Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Sikhs in 1947: Abandoned and Betrayed by British Government

"Sikhs were sacrificed on the altars of Muslim ambition and Hindu opportunism." Alan Campbell-Johnson, PA to Lord Mountbatten, in his private memoirs: "Mission with Mountbatten"

"due to the neglect on the part of the Cabinet Mission to make satisfactory provision for the Sikh community in the future Constitution of India there seems to be a strong possibility of a clash between the Khalsa and the British...such step-motherly treatment of a community noted for its high standard of courage and spirit of sacrifice...this grievous wrong." Colonel Landen Sarasfield, Introduction, Betrayal of the Sikhs, 1946

Saturday, 25 April 2009

William Wallace: Sikh Joins Scottish 700 year Celebration

In September 2005, Sikhs marched alongside the Clan Wallace to mark 700 years of Scotland's greatest BRAVEHEART, William Wallace!

The two nations of Scot and Sikh share immense similarity and affinity. Their common histories, struggles, battles, clans and misals, rugged culture, battle for liberty and freedom, denial of national statehood. These are the common ingredients that make up the vibrant histories of the Scots and Sikhs.

Sikhs marched proudly with the Clan Wallace in Lanark, Scotland, on 11th September 2005, celebrating the braveheart spirit which defines both nations and their enduring histories. Sikhs highlighted their parallel William Wallace, the famous heroic Banda Singh Bahadur. Like Wallace, he fought a guerilla war against the mighty Moghul empire to make Panjaab an independent state. Attaining initial independence for a short while (1710-1716), his forces were overpowered by the unr
elenting Moghul forces constantly on the attack against Panjaab. The flag of P
anjaab was once again subdued, Banda Singh was taken prisoner alongwith hundreds of other fellow fighters. Shackled and caged in hugely constructed cages, he was publicly paraded like Wallace, in the capital of the Moghul empire (Dheli).

He was publicly executed alongside his five year old son! The executioner first torn open the live body of his son, ripping out the palpating heart. Stuffing that into the mouth of Banda Singh, he then turned to Banda Singh. His body was slowly, methodically, in full public fanfare, hacked limb by limb, exactly like William Wallace!

The intense passion and bravery of these two foremost bravehearts of history, continue to simmer and sizzle in the minds of their nations; inspiring them to reclaim what has been taken from them and overthrowing the mentality of submission and acceptance of superpower domination.

In front a gathering of tens of thousands of Scots, in Lanark main park, Sikhs performed the historic Sikh battle combat discipline, popularly known as 'Gatka'. Scots who had fought with Sikhs in history, during the Anglo-Sikh wars, had reverred memories of the formidable Sikh soldier. Seoras Wallace, head of the Wallace Clan, spoke of his intense respect and affinity for the Sikhs, and the oral history past down through the Wallace generations about the Sikhs. Bhai Harjinder Singh (pictured below with his son) and his team from the Baba Deep Singh Gatka Akharra (Birmingham), gave a stunning performance to a mesmorised Scottish audience.

William Wallace and Banda Singh 'Bahadur' (braveheart) for ever!!!

For further details, contact Harjinder Singh at or 07813 488 168.

Anglo-Sikh Wars

Sikhs are the "bravest and most warlike and most disruptive enemy in Asia." Lord Hardinage(1785-1856) Governor General of India(1844 - 48), commenting on British-Sikh relations before the Wars.

"the safety of our own State requires us to enforce the subjection of the Sikh is indispensable to the security of the British territories and to the interests of the people, that you should put an end to the independence of the Sikh nation and reduce it to entire subjection." Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General India, Papers Relating to the Punjab, 1847-1849, page 663

Direct hand-to-hand combat with a Akhali Sikh fighter:

"a party of Akhalees...on foot stopped and fought us, in some instances very fiercley. One...beat off four sowars one after another, and kept them all at bay. I then went at him myself, fearing that he would kill one of them. He instantly rushed to meet me like a tiger, closed with me, yelling "Wah Gooroo ji", and accompanying each shout with a terrific blow of his sword. I guarded the three of four first, but he pressed so closely to my horse's rein that I could not get a fair cut in return. At length I pressed in my turn upon him so sharply that he missed his blow, and I caught his tulwar backhanded with my bridle hand, wrenched it from him, and cut him down with the right, having received no further injury than a severe cut across the fingers; I never beheld such desperation and fury in my life. It was not human scarcely...." William Hodson, Twelves Years of a Soldier's Life in India, London 1859

"No nation could exceed them in the rapidity of their fire...No men could act more bravely than the Sikhs. They faced us the moment we came on them, firing all the time...their individual acts of bravery were the admiration of all." 'Camp Ramnuggar, 25 November 1948' in Illustrated London News, 27 January 1849

Panjaab was the last region of South Asia to be conquered by the British imperialism. Whilst the various territories and kingdoms were swallowed up from 1750s onwards, Panjaab continued to hold steadfast against British overtures. Its proud Sikhs continued to declare their independence, and their intention of not become another victim of British expansionism.

The much unknown and undiscussed Anglo-Sikh Wars, represented the most intense challenge to the stability and safety of British rule across South Asia ('India'). The Wars comprised two parts, first 1845-1846 and then, again, as the Sikhs refused to be subdued, in 1848-1849.

"The Sikhs were always the most formidable opponents of the British among the natives of India..." Karl Marx, First Indian War of Independence 1857-1859, page163

"the Khalsa fought as no man ever did in India before."
Subedar Sita Ram, an Indian officer in the British Army

Following agreements and alliances and co-operations, forged decades earlier in the form of the Treaty of Amritsar 1809, and lesser known Treaty of Amity and Friendship in 1806, relations between the Sikh Panjaab and the delicate British Raaj in South Asia broke down from 1839 onwards. Tensions, suspicions and rivarly was already in place, as both powers suspected each others regional intentions. Panjaab remained anxious and apprehensive about the unending British expansion across the whole map of South Asia. The famous Ranjeet Singh, Maharajah of Panjaab, predicted during his life, that "one day the whole map of India will be red." Red depicting British control. By the 1830s, Panjaab had begun to feel encircled by British territorial expansion.

"The quality of resistance experienced from the Sikhs was higher than the British ever met in India before, even from the Gurkhas...The English were badly mauled at Ramnagar, Sadulpur and at Chillianwala..." Colonel Landen Sarafield, Betrayal of the Sikhs, 1946, page 18-19

The British found the staunchly independent Panjaab, a major political sore to their grand plan across South Asia. A strong, independent, assertive state like Panjaab posed serious difficulty to the interests across the whole region. Their continuous designs on Afghanistan, would require co-operation from Panjaab. Panjaab had made it plain that it was not prepared to be a lame ally, and certainly not be used as a pawn in Britain's 'grand game' across South Asia. Panjaab had a full sense of self-existence and self-confidence. Unlike the rest of India's independent kingdoms and territories, it had no intention of being subdued and subsumed into the mushrooming British India.

1831 circa, Ranjeet Singh had invited the rajahs and maharajahs of India to rally behind him, in a united resistance to the unceasing British expansion. However, not a single of them came forth. All of them became a target of Britain's quest for supreme territorial power across South Asia, toppling like dominoes one after the other.

This Panjaabi pride and independence, continued to prick the British political mind. Unlike Panjaab was subdued once and for all, the British Raaj could never be stable. The Anglo-Sikh wars were a product of these mounting tensions.

"With the conquest of Scinde and the Punjab, the Anglo-Indian Empire had not only reached its natural limits but it had trampled out the last vestiges of independent Indian states." Karl Marx, The First Indian War of Independence 1857-1859, p.35

The Anglo-Sikh Wars comprised a series of battles across Panjaab. Finally, the Sikhs, through a combination of British military subterfuge (i.e. bribing the Hindu Dogra Generals of the Sikh armies with money and offers of royal titles over Kashmir and sabotage of Sikh canons) and military fire-power; the Sikhs were defeated.

"In spite of the fine organisation of their army, which fought against the British with stubborn bravery, the Sikhs were defeated in battles at the village of Mudki (near Ferozepore) on December 18, 1845, at Ferozeshah on December 21, 1845, and at the village of Aliwal near Ludhiana on January 28,1846. As a result, the Sikhs lost the first Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46. The chief cause of the defeat was treachery on the part of their supreme command." Karl Marx, page 195

"It is only since 1849, that the one Anglo-Indian Empire has existed." Karl Marx, First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859, p.24

The Panjaab was signed off in the Treaties (Amritsar, Lahore and Bhyrowaal) that followed, as a 'protectorate' and then fully annexed into British India.

"Punjab was conquered in British campaigns against the Sikhs in 1845-46 and 1848-49. The Sikh teaching of equality (their effort to reconcile Hinduism and Islam) became the ideology of the peasant movement against the Indian feudals and Afghan invaders in the late 17th century. As time went on, a feudal group emerged from among the Sikhs whose representatives stood at the helm of the Sikh state. In the early 19th century the latter included all Punjab and a number of neighbouring regions. In 1845, the British colonialists enlisted the support of traitors among the Sikh gentry to provoke a conflict with the Sikhs, and in 1846 succeeded in turning the Sikh state into a vassal principality. In 1848 the Sikhs revolted, but were totally subjugated in 1849. With the conquest of Punjab all India became a British colony."
Karl Marx, The First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859, p.186

"India: Another Victory over The Sikhs" - Times (London), 31st March 1846

"At the close of the second Sikh war it was determined to annex the Punjaub to British territory, and to put an end to the separate Khalsa Government of the Sikhs." Memorandum by Charles Wood and the Council of India, 21st March 1860

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Sikhs in British Armed Forces

"their valour, loyatly, toughness, endurance, elan in battle, and their soldierly appearance made them valued by many officers above all other classes."

"infantry battalions from the Punjab increased from twenty-eight in 1862, to thirty-one in 1885, and to fifty-seven in 1914."

"During World War II 300,000 Sikhs served in the army..."

"Of the twenty-two Military Crosses awarded to Indian soldiers in World War I, fourteen were won by Sikhs."

"Armies of the Raj", Byron Farewell, 1989

Battle of Saraghari, 12th September 1897, North West Frontier:

"The British...are proud of the 36th Sikh Regiments. It is no exaggeration to record that the armies which possess the valiant Sikhs cannot face defeat in war", British Parliament, House of Commons.

"You are never disappointed when you are with the Sikhs. Those 21 soldiers all fought to the death. That bravery should be within all of us." Field Marshall William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim

"Unparalleled bravery and sacrifice in the history of military battle" :
21 Sikhs (36th Sikhs) fight to death defending British fort against 15,000 Afghan tribesmen

Duleep Singh - first Sikh in Britain

"we received the young Maharajah Duleep Singh, the son of Ranjeet Singh who was deposed by us after the annexation of the Punjab. He has been carefully brought up and was baptised last year so he us a Christian. He is extremely handsome and speaks English perfectly and has a pretty, graceful and dignified manner...This young prince has the strongest claim on our generosity and sympathy; deposed when a little boy of ten, he is as innocent as any individua of the misdeeds which compelled us to take possession of his territories. I always feel sorry for these poor desposed Indian princes." Queen Victoria, 1st July 1854 (Journal of Queen Victoria)

Maharajah Duleep Singh (1837-1893) -
the Sikh Bonnie Prince Charlie

This boy maharajah, the son of the grandiose king of Panjaab, Ranjeet Singh, was taken into British custody, immediately following the defeat of Panjaab in 1849. Sikh resistance to British expansionism into Panjaab, following two intense wars - the Anglo-Sikh Wars between 1845 and 1849, had failed. Panjaab was no more an independent state. It was now safely secured as border state for British India. This last bastion of independence, and a potential threat to Britain's security in India, was no firmly in British control.

Maharajah Duleep Singh, aged 5 at the time, personified that independence in the Sikhs. To ensure that no further Sikh activity was possible, Duleep Singh was promptly taken into British imperial custody and kept concealed from the Sikh masses.

He was taken to England, where he was fitted out with a brand new lifestyle. He was brought up in a royal environment, under the care and attention of Queen Victoria, the Empress of India. His life would be that of a grandiose 'country-gentlemen', mixing with aristocracy, hunting, enjoying the lavish features of a typical royal life. He had been completed infused with a British aristocratic character. All his Sikhness has been erased.

However, as he grew in adulthood, contact with his long exiled mother, Rani Jindan and other figures from his family, Thakar Singh Sandawalia, produced a string of deep feelings about his origins. His country, his home, his religion, his history, his independence and more began to rock his internal being.

The country-gentleman Duleep sought a return to his Sikh origins. He took amrit, to formalise his Sikh re-connection. He started to aspire to Sikh sovereignty and statehood, once again. His feelings of dissatisfaction and rebellion against the social and political confines of life in England as the 'black prince' royal householder, began to overspill. He began active plans to return to Panjaab, and re-start a freedom movement.

This boy prince taken from Panjaab, and his attempts to revive and reconnect with his Sikh origins, brought him into direct and intense conflict with his British imperial overseers. Duleep was never allowed to return to Panjaab territory. This young figure was vigorously surveilled as he crossed the world, in search of support for his envisaged war of independence. He sought help from Britain's arch enemy, the imperial Russians; but without success. He bore an anguished dream to return and revive his country from its position as subdue province in British India.

This young pretender, like Bonnie Prince Charlie of Scotland, was watched and pursued by the might of the British imperial state. As the first Sikh to come to Britain, thought without consent, he wanted to leave rapidly. His lenghty appeals to Queen Victoria, his main carer, to rectify the rights of his country, fell on deaf ears. In fact, they provoked anger and bitter revulsion towards the 'brat'.

His life story represents a magnificent heartache and struggle for justice. His spirit took on a whole empire. In 1838, he died in a Paris hotel of a suspicious heart-attack. Broken and down-trodden in his agonising pursuit of freedom for his cherished country, he left behind a legacy that continues to inspire the minds of Sikhs in Britain over a hundred years later.

Duleep Singh's story is very much the story of the British imperial conquest and subjugation of the Sikh nation between 1845 and 1849. Whatever, the relationship and gradual friendship that has emerged thereafter, with critical Sikh sacrifices to defend the British from the most fatal threats to their control (i.e. Indian rebellion 1857, Battle of Saraghari 1897, Second World War 1939-45); the injustice and impact of the Anglo-Sikh wars on Sikh life and liberty and independence remains a deep scar visited and re-visited by the aspiring Sikh nation. History-makers like Duleep Singh (the deposed 'King' of the Sikhs) have left a powerful legacy, which is picked up by inspired generations to come. History will certainly be made further.

For further details on the life of his British-Sikh hero, see:

Saturday, 18 April 2009


"The UK owes an immense debt of gratitude to the courage and sacrifice of the Sikh soldiers." Prince Charles, St.James Palace, 24 April 2008

Winston Churchill urges respect for Sikhs
"British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs...we needed their help twice and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are able to live with dignity, honour and independence..."

In his "Let's Respect the Turban" speech to the House of Commons, following the conclusion of the second World War, Churchill said:

".....It is a matter of regret that due to the obsession of the present times people are distorting the superior religious and social values, but those who wish to preserve them with respect, we should appreciate them as well as help them. Sikhs do need our help for such a cause and we should give it happily. Those who know the Sikh history, know England's relationship with the Sikhs and are aware of the achievements of the Sikhs, they should persistently support the idea of relaxation to Sikhs to ride a motorbike with their turbans on, because it is their religious privilege...British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity, and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans. At that time we were not adamant that they should wear safety helmets because we knew that they are not going to wear them anyways and we would be deprived of their help. At that time due to our miserable and poor situation, we did not force it on them to wear safety helmets, why should we force it now? Rather, we should now respect their traditions and by granting this legitimate concession, win their applaud."


2009 will mark 200 years of formal contact between the British and Sikhs. In 1809, the first official treaty of 'amity and concord' - Treaty of Amritsar - was signed between the British authorities and the Government of Panjaab. On 25th April 1809, Charles Metcalfe from the British East India Company met with Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, in Amritsar, to sign a formal agreement of 'friendship and co-operation'.It represents a major signpost in history of British-Panjaabi and British-Sikh relations. Much has followed from this official contact - friendly and unfriendly, in what is today a very eventful, tumultuous, controversial, history of British-Sikh contact, interaction, subjugation, service, submission, sacrifice, betrayal, subjugation, migration, racism, social cohesion and integration.

2009 will be an opportunity to highlight the last 200 years of BRITISH-SIKH RELATIONS: Past, Present & Future. A series of talks, event, exhibitions, discussions, are invited from across British and Sikh communities and organisations in the UK. Ideas, include pictorial exhibitions of Sikhs in British Life, the Untold Story of the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Sikhs in 1947: the British role, Sikh migration and settlement in Britain, the Britain's Unrecognised Hero: Sikh Soldier in the World Wars, Cohesion & Integration: Sikh-British diaologue.

Communities, organisations, history groups, societies, gurdwaras are encouraged to organise an event which will inform and inspire British and Sikh minds about their unique and intricate relationship over the last 200 years, and how it continues to unfold and evolve today.We invite you to join in, organise a local event, talk, exhibition, create awareness of the historic British-Sikh bonds and further the cause of understanding and cohesion between Britain and the Sikh nation.

TREATY OF AMRITSAR: 25th April 2009 marks exactly 200 years
since the British and Sikhs came into contact. On 25th April 2009, Sikh-British relations were formally commenced with the signing of the TREATY OF AMRITSAR, between the Government of Panjaab and the British East India Company (as authorised by the British Government).

The Treaty formalised 'amity and concord' between the Panjaab state, the country of the Panjaabi-Sikh people, and the British Government and its East India Company which controlled and governed much of the territories of South Asia ('India') as part of British India.

The history of British-Sikh relations is rich with details, events, wars, colonialism, migration and more.

The Anglo-Sikh relationship is a vibrant story of foes becoming friends. It is a mixture of official treaties, conflict, intense wars, betrayal, political failures, imperial schemes, mass agitations and protests, bullets and bloodshed, protection, sacrifices, migration, settlement and social cohesion.

Timeline 1809 to 2009
The following is a summary time-line of this 200 year history.

1809: Signing of Treaty of Amritsar, confirming 'amity and concord' between Sikh state and British India.

1831: Alexander Burnes, British representative, visits Ranjeet Singh in Lahore. Brings a present of a present of horses from King William IV.

1839: Signing of Tripartite Treaty between Panjaab, British and rival Afghan monarch (Shah Shuja).

1845-1849: Two Anglo-Sikh Wars, between Panjaab and British armies. Treaties of Amritsar, Lahore and Bhyrowal signed between defeated Sikh forces and British power, confirming British conquest of Panjaab.

1849: British take-over Panjaab and annex into British India. Terminate Panjaabi state and independence.

1849: Joseph Davey Cunningham (1812-1851), Scottish officer in British political service, publishes "History of the Sikhs: from the origin of the nation to the battles of the Sutlej." Book documents secret British plans to overthrow Panjaab. Book banned and Cunningham dismissed.

1850: Formation of 1st Sikh Infrantry Regiment to serve under British India.

1854: Maharajah Duleep Singh (5-years old, deposed monarchical head of Panjaab), taken to Britain and raised as 'Christian-English gentleman'.

1857: Large-scale rebellion against British rule across India. Sikh-Panjaabi troops provide vital support, preventing near toppling of British control. British Raj survives due to vital Sikh support.

1872: British authorities rounds up Naamdhari Sikh movement activists, campaigning for Panjaab independence and boycott of British rule. Forty-nine activists blown to death by cannon fire. Nineteen hanged. Leader Baba Raam Singh, exiled to Burma (dies in 1885).

1873: Founding of Singh Sabha Movement, to revive Sikh ethics and culture, following alarm at growing Christian missionary conversion activity in Panjaab.

1881: British install their own managers to control the functions of the Harmandir Sahib ('Golden Temple'), Amritsar.

1886: Maharajah Duleep Singh attempts to return to Panjaab. Permitted to arrive in India, under tight surveillance, but prohibited from going to Panjaab.

1887: Duleep Singh seeks Russian support for Sikh revolt. Russia refuses.

1893: Formation of Khalsa College (Amritsar), a major Sikh national educational institution.

1897: Battle of Saragarhi 21 Sikh Soldiers (36th Sikhs) die fighting against 15,000 Afghan tribesman, defending British fort in Saragarhi, North West Frontier region. The whole of the House of Commons (London) stands in praise of this "unparalleled act of bravery".

1908: 100 Sikhs set up first make-shift Sikh Gurdwara in UK, subsequently moved to a permanent location in Shepherds Bush.

1914-1918: Tens of thousands of Panjaabi and Sikh soldiers fight for British in World War One, across Europe and Middle-East.

1919: Jalianwala Bagh Amritsar massacre. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, Governor of Panjaab, gives orders for mass shooting on large-scale civilian protest gathering in Amritsar to "teach Panjaab a much needed lesson". Four hundred civilians killed, and many more seriously injured.

1920: Sikhs form the Gurdwara Reform Movement to rescue various Sikh Gurdwaras from domination and control by 'mahants' and British. Sikhs, also, form Akali Dal as a campaigning body, to assert Sikh national-political rights and fight restrictive British policies.

1925: Sikh Gurdwara Act giving full control of Sikh Gurdwaras to a designated Sikh authority, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee.

1940: Udham Singh shoots dead Sir Michael O'Dwyer, in Caxton Hall, London. Udham Singh arrested, convicted and hanged

1939-1945: 300,000 Panjaabi-Sikh soldiers fight in World War Two.

1946: Colonel Landen Sarasfied, British Army Officer, publishes "Betrayal of the Sikhs", calling upon British Government to protect Sikh position in forthcoming transfer of power set for 1947.

1947: British Government surrenders rule over India, and transfers power to a central government in Dheli. Panjaab is partitioned and divided between two new formed states - India and Pakistan. Sikhs angry and disaffected with entire process. Sikhs feel 'let down and abandoned' by British Government. Sikhs left stateless and without self-government, exposed to the Indian state.

1960s: Large-scale Panjaabi-Sikh migration to England, UK.

1983: House of Lords declares Sikhs (Mandla v Dowell Lee case) to be "more than just a religion". It declares that Sikhs are a distinct racial group on grounds of their ethnic history, language, religion, culture and sense of community.

1984: 100,000 Sikhs gather in Hyde Park, London to protest against Indian Government military onslaught in June 1984 on Panjaab. British Sikhs urge British Government intervention.

2000: British Government bans two Sikh organisations (Babbar Khalsa and International Sikh Youth Federation), under anti-terrorism legislation.

2005: Sikhs participate in William Wallace (Scottish national braveheart) 700 year anniversary parade, Lanark, Scotland.

2007: Call for establishment of a Sikh regiment in British Army rejected by British Government and Commission for Race Equality.

2008: Prince Charles says that Britain "owes an immense debt of gratitude" to Sikhs for their sacrifices in the World Wars.

2008: Sarika Kaur Case : Sikh girl wins legal right to wear her kara at school in Wales following High Court (London) ruling.

2009: Construction of third dedicated Sikh school (Khalsa Primary School) begins in England, in Ealing, London. Sikhs write to Queen Victoria requesting access to Sikh artefacts, Granths and documents held in Windsor Castle.

View the following excellent online sources on Anglo-Sikh history:

Sikhs in Britain

Empire, Faith and Kinship: Exploring 150 years of the Anglo-Sikh relationship

Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail