Arjun Dev, the fifth Guru, compiled the Scripture
of the new society, called the Granth Sahib, a volume of
1430 pages. Apart from the compositions of the Gurus, hymns
of medieval Hindu and Muslim saints also found a place in
the Scripture, which is unique for its catholicity, insight
and power. Written in the Gurmukhi script, the Granth
Sahib became the nucleus of the Sikh way of life and all
religious observances. The Guru also built the Harmandir
Sahib, the focal point of Sikh faith which also came to
be known as Darbar Sahib. Apart from being the principal
place of worship, it also became the rallying centre for
the socio-political activities of the Sikhs. The Guru
began to be looked upon by his followers, not only as
Satguru (spiritual guide), but also as Sachha Padshah (true king).
In the words Of Archer, "The trend of practicality and
realism in his movement was proving stranger than
tendencies towards the mystical and negatived." The Sikh
society had developed a social identity and had
become "a State within a State," which had become an
eyesore for Emperor Jahangir, who looked upon it as an
unwanted socio-political group. The Guru was ordered to
be executed by torture. The supreme act of martyrdom of
the Guru not only strengthened the faith and determination
of the Community but also let an indelible stamp on
the Sikh way of life.
Guru Arjun's parting message to his son and
successor, Hargobind, the sixth Guru, was to begin
militarization of the Sikh community. Guru Hargobind
assumed Guruship with two swords girded around his waist,
one symbolizing spiritual power (piri) and the other
temporal authority (miri). He recognized recourse to
the sword as a rightful alternative for self-defence.
The Guru raised the Akal Takht (the throne of the Timeless),
a seal of temporal authority, adjacent to the Harmandir
Sahib, visibly symbolizing the combination of the
spiritual and the empirical, stemming from the creative
and life-affirming vision of Guru Nanak. In the
integrated complex, the spiritual concerns of the human
soul and the temporal concerns of daily life came to be
taken care of. Not only Darbar Sahib, but all gurudwaras
came to acquire a socio-political status. The Guru prepared
the community to wage an armed struggle against the
tyranny of the State. After making his preparations and
testing the mettle of his men with the Mughal armies, he
shifted the venue of his
organisation to the out-of-the-way hill areas, where the mighty
Mughal force could not throttle the young nation in its infancy.
The military preparations continued unabated even in the time
of the succeeding Gurus.
Moving from supreme spiritual awareness to supreme
sacrifice, Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru practised his
spiritual ideal to counter the forces of tyranny and injustice.
The Guru offered to sacrifice his life in response to an
appeal made by Kashmiri Brahmins who found themselves helpless
against the State, whose entire might was turned in the direction
of humiliating non Muslims and forcing them to forsake their
religion or to live a life of degradation. The Guru's
sacrifice to uphold the freedom of man to practise his
religion is unparalleled in the annals of mankind.
Pulsating with human love and spiritual robustness,
the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, also responded to the prime
need of the hour to restore justice and harmony in human
affairs. The founding of the Khalsa brotherhood by the Guru
on the Vaisakhi of 1699 CE was the epitome of the mission
of Guru Nanak. The Guru adopted for himself and his followers
the distinctive appellation Singh(lion) who should know
no fear and should bring down the arrogance of those who
occupied places of power and brandished the sword of
their tyranny over the heads of the helpless multitudes.
The Singhs were to be saint-soldiers, combining in them
the piety of a saint and the strength and sternness of a
soldier. The Guru wrote to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzab,
in explicit terms, that when all other means to restore
righteousness fail, it is but legitimate to take
up the sword. The Guru aimed at creating a nation
that would be pure and strong enough to free itself
from the oppression of the rulers and the priests. In
the ranks of the Khalsa, complete equality was practised.
All were equal, the lowest with the highest, in race
as in creed, in political rights and religious hopes.
The egalitarian principle introduced in the Sikh society was
intended to be a complete break with the earlier religious
tradition, which sanctified caste.
Guru Gobind Singh prescribed five symbols:
kesh (uncut hair), kangha (comb), kirpan (sword),
kara (steel bangle) and kachha (short breeches).
The inner unity of faith was sought to be strengthened
with external uniformity. The Guru also furnished the
order of the Khalsa with the institutions of Panj Piaras
(five beloved ones) and daswandh (voluntary contribution
of one tenth of one's income) to the exchequer of the
community. The supreme acts of martyrdom of the Guru,
his father, mother and four sons for the cause of
righteousness left an indelible stamp on the Sikh
way of life. The Guru raised tile Indian spirit from
servility, inferiority, fatalism and defeatism to the
dynamic idea of social responsibility and resistance
against tyranny and injustice. In the words of Indu Bhushan
Bannerjee, "The Guru brought a new force into being and
released a new dynamic force into the arena of Indian history."3
The Sikh movement was not only an egalitarian social
order, it was a plebeian political revolution as well, but
the pressure of circumstances prevented it from assuming
spectacular dimensions. Nevertheless, the rise of the Khalsa,
the martyrdom of the Gurus, the saga of Sikh resistance to the
Mughals and Afghan invaders carried a new message of hope and
kindled that spark in human nature that impelled men to seek out
a better and saner path for mankind. People looked with eager
eyes to the rise of a messiah, who would finally deliver them
from socio-political persecution of the contemporary rulers
and tyranny and oppression of the invaders.
The first bid for establishing the Khalsa Raj was
made by Banda Singh Bahadur. It was under his leadership
that the Khalsa armies won decisive victories and shook
the very foundation of the mighty Mughal empire . Banda
struck coins in the name of the Khalsa Panth: " This
coin is struck as a token of our sovereignty here and
here after. This Divine bounty flows from the sword of
Nanak (Tegh-i-Nanak) and victory and felicity is the
gift of Guru Gobind Singh, the king of kings, the true
Banda had an indomitable spirit, but faced with the
overwhelming might of the Mughal Empire, he could not
succeed in liberating the country from the oppressive
rule. Banda and several hundreds of his followers were
arrested, but they kept their cool even in the face of death.
None of them renounced his faith to save his life. They
carried on the glorious traditions of sacrifice and
martyrdom for the cause of righteousness, handed down
to them by the Gurus. Banda deserves credit for laying
down the foundations of the political sovereignty of the Sikhs.
Eighteenth century constituted a turbulent phase in the
Sikh history. This was a time, when a price was put on every
Sikh head and thrice it was reported to the authorities that
the Sikhs had been exterminated root and branch. But the
community displayed unparalleled courage, endurance and
fortitude and waged a valiant struggle against the worst
political persecution of Mir Mannu, the Mughal Governor
of Lahore. Their unflinching faith in the ultimate success
of their mission is epitomised in the well-known slogan,
"Mannu is the sickle, we are the grass for him to mow; the
more he cuts us, the more we grow."
The consequences of this heroic struggle, in the
socio-political life of the country, were significant and
far-reaching. It stemmed, once for all, the cruel and imperial
tide of oppression, which had been threatening to destroy the
Indian society for the past one thousand years. Apart
from upholding the religious and human rights of the people,
the Sikhs played the most important role in the politics of
Northern India. They organised the most formidable resistance
to hordes of foreign invaders, including Ahmed Shah Abdali,
known to be the greatest General of the eighteenth century.
All foreign invasions from the north-west were finally stopped.
The institutions of Sarbatt Khalsa and Gurmatta shaped
the destiny of the Sikh people in their ascent to political
power during the eighteenth century, The Sarbatt Khalsa institution
represented the unified corporate personality of the Khalsa,
while Gurmatta signified taking decisions in the name of the
Guru. Before and after the battles, the Sikhs assembled at
Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, performed ablutions in the sacred
tank and passed regular Gurmattas (resolutions). in 1764,
on the eve of Ahmed Shah Abdali's last raid, "The Sikhs
passed a Gurmatta proclaiming the independence of the Sikh
The Sikh gurdwaras were the centres of free thought
and the integrated religio-political Sikh activities. In
order to liquidate the Sikhs, gurdwaras were made the chief
targets of attack by the enemy. Darbar Sahib, the
headquarters of the Khalsa, was thrice attacked by
Adbali, as it had become, in his eyes, a rock offence,
because of what it represented of the religious and
political importance that Sikhism had acquired.
Sikh confederacies, called the misls, often met
at the Akal Takht at Amritsar to discuss matters of common
welfare and chalk out plans of joint action against their
enemies. The common bond of being the Khalsa bound them
together. Each misl bore its own distinctive title and
had its own Sardar, who gathered followers from local
near-by villages. These misls had a great political
potential, but through their internecine quarrels,
they reduced each other to a state of political impotence.
They were not properly organised to realize the
dream of Khalsa Raj.
After a lone period of turmoil. the Sikhs rose
to political power under Ranjit Singh ( 1799 CE),
who ruled under the banner of Sarkar-i-Khalsa . But he did not
impose Sikhism on non-Sikh subjects of his State.
Catholicity of the Sikh tradition let its visible
impact on his outlook and policy and enabled him
to restore complete religious harmony in his kingdom.
He gave complete freedom of expression and worship to
all his subjects. Careers were thrown open to men of
talent, irrespective of their religion, caste or class.
In his kingdom, the key positions of power were shared
by the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims alike. He
never made any forcible conversions to the Sikh faith,
nor dice he make any conscious efforts to propagate his
religion. In dealing with his fallen enemies, he
displayed unprecedented generosity. Not only the Sikh
nobles and Sardars, but also the deposed Muslim
rulers were provided with jagirs and treated generously.
The four decades of peace, prosperity and protection
which the people or Punjab enjoyed under Ranjit Singh,
makes a unique phenomenon in the annals of Indian history.
During his rule, not a single person was sentenced
to death, not even when he himself was made the
target of attack.
Ten years after the death of Ranjit Singh, the
Sikh kingdom was annexed by the British. After the loss
of political power, the Sikhs had to face a multipronged
attack from the Christian missionaries, Muslims
and the Arya Samaj Hindus on their sources of strength, their
religious places and ideology. The Singh Sabha Movement
floated ha 1873, was a powerful Movement which sought
to restore Sikhism to its pristine purity. With its
assertion of the Sikh identity, the Movement very
effectively countered the Arya Samaj propaganda that
Sikhism was nothing but a sect of Hinduism. The question
was laid to rest by Bhai Kahan Singh's classic repudiations
in his book: Ham Hindu Nahin Hain (We Are Not Hindus),
written in 1899.
The British used the gurdwaras, including the
Golden Temple, as channels for the indirect control of
the Sikhs. They made sure that the Sikh religious places
were kept in the hands of corrupt mahants and pujaris,
who were hostile to the teachings of Sikh Gurus. The
Sikhs resented the misrepresentation and distortions
of the Sikh tradition and identity. This resentment
found expression in the form of the Gurdwara Reform
Movement, which aimed at wresting control of all
gurdwaras from the hands of the corrupt Hindu mahants.
In 1920, the Shiromani Akali Dal was constituted,
which became the spearhead Of the struggle for the
liberation of the gurdwaras loom the hands of the corrupt
Hindu mahants. After tremendous sacrifices and sufferings,
Akali Dal secured an undisputed and exclusive
control over the Golden Temple and other places of
worship in the form of Sikh Gurdwaras and Shrines Act,
1925. Liberation of the gurdwaras exploded the myth of
the invincibility of the British power in India and
reestablished the unique religious identity of the
Sikhs. The control and management of the gurdwaras was
vested in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee
(S.G.P.C.), a representative body of the Sikhs. The
Akali Dal emerged as a formidable force and became the
political party of the Sikhs.
The Akali Dal directed the next phase of its struggle
towards the freedom of the country from the foreign yoke. It
was a pioneering role, out of all proportions to the
small number of the Sikhs. The first two revolts against
the British, Kuka revolt and Ghadr rebellion, were almost
wholly manned by Sikhs. Out of 2,175 martyrs for the
country's freedom, 1,557 or 75 % were Sikhs. Out of 2,646
sent to Andamans for life sentence, 2,147 or 80 % were Sikhs.
Out of 127 Indians, who were sent to the gallows by British,
92 were Sikhs. In the Indian National Army, led
by Subhash Chander Bose, 60 % of the soldiers were Sikhs.
Thus, the battle for the country's freedom was won with
the Sikhs in the forefront. All Sikh agitations, whether
social, religious or political were launched from the
platform at the gurdwaras.
On August 15, 1947 as India celebrated its independence,
Punjab witnessed only bloodshed and tears in the wake of
partition. The Sikh population was vivisected almost in the
middle. As a result, the community suffered greater losses
than the Hindus and Muslims. Almost 2.5 % of the Sikh population
was brutally massacred in the communal holocaust by Muslims.
40 % of the Sikhs were forced to abandon their homes and
hearths, and became refugees. Economic interests of the
community were also jeopardised. About 70 % of the fertile,
irrigated and rich lands of the community were left in
Pakistan. The Sikhs were also deprived of many historic
shrines and holy places which were left in Pakistan.
Before independence, the Indian National Congress
had consistently propagated a federal structure for the
free India with unilingual states and had pledged
constitutional safeguards for the minorities. The Congress,
in its annual session at Lahore, in 1929, passed a resolution,
which said that "no future Constitution would be acceptable
to the Congress that did not give full satisfaction to the
Sikhs." In July, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru declared at a press
conference on the eve of the All India Congress Committee
meeting at Calcutta that "the brave Sikhs of Punjab are
entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong
in an area and a set-up in the north wherein the Sikhs can
also experience the glow of freedom."
It was in this background and on the basis of the
promises made to them that in 1947, the Sikhs threw their
lot with the other people of India, hoping that the
assurances extended to them would be fulfilled and they
would be able to maintain their identity and safeguard
their interests in the future. After independence, the
Indian leaders adopted a basically unitary form of
constitution, thus flouting their promises made to
Sikhs. In protest, the Sikh representatives in the
Constituent Assembly refused to sign the new Constitution.
The Congress also failed to chalk out a uniform domestic
policy in relation to linguistic provinces. Out of
the 14 recognised languages in the Indian Constitution,
13 states were formed on a linguistic basis. Only the
Punjabi speaking state was not formed, because of the
fear of the Sikh majority in the state.
Punjabi Suba was formed in 1966 after a hard
and protracted struggle put up by the Akali Dal in
which about 60,000 people had to court arrest. The
demand of a Punjabi speaking State conceded grudgingly
did not prove a final and lasting solution to the problem.
It was nothing more than a crippled sub-State, not
equal in political status and powers with the other
states. It was mercilessly deprived of its vital
economic resources, its capital and other vital limbs,
including the Punjabi speaking areas. Sections 78 to 80,
ingeniously incorporated in the Punjab Reorganisation Act
of 1966, empowered the Centre to have a tight grip over
irrigation and hydel power in Punjab. Their development
and distribution have also been kept in tight Central
control, even though these are exclusively state
subjects in the Indian Constitution.
In 1982, the Akali Dal decided to launch the
Dharam Yudh Morcha a fight for righteousness and justice.
The basic issues of the Morcha were related to the
prevention of the digging of the unconstitutional SYL
(Satluj Yamuna Link) canal, redrawing at Punjab's boundaries,
restoration of Chandigarh to Punjab, retuning of center - state
relations and greater autonomy
far the State as ensured in the Anadpur Sahih Resolution. The Anandpur Sahib
resolution had a
mass appeal as more than two lake people courted arrest in a peaceful manner.
As many as twenty six rounds of negotiations were held between thc Akali Dal
and the government. But the Government failed to arrive at a negotiated
settlement. The political and constitutional processes were completely
scuttled. By mounting an army attack, code - named Bluestar Operation (June 6, 1984)
on the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib), the sanctum sanctorum of the Sikhs,
the Government added a new dimension to the crisis. The massacres of the Sikhs
at the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination in Delhi and many other cities
and towns of India deepened the crisis still further. It has been revealed
that the Congress played a direct and decisive role in planning and organising the
orgy of violence. As per reports, around three thousand Sikhs lost their lives in
Delhi alone in the mindless violence. Thousands were rendered refugees,
many of them for the second time since l947. More than 50,000 Sikhs
migrated to Punjab in search of safety, after having lost their homes
amid hearths in Delhi mad other parts of India. Even after a lapse of
thirteen years, the men guilty of anti--Sikh massacres have not been
punished. These traumatic events caused a sense of deep hurt, humiliation
and alienation of the Sikh community.
Soon after the Bluestar attack, the Government launched the second phase
of the military action under the code-named Operation Woodrose. Thousands of
Sikh men, women and children were rounded up on the suspicion of being
"terrorists." A circular (No. l 53) was issued in the July ( 1984) issue
of Bat Cheet, an official magazine, circulated throughout the army,
directing the array personnel to keep track of all amritdhari (initiated) Sikhs,
who were to be treated as suspects. Both the operations Bluestar and Woodrose,
were conducted in the midst of a rigid press censorship and a blanket ban
against international pressmen and human rights organisations entering the State.
Assault on the Darbar Sahib was preceded and followed by the enactment
of black laws in relation to Punjab. The Government of India passed the National
Security Act, 1980; the Punjab Disturbed Areas Ordinance, 1983; The Armed Forces
(Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983 and the Terrorists Affected
Areas (Special Courts Act), 1984. These acts gave sweeping powers to the police
and army to curtail even the right to life. After acquiring arbitrary powers,
the army swept through the Punjab countryside throwing thousands of Sikhs into
jails without the right of bail. Hundreds of detainees languished in the Jodhpur
jail for several years without trial and without any charge against them.
As the repression continued unabated, there were numerous instances of
Sikh youth entering the camp of militants or going abroad either to save
their skin or to seek revenge for the death and disgrace of their near and
Even after the gruesome events of 1984, no political
solution was found to the problem. As the Government resorted
to unbridled repression, the aggrieved Sikh youth took
to armed resistance against tyranny and injustice The
Sikh community suffers from intense feelings of deprivation
and injustice The political stalemate in Punjab Continues.
After having created a semblance of what it calls peace
and public tranquillity through repression, the Government
no longer thinks creatively of political and judicial
solutions to the problem. By and large, the approach of
the media has also been partisan to take into account
all aspects of the multidimensional problem historical,
socio-economic, political and ideological. They have
focused only on the law and order aspect, deliberately
ignoring a careful examination of the issues and processes
that have compounded the problem.
In free India, the basic issue faced by the Sikhs
has been that of preserving their distinctive socio-religious
and political identity. In a pamphlet, Harchand Singh
Longowal, the Dharam Yudh Morcha dictator, expressed
the Sikh apprehensions in these words: "India is a muiti-lingual,
multireligious and multi-national land. In such a land, a
microscopic minority like the Sikhs has a genuine foreboding
that like Buddhism and Jainism earlier, they may also
lose their identity in the vast ocean of the overwhelming
The community feels that in the current socio-political
milicut Sikh traditions, values, culture and identity are
seriously threatened. They are keen to salvage their
socio-political identity and want to grow to their true
and natural stature according to their inherent genius.
The Sikhs visualise a land of freedom, equality and justice,
a land of men and women with faith in God and faith in
man, where human personality is not suppressed but respected,
where divinity in man is not obscured, where spiritual and moral
values are duly recognised and the individual is accorded an
ultimate intrinsic Worth. Though currently living in the midst
of an immense historical crisis, the community continues to have
an indomitable will to face all odds. It has an unswerving faith
in its future.
"Abstracts of Sikh Studies" by Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon
Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon is a Professor of History at
Punjab University Chandigarh., as well as founder of
Institute of Sikh Studies