Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, preached the equality of humanity. He taught his disciples to "see" God in every human being. To put his philosophy into practice, he started the institutions of sangat and pangat where all people would sit together, pray together, and eat together without any kind of discrimination. All people, Hindus, Muslims, and so-called low castes loved the Guru as their own. To express the love of the people for Guru Nanak, a folk rhyme, Nanak Shah Fakir, Hindu Ka Guru, Musalman Ka Pir, became popular with the masses. By the time of Guru Amar Das, Sikhism became a mass movement.
The government started worrying lest the people get themselves organized under the guidance of the Guru and revolt against their rule of injustice. It was under this fear, that Guru Arjan Dev was arrested, tortured and murdered in 1606. From then on, state terrorism continued against the Sikhs even beyond the middle of the 18th century. The strength of the Khalsa and the faith of the people in the righteousness of the Sikhs, however, went on increasing as the terrorism against them was intensified by the government. Finally, the people did throw away the cruel rule and welcomed the Khalsa government lead by Maharaja Ranjit Singh over northwest India. The Sikhs, though, did not make even 10% of the population at that time.
This sakhi belongs to the period of Mir Mannu, Governor of Lahore (1748 -1753). During that period the looting, torturing and killing of Sikhs was made legal and the killers were rewarded by the government. The Punjab was attacked for the third time by Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, in December 1751. Mannu was defeated and the province of Punjab was taken over by the Afghans from the Delhi Emperor. Kaura Mal, a Minister of Mannu, but a friend of the Sikhs was killed in the battle. Thus, the only link between misldars (Sikh chiefs) and Mannu was lost. Nobody was left to hold Mannu from executing his evil ideas and ill motives against the Sikhs.
When Mannu was busy with Abdali, Sikhs consolidated their hold on the areas under their control. This irritated Mannu very much. Further, the frustration of his defeat at the hands of Abdali was converted into anger against the Sikhs. He sent army bands to hunt the Sikhs, catch them or kill them.
In March 1753, the commander of Jallandhar lead his army on the Sikhs and killed a great many of them gathering for Hola Mahalla at Anandpur. Mannu attacked Ram Rauni, a fort of Sikhs at Amritsar. He blew up the fort and killed all the 900 Sikhs there. Army bands were sent out to search and kill Sikhs. Skirmishes between the roving bands and the Sikh jathas were a common occurrence.
The sympathy of the people was with the Sikhs but the control of the army was in the hands of Mannu. It was not difficult for the Sikhs to dodge the army men and move to inaccessible places in the jungles or into sedges along the river beds. Not finding the Sikhs in their houses and not being able to follow them to their hiding places, the army men would pick up their women and children. They were brought to Lahore, tortured and murdered in cold blood in Nakhas market for horses.
Miskin, personal attendant of Mannu, has given an eyewitness account of the violence against the Sikhs, in the following words:
Mannu appointed most of his soldiers to the task of chastising the Sikhs. They ran after these wretches up to 28 Kos (a Kos is approximately one and a half miles) in a day and slew them wherever they stood up to oppose them. Everyone who brought Sikh heads to Mannu received a reward of Rupees 10 per head. Anyone who brought a horse belonging to a Sikh could keep it as his own. Whosoever lost his own horse by chance in the fight with the Sikhs got another in its place from the government stable.
The persons who brought Sikhs alive or their heads or their horses received prizes. The Sikhs who were captured alive were sent to hell by being beaten with wooden mallets. At times Adina Beg Khan sent 40 or 50 Sikh captives from Doab Jallandhar. They were as a rule killed with the strokes of wooden hammers.
Sometimes Mannu himself rode a horse and went hunting for Sikhs. Once, when his men fired a volley on Sikhs hiding in a sugarcane field, his horse got scared. It suddenly jumped up and ran away. Mannu fell from his horse, but his foot got caught in the saddle. Dragged by his horse, Mannu lost his life.
Inhuman tortures were given to the Sikh women and children brought to Lahore to force them to change their faith. Not a single person submitted to the cruel government. All of them, without sorrow, suffered all kinds of pain and death.
The women were kept hungry and forced to grind grain by working heavy stone mills. The minimum ration was given to them so that they did not die of hunger, but were able to keep on living and suffering tortures. To break their will and high spirits, they were made to watch their children being thrown up in the air to fall back on the sharp blades of spears. Children pierced through by the spears were cut into pieces and put as a necklace around the necks of their mothers. The dogs were permitted to eat their flesh before the eyes of their helpless mothers. These great women bore all this without even a sigh on their lips.
The martyrdom and unparalleled sacrifices of the great Sikh women and their children are remembered by Sikhs in their prayer "Let us remember the women who suffered in the jail of Mannu, remained hungry, worked heavy stone mills, watched their children being pierced by the spears and got their body pieces around their necks … keeping their sacrifices in mind let all of us hail them and say Waheguru."
In memory of those martyrs, there now stands Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj, Lahore.
Sikhs, while undergoing all these cruelties kept their morale and spirits high. To express there feelings, there is a folk saying of that period:
We are like plants and Mannu a sickle, all know.
The more he cuts us, the more we grow.
As an outcome of these sacrifices for human rights, people developed a great regard for the Sikhs and nursed sincere sympathy for them. Finally, the tyrannical rule ended and with the support of the masses, the Sikhs became the rulers of the state.