SIKHS IN CHHATTISGARH
Mohan Inder Jit Singh
Chhattisgarh, a part of erstwhile Madhya Pradesh carved on 01.11.2000, is surrounded by M.P, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand. In spite of tremendous development after partition, the state is inhabited by poor illiterate but religious people having great knowledge of Ramayana and Bhagvat Gita. A handful of Sikhs residing here have been playing a commendable role in the development of local masses.
The period of migration of Sikhs from Punjab can be divided into two parts, one before partition and the other after.
Migration of Sikhs before partition:
As every body knows that before partition India had a number of tiny states ruled by Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs who kept on fighting with ~ach other on minor issues.
Bargarh was a small state (now in orissa) which had a feud with adjoining kingdom of Raigarh(now in chhattisgarh). Bargarh forces defeated Raigarh and its forces were running back for shelter and happened to meet 5 Nihangs who were on way to Nanded sahib. Their head S.Bir singh asked the reason of their harassment and offered them help. Bir singh challenged the army head of Bargarh forces offered 1 to 1 fighting. The defeat of the commander shall be the defeat of force. After the fierce fighting Bir singh beheaded Bargarh army chief though he lost one leg.
The Raja of Raigarh requested Nihangs to stay in his state and offered as much land they could acquire in one day. Thus they settled here (1923) well before partition Bir singh had 7 local wives and similarly other Nihangs followed. These Nihangs did not forget their tradition, religion, established Gurudwaras. Their descendents are still there but limited to 2 villages Netnagar and Jhalmala (10 kilometers from. Raigarh). At present it is a big source of Pathis(Granthis) for a vast area of Chhattisgarh.
When I wanted to trace out the reason of Sikhs migrating from Punjab (before partition) I came across 2 reasons. First, persons with technica,l qualifications were invited by the then rulers for development of their region, Second, is family and social feud in their respective villages and families. The number rose because pre-shifted Sikhs invited friends and relatives to join them. They scattered in the villages of Chhattisgarh.Because Sikhs are generous in nature, having helping instinct they established themselves as great well-wishers of local masses. No doubt these Sikhs were better-offs (economically) than the locals and more over had the skill to struggle hard for survival and maintenance of leading role in the villages. In local language they are calfcd Gauntiyas, Malguzars, probably equivalent to Lambardar (Zaildar of Punjab). For example, one Mr. Gopal singh settled at Saraipali, Basna(distric Raipur), S.Uttam singh at Torwa who had Guru Granth Sahib also with him which was a step in establishing Gurudwara in Bilaspur. Two brothers, Manikchand and Labh singh s~ttled at Akaltara(Bilaspur) who set up a mini soap factory(now does not exist), S. Mangal singh at Pendra whose one descendent Gurbaksh singh was LLB (a rare degree at that time). Ancestors of S.Kartar Singh, Sardar Singh came to Boodhi Khar (Bilaspur), Similarly ancestors of Gurmukh singh at Kurud (Raipur) and so on with unending list.
Now something about technically qualified persons. One S.Ujjagar Singh overseer (1923) was invited for development purposes first settled at Saraipalli and then shifting to Champa (Bilaspur). His family is enjoying a good social and political status. His son Balihar Singh, an advocate was member of jansangh (now BJP) who later became a minister in M.P cabinet
At Raipur there is a college called Rajkumar college (only for Princes) a P.T.I. S.Labh Singh came from Punjab and later became- reserve Inspecter of the army of Raigarhi state.
Bilaspur is Rly headquarter for S.E Rly (now S.E.C Rly), it had a number of Sikh engineers and other technocrats and still their descendents are working in Rlys and state and central Govt. jobs
3) Migration of Sikhs after partition :
The second part of Sikhs who are in Chhattisgarh belong to post partition era. Most of them had links in the villages before partition. They used to come over to Chhattisgarh twice a year, one at the sowing season when they used to lend"money and the second at the harvesting season to recover the lended money. Each such business man had a single link in a single village and was called sahukar. Because they were well versed with the area, they preferred to shift over to Chhattisgarh after partition. Mostly these Sikhs belonged to Gujrat distt. Of Punjab (now Pakistan). Because they were mostly moneylenders they were not generous, rather they had no sympathy with the locals, lent money at exorbitant rates and recovered the loans by harsh measures. This tarnished image of the Sikhs in the eyes of locals. Generous Sikhs had to explain that they did not belong to money lender sect. Though slowly they started changing their behavior, leaving alcohol and money lending business and st~ted shifting to other branches of business in which they are flourishing well now. Emergency period (1975-77) was a boon which forced these elements to give up money lending. Therefore at present they are recognized as good citizens. The other category of Sikhs who migrated to this land was drivers. They also brought bad name to the community but now have changed themselves considerably.
After partition inflow of Sikhs to Chhattisgarh continued at a good pace due to the establishment of steel plant at Bhilai, Aluminium plant, Thermal power plants at korba. As far as education is concerned well to do persons sent their wards for higher education to other states or England. Primary education was the highest, 7th standard for locals. After partition
Govt. started imparting higher education. For.this they had to invite teachers from out of Chhattisgarh. Engineering and Medical education was a delayed activity, because teachers were not available for higher secondary and collegiate branches. When I joined in 1958 as science teacher I was requested to bring more friends from Punjab.
4) Status of Sikhs :
Though a minority community Sikhs established good links in politics, earning respect in masses there by enjoying a good political status and thereby social also. S.Amar Singh Sehgal was M.P from Bilaspur for three consecutive terms till his death. S.Balihar singh (as already mentioned), was minister, has a great say at state level and excellent links with central leadership of BJF. S.Makkar was M.L.A from Takhatpur and presently his wife is president of Municipal committee. S.Gurmukh singh from Raipur, S.Rajinder singh Bhatia M.L.A from Rajnandgaon S Juneja M.L.A from Raipur urban.
I should not say anything about local bodies of villages, cities, towns and commissionaries which have a representation of Sikh community. Till 1.11.2000 the state was part of M.P therefore I would like to mention a few names from" M.P also S.Gulab Singh (village Banga) was two time M.L.A, Tanwant Singh Keer M.L.A &om Indore, one Babbu M.L.A from Jabalpur, S.Sartaj Singh M.L.A from Hoshungabad. It is worth mentioning that S .Sartaj Singh was lok sabha member twice and once he defeated all powerful central leaders Mr. Arjun singh
Except a very small period in 1984 when every nook and corner of India was swept with hatred for Sikhs, Sikhs command respect in Chhattisgarh. I am proud to say that wherever they are residing they are accorded more respects than the locals.
5) Gurdwaras :
Sikhs have Gurudwaras all over Chhattisgarh; celebrate every important function, sangrand being compulsory. Local people throng the gurudwara"s at main functions if invited. Non Sikhs respect the Gurudwara and before starting a new business or contest an election visit Gurudwaras to seek blessings of Guru Granth Sahib. Amarkantak is a Hindu tirath situated on the boundary of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh has a historical Gurudwara where Guru Nanak Dev Ji had a brief stay.
6) Culture (Dress & Food) :
As far as their clothing (dress) is concerned, local traditions have no effect on them. They are always seen in their customary dress. At the time of congregations Sikhs do not feel that they are away from Punjab or are different from their counter parts. We can see mini Punjab in big towns. Dongargarh is a city where almost every business establishment is being run by the Sikhs therefore forcing the local public to term it as mini Punjab.
As far as food habits are concerned conventional pranthas with different fillings and curd in the morning, (In the hotels Punjab di lassi is served in the morning with breakfast in big towns), at noon dal sabzi roti with occasional consumption of rice and roti with dal sabzi at night is the daily routine just like Punjab. Before saying good night Sikhs generally consume milk as it is a compulsory habit in Punjab
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