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Vignettes of Sikh valour and Sacrifice

Joginder Singh*

A few brief sketches of battles where Sikhs had shown unmatched courage, are given here to show how they distinguished themselves from others.

Defence of Sara Garhi 1897
Ten thousand Afridis attacked the post at Sara Garhi on 12-09-1897. This attack was repulsed by Sikh regiment of 21 men led by Hawaldar Ishar Singh. In the first hour, more than 200 Pathans were killed. The battle continued for the whole day and brave Sikh unit of Signals faced them. Though miniscule in number as compared to Pathans, they could not break the will of Sikh’s fighting spirit. Finding it difficult to dislodge them, they set on fire the dry grass surrounding the garhi. Instead of facing them, they took shelter behind the smoke. At last, only two Sikhs survived who took daggers in their hands and gave the enemy the taste of their chivalry. Both laid down their lives, but not before they could send message to the regiment. On hearing this account, the British parliament paid a standing tribute to their memory. Each of them was decorated and awarded by them the highest bravery award “Indian order of Merit”. Each of their family was given one square of land (25 acres land) and Rs 500.

First World War
On 26-10-1914 (first world war), Sikh forces reached Mercedez in France. This was the first army of India, which reached that country. German continuous firing could not deter them from advancing. They fought while standing in trenches full of 2-3 feet-mud. In extreme cold weather till dawn, they sang Guru Gobind Singh’s Sabad.

o'rB s/, no ;'rB s/, ib i'rB s/ pj[ GKfs pukt? ..
;so{ nB/e ubkts xkt, sT[ sB J/e Bk bkrB gkt? ..

The enemy was astonished how they had survived in cold trenches and yet did not surrender an inch of land to the enemy. While passing through 800 yards space in continuous firing on 28-10-1914, they occupied the village. But only 58 Sikh soldiers could survive out of 280 men. House of Commons paid a special tribute by standing. Some of them were decorated by “Victoria Cross”, the highest bravery award.

Jallianwala Bagh
Just after the first world war, the British army’s brigadier Dyer massacred peaceful Indians who had gathered for Baisakhi on 13-04-1919 at Jallianwala Bagh. What a strange reward to those who staked their lives to save the lives of English men?

Koma Gata Maru
Earlier Baba Gurdit Singh’s ship “ Koma Gata Maru” with 376 men on board was not allowed to land on Canada’s soil. More than 300 of the passengers were Sikhs. The ship was hired from a Japanese company and named S. S. Guru Nanak. At last the ship was returned to the port of embarkation at Budge-Budge Calcutta, when they were greeted by British Government with bullets killing 18 persons. The government thought they were going to Canada to spread dis-affection against them, which was an absolutely false allegation.

Rakab Ganj
In 1920, outer wall of Rakab Ganj Gurdwara in New Delhi was demolished to make way for road leading to church. Sardul Singh Cavesher with a jatha of 100 Sikhs protested. There were also wide protests by Sikhs in Punjab. The government realized the futility of its scheme and rebuilt the wall.

Saka Nankana Sahib
About 200 Sikhs, unarmed and peaceful, went to Nankana Sahib (Pakistan) under the leadership of Lakshman Singh Dharowal to turn out Mahant Narain Das, a corrupt and morally depraved pujari. Sikhs were mercilessly killed. This episode awakened the whole nation. It proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Mahants. About a month earlier, Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib was liberated after scuffle which resulted in martyrdom of two Sikhs.

Keys Morcha
Darbar Sahib’s keys morcha was started as Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar took away the keys of Darbar Sahib thinking that huge money offered by devotees was going to be used for national cause against them. Baba Kharak Singh led this morcha which culminated in success.

Guru ka Bagh Morcha
Guru ka Bagh is situated near Ajanala, Amritsar District about 15 miles from Amritsar. The Mahant of Gurdwara who thought that he was the owner of the land and did not allow local people to cut wood, was supported by the government. I give below a letter by C. F. Andrews, a Christian Leader of Bombay who used to read newspapers about non-violence morcha started by the Sikhs. He came to Amritsar to see for himself, and what he saw is narrated in his own words:

“When I reached the Gurdwara itself, I was struck at once by the absence of excitement such as I had expected to find among so great a crowd of people. Close to the entrance there was a reader of the Scriptures who was holding a very large congregation of worshippers silently as they were seated on the ground before him. In another quarter there were attendants who were preparing the simple evening meals for the Gurdwara guests by grinding the flour between two large stones. There was no sign that the actual beating had just begun and that the sufferers had already endured the shower of blows. But when I asked one of the passers-by, he told me that the beating was now taking place. On hearing this news, I at once went forward. There were some hundreds present seated on an open piece of ground watching what was going on in front. Their faces were filled with agony. I watched their faces first of all, before I turned the corner of a building and reached a spot where I could see the beating itself. There was not a cry raised from the spectators, but the lips of every one of them were moving in prayer. It was clear that they had been taught to repeat the name of God and to call on God for deliverance. I can only describe the silence and the worship and the pain upon the faces of these people, who were seated in prayer, as reminding me of the shadow of the Cross. What was happening to them was truly, in some dim way, a crucifixion. The Akalis were undergoing their baptism of fire, and they cried to God for help out of the depth of their agony of spirit.
“One thing I have not mentioned which was significant of all that I have written concerning the spirit of the suffering endured. It was very rarely that I witnessed an Akali Sikh, who went forward to suffer, flinch from a blow when it was struck. Apart from the instinctive and involuntary reaction of the muscles that has the appearance of a slight shrinking back, their was nothing so far as I can remember, that could be called a deliberate avoidance of the blows struck. The blows were received one by one without resistance and without a sign of fear.”

Jaito Morcha
Akhand Path was disrupted by the police of Nabha State, Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha was dethroned on the ground that he had strong national inclinations. It was he who moved the Anand Marriage bill in the Legislative Council. It was vehemently opposed by Arya Samajists and some Sanatanist Sikhs. The bill was, however, passed as an Act in 1911 which resulted in breaking away from Hindu ways of marriage. Similarly, struggle for Kirpan and Jhatka meat resulted in differences from Hindus. The whole purpose was to reconstruct the socio-religious distinction of the Khalsa. It stimulated the community to its pristine purity which ultimately resulted in liberating the Sikh shrines from the clutches of corrupt Mahants. Thus the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century saw the awakening in liberating the Sikhs from priestly class and adopting Rahit Maryada of Khalsa. The adoption of Punjabi language in Gurmukhi script, accentuated the cultural segregation between Sikhs and non Sikhs.


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