'Pagdi Sambhal Jatta': From history to significance, all you need to know about the movement against British farm laws

Sardar Ajit Singh led the 1907 Pagli Sambhal Jatta movement in the pre-partition Punjab against the anti-farm laws enacted by the British. The movement has now resurfaced in the ongoing farmers' protest against the the new farm Acts enacted by the Centre late last year.

Sardar Ajit Singh was the uncle of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. He was born on 23 February 1881 at Khatkar Kalan village. The iconic leader who was followed and idolized by innumerable farmers at that time is again becoming the source of inspiration for the farmers of this era.

History of the movement

The British colonial government brought the Punjab Land Colonization Bill at the start of the last century, which introduced inheritance by primogeniture, threatening farmers’ land with seizure; the Bari Doab Canal Act, by which rates of water were increased, and a 25 per cent hike in revenue rates was effected, as was the Punjab Land Alienation Act.

History behind the nomenclature

A lot of meetings were held in various cities of Punjab in 1907 to oppose the British laws. On 22 March 1907, during a meeting held at Lyallpur, Lala Banke Dayal, editor, Jhang Syal, recited his poem, Pagdi Sambhal Jatta. The agitation was, therefore, called the Pagdi Sambhal Jatta movement.

Ajit Singh addressed 19 out of the 33 meetings held in Punjab, as the main speaker. The farm leader was a great orator who was able to influence audiences easily. One of his speeches, delivered on 21 April 1907 at Rawalpindi, was described as "highly seditious" by British officials, and a case under Section 124-A (sedition) of the IPC was registered against him.

The movement forced the British to revoke the three laws in May 1907, but Lala Lajpat Rai, another prominent leader, was arrested on 9 May and Ajit Singh on 2 June. Both spent six months in Burma's Mandalay prison.

Life in exile

Ajit Singh spent most of his life in exile. In Italy, the leader created Azad Hind Lashkar of 11,000 armymen. In Switzerland, he interacted with Lala Hardyal and Champak Raman Pillai. He also met Lenin, Trotsky, and Mussolini. Ajit Singh returned to India on 7 March 1947 after spending two months in London, but his health was deteriorating.

He decided to spend time in Dalhousie in July 1947 after his health worsened. The iconic leader breathed his last around 3:30 AM on 15 August 1947 in Independent India.

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