Sikh Liberators (18 Century)
The Sikhs had come to be looked upon as liberator anc champions of the weak and the oppressed. They were known to be ever ready to come to the rescue of their helpless, downtrodden countrymen. They regarded such action to be their bounden duty as followers of Guru Nanak , Guru Gobind Singh. Their religion taught them to be friends of men and foes of all tyrants. Whenever, therefore, they heard that some oppressed people needed help against their oppressors, they acted at once. They rushed to their rescue. They shunned no danger, no hardships, and no sacrifice. They tarried not to weigh the chances of success or failure. They cared not for their own lives. They ever considered it a privilege to die in attempting such noble rescue-campaigns. They ever remembered what their religion taught them: 'Only he should be considered to be worthy and brave, who fights for the poor and the weak; who is cut down to pieces, but never flies from the battle-field.' A few examples of such adventures are given here.
In 1738, Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India. He went through the Punjab, massacring its people mercilessly and lying waste the country-side. He plundered Delhi. He sacked the city and massacred in cold blood over a lakh of its inhabitant's men, women, and children. With elephants, camels, horses, and mules loaded with plunder, he started on his return journey. He also captured thousands of men, women and children. He was carrying them off as slaves. The Sikhs had then been forced to leave their homes and pass their days in hills, forests and the sandy deserts of Rajputana. They heard of the fate of their country's sons and daughters being driven away as Nadir Shah's captives. Their ire was aroused. They decided to release the captives. They rushed out of their hideouts. Organizing themselves in small bands, they fell upon the rear of his army. They carried away much of his booty. They also released their country's sons and daughters from Nadir Shah's slavery, and sent them safely to their homes.
The dreaded Persian was astonished at the daring exhibited by the Sikhs. He called a halt at Lahore. He questioned Zakariya Khan , Governor of Lahore, about them. 'Whence,' demanded the imperious Nadir, 'come those longhaired barbarians who dare to molest me? Who are these mischief-makers?' Zakariya Khan replied, 'They are a group of fakirs who visit their Guru's tank twice a year, and, after bathing in it, disappear.' 'Where do they live? Destroy them and their homes, or they will destroy you.' 'Their homes are the saddles on their horses,' nvas the reply. 'Take care,' said Nadir, 'the day is not distant when these rebels will take possession of your country.' This remark of the Persian invader cut the Governor to the quick. He resolved to launch an all-out campaign against the Sikhs. But they felt no regrets at this. They had long become accustomed to the persecution campaigns of the fanatic foreign rulers. They felt sure that, one-day, their persecutors would disappear from their dear Punjab.
When returning home after his fifth invasion, Ahmed Shah Abdali was taking about 2200 Hindu women and girls as captives. They were to be sold into slavery in Afghanistan. On the way they were to be used by the Afghan soldiers to satisfy their lust. The Sikhs heard of this. At that time, they were, about to eat a meal. They abandoned their meal. How could they eat or drink when their countrywomen, their sisters, were in such a plight. Not caring for their lives, they rushed to do their duty as the Guru's saint soldiers. They fell upon the Afghans near Goindwal. The captive women and young girls were all released. Then they were all conducted to their respective homes in comfort and safety.
Once upon a time, Jassa Singh Ramgharia was informed that the Muhammedan official of Hissar was mercilessly persecuting the Hindus under him. He attacked the honor of their women. He had forcibly carried away two Brahmin girls. He had converted them to Islam. Jassa Singh was deeply distressed at the news. He vowed vengeance against the fanatic tyrant. He rushed to Hissar with a strong force. He fell upon the Muhammedan oppressor. He punished him. He rescued the two Brahmin girls and restored them to their parents.
On other occasion complaints were brought to Hira Singh Nakaii against Shekh Shujah of Pakpattan. The Hindus of that place said that the Shekh and his men were ill-treating the Hindus, dishonouring their women, and slaughtering cows in the lanes and streets. Hira Singh Nakaiyee's anger was roused. He decided to punish the cruel, fanatic Shekhs. He collected his troops and attacked the Shekhs of Pakpattan with a force of two thousand men. Unluckily, he was mortally wounded early in the engagement. He was about to die When picked up by his companions, he heaved a sigh and said, 'I am sorry for my bad luck, my failure to rescue my oppressed countrymen and countrywomen from their oppressors. But I am glad that I am dying while attempting to do my duty. It was not my luck to succeed. I have done what I could. May His Will be done!'
He said this and his spirit flew to the feet of the Father above. His followers were disheartened. Four thousand Shekh horsemen fell upon them. They were outnumbered and over-powered. They fought heroically. They acquitted themselves admirably well as Guru Gobind Singh's lion-like warrior-saints. They felt no regrets. They were glad that they were fighting for and going to die in a noble cause. They were determined to die with their faces towards the enemy. A large number of them were killed. All those heroes sacrificed their lives cheerfully while fighting for the weak and oppressed. They all became martyrs.
On one occasion, Ahmed Shah Abdali or Durrani was returning from his invasion of India. He was carrying away as a prize a large number of Hindu, Muslim and other women and girls. His soldiers were using them as slaves. They were to be sold as slaves on reaching Ahmed Shah's country. News was brought to Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. He resolved to rescue them. He started in pursuit of the Shah. He made a night attack on his camp. He succeeded in rescuing the innocent creatures. He provided them liberally with money and other necessities. He sent them all, under proper escort, to their respective homes. From that day Jassa Singh Ahluwalia came to be called Bandi Chhor or Liberator. This act of bravery and patriotism endeared him to all, Hindus and Muslims alike. It increased his power and influence. It also increased the prestige and popularity of the Sikhs. They came to be regarded as defenders of the weak and the oppressed.
At another occasion the Khalsa had gathered at the Akal Takht, Amritsar, on the occasion of Baisakhi in April 1763. Some Brahmins of Kasur came. They complained bitterly against the Afghan inhabitants of their city. They said, 'The Afghans are most fanatic and cruel in their dealings with us Hindus. They slaughter cows in the streets and lanes, before the doors of our houses. They throw cows' bones into our wells and tanks. They do not allow us to perform our rites and ceremonies. If the cow of a Hindu becomes sick, the qazi goes into that house. He kills the cow there. He carries away the flesh and the skin. The hoofs blood, intestines, and other waste parts are left there. The house-owners have to clean their house with their own hands. Yet if a Hindu does not give timely information about his dying cow, he is severely punished."The Afghans freely attack the honor of our womenfolk. Nobody hears our complaints. They think they have a divine right to treat and use us as they like. The worst offender is Usman Khan. He had forcibly carried away the wife of one of us. He has converted her to Islam. We know that our Khalsa brethren are defenders of the oppressed. We have come to you for help, Khalsa ji, save us from those tyrants. Restore this Brahmin's wife to him."
In Kasur the Afghans had a large army. They had as many as twelve forts. They were very strong. Hence, most of the Sikhs hesitated at first. They feared that the Afghans might prove too strong for them. They were in favor of sending for more saint-warriors, and awaiting their arrival. But Hari Singh Bhangi said, 'Khalsa ji, the Guru created the Panth for the sake of helping and protecting the oppressed, for relieving the helpless and the weak. So it does not become the Khalsa Panth to send away disappointed any one who comes and appeals for help. We shall be failing in the duty assigned to us by the Father of Panth. We must help these helpless people. We must relieve them. We must punish the wicked evildoers. I, for one, will go at once with all my available friends. Others may wait here as long as they think wise and proper.'
He stood up before Guru Granth Sahib, offered prayers, and begged for the Guru's and God's help for success in the undertaking. He then got ready to go. Charat Singh Sukarchakia then stood up and expressed his readiness to accompany Hari Singh Bhangi. The other leaders of the Taruna Dal followed suit.
With shouts of Sat Sri Akal, the Taruna Dal started towards Kasur. Sikhs in thousands joined them in the way. It was then the hot month of May. It was also the period when Muslims had to observe fasts. The Khalsa Dal reached Kasur at about mid-day. They found the city-gates open. They entered without any resistance. Because of the intense heat, the Afghans were resting and napping in their cool underground rooms. Stationing an adequate detachment to guard the gates, the Khalsa Dal fell upon the Afghans. All who resisted were put to the sword. Women and children were left unharmed and unmolested. Usman Khan, with his five hundred men was killed. The Brahmin's wife was restored to her husband. An Afghan chief fell at Jhanda Singh's feet. He begged for mercy. He appealed to him in the name of Guru Nanak-Guru Gobind Singh. He repented for his misdeeds. He promised to reform and behaves like a good man. He begged for mercy and pardon. He offered to pay a large sum as the price of his life.
The Sikh Sardar could easily have deprived the Afghan of all his wealth and killed him like hundreds of his cruel, wicked townsmen. But he had repented for his crimes and sins. He had promised to avoid them and lead a blameless life. Above all, he had appealed for pardon in the name of Guru Nanak-Guru Gobind Singh. No devout Sikh could ignore such an appeal. It was not the Afghan's offer of money but his appeal in the Guru's name that prevailed with that brave, devout follower of the Guru. He accepted the Afghan's prayer and spared his life. Many more Afghans repented and promised to give up their cruel evil ways. They, too, were spared; for the Sikhs were ever averse to shedding blood unnecessarily, and they were ever ready to forgive the repentant.
The Sikhs then plundered the houses of the tyrants. The looting lasted three days. The Sikhs were amply rewarded for their pains. The Hindus of the city felt relieved. Their oppressors had been punished and made to alter their conduct towards the Sikhs. In the course of his ninth invasion in 1767 Ahmed Shah Durrani captured about thirty thousand Hindu women and girls from Ambala and its neighborhood. He wanted to take them to his country and sell them there into slavery. Raja Amar Singh of Patiala, son of Baba Ala Singh heard of this. He paid two lakhs rupees to the Shah and secured the release of the captives. He then arranged to send them to their homes.
When resuming after his ninth invasion Ahmed Shah Durrani captured a large number of Hindu women and girls from Sialkot and its neighborhood. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia ,Charat Singh Shkuakrchakia , and Baghel Singh Karorsinghia fell upon him near the banks of Jhelum. All captive women and girls were rescued. They were then conducted to their homes in comfort and safety.
In 1773 a Brahmin from Jalalabad came to the Khalsa at the Akal Takht, Amritsar. He complained that the Muhammedan official of the city, Hasan Khan, had forcibly taken away his married daughter from her in-laws and converted her to Islam. He prayed that his daughter be rescued and restored to him. A strong Khalsa force, under the command of Kaun Singh Shahid, at once set off towards Jalalabad. Crossing the Jamna, they fell upon the city, killed Hasan Khan, and rescued the Brahmin girl. Her in-laws, at first, hesitated to accept her back. But when the Sikhs got ready to draw their swords, they agreed to take her back. The Khalsa army returned to Amritsar after having performed this duty.
Thus it was that Sikhs acted as deliverers of such of their countrymen as were maltreated or caught by the oppressors. Even Muslim victims of oppression unhesitatingly took their complaints to the Khalsa. They were all redressed without delay or discrimination. This conduct of the Sikhs brought them great credit in the eyes of the people. They began to be regarded as bold and self-sacrificing champions of the weak and downtrodden. The Muslim peasantry of the Punjab began to look upon them as brother Punjabis.
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