top of page
  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Punjab and Punjabi

During the Vedic period, Punjab was referred to as Sapta Sindhu, or the land of seven rivers. The Hindu religion predominated in Punjab during this period. Intermittent wars between various kingdoms were characteristic of the time, except when they temporarily unified under the centralized Indian Empires or invading powers. Islamic rule continued throughout a long period (about 1000 years) and much of western Punjab became a centre of Islamic culture on the Indian subcontinent. An interlude of Sikh rule under the Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Sikh Empire briefly saw traditional culture resurface, until the British annexed the region into the British Raj. Following the end of the colonial rule, Punjab was partitioned on religious lines; the Sikh and Hindu majority districts of East Punjab went to India, while the remaining Muslim majority districts of West Punjab went to Pakistan.

Indus Valley Civilization:

It is believed that the earliest trace of human habitation in Punjab traces to the Soan Valley between the Indus and the Jhelium rivers. This period goes back to the first interglacial period in the second ice age, from which remnants of the stone and flint tools have been found. Punjab and the surrounding areas are the location of the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization. These rare ruins of cities thousands of years old, found in these areas with the most notable being those of Harappa, Rakhigarhi, and Rupar. These ancient towns and cities had advanced features such as city planning, brick built houses, sewages and draining systems as well as public baths. The people of the Indus Valley also developed a writing system, that has to this day not been deciphered. It followed the Vedic period (1500 BC), Achaemenid empire (535 BC), Alexander’s invasion (325 BC), Maurya Empire (320 BC), Gupta Empire (320 AD), Empire of Harsa (606 AD), Taank Kingdom (6th and 7th century), Arab conquests (712 AD), Emirate of Multan (mid 800s AD), Hindu Shahis (870 AD), Ghaznavids (977 AD), Delhi Sultan (1173 AD), Langah Sultanate (1445 AD) Mughal Empire (1526 AD), Durranis and Marathas (1747 AD), Sikh Rule (1799 AD), Colonial Period (1849 AD), and finally democratic India In 1947 AD.

In 1870, the Muslim community of Wahabi Sect intended to use jihad to get rid of the non-Muslims by force. Mirza Gulam Ahmad in his Burahin - I - Ahmaddiya wanted to rejuvenate Islam on the basis of the Quran. In the first and second decades of the early 20th century, the idea of Hindu and Muslim separation had become an active political tone. The Indian National Congress (1885) was the main party seeking independence. The All India Muslim league (1906) demanded separate electorate in every province. On April 13, 1919, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre happened. Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered riflemen to open fire into the crowd that had gathered there. The official death reported by British Government was 379 killed, but some reports claimed that more than 1000 killed. The actions of Bhagat Singh, Sukdev, and Rajguru on December 17, 1928 was taken to kill J P Saunders in revenge for killing of Lala Lajpat Rai. They were also responsible for bombing of the Legislative Assembly in Delhi on April 8, 1929. The Unionist Party dominated Punjabi politics from 1920s until the Second World War. It was a strong supporter of the colonial rule. This party did not show good performance at the 1946 Punjab Provincial Assembly Election.

Independence and Partition:

In 1947, India got independence and Punjab Province of British India was divided along religious lines into West Punjab and East Punjab. The Western part was assimilated into the new country of Pakistan while east Punjab stayed in India. This led to migration of Muslims to West Punjab and Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab to India. Inter-communal violence occurred on a large scale, and resulted in 5-8 lakh people killed and one crore people displaced. This was the biggest migration that ever occurred in the world. Punjabi Princely states like Patiala, Nabha, Jind, and Kapurthala also became a part of East Punjab later.

Punjabi Subah:

After independence, the Akali Dal political party (formed 1920) demanded Punjabi Subah on Punjabi language basis as many other states were created on the basis of the languages. But Government did not agree and Punjabi Sikhs felt that it was discrimination against Punjabi. In 1955, Government (Congress) attacked on Harmandir Sahib Amritsar and killed 200 Sikhs who were peacefully protesting there. This action made the movement more serious. Later in November 1966, Indra Gandhi created Punjabi Subah of small size and Chandigarh was not given to Punjab. Sikhs were not satisfied with this decision. Their major demands were still pending like the transfer of Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas to Punjab and solving the water dispute as per riparian law.

Sikhs in Punjab:

Sikhs originated in Punjab during the last decades of the 15th century. It was a general feeling in Punjab that one person from every family should became Sikh so that invaders from the west may be checked. About 75 percent of the Sikhs population of the world lives in Punjab. King Akbar supported religious freedom after visiting Guru Amar Das until his death in 1605. King Jahangir saw the Sikhs as a political threat. He arrested Guru Arjan Dev because of Sikh support for Khusrau Mirza and ordered him put to death by torture. Guru Hargobind declared Sikh sovereignty in the creation of the Akal Takht and established a Fort to defend Amritsar. King Shah Jahan took offence at Guru Hargobind's sovereignty and after a series of assaults on Amritsar forced the Sikhs to retreat to the Sivalic hills. Guru Teg Bahadur moved the Sikhs community to Anandpur, and travelled extensively to visit and preach in Sikh community in defiance of Mughal rule. He aided Kashmiri Hindus in avoiding conversion to Islam, and was arrested and confronted by King Aurangzeb. When ordered to choose between conversion or death, he chose to die and was executed. Guru Gobind Singh moved to Anandpur and established the Khalsa and united the Sikh community against Mughal.

Banda Singh Bahadur made a point of destroying the cities in which Mughals had been cruel to Sikhs, and executed Wazir Khan in revenge for the death of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons. He ruled the territory between the Sutlej river and Jamuna river; established a capital in the Himalayas at Lohgarh. This area was known as Cis - Sutlej State. This area was later occupied by Marathas until the Second Anglo - Marathas war of 1803 -1805, after which the Marathas lost this territory to the British. The Sikh Empire (1799 - 1849) was forged by Maharaja Ranjit Singh on the foundation of the Khalsa from a collection of autonomous Sikh Misls, creating a unified political state. The religious demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (8.40 million), Sikh (0.72 million), and Hindu (2.88 million). After Ranjit Singh's death in 1939, the empire was severely weakened by internal divisions and political mismanagement. The opportunity was useful to the British Empire to launch the Anglo - Sikh wars.

Division of Punjab:

In 1946, massive communal tension and violence erupted between Punjab’s Muslim majority and the Hindu and Sikh minorities. The Muslim League attacked the Government of Unionist Punjabi Muslims, Sikh Akalis' and the Congress led to its downfall. Violence erupted, Muslim and Hindu - Sikh attacked each other and the resulting bloodshed left the province in great disorder. Congress and Muslim League leaders agreed to partition Punjab along religious lines. In 1956, PEPSU state was integrated with the state of East Punjab to create a new, enlarged Indian state called simply Punjab. In November 1966, Punjabi language speaking state Punjabi Subah was created.

Causes of Blue Star Operation:

In 1950, the Constitution Act of India declared Sikhism a sect of Hinduism. Both Sikh members (Sardar Hakam Singh and his colleague) of the Constitution Assembly refused to signed the document. Sikhs rejected this Constitution Act. In the July 1946 Congress Party meeting held at Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru said the Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special consideration and they can live in an area in the North-West where Sikhs can experience the glow of freedom. In the subsequent years, all the personal laws of the Sikhs were abolished and replaced by Hindu states, such as the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, and the Hindu Succession Act 1956. When Nehru was reminded in 1954 of the solemn promises made to Sikhs by the Congress Party, he replied “The circumstances have now changed."

In December 1953, Prime Minister Nehru appointed the State Organising Commission to prepare for the creation of states on linguistic lines. Maharashtra was based on the Marathi language and Gujrat was based on the Gujarati language but no state of Punjab was to be formed with Punjabi as its language. Many states were formed on a language basis. In November 1966, Punjab further trifurcated into Haryana, Himachal and present Punjab. When the plebiscite for the creation of new states was conducted, many Punjabi speaking Hindus wrote their mother tongue as Hindi. There was discrimination for the Punjabis in the distribution of water from the rivers. Riparian law of water was not observed during the distribution of water. Punjab is a riparian state but water was given to non-riparian states having no valid claim. The Central Government introduced Sections 78 to 80 in the Punjab reorganization Act 1966 against the constitution, assumed the powers of control, maintenance, distribution and development of the waters, and the hydropower coming from the Punjab rivers.

Sikhs organized peaceful campaigns for the Punjabi Subah. 12 thousand Sikhs were arrested for their peaceful demonstration in 1955 and 26 thousand in 1960-61. During war with Pakistan in 1965, Akalis give up the compaign and declared unconditional support to the Government. In the 1971 war, General Aurora and General Shabeg Singh played a very important role to win the war. Later, General Shabeg Singh was dismissed from the job, and he felt it very badly. Akalis carried out agitation during the emergency period (1977-79 ) to save democracy. Indra Gandhi wanted to teach them a lesson so she started supporting Narankaris to degrade Akalis. In 1982, Akalis again started agitation for their demands like the transfer of Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas to Punjab and following the rules of riparian law in distribution of water. Later Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala and his followers also joined the agitation. Central Government blamed the Sikhs that they are demanding a separate state and they wanted to divide India. But Sikhs never demanded separate state (Khalistan); their demands were simple as mentioned above. The Government kept on advertising through agencies that the country will be divided, so Indra Gandhi ordered the Army to attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar and 41 other Gurdwaras on Gurpurb (day of Guru Arjun Dev) to demoralize the Sikhs. Most of the important press reporters mentioned that Congress wanted to win Parliamentary Election 1984-85 by showing Congress took stern action to suppress the Sikh agitation and save the country's division. In 1977, Congress had lost the election, but in 1984, the Party won more than 400 seats of Parliament. This formula worked well at the cost of Sikhs.

Aftermath of Blue Star Operation:

The Government declared total casualties of 554 Sikhs (Kharkus and civilians) and 83 soldiers, and 236 soldiers were wounded. Journalist Kuldip Nayar cited Rajiv Gandhi admitted that nearly 700 soldiers were killed, but some other agencies declared a very high number of casualties. Some cases of mutinies by Sikh soldiers, mostly raw recruits, were reported at different places like Bihar, Shri Ganga Nagar and Pune etc. In total, 55 mutineers were killed and 2606 were captured alive. In August 1985, 900 mutineers were rehabilitated with the recommendations of some seniors Army officers. There was more violence in Punjab after operation Blue Star than prior. The operation inflamed tension in Punjab, as 5 lakh deployed Indian troops operated violently in Punjab causing an estimated about 2 lakh Sikh deaths between 1984-1992 and lots of young Sikhs migrated to other countries; America, Canada , Australia, England, New Zealand, Italy, German etc. Asassination of Indra Gandhi was done by Sardar Satvant Singh and Sardar Jaswant Singh out of revenge. It was followed by riots in Delhi and many other places where Congress was in power but it did not happen where BJP was in power. Those were well organized riots undertaken by some agencies with the guidelines of Congress Party as mentioned in the books written by Senior Journalist Kuldip Nayar, Governor of Punjab B D Pandae and Member of R&AW GBS Sidhu. A few senior Congress leaders used to meet in House No. 1 Akbar Road New Delhi to organize such programmes. Operation Blue Star resulted in the death of Head of Punjab (Chief Minister Sardar Biant Singh), Head of Shiromani Akali Dal (resident of Shiromani Akali Dal Sardar Herchand Singh Longowal), Head of India (Prime Minister Indra Gandhi) and Head of Army (Chief of Army Staff General Vaidya).


Operation has been criticized on several grounds including the Government choice of timing for the attack (Gurpurb of Guru Arjan Dev), the heavy casualties, the loss of properties and human rights violence. Before the attack by the Army, a media blackout was imposed in Punjab. On June 4, no warning was provided to the pilgrims to evacuate. Blue Star Operation encompassed 41 other Gurdwaras all over Punjab while Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala was present in Golden Temple only. There was no information sent to the Governor of Punjab, Home Minister of India and President of India regarding the attack on Golden Temple. General Vaidya, who superseded some other Generals in promotion. General Vaidya made the plan to attack Golden Temple Amritsar along with General Sunderjit and General Barar was asked to execute the plan one day before. Accidental release of secret documents in the United Kingdom in 2014 revealed that the Thatcher Government was aware of the Indian Government’s intention to storm the Golden Temple and their Army experts suggested surgical strike involving a helicopter-borne commando operation in February 1984. India was one of the biggest purchasers of military equipment between 1981-1990 from England and Russia. Governer of Punjab in 1984 ,B D Pandae mentioned in his book that Congress wanted the Akali Party to fail and they wanted to win the election of 1984 (Parliamentary) on the Sikh violence basis to show the people that Congress saved the division of the country. High-handed police methods used resulted in more violence in the state.

Punjabi Language:

Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language natively spoken by the Punjabi people in West Punjab (Pakistan) and East Punjab (India). Punjabi has approximately 113 million native speakers. In India Punjabi is written in Gurmukhi, and in Pakistan in Shahmukhi script. In the 2011 census of India, 31.14 million people reported their language as Punjabi (2.74 percent population of India). Punjabi is the most popular first language in Pakistan, with 80.5 million native speakers as per the 2017 census. There were 0.5 million native Punjabi speakers in Canada in 2016, 0.3 million in United Kingdom in 2011, 0.28 million in America and smaller numbers in other countries. Punjabi is the most widely spoken language in Pakistan, the 11th most widely spoken in India and also present in the Punjabi diaspora in various countries. Punjabi is spoken by many dialects in an area from Delhi to Islamabad. The Majha dialect has been adopted as standard Punjabi in India and Pakistan education media, etc. The word Punjabi has been derived from the word Panj-ab (five rivers, Persian word). Punjabi developed from Prakrit languages (Sanskrit) in the 7th century and became stable by the 10th century. Paishachi Prakrit was one of these Prakrit languages, which were spoken in North and North-West India. The earliest writing in Punjabi belongs to the Nath and Yogi era from 9th to 14th century. Bhagat Kabir, Baba Farid and many writers wrote in Punjabi.

Problems of Punjab:

Transfer of Chandigarh, Punjabi speaking areas and the water dispute are the major demands of the state. These are not only demands of the Sikhs but these are the key demands of all Punjabi. All the people of Punjab, all the political parties and all social organizations have to come to one platform to struggle for these demands. Centre Government always projected demands of the Sikhs only, instead of all Punjabi and tried to get political advantage as Congress did in 1984 to win the election. People of Punjab never demanded a separate country, they only demanded some genuine demands. But Congress party ordered the army to attacked on Golden Temple Amritsar, organized riots in Delhi, Kanpur and many other places after the assassination of Indra Gandhi; killed thousands of innocent Sikhs who had no concern with the demands of Punjab. Prisoners of different jails and some organizations were used for riots. After 35 years, the court gave punishment to Jagdesh Titler; HKL Bhagat died without punishment, many culprits did not get any punishment. After the 1984 riots, the real culprits were awarded with good positions in the Congress party and administration. Government put pressure on the court and evidences were destroyed so court could give punishment only to a few culprits. Every Indian knows about the real culprits but the court needs evidence to punish. There is urgent need to change the laws so that rioters may be punished in one or two years. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, none of the Tamil was killed in Delhi and other places. Had he been killed by a Sikh/Punjabi then there would have been riots again. It indicates that Center Government considers Sikhs/Punjabis as different people. After 1947 all states were formed on the language basis but Punjab state took long time to form on language basis after a long struggle. In all other states capital remained with the primary state but in case of Punjab no decision was taken even after 75 years. Riparian law is followed all over the world to solve water dispute but it was ignored in the case of Punjab. B D Pandae, Governor of Punjab during 1984, explained the truth in his book and similar observations have been made by GBS Sidhu, senior officer of R&AW, and Nayar, senior journalist, in their books. Indra Gandhi wanted to damage the Akali Dal Party so planning was done in 1982 by a group of senior Congress leaders who sit in House No. 1 on Akbar road but later in 1984 it planned to win the election at the cost of Sikhs/Punjabi, that they wanted to divide the country and Congress got more than 400 seats in Parliamentary election, although few years ago Congress lost the election. Congress got the sympathy of people. Akali Dal Party never wanted separate state, it only demanded genuine demands as mentioned above. About 28 meetings were held with the Central Government and the decision was almost done in February 1984 but at the last movement Indra Gandhi changed her mind because she was only interested to win the election by the genocide of Sikhs as she was advised by her some advisers. During the riots against Sikhs in Delhi, Haryana, and other places Hindus tried to save the Sikhs and nothing happened in Punjab against Hindus. Sikhs and Hindus always remained in good relations with each other. Only some Congress men organized riots by the criminals taken from the jails and arranged by agencies, and police helped the rioters (police got orders from higher authorities) instead of saving the Sikhs.

August 15, 1947:

India got freedom on August 15,1947. This day is celebrated all over India with great pleasure and happiness. But Punjab state was divided as West Punjab (Pakistan) and East Punjab (India): more than one crore people became homeless and they had to migrate to other places for settlement and 5-8 lakh people were killed in clashes with each other. Celebration of August 15 is very pinching for Punjabi people. Nehru, Patel, and Jinah decided to divide Punjab while none of them belong to Punjab. The British did not motivate for riots, only our leaders motivated the people for riots. Lord Mount Baton tried his best to avoid division of Punjab but our leaders did not agree. During the 75 years, most of our leaders did not work sincerely to develop the country but they remained busy in collecting money and promoting their kids and relatives for the same purposes. This freedom proved disastrous for Punjabis of both sides. During the wars with Pakistan, both sides suffered the maximum. Now it is time to cooperate with each other by promoting business and trade, as we have already suffered a lot.

74 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Punjabi Language

Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language native to the region of Pakistan and India. It is one of the most widely spoken native languages. Over 95% of people who speak Punjabi as their first language live in


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page