Bhagwan Singh Jakh (c. 1884-1962)

Bhagwan Singh Jakh was a Brahman Sikh from the village of Viring, Tarn Taran, Amritsar district. He came from a family of hereditary priests and was a priest himself, but, according to his contemporary, the Bengali revolutionary M.N. Roy, he was not a religious man. His father and paternal grandfather were also hakims (doctors in traditional medicine) and it was his grandfather who supplemented his formal education in Urdu by teaching him Punjabi literature and history as well as Sikh tradition. He studied devotional music at Updeshak College in Gujranwala, completing a three-year program in one year and becoming a teacher in the college upon graduation in 1906. He was involved in the Punjab disturbances of 1907 and left India in 1909 or 1910 to avoid arrest. He served as granthi or priest at the Sikh temple in Penang and, from March 1910, in Hong Kong. Bhagwan Singh used the gurdwara stage to preach politics and in both Penang and Hong Kong his presence provoked disturbances in the gurdwara. His politics and his decision to shave for a period to escape detection by the police fed criticism of him in his own community. Still, he was given a large send-off by Sikhs when he left Hong Kong for Canada in April 1913. In Vancouver, he quickly caught the unfavourable attention of the immigration department, leading in November to his forcible deportation in handcuffs from Canada to Japan. The following April he briefly came aboard the Komagata Maru in Yokohama to give a passionately nationalistic address to the passengers. This was shortly before the ship left for Vancouver. By May he was in San Francisco and later that year he became president of the Ghadr party, promoting the return of Ghadrites to India to fight against British rule. In 1918-19 he served a prison term in the U.S. for his wartime activities. When he was released he settled in the U.S., became clean-shaven, and occupied himself as a writer and lecturer for American audiences on what he termed “Creative Psychology and Sociology.” In 1938 he married an American woman with whom he had a daughter (he had been married years earlier to a Sikh woman and had two girls and a boy with her). As soon as India became independent, Bhagwan Singh applied for an Indian passport, but he had to wait for two years to get it. He finally returned in 1958 at the invitation of the Chief Minister of Punjab, Partap Singh Kairon, and in his last years  made his home in Saproon, near Simla, in Himichal Pradesh. 

Sources: Sohan Singh Pooni, Keneda de Gadri Yodhe (Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2009); Harban Singh ed., The Encyclopedia of Sikhism (Patiala: Panjabi University, 4th edition 2002); Harish K. Puri, Ghadr Movement: Ideology, Organization, Strategy (Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 2nd edition, 1993); Stockton California Gurdwara Library, Bhagwan Singh Giani ‘Pritam,’ “A Brief Sketch of a Life Lived,” October 1958.