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"Rewriting of History: Saffron Agenda"

by Gurtej Singh

Sikh Gurus | Martyrs | Sikh Warriors
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This page was last updated on July 1 2002.





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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"

Gurtej Singh

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.



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