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THE MILITARIZATION OF SIKH MOVEMENT
The militarization of the Sikh movement, the creation of the Khalsa, and its prolonged struggle for the objective of capturing political power by the down trodden masses, are the hard facts of Indian history which cannot be ignored. These were not fortuitous developments, or what have often been called ‘the accidents of history’. The Sikh movement was an organic growth of the Sikh religion or the Sikh view of life. The founding of the Sikh panth outside the caste society in order to use it as the base for combating the hierarchical setup of the caste order, and the creation of the Khalsa for capturing the state in the interests of the poor and the suppressed, were only a projection, on the military and political plane, of the egalitarian approach of the Sikh religious thesis. But, some writers, having failed to grasp the socio-political significance of the Sikh religion, have tried to cloud the genesis of the Sikh movement by suggesting that the militarization of the movement was initiated and reinforced by the influx into it of a large number Jats. The refutation of this hypothesis is important, because its elimination would leave no plausible alternative in the field to contend the thesis that the militarization of the Sikh movement was a logical development of the Sikh view of religion. The subject is considered in two sections. The first deals with some specific points about the subject raised by Dr. McLeod, and in the second the problem is examined in a wider context.
THE JATS AND SIKH MILITARlZATION*
Dr. McLeod has stated that ‘the arming of the Panth could not have been the result of any decision by Gum Hargobind’, and that, ‘the growth of militancy within the panth must be traced primarily to the impact of Jat cultural patterns and to economic problems which prompted a militant response.’1 This proposition raised three issuesthe question of leadership and initiative, the impact of Jat cultural patterns and economic problems.
1. THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP
On this issue, it has to be seen whether effective leadership and initiative lay with the followers of the Gums or the Gums themselves.
There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that any of the succeeding Gums was nominated in consultation with, or at the suggestion of, the Sangat (the Sikh followers). The choice of the successor was always a personal decision of the nominating Gum. The faithful were expected to accept the nomination without any reservation. Even when the nomination of the ninth Gum was vaguely indicated by the word ‘Baba Bakale’2, the devout Sikhs diverted all their attention to finding out the intended Baba at Bakala. It was the founder Gum, Gum Nanak himself, who had arrived at the decision that, in order to carry forward his aims and ideals, he must have a successor. Evidently, the choice of the successor was the most important decision of the Gums, who, whenever necessary, applied extremely rigorous tests before making the final selection. Those who, for whatever reason, did not accept the nomination, had to opt out of the main current or were discarded, as it happened in the case of the Minas, the Dhirmalias and the Ramrayyas. No deviation from the avowed ideology was ever tolerated. Baba Atal, a son of the sixth Gum, is said to have shown a miracle. It being against the Sikh ideology, the Baba was given such a stem reprimand by the Gum for his lapse that he had to give up his mortal coil. Ram Rai, who merely misquoted the Gum Granth in order to please Emperor Aurangzeb at Delhi, was completely disowned by his father, the seventh Gum. It would, therefore, be too simplistic to suggest that the fifth Guru, ho laid down his life for the sake of the faith and its ideology but did not agree to change an iota of the Sikh scriptures, would choose a person who would follow an ideological line different from him; or that the sixth Gum, who had made his own son lose his life for an ideological error, would himself allow any distortion of the ideology so as to accommodate his Jat followers.
The entire Sikh history is a refutation of the assumption that the Guru, even though not elected or selected by the Sikhs, were mere figure-heads, had no clear-cut objectives and plans for the community of which they were the accredited and unchallenged leaders, and were stampeded into unauthorised action by the will, predilections or the leanings of their followers. A glance at the landmarks of the Sikh history will further clarify this point.
The turning points in Sikh history during the Gum period were: (i) the break with the Indian ascetic tradition, (ii) the building of a society not based on the caste structure, and (iii) the militarization of the Panth. All these changes were so radically opposed to the Indian religious tradition that it would be idle to suggest that a mere chance combination of ideologically indifferent elements and circumstances placed in juxtaposition could have achieved them. Only a purposeful and determined leadership could have brought about the said departures.
The decision to eschew asceticism was Gum Nanak’s taken at a time when there was practically no organized Sikh sangat. Kabir also preached against asceticism. Why, then were there no marked social and political growths among Kabir-Panthies similar to those of the Sikh? This difference lay in the systematic work that the Sikh Gurus did for their ideals, as is instanced by the third Guru having deliberately separated the Sikhs from the passive recluses. Similar is the case regarding the caste system.
Kabir was unequivocal against the system of castes, but the Kabir-panth never developed into a social entity distinct from the caste-ridden Hindus; because he showed no purposive drive or the will to organize a separate Panth outside the caste society as Guru Nanak and his successors did. The Kabir-Panth did not have to surmount more difficult circumstances than the Sikhs in overcoming caste prejudices. It is Guru Nanak who started the institution of a common kitchen for all. But, it is only the third Guru who made it obligatory for everyone to partake food from the Langar. This calculated approach is indicative of the hesitation or opposition expected from their rank and file to the Gurus’ new line of thinking. When the tenth Guru, after quite a long interval of preparation by the previous Gurus, decided to break away completely from the caste society and created the Khalsa, there were dissensions and disputes among the Sikh ranks.3 But, it was entirely because of the initiative, guiding influence and drive of the Gurus that the movement, despite all opposition, never swerved from its ideals.
The arming of the Sikh community was the third turning point in the Sikh history. This was the necessary sequence of Guru Arjan’s decision to ‘defend his faith by the open profession thereof’, to raise the institution of the ‘True Emperor’, and to help the rebel Khusro. And yet there is an unwarranted conjecture that what Jahangir was really concerned about was the growing Jat following of the Gurus, and that the reasons given by Jahangir himself in his autobiography for his ordering execution of the fifth Guru should be discounted.
2. THE ARMING OF THE PANTH AND JATS
It is an accepted fact that there was a rift in the Sikh ranks at the time of Guru Arjan’s succession. It is nowhere known, however, that those who opted out in favour of Prithi Chand excluded Jat Sikhs. Not far from Amritsar, at Jandiala, was the religious headquarter of Handalias, a schismatic sect of Sikhs, who were themselves Jats and had Jat following. 4 But, neither Prithi Chand nor Handalias, both of whom had set up separate Guruships in opposition to the Sikh movement, ever came into conflict with the administration. On the other hand, they cooperated fully with the authorities. Prithi Chand was instrumental in the persecution of Guru Arjan, and, in later history, the Handalias became active agents of the authorities for the persecution of the Sikhs.5 ‘The gurus of this sect (Handalias of Jandiala) took service with Abmed Shah and drew terrible vengeance on themselves from Charat Singh when he attacked Jandiala in 1762.6 If the mere intrusion of Jat elements into the Sikh ranks could arouse the fears of the authorities, it should have done so in the case of Prithi Chand and Handalias too; because there is no evidence to indicate that the Jat followers of these two sects were less armed than the Jat followers of the Gurus. But the real difference was that one party chose the path of challenging the political authority of the day, while the other was interested in mere ritualism, without the socio-political concerns of the Sikh faith. That Guru Arjan made his momentous choice deliberately, and that it was his own, is established by the fact that he told Jahangir that he was a worshipper of the Immortal God and recognized no monarch save Him. The Sikhs of Lahore wanted to compromise with the authorities by paying the fine on his behalf but he forbade them to do so. 7
If the arming of the Panth was at the instance of the Jats, why did Bhai Buddha, the most leading Jat, remonstrate with Guru Hargobind when he found him insisting on the militarization of the Sikhs? 8 According to McLeod the enrolment of Jats in large numbers to the Sikhs ranks is supposed to have begun in the time of Guru Arjan. He was Guru for nearly twenty five years. Why this arming of the panth, which McLeod assumes must have preceded Guru Hargobind’s decision, was taken notice of by Jahangir and his subordinates in the last nine months of the Guru’s life and not earlier by Akbar or his Administration? Akbar too could not have been less alive to any potential threat to his political authority.
Nor is there any basis for McLeod’s presumption that the Jats were armed but the Khatris were not. Ibbetson writes: ‘The Khatri occupies a different position among the people of the Punjab from that of other mercantile castes. Superior to them in physique, in manliness and in energy, he is not, like them, a mere shopkeeper, but a direct representative of the Kshatriya of Manu.’9 It is true that the Khatris of the present times have taken more to trade. ‘They are not usually military in their character, but are quite capable of using the sword, when necessary.’10 Nothing prevented the Khatris from bearing arms in the earlier troubled times we are dealing with. When the Taruna Dal branch of the Khalsa Dal was reorganized into five divisions, two of these were headed by Khatris and one by a Ranghreta.11
Nor was Guru Hargobind’s decision to arm the Sikhs taken casually or accidently. In the first place, it was done under the specific instructions of Guru Arjan.12 Secondly, at the very time of his installation as Guru, it is he who directed Bhai Buddha to amend the ceremony followed on such occasions and adorn him with two swords of Meeree and Peeree, signifying the blending of religious and temporal authority. It was not customary for the Sangat to suggest changes or innovate ceremonies, much less a radical departure such as this one. He followed this up by founding the ‘Akal Takht’, a seat of temporal authority as distinct from the place of worship alone, and set up two flags fluttering before it, one distinctly signifying religious and the other temporal authority. Such steps amounted to the declaration of a parallel government and marked an open change in the external character of the movement. Here we have the indisputable authority of Bhai Gurdas, the Guru’s contemporary, that far from persuading the Guru to take these steps, there were grumblings among the Sikhs against the line taken by the Guru.13 Even Bhai Buddha, chief among the Sikhs and the Jat, initially argued against it with the Guru. There is no mention, whatsoever, that -the other Jats among the Sikhs supported the Guru on this issue, or that Sikhs ever grouped themselves on caste lines to deliberate on any subject. The Masands, leaders of the local Sangats, approached the Guru’s mother in ‘order that she should dissuade the Guru from inviting trouble from the rulers. By inference, had those among the Sikhs, who were opposed to Guru Hargobind’s policy of militarization, been consulted, they would not have supported Guru Arjan in bestowing his blessings on Prince Khusro, as that would have invited the Imperial wrath. As the interval between these events is not long, it is reasonable to suppose that the composition of the Sangat could not have changed materially. The incident of the ‘hawk’ also indicates that the initiative for challenging the political authority came from the Guru. As to the creation of the Khalsa, Sainapat, a contemporary, and Koer Singh, a near contemporary, expressly state that the tenth Guru’s step was opposed by many members of the higher castes.14 The dramatic manner in which the nucleus of the Khalsa, the five Beloved Ones, was chosen, 15 shows how Guru Gobind Singh had kept his counsel to himself. A surprise was sprung on the Sangat. Far from influencing or pressurizing the Guru to found the Khalsa only five among all the Sikhs came forward to offer their lives, and the total number of others who were also initiated on that day was twenty-five only. 16 The creation of the Khalsa caused a serious rift among the Sikh ranks, but the Guru did not deviate from his plan. At Anandpur, on another occasion, he allowed those who wanted to discontinue the military struggle (Bedavilas) to depart but stuck to his plan. Aagin, at a time when he had lost his army and had no visible chance of success left, and when some Sikhs suggested to the Guru at Muktsar to discontinue the struggle against the state and offered to bring about conciliation between him and Aurangzeb, the Guru chided them for their presumptuousness in trying to advise the Guru.17
These glaring facts should be enough to show that the initiative and determination for carrying on the armed struggle against the established state was invariably that of the Guru and not that of his followers. The working of a movement or a system cannot be evaluated merely by taking into account the objective or environmental factors. The Indians far outnumbered the British in the administrative machinery of the Government of India; and even in the army the ratio of the Indian soldiers to the British soldiers was roughly three to one. But one cannot conclude from this that the Indians were in effective control of the Government of the country. For the purpose of any assessment, the directive purpose and the levers of power have to be correlated with the objective conditions.
3. THE JATS AND ARMS
It is McLeod’s assumption that the Jats who used to come to Guru Arjan to pay homage must have come armed. In the first place, it was no Indian religious custom to go armed to any holy person. Rather, the general practice was, as a mark of respect, to disarm oneself beforehand. In fact, Ghulam Hussain Khan asserts that upto the time of Guru Gobind Singh the Sikhs wore only religious garb, without any kind of arms’18. Nor is it established that the bearing of arms was a Jat peculiarity. If the Mughal policy was to disarm the population, it would not have left the Jats out. If not, why other elements of the population, especially Khatris and those who later became Mazhabi Sikhs, did not also bear arms? In all probability, the exploited class of peasants were, by and large, unarmed. Arrian noted that husbandmen are not furnished with arms, nor have any military duties to perform.19 The revenue and other demands on them were so excessive that they were compelled to sell their women, children and cattle to meet them. ‘The peasants were carried off, attached to heavy iron chains, to various markets and fairs, with their poor, unhappy wives behind them, carrying their small children in their arms, all crying and lamenting their evil plight.’20 When these peasants resisted, their uprisings misfired, because ‘the purely peasant uprising of a few villages would, perhaps, have constricted pitifully with the military efforts of even the smaller Zamindars.’21 All this points to the probability that the common peasants were unarmed. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that the Jats who came to the Guru were differently placed. When the Sikh visitors to Guru Gobind Singh complained that they were harassed on their way by Muhammadans, the Guru advised them to come armed. That is, probably, also the reason why Guru Gobind Singh in his letters (Hukamnamas) lays special stress that his Sikhs should come armed to Anandpur. The ‘Rehitnamas’ also insist that the Khalsa should remain always armed.22
4. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
There is another aspect which needs elucidation. What was the motive force, the urge, which led to the militarization of the Sikhs? The Sikh ideology clearly involved the finding of solutions for the multifarious socio-political problems posed by the times. It is, therefore, important to understand that in the matter of identifying the motivation, the ideology of a movement would normally furnish the closest clue for investigation and verification. In any case, there is no ground for ignoring this approach and instead for putting a premium on random speculation. A good deal of misunderstanding about the Sikh history could be avoided if the prejudice against the religious duty of fighting just political battles and the use of force for a just cause are shed. The Gurus did not ‘dabble in politics’ casually or accidentally, as some historians have put it; they regarded it as their duty to fight not only social injustice but also political oppression. Guru Arjan could have chosen to remain indifferent to political affairs. Similarly, Guru Hargobind could have avoided the setting up of a parallel political authority. Further, why did Guru Har Rai, if he was not working for a set objective, offer military help to Dara Shikoh, knowing full well the consequences that followed a similar step taken by Guru Arjan? Again, Guru Tegh Bahadur deliberately did not follow Aurangzeb’s advice to disarm his followers.23 Instead, he embraced martyrdom to save the oppressed Kashmiri Pandits, because the resolve to resist religious persecution and combat political oppression was a part of the Guru’s programme. Guru Gobind Singh leaves no doubt about his mission of life: “I took birth in order to spread faith, save the saints, and extirpate all tyrants.”24 That his Sikhs also understood it to be so, is shown by the contemporary Sainapat, who wrote that the purpose of creating the Khalsa was ‘to destroy the evildoer and eliminate suffering.’25 The near-contemporary Koer Singh also recorded that the Guru was born to destroy the Mughals.26 (i.e. the tyrants of the times ?) Even the later Sikh writings unanimously speak of this being an objective of the mission.27 Sainapat twice makes a very significant remark that, while founding the Khalsa, the Guru at last revealed what had till then been kept a secret.28 This indicates that the creation of the Khalsa was a pre-planned objective of the mission. All these signposts that charter the course of the Sikh movement, extending over a long period, drive one to the conclusion that the Gurus were working with the set aim of combating social and political injustice and of remoulding the social structure.
5. THE ROLE OF JATS
Before discussing the role of Jats, we should like to make one point clear. Leaving aside its interactions with the external factors, the Sikh movement in its internal development was essentially the product of the Sikh ideology. But mass movements, especially those which set before them the objective of capturing political power, cannot afford to admit only ideologically conscious members. Such persons are always in a minority. So long as the Gurus were alive, there was no question of views and interests contrary to the Sikh doctrine coming to the surface, because the word of the Guru was final. After them, there was an interplay of action and reaction between the ideologically conscious and less conscious elements, within the Sikh movement. Like all such movements, the Sikh movement may also be roughly divided into two phases, the period of ideological ascendancy and that of its decline. In the first phase, the Khalsa period, Sikh ideology remained supreme in determining the character and the direction of the movement. In the second phase, the period of Missals and Ranjit Singh, the hold of ideology on individuals and the movement, as it always happens, relaxed. With the passage of time, regression in the ideological level is not peculiar to the Sikh movement. Revolutions have always been haunted by reaction. What we seek to emphasize is that it would be wrong to judge the history of the Khalsa phase of the Sikh movement in the light of later developments. That would be putting the cart before the horse. During the period of the Gurus, and for most part of the eighteenth century, it was the Sikh ideology that influenced the Jats and the other elements who joined the movement and not the Jat character that moulded the movement during its revolutionary phase.
It has been assumed that the Jats must have joined in large numbers because Guru Arjan established some religious centres in the rural areas of Majha. But, there is no data to infer this or that the Jats were the prominent element among the Sikhs when Guru Hargobind decided to militarize the movement, or that the Jats used to come armed when they came to pay homage to the Gurus. The Jats are well known for their indifference towards deep religious affairs. 29 The short interval of time between the opening of these centres and the time when the influx of Jats into the Sikh ranks is supposed to have aroused Jahangir’s misgivings is not such as to favour the theory of large scale enrolment of the Jats in Sikhism. Bhai Gurdas has given the names of about 200 prominent Sikhs of Guru Arjan. Of these ten were Brahmins, eight Jats (including two whose caste is given as Jatu, which is a Rajput sub- caste), three fishermen, three calico-printers, two chandals, two brick-layers, two Bhatts, one potter, one goldsmith and one Muhammadan. The rest either belonged to the Khatri and other castes connected with commerce, trades, etc., or did not have their castes specified.30
The above figures indicate clearly the caste-wise composition of Guru Arjan’s important Sikhs. The constitution of the general Sangat is not likely to have been materially different when Guru Hargobind became the Guru and started militarization. The number of Khatris and castes connected with commerce, profession, etc., is many times more than the combined number of Jats and lower castes. Among the latter category, the low castes outnumber the Jats. The conjecture about Jats having joined Guru Arjan in large numbers is contradicted even by Mohsin Fani, who says: “Some Sikhs of the Guru do agricultural work and some trade, and a multitude takes up service.’31
These figures, thus, knock out the bottom of the assumption that the setting up of rural centres increased the proportion of Jats among the Guru’s followers to such an extent as to cause apprehensions in Jahangir’s mind. Besides, as already stated, it would be going beyond the limits of historical propriety to reject the autobiographical testimony of Jahangir about his motives for ordering Guru Arjan’s execution and instead to impute a conjectural motive to the emperor for his action.
Bhai Gurdas’s testimony about the reaction of the Sikhs against the Guru’s steps for militarization has already been indicated. He does not mention many Jats in his enumeration of important Sikhs of Guru Hargobind. True, Mohsin Fani says that many Jats joined as the Guru’s followers. This author was twenty years younger than Guru Hargobind, who was eleven years old when he became the Guru, took the decision to arm the Sikhs, built the Akal Takht and started the construction of Lohgarh fort. In view of his earlier observation about the Jats being in a minority in the time of Guru Arjan, Mohsin Fani’s statement that the Jats joined as the followers of Guru Hargobind refers evidently to a period subsequent to the latter’s decision to militarize the Sikhs. This would correspond to the evidence noted by Macauliffe that, on learning of the military preparation initiated by Guru Hargobind, five hundred warriors from Majha, Doaba and Malwa regions volunteered their services to the Guru32 Moreover, Mohsin Fani’s evidence has no weight compared to the authentic, reliable and contemporary evidence of Bhai Gurdas. In fact,” the adversaries of Guru Hargobind derisively called his forces weak because they were composed of barbers, washermen, cobblers, and the like.33 In any case, how could a minority group make its impact felt to such an extent as to change overnight the very direction of the movement? It has already been made clear that the vital decisions were always made by the Gurus themselves. The Sangat never forced the Gurus to action. But, supposing, for argument’s sake, that Guru Hargobind wanted to take into account the views of the Sangat in making his momentous decision, that opinion could naturally have been of the leading Sikhs, of whom Jats, according to Bhai Gurdas, formed a negligible minority. And it would be illogical to suggest that these few Jats, even if they had views different from those of other non-Jat Sikhs and the Guru, could impose their will on the rest on such a crucial and ideological issue. Actually, the Guru, according to Bhai Gurdas, stuck to his decision, despite the opposition from Baba Buddha, the most revered Sikh, his mother, the Masands, and some others.
From the time of Guru Har Rai to that of Guru Gobind Singh, there was no overt military activity except that of maintaining some armed men. Before founding the Khalsa, Bhikhan Khan, an opponent of the tenth Guru, spoke contemptuously of his forces being composed of low-caste men.34 Almost all the participants whose names are recorded in connection with the battle of Bhangani (Le. pre-Khalsa period) were non-Jats.35 The first three well-known martyrs from amongst the Sikhs, during Guru Tegh Bahadur’s time, were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyala, all nonJats. Out of the five Beloved Ones (the Five Piaras), only one was a Jat, and he too belonged to Hastinapur, outside the Punjab. According to Koer Singh, Guru Gobind Singh said : “Vaisayas, Sudras and Jats I have incorporated in the Panth.”36 Of the twentyfive Muktas mentioned by Koer Singh, three was Bhatias, five Khatris, four Aroras, three Lubanas and two water-carriers.37 The castes of the rest are not given. The forty men at Chamkaur included five Bhatias, four Aroras, some Khatris and Kalals (distillers), two Ranghretas (sweeper caste), two Brahmins, Sangat Singh of the TransIndus areas, sons of the Guru and the Guru Himself.38 Those who took part in Banda’s campaign, at least in its initial stage, were recruited chiefly from the lower caste Hindus.39 About Sirhind’s conquest by Banda, Irvine writes, ‘The scavengers and leather-dressers and such like persons, who were very numerous among the Sikhs, committed excesses of every description.40
In the face of all this, there is no basis for suggesting, much less for asserting, that the growth of militancy within the panth could be the result of the impact of the so-called Jat cultural patterns. Besides, it is not understood how these so-called Jat patterns could be so powerful as to submerge established ideological considerations and the views of the large majority of the influential participants in the Sangat. Whether or not the original Jat patterns of culture, or Jat traits, corresponded to the characteristic features of the Sikh movement, will be seen hereafter.
6. THE FIVE K’S.
Another hypothesis advanced is that the Khalsa accepted the five symbols (the five K’s) under the influence of Jat cultural patterns. Unless the Jat cultural patterns are identified and correlated with the five K’s or other characteristics of the movement, this view remains conjectural. For, there is no evidence to suggest that the five K’s were distinct and characteristic Jat features. Megregor writes of the people of the Punjab who opposed Alexander when he crossed the Ravi : “Some had darts, others spears and axes. No mention is made of bows and arrows, so generally employed by the Sikhs of the present day, as weapons of war. 41 No mention is also made of the weapons used by the Jats in their encounters with Mahmood Ghaznavi, Timur and Babar. If the Kirpan (the sword) was ever used as a weapon by the Jats, Manu had specified it as Kshatriya’s weapon42 much earlier, and its use in Indian history was more conspicuously associated with the Rajputs. In fact, any group resorting to militancy would adopt the weapons current in the times. Then why trace the adoption by the Khalsa of this ‘K’ (Kirpan) to the Jats cultural patterns?
Another important ‘K’ is the Keshas (hair). Alberuni noted that one of the strange customs that differentiated the Hindus from the people of his own country was that the Hindus ‘do not cut any of the hair of the body.’43 ‘Formerly the whole population (of Dogars), as is the case with the poor classes still, wore their long hair over their shoulders without any covering either of sheet or turban.44 This shows that the keeping of hair was, if it ever was, not a Jat peculiarity. Anyhow, the point is not about keeping the hair as such, but about the sanctity that came to be attached to them; so that the Singhs would give up their lives rather than allow these to be removed.
Rose writes: ‘The Jats of the Punjab cannot be said to have any distinctive tribal cults. When Muhammadans or Sikhs they follow the teachings of their creeds with varying degrees of strictness. When Hindus they are very often Sultanis or followers of the popular and widespread cult of Sakhi Sarwar Sultan…The only distinctive Jat cults are tribal…Among the Hindu & Sikh Jats, especially in the north-central and central Districts, a form of ancestor worship, called jathera, is common.45 Sikhism which transcends tribal consciousness and customs, is opposed to all forms of ancestor-worship, and the position of the non- Jats was not so subservient in the Panth as to enable the Jats to impose their cultural patterns, if any, on the Panth against known Sikh tenets. In any case, this Jathera-worship, or any other similar tribal cult, can in no way be linked with the sanctity attached by the Sikhs to any of the five ‘K’s. About the Sultani cult, the District Gazetteer of Amritsar (1892-93, p. 50) records that: ‘Sikh Jats freely intermarry with Sultani Jats, but will not eat cooked food from their houses, or share any food with them. Even in one family, a member who has become a Sikh will eat separately from another member who lias remained a Sultani.46 This further illustrates that Sikhism, far from borrowing Jat cults, was a force which worked to draw the Jat Sikhs away from the cults prevalent among the Hindu Jats.
Had there been any substance in Mcleod’s conjectural hypothesis, how would one explain the total disappearance of these cultural symbols, supposed to have been borrowed by the Sikhs from Jats, from amongst the non-Sikh Jats of the Punjab and the neighbouring states? How, during the days of the general persecution of the Singhs, only the Khalsa of genuine faith retained their hair at the cost of their lives, while other Jats, who joined them for temporary gains, had no compunction to remove these in order to save their skins? How, in the modern times, the Jats among the Sikhs, comparatively speaking, have become lax in keeping their hair and the non-Jat Sikhs have grown strict47 in their adherence to these symbols? Further, whether the five ‘K’s were borrowed by the Panth from the Jats or not is not the relevant point; because symbols by themselves do not lead to anything, much less to militancy. Revolutionary movements are not made by the symbols; it is such movements that give meaningful significance to them.
Unfortunately, the above hypothesis completely misses the significance of the prescription of the five ‘K’s. The Guru’s step was clearly aimed not only at carving out a new community, distinct from the others, with its own cultural patterns, socio-religious ideology, and approach to life, but also at cutting away the members of this community from their previous moorings and affinities so as to avoid reversionary trends. That is why, at the time of the baptism ceremony, one of the injunctions was that: ‘hereby are destroyed all your connections with previous religious systems, customs, rituals, occupational stigmas, etc., etc.48 There is a clear record of the Guru’s determination to create a new and distinguishable people. On being told that few Sikhs appeared to have stood by Guru Tegh Bahadur at the time of his martyrdom because there was no distinguishing mark on a Sikh, the Guru is reported to have said: “I will assign such distinguishing marks to the Sikhs that a Sikh present even among thousands will not be able to conceal himself.”49 The Khalsa were, thus, given a new uniform which nowhere existed before.
Undoubtedly, the contribution of the Jats, with their fighting qualities, to the Sikh struggle is very valuable, but, the contribution of the castes lower than the Jats has also been quite significant during the Khalsa or the revolutionary phase of the movement. If the inspiration of the Sikh ideology could turn these people, who had been rendered spineless by the caste system for centuries, into a fighting class, the Sikh movement needed no goading from the Jats for its militarization. Also, if the bearing of arms and martial qualities are the only requirements for shaping a revolutionary movement, why could not the Jats produce one elsewhere?
7. RESPONSE TO ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
It has also been suggested that the militarization of the Sikh movement was the result of the economic pressure. Agrarian troubles were no doubt one of the factors for the downfall of the Mughal empire. Religious persecution of non Muslims was another reason. Rattan Singh Bhangu has not ignored the fact that those who were oppressed by the State or the Administration joined the Khalsa.50 But the question is, why, in the Punjab, the Khalsa alone became the centre of resistance? Why did the Kashmiri Pandits travel all the way to Anandpur? Why did the Jats of Haryana, who were in no way less oppressed, build no resistance on their own? If economic causes or religious persecution alone, without an ideology, an oriented leadership and an organization, could give rise to movements, then there should have been a general revolt throughout the length and breadth of the country. But nothing of the kind happened.
There were, in broad’ terms, four types of peasant upheavals. Firstly, there were the uprisings which the common exploited peasants undertook on their own. These were sporadic and unorganised, and instead of bearing any fruit invited further oppression and misery. Secondly, there were peasant revolts built around the leadership of Zamindars, as distinguished from Jagirdars, which were localized affairs. These, when successful, either served the personal ends of the local Zamindars or ended merely in plundering. If the Zamindars could unite for a common purpose, they would have become a force to reckon with, because the total number of their armed retainers, as estimated by Abul-Fazl, was 44 Lakhs. The third category was the successful revolt of Bharatpur Jats. It had only the limited objective of establishing the rule of a Jat family. The fourth category comprised the Satnami revolt and the Sikh movement, wherein, along with the peasants, the other lower castes also played a major role. Here also, the Satnami revolt was in the nature of an ephemeral flare-up. 51 It collapsed suddenly and did not carry on any sustained struggle, because it lacked ideology preplanned and objectives and a determined leadership. It was only in the Sikh movement that we find the combination of objective conditions with a distinct ideology, clear-cut revolutionary aims to be achieved, and an inspired and determined leadership. This is the reason why its course and character were different from those of others and lasted for over three generations even after the demise of Guru Gobind Singh. (The responses to economic problems were, thus, not uniform.) It is, therefore, idle to trace the source of a revolutionary movement, divorced from its ideology and leadership, to sheer economic causes.
8. THE DEVl CULT, THE JATS AND THE KHALSA
Another conjecture made by Dr. McLeod is that the synthesis of the Devi cult with the Jat culture had much to do with the evolution of militancy in the Panth, in inspiring it to deeds of valour, and in playing a determining role in its history.52
This suggestion is self-contradictory. For, while, on the one hand, it completely ignores the basic role played by the Gurus’ ideology in the development of militancy in the Panth and the creation of the Khalsa, on the other hand, it banks on an alien religious inspiration that goaded the Jats to militarize the movement and to fight zealously for socio-religious causes. In other words, the argument concedes that the Jat culture, left to itself, was incapable of galvanizing the Jats for a purposeful military action. The assumption is not only very conjectural, but misses all the established facts:
- Guru Hargobind went to Kiratpur after having finished all his battles in the plains. So the question of Jat Sikhs or Guru Hargobind getting inspiration from the Devi cult becomes an anachronism.
(ii) When Guru Hargobind was at Kiratpur, one Sikh named Bahiro cut off the nose of the Devi’s idol. When the hill Raja complained to the Guru of this, the Sikh’s answer was, how the Devi, that could not protect herself, could save others.53 This indicates what respect the Sikhs had for the Devi.
(iii) The news-writer, who reported to the emperor about the founding of the Khalsa, specifically mentioned Durga as one of the deities which the Guru forbade the Sikhs from paying homage to.54
(iv) The various forms of Devi are the consorts of Siva; hence Deviworship cannot be advocated by one who decries Siva worship. There are many verses of Guru Gobind Singh to this effect.55
(v) If the number of important temples built and fairs held in honour of the various forms of Devi are an indication of the prevalence of the Devi cult, it should be the least common among the Jats of the Sikh region. Because such temples and fairs are the most common in the hilly tracts of the Himachal. Next comes Haryana. But in the Sikh Jat tract there are only two such important temples. The votaries of one of them at Batala are confined to a sub- caste of khatris,56 while, the second one, the Bhaddar Kali temple at Niazbeg, is about 7 miles from Lahore and has only a local reputation.57 The fair which was held there was attended by people who collected from Amritsar and Lahore towns and the neighbouring villages.58 As this part of Lahore district is not a Sikh majority area (for that reason it forms a part of Pakistan), it is not unreasonable to surmise that the number of the Jat Sikhs attending this fair were never significant. As against this, there are many important Devi temples scattered all over the eastern districts (i.e. Haryana).59 Rose, who has not omitted to note even petty cultural practices like those of the Sikh watercarriers worshiping Bhairo, 60 makes no mention that Sikh Jats worship the Devi.
If the cult of Devi had inspired the Jats who visited Anandpur, how is it that it disappeared altogether from among them afterwards? If the Sikh water-carriers, who form a microscopic minority among the Sikh population, could retain Bhairo worship, why could not the Jats retain Devi worship? Also, if the Rajputs of hilly Punjab, which is the home of Devi cult, and the Hindu Jats of Haryana, where the Devi cult is widespread, could not be inspired by it to take up arms for higher religious or political ends, how is it that it inspired only the Sikh Jats, whose visits to Kiratpur or Anandpur to pay their respects to the Guru were very short and occasional?