Tag Archives: Sikhs

The struggle for Pakistan and Bhagat Singh:

By Haroon Khalid

 

The independence achieved in 1947 ushered a new era for India and Pakistan, but with it, also marked the end of a legacy. For India and Pakistan, Congress and Muslim League respectively became the vanguard of independence from the British Empire. Whereas there is no denying the fact that both of them played a pivotal role in achieving freedom, nonetheless there were also other parties and movements, who had the laid groundwork for these two to build on. Without their impact and achievements, perhaps these two parties would not have been able to achieve the success that they eventually did. Post independence, the credit that should have been given to the former parties was taken away from them.

In India, the Indian National Congress was generally more receptive to political activists from other parties and movements, who also were able to shake the foundations of the British Empire. In Pakistan however, all of the former movements became a relic of the impure-Hindu-mixed past, which needed sifting. We ended up with fine grains starting with Muhammad Bin Qasim, coming to Babur and Aurangzeb, and ending with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. All the other characters were just not required anymore. So whereas in India, despite their differences, the Congress government was acknowledging the contributions of Bhagat Singh, M.N. Roy and other nationalist leaders, we were purging our historical narratives of these kafirs.

Recently I met an army official, whom I would not name for my own safety, who like me also follows the history Lahore. Talking about various obscure and neglected monuments, we reached to the Shadman Chowk (Bhagat Singh chowk), where Bhagat Singh was hanged. I asked him why we couldn’t own Bhagat Singh as a son of Lahore, to which he answered that since he was a Sikh. My dear friend, he was an atheist!

However it is not because of him being a Sikh or an atheist that we fail to own him. It is because nowhere in his struggle, he talks about Hindus and Muslims separately. Neither does he only talk about the plight of just one community. He talked about an entire nation, which composed of people from all religious hues and not. So it would have hardly made a difference had he been Muhammad Aslam or Bhagat Sadiq Ram. There would have been no room from him in the historiography of Pakistan’s Independence struggle. Students of history would have continued thinking that the role of Muhammad Bin Qasim in freeing the Muslims of British India from the British Empire (secretly working for the Hindu baniya) is greater than the role Muhammad Aslam’s hanging did. To further establish the point, let us leave Bhagat Singh aside for a moment and talk about practicing Muslims who also like him, gave up their lives for the independence of their nation but were later disowned or never acknowledged by an independent Pakistan.

The Gaddar Movement is an example of one such struggle which has been thrown off into the sea to keep the boat of Pakistani Nationalism afloat. Having originated from San Francisco and other British colonies, this movement had its roots in the Punjab because of the predominant role that the Punjabis played in it. Bhagat Singh’s father and uncles were also members of this movement, and it is argued that it became the source of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Contrary to the popular belief, there were many non-Sikhs involved. This was a massive movement which spread from USA into Canada, Mexico, Burma, Malaya and Japan. Indians living in these far away regions got together for the cause of the freedom of this land. It also found support in the Communist Russia and Afghanistan. In 1915, the Gaddaris established a Free Hindustan government-in-exile in Kabul. Its President was Raja Mohinder Pratab, whereas its Prime Minister was a Muslim, and a Professor of Arabic in Japan, Maulvi Barkatullah. He was also one of the founders of the Gaddar Party. It was his revolutionary literature that became the backbone of this movement. He died in San Fransico. Among other Muslims, who held important positions in the government-in-exile were Maulvi Ubaidullah (Interior Minister) and Maulvi Muhammad Bashi (Youth Minister). The callous treatment meted out to these towering Muslim personalities of their time leads one to question: is it then just because of the religious beliefs of Bhagat Singh that we fail to acknowledge him or is there something else?

There was another Muslim, who played an important role in this movement. This was Syed Rahmat Ali Shah, the first Martyr of this struggle. He was captured near Ferozpur, and then executed in the Montgomery (Sahiwal) Jail. His body was interred in the graveyard in front of the Jail, as nobody came to claim it in the required period. His grandsons today live a life of abject poverty in a small village on the Sundar-Raiwind road called Sultan-keh. They know that their grandfather was an important person, because their father had been called to India once, where he was given an award and a picture on behalf of his father. They say that the name of their grandfather is also written at the entrance to their ancestral village of Wazir Keh in India.

A strategy that the Gadaris had adopted was of secretly passing on revolutionary literature to the Indians in the British Army. In a lot of instances this proved to be a successful tactic, as quite a few regiments revolted against the authorities. One such example was the 5th Native Light Infantry Singapore Case, which included 2 regiments of Infantry, both of them dominated by Muslims. The Gaddar Movement was supporting all sorts of Independence struggle, which were targeted against the British authorities, which is why they also lend their hand to the Khalifat Movement. Mujataba Hussain, aka Mool Chand of the Gaddar Movement played an important role in this Singapore case, where a lot of the Muslim personnel were sympathetic to the cause of the Khilafat. Similarly there was another person from Gujrat called Mian Qasim Mansoor, a rich trader, who financed the scheme. This particular case caused a lot of problems to the authorities. Finally when it was crushed, all the officers had to face Court Martial and many of them were executed on the 2nd of March 1915.

The Gaddar Movement unlike the movement of the All India Muslim League was not a predominant Muslim struggle, but a cause for all the oppressed people of India, who wanted to get rid of the British yoke. The focus of this article has been on a few prominent Muslims in the movement to shed a light on the fact that the Muslim League was not the first political party to have attracted the Muslims. Much before this party was to become a prominent player in the Indian political sphere; secular movements like the Gaddar were already involving Muslims. However when the Muslim League came to power, it downplayed the role of all the other parties, which could have possibly undermined its thesis. However the struggle it claimed to have won single handedly would not have been possible without the sacrifices of Barkatullah, Syed Rahmat Ali, Mujataba Hussain, Mian Qasim Mansoor and Bhagat Singh.

The folklores of Chunian

By Haroon Khalid

This city, of immense historical importance, is towards the south of Lahore. Till 1972 it was part of the Lahore District, when after the separation of Lahore and Kasur, it was made part of the Kasur District. It still is a vital city, in economic and political terms; however, the influence that it enjoyed once is no longer exists. During most of the Mughal era it served as a Chaoni, or cantonment area. Arms and ammunition for the royal army were made here on a massive scale. Towards the Western side of the city remains of large pieces of iron are found; relics of the arms factory.

As one explores historical records and books, one would find numerous references to this city. The list is so long that it would not be possible to narrate all of them here. A few of them eliciting the significance of this city are mentioned below.

According to the Archaeology Department report, there are 7 major mounds here, categorized into two. Category A; belonging to the era after the 16th century CE, and B falling in between the 11th and the 16th century CE. Some of the latter mounds, not of archaeological importance, were formed during the massive flooding of the 18th century in Beas River. These mounds encompass the city, serving as picnic spots for the residents.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature, Chunian is the plural for Chuni which means pearl. It is believed that this city was originally inhabited by Chodas, or the untouchables. During the Mughal era, there was a Muslim Saint known as Peer Jahania. When he came here he converted all of these people to Islam. Chunian, meaning pearls is a symbolism for the untouchables. According to this narrative the tomb of the Peer Jahania becomes the most important location of the city. This is where the Saint is said to have established himself. The tomb is accompanied by a modern mosque, in the courtyard of which is a small building, depicting pre-British era architectural techniques. This marks as the spot where the Sufi used to sit. It is empty from the inside.

In Tehrikh-e-Cambhon written by the police inspector Abdul Wahab Amritsari, he narrates a story that takes back the history of Chunian, all the way to the arrival of the Arabs in Sindh. He describes that when Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Sindh, Chunian was being ruled by a man belonging to the Cambho clan. He had a daughter and a son. This city was under the sway of Multan, so when the Muslims got hold of Multan, Chunian automatically fell in their lap. They demanded a large amount of compensation from the ruler. He retorted that since it was a huge amount he should be allowed to make the payments in installments. He was permitted to do that, but Muhammad Bin Qasim asked for a guarantee in return. The King gave him his boy, Maha Chawar, who was taken by Qasim to Arabia.

Living under Muslim influence, the boy embraced Islam. Five years later when the King of Chunian was able to pay the entire amount, the Prince was allowed to return. However, instead of being welcomed back, Maha Chawar was castigated for having abandoned his religion, and being polluted by the ‘barbarian’, by the Hindu priests. It was decided that he should be returned back or be killed. Since the boy had just come back, there was no option of him returning, so plan B was to be executed. His sister Kangna heard of the plan, and along with her brother fled the city. The army of his father kept on following the siblings, until they were intercepted at Mandi Borewala, where they were murdered. Later Muslim rulers built a tomb there to commemorate their memory. Today the mausoleum stands, known by the name of Diwan Chawali Mushahiq Haji Muhammad Sheikh. Kanganpur, a village in the tehsil is named after Kangna, according to this story. However, besides the mounds there is no building or any other such remains from that tenure in Chunian.  Most of the old buildings have been replaced by new constructions. A few of the balconies, doors, and havelis that are left, are in dilapidated state and not any further back then the Sikh era.

The present city of Chunian came into being in the Mughal era, when the royal arms and ammunition were being manufactured from here. It is standing on a mound, originally protected by a wall with various doorways. Not many are present today, and the traces of the wall are also missing. At its zenith the mound has to be about 40 feet above the ground. Tajamol Kaleem, local Punjabi poet was kind enough to entertain and show us around the city.

Towards the eastern side of the city, near the old route of river Beas there is a non-functional Jain temple. At the start of 2010, a controversy arose regarding the building. Accompanying the edifice is a Wahabi mosque, members of which wanted to take over the building and use it for its own purpose, according to Kaleem. However, Kaleem, along with other friends reached the spot, before the action could be taken, and presented the case in such a manner that the local elders refused the mosque to take over the temple. It was argued that the sanctuary was an Imanat and a Muslim doesn’t renege from his promise. At least temporarily the tension has been defused. There was still apprehension in the atmosphere when we reached the spot to take a few photographs. Hostile looks followed by a few tirades greeted us.

Nearby was the Harchoki gate. As most of the historical doors, this one is named after the historical village of Harchoki, towards which it faces. In the 18th century CE, an epic war was fought in the fields of the village, also wrapping within it the city of Chunian. This entire episode can be found in the famous book Punjab Chiefs, by Sir Lepel H Griffin.

In the early 16th century CE, when Babar was on his way to capture the throne of Delhi, there was an internecine war in Afghanistan, which led to an exodus of many Pathan tribes. They met Babar on the way, and helped him in winning the decisive battle of Panipat in 1525. As a result of their loyalty to the Mughal they were given impressive titles, and control of Bengal. In 1569, when Jahangir was borne to Emperor Akbar, after the lapse of a lot time all of the notables came to pay homage to him, expect these Pathans. Akbar angry at their insolence demanded that all of their titles and property be taken away. When they started returning to Kabul, the King realized that they were a huge asset to the Mughal Kingdom, therefore he send Abu Fazl, the composer of Akbar-Nama to console them. They were given the permission to settle anywhere, which is not near Delhi. They settled for Kasur.

At that time the ruler of Chunian was a man called Raja Rai. Pera Baloch a ‘dacoit’ from here was a source of irritation to the ruler. When the Pathans commenced making their forts here this ‘dacoit’ also started attacking them, taking away his loot in the darkness of the night. Finally, in a fight he was killed, by the Pathans, which went on to establish their authority in the region of Kasur and Chunian.

In 1720, the Pathans descended on the fields of Harchoki, along with Nawab Hussain Khan, ruler of Kasur, the mayor of Chunian, Sardar Fazl Khan, against the might of the Mughal Governor of Lahore, Abdul Smadh Khan. From the very beginning the former group was destined to lose fighting with only a force of 10,000 against an army of 70,000. The death of Nawab Hussain Khan in this battle translated into a defeat for his army in the battlefield. This historic battle however found a way into the cultural psyche of the people of Punjab. It became a symbol of rebellion against an oppressive tyrant. It is also evoked in the famous Heer by Waris Shah.

Symbolism of this battle in Heer is a useful yardstick to gauge the importance of this town in the cultural history of Punjab. Despite language and cultural barriers, Heer goes on to unite the people of Punjab under the banner of Punjabi nationalism. There is however, another folk tale originating from the city of Chunian, much larger in its scale of influence than Heer. This is the story of Sassi Punnon connecting Punjab with Sindh and Baluchistan. It is generally believed that Sassi, the protagonist in our story was the daughter of King of Bhambour. However according to an article published in Imroz in 1970, written by Advocate Syed, Sassi was born in the city of Chunian, from where she reached Bhambour in a basket as an infant, when her life was threatened by the prophecy of a female bringing shame to the city. If credibility is to be allotted to this version then this folk tale originated from this city.

Chunian today, even though donning a modern garb, represents a traditional city that has continued to hold significance over the years. Despite the fact that most of the older buildings, e.g. the Shah Jahani mosque near the tomb of Peer Jahania, and other forts and gates of the city have been lost, the ambience of the city takes one back in time, connecting its past with its present. A journey to Chunian therefore is more like a journey through time, which becomes much more meaningful if its importance has been established as a crucial city in the folk lore of Punjab.

Celebrating Vaisakhi at Ram Thaman By Haroon Khalid

1st of Vaiaskh in the desi Bikrami calendar falls sometime around the 14th of April every year. This date also marks the beginning of the Vaisakhi festival, known as Baisakhi too, all across the Indian peninsula. The celebration of Vaisakhi commences the beginning of the cutting of wheat all over the country. Wheat being the most important stable in South Asia is the reason why this festival is so significant to farmers in both India and Pakistan. Having purely originated from seasonal changes, Vaisakhi has been given cultural and religious hues from the local communities. The Hindus in different regions of the country pray to their local deities during this time of year. For the Sikhs however, there is a different significance. In their culture it was on the 1st of Vaisakh that the tenth Sikh Guru finalized their religion. He gathered all his followers at Anandpur, India, where he gave them the famous 5 ks of Sikhism. He also ordered them to end their names with Singh. This is how Vaisakhi, a celebration of the harvest, became a religious festival for the Sikhs. Every year, Sikhs from all over the world, flock to their religious sanctuaries to commemorate this auspicious day. The Sikh celebrations in Pakistan which begin from Gurdwara Punja Sahib, Hassan Abdal, and then move to Amenabad, Gujranwala, are part of the annual event.

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Besakhi Mela and 540th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak

Besakhi Mela and 540th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak: Security risks reduce number of Sikh yatris

Daily Times Report

LAHORE: Following security threats, only 310 Sikh yatris (pilgrims) arrived at the Wagha railway station on Saturday for a ten-day visit to participate in the Besakhi Mela and the 540th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak at Panja Sahib (Hasanabdal), Nankana Sahib and Dera Sahib (Lahore). Continue reading

Ranjit Singh’s 169th death anniversary

Around 300 Indian Sikh pilgrims will arrive at Wagah Border on a special train today (Saturday) to attend the 169th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh belonged to a Jat family and was born in 1780 in Gujranwala. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at the age of 12. After several war campaigns, his rivals accepted him as their leader and he united the Sikh factions into one large state.

Ranjit Singh took the title of maharaja on April 12, 1801 (coincided with Baisakhi Day). Lahore had been the capital of his empire since 1799.

Ranjit Singh’s samadhi is in Lahore at the Gurdwara Dera Sahib and Sikhs visit Pakistan every year to attend his death anniversary. He fought the Afghans and drove them out of western Punjab, capturing Pakhtoon territory including Peshawar. In 1802, he conquered Amritsar. He was also given the title of Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab). He donated wealth and materials to shrines and is remembered with affection by the Punjabis.

Ranjit Singh abolished capital punishment during his rule. He died in 1839 after ruling Punjab for nearly 40 years. He left seven sons, none of whom proved to be a worthy successor.

Courtesy Daily Times