At the outset, kindly excuse me for making a painful statement-outside Punjab within India, Sikhs have miserably failed to get recognition and have not been able to make their presence felt in political and social spheres. I present an analysis of Sikhs outside Punjab on the basis of my firsthand account of Sikhs living in Karnataka and the erstwhile Deccan, the present day Andhra Pradesh.
Democracy, as it prevails in India today, is nothing but a game of numbers. Effectively, no constitution or law and order are prevalent, he or she who possesses the numbers, rules. Such a person is the virtual monarch. Given our numbers, we must acknowledge that we cannot become kings, but nothing prevents us from becoming king makers. If slum dwellers have become a driving force in many a constituency of the country, surely the Sikhs living outside Punjab have to learn something from them. Casting one’s ballot and casting it regularly and comprehensively as a community is the key to consolidation of community power and thus wielding the balance vital for survival, co-existence and protection of one’s equal rights, obtaining government concessions and grants under welfare schemes and to ensure that justice is had whenever the need arises. This is the only remedy. Every single vote counts. Howsoever small our numbers may be in some areas, we need to resolve that we can force acknowledgement of our existence by planning and deciding to vote en bloc in favour of a candidate of whatever party in our respective constituencies.
Muslims are the rulers in 54 countries, having its largest population of 20 crores in a single country- India as the second largest religious group and yet claim to be most neglected and backward community. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s appointed much-spoken Justice Sachar Committee’s report of 2006. Earlier, Smt. Indira Gandhi’s appointed Dr. Gopal Singh Committee’s report of 1983. Much earlier, in 1871 at the behest of Lord Meo, the then Viceroy of India, Sir William Hunter had published under the title, “Our Indian Musalmans”. These reports, over the years have instilled a sense of realisation amongst the Muslims about their depressing condition and have motivated them to adopt a vote bank policy making them ‘king makers’ by holding on to the “Muslims tilting power of votes”.
It is not out of place to mention the betrayal of Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi, which has disastrously placed the Sikh community in the situations of 1947 riots, Operation Blue Star, 1984 genocide and Pakistan’s Swat Valley displacement of 2009. Before partition, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah Bhai (1876-1948) joined Congress in 1905 and in 1910 became Muslim member from Bombay among 60 members “Legislative Council of India”. During the same year 1905 some Muslim thinkers formed a Muslim political party “Muslim League” at Dacca, and invited Mr. Jinnah to join. He not only refused but condemned the ideology of any communal political party. But later events of adopting the communal approach of Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru, forced him to change his stance. Mr. Gandhi joined the movement under the bandwagon of Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) on coming back to India after 20 years abroad stay in 1915. That too after badly humiliated at the hands of British at Pietermargitzbur in South Africa, when he was thrown out of the train while travelling in first class compartment with the valid ticket. Due to the communal trend of the Hindu leadership Dr. Sir Mohmmad Iqbal the poet of “ Sare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara ” has initially given the idea of Pakistan in the year 1930.
Mr. Jinnah wanted an equitable share of power for Muslims and was against the political domination (another slavery) of majority community. He was not in favour of a partition based on the agonizing dismemberment of Punjab and Bengal. His political mentor and role model Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) had said him as “Ambassador of Hindu – Muslim Unity”. This remark was popularized by Ms. Sarojini Naidu Nightingale of India (1879-1949). As she was admirer of his moderate, liberal views and fierce devotion to the Nationalist cause.
He was very much eager for retaining Punjab united with special status to Sikhs and in principle agreed to the terms of Akali leadership for their internal autonomy in a mutual meeting at Lahore in March 1947. He wanted them to pen down their charter of demands and send to him. This historical document was sent through a confident emissary Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi to personally hand it over to Mr. Jinnah at Delhi. Instead of that, he handed over it to Mr. Nehru, who was successful in sabotaging Akali-Jinnah deal for keeping Punjab intact. (Saachi Sakhi by Sirdar Kapoor Singh I.C.S. – SGPC publication)
Subsequently Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi, after giving Dard (pain and distress) to the Panth, for covering up his identity in view of the grave betrayal which buried the community in the Indian Graveyard, he shunned down his pen name Dardi. He in return was profusely rewarded with several political positions through out his life. He was gone to the extent to appear before the “Shah Commission for looking into the Sikh Grievances”, which was boycotted by the Sikhs due to the lack of proper terms of reference. He deposed before the Commission that the Sikhs have got more than their deserved share in services and there is no discrimination against the Sikhs anywhere.
Our self-created tragedy
Wherever Sikhs are in a microscopic minority, they need support and representation. The tragedy of our people is that their so-called central leadership is not at all bothered about the problems and needs of Sikhs outside Punjab and in the Diaspora. In fact, they have been made to suffer severe loss on account of uncalled-for initiatives and lack of political vision for the community at large on the part of such leaders. They have been wronged for no fault of theirs. I believe that it is time to make a simple but serious confession. The Sikh problem may not fully be the Punjab problem and that the Punjab problem can certainly never be the Sikh problem. It is time to see only the religious concerns of the Sikhs in a united manner, but the socio-political, educational and empowerment problems have to be dealt with according to the needs, circumstances and resource capability of the Sikhs in their respective areas of habitat. This is not to say that the common Sikh national psyche and consciousness is to be compromised, far from it.
Muslims are gradually becoming more powerful and prosperous with every passing day by concentrating on their local problems and not looking towards the Muslim majority state of Kashmir or depending on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or any other Islamic country.
It is the law of nature that a small tree does not flourish under the shade of a big tree. An overprotected child never becomes independent and looses his initiative as he continuously seeks guidance from others. I strongly believe that Sikhs in India - outside the state of Punjab, have been paralyzed by their overdependence on the Sikh central leadership, which even in Punjab has lost credibility and credence. They are no longer perceived or respected as leadership who have the interest of the community at heart. They rarely are seen to be serving the community. All their programmes and policies are directed towards serving their political ambitions, which too is limited to holding on to political power in the Punjab by constantly appeasing and seeking support of anti-Sikh forces.
The lone Christian Champion
The governments of India, governments of all states and Union Territories are committed for implementing schemes for overall welfare of minorities, their religious, social and educational institutions. Sikhs living outside Punjab must take a lesson or two from the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Late Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. Till he died an untimely death, he quietly worked as a practising Christian. I salute him for his significant decisions to change the fortune of the Christian community -not only in his native state of Andhra Pradesh but throughout the country. On the pattern of Haj subsidy for pilgrimage to Mecca, he introduced subsidy for pilgrimage to Bethlehem -the birth place of Jesus Christ at Jerusalem. He conferred liberal cash grants for construction of new churches, repairs and renovation of the existing churches. He was bold enough to create a separate State Christian Finance Corporation for giving loans on a nominal rate of interest and subsidy of 10% for all business ventures. He created history by getting unanimously passed a resolution by the legislative assembly in the year 2009, recommending to the government of India to amend the Constitution of India to grant Scheduled Caste status to the Scheduled Castes converts of Christianity. One Muslim member sought and got an addition in the resolution for the Muslim converts also. I strongly wish that the Sikhs outside Punjab need to follow this approach and that too equally aggressively.
While contemporary politics of India works under the notion that there are no permanent foes or friends in politics, sadly it is different with the Sikh leadership. Our political leadership becomes “honest and faithful’ with their allies and does not bother to analyse as to who is better suited to serve the interests of its own peoples. The permanent alliance of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee with the Bharatiya Janta Party and that of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee with the Congress are examples. Both the allies have taken Sikhs for granted. This unity has not brought any dividends nor is likely to fetch any respite, resources or progress for the community.
Despite the brave face that we may put across, a large section of our population is economically backward. Individuals should come forward and the Community leaders must come together to pinpoint such families and clusters of families and develop alternative mechanisms to lift them out of their pecuniary existence.
Dangers for Sikh Existence
As has been the case in the past, even in recent times nothing has been done constructively for the interests of the Sikh community. If there are any achievements, they are due to sincere individual efforts. The leadership pursue their programmes and frame their policies about the Punjab problem without caring for or preparing for the repercussions of their short-sighted approach to the entire community at large. The Sikhs in Punjab are well entrenched in the fortress of Punjab, even though with a wafer-thin majority, but what is disturbing is the lack of application of mind to even think about the fall-out of all their deeds and misdeeds.
Can anybody analyze the advantages and disadvantages of launching a Morcha against the Emergency in 1975 from the highest portals of Shri Akal Takhat Sahib, right from day one till the emergency was revoked? Though there was individual and political opposition to it, albeit for a short period, no religious group in the country had openly opposed it per se. The Gandhi-Nehru dynasty ruling the country was never friendly to the Sikhs, but this Morcha fostered more animosity towards the Sikhs by the state and the country. We still continue to pay the price for that misadventure. Early this year 2009, Sardar Tarlochan Singh forcefully spoke in the upper house of the Indian Parliament (Rajya Sabha) focussing on the plight of non-resident Sikhs; it is time for someone to come forward to expose the atrocities of the state within the country particularly those carried out in the eighties, in the name of fighting insurgency.
On the other hand, since 1967, the Naxalite Movement, with blessings of the Communist Party, which had members from the majority community, has launched an armed struggle against the state. The ruling dynasty of India shared a government with the Communist parties in the recent past. The Naxal movement is strong in more than 180 districts of 10 states of the country, and according to estimates has ‘captured’ 92,000 square kilometres, popularly known as the “Red Corridor”. Though there have been talks of countering the growing “Naxal menace”, it is not seen as a threat to national security nor is it a military threat which requires political and military solution. On 25 September 2009, P. Chidambram, the Home Minister of India has gone to the extent of assuring that the armed forces will not be used upon the Naxals.
Sikhs at Crossroads
I urge and beseech that the time has come to plan for the future, to realize, and learn from past events and struggle afresh to survive and prosper in the existing challenging conditions. Let us deviate from our present behavior, let us sort out our local grievances at the local level. Without compromising our religious or cultural values, our social mores and ethics, we should mingle with the local people, speak the common regional language, and be part of the political set up of our region. According to me, on the social front, the circumstances warrant that Sikhs should be firmly rooted in their distinct identity, maintain equidistance from Hindus and Muslims but at the same time endeavour to serve the historic role of uniting both. Politically, Sikhs need to enroll their entire populace in the lists of voters for gram panchayat, municipal and general elections; throng polling stations without let up and with sheer numbers to build their political power in their respective constituencies. This is the only existential truth which can save us and help to grow and prosper.
Another virgin area of work for concerned Sikhs in the Diaspora within India is non-governmental activity. Both in the social and political spheres, Sikhs should form NGOs and participate wholeheartedly in already existing institutions.
Let us develop the habit of availing of services and patronage from local elected representative, utilising their influence and status and asking for a share of constituency funds. This is not a favour but a right in any democratic setup and we must learn the ropes to fight for our rights. We have to cultivate and promote the habit of availing governmental benefits. As a minority, on par with the Muslims, every Sikh is eligible for educational scholarships and liberal loans with 10% margin money subsidy for every business ventures. Those Sikhs, listed in the communities of Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and others converted to Sikhism are eligible for still better scholarships, reservations in admissions and employment at par with Hindus.
How negligent we are towards our own language Punjabi can be gauged from the fact that though Punjabi is the official language in Punjab and the second official language in Delhi but there are many who cannot understand road signs in Gurmukhi, the official script of Punjabi. This is so because there are many educated Sikhs who cannot read or write Punjabi. Let us resolve that every Sikhs should read and write Gurmukhi and Gurbani. Punjabi speaking parents should speak and teach Punjabi to their children. Sikh parents should assume prime responsibility of bringing up their children with Sikh thoughts, traditions and language.
Primarily parents of every religion practice their faith in accordance with their scriptures. They bring up their children at home and family with the values of their faith and scripture; worldly affairs are secondary. To blame the younger Sikh generation for apostasy is absolutely wrong and nothing but passing on our shortcomings and lacuna to them. Children should be taught right things at the tender age at home; otherwise they will be wrongly influenced by ostentatious show of wealth and splendour. We find sufficient time for our recreation in kitty parties, social gatherings, even for unsocial meets, sitting before the idiot box for hours together, for training our pet animals and other time-pass activities. Some of us engage in healthy spending of time in Sukhmani Sahib Jathas, Kirtani Jathas and Yatri Jathas. Ironically, when it comes to spending quality time with children, we shy away and curse that “we are so busy that we do not have time”. We do not take a pause to understand the veneer of our own domestic, social, religious duties, responsibilities and own performance in our daily chores.
Sikhs in Karnataka
From the days of Gurus, Sikhs have lived all over South Asia, apart from Tibet, Iran and Afghanistan. Of course, we now have a vast population in North America, England, Europe and the Pacific region too. It is important to bear in mind that the migration of Sikhs in modern times is for pecuniary reasons whereas in the early years of Sikhism, it was to spread the word of the Guru that Sikhs travelled far and wide. They were invited by people and rulers afar, in recognition of their physical strength and moral values.
From the days of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Sikhs emerged as a mighty marshal race and were in very much demand for military recruitment even in far-off places like Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad and Mysore-the present day Karnataka. They married local women there, but reared and brought up their children as perfect Sikhs. They maintained their Sikhi appearance in all unfavourable circumstances, thousands of kilometres away from their families and their native place-Punjab. They lost access to the spoken Punjabi due to the influence of local languages, but till today have firmly tagged themselves to the perfect Sikh appearance and Gurbani in Gurmukhi script.
Hyder Ali Khan (1720-1782), the King of Mysore, recruited Sikhs in his army; their descendents are still living scattered in those areas, in very miserable conditions. They maintained unshorn hair for about two centuries and were staunch believers in Sikhism. After independence, some Punjabi speaking Sikhs migrated to these shores for commercial reasons. Due to the mania of the Punjabis and their nouveau-riche attitude, they frowned upon the local Sikhs and taunted them for speaking the local Kannada language and not being able to speak Punjabi. A large number of them, unable to bear this kind of continuing humiliation, shorn their hair and relinquished the outer appearance of Sikhi. Sadly, though not wholly surprisingly, no Sikh organisation has come forward to take care of their economic and socio-religious needs and problems.
This attitude of the Sikhs from Punjab is exemplified by the euphemistically called central Sikh leadership. The interaction of the newly migrated Sikh population with the early Sikh settlers has not been smooth and shows signs of discord and a domineering attitude. This has been the case in most parts of the Indian subcontinent and the world. While the early resident Sikhs are contended people, happy with their mediocre economic status, the new migrants show a grand inclination to ostentatious expenditure and a craze for unfounded leadership.
So the natives are being badly neglected, overlooked, superseded and looked down upon by these nouveau-riche Sikhs due to their lower economic status and their inability to speak the Punjabi language. Actually, it should have been the non-Punjabi Sikhs who should have been regarded as the most spirited Sikhs for maintaining Sikhi in extremely adverse circumstances, living in isolated places since centuries, in comparison to the Punjabi speaking Sikhs. In the year 1995 at the World Sikh Conference held at Amritsar where I was also a speaker, Yogi Harbhajan Singh of USA in his address sarcastically described the Sikhs of Punjab as Geographical Sikhs and the rest as Sikhs by faith.
Sikhs in the South
Sikhs are residents of Hyderabad even much before the historic landmark of Charminar, which was constructed in 1591. Around the year 1512, during one of his Udasis-world journeys, Shri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, while coming from Nanded and Bidar stayed in the walled city of Golconda, even before the city of Hyderabad was founded in the vicinity. He journeyed through modern-day Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rameshwaram and from there he travelled to Sri Lanka.
Shri Guru Nanak Sahib preached humanism and spiritualism and left behind considerable number of Sikhs i.e., disciples. He did not segregate them as followers of a separate religion, nor did he set-up a particular discipline. Subsequently, many lapsed back in to their original Hindu and Muslim folds.
However, there were others, who were mesmerised and deeply influenced by the Guru’s teachings and continued their search for salvation. One such glorious example is that of Bhai Saheb Singh from Bidar, now in present-day Karnataka, about 150 kilometres from Hyderabad city. He was one of the first Five Beloveds (Punj Piyaras) of the Sikh nation who were administered Amrit (the Sikh baptism) by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1699.
Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji stayed for a long time at Nanded, about 280 Kms from Hyderabad and breathed his last there in 1708. During this period a large number of the local populace embraced Sikhism by taking Amrit; and settled in Nanded and its vicinity. Most Sikhs who had come with Guru Sahib were sent back to Punjab with Baba Banda Singh Bahadur to strengthen the Sikh force. To say that Sikhs who had come with Guru Sahib, stayed back forever does not sound plausible as there was no reason or unfinished task for them to stay back.
Past and present historians, Sikhs and non-Sikhs have overlooked the unique example of the presence of the Sikh army in this part of the Indian sub-continent, which had come on a mission of friendship and peace and a masterpiece example of Sikh-Muslim relations. There was absolutely no obligation on the part of a Sikh ruler to send his Sikh army to help a Muslim ruler to maintain his internal security, thousands of kilometres away, endangering the lives of the army men and making them leave behind their families and completely alienating themselves from their homeland at a time when the means of conveyance and communications were virtually non-existent.
This exemplary humanitarian gesture in those times has not been recognised by historians, not even by Sikh Scholars. The coming of the Sikh Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Deccan Hyderabad at the call of the Nizam was the precursor of the modern-day Peace Keeping Force. They were the Peace Corps of the 19th century. The present day Deccani Sikhs are a living testimony of this hitherto unexplored facet of Sikh history and.
The exact number of army sent and the year is still to be traced, but the following record shows that Sikhs were here before 1830 and that in the year 1831 their population was about three or four thousand in the state. The National Archives of India, New Delhi, is in possession of a report of the Resident of Hyderabad sent on 13th May 1831 to the Governor General of India regarding a serious affray took place in the city of Hyderabad between the Sikhs and Arabs. In his report he mentions that, “a great degree of jealousy and animosity has existed for some time between the Arabs and Sikhs, when a quarrel originated at Nander,…….and that the Arabs seem to have had no object but that of vengeance on the Sikhs….” He further says, “About a year ago in an affray between them several lives were lost. On the present occasion the quarrel between them had its origin at Nander where there is large body of turbulent fanatic Sikhs in attendance at the tomb of their last saint Gooroo Govind. There is also a party of Arabs there in the service of the Jagirdars, two of whom were lately killed by the Sikhs…..” He further says that, “It is difficult to get a very correct account of the number of the Sikhs and Arabs on the day of engagement there are said to have been in the town about six or seven hundred of the former (Sikhs), but the Arabs when reinforced by their brethren from Golconda (within the city) there must have been nearly 2000. Besides these there are a great many both Sikhs and Arabs in the different districts of the Nizam’s dominions. The whole may amount to about three or four thousand Sikhs and probably double that number of Arabas.”
In my seventies, as the fourth generation descendant of one of the Twelve Risaldars - head of the army unit of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sardar Sohail Singh I had the privilege of imbibing since my childhood, oral history from my parents and other elderly persons. Over the years, in order to lend credence to my oral history knowledge, I have studied the work of several historians and had personal discussions, delved through archives throughout India and referred to many unpublished manuscripts.
The word Deccani is simply the identification of Sikhs living in the region known as Deccan. The word Deccan means the direction South in the Urdu language. In the undivided Indian sub-continent, there were two Hyderabad cities. One was in the western Sind province and the second one was in the southern Hyderabad province. The nomenclature used then was Hyderabad Sind and Hyderabad Deccan. The city of Hyderabad was the capital city of the erstwhile Nizam’s dominion of Hyderabad.
The original inhabitants of India, settled in this part of Hyderabad were called Deccani. As such, Sikhs were labelled as Deccani Sikhs, Pathans were called as Deccani Pathans and so were other people. This was nothing but a geographical identity of the people who had changed their habitat.
Call to the Sikh Army
Nawab Sikander Jah, the third Nizam was the ruler of Hyderabad State from 1803 to 1829. There were 16 districts in his kingdom including the areas of Sikh holy places of Nanded, now in Maharashtra and Bidar - now in Karnataka. In the administrative system of the Nizam, revenue collection was through Jagirdars, Desmukhs and Samasthans. These were influential people of communities who were allotted a large piece of land in lieu of their work of collection and remission of revenues to the King’s treasury. They were entitled to keep certain portion of revenues to meet the expenditure of their forts and army.
Most of these revenue collectors became unaccountable, avoided depositing the revenues to the exchequer and rebelled against the Nizam, and local forces failed to procure collections. Arabs from Arabian countries, Siddis from Africa, Rajputs, Rohellas and Pathans were recruited from north India, but they also all failed to deliver results.
At the instance of Maharaja Chandu Lal, who was the Nizam’s Prime Minister during 1822-1843 and was a devotee of Gurughar–the Sikh fold, the support of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was sought. A request letter and presents were sent to the Lahore Durbar.
Syad Muhammad Latif, who served as a senior bureaucrat in Punjab, in his book “History of the Punjab” published in 1889, on page 443 says that, “Distant sovereigns sought his (Ranjit Singh’s) friendship”. He continues to say that, “In 1826, Darvesh Muhammad Vakil of the Nizam of Hyderabad, waited on the Durbar of Lahore with presents, consisting of four horses, a sword, a cannon and several matchlocks for the Maharaja and Kanwar Kharak Singh”.
In the fourteenth chapter of his book, on page 267, “Maharaha Ranjit Singh” published in 1933 by the Hindustani Academy of Uttar Pradesh at Alllahabad, Prof. Sitaram Kohli of Government College, Lahore, writes “In the year 1826 one Dervesh Mohiuddin an ambassador of the Nizam of Hyderabad, came to the Durbar-I-Lahore and on behalf of the Nizam presented four high-pedigree expensive horses, one unmatched marvellous Canopy, one double-edged sword, one canon and several rifles. Apart from this, valuable presents were brought for Prince Khadag Singh”.
On page 39 of his book “Maharaja Ranjit Singh as Patron of the Arts” published in 1981 by Marg Publications, Mumbai, well- known author, Mulk Raj Anand says that, “The agent of Hyderabad arrived at Lahore in 1826, with presents for the Maharaja, including a beautiful canopy. The Maharaja was so charmed with its beauty that he declared, in all humility, that it could only be used for divine Durbar of the Sacha Padshah, the true king and presented it to the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, where it is preserved up to the present day and is spread over the Holy Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib on important religious occasions.”
This grandiose canopy – a historical testimony of Sikh-Muslim relations was preserved by the Sikhs and displayed on all important occasions till the Indian Armed forces reduced it to ashes when they stormed and attacked the holiest of holies Harmander Sahib, a.k.a. Golden Temple, in June 1984.
A celebrated author of several books on Sikhism and Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Panth Ratan Akali Kor Singh Ji Nihang of Kashmir , in his Punjabi book “Huzoori Sathi” on page No.92 published in 1933 says that, “Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent 12 Bedey (contingents) of Sikh Army to help the Nizam for the protection of his state.”
12- Sikh Army in the Deccan
From 1829 to 1857, Hyderabad was under the regime of the fourth Nizam, Nawab Nasir Uddoula. In 1830, after completing a four months arduous journey, the Sikh army arrived from Lahore in Hyderabad. The army consisted of twelve Risalas – army units, each comprising of a 100 personnel and each Risala headed by a Risaldar. The chief and other sub-ordinate rank officers were on horseback and the soldiers were on foot. They were first stationed outside the walled city of Hyderabad near the Mir Alam Tank, which place till today is famously known as the Sikh Chawani – the Sikh Cantonment.
During the course of their revenue arrears procurement operations from the rebellious and oppressive Jagirdars, many lost their life and limb. They, however, successfully completed the mission for which they were sent from far-off lands. While doing so, they ably maintained their social and religious attitudes and behaviour. In gratitude of their sacrifice and in appreciation of their services, all Risaldars were honoured as courtiers with chairs in the court of the Nizam. They were also offered vast lands in Nirmal town of Adilabad district of present day Andhra Pradesh as Jagir, which they refused, as they wanted to return back to their homeland.
The fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom and slavery of the Sikhs to the British prevented them from returning to Punjab. The Nizam also wanted to retain them and he offered them lucrative incentives and honours. A separate Jamait-I-Sikhan (irregular Sikh army) was formed, and the posts were made hereditary, passing to their descendent automatically. This Sikh Force was disbanded in the year 1951, after the 1948 annexation of the Nizam’s State into Indian Union.
13- Social Life of the Deccani Sikhs
This is a hitherto unexplored facet of the life of Sikhs from this region. Devoid of any practical option, the Sikh army personnel and their leadership decided to stay put and to marry locally as they were far away from their ancestral lands. Without exception, all were staunch believers and practitioners of Sikhism. Local women were hesitant to partake of Amrit. A practical compromise was reached without compromising the core values of Sikhism, which they guard to this day.
There is custom of Chouke Chadhna – first cooking activity in the kitchen of the household an Amritdhari lady marries into. This is repeated even after every child birth. In this case, Amrit is prepared by an Amritdhari Sikh by reciting Jap Ji Sahib, stirring water and sugar puffs (patashe) with Kirpan in a bowl, Kadah Pershad is prepared and after the Ardas (supplicatory prayer), the lady enters the kitchen. For marrying the local women, Sikh army personnel resorted to similar procedure before marriage. This precondition is still strictly adhered to and no Anand Karaj is performed without the Amrit ceremony, irrespective whether the marriage is inter-caste or intra-caste.
14- Religious Life of the Deccani Sikhs
With every Risala – the Sikh army unit, there used to be a Gurdwara, the Risaldar used to be in charge of its administration and it was part of his official duty along with other governmental duties. A soldier used to be deputed as the Granthi, who not only performed service – Sewa in the Gurdwara Sahib but also taught Gurbani in Gurmukhi script enabling the learner to complete the full paath of Shri Guru Granth Sahib and Shri Dasam Granth Sahib. This religious education was compulsory for every child and that is the background for the fluency to read Gurbani in Gurmukhi script of every Deccani Sikh.
Generally, language belongs to the land not to a religion. As the atmosphere and opportunities for speaking the Punjabi language were inadequate, they lost touch with it and became conversant with the local language, particularly Urdu, which was the official language of the state. Even today; the males and enlightened females wear all the mandatory Five Ks, and speak the local languages. All the Deccani Sikhs strictly follow their religious values and are Amritdhari, Keshadhari and Kirpandhari, commanding respect for their religiosity amongst other communities.
The Sikh Rehat Maryada is strictly adhered to while partaking meat and only Jhatka meat is consumed. They do not trim the beards and moustaches; do not consume meat or chicken slaughtered in Muslim fashion, as prohibited in the Sikh Rehat Maryada. The entire community does not recognise the polluted concept of so-called Sehajdhari Sikhs.
The Deccani Sikhs followed most of the religious customs and practices which they brought with them from the Punjab of those days. This included the Parkash of Guru Granth Sahib and Shri Dasam Granth Sahib. While Punjab did away with this practice after the Gurdwara Reform movement, this practice still continues in the Deccan.
Interestingly, however, there are many practices which Punjab has forsaken but are sincerely followed by Deccani Sikhs. As required by Rehat Maryada and as was the tradition followed for centuries, Deccani Sikhs do not suffix their names with their gotra or castes. They do not discriminate an Amritdhari Sikh on the basis of his or her caste as was prior to baptism. For marriage purposes, it is the overall status of the individual and the family which is taken into consideration and not the caste lineage.
When the Sikh army had arrived in this region, all the Risalas had brought with them the volumes of Shri Guru Granth Sahib and Shri Dasam Granth Sahib. As a practice they used to carry these volumes during all their military expeditions. The Deccani Sikhs have both these volumes side by side in every Gurdwara. They read and take the Mukhwak of Shri Guru Granth Sahib and of Shri Dasam Granth Sahib in every congregation, but they never bow their head in obeisance before Shri Dasam Granth Sahib. They bow their head only before Shri Guru Granth Sahib as their Guru and none else. To criticize this is nothing but ignorance of a traditional practice and custom.
15- True custodians of Sikh values
Centuries ago, the Sikhs migrated to other parts of world such as China, Japan, Philippines, America so on and so forth; but they are in their original form with unshorn hair, though they married local women and lost the access to Punjabi language, Gurmukhi Script and Gurbani. In India, the Sikhs migrated long back to far off places are maintaining the Sikhi though they married local women and lost the access to Punjabi language but read the Gurbani in Gurmukhi Script. The children of recently migrated Sikhs to any where in India and abroad though speak Punjabi, but lost the access to the Gurbani and Gurmukhi script.
Though Sikhism was born in the Punjab, Sikhs are an international community. Sikhs living in the Deccan region are willingly and gladly living there, maintaining standards of Sikhi. Despite unfavourable circumstances, the Deccani Sikhs are proud custodians of Sikhi in its totality for the last century and a half and serve as an example for other Sikhs to emulate. The story of the Sikhs from the Deccan does not end here. It actually begins. The story needs to be retold in all its glory.
For the Sikhs outside Punjab to gain a foothold in the country, they need to take the following steps without delay.
Sikh children must learn to read, write and speak Punjabi. Sikh parents must spend quality time with their children and inculcate the spirit of healthy competition and a drive for excellence in their chosen fields of endavour.
Sikhs need to evolve their leadership in their respective states and not lean or depend too heavily on the Punjab-based Sikh leadership.
3- Sikhs living outside Punjab must actively participate in the local social and political life of the regions in which they live. Regional leaders must ensure that each member of the electorate exercises his right to franchise and does so regularly and keeping in mind the interests of the community.
4- Sikhs must exploit the potential of government funding for education and empowerment of minorities and listed communities. Sikhs resident outside Punjab need to develop alternate mechanisms for their economic survival and growth.
5- Sikhs must reopen doors to non-Punjabi speaking Sikhs living outside Punjab, who have been ignored for centuries.
(A Paper presented at the seminar on “Sikhs Living in other States outside Punjab” organised by Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh on 24-25 October 2009)