Kuka Freedom Movement

The Freedom Fighter
Satguru RAM SINGH JI’s message was essentially a call to the national exhorting Indians not to cooperate with the corrupt and unjust foreign rulers. And as the numerical and spiritual strength of the Kookas began to grow in the Punjab, they became the romantic heroes of the freedom struggle with a very special way of life and thought. He said “The torch of freedom struggle that I have kindled in the hearts of people, will not only keep burning but spread to all nooks and corners of the country. The more you try to extinguish it, the more violently it will flash. No one can extinguish it till independence is achieved.” 

Satguru Ram Singh Ji was the first in world history to have used non-cooperation as a weapon to free his country from the yoke of the British Empire. Mahatma Gandhi talked of it later. The repurcussions of this novel idea was to become an intergeral part of fighting oppression in many corners of the world. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mendla adopted the same principle. But sadly, for years, Satguru Ram Singh Ji’s great gift to mankind was only to be talked about in Namdhari media. Even today many indians, let alone the world, are void of this first chapter in their history of the fight for India’s independance. But in Dec 2008, the government finally honoured the acheivements of the Kookas fighters and the contribution of Sat Guru Ram Singh’s non-cooperation movement. A picture of the Guru is now present inside the houses of the Indian Parliment.

The Malerkota Saga: Sir Henry Cotton in his book, Indian and Home memories on page 112 says “For my part I can recall nothing during my service in India, more revolting and shocking than these executions and there were many who thought as I did and still think that the final orders of the establishments were lamentably inadequate”. 

 In 1858, British Crown rule was established in India, ending a century of control by the East India Company. …and India became under the direct control of British Government.

The first triangular white flag of the Indian Independence Movement, which symbolizes Sikh Tenets: Truth, Purity, Simplicity, Peace and Unity was hoisted by the 12th Sikh Guru – Sri Satguru Ram Singh Ji Maharaj on the eve of the Baisakhi Festival – 1st Baisakh Samat 1914 (12th April 1857), when Sri Satguru Ji re-inaugurated the SANT KHALSA (also known as Namdhari Sikh Panth) at Sri Bhaini Sahib (District Ludhiana) Punjab, India.

It was the founder of the Kooka movement and the Namdhari Sikh sect, Satguru Ram Singh, who evolved the concepts of swadeshi and non-cooperation which were to form the comer-stone of Mahatma Gandhi’s successful nationwide satyagraha movement that spelt finally the end of the British rule in India. And as the numerical and spiritual strength of the Kookas began to grow in the Punjab, they became the romantic heroes of the freedom struggle with a very special way of life and thought.


According to the first President of India, (Dr. Rajendra Prasad), the Kooka movement became very strong within years of its birth at Bhaini Sahib in 1857. The Guru had given his followers a pronged call for the boycott of imperial rule:

  • We will boycott the British governance & Administration, including boycott of educational institutions and law courts started by the British and boycott, resist and refuse to obey the laws and orders which offended our conscience.
  • We will boycott the British products.
  • No one will ever drink English tea, as it was introduced by the British.
  • No one should wear English cloths. Only home-spun white kurta-payjama should be worn.
  • No one will use refined sugar from mills setup by British. We shall continue to use jaggery and sugarcane juice.
  • No one will use the water of canals established by British. Use water from wells, which community has dug up.
  • No one will stand in the shade of trees, that British planted.
  • We will not use public transport started by the British.
  • The British postal System should be boycotted.


Thus, long before the Congress movement, of Mahatma Gandhi, it was the Satguru Ram Singh who gave the nation the concept and technique of boycott, non-cooperation and swadeshi as the three main planks of the ethos of the successful freedom struggle of India. In a way Gandhi and Nehru could be considered the political and spiritual inheritors of the first great pioneer – Satguru Ram Singh Ji.

The message and approach were simple and in the language and idiom of the ordinary people. Their exhortations spiritually drew all their inspiration from the teachings of the saint and soldier Gurus of the Sikhs, mainly from the teachings of the founder of the Khalsa, the true ones, the soldier-saint Guru Gobind Singh. So to struggle for freedom became a religious, spiritual and ethical duty.

Another distinctive feature of  Satguru Ram Singh Ji’s vision was a direct contrast to the policy of the then British rulers in India. The British believed in pursuing the policy of divide and rule, the Kookas gave the call to unite and fight.

For the first few years after its birth, Satguru Ram Singh instilled among his Sikhs the non-usage of the essential services and facilities introduced and controlled in India by the British. The Kookas did not travel by trains. For them it was sin to ride a ‘Rail Gaddi’, because it was a vehicle of the alien colonial masters. The Kookas travelled by horse, bullock cart or by foot. That way they also managed to evade the eye of the British spies and policemen. ‘

He asked them not to make use of the British introduced postal services in India. They organised their own system of communication. They invented and perfected their own system of sending and receiving messages, letters and orders, from and to their national and international headquarters in Bhaini Sahib. The language of communication of the Kookas was mostly a Punjabi version which specially evolved itself during usage into a kind of a code language which was difficult even for the bulk of Punjabis outside the to easily understand. They also used the then prevalent court languages of India like Persian, but as a principle stayed away from the use of the foreign, or firangee, English language.

Such was the obedience that the Kookas of those early days would not even use the ‘sarkari sarak’ or the road built by the British. Following the rural foot-walks and goat-tracks in the hills, they went miles and miles not only in India but also in other countries.

The Kuka movement, with its own secret codes and national and international contacts with other groups of freedom fighters, was perfected in the sixties of the 19th century. Soon they had a very well-knit organisation and secret cells functioning at even far flung places like Peshawar, Kabul, Haripur Hazara and the Rossi Turkistan, the Turk areas of Russia.

The word Suba in ordinary Punjabi means ‘a province or a state of the country’. But in the Namdhari language it meant a ‘Special commander or governor’ for a special region or for a special mission, appointed by the Namdhari Durbar or the spiritual court of the sect under the direct instruction and inspiration of the temporal and spiritual master, the Satguru. Therefore, Suba Gurcharan Singh, the Chief of the underground services of the Kookas was also a special international envoy of Satguru Ram Singh.

The Kooka secret service and underground forces were carefully organised and developed after taking into account the historical factors which had led to the disintegration of the Great Sikh Dream and the much feared and respected empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, which was in its own special way, at one time looked upon as the flowering of the ethos of Sikhism and Punjabi and Indian nationalism. Therefore, while it drew all inspiration from the teachings of the Great Gurus, it also took a crucial and analytical view of the causes and circumstances of the fall and degeneration of men and women in power at the juncture of time, which claimed to be Sikhs and Khalsa-the pure ones-but had strayed from the path of the great gurus.

Both Guru Gobind Singh and Satguru Ram Singh had challenged in their own way and under the challenging environment of their own times, the might of the Mughal and the British imperial powers respectively. Both had embarked on the mission of freedom and justice, purity and sacrifice, equating political freedom and spiritual purity as essential rights and duties of free and pure men and women it.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, among others were also inspired by the teachings of Satguru Ram Singh Ji.

The blood, which the Kookas sacrificed for the freedom of their motherland and in relieving the suffering of humanity, is a glorious debt which a nation can never repay except by following their path and message to keep man free from all political and social bondage. That is, if the rulers are corrupt and unjust a true Kooka must fight them, through non cooperation and disobedience, and if necessary, by taking up an open confrontation with the immoral and the unjust. Looking from that perspective, one can see the Kooka movement as one of the first strongly and well-knit, movements to fight for human rights also. Satguru Ram Singh was obviously impelled by his own pain and suffering when he saw the citizens of his beloved country denied the most basic human rights, by an alien colonial power in the their very homeland.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh on the Kuka Freedom Movement
Shaheed Bhagat Singh on the Kuka Freedom Movement, writes (Documents of Shahid Bhagat Singh and his Comrades (Punjabi), p. 77) : “T. D. Farmick, who was the Chief Secretary of Punjab in 1863, has written in his biography that he had already realised in 1863 that this religious movement would one day acquire fearful political dimensions.  For this reason, he had stopped the entry of too many people in the Bhaini Gurudwara.  Consequently, the assembly of people was banned.  As a consequence, (Guru) Ram Singh changed his tactics. He divided Punjab into 22 districts and appointed a chief for each district who was called Suba. In this way, propaganda and organisation work was started and secret propaganda for freedom was also carried on. The organisation continued to grow. Every Namdhari. Sikh started donating the tenth part of his income for the cause of religion. When the government did not notice any outward activity, its suspicious was allayed and in 1869, all restrictions were withdrawn. As soon as the restrictions were withdrawn, there was a great resurgence of zeal and activity.”

Subash Chandra Bose – “The banner for freedom given to Indians by Guru Ram Singh and the sacrifices done by Namdhari Sikhs will be a matter if pride for the Indians. The Namdhari Sikhs, experienced for three quarters of century for their peaceful non-cooperation movement, are expected to carry forward the banner of freedom in the forefront and will encourage sacrifices. Guru Ram Singh is the first leader of the peaceful non-cooperation movement in India.”

‘No Indian can deny the importance of efforts put in by Sat Guru Ram Singh Ji seventy five years back in achieving freedom for the motherland. Congress merely followed the path shown by him and attained independence.’- India’s first Prime Minister Pandit J Nehru, 1939.

‘No Indian can deny the importance of efforts put in by Sat Guru Ram Singh Ji seventy five years back in achieving freedom for the motherland. Congress merely followed the path shown by him and attained independence.’- India’s first Prime Minister, 1947.

Guru Ram Singh Ji 10Battle for recognition as part of India’s struggle for freedom.
In 2008, 61 years after independence and almost 138 years after they died for it, the Government of India has finally recognized the freedom fighters of the Kuka Movement. The struggle to achieve this was epic and finally on 13 Dec 2008 the ministry of home affairs put on paper the official declaration. (see transcript below). On 22nd December 2008 , the Indian prime minister unveiled a portrait of Satguru Ram Singh Ji in the parliament of India. His holiness Sri Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji graced the occasion. The sacrifices at Jallianwala Bhag (Amritsar) have also been included in the official list of ‘freedom fighters’.


Postage stamp as ode to Kuka Movement.

STAMPThe Union government has decided to release a commemorative postage stamp this year on the 19th century Kuka Movement. Communication and IT minister Kapil Sibal in a communique to BJP MP Avninash Rai Khanna – who raised the issue in Rajya Sabha on December 18, 2013 through special mention — has said that Punjab chief minister had already been asked to appoint a nodal officer to coordinate with the Union government on the issue.

Khanna stated that principal secretary S S Channy, who has recently been given the charge of home department, has been appointed as nodal officer by the state government. “Kuka Movement was one of the first freedom movements in India, which started in the 19th century, even when in rest of the country a popular participation was yet to be raised against the British rule. It was the original non-cooperation movement in India that began in Punjab. The postage stamp is only a small gesture to celebrate its importance and originality,” said Khanna.

Source: Times of India



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