THE SIKHS AND THE BRITISH - 1849-1920
GURDARSHAN SINGH DHILLON
Recently many scholars, especially in the West, have contended that the assertion of a distinct Sikh identity in the mid-nineteenth century was very largely due to advertent support extended by the British. W.H. McLeod holds that “there were several Sikh identities available during the period immediately following the 1849 annexation and one such identity (the militant Khalsa version) was vigorously promoted by the British in order to serve their own military purposes. The same identity was accepted by the stronger1 of the Singh Sabha leaders and became the focus of their reforming activites late in the nineteenth century.” 2 Richard Fox refers to the Sikhs in the Indian army “transmuted into Singhs by the British.’. 3 Scholars like N .G. Barrier and Rajiv Kapur have also referred to the recruiting and organisational policy of the British Indian army as the instrument for fostering the distinct Sikh identity. Rajiv Kapur observes: “Recruitment into the army provided strong encouragement for the development and maintenance of a separate Sikh identity.” 4 Barrier5 and Fox6 both find themselves caught in an intricate and incoherent analysis of the British motives in dealing with the Sikhs.
The Relevant Questions are: Did not the Sikh leaders invoke the Sikh doctrine in the Guru Granth? Was it not inevitable for a Sikh movement, aimed at restoring the purity of Sikhism, to remove outside accretions, including Hindu influences and make the Sikhs stand on their own ground un-encumbered? Was it not necessary for the Sikhs to go through a discipline of education in order to equip themselves for participation in the political life? Is it right to brand the Singh Sabha leaders as loyalists and accuse them of misguiding the community to selve the ends of the British In India? Did not the Sikhs have to wage a long battle to maintain their religious institutions and practices and free their Gurdwaras from the control of the Mahants and Pujaris, who enjoyed the patronage and backing of the British? Is it right or misleading for the historians to talk of the role of the British military policy in promoting the Sikh identity and to make a complete black out of the Sikh ideology and four hundred years of the Guru period and Sikh history? How can they turn a blind eye to the patronage extended by the British to the Mahants (Priests) at the Sikh temples who because of their background opposed the Sikh identity tooth and nail?
In deriving some of their hasty and illconceived inferences, the writers fail to study the subject methodically and to see the Singh Sabha Movement and its work in the background of (a) the Sikh ideology, (b) the method and history of the Sikh Gurus and the Sikh movement in the preceding three hundred and fifty years and (c) the general and overall historical perspective of ideological movements during their lean periods. Therefore, in order to make a comprehensive and methodical study of the subject, we shall divide our paper under the following heads: (i) the Sikh ideology, (ii) the preparatory period of educating and motivating the masses, (iii) revivnginstitutionsand centres of the faith to rebuild the Panth and its distinct identity and the final stage of political preparation and struggle, (iv) realities of the situation after the annexation of Punjab and factors hostile to Sikh identity, (v) the Singh Sabha Movement and its plan of work, activities and achievements, (vi) the preparatory stage leading to the second stage of Gurdwara Reform Movement and participation in political struggle, (vii) general historical perspective, and (viii) conclusion.
First of all we shall take up salient features of the Sikh religion, especially where Sikhism made a radical departure from the earlier religious traditions.
Sikh Ideology: Sikhism is a revelatory religion, which revolted against the religious hypocrisy of the Brahmins and the political oppression of the contemporary rulers. Guru Nanak the founder of the Sikh religion stressed the unity of God7 and the brotherhood of man. 8 He attacked such pillars of the Hindu society as caste, 9 idolatry10 ritualism, 11 asceticism12 and intermediary role of the priests13 in man’s relations with God. His spiritual thesis, with an inalienable social content, sought to establish equality not only between man and man but also between man and woman. He welded the spiritual and the temporal planes of human existence into a harmonious whole and brought about reconciliation between the religious and the secular means for achieving the best results in human affairs. 14 The Guru’s followers were not required to chant Sanskrit Shalokas before stone idols but sang hymns composed by the Guru himself in their mother tongue. They came to have different places and modes of worship. It was not an easy task to confront the dogmatism of the priest dominated and caste-ridden Hindu society. The Guru brought about a far-reaching transformation in the minds of the people through the institutions of Shabad, Sangat, Pangat, Guru-Ka-Langar, Guru and Dharmsal. The three cardinal principles of Guru’s teachings were: ‘Kirt Karo’ (earn your bread through hard labour), ‘Vand Chakko’ (Share your earnings with others) and ‘Naam Japo’ (always remember God). This resulted in building a separate and self-reliant community with new beliefs and institutions.
The process of separation was carried forward by the second Sikh Guru Angad. He introduced the Gurmukhi script, in which he compiled Guru Nanak’s and his own compositions. The Guru was opposed to mendicancy and parasitical living. He earned his own living by twisting coarse grass strings used for cots. The third Guru Amar Das took many steps which tended to break further the affiliations of the Sikhs with the Hindus. He introduced new forms of ceremonials for birth, death and marriage. he deprecated the practice of ‘Purdah’ and ‘Sati’, encouraged inter-caste alliances and re-marriage of widows. He declared that the Sikhs who were active householders were wholly separate from the passive and recluse ‘Udasis’ whom he excluded from the Sikh Society. The Guru established twenty two new centres or parishes (Manjis) for conveying the message of Guru Nanak to the people.
These centres were supposed to cater both to the religious and the empirical needs of the poeple. Guru Ram Das, who succeeded him as the fourth Guru, acquired the site of the present city of Amritsar which became the religious capital of the Sikhs. He had
a tank dug around which bazars or trading centres were established.
Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, took some very important steps for fortifying the Sikh identity. He raised the Harmandar and gave to the Sikhs a central place and shrine of their own. This was to wean away Sikhs from Hindu institutions like those at Hardawar, Varanasi, etc. He also gave the Sikhs a scripture of their own in the form of Granth Sahib, which they could read and understand. They did not require the help of Brahmin priests to read out Sanskrit texts from the Vedas or the Upanishads, which they did not understand. It was Guru Arjan, who very clearly and emphatically declared that the Sikhs were an independent community: “I do not keep the Hindu fast, nor the Muslim Ramadan; I serve Him alone who is my refuge, I serve the one Master who is also Allah, I have broken with the Hindu and the Muslim, I will not worship with the Hindu nor like The Muslim go to Mecca, I shall serve Him and no other, I will not pray to idols nor say the Muslim prayer; I shall put my heart at the feet of the One Supreme Being; For we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmans” 15
Guru made, for the principles of his religion, the Supreme sacrifice of his life and became the first martyr in Sikhhistory. Guru Arjan’s son and successor Guru Hargobind started military preparations. His resort to arms was in keeping with the last instructions of his father. Guru Nanak too had rejected Ahimsa as an inviolable religious doctrine. Facing the Harmandir, Guru Hargobind built the Akal Takhat, a seat of the temporal authority as distinct from Harmandir Sahib, clearly signifying that the Sikhs owed their primary allegiance to God. He also set, up two flags fluttering before it as visible symbols of Miri and Piri, i.e. the temporal and the religious authorities. The concept qf Miri and Piri was the natural and inevitable outcome of the doctrine of the combination of the spiritual and the empirical laid down by the first Guru. That this combination is fundamental to the Sikh doctrine is clear from the fact that in Sikhism the insignia for Piri or spiri,tualism is a sword and not a rosary. ‘Many of the misunderstandings by scholars of Sikhism or its history are due to their failure to have an adequate knowledge of the Sikh ideology. This lack of knowledge, or sometimes bias, is quite apparent among scholars drawn from pacifist or dichotomous religions.
The ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur suffered martyrdom to counter the forces of tyranny and injustice and to uphold the freedom of man to practice his religion. He domonstrated that to lay down one’s life in defence of righteousness was a paramount religious duty. When a report was sent to Emperor Aurangzeb that the Guru was organising a people (Millat), he offered to the Guru that if he confined his activities to prayers and preachings, he would be given grants for the purpose, provided he gave up his political activities. But the Guru declined the offer. 16 The inspiration stemming from the creative vision of Guru Nanak reached its climax under the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. The ideal of Saint-Soldier implicit in the Miri-Piri doctrine of Guru Nanak fructified in the creation of the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. It was the objective of the Sikh society or Khalsa to restore justice and harmony in the prevailing state of affairs. He created the Khalsa, a disciplined body of Sikhs, and conferred upon them a distinct look. He gave them a martial name ‘Singh’ (Lion) and prescribed five Kakars including kirpan and unshorn hair. In fact, the rule about keeping unshorn hair started a debate and those wanting to shave hair and to follow Hindu customs were automatically excluded from the Sikh society. 17 The symbols strengthened religious discipline, gave external uniformity to the Sikh faith and served as aids to the preservation of the corporate life of the community. It is very important that the egalitarian principle was an accepted and practiced norm of the Sikh society. It is noteworthy that four out of the five Piaras (Beloved ones), who offered their heads to the, Guru and were baptised were Shudras. He intended to make a complete break with the past religious tradition through the introduction of Nash doctrine involving Kirtnash, Kulnash, Dharamnash, Bharamnash and Karamnash 18 i.e. the giving up of all those beliefs, ideolgies and practices that came in the way of the sole worship of the One Supreme Being. The creation of the Khalsa was a unique phenomenon in the annals of mankind. It was the epitome of the Sikh movement. There is no evidence, whatsoever, to suggest that there was any other Sikh identity or society promoted by the Gurus or in existence in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The Guru raised the Indian spirit from servility, interiority, fatalism and defeatism to the dynamic ideal of responsible reaction and resistance against tyranny and injustice. The supreme acts of martyrdom of the Guru, his father, mother and four sons for the cause of righteousness left an indelible stamp on the Sikh way of life. It is sheer idleness to think or suggest that the deep seated moral conditioning formed by the longest chain of martyrdoms and conscious struggles, could just be re-created or affected by any wishful self-interest of the British or any other ruler. Such artificial creation of religious identity are unknown to history.
During his life time Guru Gobind Singh chose Banda Singh Bahadur to conduct the final phase of the Sikh struggle against the Mughal Empire. It was under his leadership that the Khalsa armies won decisive victories and shook the very foundations of the mighty Mughal Empire. Banda struck coins in the name of the Khalsa Panth. The inscriptions on the coins are significant: ‘’This coin is struck as a token of our sovereignty here and hereafter. This divine bounty flows from the sword of Nanak (Tegh-i-Nanak) and the victory and felicity is the gift of Guru Gobind Singh, the king of kings, the true Master.” 19
This coin itself clearly signifise that in the consciousness of the Sikhs of those times, there was complete unity of spirit and ideology between the first and the last Gurus and in fact among all Gurus. It clearly shows that the concept about differences in the ideologies of the first and the tenth Master is a figment of later arm-chiar or partisan writers unknown to the Sikhs or people of the earlier centuries. Banda Bahadur’s seal also depicted similar thought i.e., “Degh-the kettle for service, Tegh, the strength of the sword arm, and Fateh, the resultant victory, received by Guru Gobind Singh from Guru Nanak.” 20
Under Banda’s inspiration, Sikhism became popular with the people of Punjab. About one lac persons embraced Sikhism. Banda and several Hundred soldiers of the Khalsa army who were arrested, kept their cool even in the face of death. None of them renounced his faith to “Save his life. 21 They carried on the glorious traditions of sacrifice and martyrdom for the cause of righteousness handed down to them by the Gurus. Their blood created fertile soil for sprouting the seeds of Sikh glory. The Sikhs confronted the hordes of Persian and Afghan invaders with the same religious spirit. This was a time when a price was put on every Sikh head and thrice it was reported to the authorities that the Sikhs had been exterminated root and branch. 22 The imperial order for the elimination of Sikhs was directed at the destruction of the Nanakpathis. 23 It did not declare them as Sikhs or Singhs or the
Khalsa. This clearly’ indicated that there was no question of any multiple identities among the Sikhs in the eighteenth century. The clear teachings of the ten gurus and the fire of suffering and persecution had welded the Sikhs with a unity of ideals, ethos and practices entirely different from those of the Hindu society with which they were surrounded. The Bani and the Nash doctrine created the wall of division betweem them, and persecution and
suffering cemented the internal cohesion of the community as a distinct society. For the followers of the Gurus and their opponents, there was only one community of Nanakpanthis, Sikhs or Khalsa whose sole founder was Guru Nanak. The definition of a Sikh was very clear, without any scope for ambiguity. There was no question of any multiple identities among the Sikhs. After a long period of turmoil, suffering and persecution, the Sikhs rose to political power under Ranjit Singh, who ruled under the banner of Sarkar-i-Khalsa. It was at this time that Hindus swelled the ranks of the Khalsa in the hope of temporal gains. The population of the Sikhs, which at one time was reported to be not more than twenty thousand in the 18th century now rose to the peak figure of 10-11 lacs in the
times of Ranjit Singh.24 It was not so easy for these converts of convenience to shed some of their beliefs and practices. Ranjit Singh had to spend most of his time in conquering and consolidating territories. The result was that the Sikhs had hardly any time to set their house in order. It is evident that the large scale increase in the Sikh population was due to the new entrants who had flocked to the new faith not out of conviction but to put up an appearance of closer ties with the poeple in power. 25 There began a new phase of Sikhism with new entrants to the Sikh fold. Their ways and customs were still overlaid with Hinduism. It was very easy for them to slide back into their old faith when power did not rest with the community. This was the first time in their history that the Sikhs could be divided into two categories, the first consisting of those who nursed their traditional culture and carried in them the spirit to suffer and sacrifice for a righteous cause and the second comprising the new lot with hardly any strong commitment to the faith. During the Guru and the post-Guru period there is no evidence, whatsoever, of the so called multiple identities’. During the phase of struggle and persecution in the 18th century, when to be a Sikh was to invite death, the Sikhs never had any ambiguity about their identity or ideals created by the ten Nanaks. And both for the insiders and outsiders there was a single community of society they had created. They kept the torch of Sikhism ablaze through tremendous suffering and sacrifice.
Post-Annexation Period :- With the fall of the Sikh kingdom, the new entrants to the Sikh fold started waveringin their loyalty to Sikhism. The Sikhs had hardly had peace for one generation, some of these new entrants reverted to Hinduism and its old prejudices and practices. 26 Still there were many for whom the border line between Hinduism and Sikhism became very thin and vague and they kept unsurely on the border line between Sikhism and Hinduism. In their outlook, character and behaviour they stood dearly apart from the main segment of the Sikh society who had a clear identity. The latter traced their lineage from the Guru period and had inherited the glorious tradition of martyrdom for the cause of righteousness. With the emergence of the British as the new rulers, the relationships between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs underwent a complete change. In Punjab the Hindus, who had looked upon the Sikhs as their protectors against the Muslims and were partners in power during the years of triumphs under Ranjit Singh, showed hardly any commitment towards Sikhism that had successfully fought battles for liberty and freedom of the land and its people. With both the Muslim threat and the Sikh kingdom gone, the external pressures that had held them seemingly close to Sikhism disappeared. They had to redefine their mutual relationship. Apart from this, the role of some members of the Hindu elites during the period of annexation, a point which we shall detail later on, was far from creditable and created some gap between the two communities. It is note-worthy that the Hindu Dogras and Purbias during the crucial Anglo-Sikh wars deserted the Khalsa army. On the other hand, the Muslim part of the Khalsa army fought against the ‘British till the end. 27 Tears at the defeat of Sarkar-i-Khalsa were shed by Shah Muhammad, the celebrated Muslim poet.
The British looked upon the Sikhs as enemies and initiated a policy aimed at the suppression of the ‘War-like Sikhs”, with the help of an army of occupation comprising 60,000 soldiers and a police force of 15,000, largely manned by the Punjabi Muslims. 28 Special precautions were taken in policing the Majha area, where Bhai Mehraj Singh and Narain Singh were reported to be active. 29 The royal house of the Sikhs was completely destroyed. It is well known that Maharani Jindan, called the “mother of the Khalsa” whom the British considered to be the root cause of all trouble was treated very shabbily and was forced to leave the country. 30 The minor Maharaja Dalip Singh was made to resign “for himself, his heirs and successors, all rights, title and claim to the sovereignty of the Punjab or to any sovereign power whatever. 31 ’ The ‘Koh-i-Noor’, considered by Dalhousie as a historical emblem of conquest in India, was presented to the Queen of England. 32
The Government confiscated all the valuables, including the antiques of the Sikh Raj from the Toshakhana of the Maharaja and also the estates of all those chiefs who had fought against the British in the two Anglo-Sikh Wars. 33 Some of them were exiled from punjab and others were kept under surveillance in their own houses. They were not allowed to keep arms in their possession. 34
Forts and defensive fortifications- practically every Sikh village had defensive bastions-were levelled. All military grants to the Sikh Jagirdars were abolished. 35 Henry Lawrence, as head of the Board of Control, responsible for the administration of Punjab, recommended slight leniency towards the Sikh nobility. He thought and argued that it was most impolitic and dangerous to deprive them of their rights unfairly. But, he was overruled by Governor General Dalhousie, who in pursuance of his imperialistic policies, thought that the “Jagirdars deserved little but maintenance,” 36 Henry Lawrence tendered his resignation over this issue.
Nearly 50,000 Sikh soldiers were disbanded. 37 Hardly a tenth of the old army of Punjab was taken into the British pay. Although the term’Sikh’was used for the re-employed soldiers, few were in fact Sikhs. They were largely Punjabi Muslims, Gurkhas and Hindustanis of the Durbar army. The British officers looked upon the Sikh soldiers with suspicion. They were called, “dirty sepoys” 38 and many officers wished them to cut their hair” forgetting that the
very essence of Sikh ism lies in its locks. 39 D. Petrie, an Assistant Director, Criminal Intelligence, Government of India, in a Confidential report on the ‘Development of Sikh Politics (1900-1911)’, wrote:
“The British adopted a very strict and rigid policy detrimental to the growth of Sikhism. After annexation, the Golden Temple Amritsar, alongwith 6 other Gurdawaras and the Gurdawara at Tarn Taran were practically controlled by the British authorities through a Manager of these Gurdwaras appointed by the British Government. The waqf Act of 1861 gave the control and Management of the holy places of the Hindus and Muslims to the communities concerned but in the case of the Sikh Gurdwaras, the Act was not applied on political grounds. The properties of Sikh places of worship were transferred and given over to the Udasi
Mahants and others, throughout the Punjab” 40 A significant blow was given by the British to the Sikh religion when they conferred proprietory rights to the temple Mahants, Brahmins, Udasis or Nirmalas, 41 most of whom had Hindu leanings and hardly understood or had faith in the Sikh religion and its practices. This was- an extremely subtle method by which the British sought to secure the undoing of the ideological base of the Sikhs. A committee of nine Sikhs with a Government nominatedSarbrah or Warden as its head was appointed. After 1883, however, the Committee was quietly dropped and the whole control came to be vested in the Sarbarah who received his instructions from the Deputy Commissioner. 42 The government wanted to maintain the Gurdwaras as channels of indirect control of Sikhs.
The British rule dealt a severe blow to the socio-economic condition of the Sikhs. Thousands of Sikh soldiers were rendered jobless. Because of earlier wars and consequent disturbances, the lot of the peasantry was no better. Instead of the Sikhs, Hindus were preferred in the civil services. Most of the jobs in military and police were given to the Punjabi Muslims. Out of the eleven Extra Assistant Commisssioners, appointed by the Board of Control, only one was a Sikh. 43
The Christian Misssions which came to be established in Punjab, also generated a feeling of hatred and hostility towards the Sikhs. The Charter granted in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth of England to a Colonising Company spoke of “duties higher than those of Commerce.” 44 If merchants must buy and sell, they must also convert. Religious imperialism was the first phase of British Colonial imperialism. Christian Missions worked under British political wings. The Missionaries established their centres at Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Batala, 45 Ludhiana and Lahore, 46 Many Sikh students studying in Missionary schools began to despise the religion of their forefathers. 47 48 Some of them cut their hair and beards. The conversions of Maharaja Dalip Singh and Raja Harnam Singh of Kapurthala were serious and deliberate blows at the roots of the community.Further, the growing success of Missionaries in their evangelical work, with the support of the Government, was an overt measure against the Sikhs. Sir John Lawrence used to make annual contribution of Rupees five hundred towards missionary activities. 49 Some of the Misssionaries openly condemned the Sikh institutions, tradition and Gurus.They called the Guru Granth a “heathen scripture.”50 The Administrative Report (1849-51) noted: “The Sikh faith and ecclesiastical policy is rapidly going where Sikh political ascendency has already gone... These men joined (Sikhism) in thousands and they now desert in equal numbers... The sacred tank of Amritsar is less thronged than formerly, and the attendance at annual festivals is diminishing yearly, Initiatory cremony for adult persons is now rarely performed Gurmukhi is rapidly falling into desuetude. The punjabi as a spoken language is also losing its currency and degenerating into a merely provincial and rustic dialect.” 51 A series of discreditable manouevres, interference with the local customs, feverish activity of the Christian missions and the attempts to westernise the Sikh culture filled the Sikhs with alarm.
Sikhs and Mutiny:- During the Mutiny of 1857, the Muslims sought the restoration of the rule of Muslim princes and rulers and the Hindus hoped to put the Maratha rulers back into power. The princes of the two communities had a unity of purpose in putting up a common front against a common enemy, the British. Because of the earlier British repression of the Sikhs, they were too disorganised to think of putting up a united leadership to reclaim their lost kingdom. The community was leaderless. 52 Moreover, the situation in the Punjab was quite different from the one that prevailed in the rest of India. An important and the main factor was that the Sikhs had nursed a serious grudge against the Purbias who, despite the Sikhs having never given them any cause for offence, had by their betrayal and other overt and covert acts, helped the British during the Anglo-Sikh Wars and later in the annexation of Punjab. The British used the Sikh grievance and consequent “natural hatred” towards the Purbias. Kavi Khazan Singh in his work, ‘Jangnama Dilli’, written in 1858, mentions that the Sikh participation against the Purbia soldiers was in reaction to their boast that they had vanquished the Sikhs in 1845-46 and in 1848-49. 53 Another contemporary observer noted: ‘’The animosity between the Sikhs and the Poorbiahs is notorious. The former gave out that they would not allow the latter to pass through their country. It was, therefore, determined to take advantage of this ill-feeling and to stimulate it by the offer of rewards for every Hindoostanee sepoy who should be captured.’54 The bitter memories of Purbia cooperation with the British were’so fresh in minds of the Sikhs that any coalition between the two became impossible. The people who now claimed to be fighters for freedom were the same who, eight years earlier, had actively helped the British to usurp Sikh sovereignty. The pleas of Purbias were so hollow and incongruous with their earlier conduct that they fell on deaf ears of the aggrieved Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims whose independence they had helped the British to rob. Besides it is a well accepted view that the risings in 1857 were just revolts by the princes to regain their feudal or territorial rights. It was far from being any ideological struggle or for any common Indian interest. In this context, the Sikhs in the background of their rule in Punjab and egalitarian traditon could hardly be expected to side with Muslim and Hindu princes to regain their kingdoms, nor could religious taboos which affected Hindu and. Muslim sentiments, against many of which the Sikh Gurus had led a crusade, could in any measure inflame Sikh sentiments. It was on account of all this that the Punjab was not affected by the rebellion which convulsed the rest of northern India. Punjabi Mussalmans turned a deaf ear to their Hindustani co-religionists’ exhortation of ‘jihad’ against the pig-eating despoilers of Islam. Punjabi Hindus and, with greater reason, the Sikhs refused to listen to the belated appeal to save Hindu Dharma from beef-eating foreigners who used cow to grease their cartridges.55 However, there were stray cases of Sikhs joining the mutineers. It was reported that a large number of Sikhs gathered at Ropar and declared the Khalsa Raj for which the leader of the band was immediately put to death. A Sikh Chief Raja Nahar Singh was executed for supporting the cause of the rebels. After annexation Bhai Maharaj Singh had moved from village to village in Majha region and incited the people to rebel. 56
The Cis-Satluj chiefs of Patiala, Malerkotla, Kalsia, Nabha, Faridkot and Jind, alongwith their mercenary forces, rendered full help to the British in suppressing the rebellion. These chiefs owed their existence to the British and were always outside the main Punjab, being hostile to Ranjit Singh. They still remembered with gratitude the support extended to them by the British against Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But for the British protection, Ranjit Singh would have overpowered them long ago. The British had guaranteed them full protection ever since the proclamation of 1809 (Treaty of Amritsar). Very few scholars have studied the role of the Sikhs in the Mutiny in its true historical perspective. In the opinion of M.A. Rahim: “Disarmament of people, dismantling of fortifications, disbanding of the Khalsa Army, suppression of the Sikh gentry, stationing of a large army and police in the Punjab and various other measures were taken to cow down the brave militant and turbulent Khalsa nation into humble submission...so that the Khalsa may not be allowed to recover its prestige and reconstitute its army.” 57 Similarly, Evans Bell believes that the Khalsa was bound to feel discomfited for their Gurus had been discredited and their union had been dissolved. 58
Although the Mutiny did not spread to Punjab, the British. did not look upon the Sikhs as trustworthy. They knew that Punjab was still seething with disaffection. Therefore, they kept a strict vigil over their fallen enemies. A big force consisting of 60,000 soldiers and 15,000 police personnel was stationed in Punjab to exercise control in the event of an emergency. There was one soldier for every forty persons. Thus, peace in Punjab was preserved at the point of bayonet. A Government report of this time noted: “A spirit of nationality and military ambition still survives in the minds and hearts of thousands among Sikhs. It was vain to suppose that thoughts of future triumphs and future independence did not cross the imagination of these people or that aspirations of restoring the Khalsa Raj were not excited during the summer of 1857. Universal revolt in the Punjab would have broken out if Delhi
had not fallen soon into our hands.’’59 Despite recruitment from Punjab during and after the revolt, the total number of Sikh soldiers by May 1858 stood at 13,344 as against 20,027 Mohammandans. 60
As detailed above, it is evident that the Sikh soldiers who mad joined the British army in 1857 were, by and large, drawn from the Cis-Satluj states, whose rulers during Ranjit Singh’s rule owed their very existence to British bayonets and who even during the Anglo-Sikh wars were obviously sympathetic to the British and not to the Sikhs. In fact, the Sikhs of Punjab were virtually segregated from the rest of India by the intervening Cis-SatIuj states and the adjacent Hill and Dogra rulers, who ‘had been traditionally pro-Delhi. So far as the HilI-Rajas were concerned their hostility towards the Gurus and the Sikhs dated from the Mughal period.
British Policy after Mutiny :- With the transfer of authority from the East India Company to the Crown, it had become the declared policy of the British to give due respect to the religious sensibilities of each community, to raise army regiments on communal lines to ensure that every community, and not the Sikh community alone, observed its separate religious discipline. The Immediate cause leading to the Mutiny had been the greased cartndges smeared with the fat of cows and swines. This had ou traged the feelings of both Hindus, to whom the cow was sacred, and Muslims for whom the swine was unclean. The British Goverment had learnt a good lession, and its policy, in reference to Indlan religions was radically altered. While deciding to raise regiments on communal lines, the British also kept in view the prejudice of the caste Hindus, especially in matters pertaining to eating from a common mess and living together under the same roof in the military barracks. Government not only maintained the religious identity of the units but also respected the religious taboos of the soldiers, and even allowed each Brahmin to cook his food separately. 61
In the new native army the number of high castes was reduced. A soldier in each regiment was required to take oath of allegiance on his respective scripture by the help of his own priest at his own place of worship. Soldiers were allowed to use their Own communal war-cries. This new policy was in no way designed to further one religion at the cost of the other. A notable decision was taken to reduce the number of native sepoys in the Indian army and to increase the strength of the European soldiers. There was an overall decrease of 40 per cent in the total strength of the native soldiers but an increase of 60 per cent in the number of European troops. It was an established principle of the British policy for the period since 1858 that the native troops should not exceed more than 40 per cent of the total army.
Many scholars like Fox, Mcleod, Rajiv Kapur and Barrier have wrongly highlighted the recruiting policy of the British in maintaining religious neutrality and freedom, as if this policy had only related to the Sikhs. ,Actually as we have stated, it was a general policy regarding the maintenance of religious neutrality and status quo concerning each community. It is, therefore, incorrect that the British policy either in any manner related only to the Sikhs, or that it had introduced any religious practice that had not been in existence earlier in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is, therefore, an idle prejudice to suggest that the British’ chose any particular or Khalsa identity. In relation to every community the British accepted what was the authentic and the typical. In fact, any partiality or prejudice in the choice of any sect would unnecessarily have raised criticism, which the British wanted to avoid, being contrary to their new religious policy of neutrality. Here it is relevant to give the statement of Henry Lawrence quoted by Barrier in his article, ‘The Punjab Government and Communal Politics, 1870-1908’: “My men are expected to extend equal rights to all native religions and to align with none.” 62 On the basis of the above statement and other facts Barrier concludes that “the first Punjab administration thus responded to a communal problem with religiousimpartiality.” 63 In fact the burden of his entire article is to suggest British neutrality towards different religious communities in Punjab and defend them against the charge of creating communal divisions. It is difficult to understand what climatic change has occurred or interests have over-weighed with the same author that later he writes that, “that British also played an important role by supporting the maintenance of separate Sikh identity for
military purposes.’64 Because, it is normally unusual for an author to give on the one hand a clean chit to the British for their avowed and practical neutrality towards the three communities in Punjab, and, on the other hand, strongly to endorse the oft-repeacted charge of Hindu politicians that the Hindu-Sikh divide in Punjab is a British creation to serve their partisan interests. Besides, this religious policy regarding various communities had been formulated by the British long before the publication of pamphlets by the Singh Sabha at the fag end of the 19th century. Here it is very important to mention that the British religious policies regarding communal practices in the army were strictly governed by their own self-interest” so as to maintain the loyalty of the soldiers. The important and authentic fact is that both for the Muslim rulers of the 16th to 18th centuries and the British rulers of the 19th century, there was only one reality or identity, namely the Sikhs, Nanakpanthis or Khalsa with which they battled or dealt with. Any other identity existed neither in the field of religion, society, politics nor even in fiction or imagination. The religious realities the British found, were dealt with uniformly by their new religious policy; they did not choose anyone, ignore any one, or promote anyone. It is only the split vision of some interested modern writers that raises the phantoms of plural images that for the rulers and historians of the times were non-existent.
1 Stronger- Uncalled for assumption which we shall discuss in detail at a later
2 McLeod, W.H.; The Sikh: History, Religion and Society (New York, 1989), 37.
3 Fox, C. Richard; Lions of the Punjab :Culture in the Making (New Delhi, 1987), p.143.
4 Kapur, A Rajiv; Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith (London, 1986), p.25.
5 Barrier, N. Cerlad; The Sikhs and Their Literature Delhi, 1970), Introduction, P.xl.
6 Fox; op. cit., pp. 140-145.
7 “One, Self-existant, Himself the Creator,
O Nanak! One continueth, another never was and never will be.”
Guru Granth; ‘Cauri Rag’, Trans.
Cunningham, J.D.; A History of the Sikhs (Delhi, 1966), p.330.
8 “Religion consisteth not in mere words;
He who looketh on all men as equal is religious.” Trans. Macauliffe, M.A.; The Sikh Religion, Vol I (Delhi,1963), P.60
9 ‘The sense of high and low, and of caste and colour; such are the illusions created in man.” Guru Granth, Trans. Copal Singh; Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Vol IV (New Delhi, 1987), P.1188.
10 “The ignorant fools take stones and worship them. O Hindus, how shall the
stone which itself sinketh carry you across.”
Trans. Maeaulifee, Vol.I, p.326.
11 “O Brahman, thou worshippest and propitiatest the Salagram, and deemest it
a good act to wear a necklace of sweet basil. Why irrigate barren land and waste
12 “Householders and Hermits are equal, whoever calls on the name of the Lord.”
Guru Granth, ‘Asa Ragni’. Trans., Cunnigham, p. 334.
13 “In this age few Brahmans are Brahm.” Guru Granth, ‘Bilawail’, Trans.,
Cunningham, p. 335.
14 Dhillion, G.S.;Researches in Sikh Religion and History (Chandigarh, 1989), pp. 2-4.
15 Guru Granth, ‘Bhairo’, Trans., Teja Singh, Essays in Sikhism (Lahore, 1944),
16 Haqiqat-i-Bonau-i-Firqa-i-Sikhan (1783 AD.) quoted Sher Singh’s article, ‘Guru Tegh Bahadur Gave His Head For “Millat-i-nau’, in The Sikh Review Vol.39:2 No.446, February, 1991.
17 Ganda Singh (ed.), Sanapat; Shri Gur Sobha (Patiala, 1967), pp.32-33.
18 Cunningham, J.D.; op.cit., p.64; Bannerjee, I.B.; Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol I (Calcutta, 1963), p.116.
19 Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna (Amritsar, 1989), (ed.) Piara Singh and Madanjit kaur, p.233.
20 Khushwant Singh; A History of The Sikhs, Vol.I (New Delhi, 1977), p.l07.
21 Ganda Singh (ed.); Early European Accounts of The Sikhs (New Delhi, 1974), p. 188.
22 Bhangu, Rattan Singh; Prachin Panth Parkash (ed.) Bhai Vir Singh (Amritsar, 1962), p. 235; Forster, George; A Journey From Bengal England. Vol. I (Patiala, 1970) pp.312-313; Gupta, H.R.; History of The Sikhs, Vol.II (Delhi,.1978), p.39.
24 Devi Prasad, Pandit; Gulshan-i-Punjab (Lucknow, 1872), p. 224; Cunningham; op.cif. p. 301.
25 Dhillon, G.S.; op.cit., p. 77.
26 Khuswant Singh; op. cit., Vol.II, p. 137.
27 Khullar, K.K. ; Maharaja Ranjit Singh (New Delhi, 1980), p.185.
28 Government Records, VIlI-II, p. 328; Punjab Administrative Report, 1851-53, pp. 41-42.
29 Lahore Political Diaries, VoI.Ill, p.260; Secret Consultation, 7 October, 1848, No. 621; Fauja Singh; ‘Presidential Address’ in Punjab History Conference, Proceedings
(Punjabi University, Patiala, November, 1965), p. 139
30 Khushwant Singh; op. cit., Vol.II, pp. 70-71.
31 Foreign Secret Consultation, No.21, April 28, 1849.
33 Yadav, Kripal Chandra; ‘British Policy Towards Sikhs, 1849-57’ in Harbans Singh and Barrier, N. Gerald (ed.); Essays in Honour of Dr. Ganda Singh (Patiala, 1976), p.189.
35 Khuswant Singh; op. cit, Vol.II, p. 88.
36 Hunter, W.W.; The Marquess of Dalhousie (Oxfort,1985), p.99.
37 Yadav, Kirpal Chandra; op. cit., p. 190.
38 Ibid., p.191.
40 Petrie, D. (Assistant Director, Criminal Intelligence, Government of India);‘Development in Sikh Politics (1900-1911) (A Report)’ in Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee; Gurdwara Gazettee (Amritsar, April 1969), p. 11.
41 Khushwant Singh; op.cit., Vol.II, p. 195.
42 Teja Singh; op. cit., p.161.
43 Khushwant Singh; op. cit., Vol.II, p. 94n.
44 Maunier, Rene; The Sociology of Colonies Vol.I (London, 1949), p. 171.
45 Dr. W.H. McLeod, a protagonist of some obviously odd and incongruous and
superficial formulations about Sikh history has lived and worked at this centre.
46 Oark, Robert; A Brief Account of Thirty Years of Missonary Work in the Punjab and
Sindh (Lahore, 1883), pp. 18-19,66.
47 The most notable of these Missionaries societies were the American
Presbyterian Mission, the Church of England, the Cambridge Mission, the
Baptist Mission and the Church of Scotland.
48 Government of India; Census of India, 1921, Vol. I, p. 117.
49 Clark, Reobert; op.cit., pp. 44-45; Letters of Queen Victoria 1837-1861, VoI. III
(London, 1908), pp. 68-69.
50 Archer, John Oark; The Sikhs (Princeton, 1946), p.266.
51 . Selections From the Records of the Government of India, Foreign Department, No
VI, General Report On the Administration of the Punjab Territories, 1852-53, p. 498,
in Yadav, Kirpal Chandra; op.cit., p. 196.
52 In the Central Punjab, there was a dispossessed aristocracy which had “been
brow beaten and rendered insert by a calculated official policy of intimidation
and suppression with the beginning of the British Rule in the Punjab.’ I
Fauja Singh (ed.); History of Punjab, Vol. VIII,See article by the editor on ‘Kuka Movement’.
53 Khazan Singh; ‘Jangnama Dilli’ in Ashok, Shamsher Singh (ed.) Prachin Varan
Te Jangname (Amritsar, 1971), pp. 324-48.
54 Punjab Government Records; Mutiny Reports, Vol.VIII, Part I, p.237.
55 Khushwant Singh, op cit., Vol. II, p. 109.
56 Fauja Singh;’Presidential Address’, Punjab History Conference, First Session
November 12-14,1965, (Punjabi University, Patiala), pp. 138-139.
57 Rehman, M.A; Lord Dalhousie’s Administration of conquered and Annexed States
(Delhi, 1963), pp. 47-48,67.
58 Bell, Evans; The Annexation of the Punjab and Raja Daleep Singh (London,
59 Fauja Singh; ‘Presidential Address’, op.cit. p.139.
60 Payne, C.H.; A Short History of The Sikhs (London n.d.), p. 216.
61 Ellinwood, C.De Witt (Jr.); ‘An Historical Study of the Punjabi Soldier in World
War I’, in Harbans Singh and Barrier; op. cit., p. 348.
62 Barrier, N. Gerald; ‘The Punjab Government and Communal Politics,
1870-1908 in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. XXVII, November 3, May 1968,
63 Ibid., p. 526.
64 Barrier, N. Gerald; ‘Sikh Emigrants and Their Homeland’ in Dusenbery, Verne
A and Barrier, N. Gerald (ed.), The Sikh Diaspora (Delhi, 1989), p. 51.
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