Punjabi Suba movement

Punjabi Suba movement or Punjab separation 1966
Punjab, India (1956-1966).png
The East Punjab state in India from 1956 to 1966
Date15 August 1947 (1947-08-15) - 1 November 1966 (1966-11-01)
GoalsRe-creation of the state of Punjab for Punjabi-speaking people from the bilingual East Punjab state
MethodsProtest march, Street protest, Hunger strike, General strike
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures

After Independence, the Punjab state no longer existed (due to the partition), it was now just a bunch of princely ruled parts. During, this time the Indian states were reformed on linguistic basis, but the same was not done for these remaining northern states. The only way to bring back the Punjab state, was to demand a state on linguistic basis. The Indian Govt. denied this linguistic recognition to Punjab. Hence, the Punjabi Suba movement was launched, it aimed at creation of a Punjabi-language subah ("province") in the erstwhile East Punjab state of India in the 1950s. Led by the Akali Dal, it resulted in the formation of the Punjabi-language Punjab state, the Haryanvi-Hindi-majority Haryana state and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Some Pahari majority parts of the East Punjab were also merged with Himachal Pradesh as a result of the movement. This act of Govt. was highly criticised by the Punjabi's, as the language-based voting process was tempered and many Punjabi speaking areas were kept out of the newly formed Punjab State.


A map of the distribution of native Punjabi speakers in India and Pakistan

In the 1950s, the linguistic groups across India sought statehood, which led to the establishment of the States Reorganisation Commission in December 1953. At that time, the East Punjab state of India included present-day states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh (some parts) along with Chandigarh. East Punjab had a majority of Hindu religion followed by the Sikhs.

The Akali Dal, a Sikh-dominated political party active mainly in Punjab, sought to create a Sikh state but the idea was not much popular. In January 1948, Akali Dal's three member delegation of leaders Harcharan Singh Bajwa, Bhupender Singh Mann and Giani Kartar Singh met Minister of Law and Justice Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar suggested Akali delegation to demand Punjabi-speaking state or Punjabi Suba ("Punjabi Province") instead of Sikh state as Central government is committed to linguistic basis for the reorganisation of the states by which Akali's can demand Sikh state in the cloak of a Punjabi Suba.[1][2][3] Afterwards, the Sikh leaders such as Fateh Singh tactically stressed the linguistic basis of the demand, while downplaying its religious basis — a state where the distinct Sikh identity could be preserved.[4]

The Government of India was wary of carving out a separate Punjabi language state, because it effectively meant dividing the state along religious lines: Sikhs would form a 60% majority in the resulting Punjabi state.[5] The case for creating a Punjabi Suba was presented to the States Reorganisation Commission. The States Reorganisation Commission, not recognising Punjabi as a language that was grammatically very distinct from Hindi, rejected the demand for a Punjabi-majority state.[citation needed] Another reason that the Commission gave in its report was that the movement lacked general support of the people inhabiting the region.[citation needed]

Hindi language movement of Punjab in the Hindi-speaking areas of Punjab started on 30 April 1957 and lasted till 27 December 1957, which paved the way for the demand for the formation of Haryana as a separate state for the Hindi speaking people of the united Punjab province. At the same time Punjab also had Punjabi suba & Punjabi language movement. Punjabi and gurmukhi were made official state language and script respectively, which was also made mandatory in schools of the whole of post-independence united Punjab. People of Hindi speaking areas of Punjab resisted this imposition in masses. Punjab government retaliated by mass arrests and imprisonments, some of arrested activists were tortured in the prison. Sumer Singh of Naya Bans in Rohtak district gave his life for this cause during this movement.[6]

According to the States Reorganisation Act, the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) was merged with Punjab. However, the state still did not have a clear Punjabi majority, as it contained a large Hindi-speaking area.[citation needed]

Akali Dal's agitation[edit]

The Akali Dal leaders continued their agitation for the creation of a "Punjabi Suba" after the merger of PEPSU to Punjab. Akali leader Sant Fateh Singh spearheaded the Punjabi Suba Morcha in 1966.[7]


In September 1966, the Indira Gandhi-led Union Government accepted the demand. On 7 September 1966 Punjab Reorganisation Act was passed in Parliament. The Act was implemented with effect from 1 November 1966. Punjab was trifurcated creating Punjab, Haryana and transferring certain areas to Himachal Pradesh.[8]

Areas in the south of Punjab that spoke the Haryanvi dialect of Hindi formed the new state of Haryana, while the areas that spoke the Pahari dialects were merged to Himachal Pradesh (a Union Territory at the time). The remaining areas, except Chandigarh, formed the new Punjabi-majority state, which retained the name of Punjab.[9] Until 1966, Punjab was a Hindu majority state (63.7%). But during the linguistic partition, the Hindu-majority districts were removed from the state.[10] Chandigarh, the planned city built to replace Lahore, the capital of erstwhile Punjab, which became part of Pakistan during the partition.[11][12] Chandigarh was claimed by both Haryana and Punjab. Pending resolution of the dispute, it was declared as a separate Union Territory which would serve as the capital of both the states.[citation needed]

Further protest by Akali Dal[edit]

The Akali Dal never accepted the Punjab in its existing form as of today. Akali Dal Opposed the implementation of the Punjab Reorganisation Act on 1 November 1966 and Akali leaders protested against it.[7]

A week after the implementation of the Act, Akali leader Fateh Singh initiated preparations for another long-drawn agitation to have Chandigarh and the Punjabi-speaking areas left in Haryana transferred to Punjab. He also sought seeking the control of Bhakra Dam and other hydro power projects and headworks. On 16 November 1966, the morcha was re-launched. Fateh started sending Jathas of Akali leaders to the countryside to mobilise support. 12 December was observed as Black Day. In the third week of December, Fateh started fast unto death at the Akal Takht. He then announced that he would immolate himself on 27 December 1966. The Union government was concerned at this announcement and continued negotiations on the demands. An hour before the scheduled time of 4 pm on 27 December for immolation, Fateh called off his immolation bid.[7]


The prominent leaders of the movement included:


  1. ^ "Ambedkar's role overlooked". The Tribune. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ "Fifty Years of Punjab Politics (1920-70)". Panjab Digital Library. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  3. ^ Singh, Sardar Ajmer. "Dr. Ambedkar's Invaluable Advice on the Sikh Right to Self-rule". Round Table India. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  4. ^ Brass, Paul R. (2005). Language, Religion and Politics in North India. iUniverse. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-595-34394-2.
  5. ^ "Hindu-Sikh relations — I". The Tribune. Chandigarh, India: Tribuneindia.com. 3 November 2003. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  6. ^ Har Samvand, Sept 2018, p12.
  7. ^ a b c Dhaliwal, Sarbjit (9 September 2016). "Punjabi Suba: What's there to celebrate?". The Tribune. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  8. ^ "The Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966" (PDF). Government of India. 18 September 1966. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  9. ^ The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society By W. H. McLeod, Published 1991, Columbia University Press
  10. ^ The Sikhs as a "Minority" in a Sikh Majority State in India, by Paul Wallace, Asian Survey, 1986 University of California Press
  11. ^ "Chandigarh History". Chandigarh Guide. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  12. ^ "About Chandigarh". Government of Chandigarh. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2015.

Coordinates: 31°00′N 76°00′E / 31.000°N 76.000°E / 31.000; 76.000