The Indian Government executed Bhai Satwant Singh and Bhai Kehar Singh, immortalizing them as long-standing martyrs for the Sikh Panth. While physically they have been eliminated, these martyrs continue to reside within the hearts of Sikhs. The Sikh community holds deep love and reverence for Shaheed Bhai Beant Singh, Shaheed Bhai Satwant Singh, and Shaheed Bhai Kehar Singh. This is evident through the widespread observance of the Akhand Path held in their tribute, spanning cities, countries, villages, and streets where Sikhs reside. Even today, Sikhs commemorate their shaheedi day with immense pride. These three Shaheed Singhs have been revered as great martyrs of the Khalsa Panth, upholding their honor and dignity.
Renowned as valiant warriors and custodians of Sikh traditions, Shaheed S. Beant Singh Maloya, Shaheed S. Satwant Singh Agwan, and Shaheed S. Kehar Singh Mustafabad are hailed as Panthic Heroes among every Sikh child.
Birth and Family
It was the year 1962 when S. Satwant Singh Ji was born to Father Sardar Tarlok Singh and Mother Sardarni Pyar Kaur Ji in the village of Agwan Khurd, situated merely three kilometers from the Indo-Pak border in Gurdaspur district. S. Satwant Singh Ji was part of a family with five siblings. He completed his tenth grade at Shahpur Guraya School and pursued his higher secondary education at Dera Baba Nanak Government School.
Joining the service
In 1981, Bhai Satwant Singh Ji enlisted in the Delhi Armed Police, originating from Bareilly district in Uttar Pradesh. His exceptional shooting skills and towering stature secured him the role of the Prime Minister’s bodyguard. He served in this capacity from 1981 to 1984.
In 1983, Satwant Singh was engaged to Bibi Surinder Kaur, the daughter of his sister-in-law’s aunt (Masi), father Sardar Virsa Singh from Panchi Jatan village. Both families arranged for their marriage to take place in 1984. However, the wedding was postponed as he couldn’t secure an extended leave from his service.
In June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, known for her purported ‘secular governance,’ orchestrated an assault on the Sikh community. This attack coincided with the martyrdom day of the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev Ji. She commanded a military operation involving guns and tanks aimed at Sri Darbar Sahib Amritsar and Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Thousands of Sikhs, who had gathered to commemorate Gurpurab, tragically perished due to the army’s actions. Among the victims were large congregations comprising children, elderly individuals, and women who were brutally martyred.
Indira Gandhi’s decision plunged the life of the Sikh community into turmoil, marking a catastrophic event. This military offensive severely challenged the dignity of the Sikh community and left the Khalsa Panth feeling profoundly disrespected. Gurbani says:
Jae Jeevai Path Lathhee Jaae || Sabh Haraam Jaethaa Kishh Khaae ||
Those who merely live shall depart in dishonor; Everything they eat is impure.
Post June 1984
After June 1984, the lives of Sikhs became immensely challenging, striving to retain their dignity and honor. History once again beckoned the need to emulate the courage and sacrifice of Shaheed Bhai Sukha Singh Ji Mari Kamboke and Bhai Mehtab Singh Ji Mirakot. Restoring the honor of the Sikh community, symbolized by the turban trampled underfoot, became an imperative task. The resurgence of Khalsa martial traditions found resonance in the hearts of S. Beant Singh, S. Satwant Singh, and S. Kehar Singh.
The three Singhs were born in distinct locations. S. Satwant Singh, S. Biant Singh, and S. Kehar Singh convened and devised a plan to seek retribution for the injustices and oppression inflicted upon the Sikh community by the Indira Gandhi Government. Both S. Biant Singh and S. Satwant Singh served as special guards for Indira Gandhi. Bhai Kehar Singh, who maintained religious fervor even during his tenure in the police force, was the uncle (Fuffar) of Bhai Beant Singh by relation.
During their gatherings, these three Singhs often engage in discussions about the happenings at Sri Darbar Sahib in June 1984, expressing a strong desire to visit Sri Amritsar Sahib. Eventually, they made their way to Sri Amritsar, and upon learning about the distressing events that transpired there, they sought strength and courage from Guru Ramdas Ji and Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Their prayers were directed towards seeking empowerment to avenge the desecration of Guru Ghar by Indira Gandhi, the perpetrator of Sikh massacres. After collectively praying to Akal Purakh with tears in their eyes, they returned to Delhi.
Bhai Beant Singh and Bhai Satwant Singh were never on the same shift. Beant Singh worked the day shift while Bhai Satwant Singh was assigned to the night shift. After their shifts aligned, preparations were made in the morning for their intended action. However, a logistical issue arose as Bhai Satwant Singh’s designated duty location was a bit distant from the intended spot. He managed to switch places with another officer by citing a stomach issue and mentioning the proximity of a restroom, saying, ‘I’ll stand here; you can take my place.’ This maneuver enabled him to secure the position for the assassination.
Indira Gandhi’s security detail consisted of five hundred armed soldiers on constant alert.
October 31, 1984
Indira Gandhi departed from her residence on Safdarjung Road around 9 o’clock to go to her office. Her residence was among the bungalows constructed by the British after shifting the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Known for her discerning fashion choices, she appeared resplendent that morning in a saffron saree, possibly because this color was in the limelight on TV. On that day, she was scheduled for a personal interview with the famous playwright, actor, and comic writer, Peter Ustinov. R. K. Dhawan was accompanying her as she walked; there was a fence separating Mrs. Gandhi’s residence from her office.
Nearby stood a gate where Indira Gandhi glanced at the Sikh sub-inspector positioned there. Sardar Beant Singh Maloya, the Sikh sub-inspector, was approaching her from a distance. Her smile seemed to intensify the situation. Suddenly, he reached for his service revolver, firing six powerful shots. Simultaneously, Sardar Satwant Singh discharged his automatic carbine, targeting PM Indira Gandhi. The Prime Minister of India, who made the mistake of making enmity with Sikhs and their Guru-ghar, was assassinated by the Singhs. Once hailed as ‘Durga,’ she now lay face down on the ground, covered in soil. Sardar Beant Singh hung his walkie-talkie set on the fence and sternly directed the Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel, saying, “We have done what we had to do, now you do what you have to do”.
Bhai Beant Singh’s Martyrdom and Bhai Satwant Singh’s Arrest
Afterward, the trial commenced. During the court proceedings, when asked about other accomplices in the conspiracy, Satwant Singh adamantly stated that there was no conspiracy involved in this murder. He asserted that it was a Khalsa action aimed at seeking retribution for the desecration of the Sikh community and its sacred places, a cause they were proud to uphold on behalf of the entire Panth.
Additionally, the government arrested and investigated Bhai Kehar Singh and S. Balbir Singh. Subsequently, Balbir Singh was released due to insufficient evidence in the case. However, both S. Satwant Singh and S. Kehar Singh received death sentences for their involvement.
A unique Marriage
During his final visit to Tihar Jail, Rupinder Singh Sodhi, the lawyer representing both Singhs, expressed regret to Satwant Pyare, stating, “I’m sorry I couldn’t prevent your hanging. After today, I won’t be able to meet you anymore.” Emotion overwhelmed the lawyer’s throat.
In response, S. Satwant Singh reassured his lawyer, “Vakeel Sahib, strengthen your resolve. I’ll continue to meet you. Promise me you’ll fight my case again.”
Perplexed, the lawyer responded, “I don’t understand. The judge has decreed that on January 6, both you and Kehar Singh are to be hanged. Then how can I fight your case again, nothing can happen now.”
Satwant Singh promptly replied, “Vakeel Sahib, whenever I am reborn as a human, I’ll persist in eliminating adversaries of the Sikh community, akin to Indira Gandhi. You’ll have to continue advocating for my case. The struggle for truth and rights against oppression and tyranny will persist. I’ll keep reincarnating to uphold this fight, and you must continue to meet me.”
Witnessing Bhai Satwant Singh’s unwavering spirit, Rupinder Singh exclaimed, “I am fortunate to have had the chance, bestowed by the Akal Purakh, to represent a lion-hearted and valiant man like you. I pray to witness a brave hero like you in my next life. In a nation where there are courageous and honorable individuals like you, it can never be subdued by anyone.”
Bapu Tarlok Singh inquired about Satwant Singh’s final wish. Satwant Singh expressed, “Bapu ji, my last wish is for you to loudly cheer ‘Jaikare’ as you leave the jail gate.”
Bapu Tarlok Singh, taken aback, questioned, “How can a father cheer when his son is going to face the gallows?”
Satwant Singh explained, “Bapu ji, as Sikhs, it’s our duty to honor the traditions of the Khalsa Panth. During the battle of Chamkaur Sahib’s Kachi Garhi, Dasmesh Pita Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji sent his martyred sons, Shaheed Baba Ajit Singh Ji and Shaheed Baba Jujhar Singh Ji, into battle. Guru Ji himself cheered ‘Jo Bole so Nihal…Saat Sri Akaal…’ as they charged into battle. I implore you, Father, to cheer for me as well in my martyrdom. Please fulfill my last wish.”
Since January 4, incessant rain poured down, accompanied by freezing cold. Despite the downpour, press photographers from around the globe gathered outside Tihar Jail. On one side, the government prepared for the execution of the Prime Minister’s assassins, while on the other, the global media reported on the martyrdom of the two valiant Babbar lions, Bhai Satwant Singh and Bhai Kehar Singh, who had become the lifeblood of the Khalsa Panth and the Sikh community. The stage was set for these scenes and events to be relayed worldwide.
Bapu Tarlok Singh assured Satwant Singh, “I will fulfill your wish.” Exiting the jail, he bid farewell to his son with love, exchanging their final GuruFateh. Bapu Tarlok Singh and S. Gurmej Singh, Satwant’s uncle, fervently shouted ‘Jaikare’— “Jo bole so Nihal…Sat Sri Akaal…”—as they emerged from the jail gate. Cameramen and journalists joined in, capturing the moment. Journalists question Bapu Tarlok Singh ” Sardarji, Why are you shouting? Has the hanging of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh been stopped?”
In response, Bapu Tarlok Singh explained, “No, sir. It’s a tenet of our faith that when we offer our son as a martyr, we exhibit our unwavering spirit by chanting Jaikare. We are grateful to Guru Sahib. This teaching has been imparted to us by Kalgidhar Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj. Today, we express our gratitude to God for making our sons martyrs.”
Shaheedi Shapes Sikh History
The sacrifice of Shaheed Singhs significantly shapes Sikh history, serving as a potent source of motivation and strength for their community to endure and persist in the face of adversity, battling against malevolence and injustice. Undoubtedly, within Sikhism, the pinnacle of honor lies in martyrdom. A Singh attains martyrdom, triumphing over even death itself; it cannot extinguish his spirit. Gurbani says:
Maran Munasaan Sooriaa Hak Hai Jo Hoe Marehi Paravaano ||3||
The death of brave heroes is blessed, if it is approved by God. ||3||
On January 6, 1989, heavy rainfall enveloped the atmosphere. Nature seemed to offer fervent homage to Bhai Satwant Singh and Bhai Kehar Singh, expressing deep reverence. The entire nation’s sentiments were intertwined with the fate of these courageous individuals. Both Singhs bore the weight of the Sikh community’s aspirations and struggles. At four o’clock in the morning, the authorities brought the two Singhs to the gallows, marking a solemn moment.
As Bhai Satwant Singh and Bhai Kehar Singh chanted ‘Jo Bole So Nihal,’ resonating echoes of ‘Sat Sri Akal’ reverberated from outside. The execution took place, reminiscent of the British government’s refusal to return the bodies of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev to their families. They were cremated on the banks of the Sutlej River, and their ashes were dispersed into the river. Similarly, the martyred bodies of Bhai Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh were not handed over to their families but were cremated within the jail premises.