Akil Das also known as Haribhagat Niranjania, was an eighteenth century head of the Handali sect of Jandiala in Amritsar district of the Punjab. He was an inveterate enemy of the Sikhs. Giani Gian Singh, Shamsher Khalsa, describes him as "Akul Das who basked in the name of Haribhagat." He was a State informer who revelled in spying on the Sikhs. He had had many of them arrested and executed.
Most prominent among his victims were Bhai Taru Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh Mirankotia. On his information, Adina Beg Khan, governor of the Punjab, in 1758, despatched him along with Diwan Hira Mall against the Sikhs, who had reportedly assembled in the neighbourhood of Adinanagar, in present-day Gurdaspur district. In the fierce battle that took place near Qadian, Diwan Hira Mall was killed, but Akil Das escaped. At the open assembly at Amritsar on the occasion of Divali, in October 1761, the Sarbat Khalsa adopted a gurmata or resolution to the effect that they must punish Akil Das for his crimes against the Sikhs.
Gurmata leaked to Akil Das
Word of the gurmata was leaked to Akil Das who forthwith despatched messengers to Ahmad Shah Durrani seeking his help and protection in consideration of his previous services. Sikhs besieged Jandiala in January 1762 and would have captured the town but the wily Handali had shanks of beef hung from the fort's wall. This was a ruse, which he used to exploit the religious scruples of the besiegers and make them retire from the scene. They did lift the siege and dispersed towards Sirhind. Akil Das had figured prominently in the episode of the martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh in 1745.
To quote Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash, "Once the governor of Lahore asked his men, `From where do the Sikhs obtain their nourishment? I have debarred them from all occupations. They realize no taxes. They do not farm, nor are they allowed to do business or join public employment. I have stopped all offerings to their places of worship. No provisions or supplies are accessible to them. Why do they not die of sheer starvation? My troops bar their way. They search for them and they kill them where they see them. I have burnt down entire villages with Sikh populations. I have destroyed their remotest kin. I have ferreted them out of the holes and slaughtered them. The Mughals are hawks; the Sikhs are like quail. Vast numbers of them have been ensnared and killed. No one can live without food. I know not how the Sikhs survive without it."
Akil Das reports Bhai Taru Singh
Akil Das answered, "There are Sikhs in this world who would not eat until they have fed their brethren. They may themselves go without clothes and food, but cannot bear their comrades' distress. They will pass the cold season by fireside and send them their own clothes. Some will sweat to grind corn and have it sent to them. They will do the roughest chores to earn a small wage for their sake. They migrate to distant places to earn money to send it to their brothers in hiding."
The Nawab shook his head in despair and continued, "They are unyielding people indeed. Their annihilation is beyond our power. God alone will destroy them."
Akil Das spoke again, "I know of one who lives in the village of Puhia, in Majha. His name is Taru Singh. He tills his land and pays the revenue to the officials. He, his mother and a sister toil and grind what they grow, eat sparingly and wear the coarsest homespun. Whatever they save, they pass on to their brother Sikhs hiding in the forests. They recite the hymns of their Gurus, even death holds no fear for them. They visit not the Ganga or the Yamuna, bathing in the tank constructed by their own Guru."
Bhai Taru Singh arrested
An officer was immediately sent with soldiers to apprehend Taru Singh. Taru Singh was captured and brought to Lahore. He was thrown into jail where he was tortured severely. But, says the Prachin Panth Prakash, "as the Turks tormented Taru Singh, ruddier became his cheeks with joy. As he was starved of food and drink, contentment reigned on his face. He was rejoiced to comply with the Guru`s will."
Eventually, Taru Singh was presented before the Nawab. He greeted him with the Sikh salutation, Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh, defiantly uttered. The Nawab felt startled, as if some one had slit his finger and sprinkled salt on it. Taru Singh spoke out, "If we till your lands, we pay the revenue. If we engage in commerce, we pay your taxes. What is left after our payments to you is for our bellies. What we save from our mouths, we give our brethren. We take nothing from you. Why do you then punish us?"
At this the Nawab became enraged and pronounced, "If you become a Muslim, then alone will I give you your life."
Taru replied, "How do I fear for my life? Why must I become a Muslim? Don`t Muslims die? Why should I abandon my faith? May my faith endure until my last hair, the last hair on my head and until my last breath," . The Nawab tried to tempt him with offers of lands and wealth. Seeing that Taru Singh was so inflexible, he decided to have his scalp scraped from his head. The barbers came with sharp lancets and slowly ripped Bhai Taru Singh`s scalp. Before taking his last breath, Taru rejoiced that the hair of his head was still intact.
- 1. Bhangu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash [Reprint]. Amritsar, 1962
- 2. Gian Singh, Giani, Shamsher Khalsa [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
- 3. Gupta, Hari Ram, History of the Sikhs, vol II. Delhi, 1978
- 4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983