General Shahbeg Singh - The Unsung Hero


Major General Shabeg Singh AVSM and PVSM (1925–1984), was an Indian Army officer noted for his service in training of Mukti Bahini volunteers during the Bangladesh Liberation War, and later for his role in training Sikh freedom fighters in their occupation of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar.

Early Days

General Shabeg Singh belonged to Khiala village (earlier known as Khiala Nand Singhwala) of the Bhangus, about nine miles (14 km) from Amritsar-Chogawan Road. He was the eldest son of Sardar Bhagwan Singh and Pritam Kaur, and had three brothers and a sister. He traced his lineage to great Sikh warrior, Bhai Mehtab Singh Bhangu who along with Bhai Sukha Singh slew the notorious Massa Rangar in 1740 and thus avenged the desecration of the Golden Temple. The family was well-to-do and prosperous and had sizeable land holding of over 100 acres (0.40 km2). Sardar Bhagwan Singh was the village Lambardar. Nand Singh was the great-grandfather of Shabeg Singh.

From his early childhood Shabeg Singh displayed leadership qualities and above-average intelligence. He would often spontaneously composed extemporaneous verses to caricature interesting village personalities. He displayed a keen interest in history and literature and his village teachers were impressed with his intellectual ability. They advised Sardar Bhagwan Singh and Pritam Kaur to send him to a school. He was sent to the Khalsa College in Amritsar for secondary education, and later to the Government College in Lahore for higher education.

Shabeg Singh was an outstanding football and hockey player, and excelled in athletics. At the age of 18 years he had equaled the India records in 100 meters sprint and was the District Broad jump champion. However, even though he had a natural ability for sports he did not wish to pursue that as a career, his mind was on the army, which was considered a noble profession. He excelled in studies and generally topped his class.

Indian Army

In 1940, an officers selection team visiting Lahore colleges were looking for fresh recruits to the Indian Army officers cadre. Out of a large number of students, who applied, Shabeg Singh was the only one to be selected from Government College. After training in the officer training school, he was commissioned in the 2nd Punjab Regiment as a Second Lieutenant. Within a few days the Regiment moved to Burma and joined the war against the Japanese, which was then in progress. In 1944 when the war ended, he was in Malaya with his unit. After partition, when reorganization of the regiments took place, he joined the Parachute brigade as a Paratrooper. He was posted in the 1st para battalion in which he remained till 1959.

In 1952, Shabeg Singh's younger brothers Sardar Shamsher Singh, Sardar Jaswant Singh along with their brother-in-law shifted to Haldwani in the Terrai area of Uttar Pradesh after having bought farmlands there.
General Shabeg had a flair for history, and he loved reading about military generals and campaigns. Besides English and Hindi, he could speak fluent Punjabi, Persian, Urdu, and Gorkhali. He was an instructor in the Military Academy at Dehra Dun, and held a number of important staff appointments in various ranks. In the army he had a reputation of being fearless officer and one who did not tolerate any nonsense. During the course of his service in the Indian army, Shaheg Singh fought in every war that India participated in.

Although he had a brilliant military career, including being an instructor in the prestigious Joint Services Wing of the Indian Military Academy, Major General Shabeg Singh was discharged from Indian Army without court martial one day before his retirement, thus losing part of his pensions. Singh took his case to the civil courts, but with no avail.

Operation Blue Star

After his dismissal, Shabeg Singh joined Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.[2] He organised the Khalistan activists present at the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar in June 1984. He was killed in Operation Blue Star, the Indian Army's action on the Golden Temple complex to flush out the freedom fighters.