Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma was becoming more and more well known for his operations against the Indian Government. Whereas his name was regularly mentioned and discussed in Government meetings, he had also become a folk hero in the Punjab. Village people talked about his bravery and his ability to accomplish even the most impossible of missions. For the police, every Singh and every Nihang was starting to look like 'Brahma'.
To discredit the Sikh Movement, the Indian Government had introduced gangs of thieves and murderers who dressed like Singhs but committed horrendous crimes upon innocent Sikh villagers. Bhai Avtar Singh made it a priority to punish these criminals.
Police Chief JF. Ribeiro met with his Captains and top officers and expressed his frustration that reports were coming that Brahma was called the King of the Mand area and that the common people were all helping him and even idolizing him. The villagers would be beaten but even then they would not give any information on Brahma or his companions. Ribeiro ordered that Brahma should be discredited at all costs. Gangs should call themselves 'Brahma's men' and extort money and harass innocent people. People should come to hate the name 'Brahma'. They would then help the police capture him.
Ribeiro in Darbar Sahib Complex
Ribeiro had underestimated Bhai Avtar Singh. Bhai Avtar Singh did not tolerate extortions. When allegations were made against KLF's Lt. Gen. Pahar Singh, Bhai Brahma did a complete investigation and it was proven beyond a doubt that Pahar Singh had been harassing and extorting money from Sikh families. Bhai Brahma himself shot Pahar Singh dead and warned the other Singhs that anyone caught harassing innocent villagers or behaving inappropriately with women would be given the same fate as the Lt. General.
Bhai Avtar Singh announced that if anyone was being harassed, they should contact him and he would help them even at the cost of his own life. Bhai Brahma declared, 'Our guns are pointed at those Police touts who torture Singhs and kill them in fake encounters. We do not believe in spilling the blood of any innocents. Our fight is against injustice, tyranny and oppression. Whoever is part of this will not be able to escape our sights.'
Bhai Avtar Singh kept a very close watch on politics and the corrupt Akali leadership. He sent them a warning that under his watch, he would not let them commit treachery with the Sikh people. The insincere Akalis became silent and quietly passed the days cursing their fate for having had to deal with someone as incorruptible as Bhai Avtar Singh. He demanded the Sikh politicians be principled.
Encounter at Manakpur
Bhai Avtar Singh was continuing his campaign against the invading Hindustani forces. He was surrounded on many occasions but would escape every time, bellowing insults and challenges at the enemy. One of Bhai Brahma's most famous encounters occurred in village Manakpur. Bhai Avtar Singh and his fellow Singhs were in the area when the CRPF were tipped off. A total of 20 000 CRPF men flooded the Patti area and began closing in on Manakpur. The Singhs were surrounded and decided the only way out was through the ranks of the CRPF. The battle began and so many bullets were cutting through the air that it looked and sounded like a strong rain was falling. A bullet cut through Bhai Avtar Singh's right hand and severed his right finger. Bhai Brahma was a Singh of the Bhai Bidhi Chand Dal and he called upon Guru Hargobind Sahib to save him like had once saved Bhai Bidhi Chand. It was as though Guru Sahib was himself protecting his Singh. Bhai Avtar Singh's clothes and dastar were marked by many bullet holes but his body was not being touched. Although some of the Singhs with him were martyred, Bhai Avtar Singh managed to break the cordon and escaped into the dark of the night.
Bhai Avtar Singh would show people his dastar and clothes from that night and point out the countless bullet marks. People would be amazed and remark that Guru Sahib keeps his Singh today, just like he did in the past. Bhai Avtar Singh was convinced that he had escaped this time only so that he could continue his seva of fighting for Sikh liberation.
Inspiring Canadian and Western Sikhs
Bhai Avtar Singh's exploits were now famous not only in all of Punjab and India, but also in the West. He had become a Sikh Robin Hood and every Punjabi would wait for the weekly newspaper to read about his adventures.
Many Sikh in the West were so inspired by Bhai Avtar Singh, that they decided to join him in the Movement. Bhai Avtar Singh supervised a training camp in which Indian Sikhs as well as Western Sikhs were given guerilla training. The recruits would then sneak back into India and join the fight. Bhai Avtar Singh preferred to stay on the battlefield in Punjab but used to go to the training camps at regular intervals as well. Bhai Avtar Singh served as a personal mentor to many of these Singhs.
Some of the more prominent Singhs to have gone and joined the fight from the West and then later become Shaheed were Bhai Harjinder Singh Para, a high school student from Toronto, Bhai Balbir Singh Sakheera from Calgary, Bhai Mohinder Singh Khalsa, Toronto, Bhai Bhupinder Singh BC, Bhai Hardev Singh 'Bapu' UK, and Bhai Surinder Singh Ravi, Toronto. Each story deserves an article to itself and will be written at a later time.
Punishing Thanedar Chhiboo Ram
Shiv Singh was the Thanedar of village Chola Sahib in the Tarn Taran area. Although he looked like a Sikh, Chhiboo was passionately opposed to the Sikh movement and the people became to call him Chhiboo Ram. Chhiboo was from a backward class and in his newfound position of authority, took special pleasure in intimidating others. He was known as the most foulmouthed police officer in Punjab and did not care about anyone's honour, age or position. If someone rang their bicycle's bell or the horn of a truck or car in the village bazaar, Chhiboo would slap them and release a barrage of foul curses.
The villagers in the area all were fans of Bhai Avtar Singh and talked amongst themselves about Brahma's courage and ability. Many used to say that it would be a good day when Brahma finally met Chhiboo Ram and punished him for his crimes. Bhai Avtar Singh had heard about Chhiboo but said that he should be allowed to enjoy his power for awhile since he was after all from a socially low class.
Chhiboo used to tell him men to be on the lookout for Bhai Avtar Singh and boasted that by killing such a wanted terrorist, he would be promoted to Captain by Ribeiro.
One day, Thanedar Chhiboo Ram was sitting in a tea stall with other police officers when he began to abuse them. He said, 'You bastards…you're a bunch of donkeys. You can't even get a clue about Brahma?' A policeman replied, 'Sir, people are crazy about Brahma, no one gives any information about him.'
Chhiboo replied, 'You idiots, let the villagers make their own alcohol (an illegal act) and don't interfere. Offer them bribes and tell them they can enjoy life if they have Brahma killed. Just watch how fast they take our little Brahmee and present him to us. You people harrass the villagers and take their money, that's why they like Brahma.'
Jathedar Durga Singh was also sitting in the tea stall at the same time, dressed in village clothing: a long kurta, chadra and a messy dastar. He overheard the policemen talking and approached them with an offer. He said, 'Sir, give this job to me. I'll quickly arrange for you to meet Brahma. You can then capture him yourselves. I want you to remember me but keep my identity a secret. I want to collect the bounty on Brahma's head for turning him in, so I don't want to be cheated either.'
Thaneder Chhiboo Ram became excited and said, 'Jatta, you let me meet Brahma and then your beard will be certain. The Police Chief will give you a letter of tribute and then you can go to any police station in Punjab and they will give you a seat of honour. The government will take care of your every need for the rest of your life.'
The Jat got up from his seat and promised to arrange the meeting soon. As he left, Chhiboo Ram was dreaming of the stars that would appear on his arm if he was successful in killing Brahma. He would become nothing less than a DSP.
Jathedar Durga Singh returned to the hideout where Bhai Avtar Singh and the other Singhs were staying and announced, 'Today I promised to give Thanedar Shiv Singh Chhiboo the darshan of Jathedar Avtar Singh Brahma. Singho, get ready because Chhiboo is very anxious to meet Bhai Brahma.'
Bhai Avtar Singh changed into a kurta pyjama and tied a regular dastar. He picked a team of Singhs to join him for his 'meeting'. The Singhs that would come with him were Jathedar Bohar Singh, Bhai Pippal Singh, Bhai Gurdev Singh Usmanvala, Bhai Gurdeep Singh Vakeel and Bhai Karnail Singh DC. The Singhs devised their plan and moved out.
Bhai Surinder Singh Shinda went to the police station and asked to meet with Chhiboo Ram. He told the Thanedar that he had been sent by the person he had met at the tea stall. He said that Brahma Nihang was on the road to Sarhali and it seemed that he had no weapons on him. Surinder Singh explained to Chhiboo Ram that the person he met at the teastall would meet him on the road and point Brahma out to him. Bhai Surinder Singh also explained that this was a great opportunity since it wouldn't require many police officers to catch a defenseless Brahma.
Chhiboo Ram was jumping with joy that finally he would get Brahma and that too, he'd be emptyhanded. He, along with four other policemen, commandeered a jeep and drove to Sarhali. When they reached a bridge near Sarhali, they saw in front of them Bhai Avtar Singh and Jathedar Durga Singh blocking the way. The Singhs with them were all sitting in their positions. Bhai Durga Singh motioned for the jeep to stop. He walked to the jeep and announced, 'Thanedar Sahib, before you stand see General Brahma. Take a good look. Do you like what you see?' Bhai Durga Singh then immediately ran to the side and the Singhs, with shouts of jaikaras, opened fire on the jeep. Chhiboo Ram was riddled with bullets and the driver of the jeep was killed as well. The remaining police officers were all badly injured and the Singhs removed their arms and ammunition and made their getaway.
The next day, newspapers reported an encounter at the bridge in which the Chola Sahib head of police, Shiv Singh had been killed along with 2 others. Four police officials were injured. The security forces surrounded the area but were unable to capture anyone. The Singhs slipped back into the swamps of the Mand. The legend of Bhai Brahma was growing.
(Based on ਜੁਝਾਰੂ ਯੋਧੇ by Maninder Singh Baja, Translation by sewadars of Tapoban.org)
To Be Continued…