a book carried no weight when the Supreme Court had already disposed of all petitions related to the Kaonke controversy, they said. Swaran Singh said the author must reveal the identity of the officer. "Once I come to know who is talking all this, I would certainly comment. But at this stage, it would be just hunting in dark."

The book covers the Punjab conflict with case studies. While reproducing the transcript of the interview with the SSP, the author has not disclosed his name. Kumar, who is also Convener of CCDP (Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab), has been working with Tapan Bose, secretary general of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR), on human rights violations in Punjab and Kashmir over the past few decades.

The SSP says on January 1, 1993 evening, he saw Kaonke being "huddled" on the floor of a cell in Sadar police station. "He had twisted himself into a knot?. Immediately, Swaran Singh (the then SSP, Jagraon) had Kaonke's blanket removed and DSP Sodhi and another cop, Channan Singh, started kicking him. When blood started flowing, Swaran Singh looked at me and said: 'Twade Jathedar da pe shab nikal gaya (Your Jathedar has peed).

He again emphasised the words 'twade Jathedar da', while taunting me for my sympathies for Kaonke," the SSP said in the interview, adding that his blood was flowing and soon life too would have ebbed away.

According to the SSP, there was "no evidence" to show Kaonke's involvement in any crime and he had confronted then SSP Swaran Singh with these facts but Swaran Singh suspected Kaonke to be an "inspiration" to all the terrorists of the area. "Personally, I am convinced that Swaran Singh had come to know that he was about to be transferred out of the district. In my opinion, he decided to kill Kaonke so that his transfer would get deferred. He used to do such things whenever there was a rumour of his transfer or whenever he had to attend a meeting of SSPs with DGP," he told the interviewer.

He said on January 1, 1993 late evening, Kaonke was removed from Sadar police station to some other place. He was "almost dead" and could not have survived the torture. Talking about the humiliation being meted out to policemen, including him, who kept any sympathy with the Sikh priest, the SSP recalled, "Gurmeet Singh, the then SHO, Sadar, had taken pity and had given Kaonke a blanket and heater in his cell. Reacting to his gesture, SSP Swaran Singh abused him. Later, he was tortured again? his lower parts got ruptured and blood started flowing?" The SSP's disclosure questions a Punjab Police inquiry, that was accepted by the Capt Amarinder Singh government, that absolved the cops accused of Kaonke's death in police custody. The inquiry - by IG S.K. Sharma, then SSP of Jagraon Mukwinder Singh Cheena and two SPs - had submitted the findings in 2003. Overruling a previous inquiry conducted during SAD-BJP rule (1997-2002) by ADGP B.P. Tiwari, who had called for registration of a case and further investigation, the latest inquiry while giving a clean chit to policemen found their version of Kaonke's escape from police custody "trustworthy" and recommended that Punjab Police should "launch its efforts to trace and arrest" Kaonke.

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