THE Sikhs have a distinct historical, cultural and religious personality. This personality has stood the test of times. Mohsan Fani, the author of DabistaniMazahib, who visited the Punjab at the time of the sixth and seventh Gurus (16061644), writes: “Sikhs of Guru Nanak condemn idolatory. They do not read the Hindu mantras nor do they pay any regard to the Hindu shrines. They do not believe in the Hindu avatars and do not study Sanskrit which, according to the Hindus, is the language of gods. The Sikhs do not have faith in any rituals and ceremonies enjoined by the Hindu shastras nor do they observe any superstitious restrictions about dining”.

Being the main target of Guru Nanak’s religiosocial movement, the Hindus never concealed their antagonism and hostility towards the Sikhs. Giani Ibad Ullah in his book Sikh AhdiIslami main (Sikhs during the Muslim Rule) has said: “Hindus continuously conspired against Sikh gurus but Muslim rulers always protected them and thus frustrated Hindu designs”.

The present character of interethnic relations between the Sikhs and the Hindus in India has been influenced by the common and indigenous origin of Hindu and Sikh religious practices and beliefs and by the conflict between Hindu efforts to reabsorb the Sikhs and the latter’s resolve to establish their separate identity. In origin, the Sikh community is, no doubt, an outgrowth from Hindus. In fact, through the 1880s and beyond, the Sikhs regarded themselves and were regarded by everybody else as an integral part of the Hindus. Like many other sects which have sprung from the Indian soil, the Sikhs were threatened with reintegration into the social fabric of Hindu society. Intermarriages between Hindus and Sikhs were common, and in a single family one brother could be Hindu and another a Sikh.

In 1896, N.A.J. Bhattacharya, a Hindu scholar of Bengal predicted in his book Hindu Castes and Sects the disappearance of Sikhs as such, He had the impression that “the Sikhism under British rule is fast losing its vitality and drifting towards amalgamation with the Hindu faith.”

The historical tendencies towards differentiation between the Hindus and the Sikhs received powerful support in the religious te form movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries, which emphasized doctrinal and religious differences between the religious practices of the two communities. Of these movements, Swami Dyananda Sarswati’s Arya Samaj (founded in 1875) proved to be the most formidable foe of Sikhism. The rise and expansion of Arya Samaj in the Punjab had a decisive bearing on Hindu Sikh relations. Dyanand’s belief in the infallibility of the Vedas could not be appreciated by the orthodox Sikhs. The Granth was to him a book of secondary importance, and the Sikh gurus, men of little learning; Nanak, he denounced as dambhi (hypocrite). The Arya Samaj maintained that Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs had both been converted from Hinduism in one of their earlier lives and so it was perfectly legitimate to win them back to their original faith. The Shuddhi crusade launched by the Samaj was fiercely resisted by the Sikhs through the Singh Sabha Movement, founded at Amritsar in 1873. The aim of the Singh Sabha was to educate the Sikhs and make them more aware of their religion, to free them from Hindu practices, and to remind them of their cultural heritage.

The more the Arya Samajists declared Sikhism to be a branch of Hinduism, the more the Sikhs insisted that they were a distinct and separate community. This action and reaction broke up the close social relationship which had existed between the two communities. It found expression in a book let (1897) Ham Hindu Nahin Hain (We are Not Hindus) by a Sikh scholar, Kahan Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Nabha. The elimination of Hindu influence, which had penetrated Sikhism by the turn of the century, become the main object of Sikh leadership. This is the reason why the Sikhs became less and less willing to class themselves automatically with the Hindu community. The Gurdwara Reform Movement, which continued for over five years (19201925), play. ed a decisive role in the growth of modern, militant Sikh identity. The movement’s aim was to wrest control of Sikh temples from the band of corrupt and Hinduised mahants (priests) who were accused of mismanaging their affairs and funds. The agitation culminated in the passage of the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, and had profound consequences for the development of Sikh consciousness and Sikh political action. From the Gurdwara Reform Movement emerged the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to manage Gurdwaras and the Akali Dal. its agitational and political arm. Khushwant Singh, in his History of the Sikhs, has argued that the most significant outcome of the intense agitation in which the Hindus supported the mahants against the Akalis was to widen further the gulf between the two communities.

By regaining control of gurdwaras from the Hindus, the Sikhs proved themselves to be more intelligent than the Buddhists. A similar situation had arisen in India soon after Ashoka, when the Hindu priests pretending to have embraced Buddhism, captured the Buddhist shrines, pushing the Buddhist priests out of the temples and then beyond to the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Bhuddhism soon disappeared from the land of its origin. This is what the Sikhs did not allow to happen.

The break from Hinduism was emphatically stated by Mehtab Singh, a Punjab M.L.A., in a speech he delivered in the Provincial assembly in April, 1921,0n the first Gurdwara Bill: “I, for one, say that the Sikhs do not wish to. remain in the fold of Hinduism. Why should the Hindus seek to force ‘them to do so? What benefit can they obtain by keeping an unwilling people as partners in their community? Why not let them go? That, Sir, is at the bottom of the whole excitement. The Hindus say: we will manage your affairs for you as your gurdwaras are partly yours and partly ours. We say: we wish to manage our own affairs and look after our own gurdwaras and are determined to do so.”

After the Sikhs had triumphed in the Gurdwara Movements, they were faced with a dilemma: were they a separate people or a branch of the Hindu social system? That became a major issue in the years that followed. On the one hand, they felt bound to continue supporting Mr. Gandhi and the freedom movement. On the other, they did not want to be swallowed up by the Congress Party. Mr. Gandhi saw the Congress as a party of all Indians Hindus, Musliris, Sikhs and believers in many other faiths. Like Mr. Jinnah and the Muslim league, many Akalis saw this as a ruse to establish Hindu Raj in the Indian Subcontinent. This should have made the Akalis and the Muslim league natural allies, but the Sikhs still retained their antipathy against the Muslims, brought up as they were on stories of the Mughal’ persecution of their gurus. So the majority of the Akalis supported Mr. Gandhi and Congress Party’s struggle for independence.


Most of the Sikh leaders followed the Hindus in opposing the Pakistan demand without considering its implications. Their countermove was the Sikh homeland scheme, or Azad Punjab put, forward ostensibly at the behest of the Hindus. “The way the Sikh spokesmen worded their demand for a Sikh state”, writes Khushwant Singh, “not as something inherently desirable but simply as a point in an argument against Pakistan robbed the suggestion of any serious consideration.”

It is an irony of history that the very idea of “Sikhistan” was the product of a Hindu mind. It was Mr. Savarker, President of the Hindu Mahasabaha, who in a message to the Karachi Sikh Conference (1941) urged them to strive for the establishment of Sikhistan. He said: “When the Muslims wake up from the daydreams of Pakistan, they shall see Sikhistan established in the Punjab” (Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. I, p. 370).

At this crucial period, the Sikh leaders failed to understand what was really in the interest of their community. They could not take a fuller view of the course of events nor could they understand the strategy of the Congress,

By throwing in their lot with the Congress and demanding partition of the Punjab, the Sikhs made a cardinal error. If their leaders had possessed the required foresight and wisdom to compare the prospects of their community in Muslim India with those in Hindu India, they would have come to a different decision. They made themselves over entirely to a community which was capable of drowning any other community in the surging waves of the immensity of its size. By deciding to join Hindu India the Sikhs virtually committed cultural suicide.

The partition of India (1947) unleashed a holocaust unparalleled in history. The Sikhs living in West Punjab were the worst suffers, but they took their revenge on Muslims living in East Punjab. The vast Sikh migration to East Punjab resulted in the consolidation of the community. The Akali Dal leaders now considered it their task to win nights and privileges for the Sikhs which would safeguard their religion in independent India.

which they believe would be Hindu dominated. Post partition conditions made many Sikhs doubt the wisdom of having thrown in their lot with the Hindus. The chief cause of Sikh uneasiness in free India was the resurgence of Hindnism which threatened to engulf the minorities. Renascent Hinduism manifested itself in a phenomenal increase in Hindu religious organizations, the revival of Sanskrit, and the ardent championing of Hindi. The Punjabi Hindu was more aggressive than the Hindu of other provinces. Organizations, notably those connected with the Arya Samaj and its political counterpart, the Jana Sangh, started a campaign to persuade Punjabi speaking Hindus to disown their mother tongue and adopt Hindi.

How could the Sikhs retain their distinct and separate identity in a state nominally pledged to secularism but in actual practice rabidly Hindu.

Courtesy: The Muslim

Article extracted from this publication >>  February 13, 1987