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Sikh Soldiery And The British Raj


Jun 1, 2004
The Sikhs were given the tag of a martial race and incorporated in large numbers into the British Indian Army. They made a mark as professional soldiers.

The Sikhs became part of the British Indian Army after the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars. The conduct of the Sikh army during this war had a profound effect on the British generals who decided to incorporate them in the army of the Raj.
Sikhs in the British Indian Army - the Raising

The first Sikh regiment the 45th was thus raised by Captain Thomas Rattray in 1856. The regiment fought with loyalty along with the English during the 1857 mutiny and did not join the Mutineers. The regiment won two battle honors during the Mutiny and took part in the relief of Lucknow and the March on Delhi where the titular emperor Bahadur Shah held court.
The Sikhs were also used in large numbers against the Afghans and the tribes of the Orkazi and Waziristan areas.

The Martial Race

The British had the concept of martial and non martial races. One may or may not agree with them, but this is a fact of history. The Sikhs were classified as a martial race and the British recruited large numbers from Punjab. Thus though the Sikhs had a population of 1.8% of the Indian population, yet they formed more than 20% of the strength of the army.
The Sikhs were part of the plans to counter the Russian influence in Central Asia. The Anglo-Russian rivalry often referred to as ‘the Great Game’ led to the Second Afghan War. The British considered Afghanistan of great strategic importance for the defense of their Indian Empire. Looking for a way to exert influence in Afghanistan, the British took the pretext of a Russian Mission to Amir Sher Ali and started their military campaign.
Along with the campaigns in the NW Frontier and Afghanistan the Sikhs were the lynchpin of the British Indian Army in the two world wars. The Sikhs distinguished themselves in the First World War and followed this up in the Second World War. More than 83000 Sikhs wearing the turban gave their life for the crown in the two world wars.

Last Word

Prince Charles gave an impetus for a Sikh regiment in the modern British army, but the proposal did not see the light of the day. The Raj is now history, but the record of the sikhs in the British Indian army has been significant. We may call them mercenary soldiers, but what has to be understood is that this is one race that made soldiery their profession and covered itself with glory.

Sikh Soldiers Battle Honors- Narender Singh Dhesi , Naval Military press (2010)
Warrior Saints- Three centuries of Sikh Military Tradiation- AS Madra & Paramjit Singh ,Publisher IB Tauras (1998)




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