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The Jats and Sikh Militarization*

By: Jagjit Singh

Section 1

   1. The Question of Leadership

   2. The Arming of the Panth and Jats

   3. The Jats and Arms

   4. Aims and Objectives

   5. The Role of Jats

   6. The Five K’s

   7. Response to Economic Problems

   8. The Devi Cult, the Jats and the Khalsa

Section 2 Wider Context

   1. Organization

     (a) Jat Organization

     (b) Sikh Organization

     (c) Comments

   2. Lack of Solidarity

   3. Egalitarianism

     (a) Jat Egalitarianism

     (b) Sikh Egalitarianism

   4. The Sikh Egalitarian Revolution

     (a) An Egalitarian Revolution

     (b) Plebian Base

     (c) Collective Leadership

   5. Lack of Political Initiative and Aspirations among Peasants

     (a) Outside India

     (b) Among Jats

     (c) Facts and the Sikh Revolution

   6. Ideology

   7. Conclusion

Notes and References

Section 1

Dr. McLeod has stated that ‘the arming of the Panth could not have been the result of any decision by Guru Hargobind, and that, ‘the growth of militancy within the panth must be traced primarily to the impact of Jat cultural patterns and to economic problems which prompted a militant response.’1 This proposition raised three issues- the question of leadership and initiative, the impact of Jat cultural patterns and economic problems.

1. The Question of Leadership

On this issue, it has to be seen whether effective leadership and initiative lay with the followers of the Gurus or the Gurus themselves.

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that any of the succeeding Gurus was nominated in consultation with, or at the suggestion of, the Sangat (the Sikh followers). The choice of the successor was always a personal decision of the nominating Guru. The faithful were expected to accept the nomination without any reservation. Even when the nomination of the ninth Guru was vaguely indicated by the word ‘Baba Bakale’2, the devout Sikhs diverted all their attention to finding out the intended Baba at Bakala. It was the founder Guru, Guru Nanak himself, who had arrived at the decision that, in order to carry forward his aims and ideals, he must have a successor. Evidently, the choice of the successor was the most important decision of the Gurus, who, whenever necessary, applied extremely rigorous tests before making the final selection. Those who, for whatever reason, did not accept the nomination, had to opt out of the main current or were discarded, as it happened in the case of the Minas, the Dhirmalias and the Ramrayyas. No deviation from the avowed ideology was ever tolerated. Baba Atal, a son of the sixth Guru, is said to have shown a miracle. It being against the Sikh ideology, the Baba was given such a stem reprimand by the Guru for his lapse that he had to give up his mortal coil. Ram Rai, who merely misquoted the Guru Granth in order to please Emperor Aurangzeb at Delhi, was completely disowned by his father, the seventh Guru. It would, therefore, be too simplistic to suggest that the fifth Guru, who laid down his life for the sake of the faith and its ideology but did not agree to change an iota of the Sikh scriptures, would choose a person who would follow an ideological line different from him; or that the sixth Guru, who had made his own son lose his life for an ideological error, would himself allow any distortion of the ideology so as to accommodate his Jat followers.

The entire Sikh history is a refutation of the assumption that the Guru, even though not elected or selected by the Sikhs, were mere figure-heads, had no clear-cut objectives and plans for the community of which they were the accredited and unchallenged leaders, and were stampeded into unauthorised action by the will, predilections or the leanings of their followers. A glance at the landmarks of the Sikh history will further clarify this point.

The turning points in Sikh history during the Guru period were: (i) the break with the Indian ascetic tradition, (ii) the building of a society not based on the caste structure, and (iii) the militarization of the Panth. All these changes were so radically opposed to the Indian religious tradition that it would be idle to suggest that a mere chance combination of ideologically indifferent elements and circumstances placed in juxtaposition could have achieved them. Only a purposeful and determined leadership could have brought about the said departures.

The decision to eschew asceticism was Guru Nanak’s taken at a time when there was practically no organized Sikh sangat. Kabir also preached against asceticism. Why, then were there no marked social and political growths among Kabir-Panthies similar to those of the Sikh? This difference lay in the systematic work that the Sikh Gurus did for their ideals, as is instanced by the third Guru having deliberately separated the Sikhs from the passive recluses. Similar is the case regarding the caste system.

Kabir was unequivocal against the system of castes, but the Kabir-panth never developed into a social entity distinct from the caste-ridden Hindus; because he showed no purposive drive or the will to organize a separate Panth outside the caste society as Guru Nanak and his successors did. The Kabir-Panth did not have to surmount more difficult circumstances than the Sikhs in overcoming caste prejudices. It is Guru Nanak who started the institution of a common kitchen for all. But, it is only the third Guru who made it obligatory for everyone to partake food from the Langar. This calculated approach is indicative of the hesitation or opposition expected from their rank and file to the Gurus’ new line of thinking. When the tenth Guru, after quite a long interval of preparation by the previous Gurus, decided to break away completely from the caste society and created the Khalsa, there were dissensions and disputes among the Sikh ranks.3 But, it was entirely because of the initiative, guiding influence and drive of the Gurus that the movement, despite all opposition, never swerved from its ideals.

The arming of the Sikh community was the third turning point in the Sikh history. This was the necessary sequence of Guru Arjan’s decision to ‘defend his faith by the open profession thereof’, to raise the institution of the ‘True Emperor’, and to help the rebel Khusro. And yet there is an unwarranted conjecture that what Jahangir was really concerned about was the growing Jat following of the Gurus, and that the reasons given by Jahangir himself in his autobiography for his ordering execution of the fifth Guru should be discounted.

2. The Arming of the Panth and Jats

It is an accepted fact that there was a rift in the Sikh ranks at the time of Guru Arjan’s succession. It is nowhere known, however, that those who opted out in favour of Prithi Chand excluded Jat Sikhs. Not far from Amritsar, at Jandiala, was the religious headquarter of Handalias, a schismatic sect of Sikhs, who were themselves Jats and had Jat following.4 But, neither Prithi Chand nor Handalias, both of whom had set up separate Guruships in opposition to the Sikh movement, ever came into conflict with the administration. On the other hand, they cooperated fully with the authorities. Prithi Chand was instrumental in the persecution of Guru Arjan, and, in later history, the Handalias became active agents of the authorities for the persecution of the Sikhs.5 ‘The gurus of this sect (Handalias of Jandiala) took service with Ahmed Shah and drew terrible vengeance on themselves from Charat Singh when he attacked Jandiala in 1762.6 If the mere intrusion of Jat elements into the Sikh ranks could arouse the fears of the authorities, it should have done so in the case of Prithi Chand and Handalias too; because there is no evidence to indicate that the Jat followers of these two sects were less armed than the Jat followers of the Gurus. But the real difference was that one party chose the path of challenging the political authority of the day, while the other was interested in mere ritualism, without the socio-political concerns of the Sikh faith. That Guru Arjan made his momentous choice deliberately, and that it was his own, is established by the fact that he told Jahangir that he was a worshipper of the Immortal God and recognized no monarch save Him. The Sikhs of Lahore wanted to compromise with the authorities by paying the fine on his behalf but he forbade them to do so.7

If the arming of the Panth was at the instance of the Jats, why did Bhai Buddha, the most leading Jat, remonstrate with Guru Hargobind when he found him insisting on the militarization of the Sikhs?8 According to McLeod the enrolment of Jats in large numbers to the Sikhs ranks is supposed to have begun in the time of Guru Arjan. He was Guru for nearly twenty five years. Why this arming of the panth, which McLeod assumes must have preceded Guru Hargobind’s decision, was taken notice of by Jahangir and his subordinates in the last nine months of the Guru’s life and not earlier by Akbar or his Administration? Akbar too could not have been less alive to any potential threat to his political authority.

Nor is there any basis for McLeod’s presumption that the Jats were armed but the Khatris were not. Ibbetson writes: ‘The Khatri occupies a different position among the people of the Punjab from that of other mercantile castes. Superior to them in physique, in manliness and in energy, he is not, like them, a mere shopkeeper, but a direct representative of the Kshatriya of Manu.’9 It is true that the Khatris of the present times have taken more to trade. ‘They are not usually military in their character, but are quite capable of using the sword, when necessary.’10 Nothing prevented the Khatris from bearing arms in the earlier troubled times we are dealing with. When the Taruna Dal branch of the Khalsa Dal was reorganized into five divisions, two of these were headed by Khatris and one by a Ranghreta.11

Nor was Guru Hargobind’s decision to arm the Sikhs taken casually or accidently. In the first place, it was done under the specific instructions of Guru Arjan.12 Secondly, at the very time of his installation as Guru, it is he who directed Bhai Buddha to amend the ceremony followed on such occasions and adorn him with two swords of Meeree and Peeree, signifying the blending of religious and temporal authority. It was not customary for the Sangat to suggest changes or innovate ceremonies, much less a radical departure such as this one. He followed this up by founding the ‘Akal Takht’, a seat of temporal authority as distinct from the place of worship alone, and set up two flags fluttering before it, one distinctly signifying religious and the other temporal authority. Such steps amounted to the declaration of a parallel government and marked an open change in the external character of the movement. Here we have the indisputable authority of Bhai Gurdas, the Guru’s contemporary, that far from persuading the Guru to take these steps, there were grumblings among the Sikhs against the line taken by the Guru.13 Even Bhai Buddha, chief among the Sikhs and the Jat, initially argued against it with the Guru. There is no mention, whatsoever, that -the other Jats among the Sikhs supported the Guru on this issue, or that Sikhs ever grouped themselves on caste lines to deliberate on any subject. The Masands, leaders of the local Sangats, approached the Guru’s mother in ‘order that she should dissuade the Guru from inviting trouble from the rulers. By inference, had those among the Sikhs, who were opposed to Guru Hargobind’s policy of militarization, been consulted, they would not have supported Guru Arjan in bestowing his blessings on Prince Khusro, as that would have invited the Imperial wrath. As the interval between these events is not long, it is reasonable to suppose that the composition of the Sangat could not have changed materially. The incident of the ‘hawk’ also indicates that the initiative for challenging the political authority came from the Guru. As to the creation of the Khalsa, Sainapat, a contemporary, and Koer Singh, a near contemporary, expressly state that the tenth Guru’s step was opposed by many members of the higher castes.14 The dramatic manner in which the nucleus of the Khalsa, the five Beloved Ones, was chosen,15 shows how Guru Gobind Singh had kept his counsel to himself. A surprise was sprung on the Sangat. Far from influencing or pressurizing the Guru to found the Khalsa only five among all the Sikhs came forward to offer their lives, and the total number of others who were also initiated on that day was twenty-five only.16 The creation of the Khalsa caused a serious rift among the Sikh ranks, but the Guru did not deviate from his plan. At Anandpur, on another occasion, he allowed those who wanted to discontinue the military struggle (Bedavias) to depart but stuck to his plan.

 Again, at a time when he had lost his army and had no visible chance of success left, and when some Sikhs suggested to the Guru at Muktsar to discontinue the struggle against the state and offered to bring about conciliation between him and Aurangzeb, the Guru chided them for their presumptuousness in trying to advise the Guru.17

These glaring facts should be enough to show that the initiative and determination for carrying on the armed struggle against the established state was invariably that of the Guru and not that of his followers. The working of a movement or a system cannot be evaluated merely by taking into account the objective or environmental factors. The Indians far outnumbered the British in the administrative machinery of the Government of India; and even in the army the ratio of the Indian soldiers to the British soldiers was roughly three to one. But one cannot conclude from this that the Indians were in effective control of the Government of the country. For the purpose of any assessment, the directive purpose and the levers of power have to be correlated with the objective conditions.

3. The Jats and Arms

It is McLeod’s assumption that the Jats who used to come to Guru Arjan to pay homage must have come armed. In the first place, it was no Indian religious custom to go armed to any holy person. Rather, the general practice was, as a mark of respect, to disarm oneself beforehand. In fact, Ghulam Hussain Khan asserts that upto the time of Guru Gobind Singh the Sikhs wore only religious garb, without any kind of arms’18. Nor is it established that the bearing of arms was a Jat peculiarity. If the Mughal policy was to disarm the population, it would not have left the Jats out. If not, why other elements of the population, especially Khatris and those who later became Mazhabi Sikhs, did not also bear arms? In all probability, the exploited class of peasants were, by and large, unarmed. Arrian noted that husbandmen are not furnished with arms, nor have any military duties to perform.19 The revenue and other demands on them were so excessive that they were compelled to sell their women, children and cattle to meet them. ‘The peasants were carried off, attached to heavy iron chains, to various markets and fairs, with their poor, unhappy wives behind them, carrying their small children in their arms, all crying and lamenting their evil plight.’20 When these peasants resisted, their uprisings misfired, because ‘the purely peasant uprising of a few villages would, perhaps, have constricted pitifully with the military efforts of even the smaller Zamindars.’21 All this points to the probability that the common peasants were unarmed. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that the Jats who came to the Guru were differently placed. When the Sikh visitors to Guru Gobind Singh complained that they were harassed on their way by Muhammadans, the Guru advised them to come armed. That is, probably, also the reason why Guru Gobind Singh in his letters (Hukamnamas) lays special stress that his Sikhs should come armed to Anandpur. The ‘Rehitnamas’ also insist that the Khalsa should remain always armed.22

4. Aims and Objectives

There is another aspect which needs elucidation. What was the motive force, the urge, which led to the militarization of the Sikhs?

The Sikh ideology clearly involved the finding of solutions for the multifarious socio-political problems posed by the times. It is, therefore, important to understand that in the matter of identifying the motivation, the ideology of a movement would normally furnish the closest clue for investigation and verification. In any case, there is no ground for ignoring this approach and instead for putting a premium on random speculation. A good deal of misunderstanding about the Sikh history could be avoided if the prejudice against the religious duty of fighting just political battles and the use of force for a just cause are shed. The Gurus did not ‘dabble in politics’ casually or accidentally, as some historians have put it; they regarded it as their duty to fight not only social injustice but also political oppression. Guru Arjan could have chosen to remain indifferent to political affairs. Similarly, Guru Hargobind could have avoided the setting up of a parallel political authority. Further, why did Guru Har Rai, if he was not working for a set objective, offer military help to Dara Shikoh, knowing full well the consequences that followed a similar step taken by Guru Arjan? Again, Guru Tegh Bahadur deliberately did not follow Aurangzeb’s advice to disarm his followers.23 Instead, he embraced martyrdom to save the oppressed Kashmiri Pandits, because the resolve to resist religious persecution and combat political oppression was a part of the Guru’s programme. Guru Gobind Singh leaves no doubt about his mission of life: “I took birth in order to spread faith, save the saints, and extirpate all tyrants.”24 That his Sikhs also understood it to be so, is shown by the contemporary Sainapat, who wrote that the purpose of creating the Khalsa was ‘to destroy the evildoer and eliminate suffering.’25 The near-contemporary Koer Singh also recorded that the Guru was born to destroy the Mughals.26 (i.e. the tyrants of the times?) Even the later Sikh writings unanimously speak of this being an objective of the mission.27 Sainapat twice makes a very significant remark that, while founding the Khalsa, the Guru at last revealed what had till then been kept a secret.28 This indicates that the creation of the Khalsa was a pre-planned objective of the mission. All these signposts that charter the course of the Sikh movement, extending over a long period, drive one to the conclusion that the Gurus were working with the set aim of combating social and political injustice and of remoulding the social structure.

5. The Role of Jats

Before discussing the role of Jats, we should like to make one point clear. Leaving aside its interactions with the external factors, the Sikh movement in its internal development was essentially the product of the Sikh ideology. But mass movements, especially those which set before them the objective of capturing political power, cannot afford to admit only ideologically conscious members. Such persons are always in a minority. So long as the Gurus were alive, there was no question of views and interests contrary to the Sikh doctrine coming to the surface, because the word of the Guru was final. After them, there was an interplay of action and reaction between the ideologically conscious and less conscious elements, within the Sikh movement. Like all such movements, the Sikh movement may also be roughly divided into two phases, the period of ideological ascendancy and that of its decline. In the first phase, the Khalsa period, Sikh ideology remained supreme in determining the character and the direction of the movement. In the second phase, the period of Missals and Ranjit Singh, the hold of ideology on individuals and the movement, as it always happens, relaxed. With the passage of time, regression in the ideological level is not peculiar to the Sikh movement. Revolutions have always been haunted by reaction. What we seek to emphasize is that it would be wrong to judge the history of the Khalsa phase of the Sikh movement in the light of later developments. That would be putting the cart before the horse. During the period of the Gurus, and for most part of the eighteenth century, it was the Sikh ideology that influenced the Jats and the other elements who joined the movement and not the Jat character that moulded the movement during its revolutionary phase.

It has been assumed that the Jats must have joined in large numbers because Guru Arjan established some religious centres in the rural areas of Majha. But, there is no data to infer this or that the Jats were the prominent element among the Sikhs when Guru Hargobind decided to militarize the movement, or that the Jats used to come armed when they came to pay homage to the Gurus. The Jats are well known for their indifference towards deep religious affairs. 29 The short interval of time between the opening of these centres and the time when the influx of Jats into the Sikh ranks is supposed to have aroused Jahangir’s misgivings is not such as to favour the theory of large scale enrolment of the Jats in Sikhism. Bhai Gurdas has given the names of about 200 prominent Sikhs of Guru Arjan. Of these ten were Brahmins, eight Jats (including two whose caste is given as Jatu, which is a Rajput sub-caste), three fishermen, three calico-printers, two chandals, two brick-layers, two Bhatts, one potter, one goldsmith and one Muhammadan. The rest either belonged to the Khatri and other castes connected with commerce, trades, etc., or did not have their castes specified.30

The above figures indicate clearly the caste-wise composition of Guru Arjan’s important Sikhs. The constitution of the general Sangat is not likely to have been materially different when Guru Hargobind became the Guru and started militarization. The number of Khatris and castes connected with commerce, profession, etc., is many times more than the combined number of Jats and lower castes. Among the latter category, the low castes outnumber the Jats. The conjecture about Jats having joined Guru Arjan in large numbers is contradicted even by Mohsin Fani, who says: “Some Sikhs of the Guru do agricultural work and some trade, and a multitude takes up service.’31 These figures, thus, knock out the bottom of the assumption that the setting up of rural centres increased the proportion of Jats among the Guru’s followers to such an extent as to cause apprehensions in Jahangir’s mind. Besides, as already stated, it would be going beyond the limits of historical propriety to reject the autobiographical testimony of Jahangir about his motives for ordering Guru Arjan’s execution and instead to impute a conjectural motive to the emperor for his action.

Bhai Gurdas’s testimony about the reaction of the Sikhs against the Guru’s steps for militarization has already been indicated. He does not mention many Jats in his enumeration of important Sikhs of Guru Hargobind. True, Mohsin Fani says that many Jats joined as the Guru’s followers. This author was twenty years younger than Guru Hargobind, who was eleven years old when he became the Guru, took the decision to arm the Sikhs, built the Akal Takht and started the construction of Lohgarh fort. In view of his earlier observation about the Jats being in a minority in the time of Guru Arjan, Mohsin Fani’s statement that the Jats joined as the followers of Guru Hargobind refers evidently to a period subsequent to the latter’s decision to militarize the Sikhs. This would correspond to the evidence noted by Macauliffe that, on learning of the military preparation initiated by Guru Hargobind, five hundred warriors from Majha, Doaba and Malwa regions volunteered their services to the Guru.32 Moreover, Mohsin Fani’s evidence has no weight compared to the authentic, reliable and contemporary evidence of Bhai Gurdas. In fact,” the adversaries of Guru Hargobind derisively called his forces weak because they were composed of barbers, washermen, cobblers, and the like.33 In any case, how could a minority group make its impact felt to such an extent as to change overnight the very direction of the movement? It has already been made clear that the vital decisions were always made by the Gurus themselves. The Sangat never forced the Gurus to action. But, supposing, for argument’s sake, that Guru Hargobind wanted to take into account the views of the Sangat in making his momentous decision, that opinion could naturally have been of the leading Sikhs, of whom Jats, according to Bhai Gurdas, formed a negligible minority. And it would be illogical to suggest that these few Jats, even if they had views different from those of other non-Jat Sikhs and the Guru, could impose their will on the rest on such a crucial and ideological issue. Actually, the Guru, according to Bhai Gurdas, stuck to his decision, despite the opposition from Baba Buddha, the most revered Sikh, his mother, the Masands, and some others.

From the time of Guru Har Rai to that of Guru Gobind Singh, there was no overt military activity except that of maintaining some armed men. Before founding the Khalsa,

Bhikhan Khan, an opponent of the tenth Guru, spoke contemptuously of his forces being composed of low-caste men.34 Almost all the participants whose names are recorded in connection with the battle of Bhangani (i.e. pre-Khalsa period) were non-Jats.35 The first three well-known martyrs from amongst the Sikhs, during Guru Tegh Bahadur’s time, were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyala, all non-Jats. Out of the five Beloved Ones (the Five Piaras), only one was a Jat, and he too belonged to Hastinapur, outside the Punjab. According to Koer Singh, Guru Gobind Singh said: “Vaisayas, Sudras and Jats I have incorporated in the Panth.”36 Of the twenty-five Muktas mentioned by Koer Singh, three was Bhatias, five Khatris, four Aroras, three Lubanas and two water-carriers.37 The castes of the rest are not given. The forty men at Chamkaur included five Bhatias, four Aroras, some Khatris and Kalals (distillers), two Ranghretas (sweeper caste), two Brahmins, Sangat Singh of the Trans-Indus areas, sons of the Guru and the Guru Himself.38 Those who took part in Banda’s campaign, at least in its initial stage, were recruited chiefly from the lower caste Hindus.39 About Sirhind’s conquest by Banda, Irvine writes, ‘The scavengers and leather-dressers and such like persons, who were very numerous among the Sikhs, committed excesses of every description.40

In the face of all this, there is no basis for suggesting, much less for asserting, that the growth of militancy within the panth could be the result of the impact of the so-called Jat cultural patterns. Besides, it is not understood how these so-called Jat patterns could be so powerful as to submerge established ideological considerations and the views of the large majority of the influential participants in the Sangat. Whether or not the original Jat patterns of culture, or Jat traits, corresponded to the characteristic features of the Sikh movement, will be seen hereafter.

6. The Five K’s

Another hypothesis advanced is that the Khalsa accepted the five symbols (the five K’s) under the influence of Jat cultural patterns. Unless the Jat cultural patterns are identified and correlated with the five K’s or other characteristics of the movement, this view remains conjectural. For, there is no evidence to suggest that the five K’s were distinct and characteristic Jat features. Mcgregor writes of the people of the Punjab who opposed Alexander when he crossed the Ravi: “Some had darts, others spears and axes. No mention is made of bows and arrows, so generally employed by the Sikhs of the present day, as weapons of war.41 No mention is also made of the weapons used by the Jats in their encounters with Mahmood Ghaznavi, Timur and Babar. If the Kirpan (the sword) was ever used as a weapon by the Jats, Manu had specified it as Kshatriya’s weapon42 much earlier, and its use in Indian history was more conspicuously associated with the Rajputs. In fact, any group resorting to militancy would adopt the weapons current in the times. Then why trace the adoption by the Khalsa of this ‘K’ (Kirpan) to the Jats cultural patterns?

Another important ‘K’ is the Keshas (hair). Alberuni noted that one of the strange customs that differentiated the Hindus from the people of his own country was that the Hindus ‘do not cut any of the hair of the body.’43 ‘Formerly the whole population (of Dogars), as is the case with the poor classes still, wore their long hair over their shoulders without any covering either of sheet or turban.44 This shows that the keeping of hair was, if it ever was, not a Jat peculiarity. Anyhow, the point is not about keeping the hair as such, but about the sanctity that came to be attached to them; so that the Singhs would give up their lives rather than allow these to be removed.

Rose writes: ‘The Jats of the Punjab cannot be said to have any distinctive tribal cults. With Muhammadans or Sikhs they follow the teachings of their creeds with varying degrees of strictness. When Hindus they are very often Sultanis or followers of the popular and widespread cult of  Sakhi Sarwar Sultan…The only distinctive Jat cults are tribal…Among the Hindu & Sikh Jats, especially in the north-central and central Districts, a form of ancestor worship, called jathera, is common.45 Sikhism which transcends tribal consciousness and customs, is opposed to all forms of ancestor-worship, and the position of the non-Jats was not so subservient in the Panth as to enable the Jats to impose their cultural patterns, if any, on the Panth against known Sikh tenets. In any case, this Jathera-worship, or any other similar tribal cult, can in no way be linked with the sanctity attached by the Sikhs to any of the five ‘K’s. About the Sultani cult, the District Gazetteer of Amritsar (1892-93, p. 50) records that: ‘Sikh Jats freely intermarry with Sultani Jats, but will not eat cooked food from their houses, or share any food with them. Even in one family, a member who has become a Sikh will eat separately from another member who remained a Sultani.46 This further illustrates that Sikhism, far from borrowing Jat cults, was a force which worked to draw the Jat Sikhs away from the cults prevalent among the Hindu Jats.

Had there been any substance in Mcleod’s conjectural hypothesis, how would one explain the total disappearance of these cultural symbols, supposed to have been borrowed by the Sikhs from Jats, from amongst the non-Sikh Jats of the Punjab and the neighbouring states? How, during the days of the general persecution of the Singhs, only the Khalsa of genuine faith retained their hair at the cost of their lives, while other Jats, who joined them for temporary gains, had no compunction to remove these in order to save their skins? How, in the modern times, the Jats among the Sikhs, comparatively speaking, have become lax in keeping their hair and the non-Jat Sikhs have grown strict47 in their adherence to these symbols? Further, whether the five ‘K’s were borrowed by the Panth from the Jats or not is not the relevant point; because symbols by themselves do not lead to anything, much less to militancy. Revolutionary movements are not made by the symbols; it is such movements that give meaningful significance to them.

Unfortunately, the above hypothesis completely misses the significance of the prescription of the five ‘K’s. The Guru’s step was clearly aimed not only at carving out a new community, distinct from the others, with its own cultural patterns, socio-religious ideology, and approach to life, but also at cutting away the members of this community from their previous moorings and affinities so as to avoid reversionary trends. That is why, at the time of the baptism ceremony, one of the injunctions was that: ‘hereby are destroyed all your connections with previous religious systems, customs, rituals, occupational stigmas, etc., etc.48 There is a clear record of the Guru’s determination to create a new and distinguishable people. On being told that few Sikhs appeared to have stood by Guru Tegh Bahadur at the time of his martyrdom because there was no distinguishing mark on a Sikh, the Guru is reported to have said: “I will assign such distinguishing marks to the Sikhs that a Sikh present even among thousands will not be able to conceal himself.”49 The Khalsa were, thus, given a new uniform which nowhere existed before.

Undoubtedly, the contribution of the Jats, with their fighting qualities, to the Sikh struggle is very valuable, but, the contribution of the castes lower than the Jats has also been quite significant during the Khalsa or the revolutionary phase of the movement. If the inspiration of the Sikh ideology could turn these people, who had been rendered spineless by the caste system for centuries, into a fighting class, the Sikh movement needed no goading from the Jats for its militarization. Also, if the bearing of arms and martial qualities are the only requirements for shaping a revolutionary movement, why could not the Jats produce one elsewhere?

7. Response to Economic Problems

It has also been suggested that the militarization of the Sikh movement was the result of the economic pressure. Agrarian troubles were no doubt one of the factors for the downfall of the Mughal empire. Religious persecution of non-Muslims was another reason. Rattan Singh Bhangu has not ignored the fact that those who were oppressed by the State or the Administration joined the Khalsa.50 But the question is, why, in the Punjab, the Khalsa alone became the centre of resistance? Why did the Kashmiri Pandits travel all the way to Anandpur? Why did the Jats of Haryana, who were in no way less oppressed, build no resistance on their own? If economic causes or religious persecution alone, without an ideology, an oriented leadership and an organization, could give rise to movements, then there should have been a general revolt throughout the length and breadth of the country. But nothing of the kind happened.

There were, in broad terms, four types of peasant upheavals. Firstly, there were the uprisings which the common exploited peasants undertook on their own. These were sporadic and unorganised, and instead of bearing any fruit invited further oppression and misery. Secondly, there were peasant revolts built around the leadership of Zamindars, as distinguished from Jagirdars, which were localized affairs. These, when successful, either served the personal ends of the local Zamindars or ended merely in plundering. If the Zamindars could unite for a common purpose, they would have become a force to reckon with, because the total number of their armed retainers, as estimated by Abul-Fazl, was 44 Lakhs. The third category was the successful revolt of Bharatpur Jats. It had only the limited objective of establishing the rule of a Jat family. The fourth category comprised the Satnami revolt and the Sikh movement, wherein, along with the peasants, the other lower castes also played a major role. Here also, the Satnami revolt was in the nature of an ephemeral flare-up.51 It collapsed suddenly and did not carry on any sustained struggle, because it lacked ideology preplanned and objectives and a determined leadership. It was only in the Sikh movement that we find the combination of objective conditions with a distinct ideology, clear-cut revolutionary aims to be achieved, and an inspired and determined leadership. This is the reason why its course and character were different from those of others and lasted for over three generations even after the demise of Guru Gobind Singh. (The responses to economic problems were, thus, not uniform.) It is, therefore, idle to trace the source of a revolutionary movement, divorced from its ideology and leadership, to sheer economic causes.

8. The Devi Cult, the Jats and the Khalsa

Another conjecture made by Dr. McLeod is that the synthesis of the Devi cult with the Jat culture had much to do with the evolution of militancy in the Panth, in inspiring it to deeds of valour, and in playing a determining role in its history.52

This suggestion is self-contradictory. For, while, on the one hand, it completely ignores the basic role played by the Gurus’ ideology in the development of militancy in the Panth and the creation of the Khalsa, on the other hand, it banks on an alien religious inspiration that goaded the Jats to militarize the movement and to fight zealously for socio-religious causes. In other words, the arGuruent concedes that the Jat culture, left to itself, was incapable of galvanizing the Jats for a purposeful military action. The assumption is not only very conjectural, but misses all the established facts:

  1. Guru Hargobind went to Kiratpur after having finished all his battles in the plains. So the question of Jat Sikhs or Guru Hargobind getting inspiration from the Devi cult becomes an anachronism.
  2. When Guru Hargobind was at Kiratpur, one Sikh named Bahiro cut off the nose of the Devi’s idol. When the hill Raja complained to the Guru of this, the Sikh’s answer was, how the Devi, that could not protect herself, could save others.53 This indicates what respect the Sikhs had for the Devi.
  3. The news-writer, who reported to the emperor about the founding of the Khalsa, specifically mentioned Durga as one of the deities which the Guru forbade the Sikhs from paying homage to.54
  4. The various forms of Devi are the consorts of Siva; hence Devi- worship cannot be advocated by one who decries Siva worship. There are many verses of Guru Gobind Singh to this effect.55
  5. If the number of important temples built and fairs held in honour of the various forms of Devi are an indication of the prevalence of the Devi cult, it should be the least common among the Jats of the Sikh region. Because such temples and fairs are the most common in the hilly tracts of the Himachal. Next comes Haryana. But in the Sikh Jat tract there are only two such important temples. The votaries of one of them at Batala are confined to a sub-caste of khatris,56 while, the second one, the Bhaddar Kali temple at Niazbeg, is about 7 miles from Lahore and has only a local reputation.57 The fair which was held there was attended by people who collected from Amritsar and Lahore towns and the neighbouring villages.58 As this part of Lahore district is not a Sikh majority area (for that reason it forms a part of Pakistan), it is not unreasonable to surmise that the number of the Jat Sikhs attending this fair were never significant. As against this, there are many important Devi temples scattered all over the eastern districts (i.e. Haryana).59 Rose, who has not omitted to note even petty cultural practices like those of the Sikh water- carriers worshiping Bhairo,60 makes no mention that Sikh Jats worship the Devi.

If the cult of Devi had inspired the Jats who visited Anandpur, how is it that it disappeared altogether from among them afterwards? If the Sikh water-carriers, who form a microscopic minority among the Sikh population, could retain Bhairo worship, why could not the Jats retain Devi worship? Also, if the Rajputs of hilly Punjab, which is the home of Devi cult, and the Hindu Jats of Haryana, where the Devi cult is widespread, could not be inspired by it to take up arms for higher religious or political ends, how is it that it inspired only the Sikh Jats, whose visits to Kiratpur or Anandpur to pay their respects to the Guru were very short and occasional?

Section 2 Wider Context

It is a normal procedure of historiography to view movements in the broader historical and social perspective of their times. To judge certain features of a movement in isolation, by not coordinating them with the context of the movement as a whole, or by divorcing them from their historical background, is bound to lead to a distorted image. The protagonists of the hypothesis that the Sikh movement, in its genesis and development, was a product of the Jat traits, have signally failed to adopt the normal methodology accepted by historians. In fact, they have not even attempted to correlate the Jat characteristics, which are supposed to have played such a determinative role, with the initiation and the growth of Sikh militancy. The role of Jat characteristics in the Sikh movement assumes an appropriate perspective only if it is viewed in the light of the traits and political activities of the peasantry in general, and of the Jats of regions other than that of the Sikh tract in particular. Also, the positive or negative relationship of Jat characteristics, if any, with the main features of the Sikh Revolution has to be proved or disproved. In this section, we propose to do this under the following heads: 1. Organization; 2. Lack of Solidarity; 3. Egalitarianism; 4. The Sikh Egalitarian Revolution; 5. Lack of political initiative and aspirations among peasants and Jats; 6. Ideology; 7. Conclusion.

But, before we do come to that, we should be absolutely clear on one point. We are concerned only with the revolutionary Sikh movement. The fallacy of those, who argue that the militarization of the Sikh movement was initiated and reinforced by the influx into of a large number of Jats, arises in no small measure from their logic which fails to distinguish between the revolutionary and post-revolutionary phases of the movement. They try to judge the former in the light of the latter. By following a similar line of thinking, one can as well not demarcate between the remarkably egalitarian era of Prophet Muhammad and his immediate deputies on the one hand, and, on the other, that of the Muslim polity when it degenerated into a full-fledged autocracy; or between the stirring events of the French Revolution proper,- and its sequel-the Bonaparte regime; or, for that matter, between the revolutionary and post-revolutionary phases of any revolutionary movement. Ups and downs are common to all ideologically inspired upsurges, because of the inherent human limitations and environmental hurdles. Progress towards idealistic human goals has never been linear; counter-revolution has followed revolution as its own shadow. There is a marked behavioural contrast when an individual, or a group, or a movement, is inspired by biological pursuits, and when it is governed by mundane considerations. The study that is presented hereafter bears this out. There is a world of difference between the Jats who joined the Sikh revolution under the inspiration of the Sikh ideology and those who did not; or, within the same movement, between those who were ideologically motivated and others who were not; or between the same individual or a group, at different periods, when it had the ideological inspiration and when it lost it. Otherwise, there is not much of a basic difference between the character of one Jat and another, or, for that matter between that of human beings the world over. Therefore, it would be as illogical to interpret the Sikh Revolution in terms of its period of decline as it would be to ascribe the rise of waves in an ocean to the very gravitational forces that bring them down to their original level.

1. Organization

Organizations are the channels through which the ideologies of movements flow, and these also help to give the movements their shape and direction. The structural framework of a movement can, therefore, be a quite useful clue in reflecting its content. Let us compare the Jat typical organization with that of the Khalsa and see in what way it supports our conclusions.

           (a) Jat Organization

‘The Jats are a tribe so wide spread and so numerous as to be almost a nation, counting 70,86,100 souls, having community of blood, community of language, common tradition and also a common religion for not less than 1,500 years.’61 Ethnic affinity and community of language, tradition and religion are great potent factors in creating and strengthening social cohesiveness. But, in the case of Jats, the term ‘Jat’ represented more a common denomination rather than a commonly shared social or political solidarity. They never approached even that degree of amorphous awareness of common nationality which the Marathas had all along before Shivaji gave it a definite shape. Recorded history upto the time of Gokala, Raja Ram and Churaman does not indicate any joint political venture on the part of the Jats beyond the tribal or clannish level. In fact, the tribal ties had loosened long ago. What did bind together the Jat groups emotionally, socially or politically, where and when it did, were the ties of the clan, the sect or the gotra among them.

The most prominent and effective unit of social organization among the Jats that is recorded is the khap* (defined as a group of village occupied by a single Jat clan within a contiguous area) in the Meerut division where the clannish feeling among Jats is considerably strong.62 Here most of the Jat clans have their own khap63, which have their own khap councils. These councils have only adjudicative authority and meet when called upon to deliberate or decide upon specific issues. The judges on these councils are elected for a particular meeting and purpose, and do not hold office on a permanent basis or for a prescribed term.64 No single person or body of persons is vested with executive or administrative authority over the whole clan.65 It does not belong to individual leaders either, and usurped authority is practically non-existent.66 During the time of Muslim religious persecution, these khaps became champions for protecting religious faith;67 and raised large standing armies for that purpose68 and for protecting the area from outside invasion.69 Although these khap councils never succeeded completely in defending the political freedom of the khaps of the Meerut Division, they did succeed in getting some kind of political recognition from the Delhi Court, several concessions in the field of internal autonomy, religious freedom and relief from various kinds of taxes.70 But, what is of importance for our consideration is that these khap councils remained absorbed with their local problems and never ventured into the field of establishing a political domain of their own, even at a time when the Mughal Empire was tottering and when even European adventurers were carving out, single-handed, their principalities in the nearby region.

Outside the Meerut division, in the adjoining area on the other side of the Jamuna, a primary subdivision of tribes in the Karnal district is into thapas or thambas.71 In the Rohtak district, within the pargnas were the tappas, the boundaries of some of which followed closely the distribution of tribes.72 However, in the Karnal and Rohtak districts, there is no record of these thapas, thambas or tappas, or of any other common councils beyond the village level, having even adjudicatory functions corresponding to those of the khap councils. The people belonging to these thapas or tappas met only for ceremonial purposes. Beyond that towards the West, thapas, thambas or tappas, or some such clannish assemblies, other than the village panchayats, are not mentioned at all. Large tracts of country, each occupied by villages of one Got, are not formed here (Jullundur district) as they are in other parts of the country.73 To the east of the district (Ludhiana) and especially in the Samrala tehsil, the multitude of “Gots” amongst the Hindu Jat is a very remarkable feature. Not only do adjoining villages belong to different “Gots”, but inside each village will generally be found two or three Pattis of distinct origin. To the south and west, on the other hand, we do find that the Jats in some instances came in bodies; and villages belonging to the same “Got” lie in groups or within short distances from each other But the rule throughout the district is the variety of “Gots”, and the few grotips of villages that there are, belonging to one “Got”, are the exception.”74 It is only in the Ferozepur district that the Jats of Sidhu and Brar gots occupy large continuous areas; but here the Jat clans were in a state of continuous flux, engaged in ousting one another and leaving little time for any social organization to strike root, in the soil. One branch of the Sidhu Brars rapidly gained a footing in the south of Gill country, and drove the former inhabitants northwards, taking possession of their principal places.75 There was a long struggle for possession of the country between the Brars and the Bhattis. ‘The Man Bhullars greatly oppressed the Brars in the tappa (Name given to a track of the district). Duni Chand appealed to Guru Har Rai who lived at Gurusar. The Guru advised the Bhullars to make peace. The descendants of Mohan, despite continued struggle with the Faridkot Brars, retained possession of the Bagha territory.’76 ‘The Mohanbi branch of the clan (Brars) are said to have f9unded Mahraj about the year 1650 after struggle with the Mans and Bhullars, who then held that tract. The second influx seems to have taken place some fifty years later when the Gills were driven out of the Bagha Purana ilaka and their city of Danda Manda was destroyed.’77 To the position of the gots of Jats in the Amritsar district, we shall have occasion to refer later.

Two important points emerge from the facts stated above. The most highly evolved typical Jat organizational social unit, the khap, had no political ambitions. At the most, it was concerned with the preservation of internal harmony and the rights of its members, or defence from outside aggression. Secondly, as one proceeds to the Punjab proper, even this khap, thamba or tappa type of social organization is absent. The Jats of Karnal are notorious for their independence, acknowledging to a less degree than any other caste the authority of the tribal headman.78 Describing the Jat of the Sikh tract in the Punjab, Ibbetson writes: ‘The Jat is of all the Punjab races the most impatient of tribal or communal control, and the one which asserts the freedom of the individual most strongly.79 In other words, there are no signs of any shared motivation which could urge the Jats for sustained joint action, much less for political adventure. And the Jats of the Sikh tract lacked even the gotra solidarity beyond the village level.

        (b) Sikh Organization

Guru Nanak spent most of his time in missionary tours to far flung places within the country and outside it. He could not have completed his extensive itinerary had he remained for long at one place. In other words, he could not have come in long contact with many people, in one limited region. It is only towards the fag end of his life that he settled at Kartarpur, which became the first permanent centre to which the disciples of the Guru were drawn. The latter Gurus established similar permanent centres, but the main organizational pattern of the Sikh Panth throughout the Guru period appears to have remained much the same. The Sikhs were scattered here and there like tiny dots in the vast mass of non-Sikh population. They had their local centres called Dharamsalas, later called Gurdwaras, where they would meet for religious functions. They went only occasionally to pay their homage to the Gurus at any of their permanent centres or wherever the Gurus happened to be.

The Sikh congregation which met at a Dharamsala was called a Sangat, and this Sangat was the biggest local unit of the Sikh organization. These Sangats were connected with one another more through the Gurus or their deputies in the illaqa, the Masands, than though direct contact with one another.

There were no mass conversions to Sikhism of entire clans, or of the population of contiguous areas, as it happened in the case of Islam in Sindh, Pakistani Punjab and Bangla Desh. This is clear from the fact that, before the large scale migration of people on the creation of Pakistan disturbed the previous equilibrium of population in the Punjab, the Sikhs were in absolute majority only in the Moga tehsil of the Ferozepur district. The reason is obvious. Mass conversions to Islam took place either under pressure of the Muslim administration, or due to the allurement of becoming the coreligionists of the rulers. Sikhism at that time held out no such prospects. It was a rebel religion. To become a Sikh was to invite hostility both of the caste society and of the established political order. Therefore, by and large only those people joined the Sikh ranks for whom the Sikh religion and its ideology had a special appeal.

Bhai Gurdas has given the names of about 200 prominent Sikhs upto the time of the Sixth Guru in his Var Eleven. In a number of cases he has given their places of residence as well. He mentions only two regions, Kashmir and Punjab, not a part or a contiguous area of the latter, like Majha or Malwa, but the Punjab as a whole. Besides these regions, he names 26 places (mostly towns) to which those Sikhs belonged, including such far flung places as Kabul, Lahore, Patti, Sirhind, Thanesar, Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Ujjain, Buhranpur, Gujrat, Lucknow, Paryag, Jaunpur, Patna and Dhacca (Dacca in East Bengal). Another significant feature of the breakup of Bhai Gurdas’s figures is that the group of Sikhs mentioned as belonging to a particular place are not shown as derived from one caste or clan. If his pauris (stanzas) are taken as separate units, either the clans or castes are not mentioned at all, or the Sikhs mentioned in one stanza (pauri) are in composite groups derived from different castes. Bhai Gurdas’s figures no doubt relate only to prominent Sikhs and these may also be approximate. But, these do support the view that people joined the Sikh ranks more as individuals rather than as clusters of castes or clans; and that the Sikhs, who were not very numerous, were spread over a large part not only of the Punjab but of India. In other words, what bound the Sikhs together in the Sikh Panth was the primacy of the Sikh ideals rather than any caste, clan or regional interests and sentiments.

The militarization of the Sikhs by Guru Hargobind is an important landmark in the history of the Sikh movement, but the Guru’s battles were more in the nature of a rehearsal for the events to come. The real organizational base of the revolutionary struggle was laid down by the creation of the Khalsa, recruitment to which was strictly on an individual and voluntary basis, and limited to individuals who swore by the Khalsa ideals. No caste or clan loyalties were involved; because no one could become a member of the Khalsa brotherhood without being baptized, and no one could be baptized without taking the five vows which required the rejection of previous faiths (Dharm-nas) as well as caste and clan affiliations and practices (Kul-nas and Karm-nas). ‘Kul-nas’ meant the obliteration of all previous lineage affiliations based on family or clan; and ‘Karm-nas’ meant obliteration of distinctions based on occupation. ‘Karam-nas’ together with ‘Kul- nas’ disavowed all caste distinctions based on occupation and heredity. In actual working also, as we shall see, the Khalsa was constituted of people drawn from all castes, clans and regions, including “the lowest of low in Indian estimation.”

The third major stage in the growth of the Sikh organization is the formation of Misals. The Misal period coincides with the weakening of the hold of the Sikh ideology within the Panth. But, even then the Misals were not formed on the basis of caste or clan affiliations. There is not one Misal which is named after the name of a caste or a clan, and members of all Misals were free at all times to leave one Misal and join another at their own sweet will. Majha (that part of the present Amritsar district lying south of the old Mughal G.T. Road which passed through Govindwal, Tarn Taran and Sarai Amanat Khan to join Lahore) was the heart of the Sikh Revolution. The Sandhu Jats are the strongest got in the district and muster especially strong in the southwest corner of the Tarn Taran pargana.80 But, this is the part of the Majha which was in the control of the Bhangi Misal, whose leaders belonged to Dhillon got,81 a got which is less numerous. in the district than the Sandhus.82 The Ahluwalias originally belonged to the despised Sudra caste of Kalals, or distillers of spirit, and they were in microscopic numbers (only 2121) in the Amritsar district.83 Yet, their Misal occupied a part of Majha.84 Similarly, Ramgarhias (so called because leaders belonged to village Ramgarh), belonging originally to the carpenter caste, held an important part of the Amritsar district,85 although they formed a minority among the Sikhs, and were thinly spread as village menials over the whole rural Sikh tract with a few families being located in almost every village. All these developments could not have taken place had clannish or caste sentiment been the basis of Misal organization. This also coincides with the position, which has been noted, that there were no clan organization beyond the village Panchayata among the Jats, whether Sikh or non-Sikh, in the Sikh tract, corresponding to the kbaps, thambas, or tappas in the Meerut Division and the Haryana region.

       (c) Comments

With the loosening of tribal ties, which happened long ago, the highest form of effective organization evolved by the purely Jat consciousness was at the gotra level. The history of the Jats does not reveal any other form of organization. Where and when the gotra affiliation weakened, as it happened in the Sikh tract, this development further helped the process of rendering the Jats a socially and politically incoherent mass. The Jat, as a Jat, knows no other bond to articulate his Jat consciousness. There is not one instance throughout the Sikh movement, including its post-revolutionary phase, when the Jats within it joined hands together on gotra or Jat lines. Further, we have seen that people, whether Jat or non-jat, were drawn to the movement by its ideology as individuals rather than as clusters of castes or clans. They had to take the vows of Kul-nas and Karm-nas when they were baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood. In the face of all this, it becomes difficult to comprehend how the mere presence in the movement of Jats in large numbers (assuming this to be so for the sake of argument) enabled them to develop a comprehensive supra-gotra Jat consciousness, which would have been indispensable for giving the movement, as alleged, a definite turn, and then maintaining that direction despite several ups and downs. Such a phenomenon, if it did happen, has to be delineated and not just assumed, especially because it is incongruous with the history of the Jats elsewhere. There is nothing common between the Jat units of organization, based on gotra and regional contiguity, and the Sikh Sangats, comprising members drawn from all castes and widely dispersed in northern India. Similarly, there is no organizational correspondence between the Jat gotra organization’ and the Khalsa, whose doors were always open to all, irrespective of the considerations of caste or clan. At the time of the creation of the Khalsa, there was only one Jat among the five Beloved Ones; and, at the time of the reorganization of the Taruna Khalsa Dal, only two of the five divisions were headed by leaders drawn from the Jat stock. At one time, the leader of the entire Khalsa body was Banda, and, at another time, Jassa Singh Kalal, both non-Jats. We have noted that there were no gotra organisations among the Jats of the Sikh tract and that the khalsa had no organisational roots in the Jat gotra affiliations. Therefore, there is no basis to assume that Jat consciousness managed to turn Sikh militancy according to its own proclivities, or to its own advantage, without having effective control either on the leadership or the organizational composition and set up of the Khalsa. Not only the Jats but the peasantry in general, left to themselves, have nowhere as it will be seen, shown much aptitude for political initiative or ambitions.

2. Lack of Solidarity

The spirit of factiousness among the Jats is proverbial. It is probably a hangover of their tribal heritage; for, in defining a tribe, it is the sharing of blood-feuds which is given pride of place. ‘Gurgaon belongs to that part of the Punjab where the true village community has survived in a much more complete form than elsewhere.86 In the Rohtak district, ‘The village communities are of as perfect a type as any in India……..’87 This could lead to a false impression of Jat solidarity beyond the village level as well. The facts speak otherwise. In Gurgaon district, during the Mutiny, ‘no sooner was the pressure of our (British) rule removed, than old feuds, which had apparently long been buried, burst into life.’ There was a long-standing strife between a tribe of Jats, known as Surot, and another tribe of Jats known as Rawats. All the villages of the Chirkot clan (a Meo clan) and some of the other villages of the neighbourhood were divided into two factions.88 In the Rohtak district, during the Mutiny, ‘The people gave themselves upto the enjoyment of fierce feuds. The Dahiya and Dalol Jats in Sampla engaged in perpetual quarrels. The Ahalwat Jats attacked Sampla. In Guhana, Ahulana attacked Samri and Barodeh; Madinah attacked Kathurs; Butanah destroyed Naran Khera; Sanghi & Khirwali were engaged in one continuous skirmish; the Mehim villagers, now in Hissar, made a general attack on those on the present west border of Rohtak; and the Ranghars plundered every one indifferently for three whole months the district presented one long scene of mad rioting.89 In Karnal district, ‘Every village was protected by brick forts and surrounded by a deep ditch and a wall of some sort; every village was at deadly enmity with its neighbours; and there are several instances where two contiguous villages in memory of a blood feud dating from the Maratha times, refuse to drink each other’s water, though otherwise on friendly terms.’90 This is about the region where the village communities were perfect and clannish ties strong91 and where there existed some sort of ceremonial ties between members of the same thapa or tappa. Regarding the spirit of factionalism among the Jats in the Sikh tract, the author of ‘Robber Noblemen’ has built round it a whole thesis for her book; and we have already referred to a continuous struggle between Jat clans in the Ferozepur district for the possession of land there.

As against it, there is not a single instance mentioned during the long revolutionary phase of the movement (a period of about 275 years, starting from the missionary tours of Guru Nanak upto the establishment of the Misals), where there was any grouping of Sikhs along caste or clan lines, or of factionalism among them on caste or clan basis. On the contrary, there was exemplary fraternization among Sikhs drawn from all castes and clans. In fact, the Khalsa could not have achieved the military and political success it did without a commonly shared sentiment of solidarity among its members, because this solidarity was even more necessary than the organizational set up for the success of its mission. This fraternal solidarity within the Sikh Panth or the Khalsa, attested to by many non-Sikh authorities, could by no stretch of imagination be reconciled with one of the most prominent traits of the Jats-their traditional factionalism.

3. Egalitarianism

Besides their martial qualities, it is the egalitarian spirit among the Jats which has misled historians to characterize the Sikh movement in terms of Jat traits. They have failed to grasp that there is a qualitative difference between Jat and Khalsa egalitarianisms.

       (a) Jat Egalitarianism

The egalitarian spirit of the Jats is undoubted. It is recognized from the time of the earliest historian, who took notice of them, to the time of the British administrators who are unanimous in their opinion on this point. This spirit of equality among Jats was reinforced by the bhaichara system of land tenure. In this system ‘land was equally divided among the lineages of founding ancestors or original conquerors. This system of land tenure was a Jat idea, because Jats did not acknowledge the right of their chiefs to the sole proprietorship of the land conquered and colonized by them.92 ‘Not only does the bhaichara land tenure system maintain the egalitarian structure of Jat society in the economic field, but the concept of bhaichara is extended to the kinship, social and political.93 However, this egalitarianism of the Jats was confined only to their own ranks. Otherwise it had important qualifications.

                (i)   Attitude towards Higher Castes

The Jats, and the Indian peasantry in general, submitted to the Brahmanical caste hegemony and non-Jat rule without ever questioning its validity. Their very profession, tilling the land, was held as degrading. ‘Chach, the Brahman usurper of sind, humiliated the Jats and Lobanas. He compelled them to agree to carry only sham swords; to wear no undergarments or shawl, velvet or silk…… to put no saddles on their horses; to keep their heads and feet uncovered; to take their dogs with them when they went out……’94 Muhammad bin Qasim maintained these regulations.95 Amran, the Barmecide governor of the Indian frontier, summoned the Jats to Alrur, where he sealed their hands, took from them the jazya or poll-tax and ordered that every man96 of them should bring with him a dog when he waited on him. ‘The Jats were content to cultivate their fields and admitted the aristocratic Rajputs to be their social superiors.97 Rohtak district is regarded as the Jat region par-excellence.

 Here, “In the old days of Rajput ascendancy, the Rajputs would not allow the Jats to cover their heads with turban, nor to wear any red cloths, nor to put a crown (mor) on the head of their bridegroom, or a jewel (nat) in their women’s noses. They also used to levy seigniorial rights from virgin brides.98

                (ii)   Towards Lower Castes

The attitude of the Jats towards castes lower than them is equally revealing. In the Jat area of Meerut Division, the Chamars are the most numerous caste group. ‘The attitude of the Jats is unbending, and they try to humiliate and exploit the Chamars by word and deed whenever they find an opportunity.’99 In U.P., previous to the British rule, ‘the village menials were little better than serfs, ascripti glebae, at the mercy of the leader of the village body.100 The sweepers ‘are regarded as the very dregs of impurity,101 and for a peasant ‘nothing is worse than to lose your caste, to eat with a sweeper or to touch an impure person.102 In Gurgaon district, the lowest of menial tribes live outside the village.103 In the district of Karnal, Jat, Gujar or Ror do not, as a rule, eat or drink with any of the menial castes; and leather maker, washer man, barber, dyer and sweeper are regarded as absolutely impure.104 The position ‘of chamars in Ludhiana district very nearly approaches that of servitude,105 and the Mazhabis are kept at a distance by most Sikhs of other castes.106

Thus, the Jats maintained their spirit of equality only within their own ranks. But, in their attitude towards castes higher and lower than theirs, they conformed to the hierarchical pattern of the caste system. In other words, they had no qualms in submitting to the higher castes and in dominating the lower ones.

        (b)    Sikh Egalitarianism

The spirit of equality, fraternization and brotherhood among the Sikhs and the Khalsa, and consequently among those Jats who joined the Khalsa ranks after owning the Sikh ideology, was altogether different from that of the Jats who remained aloof. Bhangu records about The Khalsa Dal that, the ‘Guru’s Sikh was the brother of each Sikh.’107 All members of the Khalsa Dal ‘were issued clothes from a common store. Without concealing anything, they would pool all their earnings at one place. If anyone found or brought any valuables, these were deposited in the treasury as common property.’108

The prevalence of this spirit of equality, brotherhood and fraternization among the Sikhs is confirmed by evidence from the non- Sikh sources. Ghulam Mohyy-ud-Din, the author of Fatuhat Namah-i- Samadi (1722-23), was a contemporary of Banda. He writes that low- caste Hindus, termed khas-o-khashak-i-hanud-i-jahanmi wajud (i.e. the dregs of the society of the hellish Hindus) swelled the ranks of Banda, and everyone in his army ‘would address the other as the adopted son of the oppressed Guru (Guru Gobind Singh) and would publicise themselves with the title of Sahibzada (“Yaki rab targhib-i-digran pisar-i-l handan-i-guru-i-maqhur guftab laqub-i-shahzadgi mashur kardah”).109 A contemporary historian of Aurangzeb writes, ‘If a stranger knocks at their door (i.e. the door of Sikhs) at midnight and utters the name of Nanak, though he may be a thief, robber or wretch, he is considered a friend and brother, and is properly looked after.’110 Mir Ghulam Hussain Khan writes (1783 A.D.) about the Khalsa panth, ‘When a person is once admitted into that fraternity, they make no scruple of associating with him, of whatever tribe, clan, or race he may have been hitherto; nor do they betray any of those scruples and prejudices so deeply rooted in the Hindu mind.’111 Commenting on the last part of the statement, the editor says, ‘This alludes to the touching or eating with persons of impure castes, in regard to which the Hindus are so tenacious.’112 The author of Haqiqat also writes about the same time that ‘the Sikhs were told: “Whoever might join you from whichever tribe, don’t have any prejudice against him and without any superstition eat together with him.” “Now this is their custom.”113 Here we have very good independent testimony from two sources that upto 1783, at least, the Sikhs drawn from all castes dined freely with each other. The Haqiqat clearly states that Khatris, Jats, carpenters, blacksmiths and grain grocers all joined the Khalsa,114 and ‘now this is their custom.’

This egalitarianism of the Sikhs was not born either of the Jat clannish sentiment or of the Jat bhaichara social and economic structure. In the period of Sikh history we are dealing with, the Sikhs, as already noted, were either very sparsely and widely located in the general non- Sikh population, or they came together in roving militia bands. In other words, the bhaichara system of the Jat type could never be visualized among them. Therefore, the Khalsa egalitarianism was not at all related to the Jat polity in any way. It was the product of the Sikh egalitarian ideology which embraced all persons without any distinctions of caste or clans. Unlike the Jat egalitarian, there was no dichotomy in the Sikh egalitarian approach towards the higher or the lower castes. Consequently, there is no ground either for confusing Sikh egalitarianism with Jat egalitarianism, or for tracing the source of the former to the latter.

4. The Sikh Egalitarian Revolution

There is no doubt that Jats are a martial race. Probably, this is another major reason which has misled some historians to infer that the militarization of the Sikh movement, its development and direction, must be due to the Jats joining it in large numbers. What they have ignored is that it is primarily the goals a movement pursues which determine its content and character. If militancy alone is to be the criterion for judging movement, one would be led to see no difference in the historical significance of the Pindari excursions, the establishment of the Bharatpur raj and the Maratha national expansion. The Pindaris became a bigger military force, and overran a much larger area, than the Bharatpur Jats ever did. The contemporary British officials, Malcolm and Stewart, were amazed at the varied military qualities of the Pindari leaders.115 Lord Lake was even prepared to elevate Amir Khan to the position of a ruler of a state provided he accepted British protection.116 Metcalfe expressed concern to Lord Minto regarding Amir Khan establishing his sway over Udaipur and Indore.117 But these Pindaries, who had more men at arms than the Bharatpur Jats and showed more skilful military leadership and tactics, did not establish any independent state of their own, like the Bharatpur State, which they could very well have done. It was simply because their main objective was organized banditary and sensuous pleasure and not political power. Similarly, a British Governor General’s minute clearly brings out the contrast between a people inspired by an ideology and a militia held together by self-interest alone. The Marathas, it says, ‘were a nation fighting against oppression and religious persecution, hence bound by the strongest reciprocity of feeling to each other; the Pindaries are an assemblage of all tribes and religions, who unite because it suited their convenience and will separate when it ceases to do So.’118 The Marathas were, in addition, swayed by a commonly shared sentiment of Maratha nationality, and their political and military expansion assumed the biggest dimension in that period of Indian history. But, the Marathas and the Bharatpur Jat movements cannot be compared to the Sikh egalitarian movement, as the former two were bound down to the caste ideology and circumscribed by the feudal orbit. These examples make it clear that it is highly misleading to trace the genesis and growth of movements without correlating them to their social and political objectives and goals. Nowhere else do we find, among the peasant revolts or revolutions within India or outside it, a parallel development, at peasant initiative, comparable to the Sikh egalitarian social and political revolution.

        (a)  An Egalitarian Revolution

The Sikh movement was an egalitarian revolution, social as well as political; but it is its political aspect which has a direct bearing on our subject. It is true that the egalitarian politics aims of the Sikh revolution were not fully realized, as it has happened in the case of so many other revolutions, but what it did actualize far exceeds the ultimate achievements of the French Revolution. Its achievements to indicate, at least, the egalitarian character and direction of the movement. Irvine who bases his account on that of contemporary Mohammedan historian, writes: ‘In all the parganas occupied by the Sikhs, the reversal of previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavenger or leather dresser, the lowest of low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and join the Guru (Banda), when in a short space of time he would return to his birthplace as its ruler, with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined palms, awaiting his orders……119 ‘All power was now usurped by the Sikhs, and one Bir Singh, a man of poor origin, belonging to pargana Haibetpur Patti in the Barri Doab, was appointed Subedar or governor of Sirhind.120 This happened within eighteen months of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, i.e. very close to the Guru period when the Khalsa for the first time achieved political power temporarily. The next sixty years or so were spent in the revolutionary struggle against the Mughals.

In the Misal period, i.e. when political reaction had overtaken the movement, ordinary peasants, shepherds (Tara Singh Gaiba), village menials (carpenters) and distillers (a despised caste) became the leaders of Misals. There was not one from caste higher than these. The common peasantry of the land suddenly attained political power.121 Khushwaqt Rai has written in his history’ Tarikhi-i-Sikhan’ (1811) : “… disappeared and God’s own country was captured by an ass; the sect of Singhs took possession of the country of the Punjab. Since then upto this time, the whole administrative machinery of the country is in disarray, and the normal system of governance, official codes, the setup of levies and awards…….and the allowances occurring from estates bestowed by Kings and nobles, were abolished for the people. The lowest of the low-bred and the meanest of the mean people got elevated to high government positions. The nobility and grandees retired to secluded places on account of the elimination of their tribe.”122 Here is a translation of one extract taken from ‘Imadud- Saadaf written by Syed Ghulam Ali Khan: ‘To cut the matter short, at present, the whole country of the Punjab is in the possession of this community and most of their exalted leaders are of low origin, such as carpenters, animal skin treaters and Jats.”123 The author of Haqiqat writes (1784-85): ‘Sikhan b istiklal-i-tamam mulk-ra abad khardand w firqa-i-sipahi w ashraf hama ra wiren sakhtand w tayyat w ahl-i-hirfa ra razi kardand.’ ‘On attaining power the Sikhs repopulated the whole country. They dispersed the ashraf (the privileged feudal classes), and the firqa- i-sipahi (the soldier class represented by Mansabdars and faujdars) and conciliated the rayyat (the tillers of the soil) and the ahl-i-hirfa (the artisans and the craftsmen, i.e. the working classes).’124 According to the same author, the Guru ‘sought to uplift the qaum-i-arazil i.e. the downtrodden. He was keen on inflicting khift (humiliation) on the mardum-i-avvan (the privileged classes).’125 The author of Asrari Samdi states, though in a hyperbolic style, that there was not a single amir (rich man or noble) in Hindustan whom Banda spared.126 This statement tallies with that of Bhai Gurdas, the second, that the Khalsa scattered to the winds the Zamindars and the amirs,127 Muslim saint Bulle Shah:

The Mughals drank the cup of poison,

The coarse-blanket-wearers were raised to be rajas (rulers).

The Mughal nobles are all wandering about in silence, well have they been swept off.128

Even when feudalistic tendencies had started setting in the Misal system, there were ‘at no stage of Sikh feudal history, a haughty noblesse, as in Rajputana or medieval Europe... The Punjab system was not feudal in the European sense. The all-pervading sense of brotherhood and a super-added theocratic outlook would not, at least in theory, allow distinctions of rank.”129 The leaders of the Misals were more de jure than de facto chiefs, because their followers were mostly friends and volunteers who regarded themselves as their companions and partners.130 Forester observed that an ordinary member of the Khalsa did not regard himself as anybody’s servant except his Guru’s.131 The Sikh society was very much circumspect in safeguarding its internal equality.132 This was the reason why Ranjit Singh had to camouflage his monarchy. He knew that he merely directed into a particular channel a power which he could neither destroy nor control.133 ‘Free followers of Gobind could not be observant slaves of an equal member of the Khalsa. Ranjit Singh concealed his motives and ‘everything was done for the sake of the Guru, for the advantage of the Khalsa and in the name of the Lord. ‘134 He never installed himself on the throne as a king.135 In the very first public Darbar he declared that his government would be styled as the Sarkar-i-Khalsa.136 After Ranjit Singh, effective political power did not remain in the hands of his descendants or chiefs. The elected army panchayats usurped executive authority under the designation of ‘Panth Khalsa jeo’.137

As against it, what the French Revolution achieved was the establishment of a bourgeois Republic. At no stage, common peasants and the sans-culottes, much less social strata lower than these, came near to wielding political power, directly or indirectly. Guru Gobind Singh ‘opened, at once to men of the lowest tribes, the prospect of earthly glory.’138 ‘Grocers, carpenters, oilmen…..rallied into bands……so well Gobind amalgamated discordant elements for a time.‘139

In the French Revolution, even the sans-culottes, who were in the van of revolutionary insurrection, would not join, on equal terms, the wage- earners, the homeless and the like.

        (b)  Plebian Base

The Sikh movement had not only an egalitarian political mission but it had also a plebian organizational base. It was necessary that the downtrodden castes and classes should be both the architects and masters of their own destiny. The Sikhs and their armies were, neither constituted of, nor dominated by one caste. There were drawn from ideologically inspired persons of all castes, mostly from the downtrodden ones. When Guru Hargobind declared his intention of arming the Panth, ‘Calico-printers, water-carriers, and carpenters, Barbers, all came to (his) place.140

Bhikhan Khan had a very poor opinion about Guru Gobind Singh’s army.

‘Subject people have come together, rustic Jats, Oil-pressers, barbers, Bhati, Lubana, Leather-dressers. Many Banias, Aroras, Bhatsi Sudras, Calico-printers, Jats, carpenters, twelve castes and Sanat (low caste) are joined these are trained in the use of arrows. They include Kalals and goldsmiths, who do not know how to wield a spear.’141

Bhangu has referred to the plebian composition of the Khalsa at several places.142 When the Taruna Dal wing of the Khalsa Dal was reorganized into five divisions, one of the divisions was under the command of Bir Singh Rangreta.143 This division continued to participate in the campaigns of the Khalsa right up to the time of the conquest of Malerkoda.144 Regarding the great battle with Abdali, called Wada Ghalu Ghara because the largest number of Sikhs in a single battle were killed here, it is especially mentioned that Ramdasias (cobblers) and Rangretas took a prominent part in it.145

The plebian composition of the Khalsa is corroborated by evidence from non-Sikh sources. Banda’s forces were recruited chiefly from the lower caste Hindus. Scavengers, leather-dressers and such like persons were very numerous among them.146 The low-caste people who swelled Banda’s ranks are termed by a contemporary Muslim historian as the dregs of the society of the hellish Hindus.147 Another contemporary Muslim writer says that Banda brought into the forefront the unemployed and worthless people who had hitherto been hidden by the curtain of insignificance.148 Khafi Khan says that ‘these infidels (Sikhs) had set up a new rule, and had forbidden the shaving of the hair of the head and beard. Many of the ill-disposed low-caste Hindus joined themselves to them, and placing their lives at the disposal of these evil-minded people, they found their own advantage in professing belief and obedience, and they were active in persecuting and killing other castes of Hindus.149

Irvine writes: ‘After the Khatri and the Jat peasants, the most noticeable components of the Sikh body are the lower caste artisans and men of the outcaste or menial tribes. This fact attracted the notice of the Muhammadan writers, as we see in our account, taken from them, of the disturbances following on the death of Guru Gobind Singh.’150

Polier wrote (1780 A.D.) that ‘the Siques then began to increase greatly in number… all that came, though from the lowest and most abject castes, were received, contrary to the Hindu customs which admit of no change of caste, and even Mussalmans were in the number of converts.’151 Griffths (1794) tells us that the Seiks receive Proselytes of almost every Caste a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindoos.’152 The German Hugel describes the Sikhs of the times as ‘the descendants from all the lowest castes of Hindus, from which they have been proselyted.153 These early accounts of the Europeans are all the more valuable, because, as already pointed out, these deal with the times of the Misals and Ranjit Singh, when the Sikh revolution had receded.

         (c)  Collective Leadership

The leadership of a movement has always an important bearing in determining its direction. Corresponding to the egalitarian political mission of the Khalsa and its plebeian base, the leadership of the movement, after the Gurus, also devolved on the Khalsa Panth as a whole. This collective leadership of the Khalsa has an added significance. This, together with the plebeian base of the movement, was meant to ensure that, as far as possible, the movement should not come to be dominated by a higher caste or a group, and should pursue its egalitarian mission of capturing political power by all those, without any distinction, who subscribed to the Khalsa egalitarian ideals. The initiative for this development was taken by Guru Gobind Singh himself.

Writing about the significance of the initiation (baptism) ceremony of the Khalsa, Gokal Chand Narang states: “Of the five who offered their heads, one was a Khatri, all the rest being so-called Sudras. But the Guru called them Panj Pyaras, or the Beloved five, and baptised them after the manner he had introduced for initiation into his brotherhood. He enjoined the same duties upon them. Gave them the same privileges, and as a token of newly acquired brotherhood, all of them dined together.

‘The Guru’s views of democratic equality were much more advanced than the mere quality among his followers could satisfy. In his system, there was no place even for the privileges of the chief or the leader. No leader, he believed, could be fit to lead unless he was elected or accepted by the followers. History shows that individuals or classes enjoining a religious or sacerdotal superiority have been only too loth to forego even a particle of their privileges. But the Guru, though regarded by his faithful followers as the greatest of prophets, was made of a different stuff, and had too much political insight to stand on an exclusive eminence apart from his followers. Therefore, when he had initiated his first five disciples, his beloved five, he was initiated by them in turn, taking the same vows as they had done, and claiming no higher privileges than those he allowed them. Soon after he called a meeting of all his followers and announced his new doctrine to them.’154 One day before the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs asked him as to whom they were to follow after him. The Guru replied that he was personified in the Khalsa and that he had conferred the leadership on the Khalsa body itself.155

The fact that the leadership of the movement devolved on the Khalsa Panth as a whole, became an article of living faith with the Sikhs. In this connection, the episode of Banda’s nomination as leader and his subsequent parting of company with the Khalsa is very illustrative. The Khalsa agreed to follow Banda only on the condition that he would not aspire to sovereignty. The Guru instructed Banda to abide by the Khalsa and appointed select Sikhs as his advisers. After his military success, Banda aspired to become Guru and a sovereign. On this Tat Khalsa (the genuine Khalsa) parted company with him because the Guru had given:

‘Banda service and not sovereignty; The sovereignty had been given to the Panth by the Guru (Sacha padshah) himself.’156

After Banda, Kapur Singh was elected as the leader of the Khalsa. He was elected because he was, in those days, engaged in doing a humble service. Kapur Singh ‘Did nothing without taking the Panth into confidence.’157 With the end of Kapur Singh’s era, the revolutionary spirit started waning. His successor was Jassa Singh ‘Kalal’. Jassa Singh struck coin in his own name when the Khalsa conquered Lahore for the first time. This was so much against the spirit of collective leadership of the Khalsa, that a special convention was held, where it was decided to recall that coin from circulation.158 In its place, another coin struck in the name of the Guru was substituted. Polier (1780) observed, ‘As for the Government of the Siques, it is properly an aristocracy, in which no pre-eminence is allowed except that which power and force naturally gives; otherwise all the chiefs, great and small, and even the poorest and most abject Siques, look on themselves as perfectly equal in all the public concerns and in the greatest Council or Goormatta of the nation, held annually either at Ambarsar, Lahore or some other place. Everything is decided by the plurality of votes taken indifferently from all who choose to be present at it.159 Forster also gives a similar account. ‘An equality of rank is maintained in their civil society, which no class of men, however, wealthy or powerful, is suffered to break down. At the periods when general council of the nation were convened, which consisted of the army at large, every member had the privilege of delivering his opinion, and the majority, it is said, decided on the subject in debate.’160

“All Sikhs were theoretically equal; their religion in its first youth was too pure a theocracy to allow distinctions of rank among its adherents.”161 It became an article of faith with the Khalsa that wherever five of the Khalsa, committed to Sikh ideals, met to take a decision, the Guru was present there in spirit to guide them. It was to this level that the leadership was spread. It was this spirit and faith which sustained the movement when the Khalsa guerrillas were split up and scattered into small groups without a central or common leadership. Writing on the election of Kapur Singh as a leader, Arjan Das Malik comments: ‘It is a paradox of Sikh history that a man who was elected in this cavalier fashion later proved to be the most competent leader that the Sikhs could ever had. This can be explained only in one way. Such was the uniform high standard of motivation and training that each one of the Khalsa was as good a commander as he was a soldier.’162 Thus, it was the wide consciousness of the egalitarian issues at stake and the extension of the sense of responsibility and leadership to a broad base that gave consistent direction and tenacity of purpose to the Sikh Revolution. The Mughal authorities had come to believe more than once that they had exterminated the Khalsa to the last man; but the Khalsa ‘always appeared, like a suppressed flame, to rise into higher splendour from every attempt to crush them’.163

We have purposely dealt at some length with the subject of the political goals of the Khalsa, its egalitarian base and the nature of its leadership, as these questions are vital for understanding the character of the Sikh militancy. The issue, whether or not the Jat traits and culture determined the direction and development of the Sikh militarization, cannot be properly assessed by divorcing it from the political colour and content of the Sikh movement. The history of the peasants in general, and that of the Jats in particular, does not favour the hypothesis propounded by Dr. McLeod and others. Let alone the Jats, nowhere else do we find among the peasant, revolts or revolutions, within India or outside it, a parallel development, at peasant initiative, comparable to the Sikh egalitarian social and political revolution.

5. Lack of Political Initiative and Aspirations among Peasants


        (a)  Outside India

Engels mentions two main causes for the failure of the German Peasant wars, perhaps the greatest peasant upheaval in history. The peasant masses never overstepped the narrow relations and the resulting narrow outlook.164 Consequently, the peasants of every province acted only for themselves, and were annihilated in separate battles one after another by armies which in most cases were hardly one-tenth of the total number of the insurgent masses.165 Secondly, they were not indoctrinated enough, with the result that the bulk of the peasants were always ready to come to terms with the lords who exploited this weakness of theirs,166 and were also readily demoralized when they met a strong resistance or a reverse.167

Eric R. Wolf, who in his book ‘Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century’ covers a case study of six countries, does not present a different picture.

The insurrection in Mexico was “an agrarian revolt in gestation”.168 One of the prominent features of the Zapatista revolution was ‘the participation from the first of disaffected intellectuals with urban ties.’169 About the Russian Revolution, we need quote only Lenin. ‘While workers left to their own devices could only develop trade-union consciousness and peasants only petty-bourgeois demands for land, it would be the guiding intellectuals who would lead the revolution on behalf of the workers and the peasants.’170 The very basis of the concept of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariate’ is that the peasantry is, suspect in the role of a revolutionary vanguard. In China, ‘Peasant mobilization thus proved impossible without political and military leverage.’171 It was the Communist Party that provided it. And the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were drawn most frequently from a relatively thin upper layer of the Chinese population-the sons of landlords, merchants, scholars or officials. All of them had higher education, and most of them had studied abroad.’172 In Vietnam, too, it was again the Communist party which roused and organized the peasants. Truong Chinh pointed out in 1965 that, ‘our party was born in an agrarian country where the working class was numerically weak. In the great majority, our cadres and our militants originated in the petty bourgeoisie.’173 The Cuban revolution was a great gamble by a group of determined educated revolutionaries which paid off. “None of us”, writes Guevara, ‘none of the first group who came in the “Granma” (the landing boat), who established in the Sierra Maestra and learned to respect the peasant and worker while living with them, had worker’s or peasant’s “backgrounds.’174

Wolf comes to the weighty conclusion that, in all the six cases of peasant wars he studied, there was a fusion between the alienated intellectuals, what he calls “rootless” intellectuals, and their rural supporters. “Yet this fusion is not affected easily…The peasant is especially handicapped in passing from passive recognition of wrongs to political participation as a means of setting them right. First, a peasant’s work is most often done alone, on his own land, than in conjunction with his fellows… Second, the tyranny of work weighs heavily upon a peasant; his life is geared to an annual routine and to planning for the year to come. Momentary alterations of routine threaten his ability to take up the routine later. Third, control of land enables him, more often than not, to retreat into subsistence production should adverse conditions affect his market crop. Fourth, ties of extended kinship and mutual aid within the community may cushion the shocks of dislocation. Fifth, peasant interests—especially among poor peasants—often cross-cut class alignment. Finally, past exclusion of the peasant from participation in decision-making beyond the bamboo needed to articulate his interests with appropriate action. Hence, peasants are often merely passive spectators of political struggles…175

To quote Wolf again: ‘But what of the transition from peasant rebellion to revolution, from a movement aimed at the redress of wrongs, to the attempted overthrow of society itself? Marxists have long argued that peasants without outside leadership cannot make a revolution; and our case material would bear them out. When the peasantry has successfully rebelled against the established order - under its own banner and with its own leaders - it was sometimes able to reshape the social structure of the country side closer to its heart’s desires; but it did not lay hold of the state’.176

In the French Revolution, too, the peasantry of France played only a secondary role, which was limited to localized action against landlords. Of the Revolution’s reverberations outside France in Europe, Roberts writes: ‘The third widespread response was that of the rural population of almost every country; whatever the theoretical benefits they might derive from the implementation of French legislation, they nearly always turned at some point to open resistance, sporadic though it might be. Except in northern Germany, the peasantry were everywhere in Europe the most persistently alienated of the Revolutions’ potential supporters, whatever the benefits the new order might appear to bring them at first sight…It was among the better-off and the urbanized that the supporters of the French were to be found, not in the countryside which they formally liberated from ‘feudalism.’177

We are not out to establish a theoretical theorem, having universal validity. But, there are certain uniform lessons that flow out from the practical experience of so many revolts or revolutions cited above in which the peasants participated. Left to themselves, the peasants are concerned more with their narrow interests and problems rather than with broader political issues. Nowhere did they initiate a political revolution. In fact, it was extremely difficult to rouse them for political action. When and wherever they participated in political revolts or revolutions, on their own, they did so primarily for their own parochial ends. Secondly, everywhere the peasants needed sufficient ideological indoctrination; and the initiative for such an indoctrination in all these cases came from outside the peasants own ranks, usually from the intelligentsia. These lessons are quite important for evaluating the role of Jats in the Sikh movement.

       (b) Among Jats

The peasants in India were, in addition, tom asunder by prejudices and inhibitions of the caste system. Because of the complete grip of the caste ideology, it was beyond the sphere of the peasant, the Vaisya, either to do fighting or aspire for political leadership or rule. This sphere was the monopoly or privilege of the Kashatrya only, accordingly, how they, by and large, meekly submitted to the oppression and humiliation inflicted by the rulers, we need not go into. Let us come directly to the Jats, a militant section of the Indian peasants.

The Jats from the majority in Sindh; they are three times more than the Rajputs in the Punjab, and are approximately equal to the number of Rajputs in Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Marwar. Yet, “fragmentary notices of the Jats occur in the Muhammadan historians of India.”178 It was so because they were politically inconsequential. As against them, the pages of Indian history are full of Rajput exploits.

A deputation of Jats and Meds, waited upon King Dajushan and begged him to nominate a king, whom both tribes would obey. Accordingly, Dajushan appointed his sister to rule over them and they voluntarily submitted to her.179 Bikaner sources tell us that, ‘In recognition of the fact that the Jats had been original masters of the country and in memory of their voluntary submission to Rajput rule, the Bikaner rulers instituted a ceremony in which each new ruler of the Rajput dynasty had a special symbol put on his forehead by one of the Jat Chiefs who thus invested the new ruler with the rights of a sovereign.180 Similarly, the Minas voluntarily accepted the Kacchewas as their rulers.181 The Minas are not Jats, but this example also serves to show how people at the tribal level, without political aims, were an easy prey to politically ambitious minorities. The khaps in the Meerut Division, as we have seen, had quite sizeable private armies, but their role was purely defensive. The Rohtak district was situated, at one time, on the border of the Maratha and the Sikh spheres of political control, and was overrun by one party or the other. The strong Jat villages of Rohtak district perpetually defied both the Marathas and the Sikhs, and George Thomas could collect his revenue only by means of a moveable column constantly marching about the country.182 But this Jat defiance never gathered momentum beyond the village level in order to assert the political independence of their region.

“From the earliest times, the Jats have been remarkable for their rejection of the monarchical principle and their strong partiality for self-governing commonwealths. One of the names by which they were known to the ancients was ‘Arashtra or kingless’.”183 Their chiefs were tribal chiefs rather than rulers. The one time exception of Jat monarchical principality of any consequence that we come across in recorded history is that of Bharatpur, if, of course, we ignore the small unit of Dholpur. Its founder was Churaman. He was not inspired by any lofty ideals, nor was any of his successors, who consolidated the Bharatpur State. Churaman helped Emperor Bahadur Shah in his campaign against the Sikhs at Sadhaura and Lohragh;184 and finally submitted to Emperor Farrukh-siyar, agreeing to pay a penalty of fifty lakhs of rupees.185 Similarly Suraj Mal was a pure opportunist. He turned, for personal reasons, against the Syed brothers, to whom he owed so much for his rise to power. When the magnificent army under Sadashiv Rao went to meet Ahmed Shah at Panipat, “the crafty Suraj Mal, professing to be disgusted with the arrogance of his allies, withdrew his forces from Sadashiv’s camp.186 ‘Major Thorn says that Suraj Mal received Agra from Ahmad Shah as the reward of his neutrality during the struggle at Panipat.’187 At any rate, it is a fact that Suraj Mal dispossessed the Maratha governor of Delhi of his treasure when he was fleeing through the Jat territory.”188

It is only in the Jat uprisings under Gokala and Raja Ram that we find the Jats motivated by consideration other than those of plunder or personal gain. These were however, short-lived religious outbursts against blatant outrage of local Hindu sentiment by Muslim rulers, which began and ended with the persons of Gokala and Raja Ram. By no means were these sustained movements, much less revolutionary ones. Movements are built around fixed long-range objectives and need organisation, determined leadership and tenacity of purpose to achieve those objectives. The Jats lacked all these. It was for this reason that, although the Jats around Mathura and Agra remained a constant thorn in the body of the Mughals and several expeditions were sent to curb their marauding propensity, their restless spirit never assumed the dimensions of a purposeful anti-Mughal or anti-Muslim movement. The same fate overtook, and for similar reasons, the Satnami revolt. Although there was a continuity in the restive spirit of the Jats, there was no ideological continuity between the Jats revolts under Gokala and Raja Ram on the one hand and the political adventures of Churaman and Suraj Mal on the other. The overriding motivation of Churaman and Suraj Mal, as is shown by their opportunistic compromises with the Mughal rulers, was to carve out a dynastic principality. They stepped in to fill the vaccum created by the death of Raja Ram, not to continue his anti- Muslim revolt but to exploit Jat restiveness for their own personal ambitions. Quite in tune with the peasant trait the world over, and in addition having been brainwashed by the caste ideology, the Jats, as a body, could not, in any of the cases cited above, evolve enduring political goals. of their own. Their martial qualities were, therefore, at the disposal of anyone who was skilful enough to manipulate them. It could be the Churaman group, for whom the weakening of the Mughal authority and the disappearance of political sanction behind the caste system had opened the way for aspiring to political power. It could be the British, who used the 6th Jat Light Infantry, recruited from Haryana, to crush their own kith and kin when the Jats of that region rose against the British in 1809.189

        (c) Facts and the Sikh Revolution

There is, in fact, no common ground for comparing the Sikh movement with any other political adventure or revolt in which the Jats participated. It was not a feudal venture like that of Churaman and his successors. Guru Gobind Singh was not interested in political power for himself,190 and he devolved the leadership of the movement on the Khalsa when his own sons were still alive. Unlike the Jats of the Bharatpur region, the Khalsa did not blindly follow a leader like Churaman or Suraj Mal, to help him establish a dynastic rule or to share in his plunder. The Khalsa parted company with Banda when he aspired for sovereignty, and made Jassa Singh Ahluwalia withdraw the coin that he struck in his name. Even under the Misals, the Sikh polity had more characteristics of a commonwealth than those of personal rule. It was also qualitatively different from the ephemeral Jat religious uprisings under Gokala and Raja Ram. It was a revolution, and an egalitarian revolution at that. There is a fundamental difference between ordinary revolts or rebellions, which do not challenge the social or political system itself, but only seek changes or adjustments within its framework. The Sikh movement was an egalitarian social and political revolution, which aimed at the establishment of an egalitarian society in the place of the caste order and at the capture of political power by the people themselves. Such revolutionary aims were not owned, at that period, by the peasantry of any country outside India, much less could these be even conceived here in a society ridden by caste and politically dominated by foreign feudals. It is the goal, the ideological inspiration, of a movement which determines its quality and its direction, and it is the organisational base of that ideology and the tenacity of purpose associated with it that in a great measure constitute its internal strength. For the lack of ideological goals, the Jats remained either an inert political mass, or their religious fervour misfired, or their valour became a hand-maid of feudal interest. It is the Sikh ideology which welded the Jats or non-Jats who joined it, into a political force that uprooted the Mughal domination and made the tillers of the soil and the hewers of wood, the political masters of the Punjab.

It was seen in the first section that the militarization of the movement was initiated by the Gurus themselves in pursuance of the Sikh mission, and it was not done under the influence or pressure of the Jats who joined it. The discussion we have carried on above amply demonstrates that the political and militant development of the movement was directed by its egalitarian goals, which were also fixed by the Gurus. Far from taking a hand in shaping the political goals of the Khalsa, the Sikhs, whether of Jat or non-Jat origin, felt, in the beginning, that they were unequal to the task of wresting sovereignty from the Mughals.191 The plebeian composition of the Khalsa and its collective leadership were intimately linked to its egalitarian goals. Without these, it is quite probable that, in the absence of the Gurus to steer the course of the movement, it might not have implemented its egalitarian programme to the extent it did. And, the Khalsa acquired a dominant plebeian base because it was Guru Gobind Singh who called upon the ‘sparrows’ to kill the ‘hawks’, i.e. called upon the downtrodden to carve out their own political destiny. The plan for evolving the collective leadership of the Khalsa was also initiated by the Guru. The Sikh cosmopolitan egalitarianism (whose doors, as we have noted, were open in theory and in actual practice to the lowest of the low, and where anyone who chose to be present in the Khalsa General Assemblies, the Sarbat Khalsa, could have his say and exercise his right in the making of decisions)192 was qualitatively different from the Jat parochial egalitarianism. The Jat political consciousness, under the spell of caste ideology, could not have even conceived of evolving egalitarian political goals of the type in which they had to share power with the artisans (carpenters) and Kalals, much less work under their leadership. Nor could Jat parochial egalitarianism have adjusted itself to a cosmopolitan egalitarian organisation in which the outcastes (the Rangrettas) were equal and honourable members. There is, therefore, no basis for assuming that, without having a hand in determining the Khalsa political goals, and without exercising control over its organisation and leadership, the Jats, as such, could shape the growth and the development of the movement, during the long period of its revolutionary phase according to their own traits and proclivities.

6. Ideology

Lefebure has given expression to a very important political axiom. “For the last half century, students have applied, themselves and rightly so, to the task of showing how the revolutionary spirit originated in a social and economic environment. But we should commit no less an error in forgetting that there is no true revolutionary spirit without the idealism which alone inspires sacrifice.”193 About the French Revolution, Rude writes: “…….it needed more than economic hardship, social discontent, and the frustration of political and social ambitions to make a revolution. To give cohesion to the discontents and aspirations of widely varying social classes, there had to be some unifying body of ideas, common vocabulary of hope and protest, something in short, like a common ‘revolutionary psychology’.”194

If a common ‘revolutionary psychology’ was needed to give cohesion to the varying classes in the French Revolution, a ‘unifying body of ideas’ was much more indispensable for welding the mutually antagonistic castes which joined the Sikh Revolution. Moreover, the Sikh revolutionary struggle passed through a prolonged period of guerrilla warfare the like of which few other movements have experienced. A general massacre of the Sikhs was launched a number of times and the Mughal authorities came to believe that they had annihilated the Sikhs almost to the last man. Forster writes: “Such was the keen spirit that animated the persecution, such was the success of the exertions, that the name of a Sique no longer existed in the Mughal dominion.”195 Yet, at every attempt to crush the movement, it arose, Phoenix like, from its ashes till it uprooted the Mughal rule from the region and established its own.

Arjan Das Malik has quoted authorities and given illustrations to show that sustained guerrilla warfare is not possible without an ideological inspiration.”….a guerrilla is…… an intensely motivated and highly dedicated soldier, who has a keen sense of issues at stake and understands the nature of war he is fighting. His strength lies inside, in the moral considerations which ‘make three-fourths of him.”196

What was the ideological inspiration that inspired the Sikh revolutionaries? Let history speak for itself. William Irvine writes about Banda and the band of his followers when brought as prisoners to Delhi: “All observers, Indian and European, unite in remarking on the wonderful patience and resolution with which these men underwent their fate. Their attachment and devotion to their leader were wonderful to behold. They had no fear of death, they called the executioner Mukt, or the Deliverer. They cried out to him joyfully “O Mukt! kill me first.”197

The English ambassadors in Delhi at that time reported to their head that about 780 prisoners had been brought to the place along with Banda and that one hundred of them were beheaded each day. ‘It is not a little remarkable with what patience they under-go their fate, and to the last it has not been found that one apostatized from his new formed religion.198

Khafi Khan writes, many stories are told about the wretched dogs of this sect, which the understanding rejects; but the author will relate what he saw with his own eyes. When the executions were going on, the mother of one of the prisoners, a young man just arrived at manhood, pleaded the cause of her son with great feeling and earnestness before the emperor and Saiyad Abduallah Khan….

…Farrukh Siyar commiserated this artful woman, and mercifully sent an officer with orders to release the youth. That cunning woman arrived with the order of release just as the executioner was standing with his bloody sword upheld over the young man’s head. She showed the order for his release. The youth then broke out into complaints, saying: “My mother tells a falsehood; I with heart and soul join my fellow-believers in devotion to the Guru; send me quickly after my companions.”199

Muhammed Latif comes to the conclusions: “The pages of history shine with the heroic deeds of this martial race, and the examples of self-devotion, patriotism and forbearance under the severest trials, displayed by the leaders of their community, are excelled by none in the annals of the nations.”200

“According to a contemporary Mohammedan author, the Sikh horsemen were seen riding, at full gallops, towards their sacred favourite shrine of devotion. They were often slain in making this attempt, and sometimes taken prisoners; but they used, on such occasions to seek, instead of avoiding, the crown of martyrdom.”; and the same authority states, “that an instance was never known of a Sikh, taken in his way to Amritsar, consenting to abjure his faith”.201

Ahmed Shah Abdali, the victor of Panipat, recognized that for the complete reduction of the Sikh power it would be necessary to wait until their religious fervour had evaporated.202 Even during the faction-ridden period of the Misals, the Sikh chiefs could find a common meeting ground at the sanctified Amritsar Golden Temple, and the only commenting force left between them were the Akalis, the conscience keepers of the Sikh faith.

There is a spark in human nature which yearns eternally for freedom and equality: The Gurus ignited this spark. In Cunningham’s words: ‘The last apostle of the Sikhs did not live to see his own ends accomplished, but he effectually roused the dormant energies of a vanquished people and filled them with a lofty, although fitful, longing for social freedom and national ascendency, the proper adjuncts of that purity of worship which had been preached by Nanak. Gobind saw what was yet vital, and relumed it with a Promethean fire.”203 The Sikh movement derived its strength also because Guru Gobind Singh ‘opened, at once, to men of the lowest tribe, the prospect of earthly glory.” The objective of capturing political power for egalitarian ends fired the imagination of the masses, and for this reason more and more of the down-trodden people were drawn to the Khalsa ranks as the struggle progressed. It was because of its deep commitment to the egalitarian cause that the movement pursued the armed struggle to its bitter end until its aims were achieved. This was why the movement, though hard pressed, rejected a number of offers of a compromised peace by Abdali; who could not comprehend that in this case he was not pitted against feudal lords whose interests could be adjusted within his own ambitions. Here he was face to face with an ideologically surcharged people’s movement committed to achieve its own egalitarian political aims; in which there was no room for compromise with feudalism or aristocracy. However, what is more germane to our topic is the fact that the genesis of the Sikh revolutionary spirit lies in the Sikh religion and the religious faith of the Sikhs in the Gurus. It is the Sikh religion which stands for social and political equality. It is the Gurus who worked laboriously over a long period to institutionalize the egalitarian values in the form of the Sikh Panth. And it is through their religious faith in the Gurus that the Sikhs came to enshrine the values of human freedom and equality in their hearts. Again, it is due to the deep commitment of the Gurus to the revolutionary cause that they channelized the religious faith reposed in them by their followers into a course which aimed at achieving political freedom wedded to egalitarian objectives.

The Sikh ideology not only inspired the movement, but it was the mainstay of its revolutionary phase. The Sikh guerrilla had no earthly hope of success. Even the Mughal Governor was amazed, when he exclaimed “O God! To eat grass and to claim kingship”204 They were sustained only by their faith in the Guru’s word. As Bhangu put it:

“The Singhs had no resources; were without arms and clothes. Were naked, hungry and thirsty. Had no ammunition with them. Had no access to shops or markets; Those who fell sick died for lack of medicine. They were sustained by the hope of Guru’s benediction; this was the only treasure they had.”205

It goes without saying that the Sikhs religious faith was the creation of the Sikh Gurus and not that of the Jats, who are well-known for their indifference towards transcendental religion.206 Otherwise, it is up to the scholars, who trace the genesis of the Sikh Revolution of Jat traits, to explain how the Sikh revolutionary psychology evolved from the purely Jat beliefs and traits. There is no historical record of the Jats of the Sikh tract having ever shown, before the Sikh movement, even that turbulent spirit and resistance which the Jats around Agra, Mathura and Bharatpur showed, and against whom several Mughal expeditions were sent to curb their turbulence. If the Jats around Agra, Mathura and Bharatpur remained tied down, at all times, to the caste and feudal strings, how did the Jats of the Sikh tract alone evolve, on their own, a remarkable ‘revolutionary psychology’ and zeal, and a deep commitment to an all-embracing egalitarian cause?

In fact, it is the Sikh ideology which transformed those, who participated in the Sikh revolutionary struggle, and it is not the Jat traits which determined its ideology content. As there is marked difference in the chemical behaviour of unionized and ionized atoms of the same element, so do we find a marked behavioural contrast between those of the same stock, whether Jat or non-Jat, who, when and where, were charged by the Sikh ideology and those who were not.

Two prominent features of the character of the Jats of all the regions, their laxity in domestic morality and their propensity for stealing, are mentioned from their very early history. As against it, Qazi Nur Muhammed pays the Khalsa a rich tribute for respecting the honour of women and for not befriending thieves207 and this testimony of his is supported by others.208 It is on these very two counts that the comments of competent observers in the post-Khalsa period again become unfavourable to the Jats of the Sikh tract.209

All the members of the Khalsa Dal, including Rangrettas addressed one another as Bhai (brother).210 There was complete equality and fraternization within its ranks. One of the five divisions of the Taruna Dal was commanded by Rangretta Bir Singh211 and he was chosen to be the first to receive honour after the battle of Malerkotla.212 There is no mention of any factions within the Khalsa Dal on the basis of caste or clan. But, in the post-revolutionary period, factional strife became a prominent feature of the Misals and Jat Sikhs in Ranjit Singh’s army refused to associate on equal terms with Rangrettas in the regiments.

All those who joined the Khalsa were volunteers and were not mercenaries. Whatever they brought from their homes, or whatever came to their hands, was deposited in the common store.213 The Khalsa ideal was to dedicate one’s soul and body (Tan, Man, Dhan) to the revolutionary cause.214 A large number of Singhs, especially the Shaheeds or Akalis, lived up to that ideal. But, the followers of Dala, the Brar Jats, had no hesitation in demanding pay for their services from Guru Gobind Singh.215

The insignia of so-called Nawabi was not acceptable to anyone of the Khalsa and had to be thrust on reluctant Kapur Singh.216 What a contrast between this spurning of power and the lust for power that seized the Misal Chiefs!

Even the faction-ridden Misals would unite to face the common danger posed by Abdali, but the universally believed, rumours of an impending invasion by the British failed to unite the parties of the Sikh Raj.217 Abdali came to the conclusion that the conquest of the Khalsa shall have to wait till their religious fervour subsided. But Lord Hardinge could foresee that the Sikh soldiers of the Sikh Raj ‘will relapse into the rude state of their grandfathers, from which they only emerged fifty years ago, and, to which they will have no objection to return’.218

If it is not the Khalsa ideology, to what else is the glaring contrast in the behaviour patterns of the people of the same stock, noted above, due to? Forster noted that, under relentless persecution launched by the Mughals, “Those who still adhered to the tracts of Nanock, either fled into the mountains at the head of the Punjab, or cut off their hair, and exteriorly renounced the profession of their religion.219 In other words, all that was needed to save one’s life was to cut off one’s hair and melt into the multitude. Who were the steel-frame of the movement? Those who renounced their faith, or those ideologically surcharged Khalsa guerrillas who took to the mountains?

7. Conclusion

Dr. McLeod’s hypothesis regarding the militarization of the Sikh movement is untenable on more than one count. The very basic assumptions on which his thesis rests are belied by facts. There is no data to infer that Jats were the predominant element among the Sikh when Guru Hargobind decided to militarize the movement, or in the battles of Guru Gobind Singh and those of Banda. Rather, all the available historical evidence points the other way. Similarly, there is nothing to suggest that the Jats used to come armed when they came to pay homage to the Gurus. Even this is a presumption that the Jats were the only people who bore arms, if the population was not disarmed.

Dr. McLeod’s other two basic assumptions are equally baseless. The keeping of sword (kirpan) and hair was not a specialty of Jat culture, which the Sikh movement is supposed to have borrowed from it. Nor did the Sikh movement need the inspiration of the Devi cult for its militancy. Guru Hargobind went to the hills after finishing all his battles in the plains, and no Devi cult survives among the Sikh Jats. Besides, it remains a mystery, how the Jats, without control of the leadership and the organization of the Khalsa in their own hands, could possibly maneuver it according to their own predilections.

The most important consideration, however, is that the Sikh Militancy has to be viewed, not in isolation, but in its relation to the Sikh egalitarian revolution. The Sikh movement aimed at capturing political power by the Khalsa and the Sikh militancy was geared to achieve this purpose. The two should not be divorced from each other arbitrarily. As we have seen, the peasantry have lacked political initiative throughout the world, and peasants in India, including the Jats, were additionally inhibited by the caste ideology. Also, the Jat pattern of egalitarianism, which was limited to the Jat Bhaichara, cannot be equated or confused with the egalitarian character of Khalsa brotherhood in which ‘lowest were equal to the highest.’220 Therefore, it becomes pure speculation to assume that the Khalsa egalitarian political goal, and the militarization of the Sikhs for achieving that objective, evolved out of the interaction of Jat cultural traits with the environmental factors. Moreover neither the Jat pattern of social organization, nor their factional spirit, fit in with the organizational set-up of the Khalsa and the spirit of fraternization that prevailed in the Khalsa ranks.

It is surprising that Dr. McLeod and other scholars of his way of thinking, have completely ignored the basic issues noted above. Possibly, they have fallen into the error which Lefebure cautioned historians to avoid. There can be no revolution, much less an egalitarian one like the Sikh Revolution, without a “revolutionary psychology”. And “there is no true revolutionary spirit without the idealism which alone inspires sacrifice.” The Jats, in common with the peasantry in general, lack political initiative; they are governed by caste considerations in their dealings with the Sudras and they are generally indifferent towards idealism or higher religious aspirations. Therefore, it is too much ‘to surmise that the revolutionary psychology of the Sikh Revolution was a creation of the Jats. It is the Sikh ideology which inspired and sustained the Sikh revolution. It is the hold of this ideology which was the dominant feature of the revolutionary phase of the movement, and it was the extent to which this hold loosened which marred its post-revolutionary phase.

Another possible reason which misleads such scholars is that they either ignore the revolutionary phase altogether, or they lump it together with the post-revolutionary phase in a manner so as to undermine its distinctiveness, or they interpret it in the light of the latter. It is true that revolutionary upsurges do not last long because of the inherent limitations of human nature and of the environmental factors. But, besides inching humanity forward towards its ultimate goal of freedom and equality, the revolutionary movements provide a perpetual source of inspiration for future efforts. Nor are the revolutionary upsurges inconsequential in terms of tangible achievements. They are an integral part of the ‘historical process’. Without the impulse supplied by Islam, the Bedouins might have been content in plucking dates in the Arabian desert and not aspired to vast empires. Similarly, there would probably have been no Misals or Ranjit Singh without the guerrilla warfare waged by the Sikh revolutionaries. And this prolonged revolutionary guerrilla struggle is inconceivable if we take away the ideological lead and inspirations given by the Gurus and the deep commitment to the revolutionary cause provided by the Sikh ideology.

This is also true that such periods, when ideologies sway the minds of vast masses, are rare in history. But, they are to be valued on that very account. Because, they are exactly the occasions when humanity, or a section of it, is ‘on the move’ towards its progressive goals. The Sikh Revolution was such a one.

Notes and References

* It is against the Sikh religion to differentiate Sikhs in terms of castes, but we are constrained to do so in order to meet Dr. McLeod’s arguments. Therefore, wherever we indicate the caste of a Sikh, it should be taken to mean the original stock from which he was derived.

  1. Mcleod, W.H., The Evolution of the Sikh Community, pp. 12, 13
  2. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, iv, p. 329
  3. Sri Gur Sobha, pp. 28, 33, 43-46
  4. Punjab District Gazetteer, Amritsar District, 1914, 1932
  5. Ibid., Bhangu, p. 269; Rose, i, p. 702
  6. Census Report, 1891, p. 158
  7. Macauliffe, iii, pp. 91-92
  8. Ibid, iv, p. 4.
  9. Ibbetson, Punjab Castes, sec. 539
  10. Ibid
  11. Bhangu, Prachin Panth Parkash, p. 216
  12. Macauliffe, Hi, p. 99
  13. Bhai Gurdas, Var 26, Pauri 24
  14. Sri Gur Sohba, p. 33, Koer Singh, pp. 132-3
  15. Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi Das, pp. 127-128
  16. Ibid., p. 134
  17. Bhai Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth, edited by Bhai Vir Singh, Vol. 14, p. 6027
  18. The Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, trans. by John Briggs, p. 75
  19. M’Crindle, J.W. IA., Vol. 5 (1876)
  20. Manrique 11, p. 272; Bernier, p. 205 (cited by Irfan Habibi Enquiry, No. 2 (1959), Delhi, p. 89)
  21. Irfan Habibj Enquiry, No. 2, p. 92
  22. Rehatname, p. 45
  23. Haqiqat; I.H.Q., March 1942 sup., p. 4
  24. Macauliffe, v, p. 301
  25. Sri Gur Sohba, p. 21
  26. Koer Singh, p. 67
  27. Bhai Gurdas, Var 41; Rehatname, pp. 47, 115, 117
  28. Sri Gur Sobba, pp. 21, 32
  29. Jullundur District Gazetteer, 1904, Part A, p. 121, Crooke, W.; Races of Northern India, p. 93; Gurgaon Distt. Gazetteer, 1883-84, p. 41
  30. Bhai Gurdas, Var 11
  31. Dabistan, trans. by Dr. Ganda Singh; The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. iii (1969), p. 53
  32. Gurbilas Chevin Patshahi, p. 143; Macauliffe, iv, p. 4
  33. Macauliffe, iv, pp. 107, 197
  34. Koer Singh, p. 90
  35. Bichhitar Natak
  36. Koer Singh, p. 131
  37. Ibid., p. 134
  38. Ibid., p. 196
  39. Irvine, W. : Later Mughals, i, p. 94; Khafi Khan; Elliot and Dowson; The History of India as told by its own Historians, Vol. vii, p. 419
  40. Irvine, i, p. 96
  41. M. Gregor, W.L.; The History of the Sikhs, pp. 22-3
  42. Manu, x. 79
  43. Albernni’s India, i, p. 179
  44. Rose, ii, p. 245
  45. Rose, A Glossary of Tribes Castes etc., ii, p. 371
  46. Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1892-93), p. 50
  47. Mcleod, W.H.; The Evolution of the Sikh Community, pp. 98, 100
  48. Macauliffe, v, pp. 93, 95; Malcolm, p. 221
  49. Rehatname, pp. 88-89
  50. Bhangu, Rattan Singh : Prachin Panth Parkash, pp. 49, 305
  51. Sarkar, Jadunath : History of Auranrzeb, iii, pp. 298-301
  52. Mcleod, p. 13
  53. Macauliffe, iv, p. 218; Dabistan, pp. 66-68
  54. Macauliffe, v, p. 94.
  55. Ibid., pp. 262, 307
  56. Rose, i, p. 326
  57. Rose, Vol. I, p. 323
  58. Gazetteer of Lahore District (1883-84), p. 60
  59. Rose, Vol. I, pp. 323-24, 350-55
  60. Ibid., p. 317
  61. Qanungo, K.R: Historical Essays, p. 42. The figure giving the number of Jats obviously refers the period round about the year 1960 when the book was published 62 Baden-powell, p. 216, cited by M.C. Pradhan: The Political System of the jats of Northern India, p. 5
  62. Baden-powell, p. 216, cited by m.c. Pradhan : The political System of the Jas of Northern India, p. 5
  63. Pradhan, p. I
  64. Ibid., pp. 113-4
  65. Ibid., p. 113
  66. Ibid., p. 144
  67. Ibid., p. 98
  68. Ibid
  69. Ibid., p. 105
  70. Ibid., p. 107
  71. Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 84
  72. Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 17
  73. Gazetteer of Jullundur District (1904), p. 62
  74. Settlement Report of  Ludhiana District (1978-83), p. 46
  75. Gazetteer of Ferozepur District (1915), p. 21
  76. Ibid., p. 74
  77. Ibid., p. 76
  78. Bingley, A.H. : History, Caste and Culture of Jats and Gujars, p. 37
  79. Punjab Castes, sec., 424
  80. Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1892-3), pp. 52-3
  81. Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1914), p. 19
  82. Gazetteer of Amritsar District (1883-84), p. 24
  83. Ibid
  84. Ibid., (1914), p. 19
  85. Ibid
  86. Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1910), p. 169
  87. Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 16
  88. Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1910), p. 24
  89. Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 27
  90. Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), pp. 24-5
  91. Bingley, p. 91
  92. Pradhan, p. 34
  93. Ibid, p. 36
  94. E.H.I., i, p. 151, cited by Rose, ii, p. 358
  95. Ibid., p. 188, cited by Rose, H,. p. 358
  96. Ibid., p. 128, cited by Rose, H, p. 359
  97. Bingley, p. 15
  98. Ibbetson, sec. 440
  99. Pradhan, p. 48
  100. Crooke, W.: The North Western Provinces of India, their History, Ethnology & Administration, p. 206
  101. Ibid
  102. Ibid., p. 244
  103. Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1910), p. 32
  104. Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 89
  105. Settlement Report Ludhiana District (1978-83)
  106. Census Report (1891), p. 202; Rose, iii, p. 75
  107. Bhangu, pp. 86, 212, 261, 436
  108. Ibid., 215
  109. Cited by Gurbax Singh; Punjab History Conference (Dec., 1973), Proceeding, pp. 55-6
  110. Sujan Singh Bhandari; Khulosat-ut-Twarikh (trans. in Punjabi by Ranjit Singh Gill), p. 81
  111. Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, trans. by John Briggs, p. 73
  112. Ibid., foot-note
  113. Haqiqat; Indian Historical Quarterly, March 1942 sup., p. 5
  114. Ibid., p. 6
  115. Roy, M.P.; Origin, Growth & Suppression of the Pindaries, p. 86
  116. Ibid., p. 80
  117. Ibid., p. 123
  118. Ibid., p. 12
  119. Irvine, William; Later Mughals, i, pp. 98-9
  120. Ibid., p. 97
  121. Cunningham, H.L.O.; History of the Sikhs, p. 159
  122. Khushwaqt Rai: Tarikh Punjab Sikhan, pp. 63-64
  123. Imadul-Saadat, p. 71
  124. Haqiqat, cited by Gurbax Singh in Punjab History Conference (March 1978), Proceedings, pp. 89-90
  125. Ibid., p. 86
  126. Punjabi translation, p. 7
  127. Bhai Gurdas, Var 41; Macauliffe, v, p. 258
  128. Sinha, N.K.; Rise of the Sikh Power, p. 110
  129. Ibid
  130. Wilson; I.RA-S. (1846), p. 50; Princep, p. 23, Cunningham, pp. 94-96; Malcolm, p. 222; Polier, Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, p. 197
  131. Forster, i, p. 330
  132. Ibid., p. 329
  133. Cunningham, p. 151
  134. Ibid., p. 151-2
  135. Sohan Lal Suri; Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, Daftar iv, p. xviii
  136. Ibid., pp. xvii-xviii
  137. Ibid., p. xxii; Punjab Papers, edited by Hasrat, p. 66
  138. Malcolm; Asiatic Researches, (1812), Vol. ii, p. 219
  139. Scott, G.B.; Religion and Short History of the Sikhs, p. 40
  140. Gurbilas Chevin Patshahi, p. 143
  141. Macauliffe, iv, pp. 95-96
  142. Bhangu, pp. 50, 58, 104, 236, 244, 262, 368
  143. Ibid., p. 216
  144. Ibid., p. 469
  145. Ibid., p. 368
  146. Irvine, pp. 94, 96, 98-99
  147. Fatuhat Namah-i-Samdi, p. 28, cited by Gurbax Singh; Punjab History Conference (Dec. 1973), Proceedings, p. 55
  148. Asrar-i-Samdi, trans. in Punjabi, p. 7
  149. Elliot and Dowson. Vol. vii, pp. 419-420
  150. Irvine, Vol. i. pp. 83-4
  151. Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, edited by Ganda Singh, p. 192
  152. Ibid., p. 228
  153. Hugel, p. 281
  154. Narang, Gokal Chand; Transformation of Sikhism, p. 81
  155. Sri Gur Sobha, edited by Ganda Singh, p. 128
  156. Bhangu, p. 131
  157. Ibid., p. 215
  158. Budh Singh Acora; Risala-i-Nanak Shah, cited by Gurbax Singh, Punjab History Conference (Nov., 1976), Proceeding, p. 79
  159. E.E.A. of Sikhs, p. 197
  160. Forster, i, p. 329
  161. Griffin; Rajas of the Punjab, p. 16
  162. Malik, Arjan Das; An Indian Guerrilla War, pp. 40-41
  163. Malcolm; Asiatic Researches (1812), pp. 244, 246
  164. Frederic Engels; The Peasant War in Germany, p. 29
  165. Ibid., p. 129
  166. Ibid., pp. 101, 102, 129
  167. Ibid., pp. 100, 101, 105-6, 108
  168. Wolf, Eric R.; Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century, p. 9
  169. Ibid., p. 31
  170. Ibid., p. 83
  171. Ibid., p. 141
  172. Ibid., p. 150
  173. Ibid., p. 185
  174. Ibid., p. 269
  175. Ibid., pp. 289-290
  176. Ibid., p. 294
  177. Roberts, J.M.; The French Revolution, p. 127
  178. Rose, ii, p. 357
  179. Ibid., p. 358
  180. Kadryatsev, M.K.; On the Role oftheJats in Northern India’s Ethnic History, p. 6
  181. Qanungo, K.R.; Studies in Rajput History, p. 63
  182. Gazetteer of Rohtak District (1883-84), p. 19
  183. Bingley, p. 15
  184. Irvine, i, p. 323
  185. Ibid., p. 327
  186. Bingley, p. 18
  187. Ibid., p. 19
  188. Ibid
  189. Bingley, p. 24
  190. Ibid
  191. Koer Singh, p. 99; Bhangu, p. 41
  192. Bhangu, pp. 41-42
  193. Lefebvre, Georges; The Coming of French Revolution, p. 50
  194. Rude, George, Revolutionary Europe, p. 74
  195. Forster, i, 312-313
  196. Malik, Arjan Das; An Indian Guerrilla War, p. 3
  197. Irvine, p. 317-318
  198. Early European Accounts of  Sikhs, p. 188
  199. Elliot & Dowson, vii, p. 458
  200. Latif, Syed Muhammed; History of the Punjab, p. 629
  201. Malcolm, Brigadier General; Asiatic Researches, Vol. II, (1812), p. 239
  202. Banerjee, A.C.; Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, p. 91
  203. Cunningham, p. 75
  204. Khushwaqt Rai, p. 71, cited by Gupta, History of the Sikhs,i, p. 12
  205. Bhangu, pp. 30+305
  206. Pradhan, p. 246, Gazetteer of Gurgaon District (1918), p. 67; Gazetteer of Karnal District (1918), p. 65; Settlement Report, Ludhiana District (1878-83), p. 54; Gazetteer of Jullundur District (1904), p. 121; Gazetteer of Lahore District (1883-84), p. 68
  207. Jangnamah
  208. Fatuhat Nam-i-Samdi; Forster, i, p. 333; Ahmed Shah, Sohan Lal, Alimud-din and Ganesh Das cited by Gupta; A History of the Sikhs, i, p. 195; Griffin; Rajas of the Punjab, p. 17
  209. Pradhan, p. 3; Bingley, p. 101; Ibbetson, 424; Rose, ii, 357, 359; Administration Reports of the Punjab, (1851-53), p. 90 of 1953 to 1956), p. 7); Gazetteer of the Districts of Lahore (1883-84, p. 68); Amritsar (1947, p. 47), Ferozepur (1915, p. 69)
  210. Fatuhat Namah-i-Samdi, cited in Punjab History Conference (Dec., 1973), Proceedings, pp. 55-56; Khulaset-ut-Twarikh (trans. in Punjabi), p. 81
  211. Bhangu, p. 216
  212. Ibid., p. 469
  213. Ibid., p. 215 214
  214. Ibid., pp. 80, 87
  215. Macauliffe, v, p. 217
  216. Bhangu, pp. 213-4
  217. The Punjab Papers, edited by Bikrama Jit Hasrat, pp. 56, 86
  218. Ibid
  219. Forster, i, pp. 312-313
  220. Cunningham, p. 63

Source – Perspectives on the Sikh Tradition