I read with great interest Satish Chandra's attempt to justify his distortion of
the event of Guru Tegh Bahadur's supreme sacrifice in The Hindu newspaper.
It is good that he has broken his silence on the issue and has at least accepted
responsibility for defending his writing.
It is untrue that the Sikhs have only recently become aware of the
"serious aspersions" cast on Guru Tegh Bahadur by Chandra deliberately
presenting "facts in distorted manner". The distortion and the deliberate
nature of the presentation has been in the Sikh view ever since day one. My
daughter, who was studying in the xl class in about 1990, brought this
controversial assessment to my notice. Some of us got together to approach
the NCERT, the Governor of the State and other authorities to remedy the matter.
\Nte continued to bring it to the notice of all and sundry, without any effect,
for a long time. In 1991, I Wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister, Chandra
Shekhar, explaining the problem to him and subsequently brought it to his
notice during my talks with him. He very quickly referred it to the NCERT
authorities from whom he received a stale reply essentially on the lines
now given by Satish Chandra. The Prime Minister was kind enough to send me a
gist of it. The matter kept on simmering for a long time and was under
discussion in many Sikh fora. An advocate took it to the Punjab and Haryana
High Court, which gave some directions that were ignored by the NCERT. The
disdain shown by it went unnoticed until it flared up in a big way as a result
of the bold step taken by the Delhi Sikhs. Satish Chandra is not stating the
truth when he says the Sikh people have only recently become aware of the
aspersions. Again it is not a "section among the Sikhs" which is protesting
against the unbecoming distortion of facts but the entire Sikh people who can
in no way individually approach everyone concerned.
His argument that there is no contemporary account of the Guru's
martyrdom in Persian is only technically right. Dr. J. S. Grewal, a renowned
historian of medieval India in his Guru Tegh Bahadur and the Persian Chroniclers,
published by the Guru Nanak Dev University in 1976 has quoted at least ten
such works in Persian. Muslim scholars have written five of these: a Sikh and
Hindus the other five. Several of them date from the same period as the Siyar
nlMutakhirin, which the present author has used, without explaining achy he
prefers it to all these other works. Or indeed, why must he depend only on
Persian sources. No historical discipline entitles one to selectively use a
work (of even Persian) Without making the reader aware why it was so done.
There is no earthly reason why Chandra should depend exclusively upon
Persian records in the face of abundant historical material being available
to historians in Punjabi, Braj and Hindi.
His contention that there is likewise no contemporary Sikh account is not
tenable at all. Perhaps the first such account is that of Parchin sewadas
written by a contemporary Udasi in 1708 CE. This manuscript has been available
in many libraries and private collections. I myself have three identical
manuscripts of it. Several publishers have published this in book form. I
have analyzed it and along with another colleagues translated it into English.
Sri Gur Sobha (1711 CE) of Sainapat is another source emanating from the Guru's
household itself and is considered, by historians, to be an excellent source
book for the period. Koer Singh's Gurbilas Patshahi 10, written in 1751
(which I have also analyzed) is another good source on the martyrdom of the
Guru and so also the Bansawalinamah by Kcsar Singh Chibbar (1767).
in 1961, Giani Garja Singh had unearthed a completely new source of Sikh history
comprising the records maintained by several contemporary Bhatts. His work Shahid
Bilas Bhai Mani Singh (based on which I contributed an article to the Punjab
History Conference several decades ago) contains trustworthy references to the
martyrdom. Though not written by Guru Gobind Singh as is sometimes claimed, the
Bachitar Natak is known since 1748 CE and contains an account of the event. It
is not contended that the accounts given in these works are faultless. They have
their limits but doubtlessly preserve the kernel of the happening in very complete
shape. Tile list of sources given here is not exhaustive.
It would be difficult to disregard later Punjabi and Hindi works like those of
Bhai Rattan Singh Bhangoo and Bhai Santokh Singh (both of which I have also
analyzed) who depend upon near contemporary sources. They also give an account
of how Baghel Singh, in the teeth of opposition, demolished mosques on the
sites and constructed Gurdwaras in 1783 CE where the Guru had been beheaded
and cremated. It is significant that a lady whose father had witnessed the
event and had removed bloodstains from the place, had identified the exact
spot of martyrdom. Now, is one entitled to ask Satish Chandra why he does
not refer to this evidence at all? Is it possible that he has no idea that
these sources exist?
We may try to understand why Ghulam Hussain's work was a bad source and
should not have been used, much less solely used, by any historian.
As pointed out by Dr. Grewal, it is 'a general history of India' and mentions the
Guru almost in the passing. "In a work of three hundred thousand words he gives
only a few hundred words to Guru Tegh Bahadur". Ghulam Hussain's interest is
mainly in Bengal to which he devotes more than three-fourths of the book.
He deals with Sikh history only as a backdrop to Banda Bahadur's activity.
He does not quote any source upon which he is relying and is certainly not
referring to the tradition current in the Punjab of those times. He places
the martyrdom in Lahore, which is factually wrong, and the manner of disposal
of the Guru's body mentioned by him, is also contrary to all known facts.
Hafiz Adam, who is projected as the Guru's companion in the "lawless activity",
had died much earlier. He had been banished from India in 1642 CE by Shah Jahan
on the recommendation of his minister Sadullah Khan with orders never to return
to the east of River Attock. He died in 1643 CE while on pilgrimage to Mecca and
Medina, that is, twenty-one years before Guru Tegh Bahadur succeeded to the
Guruship. There are at least a dozen authentic works, which testify to that
fact and include Kamaluddin Muhammad Ahsan's Rauza-tu-Qayamia, Nazir Ahmed's
Tazkirat-ul-abidin, Mirat-al-Jahan Numa, Ghulam Nabi's Mirat-u-Qaunin, Mirza
Muhammad Akhtar's Tazirah-I-Aulia-e-hind-o-pakistan and so on. All these
considerations should have prevented Satish Chandra from rushing in where
even angels have feared to tread.
Before accepting the views of Ghulam Hussain, it would be more objective
to have analysed the writings of Guru Tegh Bahadur which have come down to us
intact and form apartof the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. A prominent
literati, Dr. Attar Singh on attempting to understand it, has written that
his writings betray a deep and sublime religious personality This is the
universal Opinion. M. A. Macauliffe, writing in the nineteenth century
had rejected Ghulam Hussein's testimony primarily on this score. That
would be taken to be the position of any serious writer who knows the Guru
was successor of eight prophets and the predecessor of one. How could such
activity as looting the people and causing "disturbances" be ascribed to him?
Even Ghulam Hussain literally turns the tables upon himself in the last
sentence, but the followers of Guru Tegh Bahadur used to move about like fukara
and they were not in the habit of wearing arms'. It is not known on what
rational consideration Satish Chandra refuses to bring this sentence of
Ghulam Hussain to the reader's notice? But since he sticks to the objectionable
part of Ghulam Hussain's oft-rejected statement, it is obvious that he wants
to deliberately highlight the wrong and highly derogatory reasons for the
martyrdom. His explanation that he has dubbed it the 'official account'
is again not tenable. 'Official' is not ipsofacto a bad word and he has not
indicated that he regards it so. Besides this assessment is based on the
assumption that its source actually is the report of the waquia navis of
Aurangzeb. This is just an assumption as it is inconceivable that that piece of
reporting was available to Ghulam Hussain a hundred years after the event,
particularly when it had never been seen before or after him. He also wrongly
harnesses Suri to his defense. Sohanlal Suri's support to Ghulam Hussain's
thesis has no meaning in view of the above discussion and also because he
came another fifty years after Ghulam Hussain. That Suri's work Umdat-ut-tawarikh
is a certainly "one of the most respected histories of the Sikhs" for Ranjit
Singh's period and lot for the earlier period, is well known to all serious historians.
His quoting the Convenient portion of the 'Sikh tradition' is equally pointless.
Like any other, it has its uncritical chroniclers. Any historian sure of his
methodology knows what to make out of the alleged Ram Rai culpability.
Guru Gobind Singh met Ram Rai and thus absolved him of plotting against his father.
In fact, Ram Rai was not in Delhi when Guru Tegh Bahadur was there. He had moved
to Dehra Dun. Finally, it is most presumptuous of these Satish Chandras of the
world to imagine that it is possible for them to either elevate a martyr prophet
to "high pedestal" or to "malign" him. They can only express tolerance or exhibit
malice for the Sikhs by following one or the other course. The Sikhs demand
objectivity and fair assessment and nothing more.
Even at this stage we may refrain from attributing motives but may legitimately
try to vmderstand the mindset of this peddler of distorted views.
The Sikh historians aforementioned are unanimous in recording that the Guru
was martyred for defending the freedom of conscience against the doings of
a bigoted emperor Aurangzeb. He propounded the cause of Kashmiri Pandits who
were being particularly targeted. By that act he became a bulwark against
the conversion of all Hindus-in fact the entire Hind to Islam. The choice
offered to him was between conversion to Islam or death. For the sake of
freedom and pluralism in faith that all the Nanaks preached and upheld,
he preferred death. That is upheld by the subsequent conversion of Kirparam
Datt of Mattan to Sikhism and his martyrdom at Chamkaur along with the forty
other Sikhs including the Tenth Guru's two elder sons. He was one of the
Kashmiri Pandits who had come to the Guru to plead with him to stand up for the
Hindus. His perception was that the Gurus were fighting for the good of humankind
and beneficiaries of their striving would be the Hindus of India. That section of the
Sikhs which feels that the Hindus should not, according to the rudimentary norms
of gratitude prevalent in all civilised societies, be talking of the Gurus in
the tone used by Satish Chandra, feel amazed to read that chapter in the "text book".
The other section which perceives him to be a spokesman of the ' falsely secular
socialist chauvinists' is also ill-disguised because he is trying to achieve
fascist aims by ostensibly employing academically acceptable norms. That is
doubly reprehensible. Then there is the section which he is trying to serve as
the 'false gods of unity and integrity, which anyway are red in tooth and claw,'
and deems it his duty to distort history as a sacrifice.
Yet another section on the Sikhs attributes motives to him. Their first
reason is that this matter of Ghulam Hussain has already been churned
thoroughly in 1975 when Dr. Fauja Singh of the Punjabi University first raised it.
Some of the arguments presented above were presented to counter his untenable
contention. All this is very well known to the academic fraternity and even
laymen. It is not conceivable that Satish Chandra remained ignorant of that
controversy or the negation that Ghulam Hussain received then. His attempt to
impose the same view, rejected on sound academic grounds, so renders him an
excellent candidate for attributing diabolical motives. His refusal to correct
himself at the instance of the countrv's Prime Minister and the High Court shows
the dogged determination with which he insisted on holding on to discredited
views. What confirms his brazenness further is his refusal to honestly own up
the mistake. His attempt even now is to explain away things rather haughtily.
What renders him liable to be designated a mere propagandist is his attempt to
plead fear of distortion of history in favour of retaining his demonstrably
jaundiced views on the subject of Sikh history. The way he has tried to
indoctrinate our unsuspecting and impressionable children renders him a plain
criminal in an attempt to denigrate the successor of eight prophets and try
to instil irreverence for him in the minds of the young ones of this country
who have every human reason to love and to cherish the Guru's memory. I do not
buy the argument that Murli Manohar Joshi can be prevented from saffronising
education only if the insult offered to my Guru is retained as a part of the
text book meant for my children.
Written by Gurtej Singh
From the Periodical "Nishaan III/2001"
Published by "The Sikh Foundation"
The author, a post graduate in history, and designated as Professor of
Sikh history by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, is a former IAS man,
a student of history and is an author of eight books on history,religion and polities.
He writes both in Punjabi and English and has contributed scores of articles to
national papers, magazines and research journals.