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The Lesser Holocaust

The Mughal government had vowed to destroy the Sikhs, root and branch. A large number of Sikhs, like Bhai Taru Singh, Bhai Mani Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh had been martyred. General orders had been issued that no one should give any help or shelter to any Sikh. Mughal armies went about killing every Sikh found anywhere. A band of Sikhs, driven from place to place, came to Eminabad, now in the district of Gujranwala, Pakistan. They wanted to pay a visit to Rori Sahib, a Gurdwara there sacred to the memory of Guru Nanak. They had been without food for several days. They wanted to purchase foodstuffs from the town. They wrote a letter to the chief officer of the place. In it they sought his permission to purchase foodstuffs from the town. His name was Jaspat Rai. He was a bitter, sworn enemy of the Sikhs. He ordered them to go away at once, or he would drive them away himself. The Sikhs pleaded, 'We have had no food for several days. We shall stay for only one night to feed ourselves. We shall do no harm to anybody. We shall go away tomorrow morning.'

Jaspat Rai was proud, hot tempered man. He flew into a rage. He fell upon the Sikhs with the all the force that he had with him. They resisted the attack. A Ranghreta Sikh named Nibhau Singh, climbed on to Jaspat Rai's elephant. With one stroke of his sword, he cut off Jaspat Rai's head. Seeing this, the Mughal army ran away. Now, Jaspat Rai had a brother named Lakhpat Rai. The latter was a minister of Yahiya Khan, governor of Lahore. He was an active opponent of the Sikhs. When he heard the news of his brother's death, he became mad with rage. He went on Yahiya Khan. He flung his turban at his feet and said, 'I shall tie it on my head only when I have destroyed the Sikhs, root and branch. I am a Khatri. I shall not call myself a Khatri until all the Sikhs are destroyed, root and branch.' He had a general order issued for the destruction of the Sikhs. To begin with, all the Sikhs- men, women, and children- living in Lahore were arrested. They were handed over to sweepers for execution. A deputation of Hindus waited upon Lakhpat Rai. They tried to dissuade him from spilling innocent blood. But he would not listen to them. The terrible order was carried out. All the Sikhs of Lahore were murdered in cold blood. Their only fault was that they were Sikhs. They died for their faith. They became martyrs, all of those men, women and children. None of them agreed to save his or her life by giving up his faith. 

It was announced with the beat of drum that no one should read the Sikhs scriptures. It was further ordered that anyone uttering the name of the Guru would be arrested and killed. The use of the word 'Granth' was also forbidden. The word 'Pothi' was to be used in its place. A huge army, under the command of Yahiya Khan and Lakhpat Rai, set out to destroy Sikhs. This army consisted of the Mughal army and thousands of soldiers sent by the Hindu and Muhammadan supporters of the Mughal government. About fifteen thousand Sikhs had taken shelter in the reedy marshes of Khanuwan. The heavily clothed troops and their artillery could not pass through the marshes to reach the Sikhs. But a way was cut through the reeds for the movement of the troops. With the help of guns, the Sikhs were pushed towards the Ravi. The Sikhs crossed the river. They were closely followed by Lakhpat Rai. The only course open to the Sikhs was to go to the hills of Basohli. They hoped that the Hindu population there would give them shelter. But their hopes proved false. The people there had already received orders from Lahore to give no shelter to the Sikhs. As the Sikhs approached, they were received with showers of stones and bullets. They had to cry a halt.

They were in desperate position. In front of them was a steep mountain. On that mountain were people who were against them and were showering bullets and stones on them. To their right was a fast flowing, flooded river. Behind them was the enmy in hot pursuit. They had no food and no ammunition. Their horses were weak with hunger and fatigue. They were too weak to go up the mountain. They decided to go back to Majha. But the Ravi was in flood. It was impossible to cross it. It was decided, therefore, that those who had no horses, should go towards the mountains and try their luck there. Those who had horses were to cut their way through the enemy. Those who went to the mountains managed to pass about six months in Mandi and Kulu. They had to face great hardships. But they were able, at least, to reach Kirtarpur and join the Khalsa there. The main body of the Sikhs rushed through the pursuing army. They were surrounded. Hundreds of them were killed. Some were taken prisoner. The remaining Sikhs were pursued into a jungle. There they were attacked by the army as well as the people-Hindus and Muslims-collected from the neighboring villages.    

About two thousand Sikhs were able to cross the Ravi. They entered the Riarki tract of Gurdaspur. It was the month of June. They were hungry, barefooted, and wounded. The burning sand added to their sufferings. But they uttered no cry of pain. They never thought of surrender. They never thought of saving themselves by giving up their faith. They were determined to live and die as Sikhs. They tore off pieces  from their clothes and tied them on their naked feet. In this way they crossed the hot sandy plain and reached the river Beas. They crossed that river near Sri Hargobindpur. Then they made straight for the Satluj. That river they crossed near Aliwal and entered the Malwa. Lakhpat Rai had got tired of fighting. He returned to Lahore. In this campaign he must have killed at least 20,000 Sikhs. This wholesale massacre of the Sikhs occurred in 1746. It was called Chhota Ghalughara or the Lesser Holocaust. As we shall see, another much greater wholesale destruction of the Sikhs occurred in 1762. That was called Wadda Ghalughara or the Great Holocaust

Over ten thousand Sikhs were brutally killed in this campaign. They could all have saved their lives by giving up their faith and accepting Islam. But none of them even thought of saving his or her life in that way. They chose not to live as apostates, but to suffer and die as Sikhs. They preferred suffering and death to apostates. They lived, suffered and died as true devotees of their faith. They achieved glorious martyrdom. They are all remembered with respect and admiration by students of history, as well as, of course, by all Sikhs. They died to achieve everlasting life. Let us all bow our heads to them.

Source - Sikh History Book 5 by Kartar Singh, Hemkunt Press, New Delhi