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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Sikh Genocides in the 18th Century


Origin of Sikhism:


Sikhism began in the days of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and grew to be a distinctive force after the formation of Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Govind Singh. Since the martyrdom of the fifth Guru Arjan Dev, the Sikhs have been known to make use of arms for self-defence as directed by the sixth Guru Hargobind. In most of the families of Punjab, one person adopted the Sikh religion. The Khalsa was designated to oppose the tyranny of the Mughal Empire and any other form of injustice.


Mani Singh Shaheed:


Mani Singh was an important Sikh scholar and teacher who lived in the city of Amritsar. He obtained Zakaria Khan's permission to hold the Diwali celebrations in Amritsar on payment of a tax of 5000 rupees, but it was later cancelled. As a consequence, no money was paid by Mani Singh. He was prosecuted for not paying the stipulated money. He was given the choice of embracing Islam or facing death. He opted for death and he was cut to pieces joint by joint.



Massa Ranghar:


Massa Ranghar was a military officer of Zakaria Khan stationed at Amritsar. He occupied the holy place Harimandar Sahib and consumed alcohol there. On August 11, 1740, Mehtab Singh and Sukka Singh (Rajasthan) entered Harimander Sahib as revenue officials, cut off Massa Ranghar's head and escaped.


Martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh:


Sikhs were not allowed to do farming, business or be employed, with the orders of Zakaria Khan, Governor of Lahore. Sikhs had to live in the jungles. Bhai Taru Singh, at 25 years old, lived in the Puhla village. Someone informed Zakaria Khan that Bhai Taru Singh supplied food to the Sikhs living in the jungle. The governor sent his soldiers to catch Taru Singh and bring him to Lahore. He was given the choice of embracing Islam or facing death. He opted for death and his skull was cut in 1745.


The Massacre of 1746 (Chhota Ghalu Gahra):


Jaspat Rai, a military commander, was killed in an encounter with a band of Sikhs. His brother Lakpat Rai, Revenue Minister Lahore vowed his revenge with the help of the new Governor of Lahore, Yahiya Khan. Lakpat Rai mobilized the Lahore Troops, summoned reinforcement, alerted the dependent rulers of the kingdom in the Himalaya foothills, and aroused the population for the genocide of Sikhs. The Sikhs inhabitants of Lahore were first rounded up, and executed on March 10, 1746. Lakpat had with him a large force of mostly, cavalry supported by cannons. Lakpat Rai fought with Sikhs in the Kaahnoovaan jungle (near Gurdaspur) and later in the Lakhi jungle (near Bathinda). About 7000 Sikhs were killed and 3000 captured and publicly beheaded. In 1747 Shah Nawas, the Governor of Lahore and his Afghan allies resumed their genocidal campaigns against Sikhs. They did desecration of Sikh places of worships and organized capture, torture and merciless execution of tens of thousands of Sikh men, women and children. In 1957, Durrani plundered forth times and Harmandir Sahib was blown up.


The Massacre of February 5, 1762 (Vadda Ghalughara):


It was a bloody massacre during the campaign of Afganistan's (Durrani Empire) provincial government based at Lahore to wipe out the Sikhs, an offensive that had begun with the Mughals and lasted several decades. Nirinjania sect (at Jandiala), a friend of the Afghans, sent a message to Durrani for help. When Durrani reached there Sikhs already moved to the Barnala area. Durrani followed them and reached there in 48 hours covering 240 km. In this battle, 32000 Sikhs were killed and most of them were old men, women and children. Mughals continued genocides of Sikhs from 1716 to1762 and Durrani also helped the Mughals in these criminal acts. During this period Sikhs lived in the jungles and whenever Sikhs got a chance they attacked the Mughals.


Misls and Dal Khalsa:


Misl refers to a fighting clan. In Punjab, the period from 1716 to 1799 was a highly turbulent time politically, socially, and militarily. There was an overall decline in the Mughal Empire, particularly in Punjab caused by Sikh military action against it. During this period Sikhs suffered a heavy casualty, but they kept on fighting with Mughals and Afghans. In 1733, Zakariya Khan, the Mughal governor of Lahore failed to suppress the Sikhs by force and planned to come to terms with them, a jäger worth one lack rupees per year, and title of Nawab to their leader. Additionally, unhindered access to and residence at Amritsar was promised to them. The Sikhs accepted the offer and chose Kapur Singh for this title.


In consideration of administrative convenience, Nabab Kapur Singh divided the entire body of troops into two camps, called Buddha Dal (above 40 years old) and Taruna Dal (below 40 years). This arrangement with the Mughal government ended in 1735, and under the pressure of renewed persecution, the Khalsa was again forced to split into small groups. Almost every village in the districts of Amritsar and Lahore produced a Sardar who attracted soldiers to join him for a Jatha or Misl of his own.


Nadir Shah's (Persia) invasion in 1739 gave a severe blow to the crumbling Mughal Empire and gave the Sikhs a chance to consolidate themselves. At their meeting, on the occasion of Diwali, following the death of Zakariya Khan on July 1, 1745, they gathered at Amritsar, passed a resolution and reorganized themselves into 25 groups. By March 1748, there were 65 groups operating in different parts of Punjab.


On the day of Baisakhi, March 29, 1748, the Sikhs gathered at Amritsar to celebrate the festival. A general meeting of Sikhs (Sarbat Khalsa) was convened which decided to offer organized resistance to Mughal oppression, and the entire fighting force of Khalsa was unified into a single body called the Dal Khalsa, under the supreme command of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. The 65 bands of fighters were grouped into 11 Misls. Phulkian Misl under Baba Ala Singh of Patiala was the 12th Misl, but it was not the part of Dal Khalsa Command. A central forum of Panth had to elect the leader of the Dal Khalsa and to lay down its political goal and plans of its military strategy. The Akal Takht was the symbol of the unity of the Dal Khalsa. The Dal Khalsa with its total strength of 70000 essentially consisted of cavalry. Artillery and infantry elements were almost non-existent. A soldier had his own horse and musket. Ha was equipped with both offensive and defensive weapons; ammunition pouches priming horns, two blankets, a grain bag and halters. Soldiers could cover 100 to 200 kilometres in a day and could encamp or decamp in a few minutes.


The Dal Khalsa established its authority over most of the Punjab region in a short time. In 1749, the Mughal Governor of Punjab solicited its help in the suppression of the rebellion in Multan. In early 1758, the Dal Khalsa in collaboration with Marathas occupied Sirhind and Lahore. Within three months of Vadda Ghalughara, the Great Massacre of February 5, 1762, the Dal Khalsa rose to defeat Ahmad Ahah's governor of Sirhind in April- May 1762 and Ahmad Shah himself at Amritsar in October the same year. Sirhind and its adjoining territories were occupied permanently in January 1764. Dal Khalsa had taken possession of Punjab and also carried their victories right up to Delhi and beyond the Yamuna river into the heart of the Gangatic plain.


The Sikhs suffered a lot of war and struggle to be re-established during 1716-1733. In 1733-35 Sikhs organized in the form of Misls. Khalsa carried out a war against the Mughal Empire 1735-1739. Nather Shah of Persia invaded India in 1739-40 and weakened the Mughal. During 1759-1765 Sikhs managed to take power in Punjab and expelled the Afghan invaders. The Sikh Misls established a strong Khalsa Raj during 1765-1791 in Punjab. After 1791 Sikh Misls began to become weaker, because of their war on each other. In 1799 Afghan invaded western Punjab. Maharaja Ranjit Singh expelled Afghan in 1799-1801 and established his Raj in Punjab till his death in 1839. His Raj extended from the Khyber Pass in the West to the Tibet in the East, and from Mithankot in the South to Kashmir in the North.



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