PRITAM SINGH SANDHANWALIA (1896-1978), was the younger son of Kunwar Gurdit Singh Sandhanwalia and Sardarni Maan Kaur. Gurdit Singh was son Kunwar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia and was adopted by Maharaja Duleep Singh as his son in 1889. Sardarni Maan Kaur was grand daughter of Sardar Budh Singh Mann, who served as able General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Pritam Singh’s elder brother Sarup Singh was born in 1889. Kunwar Gurdit Singh with his brothers Gurbachan Singh and Narinder Singh fought for the establishment of the Sikh Empire. Maharaja Duleep Singh had established a Government-in-Exile and with headquarters at Pondicherry, Gurdit Singh communicated with Kukas, Princely States and revolutionaries across India to ignite a revolt like that of 1857 to oust the British. But upon death of Maharaja and subsequent return to India, he was interned in Delhi. His jagir and property was confiscated, and was given an allowance of Rs. 30/- and five annas per month, which was too meager to maintain the family. He spent about 10 years in detention. Pritam Singh Sandhanwalia was hence born in detention on 15th June, 1897. On being set free his family was not allowed to live at village Raja Sansi. Gurdit Singh took as to his in-laws at Manawala (now in Pakistan). Sardarni Maan Kaur died in 1907.
In 1907, the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh paid a visit to India and came to Raja Sansi to meet Gurdit Singh and his son Pritam Singh, then a child of ten years. She took the welfare of Pritam Singh very seriously and made arrangements for receiving him in England. In 1907, Princess Sophia wrote to Gurdit Singh: ‘I will be more than happy to have either of your sons, ideally the youngest one of ten years, with me in England, to be educated. I cannot speak Urdu or Punjabi, so he will need to speak English’. As Kunwar Gurdit Singh agreed arrangements for Pritam Singh to be sent were made and it was observed that the British Foreign Office was interfering with the lives of the Princesses, hence it was decided upon educating Pritam Singh in India up to matriculation. Princess Bamba also used to reveal her fears to her sister Princess Sophia about being poisoned by the C.I.D. In a later letter, dated 11th November, 1941 Princess Bamba writes to Pritam Singh ‘I was poisoned just the night before I came into Kashmir-this is not the first time by any means, that I have been poisoned by the C.I.D. why?’.Princess Sophia was also involved in Suffragette movement and was courting arrest. She was also looked with very suspicious eyes by the British Government. Since it was in the interest of Pritam Singh to protect him from all these dangers, therefore Kunwar Pritam Singh joined the Khalsa School which was attached to the Khalsa College in Amritsar. Also since Princess Bamba, sister of Sophia was herself staying at Lahore, it was decided that Bamba would be able to take care of Pritam Singh for Sophia. When Kunwar Gurdit Singh died in 1910, Princess Sophia took complete charge of her adopted son Pritam Singh and gave her sister Princess Bamba the responsibility of looking after him while she was preoccupied organizing protests for the Suffragette Movement in England and became at the centre of a political storm involving women rights to vote. Kunwar Pritam Singh therefore spent his childhood with Princess Bamba at her Lahore residence.
Kunwar Gurdit Singh inherited Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Bunga Sarkar. This Bunga is also recorded by other names such as BungaSarkari, Sarkarwala, Shukarchakia or Sindhanwalia in various records. In her letter of 31st January, 1908, Princess Bamba wrote to Gurdit Singh: ‘I hope to be at your Bunga between 9-11 o’clock tomorrow Saturday morning. I hope this will suit you all.’ In another letter addressed to Sandhanwalia Chief by Deputy Commissioner Amritsar, the address of BungaSarkari, near Clock Tower is mentioned. Princess Bamba Sutherland whenever in Amritsar, used to stay at Pritam Singh’s Bunga.
In London, Princess Sophia was kept informed of Kunwar Pritam Singh’s progress at school and she sent him £36 annually, he later graduated in science from the Khalsa College at Amritsar. Pritam Singh later married Sardarni Harnam Kaur, daughter of Sardar Veer Singh Virk of Phullarwan having large estates in Malaysia. Pritam Singh used to stay with Princess Bamba in Lahore and when he was at Raja Sansi managing his property, he used to pay regular visits to Princess Bamba while at Gulzar, her residence in Lahore.
Kunwar Pritam Singh Sandhanwalia was regularly sent money by Princess Bamba though Pritam Singh was now above 50 years of age. On 19th April, 1951 she writes: ‘I hope the extra exercise did good to you and Beant and no harm. My thanks again to his sweet little wife for the very excellent pronthies which I so much enjoyed.’ In another letter of 7th August from Hildan Hall Penn Bucks she says ‘you have not let me know of the safe arrival of the 100 pounds. Coutts telegraphed to the Chartered Bank Amritsar for you on 11th July’. A letter from National Bank of India Limited dated 28th August, 1951 describes about ‘received instructions from our London Office to pay you the equivalent of 40 pounds… from the order of Princess Bamba Sutherland.’ In another letter Princess adds: ‘I wrote a letter to you about 2 weeks ago but they seized it at the frontier. I complained about it to the Governor of Lahore in writing (He was ill) and to the British High Commissioner & today I heard the frontier… returned the 6 letters to me!’ Princess Bamba Sutherland used to send huge amount of money to S. Pritam Singh until 1954 when she got paralyzed. She was visited by Pritam Singh and his son Beant Singh in Pakistan in 1954 and 1956. She was couldn’t speak or move and was not in possession of her mental faculties. She was totally dependent on her servants. She loved Lahore and didn’t want to move out of the place where once stood the Kingdom of her father. She died in 1957 but the Pakistan Government did not allow Pritam Singh to attend her funeral.
Kunwar Pritam Singh Sandhanwalia tried to bring back the mortal remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh back to Punjab for cremation. For this purpose he contacted the then Chief Minister of Punjab GianiZail Singh but was unsuccessful. Kunwar Pritam Singh died on 20 February 1978. Following his father, Kunwar Beant Singh also wrote petitions to the Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair, raised public awareness on the topic of Maharaja Duleep Singh and tried to get the mortal remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh back to India. The descendants of Maharaja Duleep Singh have therefore throughout tried that the justice should be given to their family ancestors. Maharaja Duleep Singh who died as a Sikh should be cremated. The family also from time to time has raised their voice that Kohinoor belongs to Punjab and want that as a common shared heritage it should be brought back.
- Letters from India Office Record, British Library, London.
- Princess Sophia, Princess Bamba letters: Sandhanwalia family papers.
- The Maharajah’s Box by Christy Campbell
- Sovereign, Squire and Rebel, Maharajah Duleep Singh by Peter Bance
- The DuleepSinghs, The Photograph Album of Queen Victoria’s Maharajah By Peter Bance
- The Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Dr. Harbans Singh, published by Punjabi University, Patiala.
- History of Freedom Movement in the Punjab, Vol. 3, Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence by Dr. Ganda Singh.
- History books: Maharaja Ranjit Singh and post Punjab Annexation period.
- Kunwar Damandeep Singh Sandhawalia