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Samurai Sikhs

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Aman Singh, Oct 5, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Samurai Sikhs
    The story of Sikligars of Maharashtra caught in a centuries-old time warp.

    NAGPUR: Khadak Singh Joone has lost count of the years he has lived. “I'm a hundred and ten,” he says, more by way of a question, as he peers through thick glasses which haven't been wiped for probably that long.
    He caresses a country-made muzzle-loader gun as if it were his only child and takes pride in whipping out his firearms licence issued by the Government of Bombay under a GR of September 17, 1895.

    He's acquired the surname ‘Joone’ not because he's so old but because he was the first one in a settlement of more than 400 in the tiny highway village of Talegaon, about 90 km from Nagpur.

    Khadak Singh is a Sikh. He swears by the Gurus and the Granth Sahib. He adorns the kesh, kangha, kirpan, kachha and kada. But the similarity with the popular image of a ‘Sardarji’ ends there.

    He does not know a word of Punjabi nor can he read the Gurmukhi. He's dark-skinned and he's very, very poor.

    He's a Sikligar. This tribe, with its roots in Rajasthan, lives in scattered pockets in central and eastern Maharashtra.

    As Sikhs all over the world celebrated 300 years of the Khalsa, for Khadak Singh and his tribesmen, this Baisakhi was no different from any other.

    They sat hunched over their anvils in ramshackle huts, bathed in sweat, hammering away to turn strips of iron into swords, daggers, guptis and kitchen implements.

    It's been like this for centuries. Recollections are hazy now and history survives only in word of mouth. It is believed that their ancestors were brought over from Rajasthan by the Sikh Gurus because they were exceptionally skilled in making swords and spearheads.

    When Gurudwara Hajoor Sahib was established at Nanded, several hundred families of Sikligars were brought in. Nanded then formed a part of the estate of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Perhaps it was the threat from the Muslim Nizam which prompted the Sikh Gurus to enlist the services of the sword craftsmen here as well.

    As time passed and their numbers grew, the Sikligars had to strike out on their own. “Our ancestors would buy iron strips in
    Hyderabad, turn them into swords and daggers and sell in the villages around Nanded,” recalls 80-year-old Maya Singh Bawri.
    The Sikligars fled Nanded during the communal riots in 1947-48. Interestingly, Maya Singh refers to the Independence as ‘Gandhi Raj.’ Small groups of Sikligars made their way eastward. In their struggle for existence, they had obtained firearm licences from the British and later the Indian government.

    Local farmers would hire them to protect their fields. “We may be very poor but the one thing we've been able to uphold always is our honesty. That's why wealthy agriculturists would entrust us with protection of their property,” says Maya Singh.

    By the late '50s and early '60s, some families had settled on the outskirts of Amravati in Vidarbha. Khadak Singh recalls that he first came to Talegaon, which lies on the Mumbai-Calcutta National Highway No 6, when offered a contract by some big landowners of Arvi.

    Arvi, now in Wardha district, was a prosperous township. It is off the national highway about 15 km from Talegaon. The entire area was once covered by thick forests and the farmers were plagued by herds of wild boar and deer which ruined their crops.

    Khadak Singh, Maya Singh and a few other families migrated to Talegaon one after another. The yearly contracts were worth anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 which was good money in those days. Also, being on the highway and within striking distance of two major towns,
    Nagpur and Amravati, the tribesmen had easy access to raw material to make their swords and daggers.

    Even now some youths from the settlement are hired by local farmers to guard their fields. But, with forests being chopped down and wildlife shrinking they cannot depend on this as a source of livelihood.

    For their livelihood, they still depend on what they've been doing for centuries -- selling swords, daggers and guptis. Youngsters between eight and 15, who are not yet strong enough to beat the ironstrips into shape all day, sell their wares on the highway and at the bus stand.

    They've fallen into the bad books of local policemen. “Each one of us has four or five cases against his name,” says 26-year-old Leader Singh Bawri. The Sikligars admit that the cops are only doing their job and bear them no grudge. “They do their job and we ours,” adds Bharat Singh Tak.

    Bharat Singh holds a bachelor's degree in science but can't find a job. “We come under Nomadic Tribes but are numerically and politically too weak to derive any benefits,” he said.

    According to him, the average household income in the settlement is not more than Rs 8,000 a year. Of the 52 huts, only 12 are on regularised land. The rest is encroachment, the Sikligars readily admit.

    “Whenever there is a good crop of tur dal in the fields, we're happier than the farmers,” said Manohar Singh Tak. The tribesmen use dried tur stalks to make walls and roofs of their huts.

    Isolation and poverty have made them wary of strangers. Once inside the settlement, an outsider gets the feeling of having travelled back in time -by a few centuries.

    To know more about Sikligar Sikhs and how you can join the movement for their education and empowerment, write to Jagmohan Singh at jsbigideas@gmail.com

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  3. Arvind

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    Jul 13, 2004
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    Dhan Guru ke sikh te unna di sikhi
  4. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
    Mentor Writer SPNer Thinker

    Jul 4, 2004
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    The Institute of Sikh Studies Chandigarh IOSS is having a Special Seminar on the Sikligars and Sikhs OUTSIDE PUNJAB..this 24th-25th October in Chandigarh.

    Unfortunately being held so early I cant attend and present my Paper.( My classes end only Mid November) .but i sure look forward to what Papers are read and what resolutions arrived at.

    These sections of the Guru Khalsa Panth are our invisible and neglected asset.

    Long ago one such Sikligar Baba used to come regularly to Malaysia. He was short, very dark and used to carry a TRUNK full of Kanghas, karras, gutkas etc to sell at Gurdwara Jord Melas.TRUNK WALA BABA..we used to call him.. Those days jordmelas were uncommon...and trips to Punjab also uncommon..so his visit was much anticipated for the karras for newborns, new amrtidharees, kirpans, gutkas, novels of Nanak Singh and books in Punjabi.. etc. He would travel all over from town to town and go back when his stock was finished. I saw that he was a staunch amritdharee sikh even though he knew very little Punajbi and spoke Hindi a lot..he was from Saharanpur in UP. He came regularly twice a year until too much competiton made him stop..or perhaps old age caught up with him...
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