New Delhi: Khatkar Kalan, the Punjab village with an enduring connect to India’s freedom struggle, will forever be associated with Bhagat Singh as his ancestral place. But the freedom fighter was not born in the village and never lived there either.
Bhagat Singh was born on September 28, 1907 in Banga village in Lyallpur district, now Faisalabad in Pakistan Punjab. He made multiple visits to Khatkar Kalan with his grandfather Arjan Singh but didn’t live there, experts said on the anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom on Wednesday.
The village was in the headlines last week when Punjab’s new chief minister Bhagwant Mann was sworn in there in the presence of thousands of people.
”Arjan Singh used to bring his grandsons Bhagat Singh and Jagat Singh, who died early in 1916 or 1917 due to a flu, to Khatkar Kalan and the house every summer. Everyone in my family knew about this,” his Ludhiana-based nephew Jagmohan Singh told PTI. ”I interviewed people of Bhagat Singh’s age in Khatkar Kalan who also verified the same. So yes, this is a confirmed fact that Bhagat Singh did visit the village multiple times,” the 77-year-old said.
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Historian Chaman Lal, who has authored several books on Bhagat Singh, added that the freedom fighter may have visited the village but didn’t live there at any point in his life. Bhagat Singh was only 23 when he was hanged on March 23, 1931 along with Sukhdev Thapar and Shiv Ramhari Rajguru in the murder of British police official John Saunders (also known as the Lahore conspiracy case).
He studied till Class 5 in his village school, after which his father got him enrolled at the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) High School in Lahore.
Tracing the family’s connect with Khatkar Kalan, Lal said the family shifted from the village to Lyallpur around the early 1900s after Britishers allotted land to families in two newly created districts — Montgomery (now Sahiwal in Pakistan) and Lyallpur.
Decades later, during Partition in 1947, the family returned to their Khatkar Kalan house. While Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh died in 1951, his mother Vidyavati, who lived in the brick-lined ancestral home till the very end, passed away in 1975.
The Khatkar Kalan house, which today stands as a protected monument, was built by Bhagat Singh’s great-grandfather Sardar Fateh Singh in 1858. It was declared a monument under the ‘Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act’ (1964) in 1982.
The family shifted to Lyallpur after they were allotted land, explained Lal, who is also honorary adviser to the Bhagat Singh Archive and Resource Centre in Delhi.
”The Britishers dug canals and the land of these two districts (Lyallpur and Montgomery) were very, very fertile. Bhagat Singh’s family — like many families in the whole of Punjab — shifted after they were allotted the land. They got the land at ‘Chak No 105’ in Lyallpur,” Lal told PTI.
The story behind how Khatkar Khalan got its name is also interesting, going back centuries.
It started with an ancestor of Bhagat Singh, who travelled from his home in Narli, Amritsar, to Haridwar to immerse the ashes of a member of his family, Lal said. This was sometime before Sikhism came into existence in the late 15th century.
The ancestor – there is no name — was crossing ‘Garh Kalan’ (fort village) and spent a night at the house of a local feudal lord. Impressed with the boy, the feudal lord fixed the marriage of his only daughter with him and gave the village in dowry, said Lal.
”… So when the marriage was fixed there was only one condition: the boy had to stay with them. He agreed. And that’s how Garh Kalan, which was their family fort in a sense, became ‘Khat (dowry in Punjabi) Garh Kalan’.
”Later, the people started calling the village ‘Khatkar Kalan’,” Lal said. The story, he added, finds mention in Bhagat Singh’s uncle Ajit Singh’s autobiography ”Buried Alive”.
The story then moves on to Bhagat Singh’s great grandfather Fateh Singh.
In the 1840s, as a result of Fateh Singh’s defiance against the British — he had fought Britishers under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army in the Anglo-Sikh war — much of their land and property was seized by the British East India Company.
Later, during the 1857 ‘Sepoy Mutiny’, when then Governor of Punjab John Lawrence called upon Fateh Singh for help against the rebels in return of confiscated property — and other rewards — he refused the offer outright.
”For Fateh Singh it was the test of his life and he here referred to the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh: ‘wherever people fight for their rights, it is your duty to stand with them’. This way he chose his principle, and not property,” said Jagmohan Singh, who retired as head of the computer science department in Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).