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Dr Kharak Singh – Eminent Scholar, Self-sustaining and Low Profile Altruist –

S Gurdev Singh*

Ageless, erudite, affectionate, tenacious, savvy and a liberal host, Dr Kharak Singh, who passed away on August 6, 2008 at Chandigarh, was one-of-a-kind great broadcaster of Gurmat – Sikh value system. Before devoting himself exclusively and devotionally to the spreading of the message of Sikh Gurus, Dr Kharak Singh had acquired immense worldly experience through :

Education :

Matric GTB Khalsa High School, Baba Bakala, Created a new record (1938)
B Sc (Agri) Khalsa College, Amritsar (1942)
M Sc (Agri) Punjab University, Solan (1954)
M Sc (Agr Econ) Ohio State University, USA (1961)
Ph D (Agr Econ) Ohio State University, USA (1967)

A topper and scholarship holder throughout.

Service Career :

Punjab Agriculture College, Lyallpur :
Teaching and Research : 1942-1947
Agriculture College / Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana :
Teaching, Research and Agriculture Development
as Asstt. Professor and Professor : 1948-1962
Punjab Government :
Agriculture Development, as Deputy / Joint Director Agri.
Introduced high yielding varieties
and Green Revolution : 1963-1967
Govt. of India, Ministry of Agriculture :
Jt. Director, Desert Development Board : 1967 -1968
Managing Director,
State Farms Corporation of India : 1975-1977
Leader of farm delegation to USSR : 1977
United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome :
Agriculture Economic Advisor to Governments
in Ghana, Yemen, Iran, Libya, Zambia, etc. : 1968-1975
Missions to several countries in Africa,
Middle-East with headquarters in Rome : 1977-84

Dr Kharak Singh was born during the Morcha Guru-ka-Bagh year on the Gurparab day of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji at village Rayya Khurd (Distt Amritsar). His father Sardar Saudagar Singh, a fervent freedom fighter and reformer, was in jail at that time in connection with the Morcha Guru-ka-Bagh. Having grown up in an atmosphere surcharged with aspirations of reform, religious and political freedom and availing himself of the opportunity of attaining the best of education and gainful global experience, Dr Kharak Singh was aptly equipped to put across the pristine values of Sikh ethos. After his retirement from the UNO and securing for himself a sound financial setting, he wholeheartedly and exclusively devoted all his time, energy, intellect and resources to plan and implement various pragmatic programmes for the spread of the divine message of Gurmat, especially the welfare of the under-privileged and socially deprived.

In association with the eminent scholars Sardar Daljeet Singh, Prof Jagjit Singh and a few others, Dr Kharak Singh formed a small group of enlightened thinkers who regularly deliberated upon the various issues concerning the welfare of the Sikhs. Out of those deliberations was born a regular nucleus organisation – Institute of Sikh Studies whose objectives are:

1. To bring the latest advances in Sikh studies to the notice of scholars and general readers.
2. To project a correct image of Sikhism and the Sikh community in India as well as abroad.
3. To watch, report and rebut any distortions or misrepresentations of Sikh religion and its history.
4. To serve as a living link, and provide coordination among organisations engaged in promotion of Sikh studies.
5. To highlight problems of Sikh diaspora, and suggest solutions.
6. To arrange reviews of important publications relating to Sikhism.
7. To assist readers in framing an informed opinion on matters relating to Sikhism and Sikh studies.
8. To give publicity to activities of various Sikh societies around the world.
9. To act as a forum for expression of readers’ views.
10. To advertise appropriate literature on Sikhism.

To achieve these objectives effectively, the Institute of Sikh Studies started publishing its journal the Abstracts of Sikh Studies whose first edition was brought out under the co-editorship of Sardar Daljeet Singh and Dr Kharak Singh in the year 1991. Except for brief breaks, Dr Kharak Singh did a yeoman’s service as its distinguished Editor right upto his death.

Editing a scholarly journal and writing its Editorials is a very important and responsible function. Brilliant writing is difficult to sustain. The Editorials are rigorously balanced assessments of the subjects deftly appraised. Dr Kharak Singh did not demean the writing to which he brought so much passion, pain, adroitness and serene message. He was resolutely devoted to keep very high standard of the journal Abstracts of Sikh Studies. Always tenacious and savvy, he continued writing upto his last breath. To provide widest possible views on a subject, he encouraged scholars of various genre to contribute their write-ups to the journal. Dr Kharak Singh not only ensured quality of the contents of the journal, he worked hard and sucessfully to arrange financial support for the publication of the journal which did not seek insertion of commercial advertisements to keep it going. The Abstracts of Sikh Studies is consequently a purely scholarly/ research journal carrying learned contributions of various hues.
He was pioneer in the setting up of the World Institute of Sikh Education and Research (WISER) to take up research and training programmes on Gurbani, Sikh philosophy and history as also the International Sikh Confederation whose objectives are :

a) To share the ideology of Guru Granth Sahib with all humanity for evolving a harmonious social order;
b) To articulate short- and long-term goals of the Panth;
c) To promote the cause of the Sikh community in national and international forums;
d) To articulate and express the views on behalf of the Sikh community in the above forums, and thus to represent the Panth in all domestic and international spheres;
e) To co-ordinate activities of various Sikh organisations;
f) To help resolve and work towards settlement of all philosophical and other issues affecting the Panth as a whole;
g) To deal with problems of existing or potential schisms in the Panth;
h) To rebut academic and other attacks on Sikh religion, culture, identity, tradition and history;
i) To promote education and economic development of the Sikh community;
j) To promote research and publication of literature on Sikh religion, tradition, identity, culture and history;
k) To take vigorous and sustained measures to promote Punjabi language; and
l) To initiate and help promote national and international effort for humanitarian causes in pursuance of the basic Sikh tenet of Sarbat da Bhala (well being of all).

He formulated and coordinated the Sikh History Project for the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. This project is busy preparing the authentic Sikh history in five volumes. Upto his sad demise, he vigorously guided the Trust for the upliftment of Vanjaras, Lobanas, Sikligars and other weaker sections of the community. He was a prominent member of the Sikh Educational Society which is running half a dozen well-known colleges/schools in Punjab and Chandigarh. Dr Kharak Singh edited/authored over two dozen books concerning Sikhs through the Institute of Sikh Studies. Sikhism : Its Philosophy and History (1997) is a unique contribution.

He was for quite some time a member of the SGPC’s Dharam Parchar Committee and exerted his utmost to make the prachar programmes more effective in tune with modern times. He played a leading role in recharging the Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha to make it function much more vigorously. Even after his retirement from the UNO, Dr Kharak Singh travelled widely in India and abroad to address conferences, seminars and present learned papers for the spread of divine message of the Sikh Gurus.

There are two prominent characteristics of human nature: self-interest and caring for others. By using his own financial means, intellectual credentials and immense social influence to respond to challenging community problems in a meaningful way, Dr Kharak Singh typifies the altruistic character. His initiatives/endeavours in spreading knowledge, clearing mental cobwebs, eradicating illiteracy / ignorance speak volumes of his noble disposition. I had many an opportunity to work with him in a number of aforesaid organisations and projects. The inexhaustible physical and intellectual energy and superb analytical and historical praxis he brought to bear on his pursuits were of exceptionally high standard. I thank and applaud him for taking all these initiatives to minimise social woes of illiteracy, undernourishment and ill health.

Scholars from various genre would join him, but it was Dr Kharak Singh with his lexicon and turns of phrase who held the centre stage. The write-ups he produced would live on to inspire future generations in many ways. He knew the frustration of the deprived and at the same time cherished the innocent dreams of the indigent child.

Just a few days before he left his mortal frame, I went to see him in his sick bed on July 24, 2008. His lady-wife and daughter Dr Birendra Kaur were with him. He was physically feeble but spiritually resolute as ever. The few moments I spent with him, he was lying straight and least concerned with worldly gains. Welfare of the Sikh people was uppermost in his lofty mind and eloquent expression. He lamented the chaotic deliberative and decision-making aspect of the Sikh leadership, observed that the contribution of the globally eminent scholar Dr Gurbakhsh Singh USA has not been adequately recognised and desired the publication of another writer’s anthology.

He dedicated huge spell of time, effort and compassion in voluntarily serving people. He was associated with various programmes, the aim of which is to teach people how to incorporate human values in their life. He is an outstanding role model and inspiration to others in community service.

Dr Kharak Singh was an indefatigably painstaking intellectual who epitomised what means to be a good human. He was wholeheartedly supported in his noble endeavours by his graceful wife Sardarni Raj Mohinder Kaur and other members of his devoted family. Rare individuals are so blessed and destined to such a purposeful and rewarding life. May his living inspire others to play fruitful role for the betterment of the society.


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