Sikh History & Personalities

What is the contribution of the Sikhs to the struggle for India’s independence?

The part played by the Sikhs in the overthrow of British rule was significant. Recently it has been established that the first and second Sikh Wars were fought to prevent the British aggression in the Panjab.

After the fall of the Panjab, the Sikhs felt a nostalgia for the glories and achievements of the Sikh rule of Ranjit Singh’s time. As early as 1860, Baba Ram Singh, leader of the Kuka or Namdhari movement, raised the banner of revolt against the British regime. Ram Singh was deported to Rangoon where he died in 1885. More than 66 of his followers were blown away from the guns in 1872 without any trial, by Mr. Cowan – a British civil servant.

In January, 1909, Indian leaders held a public meeting in Caxton Hall, London, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. There it was proclaimed that Sikhs all over the world should start an agitation for the liberation of India. In response to this clarion call, the Sikhs who had settled in foreign countries decided to continue the freedom struggle. In 1913, more than 200 Indians, mostly Sikhs, founded the well-known Ghadar Party in California to liberate India from the British yoke, by force of arms. Baba Gurdit Singh chartered a Japanese ship called Komagata Maru in 1913 and sailed with about 300 Indian nationals to Vancouver. The passengers were not allowed to disembark on the west coast of Canada and were subjected to many hardships. After two months of suffering, the passengers were made to land at Calcutta. Their procession was fired upon and more than 21 Sikhs lost their lives. The remaining Sikhs were arrested and sent to the Panjab.

The Sikhs again bore the brunt of General O’Dyer’s persecution. In the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre (1919), more than 400 Sikhs lost their lives. The Sikhs took a leading role in the Indian National Army raised by Subhash Chandra Bose in 1942 for the liberation of India. General Mohan Singh organized the Sikh population of Malaysia and took part in the expulsion of British forces in South-East Asia. The Sikhs also took an active part in ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942. It is therefore, correct to say that the contribution of the Sikhs to freedom struggle has been substantial and significant.