Did Sikhs Betray in 1857?
Was this uprising the first war of independence?
Prof. Inder Singh Ghagga
(Translated from Punjabi by Akashdeep Singh Aulakh)
Whenever a discussion regarding the independence of India has begun the newspapers, the communication mediums and the historical books have gone by leaps and bounds to represent the 1857 uprising as the first war of independence. The revolt of 1857 has been imposed on the brains of common people with that strength that a majority of them have accepted it as first war of independence without reasoning or questioning. Like this was not enough, with immense emphasis it has been said, “The revolt of 1857 would have never failed, provided the Sikhs did not betray. India could have got its independence 100 years earlier, but due to the betrayal by the Sikhs Britisher’s ruled for 90 years and kept plundering and destroying India.”
In 1957, a mega conference of top historians of India was held under the auspices of Central Government and topic of discussion was – “What was the reason for the failure of 1857 revolt?” Top academicians from universities delivered lengthy speeches. Most of them almost focused on only one thing that the revolt of 1857 failed due to betrayal by Sikhs. India had to see the 100 more years of slavery just because of the Sikhs. The famous Sikh historian Dr. Ganda Singh was also present in this mega conference. In fact, Dr. Ganda Singh was the chairman of this conference. He could not tolerate the insult to whole Sikh community. He felt deeply hurt due to the addressing of Sikhs with the word traitor by the top historians. Eventually, when listening and watching this despicable act was not more tolerable to Dr. Ganda Singh, he resigned from the president ship of this conference. At the same time Dr. Ganda Singh asked for time to speak on the stage. The conference hall became turbulent, people starting wondering what is going on? The president was scheduled to speak in the end of the conference, what is going on? First he submitted resignation and now he is asking for time to speak? - people where wondering and watching dumb stuck. Dr. Ganda Singh excellently presented the Sikh side of story and that too with such logic and reasoning that the audience was astonished. The whole way of thinking changed and atmosphere got reversed (pasa palat gaya). The historians started to sweat they, who were speaking in loud voices before, started sneaking out of the conference now. Those who were yet to speak, they starting reconsidering the tought of speaking and one of them though it was better not to speak at all. What Dr. Ganda Singh spoke was quite a few and nobody gave any satisfactory reply to that. Its not possible to describe everything here what Dr. Ganda Singh spoke, but the following is the summary and central meaning of that talk :-
“In the important gathering of today, we are discussing the reasons for the failure of the revolt of 1857 but the whole energy seems to be focused around emphasizing that if Sikhs did not betray the revolt of 1857 would not have failed. By speaking like that about Sikhs you have insulted the whole Sikh community. The Sikh people have given more sacrifices as compared to their population proportion in this country and today the same Sikh community is being made to stand in the court. I am sitting back there and thinking from some time, that if at all the Sikhs have betrayed then whom and why? No! No! this allegation is totally false and against the facts. First of all we should discuss - was the revolt of 1857 in reality the first war of independence? No! I do not consider it as the first was of independence, not by any means! This was not any planned and organised revolt. The issue just arose from the fats of cow and pig. The cartridges of the bullets for the rifles are opened with mouth by soldiers. Somebody spread rumors in army that the cartridges are coated with cows and pigs fats. Due to the mention of cow’s fat the Hindus got angered and the Muslims got angered due to pigs fats. An army man named Mangal Pandey got angered due to some reason in the Meerut cantonment and shot his British officer. The unplanned and un-organized uprising started from here and the violence started spreading as more people came to know about this. But all this was happening due to religious feelings and not for the freedom of the country. Some shrewd people are trying to paint this religious disturbance as the struggle for independence. At that time, all the kings and chieftains were having their own different views on this religious disturbance. The whole country at that time was divided into small regions. Neither was there a common leader, nor was there any means of communication between all of these small regions.
I simply do not accept this uprising as the first war of independence because Hindustan (India) was in the shackles of slavery from 700 years. The person who encouraged people for independence for the first time was Guru Nanak Dev ji, and his voice was further strengthened by the Singhs (Sikhs): -
ਜੈਸੀ ਮੈ ਆਵੈ ਖਸਮ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਤੈਸੜਾ ਕਰੀ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
जैसी मै आवै खसम की बाणी तैसड़ा करी गिआनु वे लालो ॥
jaisee mai aavai khasam kee banee taisrhaa karee gi-aan vay laalo.
ਪਾਪ ਕੀ ਜੰਞ ਲੈ ਕਾਬਲਹੁ ਧਾਇਆ ਜੋਰੀ ਮੰਗੈ ਦਾਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
पाप की जंञ लै काबलहु धाइआ जोरी मंगै दानु वे लालो ॥
paap kee janj lai kaablahu Dhaa-i-aa joree mangai daan vay laalo.
ਸਰਮੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਦੁਇ ਛਪਿ ਖਲੋਏ ਕੂੜੁ ਫਿਰੈ ਪਰਧਾਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
सरमु धरमु दुइ छपि खलोए कूड़ु फिरै परधानु वे लालो ॥
saram Dharam du-ay chhap khalo-ay koorh firai parDhaan vay laalo.
ਕਾਜੀਆ ਬਾਮਣਾ ਕੀ ਗਲ ਥਕੀ ਅਗਦੁ ਪੜੈ ਸੈਤਾਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
काजीआ बामणा की गल थकी अगदु पड़ै सैतानु वे लालो ॥
kaajee-aa baamnaa kee gal thakee agad parhai saitaan vay laalo.
ਮੁਸਲਮਾਨੀਆ ਪੜਹਿ ਕਤੇਬਾ ਕਸਟ ਮਹਿ ਕਰਹਿ ਖੁਦਾਇ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
मुसलमानीआ पड़हि कतेबा कसट महि करहि खुदाइ वे लालो ॥
musalmaanee-aa parheh kataybaa kasat meh karahi khudaa-ay vay laalo.
ਜਾਤਿ ਸਨਾਤੀ ਹੋਰਿ ਹਿਦਵਾਣੀਆ ਏਹਿ ਭੀ ਲੇਖੈ ਲਾਇ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
जाति सनाती होरि हिदवाणीआ एहि भी लेखै लाइ वे लालो ॥
jaat sanaatee hor hidvaanee-aa ayhi bhee laykhai laa-ay vay laalo.
ਖੂਨ ਕੇ ਸੋਹਿਲੇ ਗਾਵੀਅਹਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਤੁ ਕਾ ਕੁੰਗੂ ਪਾਇ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ
खून के सोहिले गावीअहि नानक रतु का कुंगू पाइ वे लालो ॥१॥
khoon kay sohilay gavee-ah naanak rat kaa kungoo paa-ay vay laalo.
ਸਾਹਿਬ ਕੇ ਗੁਣ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਗਾਵੈ ਮਾਸ ਪੁਰੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਖੁ ਮਸੋਲਾ
साहिब के गुण नानकु गावै मास पुरी विचि आखु मसोला ॥
saahib kay gun naanak gaavai maas puree vich aakh masolaa.
ਜਿਨਿ ਉਪਾਈ ਰੰਗਿ ਰਵਾਈ ਬੈਠਾ ਵੇਖੈ ਵਖਿ ਇਕੇਲਾ
जिनि उपाई रंगि रवाई बैठा वेखै वखि इकेला ॥
jin upaa-ee rang ravaa-ee baithaa vaykhai vakh ikaylaa.
ਸਚਾ ਸੋ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸਚੁ ਤਪਾਵਸੁ ਸਚੜਾ ਨਿਆਉ ਕਰੇਗੁ ਮਸੋਲਾ
सचा सो साहिबु सचु तपावसु सचड़ा निआउ करेगु मसोला ॥
sachaa so saahib sach tapaavas sachrhaa ni-aa-o karayg masolaa.
ਕਾਇਆ ਕਪੜੁ ਟੁਕੁ ਟੁਕੁ ਹੋਸੀ ਹਿਦੁਸਤਾਨੁ ਸਮਾਲਸੀ ਬੋਲਾ
काइआ कपड़ु टुकु टुकु होसी हिदुसतानु समालसी बोला ॥
kaa-i-aa kaparh tuk tuk hosee hindusataan samaalsee bolaa.
ਆਵਨਿ ਅਠਤਰੈ ਜਾਨਿ ਸਤਾਨਵੈ ਹੋਰੁ ਭੀ ਉਠਸੀ ਮਰਦ ਕਾ ਚੇਲਾ
आवनि अठतरै जानि सतानवै होरु भी उठसी मरद का चेला ॥
aavan ath-tarai jaan sataanvai hor bhee uthsee marad kaa chaylaa.
ਸਚ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਸਚੁ ਸੁਣਾਇਸੀ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਬੇਲਾ
सच की बाणी नानकु आखै सचु सुणाइसी सच की बेला
sach kee banee naanak aakhai sach sunaa-isee sach kee baylaa.
The English translation of which is like this: -
As the Word of the Forgiving Lord comes to me, so do I express it, O Lalo.
Bringing the marriage party of sin, Babar has invaded from Kaabul, demanding our land as his wedding gift, O Lalo.
Modesty and righteousness both have vanished, and falsehood struts around like a leader, O Lalo.
The Qazis and the Brahmins have lost their roles, and Satan now conducts the marriage rites, O Lalo.
The Muslim women read the Koran, and in their misery, they call upon God, O Lalo.
The Hindu women of high social status, and others of lowly status as well, are put into the same category, O Lalo.
The wedding songs of murder are sung, O Nanak, and blood is sprinkled instead of saffron, O Lalo.
Nanak sings the Glorious Praises of the Lord and Master in the city of corpses, and voices this account.
The One who created, and attached the mortals to pleasures, sits alone, and watches this
The Lord and Master is True, and True is His justice. He issues His Commands according to His judgement.
The body-fabric will be torn apart into shreds, and then India will remember these words.
Coming in seventy-eight (1521 A.D.), they will depart in ninety-seven (1540 A.D.), and then another disciple of man will rise up.
Nanak speaks the Word of Truth; he proclaims the Truth at this, the right time.
The invader Babur imprisoned Guru Nanak Dev ji where Guru Nanak had to bear tortures, had to grind flour and do other hard work..... The struggle for freedom starts from that time. Guru Arjun dev ji were considered a rebel by the invader/king, and he was martyred by exposing to intolerable tortures. The first great martyr of India was Guru Arjan Sahib ji. Guru Hargobind Sahib was imprisoned in the form of prisoner of war in the prison of Gwalior for long time. He also fought 4 wars at different times. Guru Tegh Bahadar Sahib were martyred fighting for the sake of self-respect, dignity and freedom of religion by Aurangzeb in Delhi. Did Guru Hagobind had some personal grudge against Aurangzeb? Guru Gobind Singh ji fought for the freedom of people and societal welfare. He tolerated enormous problems, raised his sword for the “just war”, infused self-respect and dignity in Indian people; rare instances like this are found in the history. Every Sikh jumped into the war field without worrying about their life. Banda Singh Bahadur along with his Sikh knights gave big troubles to Emperor Bahadur Shah and Farukhshayyar and eventually he sacrificed himself along with numerous other Sikhs for the sake of freedom while fighting these wars. This fierce war for the sake of freedom continued, swords kept rising, shots kept firing, Knights kept fighting, the blood kept oozing and flowing like rivers.... but this selfless quality did not go away and kept progressing forward from one generation to the other. They kept getting severed into pieces, heads kept getting slashed, they kept going forward, even got buried alive in walls, were boiled in water but kept fighting the war of life and freedom. Nawab Kapur Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Baba Deep Singh, Akali Phoola Singh, Sardar Shaam Singh Atari and Bhai Maharaj Singh – the list of such people who kept the cruel rulers on their toes is long.
The Sikhs sealed the Khyber Pass which was the route of the invaders who kept plundering India in the past and forced them to return back from where they had come. The area till Satluj river had been made the part of Afghanistan by these invaders, the Sikhs took back this area from them and joined it back with India. But you people did not stop the Britishers and let them come in via the sea route and they eventually occupied the whole of India. Only Punjab was free from the British slavery, where the Sikhs were ruling under the rule of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, you people did not let remain that free as well. Countless people from the Indian region outside Punjab joined the British forces and attacked Punjab along with Britishers just after the death of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. The traitors like Laal Singh, Gulaab Singh, Dhiyan Singh joined hands with the cheating Britishers. The most powerful empire of the world (British) and most of the India outside Punjab moved towards Punjab along with their weapons to finish the Sikhs. Nevertheless, the Khalsa showed such an example of bravery in this war, that people will remember that till the end of this world. Poet Shah Muhammad has written the account of that war as follows:
Jang Hind Punjab da hon lagga, doven paatshahi fauja bhariaayan ne |
Naal goliyaan de bande jaan udd de, haathi udd de sanhe ambariaayan ne |
Ajj hove sarkaar taan mull pave, jehdiyaan khalse ne tega mariyaan ne |
Shah Muhammada! Ik sarkaar bajhon, fauja jit ke ant nu hariyaan ne |
(Jangnama Shah Muhammad)
Which in plain English translates to: -
The battle between Hindustan and Punjab has begun, armies are heavy from both sides.
People are blowing away with gun fires, the Elephants are getting blown away to the skies as well.
If the master was present today he would have appreciated, the powerful blows of the sword of the Khalsa.
Oh Shah Muhammad! After the master, the other army has lost even after winning.
(Description of the war by Shah Muhammad)
The havoc that the local people from outside Punjab unleashed by joining the Britishers cannot be expressed in words – Sikh houses and businesses were plundered and destroyed, young men were killed mercilessly, fires were set, everything was wrecked. The Sikhs who were rich and prosperous were turned into poor having no property, women were dishonored. The Sikhs had not yet forgotten the nerve wrecking atrocities done by Hindus – how a prosperous Punjab was turned into soil by joining hands with the British, how freedom was turned into slavery. Just 10 years had passed after the fall of Sikh kingdom (1849) that this self-centered revolt of 1857 sprung. The deep wounds inflicted by the Hindu armies had not yet vanished from the Sikh minds. After that fierce destruction the Sikhs had just begun to get past their woes. It is worth noting here - did any Hindu leader approach Sikhs? Did they ask the Sikhs to join this revolt? Did the Sikhs agree? Furthermore, a common man named Bahadur Shah Jafar, who was from the lineage of the Mughals who committed uncountable atrocities on Indian people and had killed uncountable young people, was to take the throne after this revolt- do you think Sikhs would have agreed to this?
The Kings and Chieftains, who are being praised on this stage today and are being painted as the heroes of the community - there is a need to analyze their characters as well. Queen of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai had no son and her husband was a commoner of no good health and he died due to various diseases that he was suffering from. Lakshmi Bai wanted to adopt a child but the British Empire was not happy and they refused her adoption. In turn, Lakshmi Bai sent a letter to the British rulers asking them for 10 Lakh rupees annually to give her kingdom to the British with was rejected by the British. She then reduced the asking price to 2 Lakhs and kept wooing the Britishers for the deal but even then they did not agree. Let me remind you all here that all these hand written letters from Lakshmi Bai are preserved in a big library in London. These letters have the contract mentioned by Lakshmi Bai. When the deal did not work, she decided to fight. The stories of Tantya Tope and Nana Farnvees is not better then the story of Laskhmi Bai. All these people had their own axe to grind, somebody was just interested in a small piece of land and some other had other interests, there was no common motive for this struggle. It is also worth noticing here that the common people of the kingdoms of these people were not very happy to live under their rule – atrocities were committed against them and they were often insulted. The British rule was much better than these kings and chieftains.
You people are calling the aimless revolt of 1857 as first struggle for independence? – I do not agree with you.(eh makhanak vakti junoon si). The true war of independence had already started from the time of Guru Nanak Dev ji but then the whole of India helped the British to attack Punjab and take away its independence, they became instrumental in taking away the freedom of a big and free kingdom of Punjab. During the revolt of 1857, neither the Hindu leaders approached the Sikhs for help nor the Sikhs commit joining the revolt. Some people fought for their own vested interest and now Sikhs are being painted and traitors. How shameful is this act! How shamefully you people are polluting the history and targeting false and despicable allegations on Sikhs.
The Sikhs who sacrificed their uncountable lives and saved the dignity and self-respect of Bharat (India), whose blood has flowed like rivers, who infused a new life in Indian masses and gave new meaning to life, who saved the country from breaking away into pieces – this is what they get from India in reward? Traitors! this is the crown that you will put on their heads? I have a lot to speak but time is limited. I will print a booklet today itself and put in your hands by tomorrow morning so that the whole picture becomes clear, so that the whole world comes to know how through a well planned conspiracy the Sikhs are being rendered courage less and are being insulted.”
--- (Dr. Ganda Singh ji)
The book was really written overnight. Its Punjabi, English and Hindi versions were cyclostyled and were distributed among people. There was good effect of this and then nobody dared to call Sikhs traitor again in the later versions of the same conference. But the deeper plots and conspiracies have continued to exist against the Sikhs and continue to slander the Sikh pride and history. Sadly, the Sikh community at present is devoid of fearless scholars like Dr. Ganda Singh ji who could say right things at right time. He single handedly muted top historians who had gathered in the conference from all over India, tore apart the truth from the 1857 revolt and brought to light the reality of the so called martyrs. Will the present Sikh scholars, who talk about the freedom of press and welfare of Sikh society, ever gather courage to use their pens to present the disaster of Sikh society correctly to the world? Will they suggest a solid aim or show a path to come out of this disaster?
Table: Contribution of Sikhs in the freedom struggle of India.
- Hanged till death
- Life imprisonment
- Sikhs: 2147
- Died in Jallianwala Bagh
- Died in different incidents
- Died in Kooka movement
- Non-sikhs: --
- Died in Akali movement
And now note the % of Sikh population in India, according to 2001 census (Source:Wikipedia)
Composition % of total of population in 2001
Hindus 82.00 %
Muslims 12.20 %
Christians 2.31 %
Sikhs 2.00 %
Buddhists 0.77 %
Jains 0.41 %
Others 0.76 %
Khalsa ji, this attempt of tranlastion of the original atricle from Prof. Inder Singh Ghagga is once again the first draft (just like the 2 I've completed earlier), therefore, kindly pardon mistakes.
Sat Shri Akaal,