It is a normal procedure of historiography to view movements in the broader historical and social perspective of their times. To judge certain features of a movement in isolation, by not coordinating them with the context of the movement as a whole, or by divorcing them from their historical background, is bound to lead to a distorted image. The protagonists of the hypothesis that the Sikh movement, in its genesis and development, was a product of the Jat traits, have signally failed to adopt the normal methodology accepted by historians. In fact, they have not even attempted to correlate the Jat characteristics, which are supposed to have played such a determinative role, with the initiation and the growth of Sikh militancy. The role of Jat characteristics in the Sikh movement assumes an appropriate perspective only if it is viewed in the light of the traits and political activities of the peasantry in general and of the Jats of regions other than that of the Sikh tract in particular. Also the positive or negative relationship of Jat characteristics, if any, with the main features of the Sikh Revolution has to be proved or disproved. In this section, we propose to do this, under the following heads: 1. Organization; 2. Lack of Solidarity; 3. Egalitarianism; 4. The Sikh Egalitarian Revolution; 5. Lack of political initiative and aspirations among peasants and Jats; 6. Ideology; 7. Conclusion.
But, before we come to that, we should be absolutely clear on one point. We are concerned only with the revolutionary Sikh movement. The fallacy of those, who argue that the militarization of the Sikh movement was initiated and re-inforced by the influx into it of a large number of Jats, arises in no small measure from their logic which fails to distinguish between the revolutionary and post-revolutionary phases of the movement. They try to judge the former in the light of the latter. By following a similar line of thinking, one can as well not demarcate between the remarkably egalitarian era of Prophet Muhammed and his immediate deputies on the one hand, and on the other, that of the Muslim polity when it degenerated into a full-fledged autocracy; or between the stirring events of the French Revolution proper, and its sequel the Bonaparte regime; or, for that matter, between the revolutionary and post-revolutionary phases of any revolutionary movement. Ups and downs are common to all ideologically inspired upsurges, because of the inherent human limitation and ,environmental hurdles. Progress towards idealistic human goals has never been linear; counter-revolution has followed revolution. There is a marked behavioural contrast when an individual, or a group, or a movement, is inspired by ideological pursuits, and when it is governed by mundane considerations. The study that is presented hereafter bears this out. There is a world of difference between the Jats who joined the Sikh revolution under the inspiration of the Sikh ideology and those who did not; or, within the same movement, between those who were ideologically motivated and others who were not; or between the same individual or a group, at different periods, when it had the ideological inspiration and when it lost it. Otherwise, there is not much of a basic difference between the character of one Jat and another, or, for that matter between that of human-beings the world over. Therefore, it would be as illogical to interpret the Sikh Revolution in terms of its period of decline as it would be to ascribe the rise of waves in an ocean to the very gravitational forces that bring them down to their original level.
Organizations are the channels through which the ideologies of movements flow, and these also help to give the movements their shape and direction. The structural frame-work of a movement can, therefore, be a quite useful clue in reflecting its content. Let us compare the Jat typical organization with that of the Khalsa and see in what way it supports our conclusions.
(a) Jat organization
‘The Jats are a tribe so widespread and so numerous as to be almost a nation, counting 7,086,100 souls, having community of blood, community of language, common tradition and also a common religion for not less than 1,500 years.1 Ethnic affinity and community of language, tradition and religion are great potent factors in creating and strengthening social cohesiveness. But, in the case of Jats, the term ‘Jat’ represented more a common denomination rather than a commonly shared social or political solidarity. They never approached even that degree of amorphous awareness of common nationality which the Marathas had all along before Shivaji gave it a definite shape. Recorded history upto the time of Gokala, Raja Ram and Churaman does not indicate any joint political venture on the part of the Jats beyond the tribal or clannish level. In fact, the tribal ties had loosened long ago. What did bind effectively together the Jat groups emotionally, socially or politically, where and when it did, were the ties of the clan, the sept or the gotra among them.
The most prominent and effective unit of social organization among the Jats that is recorded is the Khap* in the Merrut division, where the clannish feeling among Jats is considerably strong.2 Here most of the Jat clans have their own Khaps3 , which have their own Khap councils. These councils have only adjudicative authority and meet when called upon to deliberate or decide upon specific issues. The judges on these councils are elected for a particular meeting and purpose, and do not hold office on a permanent basis or for a prescribed term.4 No single person or body of persons is vested with executive or administrative authority over the whole clan.5 It does not belong to individual leaders either, and usurped authority is practically non-existent.6 During the time of Muslim religious persecution, these Khaps became champions for protecting religious faith;7 and raised large standing armies for that purposes8 and for protecting the area from outside invasion.9 Although these Khaps councils never succeeded completely in defending the political freedom of the Khaps of the Meerut Division, they did succeed in getting some kind of political recognition from the Delhi Court, several concessions in the field of internal autonomy, religious freedom and relief from various kinds of taxes.10 But, what is of importance for our consideration is that these Khap councils remained absorbed with their local problems and never ventured into the field of establishing a political domain of their own, even at a time when the Mughal Empire was tottering and falling towards its fall and even when Eurpoean adventurers were carving out, single-handed, their principalities in the nearby region.
Outside the Meerut division, in the adjoining area on the other side of the Jamuna, a primary sub-division of tribes in the Karnal district is into thapas orthambas.11 In the Rohtak district, within the pargnas were the tappas, the boundaries of some of which followed closely the distribution of tribes.12 However, in the Karnal and Rohtak districts, there is no record of these thapas, thambas or tappas, or of any other common councils beyond the village level having even adjudicatory functions corresponding to those of the Khap councils. The people belonging to these thapas or tappas met only for ceremonial purposes. Beyond that towards the West, thapas, or thambas or tappas, or some such clannish assemblies other than the village panchayats, are not mentioned at all. ‘Large tracts of country, each occupied by villages of one got, are not formed here (Jullundur district) as they are in other parts of the country.’13 ‘To the east of the district (Ludhiana), and especially in the Samrala tehsil, the multitude of “Gots” amongst the Hindu Jat is a very remarkable feature. Not only do adjoining villages belong to different “Gots”, but inside each village will generally be found two or three Pattis of distinct origin …… To the south and west, on the other hand, we do find that the Jats in some instances came in bodies; and villages belonging to the same “Got” lie in groups or within short distances from each other…… But the rule throughout the district is the variety of “Gots”, and the few groups of villages that there are, belonging to one “Got”, are the exception.”14 It is only in the Ferozepur district that the Jats of Sidhu and Brar gots occupy large contiguous areas; but here the Jat clans were in a state of continuous flux, engaged in ousting one another and leaving little time for any stable social organization to strike roots in the soil. One branch of the Sidhu Brars rapidly gained a footing in the south of Gill country, and ‘drove the former inhabitants northwards, taking possession of their principal places.’15 There was a long struggle for possession of the country between the Brars and the Bhattis. ‘The Man Bhullars greatly oppressed the Brars in the tappa.* Duni Chand appealed to Guru Rar Rai who lived at Gurusar. The guru advised the Bhullars to make peace. The descendents of Mohan, despite continued struggle with the Faridkot Brars, retained possession of the Bagha territory.16 ‘The Mohanbi branch of the clan (Brars) are said to have founded Mahraj about the year 1650 after struggle with the Mans and Bhullars, who then held that tract. The second influx seems to have taken place some fifty years later when the Gills were driven out of the Bagha Purana ilaka and their city of Danda Manda was destroyed.17 About the position of the gots of jats in Amritsar district, we shall refer to it later.
Two important points emerge from the facts stated above. The most highly evolved typical Jat organizational social unit, the Khap, had no political ambitions. At the most, it was concerned with the preservation of internal harmony and the rights of its members, or defence from outside aggression. Secondly, as one proceeds to the Punjab proper, even this Khap, thamba or tappa type of social organization is absent. ‘The Jats of Karnal are notorious for their independence, acknowledging to a less degree than any other caste the authority of the tribal headman.18 Describing the Jat of the Sikh tract in the Punjab, Ibbetson writes: ‘The Jat is of all the Punjab races the most impatient of tribal or communal control, and the one which asserts the freedom of the individual most strongly.’19 In other words, there are no signs of any shared motivation which could urge the Jats for sustained joint action, much less for a political adventure. And the Jats of the Sikh tract lacked even the go/ra solidarity beyond the village level.
(b) Sikh Organization
Guru Nanak spent most of his time in missionary tours to far flung places within the country and outside it. He could not have completed his extensive itinerary had he remained for long at one place. In other words, he could not have come in long contact with many people in one limited region. It is only towards the fag end of his life that he settled at Kartarpur, which became the first permanent centre to which the disciples of the Guru were drawn. The latter Gurus established similar permanent centres, but the main organizational pattern of the Sikh Panth throughout the Guru period appears to have remained much the same. The Sikhs were scattered here and there like tiny dots in the vast mass of non-Sikh population. They had their local centres called Dharmasalas, later called Gurdwaras, where they would meet for religious functions; and went only occassionally to pay their homage to the Gurus at any of their permanent centres or wherever the Gurus happened to be. The Sikh congregation whch met at a Dharmasala was called a Sangat, and this Sangat was the biggest local unit of the Sikh organization. These Sangats were connected with one another more through the Gurus or their deputies in the illaqa, the Masands, than through direct contact with one another.
There were no mass conversions to Sikhism during the revolutionary period of entire clans, or of the population of contiguous area, as it happened in the case of Islam in Sindh, Pakistan, Punjab and Bangla Desh. This is clear from the fact that, before the large scale migration of people on the creation of Pakistan disturbed the previous equilibrium of population in the Punjab, the Sikhs were in absolute majority only in the Moga tehsil of Ferozepur district. The reason is obvious. Mass conversions to Islam took place either under pressure of the Muslim administration, or due to the allurement of becoming the correligionists of the rulers. Sikhism at that time held out no such prospects. It was a rebel religion. To become a Sikh was to invite hostility both of the caste society and of the established political order. Therefore, by and large, only those people joined the Sikh ranks for whom the Sikh religion and its ideology had a special appeal.
Bhai Gurdas has given the names of about 200 prominent Sikhs upto the time of the Sixth Guru in the Var Eleven. In a number of cases he has given their places of residence as well. He mentions only two regions, Kashmir and Punjab, and not a part or a contiguous area of the latter, like Manjha or Malwa, but the Punjab as a whole. Besides these regions, he names 26 places (mostly towns) to which those Sikhs belonged, including such far flung places as Kabul, Lahore, Patti, Sarhind, Thanesar, Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Ujjain, Buhranpur, Gujarat, Lucknow, Paryag, Jaunpur, Patna and Dhacca (Dacca in East Bengal). Another significant feature of the break-up of Bhai Gurdas’s figures is that the group of Sikhs shown as belonging to a particular place are not shown as derived from only one caste or clan. If his pauris (stanzas) are taken as separate units, either the clans or castes are not mentioned at all, or the Sikhs mentioned in one stanza (pauri) are in composite groups derived from different castes. Bhai Gurdas’s figures no doubt relate only to prominent Sikhs and these may also be approximate. But, these do support the view that people joined the Sikh ranks more as individuals rather than as clusters of castes or clans; and that the Sikhs, who were not very numerous, were spread over a large part not only of the Punjab but of India. In other words, what bound the Sikhs together, in the Sikh Panth was the primacy of the Sikh ideals rather than any caste, clan or regional interests and sentiments.
The militarization of the Sikhs by Guru Hargobind is an important land-mark in the history of the Sikh movement, but the Guru’s battles were more in the nature of rearhesal for the events to come. The real organizational base of the revolutionary struggle was laid down by the creation of the Khalsa; recrutiment to which was strictly on an individual and voluntary basis, and limited to individuals who swore by the Khalsa ideals. No caste or clan loyalties were involved; because no one could become a member of the Khalsa brotherhood without being baptized, and no one could be baptized without taking the five vows which required the rejection of previous faiths (Dharm-nas) as well as caste and clan affiliations and practices (Kul-nas and Karm-nas). Kul-nas meant the obliteration of all previous lineage affiliations based on family or clan; and “Karm-nas’ meant obliteration of distinctions based on occupations. Karm-nas together with ‘Kulnas’ disavowed all caste distinctions based on occupation and heredity. In actual working also, as we shall see, the Khalsa was constituted of people drawn from all castes, clans and regions, including “The lowest of low in Indian estimation”.
The third major stage in the growth of the Sikh organization is the formation of Misals. The Misal period coincides with the weakening of the hold of the Sikh ideology within the Panth. But, even then the Misals were not formed on the basis of caste or clan affiliations. There is not one Misal which is named after the name of a caste or a clan, and members of all Missals were free at all times to leave one Misal and join another at their own sweet will. Manjha (that part of the present Amritsar district lying south of the old Mughal G.T. Road which passed through Govindwal, Taran Taran and Sarai Amanat Khan to join Lahore) was the heart of the Sikh Revolution. The Sandhu Jats are the strongest got in the district and muster especially strong in the south-west corner of Taran Taran pargana.20 But, this is the part of the Manjha which was in the control of the Bhangi Misal whose leaders belonged to Dhillon got,21 a got which is less numerous in the district than the Sandhus.22 The Ahluwalias originally belonged to the despised Sudra caste of Kalals, or distillers of spirit, and they were in microscopic numbers (only 2121) in the Amritsar district,23 Yet, their Misal occupied a part of Manjha.24 Similarly, Ramgarhias (so named because the leader belonged to Ramgarh) belonging originally to the carpenter caste, held an important part of the Amritsar districts25 ; although they formed a minority among the Sikhs, and were thinly spread as village artisans over the whole rural Sikh tract with a few families being located in almost every village. All these developments could not have taken place had clannish or caste sentiment been the basis of Misal organization. This also coincides with the position, which has been noted, that there were no organizations beyond the village panchayats among the Jats, whether Sikh or non-Sikh, in the Sikh tract, corresponding to the Khaps, thambas, or tappas in the Meerut Division and the Haryana region.
With the loosening of tribal ties, which happened long ago, the highest form of effective organization retained by the purely Jat consciousness was at the gotra level. The history of the Jats does not reveal any other form of organization. Where and when the gotra affiliation weakened, as it happened in the Sikh tract, this development further helped the process of rendering the Jats a socially and politically incoherent mass. The Jat, as a Jat, knows no other bond to articulate his Jat consciousness. There is not one instance throughout the Sikh movement, including its post-revolutionary phase, when the Jats within it joined hands together on gotra or Jat lines. Further, we have seen that people, whether Jat or non-Jat were drawn to the movement by its ideology as individuals rather than as clusters of castes or clans. They had to take the vows of Kul-nas and Karm-nas when they were baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood. In the face of all this, it becomes difficult to comprehend how the mere presence in the movement of Jats in the large numbers (assuming this to be so for the sake of argument) enabled them to develop a comprehensive supra-gotra Jat consciousness, which would have been indispensable for giving the movement, as alleged, a definite turn, and then maintaining that new direction despite several ups and downs. Such a phenomenon, if it did happen, has to be delineated and not just assumed, especially because it is incongruous with the history of the Jats. There is nothing common between the Jat units of organization, based on gotra and regional contiguity, and the Sikh Sangats, comprising members drawn from all castes and widely dispersed in northern India. Similarly, there is no organizational correspondence between the Jat gotra organization and the Khalsa, whose doors were always open to all, irrespective of the considerations of caste or clan. At the time of the creation of the Khalsa, there was only one Jat among the five Beloved Ones; and, at the-time of the reorganization of the Taruna Khalsa Dal, only two of the five divisions were headed by leaders drawn from the Jat stock. At one time, the leader of the entire Khalsa body was Banda, and, at another time, Jassa Singh Kalal, both non-Jats. We have noted that there were no gotra organisations among the Jats of the Sikh tract and that the Khalsa had no organisational roots in the Jat gotra affiliations. Therefore, it becomes highly conjectural to assume that Jat consciousness managed to turn Sikh militancy according to its own proclivities, or to its own advantage without having effective control either on the leadership, or the organizational composition and set up of the Khalsa. Not only the Jats, but the peasantry in general, left to themselves, have no where else, as it will be seen, have shown much aptitude for political initiative or ambitions.
2. Lack of Solidarity
The spirit of factiousness among the Jats is proverbial. It is probably a hang-over of their tribal heritage; for, in defining a tribe, it is the sharing of blood-feuds which is given pride of place. ‘Gurgaon belongs to that part of the Punjab where the true village community has survived in a much more complete form than elsewhere.26 In the Rohtak district, ‘The village communities are of as perfect a type as any in India……’27 This could lead to a false impression of Jat solidarity beyond the village level as well. The facts speak otherwise. In Gurgaon district, during the Mutiny, ‘no sooner was the pressure of our (British) rule removed, than old feuds, which had apparently long been buried, burst into life.’ There was a long standing strife between a tribe of Jats, known as Surot, and another tribe of Jats known as Rawats. All the villages of the Chirkot clan (a Meo clan) and some of the other villages of the neighbourhood were divided into two factions.28 In the Rohtak district, during the Mutiny, The people gave themselves upto the enjoyment of fierce feuds. The Dahiya and Dalol Jats in Sampla engaged in perpetual quarrels; The Ahlawat Jats attacked Sampla. In Guhana, Ahulana attacked Samri and Barodeh; Madinah attacked Kathurs; Butanah destroyed Naran Khera; Sanghi & Khirwali were engaged in one continuous skirmish; the Mehim villagers, now in Hissar, made a general attack on those on the present west border of Rohtak; and the Ranghars plundered every one indifferently…for three whole months the district presented one long scene of mad rioting.’29 In Karnal district, ‘Every village was protected by brick forts and surrounded by a deep ditch and a wall of some sort; every village was at deadly enmity with its neighbours; and there are several instances where two contiguous villages, in memory of a blood feud dating from the Maratha times, refuse to drink each other’s water, though otherwise on friendly terms.’30 This is about the region where the village communities were perfect and clannish ties strong,31 and where there existed some sort of ceremonial ties between members of the same thapa or tappa. Regarding the spirit of factionalism among the Jats in the Sikh tract, the author of ‘Robber Noblemen’ has built round it a whole thesis for her book; and we have already referred to a continuous struggle between Jat clans in the Ferozepur district for the possession of land there.
As against it, there is not a single instance mentioned during the long revolutionary phase of the movement (a period of about 275 years starting from the missionary tours of Guru Nanak upto the establishment of the Misals), where there was any grouping of Sikhs along caste or cIan lines, or of factionalism among them on caste or clan basis, On the contrary, there was exemplary fraternization among Sikhs drawn from all castes and clans (as seen in the preceding article). In fact, the Khalsa could not have achieved the military and political success it did without a commonly shared sentiment of solidarity among its members, because this solidarity was even more necessary than the organisational set up for the success of its mission. This fraternal solidarity within the Sikh Panth or the Khalsa, attested by many non-Sikh authorities, could by no stretch of imagination be reconciled with one of the most prominent traits of the Jats-their traditional factionalism.
Besides their martial qualities, it is the egalitarian spirit among the Jats which has misled historians to characterize the Sikh movement in terms of Jat traits. They have failed to grasp that there is a qualitative difference between Jat and Khalsa egalitarianisms.
(a) Jat Egalitarianism
The egalitarian spirit of the Jats is undoubted. It is recognized from the time of the earliest historians, who took notice of them, to the time of the British administrators who are unanimous in their opinion on this point. This spirit of equality among Jats was reinforced by the bhaichara system of land tenure. In this system ‘land was equally divided among the lineages of the founding ancestors or original conquerers. This system of land tenure was a Jat idea, because Jats did not acknowledge the right of their chiefs to the sole proprietorship of the land conquered and colonized by them.”32 ‘Not only does the bhaichara land tenure system maintain the egalitarian structure of Jat society in the economic field, but the concept of bhaichara is extended to the kinship, social and politica1.’ 33 However, this egalitarianism of the Jats was confined only to within their own ranks. Otherwise this too, acquired important qualifications.
(i) Attitude towards higher castes
The Jats, and the Indian peasantry in general, submitted to the Brahmanical caste hegemony and non-Jat rule without ever questioning its validity. Their very profession, tilling the land, was held as degrading. ‘Chach, the Brahman usurper of Sind, humiliated the Jats and Lohanas. He compelled them to agree to carry only sham swords; to wear no under-garments or shawl, velvet or silk........ ;to put no saddles on their horses; to keep their heads and feet uncovered; to take their dogs with them when they went out..... ‘34 Muhammad bin Qasim maintained these regulations.35 Amran, the Barmecide governor of the Indian frontier, summoned the Jats to Alrur, where he sealed their hands, took from them the jizya or poll-tax and ordered that every man ofthem should bring with him a dog when he waited on him.36 ‘The Jats were content to cultivate their fields and admitted the aristocratic Rajputs to be their social superiors.’ 37 Rohtak district is regarded as the Jat region par-excellence. Here, “in the old days of Rajput ascendancy, the Rajputs would not allow the Jats to cover their heads with turban, nor to wear any red clothes, nor to put a crown (mor) on the head of their bride-groom, or a jewel (nat) in their women’s noses. They also used to levy seignorial rights from virgin brides.’38
(ii) Towards lower castes
The attitude of the Jats towards castes lower than them is equally revealing. In the Jat area of Meerut Division, the chamars are the most numerous caste group. ‘The attitude of the Jats is unbending, and they try to humiliate and exploit the Chamars by word and deed whenever they find an opportunity.’39 In U.P., previous to the British rule, ‘the village menials were little better than serfs, ascripti glebae, at the mercy of the leader of the village body.’40 The sweepers ‘are regarded as the very dregs of impurity,’41 and for a peasant ‘nothing is worse than to lose your caste, to eat with a sweeper or to touch an impure person.’42 in Gurgaon district, the lowest of menial tribes live outside the village.43 In the district of Karnal, Jat, Gujar or Ror do not, as a rule, eat or drink with any of the menial castes; and leather maker, washerman, barber, dyer and sweeper are regarded as absolutely impure.44 The position of chamars in Ludhiana district very nearly approaches that of servitude,45 and the Mazhabis are kept at a distance by most Sikhs of other castes.46
Thus, the Jats maintained their spirit of equality only within their own ranks. But, in their attitude towards castes higher and lower than them, they conformed to the hierarchical pattern of the caste system. In other words, they had no qualms in submitting to the higher castes and in dominating the lower ones.
(b) Sikh egalitarianism
The spirit of equality, fraternization and brotherhood among the Sikhs and the Khalsa, and consequently among those Jats who joined the Khalsa ranks after owning the Sikh ideology, was altogether different from others who remained aloof. Bhangu records about the Khalsa Dal that the ‘Guru’s Sikh was the brother of every other Sikh.’47 “All members of the Khalsa Dal ‘were issued clothes from a common store. Without concealing anything, they would pool all their earnings at one place. If any one found or brought any valuables, these were deposited in the treasury as common property.”48
This spirit of equality, brotherhood and fraternization prevalent among the Sikhs (of which we have given sufficient evidence from Sikh and non-Sikh sources49 in the preceding article) was different from Jat egalitarianism, because it was equally shared by all members of the Khalsa drawn from the highest to the lowest castes. Nor was this egalitarian of the Sikhs born either of the Jat clannish sentiment or of the social and economic structure of Jat bhaichara. In the period of Sikh history we are dealing with, the Sikhs, as already noted, were either very sparsely and widely located in the general non-sikh population, or they came together in roving militia bands. In other words, the bhaichara system of the Jat type could never be visualized among them. Therefore, the Khalsa egalitarianism was not at all related to the Jat polity in any way. It was the product of the Sikh egalitarian ideology which embraced all persons without any distinctions of caste or clans. Unlike the Jat egalitarian, there was no dichotomy in the Sikh egalitarian approach towards the higher or the lower castes. Consequently, there is no ground either for confusing Sikh egalitarianism with Jat egalitarianism or for tracing the source ofthe former to the latter.
4. The Sikh Egalitarian Revolution
There is no doubt that Jats are a martial race. Probably, this is another major reason which has misled some historians to infer that the militarization of the Sikh movement, its development and direction, must be due to the Jats joining it in large numbers. What they have ignored is that it is primarily the goals a movement pursues which determine its content and character. If militancy alone is to be the criterion for judging movements, one would be led to see no difference in the historical significance of the Pindari excursions, the establishment of the Bharatpur raj and the Maratha national expansion. The Pindaris became a bigger military force, and overran a much larger area, than the Bharatpur Jats ever did. The contemporary British officials, Malcolm and Stewart, were amazed at the varied military qualities of the Pindari leaders. 50 Lord Lake was even prepared to elevate Amir Khan to the position of a ruler of a state provided he accepted British protection.51 Metcalfe expressed concern to Lord Minto regarding Amir Khan establishing his sway over Udaipur and Indore.52 But these Pindaries, who had more men at arms than the Bharatpur Jats and showed more skilful military leadership and tactics, did not establish any independent state of their own, like the Bhartpur State, which they could very well have done. It was simply because their main objective was organized banditary and sensuous pleasure and not political power. Similarly, a British Governor-General’s note clearly brings out the contrast between a people inspired by an ideology and a militia held together by self-interest alone. The Marathas, it says, ‘were a nation fighting against oppression and religious persecution, hence bound by the strongest reciprocity of feeling to each other; the Pindaries are an assemblage of all tribes and religions, who unite because it suited their convenience and will separate when it ceases to do So.’53 The Marathas were, in addition, swayed by a commonly shared sentiment of Maratha nationality, and their political and military expansion assumed the biggest dimension in that period of Indian history. But, the Marathas and the Bharatpur Jat movements cannot be compared to the Sikh egalitarian movement, as the former two were bound down to the caste ideology and circumscribed by the feudal orbit. These examples make it clear that it is highly misleading to trace the genesis and growth of movements without correlating them to their social and political objectives and goals. Nowhere else do we find, as we shall see, among the peasant revolts or revolution within India or outside it, a parallel development, at peasant initiative, comparable to the Sikh egalitarian social and political revolution.
(a) Egalitarian Political Revolution
The Sikh movement was an egalitarian revolution, social as well as political; but it is its political aspect which has a direct bearing on our subject. It is true that the egalitarian political aims of the Sikh revolution were not fully realized, as it has happened in the case of so many other revolutions, but what it did actualize far exceeds the ultimate achievements of the French Revolution. Its achievements do indicate, atleast, the egalitarian character and direction of the movement. We have to repeat Irvine’s writing that :’In all the parganas occupied by the Sikhs, the reversal of previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavenger or leather dresser, the lowest of low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and joint the Guru (Banda), when in a short space of time he would return to his birth-place as its ruler, with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined palms, awaiting his orders.........’54 “All power was now usurped by the Sikhs, and one Bir Singh, a man of poor origin, belonging to pargana Haibetpur Patti in the Barri Doab, was appointed Subadhar or governor of Sirhind. 55 This happened within eighteen months of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, i.e. very close to the Guru period when the Khalsa for the first time achieved political power temporarily. The next sixty years or so were spent in the revolutionary struggle against the Mughals.
During the Missal period when political reaction had overtaken the movement, ordinary peasants, shepherds (Tara Singh Gaiba), village menials (carpenters) and distillers (a despised caste) became the leaders of Misals. There was not one from castes higher than these. The common peasantry of the land suddenly attained political power.56 Khushwaqt Rai has written in his history ‘Tarikhi-i-Sikhan’ (1811) :”.......men disappeared and God’s own country was captured by an ass; the sect of Singhs took possession of the country of the Punjab. Since then upto this time, the whole administrative machinery of the country is in disarray, and the normal system of governance, official codes, the set up of levies and awards .......and the allowances occuring from estates bestowed by Kings and nobles, were abolished for the people. The lowest of the low-bred and the meanest of the mean people got elevated to high government positions. The nobility and grandees retired to secluded places on account of the elimination of their tribe.”57
Here is a translation of one extract taken from ‘lmadudSaadat’ written by Syed Ghulam Ali Khan: “To cut the matter short, at present, the whole country of the Punjab............. is in the possession of this community and most of their exalted leaders are of low origin, such as carpenters, animal skin-treaters and Jats”58 The author of Haqiqat writes (1784-85): ‘Sikhan b istiklal-i-tamam mulk-ra abad khardand w firqa-i-sipahi w ashraf hama ra wiren sakhtand wahl rayyat w-i-hirfa ra razi kardand.’) ‘On attaining power the Sikhs repopulated the whole country. They dispersed the ashraf (the privileged feudal classes), and the firqa-isipahi (the soldier class represented by Mansabdars and faujdars) and conciliated the rayyat (the tillers of the soil) and the ahl-ihirfa (the artisans and the craftsmen, i.e. the working classes)’.)59 According to the same author, the Guru ‘sought to uplift the qaum-i-arazil, i.e. the downtrodden. He was keen on inflicting khift (humiliation) on the mardum-i-avvan (the privileged classes.)60 The author of Asrar-i-Samdi states, though in ahyperbolic style, that there was not a single amir (rich man or noble) in Hindustan whom Banda spared.61 This statement tallies with that of Bhai Gurdas, the second, that the Khalsa scattered to the winds the Zamindars and the amirs,62
Even when feudalistic tendencies had started setting in the Missal system, there were ‘at no stage of Sikh feudal history, a haughty noblesse, as in Rajputana or medieval Europe........The Punjab system was not feudal in the European sense. The all-pervading sense of brotherhood and a super-added theocratic outlook would not, atleast in theory, allow distinctions of rank.’63 The leaders of the Missals were more de jure than de facto chiefs, because their followers were mostly friends and volunteers who regarded themselves as their companions and partners.64 Forster observed that an ordinary member of the Khalsa did not regard himself as anybody’s servant except his Guru’s.65 The Sikh society was very much circumspect in safeguarding its internal equality.66 This was the reason why Ranjit Singh had to camouflage his monarchy. He knew that he ‘merely directed into a particular channel a power which he could neither destroy nor control.’67 ‘Free followers of Gobind could not be observant slaves of an equal member of the Khalsa. Ranjit Singh concealed his motives and ‘everything was done for the sake of the Guru, for the advantage of the Khalsa and in the name of the Lord.’ He never installed himself on the throne as a king.68 In the very first public Darbar he declared that his government would be styled as the Sarkar-i-Khalsa.69 After Ranjit Singh, effective political power did not remain in the -hands of his descendants or chiefs. The elected army panchayats usurped executive authority under the designation of ‘Panth Khalsa Jeo’.70
As against it, what the French Revolution achieved was the establishment of a bourgeois Republic. At no stage, common peasants and the sans-culottes, much less social strata lower than these, came near to wielding political power directly or indirectly. Guru Gobind Singh ‘opened, at once, to men of the lowest tribes, the prospect of earthly glory.71 ‘Grocers, carpenters, oilmen...... rallied into bands.......so well Gobind amalgamated discordant elements for a time.’72 In the French Revolution, even the sansculottes, who were in the vanguard or revolutionary insurrection, would not join on equal terms, the fair-sex, the wage-earners, the homeless and the like.73
(b) Plebian Base
The Sikh movement had not only an egalitarian political mission, but it had also a plebian organizational base. It was necessary that the downtrodden castes and classes should be both the architects and masters of their own destiny. Bhangu writes:
‘Sovereignty cannot be had without armed struggle; The Guru initiated the armed struggle;
“The Guru gave sovereignty to the poor , and
The seven Sanat (lowest castes) and twelve low castes, who know nothing of politics.
The world calls them rustic Jats, Bawas, Kirars, Khatries Iron-smiths and carpenters of the low castes.
The Guru showed benevolence to the despised calicoprinters, Kalals and the low-caste Gujars, Ahirs, Kambohs and Soods whom no one took into any account.
The Guru thought that water-carriers, barbers, Aroras, Potters, Sainis, goldsmiths, sweepers (Chuhras), leatherworkers.
Bhats, Brahmins, beggars, Bahoroopias, Lubanas and potters-all downtrodden should be given sovereignty;74 they would remember the gift of the Guru’
The Sikhs and their armies were neither constituted of, nor dominated by one caste. These were drawn from ideologically inspired persons of all castes, mostly from the down-trodden ones. Painda Khan reported to Emperor Shah Jahan that, “Barbers, washermen, pedlars, strolling minstrels and similar unwarlike people compose what he (Guru Hargobind) calleth his army”75
Bhangu has referred to the plebian compostion of the Khalsa at several places.76 When the Taruna Dal wing of the Khalsa Dal was reorganized into five divisions, one of the divisions was under the command of Bir Singh, Rangreta.77 This division continued to participate in the campaigns of the Khalsa right up to the time of the conquest of Malerkotla.78 Regarding the great battle with Abdali, called Wada Ghalu Ghara because the largest number of Sikhs in a single battle were killed here, it is especially mentioned that Ramdasias (cobblers) and Rangretas took a prominent part in it. 79
The plebeian composition of the Khalsa is corroborated by evidence from non-Sikh sources. Banda’s forces were recruited chiefly from the lower caste Hindus. Scavengers, leather-dressers and such like persons were very numerous among them.80 The low-caste people who swelled Banda’s ranks are termed by a contemporary Muslim historian as the dregs of the society of the hellish Hindus.81 Another contemporary Muslim writer says that Banda brought into the forefront the unemployed and worthless people who had hitherto been hidden by the curtain of insignificance.82 Khafi Khan says that ‘these infidels (Sikhs) had set up a new rule, and had forbidden the shaving of the hair of the head and beard. Many of the ill-disposed low-caste Hindus joined themselves to them, and placing their lives at the disposal of these evil-minded people, they found their own advantage in professing belief and obedience, and they were active in persecuting and killing other castes of Hindus.83
Irvine writes: ‘After the Khatri and the Jat peasants, the most noticeable components of the Sikh body are the lower caste artisans and men of the outcaste or menial tribes. This fact attracted the notice of the Muhammadan writers, as we see in our account, taken from them, of the disturbances following on the death of Guru Gobind Singh.’84 Polier write (1780 A.D.) that ‘the Siques then began to increase greatly in number.........’all that came, though from the lowest and most abject castes, were received, contrary to the Hindu customs which admit of no change of caste, and even Mussalmans were in the number of converts.’85 Griffths (1794) tells us that ‘the Seiks receive Proselytes of almost every caste, a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindoos. ‘86 A German traveller, Hugel describes the Sikhs of the times as ‘the descendents from all the lowest castes of Hindus, from which they have been proselyted.87 These early accounts of the Europeans are all the more valuable, because, as already pointed out, these deal with the times of the Misals and Ranjit Singh, when the Sikh revolution had receded.
( c) Collective leadership
The leadership of a movement has always an important bearing in determining its direction. Corresponding to the egalitarian political mission of the Khalsa and its plebeian base, the leadership of the movement, after the Gurus, also devolved on the Khalsa Panth as a whole. This collective leadership of the Khalsa has an added significance. This, together with the plebeian base of the movement, was meant to ensure that, as far as possible, the movement should not come to be dominated by a caste or a group, and should pursue its egalitarian mission of capturing political power by all those, without any distinction, who subscribed to the Khalsa egalitarian ideals, The initiative for this development was taken by Guru Gobind Singh himself.
We refer to Narang again because ‘it is he who clearly states the significance of the initiation (baptism) ceremony of the Khalsa : “Of the five who offered their heads, one was a Khatri, all the restbeing so-called Sudras. But the Guru called them Panj Pyaras, or the Beloved five, and baptised them after the manner he had introduced for initiation into his brotherhood. He enjoined the same duties upon them, gave them the same privileges, and as a token of newly acquired brotherhood all of them dined together.
‘The Guru’s views of democratic equality were much more advanced than the mere equality among his followers could satisfy. In his system, there was no place even for the privileges of the chief or the leader. No leader, he believed, could be fit to lead unless he was elected or accepted by the followers. History shows that individuals or classes in enjoining a religious or sacerdotal superiority have been only too loth to forego even a particle of their privileges. But the Guru, though regarded by his faithful followers as the greatest of prophets, was made of a different stuff, and had too much political insight to stand on an exclusive eminence apart from his followers. Therefore, when he had initiated his first five disciples, his beloved five, he was initiated by them in turn, taking the same vows as they had done, and claiming no higher privileges than those he allowed them. Soon after he called a meeting of all his followers and announced his new doctrine to them.”88 One day before the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs asked him as to whom they were to follow after him. The Guru replied that he was personified in the Khalsa and that he had conferred the leadership on the Khalsa body itself.89
The fact that the leadership of the movement devolved on the Khalsa Panth as a whole became an article of living faith with the Sikhs. In this connection, the episode of Banda’s nomination as leader and his subsequent parting of company with the Khalsa is very illustrative. The Khalsa agreed to follow Banda only on the condition that he would not aspire to sovereignty. The Guru instructed Banda to abide by the Khalsa and appointed select Sikhs as his advisers. After his military success, Banda aspired to become a Guru and a sovereign. On this Tat Khalsa (the genuine Khalsa) parted company with him, because the Guru had given:
‘Banda service and not sovereignty;
The sovereignty had been given to the Panth by the Guru (Sacha Padshah) himself.’90
After Banda, Kapur Singh was elected as the leader of the Khalsa. He was elected because he was in those days, engaged in doing the humble services like fanning the daily congregations of the Khalsa. Kapur Singh
‘Showed great respect towards the Singhs;
Did nothing without taking the Panth into confidence.’91
With the end of Kapur Singh’s era, the revolutionary spirit started waning. His successor was Jassa Singh Kalal. Jassa Singh struck coin in his own name when the Khalsa conquered Lahore for the first time. This was so much against the spirit of collective leadership of the Khalsa, that a special convention was held, where it was decided to recall that coin from circulation.92 In its place, another coin struck in the name of the Guru was substituted. Polier (1780) observed, ‘As for the Government of the Siques, it is properly an aristocracy, in which no pre-eminence is allowed except that which power and force naturally gives; otherwise all the chiefs, great and small, and even the poorest and most abject Siques, look on themselves as perfectly equal in all the public concerns and in the greatest Council or Goormatta of the nation, held annually either at Ambarsar, Lahore or some other place. Everything is decided by the plurality of votes taken indifferently from all who choose to be present at it,’93
Forster also gives a similar account. ‘An equality of rank is maintained in their civil society, which no class of men, however, wealthy or powerful, is suffered to break down. At the periods when general council of the nation were convened, which consisted of the army at large, every member had the privilege of delivering his opinion, and the majority, it is said, decided on the subject in debate.’94
“All Sikhs were theoretically equal; their religion in its first youth was too pure a theocracy to allow distinctions of rank among its adherents.”95 It became an article of faith with the Khalsa that wherever five of the Khalsa, committed to Sikh ideals, met to take a decision, the Guru was present there in spirit to guide them. It was to this level that the leadership was spread. It was this spirit and faith which sustained the movement when the Khalsa guerillas were split up and scattered into small groups without a central or common leadership. Writing on the election of Kapur Singh as a leader, Arjan Das Malik comments: ‘It is a paradox of Sikh history that a man who was elected in this cavalier fashion later proved to be the most competent leader that the Sikhs could ever had. This can be explained only in one way. Such was the uniform high standard of motivation and training that each one of the Khalsa was as good a commander as he was a soldier.’96 Thus, it was the wide consciousness of the egalitarian issues at stake and the extension of the sense of responsibility and leadership to a broad base that gave consistent direction and tenacity of purpose to the Sikh Revolution. The Mughal authorities had come to believe more than once that they had exterminated the Khalsa to the last man; but the Khalsa ‘always appeared, like a suppressed flame, to rise into higher splendour from every attempt to crush them. ‘97
We have purposely dealt at some length with the subject of the political goals of the Khalsa, its egalitarian base and the nature of its leadership, as these questions are vital for understanding the character of the Sikh militancy and need to be emphasized. The issue, whether or not the lat traits and culture determined the direction and development of the Sikh militarization, cannot be properly assessed by divorcing it from the political colour and content of the Sikh movement. The history of the peasants in general, and that of the Jats in particular, does not favour the hypothesis propounded by Dr. Mcleod and others. Let alone the Jats, nowhere else do we find among the peasant revolts or revolutions, within India or outside it, any social or political development, at peasant initiative, comparable to the Sikh egalitarian social and political revolution.
5. Lack of Political Initiative and Aspirations Among Peasants
(a) Outside India
Engels mentions two main causes for the failure of the German Peasant wars, perhaps the greatest peasant upheaval inhistory. The peasant masses never overstepped the narrow relations and the resulting narrow outlook.98 Consequently, the peasants of every province acted only for themselves, and were annihilated in separate battles one after another by armies which in most cases were hardly one-tenth of the total number of the insurgent masses.99 Secondly, they were not indoctrinated enough, with the result that the bulk of the peasants were always ready to come to terms with the lords who exploited this weakness of theirs, 100 and were also readily demoralized when they met a strong resistance or a reverse.101
Eric R. Wolf, who in his book ‘Peasant wars of the twentieth Century’ covers a case study of six countries, does not present a different picture.
The insurrection in Mexico was “an agrarian revolt in gestation”. 102 One of the prominent features of the Zapatista revolution was ‘the participation from the first of dis-affected intellectuals with urban ties.’103 About the Russian Revolution, we need quote only Lenin. ‘While workers left to their own devices could only develop trade-union consciousness and peasants only petty-bourgeois demands for land, it would be the guiding intellectuals who would lead the revolution on behalf of the workers and the peasants.’104 The very basis of the concept of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariate’ is that the peasantry is suspect in the role of a revolutionary vanguard. In China, ‘Peasant mobilization thus proved impossible without political and military leverage.’105 It was the Communist Party that provided it. And the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were drawn most frequently from a relatively thin upper layer of the Chinese population-the sons of landlords, merchants, sholars or officials. All of them had higher education, and most of them had stuided abroad.’106 InVietnam, too, it was the Communist party which roused and organized the peasants. Troung Chinh pointed out in 1965 that, ‘our party was born in an agrarian country where the working class was numerically weak. In the great majority, our cadres and our militants originated in the petty bourgeoisie.’ 107 The Cuban revolution was a great gamble by a group of determined educated revolutionaries which paid off. “None of us”, writes Guevera (quoted in Draper, 1965, p.68), “none of the first group who came in the “Granma” (the landing boat), who established in the Sierra Maestra and learned to respect the peasant and worker while living with them, had worker’s or peasant’s backgrounds.’ 108
Wolf comes to the weighty conclusion that, in all the six cases of peasant wars he studied, there ,was a fusion between the alienated intellecutals, what he calls “rootless” intellectuals, and their rural supporters. “Yet this fusion is not affected easily ...... The peasant is especially handicapped in passing from passive recognition of wrongs to political participation as a means of setting them right. First, a peasant’s work is most often done alone, on his own land, than in conjunction with his fellows......... Second, the tyranny of work weighs heavily upon a peasant; his life is geared to an annual routine and to planning for the year to come. Momentry alterations of routine threaten his ability to take up the routine later. Third, control of land enables him, more often than not, to retreat into subsistence production should adverse conditions affect his market crop. Fourth, ties of extended kinship and mutual aid within the community may cushion the shocks of dislocation. Fifth, peasant interests-especially among poor peasants-often cross-cut class alignments..........Finally, past exclusion of the peasant from participation in decision-making beyond the bamboo hedge of his village deprives him all too often of the knowledge needed to articulate his interests with appropriate action. Hence, peasants are often merely passive spectators of political struggle..........’109
To quote Wolf again: ‘But what of the transition from peasant rebellion to revolution, from a movement aimed at the redress of wrongs, to the attempted overthrow of society itself? Marxists have long argued that peasants without outside leadership cannot make a revolution; and our case material would bear them out. When the peasantry has successfully rebelled against the established order-under its own banner and with its own leaders-it was sometimes able to reshape the social structure of the country side closer to its heart’s desires; but it did not lay hold of the state........’110
In the French Revolution, too, the peasantry of France played only a secondary role, which was limited to localized action against landlords. Of the Revolution’s reverbations out-side France in Europe, Roberts writes: ‘The third widespread response was that of the rural population of almost every country; whatever the theoretical benefits they might derive from the implementation of French legislation, they nearly always turned at some point to open resistance, sporadic though it might be. Except in northern Germany, the peasantry were everywhere in Europe the most persistently alienated of the Revolutions’ potential supporters, whatever the benefits the new order might appear to bring them at first sight........It was among the better-off and the urbanized that the supporters of the French Revolution were to be found, not in the countryside which they formally liberated from ‘feudalism’.’ 111
We are not out to establish a theoretical theorem, having universal validity. But, there are certain uniform lessons that flow out from the practical experience of so many revolts or revolutions cited above in which the peasants participated. Left to themselves, the peasants are concerned more with their narrow interests and problems rather than with broader political issues. Nowhere did they initiate a political revolution. In fact, it was extremely difficult to rouse them for political action. When and wherever they participated in political revolts or revolutions, on their own, they did so primarily for their own parochial ends. Secondly, everywhere the peasants needed sufficient ideological indoctrination; and the initiative for such an indoctrination in all these cases came from outside the peasants’ own ranks, usually from the intelligentsia. These lessons are quite important for evaluating the role of Jats in the Sikh movement.
(b) Among Jats
The peasants in India were, in addition, torn asunder by prejudices and inhibitions of the caste system. Because of the complete grip of the caste ideology, it was beyond the sphere of the peasant, the Vaisya, either to do fighting or aspire for political leadership or rule. This sphere was the monoply or privilege of the Kshatrya only. Accordingly, how they, by and large, meekly submitted to the oppression and humiliation inflicted by the rulers, we need not go into. Let us come directly to the Jats, a militant section of the Indian peasants.
The Jats form the majority in Sindh; they are three times more than the Rajputs in the Punjab, and are approximately equal to the number of Rajputs in Bikaner; Jaisalmer and Marwar. Yet, “fragmentary notices of the Jats occur in the Muhammadan historians of India.” 112 It was so because they were politically inconsequential. As against them, the pages of Indian history are full of Rajput exploits.
A deputation of Jats and Meds, waited upon King Dajushan and begged him to nominate a King, whom both tribes would obey. Accordingly, Dajushan appointed his sister to rule over them and they voluntarily sumitted to her.113 Bikaner sources tell us that, ‘In recognition of the fact that the Jats had been original masters of the country and in memory of their voluntary submission to Rajput rule, the Bikaner rulers instituted a ceremony in which each new ruler of the Rajput dynasty had a special symbol put on his forehead by one of the Jat Chiefs who thus invested the new ruler with the rights of a sovereign.’114 Similarly, the Minas voluntarily accepted the Kacchewas as their rulers. 115 The Minas are not Jats, but this example also serves to show how people at the tribal level, without political aims, were an easy prey to politically ambitious minorities. The Khaps in the Meerut Division, as we have seen, had quite sizable private armies, but their role was purely defensive. The Rohtak district was situated, at one time, on the border of the Maratha and the Sikh spheres of political control, and was overrun by one party or the other. The strong Jat villages of Rohtak district perpetually defied both the Marathas and the Sikhs, and George Thomas could collect his revenue only by means of a moveable column constantly marching about the country.116 But this Jat defiance never gathered momentum beyond the village level in order to assert the political independence of their region.
“From the earliest times, the Jats have been remarkable for their rejection of the monarchical principle and their strong partiality for self-governing commonwealths. One of the names by which they were known to the ancients was Arashtra or Kingless.”117 Their heads were tribal chiefs rather than rulers. The one time exception of Jat monarchical principality of any consequence that we come across in recorded history is that of Bharatpur, if, of course, we ignore the small unit of Dholpur. Its founder was Churaman. He was not inspired by any lofty ideals, nor was any of his successors, who consolidated the Bharatpur State. Churaman helped Emperor Bahadur Shah in his campaign against the Sikhs at Sadhaura and Lohgarh 118 and finally submitted to Emperor Farrukh-siyar, agreeing to pay a penalty of fifty lakhs of rupees.119 Similarly Suraj Mal was a pure opportunist. He turned, for personal reasons, against the Syed brothers, to whom he owed so much for his rise to power. When the magnificent army under Sadashiv Rao went to meet Ahmed Shah at Panipat, “the crafty Suraj Mal, professing to be disgusted with the arrogance of his allies, withdrew his forces from Sadashiv’s camp.’120 ‘Major Thorn says that Suraj Mal received Agra from Ahmad Shah as the reward of his neutrality during the struggle at Panipat.’121 At any rate, it is a fact that Suraj Mal dispossessed the Maratha governor of Delhi of his treasure when he was fleeing through the Jat territory. 122
It is only in the Jat uprisings under Gokala and Raja Ram that we find the Jats motivated by considerations other than those of plunder or personal again. These were however, short-lived religious outbursts not based on Jat sentiment but directed against blatant outrage of local Hindu sentiment by Muslim rulers, which began and ended with the persons of Gokala and Raja Ram. By no means were these sustained movements, much less revolutionary ones. Movements are built around fixed long-range objectives and need organization, determined leadership and tenacity of purpose to achieve those objectives. The Jats lacked all these. It was for this reason that, although the Jats around Mathura and Agra remained a constant thorn in the body of the Mughals and several expeditions were sent to curb their marauding propensity, their restless spirit never assumed the dimensions of a purposeful anti-Mughal or anti-Muslim movement. The same fate overtook, and for similar reasons, the Satnami revolt. Although there was a continuity in the restive spirit of the Jats, there was no ideological continuity between the Jat revolts under Gokala and Raja Ram on the one hand and the political adventures of Churaman and Suraj Mal on the other. The overriding motivation of Churaman and Suraj Mal, as is shown by their opportunistic compromises with the Mughal rulers, was to carve out a dynastic principality. They stepped in to fill the vacuum created by the death of Raja Ram, not to continue his anti-Muslim upsurge, but to exploit Jat restiveness for their own personal ambitions. Quite in tune with the peasant trait the world over, and in addition having been brain-washed by the caste ideology, the Jats, as a body, could not, in any of the cases cited above, evolve enduring political goals, much less revolutionary egalitarian ones, of their own. Their martial qualities were, therefore, at the disposal of anyone who was skilful enough to manipulate them. It could be Churaman & Co., for whom the weakening of the Mughal authority and the disappearance of political sanction behind the caste system had opened the way for aspiring to political power. It could be the British, who used the 7th Jat Light Infantry, recruited from Haryana, to crush their own kith and kin when the Jats of that region rose against the British in 1809.123
6. Jat Socio-political Heritage and the Sikh Revolution
There is, in fact, no common ground for comparing the Sikh movement with any other political adventure or revolt in which the Jats participated. It was not a feudal venture like that of Churaman and his successors. Guru Gobind Singh was not interested in political power for himself,124 and he devolved the leadership of the movement on the Khalsa when his own sons were still alive. Unlike the Jats of the Bharatpur region, the Khalsa did not blindly follow a leader like Churaman or Suraj Mal, to help him establish a dynastic rule or to share in his plunder. The Khalsa parted company with Banda when he aspired for sovereignty, and made Jassa Singh Ahluwalia withdraw the coin that he struck in his name. Even under the Misals, the Sikh polity had more characteristics of a commonwealth than those of personal rule. It was also qualitatively different from the ephemeral Jat religious uprisings under Gokala and Raja Ram. It was a revolution, and an egalitarian revolution at that. There is a fundamental difference between ordinary revolts or rebellions, which do not challenge a social or a political system itself but only seek changes or adjustments within its framework. The Sikh movement was an egalitarian social and political revolution, which aimed at the establishment of an egalitarian society in the place of the caste order and at the capture of political power by the people themselves. Such revolutionary aims were not owned, at that period, by the peasantry of any country outside India, much less could these be even conceived here in a society ridden by caste and politically dominated by foreign feudals. It is the goal, the ideological inspiration, of a movement which determines its quality and its direction, and it is the organizational base of that ideology and the tenacity of purpose associated with it that in a great measure constitute its internal strength. For the lack of ideological goals, the Jats remained either an inert political mass, or their religious fervour misfired, or their valour became a hand-maid of feudal interests. It is the Sikh ideology which welded the Jats or non-Jats who joined the movement, into a political force that uprooted the Mughal domination and made the tillers of the soil and the hewers of wood the political masters of the Punjab.
It was seen in the first section that the militarization of the movement was initiated by the Gurus themselves in pursuance of the Sikh mission, and it was not done under the influence or pressure of the Jats who joined it. The discussion we have carried on above amply demonstrates that the political and militant development of the movement was directed by its egalitarian goals, which were also fixed by the Gurus. Far from taking a hand in shaping the political goals of the Khalsa, the Sikhs, whether of Jat or non-Jat origin, felt, in the beginning, that they were unequal to the task of wresting sovereignty from the Mughals. The plebian composition of the Khalsa and its collective leadership were intimately linked to its egalitarian goals. Without these, it is quite probable that, in the absence of the Gurus to steer the course of the movement, it might not have implemented its egalitarian programme to the extent it did. And, the Khalsa acquired a dominant plebian base because it was Guru Gobind Singh who called upon the ‘sparrows’ to kill the ‘hawks’, i.e. called upon the downtrodden to carve out their own political destiny. The plan for evolving the collective leadership of the Khalsa was also initiated by the Guru. The Sikh cosmopolitan egalitarianism(whose doors, as we have noted, were open in theory and in actual practice to the lowest of the low, and where anyone who chose to be present in the Khalsa General Assemblies, the Sarbat Khalsa, could have his say & exercise his right in the making of decisions) 125 was qualitatively different from the Jat parochial egalitarianism. The Jat political consciousness, under the spell of caste ideology, could not have even conceived of evolving egalitarian political goals of the type in which they had to share power with the artisans (carpenters) and Kalals, much less work under their leadership. Nor could Jat parochial egalitarianism could have adjusted itself to a cosmopolitan egalitarian organization in which the outcastes (the Rangrettas) were equal and honorable members. There is, therefore, no basis for assuming that, without having a hand in determining the Khalsa political goals and without exercising control over its organization and leadership, the Jats, as such, could shape the growth and the development of the movement, during the long period of its revolutionary phase (i.e. from the start of Guru Nanak’s missionary tours to the establishment of Missals, a period of 275 years approx.), according to their own traits and proclivities.
Lefebure has given expression to a very important political axiom. “For the last half century, students have applied, themselves, and rightly so, to the task of showing how the revolutionary spirit originated in a social and economic environment. But we should commit no less an error in forgetting that there is no true revolutionary spirit without the idealism which alone inspires sacrifice.”126 About the French Revolution, Rude writes: “......it needed more than economic hardship, social discontent, and the frustration of political and social ambitions to make a revolution. To give cohesion to the discontents and aspirations of widely varying social classes there had to be some unifying body of ideas, common vocabulary of hope and protest, something, in short, like a common ‘revolutionary pshychology.’127
If a common ‘revolutionary psychology’ was needed to give cohesion to the various classes in the French Revolution, a ‘unifying body of ideas’ was much more indispensable for welding the mutually antagonistic castes which joined the Sikh Revolution. Moreover, the Sikh revolutionary struggle passed through a prolonged period of guerrilla warfare the like of which few other movements have experienced. A general massacre of the Sikhs was launched about five times and the Mughal authorities came to believe that they had annihilated Sikhs almost to the last men. Forster writes: “Such was the keen spirit that animated the persecution, such was the success of the exertions, that the name of a Sique no longer existed in the Mughal dominion.”128 Yet, at every attempt to crush the movement, it arose, Phoenix like, from its ashes till it uprooted the Mughal rule from the region and established its own.
Arjan Das Malik has quoted authorities and given illustrations to show that sustained guerrilla warfare is not possible without an ideological inspiration.”........a guerrilla is.........an intensely motivated and highly dedicated soldier who has a keen sense of issues at stake and uderstands the nature of war he is fighting. His strength lies inside, in the moral considerations which ‘make three-fourths of him’.”129
What was the ideological inspiration that inspired the Sikh revolutionaries? Let history speak for itself.
William Irvine writes about Banda and the band of ‘his followers when brought as prisoners to Delhi: All observers, Indian and European, unite in remarking on the wonderful patience and resolution with which these men underwent their fate. Their attachment and devotion to their leader were wonderful to behold. They had no fear of death, they called the executioner Mukt, or the Deliverer. They cried out to him joyfully “O Mukt! kill me first.”130
The English ambassadors in Delhi at that time reported to their head that about 780 prisoners had been brought to the place along with Banda and that one hundred of them were beheaded each day. ‘It is not a little remarkable with what patience they under-go their fate, and to the last it has not been found that one apostatized from his new formed religion.’ 131
Khafi Khan writes, “Many stores are told about the wretched dogs of this sect, which the understanding rejects; but the author will relate what he saw with his own eyes. When the executions were going on, the mother of one of the prisoners, a young man just arrived at manhood,........... pleaded the cause of her son with great feeling and earnestness before the emperor and Saiyad Abdullah Khan............Farrukh Siyar commiserated this artful woman, and mercifully sent an officer with orders to release the youth. That cunning woman arrived with the order of release just as the executioner was standing with his bloody sword upheld over the young man’s head. She showed the order for his release. The youth then broke out into complaints, saying: “My mother tells a falsehood; I with heart and soul join my fellow-believers in devotion to the Guru; send me quickly after my companions.” 132
Muhammed Latif comes to the conclusion: “The pages of history shine with the heroic deeds of this martial race, and the examples of self-devotion, patriotism and forbearance, under the severest trials, displayed by the leaders of their community, are excelled by none in the annals of the nations.”133
“According to a contemporary Muhammaden author, the Sikh horsemen were seen riding, at full gallops, towards their sacred favourite shine of devotion. They were often slain in making this attempt, and sometimes taken prisoners; but they used, on such occasions to seek, instead of avoiding, the crown of martyrdom.” The same authority states, “that an instance was never known of a Sikh, taken in his way to Amritsar, consening to abjure his faith” .134 Ahmed Shah Abdali, the victor of Panipat, recognized that for the complete reduction of the Sikh power it would be necessary to wait until their religious fervour had evaporated.135 Even during the faction-ridden period of the Misals, the Sikh chiefs could find a common meeting ground at the sanctified Amritsar Golden Temple, and the only cementing force left between them were the Akalis, the conscience-keepers of the Sikh faith.
There is a spark in human nature which yearns eternally for freedom and equality. The Gurus ignited this spark. In Cunningham’s words: ‘The last apostle of the Sikhs did not live to see his own ends accomplished, but he effectually roused the dormant energies of a vanquished people and filled them with a lofty, although fitful, longing for social freedom and national ascendency, the proper adjuncts of that purity of worship which had been preached by Nanak. Gobind saw what was yet vital, and relumed it with a promethean fire.” 136 The Sikh movement derived its strength also because Guru Gobind Singh “opened, at once, to men of the lowest tribe, the prospect of earthly glory.” The objective of capturing political power for egalitarian ends fired the imagination of the masses, and for this reason more and more of the downtrodden people were drawn to the Khalsa ranks as the struggle progressed. It was because of its deep commitment to the egalitarian cause that the movement pursued the armed struggle to its bitter end until its aims were achieved. This was why the movement, though hard pressed, rejected a number of offers of a compromised peace by Abdali; who could not comprehend that in this case he was not pitted against feudal lords whose interests could be adjusted within his own ambitions. Here, he was face to face with an ideologically surcharged people’s movement committed to achieve its own egalitarian political aims; in which there was no room for compromise with feudalism or aristocracy.
However, what is more germane to our topic is the fact that the genesis of the Sikh revolutionary spirit lies in the Sikh religion and the religious faith of the Sikhs in the Gurus. It is the Sikh religion which stands for social and political equality. It is the Gurus who worked laboriously over a long period to institutionalize the egalitarian values in the form of the Sikh Panth. And it is through their religious faith in the Gurus that the Sikhs came to enshrine the values of human freedom and equality in their hearts. Again, it is due to the deep commitment of the Gurus to the revolutionary cause that they channelized the religious faith in them of their followers into a course which aimed at achieving political freedom wedded to egalitarian objectives.
The Sikh ideology not only inspired the movement, but it was the main stay of its revolutionary phase. Th Sikh guerillas had no earthly hope of success. Even the Mughal Governor was amazed, when he exclaimed “O God! to eat grass and to claim kingship !”137 They were sustained only by their faith in the Guru’s word. As Bhangu puts it :
‘The Singhs had no resources; were without arms and clothes. Were naked, hungry and thirsty. Had no ammunition with them. Had no access to shops or markets; Those who fell sick died for lack of medicine. They were sustained by the hope of Guru’s benediction; This was the only treasure they had.’138
It goes without saying that the Sikh religious faith was the creation of the Sikh Gurus and not that of the Jats, who are wellknown for their indifference towards transcendental religion. Otherwise, it is up to the scholars, who trace the genesis of the Sikh Revolution to Jat traits, to explain how the Sikh revolutionary
psychology evolved from the purely Jat beliefs and traits. There is no historical record of the Jats of the Sikh tract having ever shown, before the Sikh movement, even that turbulent spirit and resistance which the Jats around Agra, Mathura and Bharatpur showed, and against whom several Mughal expeditions were sent to curb their turbulence. If the Jats around Agra, Mathura and Bharatpur remained tied down, at all times, to the caste and feudal strings, how did the Jats of the Sikh tract alone evolve, on their own, a remarkable ‘revolutionary psychology’ and zeal, and a deep commitment to an all embracing egalitarian cause?
In fact, it is the Sikh ideology which transformed those, who participated in the Sikh revolutionary struggle, and it is not the Jat traits which determined its ideological content. As there is marked difference in the chemical behaviour of unionized: and ionized atoms (ions) of the same element, so do we find a1 marked behavioural contrast between those of the same stock, whether Jat or non-Jat, who, when and where, were charged by the Sikh ideology and those who were not.
Two prominent features of the character of the Jats of all the regions, their laxity in domestic morality and their propensity for stealing, are mentioned from their very early history.139 As against it, Qazi Nur Muhammed pays the Khalsa a rich tribute for respecting the honour of women and for not befriending thieves, 140 and this testimony of his is supported by others.141 It is on these very two accounts that the comments of competent observers in the post-Khalsa period again become unfavourable to the Jats of the Sikh tract, like those of others. 142
All the members of the Khalsa Dal, including Rangrettas, addressed one another as Bhai (brother).143 There was complete equality and fraternization within its ranks. One of the five divisions of the Taruna Dal was commanded by Rangretta Bir Singh 144 and he was chosen to be the first to receive honour after the battle of Malerkotla.145 There is no mention of any factions within the Khalsa Dal on the basis of caste or clan. But, in the post-revolutionary period, factional strife became a prominent feature of the Misals and Jat Sikhs in Ranjit Singh’s army refused to associate on equal terms with Rangrettas in their Regiments.
All those who joined the Khalsa were volunteers and were not mercenaries. Whatever they brought from their homes, or whatever came to their hands, was deposited in the common store.146 The Khalsa ideal was to dedicate one’s soul and body (Tan, Man, Dhan) to the revolutionary cause.147 A large number of Singhs, especially the Shaheeds of Akalis, lived up to that ideal. But the followers of Dala, the Brar Jats, had no hesitation in demanding pay for their services from Guru Gobind Singh.148
The insignia of so-called Nawabi was not acceptable to any one of the Khalsa and had to be thrust on reluctant Kapur Singh.149 What a contrast between this spurning of power and the lust for power that seized the Misal Chiefs!
Even the faction-ridden Misals would unite to face the common danger posed by Abdali and Abdali had to come to the conclusion that the conquest of the Khalsa shall have to wait till their religious fervour subsided. But the universally believed rumours of an impending invasion by the British failed to unite the parties of the Sikh raj, and Lord Hardinge could foresee that the Sikh soldiers of the Sikh raj, if defeated, ‘will relapse into the rude state of their grand-fathers, from which they only emerged fifty years ago, and to which they will have no objection to return.’150
If it is not the Khalsa ideology, to what else is the glaring contrast in the behaviour patterns of the people of the same stock, noted above, due to? Forster noted that, under the relentless persecution launched by the Mughals, “Those who still adhered to the tenets of Nanock, either fled into the mountains at the head of the Punjab, or cut off their hair, and exteriorily renounced the profession of their religion.”151 In other words, all that was needed to save one’s life was to cut off one’s hair and melt into the multitude. Who were the steel-frame of the movement? Those who renounced their faith, or those ideologically surcharged Khalsa guerrillas who took to the mountains?
1 Qanungo, K.R. : Historical Essays, p. 42. The figure giving the number of Jats obviously refers to the period round about the year 1960 when the book was published.
* Khap may be approximately defined as a group of villages occupied by a single Jat clan within a contiguous area
2 Baden-Powell, p. 216, Cited by M.C. Pradhan : The Political System of the Jats of Northern India, p. 5
3 Pradhan, p. 1
4 Ibid, pp. 113-4
5 Ibid, p. 113
6 Ibid, p. 144
7 Ibid, p. 98
9 Ibid, p. 105
10 Ibid, p. 107
11 Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 84
12 Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 17
13 Gazetteer of Jullundur District (1904), p. 62
14 Settlement Report of Ludhiana District (1978-83), p. 46
15 Gazetteer of Ferozepur District (1915), p. 21
* Name given to a tract of the district
16 Ibid, p. 74
17 Ibid, p. 76
18 Bingley, A.H. Gujars, p. 37
19 Punjab Castes, sec., 424
20 Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1892-3), pp. 52-3
21 Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1914), p. 19
22 Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1883-84), p. 24
24 Ibid., (1914), p. 19
26 Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1910), p. 169
27 Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84) p. 16
28 Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1910), p. 24
29 Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 27
30 Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), pp. 24-5
31 Bingley, p. 91
32 Pradhan, p. 34
33 Ibid, p. 36
34 E.H.I., i. p. 151, Cited by Rose, ii, p. 358
35 Ibid, p. 188, Cited by Rose, H. p. 358
36 Ibid, p. 128, Cited by Rose, ii. p. 359
37 Bingley, p. 15
38 Ibbetson, sec. 440
39 Pradhan, p. 48.
40 Crooke, W. : The North Western Provinces of India, their History, Ethnology, & Administration, p. 206
42 Ibid, p. 244
43 Gazetteer of Gurgaoli District (1910), p. 32
44 Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 89
45 Settlement Report Ludhiana District (1978-83).
46 Census Report (1891), p. 202; Rose, iii, p. 75
47 Bhangu, pp. 86, 212, 261, 436
48 Ibid, p. 215
49 Ray, M.P. : Origin, Growth & Suppression of the Pindaries, p.86
50 Ibid, p. 80
51 Ibid, p. 123
52 Ibid, p. 12
53 Irvine, William : Later Mughals, i. pp. 98-9
54 Ibid, p. 97
55 Cunningham, H.L.O. : History of the Sikhs, p. 159
56 Khushwaqt Rai : Tarikh Punjab Sikhan, pp. 63-64
57 lmadul-Saadat, p. 71
58 Haqiqat, Cited by Gurbax Singh in Punjab History Conference (March 1978), Proceedings, pp. 89-90
59 Ibid, p. 86
60 Punjabi translation, p. 7
61 ‘Bhai Gurdas, Var 41; Macauliffe, v. p. 258
62 Sinha, N.K. : Rise of the Sikh Power, p. 110
63 Wilson: J.R.A.S. (1846), p. 50; Prinsep, p. 23; Cunningham, pp. 94-96; Maelcolm, p. 222; Polier, Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, p. 197
64 Forster, i, p. 330.
65 Ibid, p. 329.
66 Cunningham, p. 151
67 Ibid, pp. 151-2
68 Sohan Lal Suri ; Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, Daftar iv, p. xviii.
69 Ibid, pp. xvii-xviii
70 Ibid, p. xxii; Punjab Papers, edited by Hasrat, p. 66
71 Malcolm : Asiatic Researches, (1812), Vo!. ii. p. 219
72 Scott, G.B. : Religion and Short History of the Sikhs
73 A. Roberts, J.M. : The French Revolution, pp. 57-59
74 Bhangu, pp. 40-1
75 Macauliffe, iv, pp. 197, 107
76 Bhangu, pp. 50, 58, 104, 236, 244, 262, 368.
77 Ibid, p. 216
78 Ibid, p. 469
79 Ibid, p. 368
80 Irvine, pp. 94, 96, 98-99.
81 Fatuhat Namah-i-Samdi, p. 28, Cited by Gurbax Singh : Punjab History Conference (Dec. 1973), Proceedings, p. 55 Asrar-i-Samdi, trans. in Punjabi, p. 7
82 Asrar-i-Samdi, trans. in Punjabi, p. 7
83 Elliot Dowson, Vol. vii, pp. 419-420.
84 Irvine, Vol i, pp. 83-4
85 Early European Accounts of the Sikhs. edited by Ganda 8ingh. p. 192
86 Ibid, p. 228
87 Hugel, p. 281
88 Narang, Gokal Chand : Transformation of Sikhism, p. 81
89 Sri Gur Sobha, edited by Ganda Singh, p. 128
90 Bhangu, p. 131
91 Ibid, p. 215
92 Budh 8ingh Arora : Risala-i-Nanak Shah, Cited by Gurbax Singh, Punjab History Conference (Nov., 1976), Proceedings, p. 79
93 E.E.A. of Sikhs, p. 197
94 Forster i, p. 329.
95 Griffin: Rajas of the Punjab, p. 16
96 Malik, Arjan Das : An Indian Guerilla War, pp. 40-1
97 Malcolm : Asiatic Researches (1812), pp. 244-246
98 Frederic Engels : The Peasant War in Germany, p. 29
99 Ibid, p. 129
100 Ibid, pp. 101, 102, 129
101 101. Ibid, pp. 100, 101, 105-6, 108
102 Wolf, Eric R. : Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century, p. 9
103 Ibid, p. 31
104 Ibid, p. 83
105 Ibid, p. 141
106 Ibid, p. 150
107 Ibid, p. 185
108 Ibid, p. 269
109 Ibid, pp. 289-290
110 Ibid, p. 294
111 Roberts. J.M. : The French Revolution. p. 127
112 Rose, ii. p. 357
113 Ibid, p. 358
114 Kadryatsev, M.K. : On the Role of the Jats in Northern India’s Ethnic History, p. 6
115 Qanungo, K.R. : Studies in Rajput History, p. 63
116 Gazetteer of the Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 19
117 Bingley, p. 15
118 Irvine, i, p. 323
119 Ibid, p. 327
120 Bingley. p. 18
121 Ibid, p. 19.
122 Ibid. p. 19
123 Bingley. p. 24
124 Koer Singh, p. 99; Bhangu, p. 41
125 Bhangu. pp. 41-42
126 Lefebvre, Georges : The Coming of French Revolution, p. 50
127 Rude, George, Revolutionary Europe, p. 74.
128 Forster, i, 312-313
129 Malik, Arjan Das : An Indian Guerilla War, p. 3.
130 Irvine, p. 317-318
131 Early European Accounts of Sikhs, p. 188
132 Elliot & Dowson, vii, p. 458
133 Latif, Syed Muhammed : History of the Punjab, p. 629
134 Malcolm, Asiatic Researches, Vol II (1812), p. 23
135 Banerjee,. A.C. : Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. p. 91
136 Cunningham, p. 75
137 Khushwaqt Rai, p. 71, Cited by Gupta, History of the Sikhs, i. p. 12
138 Bhangu. pp. 304-305
139 Pradhan. p. 246; Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1918). p. 67; Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 65; Settlement Report, Ludhiana District (1878-83), p. 54; Gazetteer of Jullundur District (1904), p. 121; Gazetteer of Lahore District (1883-84), p. 68.
141 Fatuhat & Nam-i-Samdi; Forster, i, p. 333; Ahmed Shah, Sohan,Lal. Alimud-din and Ganesh Das cited by Gupta; A History of the Sikhs, i. p. 195; Griffin: Rajas of the Punjab. p. 17
142 Pradhan. p. 3; Bingley, p. 101; Ibbetson, 424; Rose, ii, 359. 357; Administration Reports of the Punjab. (1851-53), p. 90 of 1953 to 1956). p.7) Gazetteers of the District of Lahore (1883-84, p. 68); Amritsar (1947, p. 47), Ferozepur (1915, p. 69).
143 Fatuhat Namah-i-Samdi, cited in Punjab History Conference (Dec 1973), Proceedings, pp. 55-56; Khulasaetut-Twarikh (trans. in Punjabi), p. 81
144 Bhangu, p. 216
145 Ibid, p. 469
146 Ibid, p. 215
147 Ibid, pp. 80, 87
148 Macauliffe, v., p. 217
149 Bhangu, pp. 213-4
150 The Punjab Papers, ed., Bikram Jit Hasrat, pp. 56, 86
151 Forster, i, pp. 312-313
©Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, All
Designed by Jaswant (09915861422)