Historical Sikh Events: Indian Independence
Self respect on the basis of justice and equity is the quintessence of the Sikh ideals which in an age they were propounded and the country in which they were taught represented an entirely new concept of life. To enable the people to imbibe the abiding validity of these ideals and to instill in them the will and the courage to uphold them at all costs, the Sikh Gurus set personal precepts of the highest order by making supreme sacrifices, including martyrdoms of Guru Arjan Dev (1606), Guru Tegh Bahadur (1675), Guru Gobind Singh (1708) his four sons and countless number of disciples. Freedom, Justice and Equity are thus the fundamental Principles of the Sikh ethos. Most unfortunately, the heroic role of the Sikhs as the pioneers of Freedom and Justice in this part of the World has not, so far, been allowed to take its proper place in the pages of history, thanks to the subtle and even none too-subtle efforts of those who are unwilling to accept them on terms of equality. When the Afghans in the eighteenth century had routed the Moghals and later the Marhatas at Panipat, it were the Sikhs and the Sikhs alone who stood between them and their territorial designs against India. It is now recognized by all the objective historians of the World that but for the bitter struggle then put up by the Sikhs, the entire territory upto Jamuna would have formed part of the Afghan Empire. At the cost of the stupendous sacrifices, the Sikhs saved the geographical entity of India from being dismembered at that crucial stage of history (Evolution of Khalsa, by I.B. Bannerjee). It were also the Sikhs who salvaged the honour of this country when they freed thousands of innocent young women from the clutches of Nadir Shah, Ahmed Shah and a host of other marauders who used to sell them in the Bazars of Kabul, Ghazni and Persia, like Goats and Sheeps; again, it were the Sikhs alone who after thousands of years, reversed the course of history by rolling the invaders back to their quarters and sealing the vulnerable areas in the North West against all future invasions with their blood and bones. Furthermore, the Sikhs have been the harbingers of the New Age in this part of the World. Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when they held key to unlimited power, they used it with a restraint and compassion of which the true import is now being increasingly realized. For the first time, complete communal harmony prevailed in the North Western parts of India embracing the Sikh Sovereignty. Those who, today, swear by the concepts of secularism and National Intergration, but have in actual practice, turned them into instruments to persecute the minorities, have a lot to learn from the Sikh Sardars and Maharaja Ranjit Singh who strictly conforming to the Sikh tenets, never discriminated against anybody irrespective of his caste, creed or colour. In every Sikh State, more particularly under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a large number of Hindus, Muslims and Christians rose to the highest positions of power and wielded immense influence. It is particularly significant that not a single person of any denomination suffered capital punishment on any ground in the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh – an achievement which even the most modern states today, after about a century and half, have not been able to muster courage to emulate.
It is now too well known that the Sikhs lost their Empire not in wars but in the dark cellars where aggeression and treason joined hands to hatch a conspiracy against them. The traditional traitors and brokers connived with the British to raise their feudal estates on the ruins of the Empire of the Khalsa. Kashmir is one such example and the role of Tej Singh, Lal Singh (Brahmins from U.P.), Gulab Singh and Dhian Singh (Dogras from Kashmir), Khushal Singh (a Maharashtrian Bania), Sohal Lal Suri from Punjab and many others, is a standing disgrace to the race to which they belong.
It is now too well known that the Sikhs lost their Empire not in wars but in the dark cellars where aggression and treason joined hands to hatch a conspiracy against them. The traditional traitors and brokers connived with the British to raise their feudal estates on the ruins of the Empire of the Khalsa. Kashmir is one such example and the role of Tej Singh, Lal Singh (Brahmins from U.P.), Gulab Singh and Dhian Singh (Dogras from Kashmir), Khushal Singh (a Maharashtrian Bania), Sohal Lal Suri from Punjab and many others, is a standing disgrace to the race to which they belong.
Notwithstanding the laying down of arms, the passion for freedom continued to burn in every Sikh heart. When all other people in India had completely reconciled themselves to their subjugation, the Sikhs were the only Nation which kept the flame of Freedom burning. Almost immediately after the annexation of Punjab, they made it known, in no uncertain terms, their firm resolve to redeem their destiny, which they proclaim with the beat of drum every day in every payer in the litany – “Raj Karega Khalsa”. And, contrary to the motivated and malicious meaning put on the word ‘Khalsa’, by Mr. Shourie it connotes an identifiable and sovereign religious Entity with distinct religious and social tenets and ethics of its votaries, whose geo-political status is all too well defined. The deliberate distoration of the word ‘Khalsa’ is part of the scheme to confuse the Sikh ideals and wean them away from the core-teachings of their holy Gurus.
Even when the British people had not yet fully settled down in their new territorial acquisition, Bhai Maharaj Singh of Naurangabad raised the standard of revolt in 1847, but, because of complete loss of eyesight he was betrayed into the hands of rulers by some traitor who deported him to Singapore where he died in Jail. S. Attar Singh Attari wale was another hero to revolt soon thereafter but, his was too lone a fight to succeed against a mighty world power. After 1857 the alien rulers of India tightened their rule but the flame of freedom in the Sikhs’ hearts could not be suppressed. In 1872, their love of freedom manifested itself in the revolt of Baba Ram Singh, sixty-five of whose followers were blown to piece at Maler Kotla by the British. Baba Ram Singh was deported but the resolve of the people irrevocably committed to Freedom kept their will whole. The fight as yet was too unequal to succeed but the longing for liberty was warming every Sikh heart and was all too evident.
The Sikhs now decided to strike from another quarter. Some Sikh patriots living on the West Coast of North America formed the revolutionary party, popularly known as ‘Gaddar Party’. Another milestone on the path of Freedom was laid by the Sikhs who traveling by S.S. Kamagata Maru reached Budge Budge. Many of them were shot dead while some of them escaped to spread the message of revolution in all parts of India.
The two main factors which had not hitherto allowed the Sikhs’ efforts for freedom to meet with any conspicuous success were the disparity in resources and the lack of any accredited party of their own to co-ordinate their efforts. Moreover, other people in thei sub-continent had failed to muster courage to lend and effective active support to them in the fight for Freedom.
The formation of Shiromani Akali Dal on December 14, 1920 fulfilled one of the long standing needs of the Sikhs. They now had a common platform and common programme to purge the holy Gurdwaras of the corrupt elements and vest their control entirely in Sikh hands. This was a very vital part of Sikhs’ fight for freedom because these holy places have always been the very life blood of the Sikh way of life. They have ever been the source of strength and inspiration to them in matters spiritual both and the extent to which these holy centers are free has always had a strong bearing on their socio-political status. As early as 1872, some 65 Namdhari Sikhs took up cudgels with the government, and did not relent even when they were publicly blown up with cannon fire for their patriotic feelings. They believed in pure Khadi when Congress had not even dreamt of any such programme. They have consitently worm it till today. The never took up service under the British and decided all matters by reference to their own Panchayats. Subsequent National Movements could not improve upon this programme. In 1907 S. Ajit Singh, Kishan Singh and many other Sikhs played a very important part in the fight for freedom. During 1912-16 the freedom struggle got considerable momentum by the arrival of Ghadaries by the Kama Gata Maru and other ships. Most of them were Sikhs who died cheerfully on the gallows for the love of their country. During the Martial Law Regime in 1919 the Sikhs raised a bold and open revolt against the British. Majority of the persons massacered at Jallianwala were also the Sikhs.
The Gurdwara Reform Movement though ostensibly organized for religious reforms in Shrines, had also political dimensions in as much as it was a protest against the governmental interference in the Gurdwara affairs in connivance with the Mahants. Its success for the first time, exploded the myth of the invincibility of the British power in India. And this fact was recognized by no less a person than Mr. Gandhi in a telegram sent to the Akalis, although earlier he had refused to lend his support to them. The exceptionally bold resistence put up by the Sikhs during the course of the Akali Movement coming in the wake of utter demoralization caused in India by the ignominous failure in Chauri Chaura helped to rehabilitate the confidence of the freedom fighters and Pandit Madan Mohan Malvia was so much impressed by the Sikhs showing that he advised the Hindus to baptize at least one of their family members as a Sikh if they wanted to be free from British bondage. This was perhaps the tallest of the tributes paid to the Sikhs by any Hindu. And, the way the Sikhs faced the gravest of danged in Jaito Morcha inspired even Mr. Nehru to join their ranks. C.F. Andrew then saw the very spirit of Christ manifesting itself among the Sikhs.
It was again a Sikh, S. Udham Singh of Sunam who waited for 21 long years to avenge himself for the atrocities committed by Mr. O’Dyyer in Jallianwala Bagh. S. Bhagat Singh, yet another Sikh made the supreme sacrifice for the National cause and set a sacred example for his countrymen, although his cause was betrayed at the time of Gandhi Irwin pact. Still another Sikh, Rattan Singh and his associates, while being transported from Andamans in 1937 redeemed the honour of their countrymen by assassinating several of the British soldiers; although they had to pay the supreme price for this later on. The I.N.A. also was first founded by no other person than a Sikh General Mohan Singh and most of the soldiers joining its ranks were also the Sikhs. The rebel units raised in Germany, Japan and Italy were also formed by the Sikhs and their heroic role in history forms the proud part of their story. Even the Marine Revolt at Bombay and the Signal Regimental mutiny at Jubblepur were also engineered by the Sikhs. Thus, there was no sphere of national struggle for freedom in which the Sikh were not at the fore front. The sacrifices they made are the greatest, quantitatively and qualitatively both. Inspite of the fact that their population then was not more than 1.5% of the total population their contributions in terms of sacrifices amount to more than 90%. During 1942-43 when indiscriminate arrests were made during the course of Quit India Movement, the Sikhs contributed 70% out of the total Punjabis though their population in Punjab was only 13%. It would not be out of place to cite here definite comparative figures of the respective sacrifices made by the Sikhs and the non-Sikhs for the cause of the emancipation of this Land, during the course of struggle against the British. The following chart is a self-speaking evidence of the tremendous sacrifices made by the Sikhs, who, incidently, did not constitute more than 1.5% of the total population. These figures have been mentioned by no less a person than Maulana Azad.
|2||Imprisoned for life||2147||499||2646|
|3||Killed at Jalianwala Bagh||799||501||1300|
|4||Killed at Budge BudgeGhat||67||46||113|
|5||Killed in Kooka Movement||91||—||91|
|6||Killed in Akali Movement||500||—||500|
Most impressive these figures as they are, they are yet only part of the total price that the Sikhs paid for the emancipation of this land. These figures do not take into account the important contributions made by the Sikhs towards organizing the Indian National Army, the Mutiny of the Indian Navy and the strike of the Delhi Police in 1946. More than 60% of the 20,000 person who joined the I.N.A. were Sikhs ant it was first conceived and organized by no other person than a Sikh. This is, however, only one phase of the gallant epoch making saga written by the Sikhs with their blood and tears. The other, though not of their own seeking, is yet far mor poignant and tragic. About half of the total population was torn apart from their kiths and kins, their ancestral homes and hearths, the lands they had developed with generations of hard labour and above all from more than 170 of their holy shrines, including Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and Dehra Sahib. In its leading article the Statesman wrote on January 3rd 1948 : “A mass transfer of population, a disruption of tradition and economy, relatively harsher and less manageable than any other calamity in the afflicted sub-continent, the Sikhs have been forced to bear. Probably about 40% of this small but doughty people are in one manner or another describable as refugees. The migration in the main has been from irrigated region, splendidly fertile, to lands for less productive.
Prosperous colonies developed by an industrious and capable Sikh peasantry have been abandoned, as also much other property in rural and urban areas. Besides, some highly revered Sikh Shrines are also left on the other side of the boundry.” Shri Nanak Chand Naaz, the veteran Urdu Journalist writing in his daily ‘PARBHAT’ dated 11th Oct., 1948 says : “As patriotic Indian, we must admit that the Sikhs had a far greater share in the losses suffered by the people as a result of the partition of the Punjab.” Thus, It is hard to find any activity connected with the Freedom struggle in which the Sikh were not in the fore-front and in which they had not contributed far beyond their members.
Sardar Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary and martyr was born on 27th September, 1907 at Banga. When Akali launched Jaito Ka Morcha against the British, he became their sympathiser. "Bhagat Singh who set an example of courage and patriotism by sacrificing himself for the sake of country’s freedom, was form the Sikh community. Today he is Known to be a brave Sikh hero throughout the world. The Sikh Community has to produce thousands of Bhagat Singhs for the cause of the Country".
The economic condition of the people under the Brithish Government was turning from bad to worse in Punjab, particulary in rural areas. The Colonisation Act 1907 which increased land revenue and water rates proved to be the last straw on the camel’s back. S. Ajit Singh launched a movement – Pagri Sambhal Jata, Pagri Sambhal Oye. Lut lia Maal Tera halon behal Oye. S. Ajit Singh was exiled along with Lala Lajpat Rai and imprisoned in Burma. He also associated himself with the Ghadar Party having its headquarters at San Francisco (U.S.A.)
Sardarni Balbir Kaur made the supreme sacrifice at Jaiton. She joined a batch of volunteers to defy the British authority and face the raining bullets. When her infant child in her lap was hit by a bullet, she resignedly laid him by on the wayside and merched along the column, absorbed in singing the praised of the Satguru. Minutes later she herself fell to a shot from the machine-gun which had killed so many Sikhs on that fateful day-Febryrary 21, 1924. t Jawahar Lal Nehru was also arrested when he went to witness this Morcha
Sardar Kartar Singh Saraba , the only son of S. Mangal Singh, a well-to-do farmer of Ludhiana. sailed for San Francisco (U.S.A.). When he was hardly 16 year he joined the University of California at Brckley. His association with Indian students aroused patriotic sentiments. He felt agitated at discriminatory treatment meted out out to Indians emigrants. He Joined the Ghadar Party, which was foinded by Bhai Sohan Singh. He discontinued his studies and took over Gurmukhi editions of revolutionary newspaper ‘The Ghadar’