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Life would be boring without jokes. We all crack jokes. In India, most of the jokes, for some years now are being cracked on the Sikhs. There are these 12 o’clock jokes, Banta Singh-Santa Singh jokes, Giani Zail Singh jokes, Baldev Singh jokes, Khalistan jokes. The list is endless.Picture yourself as a Sikh and look for an honest response from within yourself. Would you be able to handle these day in day out of cracks targeted at you by colleagues/friends/the unknown person standing next to you/anyone and everyone taking the liberty. I know your immediate reaction. “Sure man, it’s only a joke.” You are absolutely right, it is only a joke. However when a joke enters the bloodstream as a cancerous virus and you get targeted daily, right from your childhood, let me tell you, as much as you believe you can, the fact is you will not be able to handle them.
On the other hand, look at the Sikhs. Have you ever seen anyone of them getting irritated with these digs & cracks on them? You wouldn’t have. Ever thought why they don’t get affected? Well the answer lies in a couplet by Saint Kabeer :
Kaho Kabir chucha ghat bole. Bhariya hoe so kabahu na dole.
Says Kabeer, an empty pitcher makes noise. But that, which is full, makes no sound.
Sikhs by nature are self-respecting, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Look into their short span of history and you will find their pitcher is full of sacrifices and hard work which has contributed so much towards the nation building. If not for them, the course of Indian History would have been very different. That’s what makes them the SPIRIT BORN PEOPLE and gives the ability to simply ignore the digs targeted at them. Volumes could be written on the contributions made by the Sikhs, who constitute less than 2% of Indian population. I am listing below just a few, which should make my friends start thinking.
Sikhs have always believed in the right of an individual to practice a religion of his own choice and have always fought against tyranny. Jahangir, the 4th Mughal ruler wrote in his memoirs, Tuzak-i-Jahangiri about Arjan Dev, the 5th Sikh Guru, “.for a long time the thought had been presenting itself to me that he should be bought to the fold of Islam.”. In 1606, when the Guru refused the forceful conversion, he was put to death by boiling in a cauldron and sitting on a hot iron plate.
Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal ruler was a fanatic ruler who desired to convert every Indian to Islam. Tyrannized by his forceful conversions, a delegation of Kashmiri Brahmins in 1675, approached Teg Bahadur, the 9th Guru of the Sikhs. He offered to sacrifice his life for their cause. This was a unique & unparalleled sacrifice in the annals of human history. He laid down his life in defense of religious tolerance, of freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience. He gave his life so that the Hindu’s right to wear the sacred thread is not violated despite the fact that Sikhs themselves did not believe in these rituals. This was martyrdom for the defense of basic human values.
For about 7 centuries, since the invasion of Mahmud Ghazni in the 10th century, many ruthless invaders played havoc with the life of Indians. Recurring defeats had sapped the psychic energy of the Indians so much that they had resigned themselves to their fate. It was Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs who imbibed the fearlessness amongst the Sikhs to fight against all odds. He wrote to Aurangzeb saying “when all means have failed, it is right to pick up the sword”. In the year 1699 he proclaimed, “Call me by the name of Gobind Singh, only if i succeed in making the sparrows (Indians) fight against the Hawks (mighty foreign rulers) and am able to make one Sikh fight against an army of one Lakh”. He set himself against oppression and intolerance. He did not fight against any territory or worldly power, or against any religion or sect. He made nationalism the religion of Sikhs. Apart from the numerous Sikhs who lost their life in defense of the country under him, his 2 sons were martyred on the battleground, while the other 2 preferred to be bricked alive than give up their esteem. In 1709 he left this world with a lifetime of heroic events which changed the History of India.
Bulle Shah, a celebrated Sufi Muslim Saint has said, “I neither say of the past, nor of the future, but i talk of the time of Guru Gobind Singh & declare openly. That but for him, all the Indians would have been circumscribed and converted to a foreign culture and religion”.
In 1710, Banda Singh Bahadur was the first Indian to re-establish Indian rule after 7 centuries of foreign rule in India, post a fierce battle with the forces of Aurangzeb, although this was short lived.
Between 1713 and 1801 the Sikhs were homeless and living as Guerillas, demonstrating heroic acts of courage at every possible instance. The tyrant rulers had put a reward of Rs. 25/= for every Sikh head and Rs. 100/= for every Sikh caught alive. Those caught alive would be cut to pieces. Many new vocabularies (of which many jokes against Sikhs are made nowadays) were given currency among the Sikh guerrillas which showed with what brave face and heart they had accepted the challenge of their persecutors.
In 1738 Nadir Shah, the Persian ruler invaded India from Kabul and went on a rampage up to Delhi. He returned to Persia in summer of 1739 and carried back a huge booty of looted wealth, Kohinoor diamond, women, artisans and slaves. To avoid the summer heat, the convoy would rest during the day and travel in the night. At the peak of the day heat at 12 noon, the Sikh guerrillas started attacking his convoy right from Punjab up to the Indus. They freed many women, artisans, and slaves and deprived him of large amount of wealth. The women were escorted back to Delhi by the Sikhs. It was for this heroic act, which no one else dared, of fighting against the might of Nadir Shah by a handful of Sikhs and freeing the women, that the Sikhs started getting seen as people who go mad at 12 Noon and therefore the 12 o’ clock jokes of nowadays. When Nadir Shah asked Zakhariya Khan ” who these barbarians where and where they lived”, Zakhariya replied “they are the followers of Nanak & live on saddles of their horses”.Post the return of Nadir Shah to Persia, Zakhariya Khan went on a rampage against the Sikh movement and killed 10,000 of them in a few days.
Between 1748 & 1765, Ahmad Shah Abdali the ruler from Afghanistan rampaged India 9 times. Again the Sikhs attacked his returning convoys during the peak summer heat and freed 2200 women and escorted them back to their homes. Yet again a heroic act at 12 noon, which unfortunately the others perceived as a maddening act and therefore further, strengthened the 12 noon syndrome. These acts of Sikhs aggravated Ahmed shah Abdali, who swore to take revenge at an appropriate time. During his 6th invasion he caught the Sikhs unaware and 25,000 of them were killed in a few days. But the spirit of the Sikhs remained high as one Nihang Sikh of that time commented “only the soft and unbaked ones of us have fallen off”.
Finally, Sikhs under Ranjit Singh, in 1798 bought to an end the 800 years of foreign invasions into India through Khyber Pass, by bringing it under their control. This was the best gift the Sikhs gave to the nation which finally allowed the rest of India to breathe in peace. Hari Singh Nalwa, who manned the Khyber Pass for years, became a household name in Afghanistan. Even today, the Afghani mothers put their children to sleep with the threat of Hari Singh Nalwas name.
It was Ranjit Singh who bought back to India, the world famous Kohinoor diamond, which was looted by Nadir Shah earlier.If not for the Sikhs, who captured Kashmir in 1819, today it would have been a part of Afghanistan.Ladakh, which earlier was a part of Tibet, owes its existence on the map of India to Zorawar Singh, who captured it in 1836.Sikhs were the last to surrender to the British in the sub-continent and were the first to raise arms against them. After 2 bloody Anglo-Sikh wars did British manage to annex Punjab as the last kingdom on the map of British-India Empire. It is an irony of fate that the Sikhs had to fight against their own countrymen as British forces in saving Punjab from British annexation. It was not due to lack of soldier’s courage & conviction that the wars against British were lost, but a treachery by Gulab, the Dogra Prime Minister under Ranjit Singh, who joined hands with the British in exchange for the title of Kashmir on winning the war. British records say about the Sikhs “.such a mass of men, fierce and untamed in their dying struggle, which fought like Lions and ran right on the bayonets and struck on their assailants when they were transfixed”.
In spite of the loss of empire to British, the spirit of freedom amongst Sikhs was soaring high. Whereas the British would daily fire a canon at 12 noon by the East India Co. time, which was the Calcutta time, the Sikhs on the other hand refused to recognize the British time. There is a one and a half hour time difference between Calcutta and Lahore time and therefore the Sikhs maintained their firing of the Canon at 12 noon Lahore time. Amongst the general public there was confusion as to which canon denoted the 12 noon and therefore at the fire of the first canon the public would say “12 O clocks of British” and on the second fire, an hour and a half later, they would say “12 O clocks of Sikhs.” Soon the spirit of defiance and freedom was forgotten by fellow Indians and they started linking the madness demonstrated by them during Nadir Shah and Abdalis invasions at 12 noon to the act of defiance during British period and there took place the 12 o clock jokes.Much before 1919, when Mahatma Gandhi issued the call for Satyagraha (boycotting English goods), the Sikhs under Baba Ram Singh had started the boycott movement in the year 1863. Eighty two Sikhs were tied to canons & blown apart by British.
Sikhs were the only Indian community to be internationally acclaimed as early as 1897, for their heroism and valour. Where in the history of warfare can you find the instance of heroism as demonstrated by 22 Sikh soldiers manning the signal post of Saragahi in Nort-West province with no ammunition back up? All the 22 of them fought till the last bullet had been fired against an Afghan army of 7000 warriors. The 22 soldiers then charged with their kirpans to be eventually cut down to pieces. The easier way out would have been to surrender but the spirit of Sikhs has always made them do what Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru had said, “Grant me this boon, O Lord, at last when the end of life is near, I may die fighting in the battlefield for the sake of righteousness”.
The first battle for freedom from British was won by Sikhs, when after loss of many lives in 1929 they were able to take over the charge of their shrines from British. On this victory Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram saying “THE FIRST DECISIVE BATTLE OF INDEPENDENCE OF INDIA WON – CONGRATULATIONS”.
Where in the world can you find an act of sacrifice like that of Sikhs in 1922, willing to offer lives of their wives, children and themselves by lying on the rails to stop a train of freedom fighters who only had to be fed because they were hungry. The train finally stopped after killing a few Sikhs.Not many can claim the valour with which Bhagat Singh offered himself at the altar of Indias’ freedom in 1931.
There is not another instance of bravery as shown by Udham Singh in 1940, when he went to London and shot dead Sir Michael O’ Dwyer at a public meeting, as a revenge for the Jallianwala massacre.Out of 42,000 recruits in the Indian National Army under the command of Subhash Chandra Bose, 28,000 soldiers contributing 67% of strength were Sikhs.
Contribution of Sikhs who are less than 2% of Indian population, in the freedom struggle of India against the British.PUNISHED TOTAL SIKHS % OF SIKHS Hanged 121 93 77% , Life Imprisonment 2646 2147 81% ,Jallianwala Bagh massacre 1300 799 62% ,Book source : “History of Indian National Congress”.Partition of India in 1947 brought innumerable death to Sikhs and was the greatest disaster known in the Indian history. Surely the Sikhs paid the heaviest price for the freedom of the country.
Punjab lost its most fertile part to Pakistan during the partition. However, today due to hard labour of Sikh farmers, the Punjab in India produces much higher quantities of food grain than the fertile Punjab in Pakistan. Punjab contributes 40% of rice and 51% of wheat into the central pool of food grains in India.
Post partition, many of the landless Sikhs who settled in the jungles of Terai in Uttar Pradesh has today made the area as fertile as Punjab.Contribution of Sikhs towards the Indian Defence Services is the highest with respect to their 2% population size. This community has also won the maximum number of gallantry awards since independence – 5 Param Vir Chakras (PVCs), 40 Maha Vir Chakras (MVCs), and 209 Vir Chakras (VrCs).During the emergency of 1975 imposed by Indira Gandhi, no organized protest was made across the country by any section of community, except for the Sikhs who conducted daily Morchas, involving 40,000 arrests.
You will never find a Sikh ever begging on the roads, in spite of being uprooted & made homeless many a times; they have demonstrated the ability to rise back from the scratch. Each one of them actively contributes towards the nation building. Almost 30 years ago, Professor Milton Friedman (Noble Prize Winner) an American Economist, on his visit to India had humorously remarked, “Lease out India to the Sikhs for a while and there will be no problem of development”. Could there be any greater compliment to the Sikh spirit and enterprise.In spite of endless contributions made by Sikhs towards the nation building, our friends find them to be a laughing stock. Well, it makes no difference to the Sikhs as their pitchers are filled with unparalleled acts.
As a nation we may lack the sense of humour but Sikhs are a rare species, with a great sense of humour. This is the community which has learnt to fight, succeed and laugh. It is time for my friends to do a bit of introspection.
Nirmal Singh Keerka ,
Gen Secretary, Punjab Heritage & Education Foundation.
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