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Sikhs living in States other Than Punjab
(Keynote Address)

Dr Harcharan Singh Josh

Ladies, Gentlemen and distinguished participants for the seminar being organized by the Institute Of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh. I congratulate your esteemed Institution for organizing such a seminar pertaining to the status of Sikh community in India and abroad.

The Sikhs are one of the five religious communities of India which have been notified as Minority Communities under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Sikhism was founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji during the fifteenth century and the nine successive Sikh Gurus followed it. It is the fifth largest organized religion of the world.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which advocates the non-anthropomorphic concept of god. The adherents of Sikhism are called Sikhs and it is estimated that their number is over 23 million across the world.

The Sikhs are one of the five notified minorities residing in India and are estimated to constitute 1.9% share of the entire population (Census of India; 2001). The composition of the Sikh population is segregated under three category heads, namely, General (46.4%), Scheduled Castes (31.1%) and OBCs (21.8%). The percentage of Scheduled Tribes among the Sikhs is insignificant (0.8%). Among all the notified minority communities of the country, Sikhs are the only ones among them who continue to be predominantly rural, engaged in agricultural pursuits.

During my visit to Nizamabad and Kuktpalli in Distt Rangareddy Andhra Pradesh, Aurangabad Maharashtra, Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, and Nahan in H P, I came across some tribals who are staunch followers of Sikhism. I was keen to know more about them and trace their roots/origins to Sikhism.

The Commission then decided to conduct a study to assess the social, cultural, economic and educational aspects of the Sikligars, Vanjaras, Lubanas and Dakshini Sikhs who reside / are settled in various parts of India and continue to remain neglected since the partition of the country. They are scattered in small pockets across the country, residing mainly on the outskirts of cities, settlements and colonies, and some reside in remote regions as well.

In most of the states these communities have yet not been recognized as Sikhs and have been considered and counted as Hindus or as member of Nomadic Tribes or have been included in the OBC categories by the different states in Census studies as well. The reason for this is primarily because these people live in small groups, reside in shanties, speak and dress up as regional locals.

These sub-groups of Sikh community came into existence from the time of the 6th Guru, Shri Hargobind ji in 1595 AD. Shri Guru Hargobind ji engaged them for the purpose of manufacturing weapons of war like swords, spears and shields. After him, the 10th Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji availed their services for the supply of weapons and many of them later joined his army.

After the independence of India, these sub-groups have remained neglected and have been living in very miserable conditions. They being the poorest of the poor, require attention of the Central Government. Majority of them earn less than Rs 3000/- pm to support a family of 5-6 members. The report of Justice Sachar Committee mentioned that less than 5% children of Muslim community do not see the doors of Primary Schools and are also deprived of nutritious food such as milk, fruits, etc., which they can only dream of. The condition of the above mentioned sub groups of Sikh community are equally worse. Most of them are living in sub-human conditions. I was deeply moved by the sad state of these Sikh sub-groups and brought this to the notice of Shri Mohd Shafi Qureshi. Hon’ble Chairperson, NCM who was kind enough to sanction for a detailed study pertaining to the Socio-Economic, Educational, Cultural, Traditional and Occupational Status of these Sikh sub-groups under the auspices of the National Commission for Minorities, Govt of India.

In March 2008, National Commission conducted a study to assess the social, economic, cultural and educational aspects of four notified Minorities, namely, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Sikhs concluded that the Sikh population has the lowest rate of poverty, that is 5% in comparison with the other notified minority communities of the country. However, these sub-groups of Sikh community (mentioned above) were not the part of the study. Whereas, the findings of the recent study reveal an entirely different picture of the living conditions and challenges faced by these sub-groups, i.e., Sikligars, Vanjaras, Lubanas and Dakshini Sikhs. The findings of this study reveal that they are socio-economically weaker and are extremely deprived of their rights.

Upon the persistent efforts of NCM the state govts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have re-notified the status of Sikh community as minority. The Commission is now persuading the other states also to notify the Sikh community as a minority community on the basis of National Commission for Minorities Act 1992, passed by the Parliament in which 5 communities have been notified as minority communities as, namely, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and Buddhists.

The history of Sikhs is closely associated with the history and culture of the country, particularly with that of Punjab. The Sikh sub-groups have had a history of supreme sacrifices and of self-less contribution towards the Sikh religion and for the cause of humanity. Since then, generations of these groups have continued to practice the teachings of the religion in its true essence as advocated by the Gurus. However, their existence and contribution has largely gone un-noticed.

The history of Sikligars is traceable only after 1595 AD, when Guru Hargobind wore the swords of Meeri and Peeri. During this period, the Sikhs started to grow as an organized, trained community capable of fighting the tyranny of Mughals and defend their independence.

It is during this period that the Marwari, Raput brothers got associated with Sikhism and the artisans of the community began to manufacture and supply weapons of war to the Sikh Gurus, particularly to the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind ji and the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Further, the historical linkage of the association stems from the fact that the Chief of the Marwari brothers, namely, Rana Pratap was inspired to sacrifice everything for religion by Baba Sri Chand, elder son of Guru Nanak Dev ji. So upon invitation from Guru Hargobind ji, the Marwari artisans, without fearing the Mughals permanently got associated with the Sikhs.

The association, of demand and supply of weapons between the Rajput artisans and the Sikhs continued when Guru Gobind Sing ji took over as the tenth Sikh Guru. These artisans mastered the skill of manufacturing weapons that were both aesthetically brilliant and functionally lethal and, in appreciation of their talent, they were named ‘Sikligar’ by Guru Gobind Singh himself (the term Sikligar evolved from a Persian word ‘Saiqual’ which means a person who burnishes metal. Nanak Singh Nishter – Upliftment of Vanjaras and Sikligars – A Socio-Economic Challenge). The Sikligars started to turn into baptized Sikhs during this period and Bhai Ram Chand was the first Sikligar to join Sikhism and came to be known as Ram Singh henceforth.

The Sikligar started manufacturing weapons on a large scale in the fort of Logarh and trained as warriors with unchallenged courage and a spirit to sacrifice. The battle of Chamkaur holds great importance in the history of Sikhism, the contribution of Sikligar Ram Singh who fought valiantly and attained martyrdom is described in the text Suraj Prakash.

Further, when Guru Gobind Singh left for Nanded, the Sikligar accompanied him as his loyals under the leadership of Bhai Badan Singh and Bhai Mohan Singh. After the demise of Guru Gobind Singh ji, this sub-group started to serve the royal families; some of them came in the service of Maharaja Ala Singh and significantly contributed in getting thousands of Hindu men and women released from Ahmed Shah Abdali.

With time, the weapon making skill of the Sikligars evolved further and during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, they started manufacturing guns and rifles on a large scale in workshops of Lahore. These weapons were used in the British-Sikh wars and the Britishers declared Sikligar as a criminal tribe and imposed a ban against the weapon manufacturing units of this sub-group. Thus to survive and sustain themselves, they started making small metallic household implements like knives, etc., which did not earn them their livelihood. Even now, they are scattered in different parts of India living in utter penury. For generations, they have carried on with the profession of manufacturing metallic containers, knives and household utility articles but have not been able to keep pace with the competitive machine-made articles manufactured in modern day industries.

The Sikligars consider themselves to be the lineage of Guru’s soldiers and take pride in their heritage and keep away from the menial jobs. Sikligars continue to remain followers of Sikhism and, as advocated by Guru Gobind Singh ji, adorn the turban and do not trim hair. Marriages are performed in a simple manner in the presence of the holy text of the Sikhs ‘Gutka’ by offering only Rs.1 (Re.1.25) and sweet meat ‘Karah Prasad’. Though they suffer a wide range of challenges in their day-to-day existence, their spirits still soar high like a true Sikh.

The Sikligar sub groups do not have gender discrimination against the girl child. They are not biased towards the girl child as compared to the other communities, they feel that girl child is a God’s gift and we must accept it with open arms.

The Vanjara tribe is spread primarily over the Southern Indian region. Vanjaras have their roots deeply embedded in Sikhism. Traditionally, they were a community of mobile traders who moved from one place to another in huge caravans, had several bullock carts and were traders and transporters of grains and other wares.

Vanjaras are among those Sikhs who made supreme sacrifices for the religion and literally irrigated it with their blood. When Guru Tegh Bahadur attained martyrdom, Lakhi Shah Vanjara stealthily cremated his body by setting his own house on fire. The famous historical Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, Delhi is situated at the site. This sub-group has made several, unprecedented sacrifices to preserve Sikhism.

Nayak Bhagwant Singh was given the title of Punj Hazari by Aurangzeb. In spite of that, he made his house a safe haven for Sikhs, and the members of his tribe made several sacrifices to preserve Sikhism. The account of the torture meted upon three Vanjara brothers, namely, Bhai Dayala who was boiled alive in a pot, Bhai Mani Singh whose limbs were cut into pieces and Bhai Jagat Singh was skinned alive, is a worth salutation.

During the rule of Britishers over India, the Vanjaras worked as loaders and labourers and also helped the freedom fighters. However, with industrialization and the advent of railways, they lost their traditional jobs of being transporters and traders of goods, and their socio-economic conditions deteriorated. The history of the Vanjaras is closely inter-twined with the history of Sikhism and this sub-group still continues to follow Sikhism.

The Lubanas sub-groups are off-shoot of the Vanjaras and are spread across India. They speak ‘Lubanki’ which is a dialect of Punjabi. However, the Lubanas residing in Punjab speak Punjabi and the ones residing else where, speak the local language(s). The term lubanas has been derived from the word loon (salt) and bana/vana (trade). The Lubanas are basically the salt trading community. The renowned writer Khushwant Singh has called them the ‘salt of the earth’.

The association of the Lubanas with Sikhism dates back to the period of the Sikh Gurus. In the text ‘Prachin Panth Prakash’ it is recorded that the Lubanas helped Banda Singh Bahadur by giving him money. After the demise of the tenth Guru, Banda Singh Bahadur led the Sikh forces and fought fierce wars with the Mughals. The contribution of the Lubanas has been quoted as “Aaye Lubanae lag gayee laar, dayo daswandh uni kayi hazaar.”

The account of Makhanshah Lubhana on his declaring the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, as the true Guru in village Bakala is recorded in the text ‘Guru Kian Sakhiyan’. He was blessed and declared to be a true Sikh by Guru himself. Makhanshah Lubhana continued to live like a true Sikh throughout his life and so did his future generations. His son Kushal Singh laid down his life fighting along the Guru’s forces in Lohgarh Fort. When Banda Singh Bahadur needed soldiers for his Army, the Lubanas joined him and fought for him against the Mughals.

During the Misl period, the Lubanas served various Misldars. They were recruited in the Sikh Army by the ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and proved to be excellent soldiers. Maharaja Ranjit Singh followed agrarian policy to extend cultivation. The cultivators were granted land at nominal rates and this gave Lubanas an opportunity to become cultivators to earn their livelihood. Later during the 18th century, they started settling down in small village settlements which came to be known as the ‘Tandas’.

Dakshini Sikhs
In 1832, Nizam of Hyderabad requested Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab to protect him from the attacks of the neighboring states. Maharaja sent his force of 200 Sikh soldiers who helped the Nizam to conquer his enemies. Later on, some of these soldiers went back to Punjab and the remaining decided to stay back. The soldiers who stayed behind were interested in the job of maintenance of Nizam’s establishments and they came to be known as Dakshini Sikhs. The population of Dakshini Sikhs is lesser as compared to that of Sikligars and Vanjaras.

The above-mentioned sub-groups of Sikhs essentially Sikh practicing Sikhism in its true spirits by following all tenets of the religion, a majority among them are living their lives in pathetic, sub-human conditions. They are thus entitled to receive all the benefits as have been recommended by the Sachar Committee to all minority communities living below the poverty line. It is also evident from the present study that these sub-groups of Sikhs are not availing these benefits which they are entitled to. This is primarily because these sub-groups have been awarded the minority status by the respective state Governments and also because of lack of awareness amongst these sub-groups. Thus the finding of the present study shall hold great value for the policy makers/mentors and the proposed beneficiaries.

i. The Sikh communities as mentioned in the present study should be recognized as Sikhs and further be accorded the Status of Minority by all the States in their Gazette Notification adopting a uniform criterion. It is also pertinent to mention here that the State Governments of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, upon persistent efforts of the National Commission for Minorities, have re-notified the Sikh Community as Minority Community in their respective States.

ii. It has been reported that 54.4% of the population in the present study do not have houses registered in their name and 75.8 % of the population live in katcha houses. Hence, it is recommended that the State Governments should allot well constructed houses to the members of the minority communities and the same should be registered in the name of the eligible candidates from amongst these communities. This would not only ensure security and stability in the lives of these members but also protect them from being displaced by the local land mafias.

iii. As a matter of right 78.3% of the population under study is not benefiting from the BPL Scheme due to its poor outreach and ignorance on the part of the said population. It is recommended that BPL cards be issued to all the families living below the poverty line from amongst these communities.

iv. The study reveals that 52.1% of the population does not have access to safe, potable water and 47.9% of the households toil to collect water from taps located far away from their residential premises. It is thus recommended that the provision for the availability of tap water within the residential premises be ensured for all members of these communities.

v. The findings of the study reveal that 83.3% do not have access to toilets and use open fields to address the call of nature. Further, 81% of the households do not have a systematized mechanism for waste disposal, thereby resulting in poor sanitary conditions and threat for the spread of diseases. It is hence recommended that toilets (within the residential premises or community toilets) be constructed for the benefit of the population in the present study. Also a proper system for waste disposal should be put in place by the civil agencies of the respective State Governments.

vi. A large proportion of the population in the present study is illiterate. Thus, provision of schools, educational and vocational training institutions for these communities is pivotal. Also, as a majority of these families are extremely poor, free education, mid-day meals, uniforms, books, mobile schools/ libraries/ creches, etc., should be facilitated for them. Adult literacy programmes should also be floated as part of this initiative.

vii. Awareness programmes to educate these minorities about their rights and Government schemes for the notified minority communities should be organized periodically by the Government/Voluntary Organizations in order to empower these communities.

viii. Industry support may be extended to the skilled artisans of these communities, particularly to the Sikligars in order to tap their potential and bring them into the mainstream of the society. Establishment of small scale industries, co-operatives should be promoted by providing easy loans, financial grants and the technical know-how in order to generate more employment / jobs.

ix. The study reveals that 85.4% of the elderly population from among Study group is not benefiting from the Old Age Pension Scheme of the Government. It is thus recommended that the eligible candidates from among the population should be provided Old Age Pension Scheme benefits. Similarly, pension to widows should also be provided as applicable.


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