e. The Sikh Character. The Sikhs have a tradition of unflinching courage based on their belief in their righteous cause of the defense of human rights and religious freedom. Because of this emphasis on freedom of worship and vigorous opposition of tyranny, the governments in Delhi have often viewed the Sikhs as an ‘‘anti-establishment ‘group. A British governor of Punjab once described them as “nuisance.” In many historical records of the eighteenth century, they are referred to as “dogs,” “infidels”, and “wretched people’. However, even their enemies could not ignore the noble character of Guru Gobind Singh’s Sikhs. Professor Ganda Singh in*‘‘Sikhs and Their Religion”’ translated Qazi Nur Mohammed’s observations regarding the Sikhs as follows:
“Do not call the dogs (the Sikhs) dogs because they are lions, and are courageous like lions in the field of battle.
How can a hero who roars like a lion in the field of battle are called a dog.
If you wish to learn the art of war come face to face with them in the field.
They will demonstrate it to you in such a way that one and all will praise them for it.
If you wish to learn the science of war, O swordsman, learn from them how to face an enemy like a hero and to get safely out of an action. It is unjust to call them dogs.
Truly they are like lions in battle, and they surpass Hatim (in generosity) in time of peace.
When they take the Indian sword in their hands, they overrun the country from Hind to Sind.
The body of every one of them is like the piece of a rock, and, in grandeur, every one of them is more than fifty persons
During a battle, with guns in their hands they come jumping into the field of action, roaring like lions.
Although there are so many musketeers, no one can excel them in the use of musket. If their armies take flight, do not take it as an actual flight. It is a war tactic of theirs.
Beware; beware of them, for a second time. Leaving aside their (Continued from the issue of January 4, 1985) mode of fighting, hear you another point in which they excel all other fighting people.
In no case would they slay a coward, nor would they put an obstacle in the way of a fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth or ornaments of a woman, be she a well-to-do lady or a humble servant.
There is no adultery among these ‘“‘dogs’’, nor are these mischievous people given to thieving
There is no thief at all amongst these ‘‘dogs’’, nor is there any housebreaker born amongst these ‘‘miscreants.”
They do not make friends with adulterers and housebreakers.
They are not from amongst the Hindus. They have a separate religion of their own.
In battle their conduct is best described by the following excerpts from Cunningham’s ‘“‘History of the Sikhs.’”’ At the battle of Pheerooshuhur:
The confident English had at last got the field they wanted; they marched in even array, and their famed artillery opened its steady fire. But the guns of the Sikhs were served with rapidity and precision, afnd the foot-soldiers stood between and behind the batteries, firm in their order, and active with their muskets. The resistance met was wholly unexpected, and all stared with astonishment. Guns were dismounted, and their ammunition was blown into the air; squadrons were checked in mid-career; battalion after battalion was hurled back with shattered ranks, and it was not until after sunset those portions of the enemy’s position were finally carried. Darkness, and the obstinacy of the contest, threw the English into confusion; men of all regiments and arms were mixed together; generals were doubtful of the fact or of the extent of their own success, and colonels knew not what had become of the regiments they commanded, or of the army of which they formed a part. Some portions of the enemy’s line had not been broken, and the uncaptured guns were turned by the Sikhs upon masses of soldiers, oppressed with cold and thirst and fatigue, and who attracted the attention of the watchful enemy by lighting fires of
Brushwood to warm their stiffened limbs. The position of the English was one of real danger and great perplexity; their mercenaries had proved themselves good soldiers in foreign countries as well as in India itself, when discipline was little known, or while success was continuous; but in a few hours the five thousand children of a distant land found that their art had been learnt, and that an emergency had arisen which would tax their energies to the utmost. On that memorable night the English were hardly masters of the ground on which they tood; they had no reserve at hand, while the enemy had fallen back upon a_ second .army, and could renew the fight with increased numbers. The not imprudent thought occurred of retiring upon Ferozepore; but Lord Gough’s dauntless spirit counseled otherwise, and his own and Lord Hardinge’s personal intrepidity in storming batteries, at the head of troops of English gentlemen and bands of hardy yeomen, eventually achieved a partial success and a temporary repose. On the morning of the 22nd December, the last remnants of the Sikhs were driven from their camp; but as the day advanced the second wing of their army approached in battle-array, and the weary and famished English saw before them a desperate and, perhaps, useless struggle. This reserve was commanded by Tej Singh; he had been urged by his zealous and sincere soldiery to fall upon the English at daybreak, but his object was to have the dreaded army of the Khalsa overcome and dispersed, and he delayed until Lal Singh’s force was everywhere put to flight, and until his opponents had again ranged themselves round their colours. Even at the last moment he rather skirmished and made feints then led his men to a resolute attack, and after a time he precipitately fled, leaving his subordinates without orders and without an object, at a moment when the artillery ammunition of the English had failed, when a portion of their force was retiring upon Ferozepore, and when no exertions could have prevented the remainder from retreating likewise, if the Sikhs ward.
At the battle of Sabraon:
“Openings were thus everywhere effected in the Sikh entrenchments, but single batteries still held out; the interior was filled with courageous men, who took advantage of every obstacle, and fought fiercely for every spot of ground. The traitor, Tej Singh, indeed, instead of leading fresh men to sustain the failing strength of the troops on his right, fled on the first assault, and, either accidentally or by design, sank a boat in the middle of the bridge of communication. But the ancient Sham Singh remembered his vow; he clothed himself in simple white attire, as one devoted to death, and calling upon all around him to fight for the Guru, who had promised everlasting bliss to the brave, he repeatedly rallied his shattered ranks, and at last fell a martyr on a heap of his slain countrymen. Others might be seen standing on the ramparts amid showers of balls, waving defiance with their swords, or telling the gunners where the fair-haired English pressed thickest together. Along the stronger half of the battlements, and for the period of half an hour, the conflict raged sublime in all its terrors. The trenches were filled with the dead and the dying. Amid the deafening roar of cannon, and the multitudinous fire of musketry, the shouts of triumph or of scorn were yet heard, and the flashing of innumerable swords was yet visible; or from time to time exploding magazines of powder threw bursting shells and beams of wood and banks of earth high above the agitated sea of smoke and flame which enveloped the host of combatants, and for a moment arrested the attention amid all the din and tumult of the tremendous conflict. But gradually each defensible position was captured, and the enemy was pressed towards the scarcely fordable river; yet although assailed on either side by squadrons of horse and battalions of foot, no Sikh offered’ to submit, and no disciple of Gobind asked for quarter. They everywhere showed a front to the victors, and stalked slowly and sullenly away, while many rushed singly forth to meet assured death by contending with a multitude. The victors looked with wonderment upon the indomitable courage of the vanquished…”
- Religious Organization. The Sikhs have no priests and no organized church. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh decreed that after his death there would be no person as guru and the Sikhs were to regard the compilation of the writings of the gurus, addressed as Guru Granth Sahib, as the word of God and their living guru for all time. Thus, since 1708 A.D., Guru Granth Sahib has been the Sikh guru. The Sikhs run the mundane affairs of their religion through a democratic system prescribed by the tenth Guru. Whenever Khalsa Sikhs get together in good faith and make a decision, it has the same force as if the Guru had made that decision him-self. According to the tenth Guru, ‘Khalsa is my special form. In Khalsa I reside.’’ George Forster, in his ‘Origin and Making of a Nation,” writes about equal and democratic set-up in the Sikh Religion in the late eighteenth century as follows:
“I find an embarrassment in applying a distinct term to the form of the Sicque (sikh) government, which, on the first view, bears an appearance of aristocracy; but a closer examination discovers a large vein of popular power branching through many of its parts. No honorary or titular distinction is conferred on any member of the state, and the chiefs are treated with a deference that would seem to rise only from the military charges they may at the instant be invested with, and from a self-preserving regard to the subordination necessarily required in conducting an armed body. Though orders are issued in a Sicque army, and a species of obedience observed, punishments are rarely inflicted; and the chiefs, who often command parties of not more than fifty men, being numerous, its motions are tumultuous and irregular. An equality of rank is maintained in their civil society, which no class of men, however wealthy or powerful, is suffered to break down. At the periods when general councils of the nation were convened which consisted of the army at large, every member had the privilege of delivering his opinion; and the majority, it is said, decided on the subject in.debate. The Khalsah Sicques, even of the lowest order, are turbulent people, and possess a haughtiness of deportment, which, in the common occurrences of life, peculiarly marks their character. Examples of this disposition I have myself witnessed, and one of them I think merits a distinct notice. In traveling through the Siringnaghur country, our party was joined by a Sicque horseman, and being desirous of procuring his acquaintance, I studiously offered him the various attentions which men observe to those they court. But the Sicque received my advances with a fixed reserve and disdain, giving me, however, no individual cause of offense; for his deportment to the other passengers was not less contemptuous. His answer, when I asked him the name of his chief, was wholly conformable to the observation I had made of his nation. He told me (in a tone of voice, and with an expression of countenance, which seemed to revolt at the idea of servitude) that he disdained an earthly superior, and acknowledged no _ other master than his prophet Govind Sing.”
- Bearing Arms. A person confirmed in the Sikh faith is expected to live up to the ideal of a “saint-soldier.”’ This requires him to follow the path of prayer, non-violence and peaceful protest as a saint. However, he has to be ready to fight in defense of his faith. The practice of bearing arms was introduced by the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, early in the seventeenth century. Guru Hargobind at one time, according to Gupta, in “Later Mughal History of the Panjab,” had a stable of 700 horses, 300 horsemen and 60 matchlock men as his _ bodyguard. The Sikhs have developed a proud tradition as disciplined soldiers. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh introduced the Amrit ceremony which is much like baptism or confirmation in Christianity. A confirmed Sikh has to bear arms, not to cut his body hair, not to use intoxicants, pray regularly and share the fruits of his labor with fellow members of the community. The Sikhs have a history, extending over four centuries, of supreme sacrifices in the practice of these principles as protectors of freedom of worship. The British recognized and respected the Sikh right to bear arms and allowed them to carry swords. Carrying weapons made the Sikhs a highly visible self-confident, self-respecting minority who did not expect any trouble with the majority population and considered themselves to be the protectors of the weak.
In one of his lectures Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale explained that the Sikhs have two ways of dealing with problems. One is the way of peace. This is the one that a Sikh is expected to follow as the norm. The other is the way of the sword. He explained that for a Sikh it is a sin to use weapons to hurt any innocent person.
The weapons are meant for defense and for protection of the weak and the oppressed. However, it is an even greater sin, regardless of the religious belief of the victim, not to act against wanton and ruthless repression, which includes disrespect to scriptures of any religion, insult and rape of women, and torture of innocent persons by an oppressive government. This action must only be taken as a last resort after all other means of redress including persuasion, legal action and appeals have been exhausted. This is quite consistent with the reasoning which originally (in the 17th century) led the Sikh gurus to require Sikhs to bear arms.
- Weapons in the Golden Temple.
The charge by the Indian government that the Sikhs had weapons in the Golden Temple is simply ridiculous considering that their religion required them to bear arms. This religious injunction predates all the laws made by the government. Sant Bhindranwale, when asked why he advocated Sikhs should keep and bear arms quoted Guru Gobind Singh’s words: ‘I am the son of a Kshatri and not of a Brahmin.” The Golden Temple had been licensed by the government to keep up to twenty-eight firearms, thus it is incorrect to suggest that there ought not to be any arms in the Golden Temple. In addition, a large number of persons carried their own individual weapons. The Indian government claims the sanctity of the Golden Temple was, destroyed by the presence of weapons. The Sikhs view the government’s objection to the presence of weapons in the Golden Temple or any other Sikh places of worship as an attempt to impose the Hindu definition of sanctity on them. The Khalsa was created as a community of ‘‘saint-soldiers.”’ It is a violation of freedom of worship to expect the Sikh religion to be modified to suit the expectations of members of the Hindu religion. Since early 1983 the government and militant Hindus had been actively considering storming the Golden Temple. The Sikhs had been worried about this possibility and with the limited means at their disposal collected an assortment of weapons to defend the place. The government actually invaded over forty Sikh places of worship in June 1984. None of the places other than the Golden Temple was “armed.” The fact that all these places were attacked clearly shows that the presence of weapons in any place of worship had nothing to do with the government’s decision to invade it. IV. CHOICES BEFORE THE SIKHS AND THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
The Indian government, by declaring some of the fundamental beliefs and essential practices of the Sikh Religion to be contrary to national unity and national interest is deliberately creating communal dissensions and rifts among India’s several religions. It is directly challenging the Sikhs to contradict their own gurus. Referring to the ‘Amrit’? Ceremony Guru Gobind Singh said “Drink the Amrit of the double-edged sword. This will bring happiness to your life.’ The government now holds every “Amritdhari’ Sikh to be suspect. It is a gross imposition on freedom of worship and amounts to giving the Sikhs a choice between accepting Hinduism and death. Significantly, Sikhs who voluntarily gave up their faith have not been harmed. This is no different from the choice of accepting Islam or the sword they were given by Mir Mannu and other agents of an intolerant monarch in the eighteenth century. Tens of thousands of Sikhs have paid with their lives for their beliefs. Countless more have been raped and mutilated. Millions of dollars’ worth of property has been looted or destroyed by arson. The government has chosen not to punish the criminals in a proper fashion confirming thereby the widely held opinion that these hoodlums and murderers were acting for and on behalf of the government. The Sikhs do not see any conflict between their religion and the national interest. They have all along participated most prominently in the nation’s battles. However, they cannot support or tolerate tyranny, despotism, and religious oppression by any person or a family or other group regardless of who the victim is. They have to fight for freedom and justice. They can only hope other fair-minded people who love justice and liberty enough to speak out on the subject will help the Indian government see where the national interest really lies: in death and destruction or in coexistence of diverse religions and cultures; in accepting democratic process including the right to peaceful protest or in murder and torture to still opposition to the government of the day.”