Standing Alone: Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal Part III
KPS Gill was given a free hand by the new Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Sinh. And so began a wave of terror in Punjab that had not even been seen in the reign of the Mughals or Afghans. Entire families of Sikh fighters were murdered in barbaric ways. Families that gave shelter to the Singhs were publicly tortured to death. Villagers no longer knew who the real fighters were and who were the gangs put out by the Indian Security Forces. They became reluctant to open their doors at night.
Baba Manochahal’s Family
Baba Gurbachan Singh was married and had three sons. When he began his life underground, Baba jee wrote a poem for those who were waiting for him. In a part, he wrote:
Why are you sad friend?
Don’t bite your lip
Try and understand my thoughts.
We have left with a hope in our minds.
Without fulfilling it, we will not return.
Baba jee left, knowing that he was sacrificing his family, but he had given his word to sacrifice his all for the cause of Sikh independence. The police first seized Baba jee’s home in Naushera Panooaa(n) and made his family homeless. They made the home a police station.
When the family returned to village Manochahal, the police would harass them every day and take them for interrogation. The police even arrested Baba jee’s eight year old son.
Baba Gurbachan Singh jee’s 70 year old father Bapoo Atma Singh was arrested many times and was then martyred in police custody. His body was never returned. Baba jee’s younger brother, Nirvair Singh was abducted by the police in August 1992 and after a month of unspeakable torture was killed on September 9, 1992 in a fake encounter.
Bhai Nirvair Singh
Baba jee’s 12 year old son, Harbrinder Singh was staying with a woman Baba jee considered his sister, Bibi Parmjeet Kaur. Harbrinder Singh had gone to school one day when, Bibi Parmjeet Kaur was arrested along with her husband and younger son. Bibi Parmjeet Kaur was tortured with electric shocks and the police demanded she tell them where Harbrinder Singh was, but she did not falter and refused to speak. Harbrinder Singh was met at school by Bibi Parmjeet Kaur’s brother who took him to a secure place. After that, he spent his childhood going alone from one Dera to another, doing seva and wondering where his family was or if they were even alive.
Baba jee’s mother, 62 year old Mata Gurmej Kaur was also abducted by the police and killed in the fall of 1992. The rest of Baba jee’s family survived by living in hiding.
In total, 43 of Baba Gurbachan Singh’s family members were arrested and tortured. They were forced by the police to do an ardaas for Baba jee’s speedy death or capture. The families were kept in illegal custody for nine months. Five of them never returned home. The police wanted that the families of the Sikh fighters would themselves turn in the Singhs or wish for their death so they would be spared further torture.
Shaheedee of Other Singhs
Just as Baba Gurbachan Singh had predicted, the leaders of the Sikh Resistance Movement began to fall one by one. With human rights no longer a factor, KP Gill ordered his men to slaughter families and torture those who might have information. Bhai Rachhpal Singh Chandran, head of the Malwa Bhindranvala Tiger Force was martyred on June 18, 1992. Bhai Geraint Singh Budhsinghvala of the Khalistan Liberation Force was martyred on July 31 1992 and then 10 days later, Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar, Jathedar of Babbar Khalsa became a Shaheed.
When Baba jee heard about the Shaheedee of Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar, he was staying with his sister. Baba jee read the news and tears began to flow from his eyes. His sister had not seen this happen before and asked, “But you used to say that Sukhdev Singh Babbar was opposed to your political stands [The Babbars had supported the election boycott] and now you are crying? What is going on?”
Baba jee replied, “Yes, I had a strong disagreement with him, but we had the same mission. And he was after all just like my brother…”
Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar
Baba jee continued to be very depressed and would not eat. His sister couldn’t bear this anymore and brought Baba jee’s mother to check on him. But by the time Mata Gurmej Kaur arrived, Baba jee had recovered and told her to return home.
The police said many filthy things about Bhai Sukhdev Singh’s character. The newspapers were completely in control of the government. No statements from Sikh Organizations were allowed to be printed and any success by Sikh fighters was also not reported. Baba jee decided that something must be said to defend the memory of his brother, so he released a tape defending Bhai Sukhdev Singh’s character.
Baba Gurbachan Singh was now the last Sikh Resistance leader left in Punjab. The others had crossed over to Pakistan and requested that he too should join them. Baba jee refused. He said that he would never leave the battlefield. How could he ask Singhs to continue the fight if he himself ran away?
Baba jee was now beginning to run out of hideouts. The police had arrested all those even suspected of knowing him and tortured them all severely. Many hideouts were revealed and Baba Gurbachan Singh’s weapons and ammunition seized. Out of the group of people arrested, one Singh, Bhai Harpal Singh, had refused to reveal any information on Baba jee. The police ripped his body apart with severe torture. There was another man in the group named Didar Singh who even before being hit once revealed everything. The police treated him very well. Now, whenever the police arrested someone with connections to Baba Gurbachan Singh, they brought out both Bhai Harpal Singh and Didar Singh. Bhai Harpal Singh could not stand and his clothes were ripped and bloodied. Didar Singh was dressed in clean fresh clothes and would sit comfortably. The police would say, “Look at both of them. One talked and the other didn’t. We found the hideout and arms anyways so it didn’t matter. Now it’s up to you, what you want to do.” Many people who saw this were scared into telling all.
Raids were conducted everywhere to find Baba Gurbachan Singh. Coordinated raids took place at the same time at between 40 and 60 different places but still Baba jee could not be found.
Baba Manochahal was now almost completely alone. The Singhs with him, like Bhai Surjeet Singh Behla were either Shaheed or could not be contacted. No one was willing to keep Baba jee in their home anymore. So Baba jee began to spend the cold fall and winter nights in the fields. A Singh that sometimes accompanied Baba jee in these days tells that even when there were Security Forces patrolling the roads, and Baba jee was hiding in a nearby field, he would begin to sing, “Sir Ditiaa(n) baajh nahee(n) rehNaa dharm, sir ditiaa(n) baajh nahee(n) rehNaa…” [The faith won’t survive without sacrificing our heads]. The Singh would fearfully say, “Baba jee…there’re police jeeps parked on the road and your voice is so loud that it’s carrying across all the fields…”
Baba jee would jokingly reply, “So I should sing louder then..?”
Baba jee was a poet and even in these dark days continued to write poetry. Even in the thick of battle Baba jee would write in his diary.
Call to Surrender
In the final days of 1992 KP Gill issued a call for Baba Gurbachan Singh to surrender. He had no where left to hide and all his companions had been killed. Baba jee replied, “I don’t consider it appropriate to be talking to the pet dogs of Delhi. The Prime Minister and his guards can pick a time and place and then we’ll see which side makes the other surrender. I would prefer death to surrender.”
In the last week of February 1993, Baba Gurbachan Singh was staying at the house of Bhai Jasbir Singh Kala. On a tip, the police raided the home and Baba jee quickly slipped into an underground bunker. Jasbir Singh was stripped naked and tortured in the house. The entire family could hear his screams, as could Baba jee underground. Jasbir Singh did not reveal anything. The police began to search for a bunker and at the spot where the bunker was located, even dug a hole to investigate. After digging a bit, they gave up. Little did they know that Baba jee was five feet underneath. The police arrested Jasbir Singh and took him away. Later that night, Baba jee escaped and left for village BaagReeaa(n).
One of Baba jee’s final remaining companions was Sukhvant VanchiRee. In front of Baba jee, Sukhvant would be very brave, but behind his back, he would whine that his family would be killed. Baba jee’s sympathizers had told Baba jee all this and asked that he not trust Sukhvant. Baba Gurbachan Singh could not believe however that such a close companion could ever betray him.
In these final days, Sukhvant asked Baba jee for a short leave, but never returned.
February 27, 1993
At 8AM, the police raided village BaaReeaa(n) and headed straight for the home where Baba jee was staying. Baba jee quickly ran into the bunker that was made in the barn. In the house at the time, there was an older Bibi and her two sons. The Bibi called on her son to cover the bunker. He came and layed the floorboards down and put grass over top.
The police entered the home and immediately grabbed the son’s wrist and dragged him to the waiting jeep. The Bibi did not understand whether the police had coincidentally raided their home or someone had tipped them off.
The police officer returned and walked over to the barn and began to check the floor. The Bibi understood now that someone had betrayed Baba jee. She was terrified for her sons and so she screamed at the officer, “Veera! Watch out and save us as well! There’s someone hiding inside!” She had thought that by doing this, her life and the lives of her sons might be saved.
The police officer froze and asked in a quivering voice, “How many…?” The Bibi replied, “Just one!” The rest of the police party gathered at the barn and began to move forward. All of a sudden, the floorboards of the barn flew up and Baba Gurbachan Singh appeared. He threw a hand grenade and scattered the security men. Baba jee had a GPM (General Purpose Machine Gun), an AK 47 and a bag of ammunition swung around his back. He bellowed jaikaray and ran through the police spraying bullets.
Baba jee sprinted through the fields and tossed his shawl on top of the wheat to throw the police off his trail. The police thought that Baba jee was hiding in the fields. Jeep after Jeep of Security Forces was arriving and searching every inch of the field, while Baba jee, who had wrapped a rug around himself to keep warm, made his escape.
Baba jee borrowed a bicycle and a shawl from some Singhs he met on the way. The Singhs he met say that Baba jee was completely serene and told them “I just had a gunfight at BaagReeaa(n). All my equipment and supplies were left behind…” Baba jee said this in such a calm manner that the Singhs thought he was kidding. Among the supplies Baba jee had left behind was a wireless set that he used to monitor the army and police movements.
The police soon followed on Baba jee’s trail. They were using search dogs who led them to the home of the Singh that had lent Baba jee his bike. The police slapped the Singh’s wife and asked where Baba Gurbachan Singh had gone. She said that she did not know who it was but someone had stolen their bicycle. The farmers in the area were gathered and asked which way Baba jee had gone. They all were supporters of the Sikh cause and sent Officer Khubi Ram and his party in the wrong direction. All the while, Baba jee was sitting in a nearby field.
All night, Baba jee sat alone in the cold field. Late into the night, he left for Sukhvant VanchiRee’s in-law’s house at village Rataul.
Baba jee arrived cold and hungry in Rataul. He headed for what he thought was a secure hideout, where he might meet his companion. At Sukhvant’s in-law’s home, he found only women. Sukhvant had gone out somewhere. Baba jee was anxious to leave but the women assured Baba jee that Sukhvant would meet him in the morning.
Sukhvant had been working for the police. The police had given the family a white powder that was to be given to Baba jee when he came. The police had warned them that if Baba Manochahal came to their house and got away, the entire family would be killed. The women warmed some milk and mixed the powder in it. They gave Baba jee the glass of milk and he quickly drank it. Baba jee drank poison from the hands of those he considered his own. The entire Indian Security Force could not do what Baba jee’s own had now done. Baba jee fell unconscious and then left for his place at the Guru’s feet.
The women went to the police station where a jeep filled with families suspected of helping Baba Manochahal was ready to leave for CIA Staff Tarn Taran. The women told the DSP of Police that they had done their work. The jeep was emptied and the families put into cells. The entire Police Party rushed to Ratual.
First they recorded the death of their most dreaded “terrorist” by taking pictures. They ripped Baba jee’s dastaar off his head and dragged him into the grass.
After taking the initial pictures, they pumped bullets into Baba jee’s body so they could report a spectacular “encounter”. They then took pictures with Baba jee’s body.
The cowards who had trembled at the name of “Manochahal” were now grabbing Baba jee by his kesh and laughing. Sukhvant too had arrived to join in the celebration. They fired shots into the air. The dreaded tiger had fallen.
KP Gill flew in from Chandigarh and told reporters an exciting story of how Baba Gurbachan Singh had been surrounded and after a long encounter, was found in a pool of blood. Perhaps he didn’t know that the pictures taken by his own police officers would show his tale to be a complete lie.
The police cremated Baba jee’s body themselves and had a distant relative immerse the ashes at Kiratpur Sahib. Only police officers were present for this Sikh Hero’s final Ardaas.
For good measure, the police picked up Baba jee’s brother Balwinder Singh on March 16, 1993 and then killed him on March 29. The rest of Baba jee’s family was scattered and in hiding. Years later they would slowly come back together again. Their house in Naushera Panooaa(n) is still in police hands.
The Sikh movement slowly died away. The opponents of the Sikhs had always said that the Sikhs were tigers who could never be tamed. They would never accept slavery. It was either freedom or death. And 10 years have passed now, without a sound. Some say that perhaps the time has finally come when the enemy has shattered the Sikhs’ unconquerable spirit.
Baba jee had limitless faith in the Sikhs though. In his final letter he wrote, "This Movement can not be suppressed by anyone. So much blood has been spilt for it that no bargaining can be done now. There are only two paths for us: Takhat (throne) or Takhta (gallows). The ardaas done at Akal Takhat Sahib, and the Declaration of Khalistan are our promises before Guru Sahib and we will solemnly keep them. The Sikh Sangat should be assured that the Khalsa will be victorious."
Only Guru Sahib knows when the Khalsa will rise again...
(Based on Fatehnama, Feb 2005 & Khaet Jo Mandio Soorma By Amardeep Singh Amar)