The Sikhs played a pioneering role in India’s struggle for independence from the British. They made sacrifices wholly out of proportion to their demographic strength (the Sikhs make up less than 2% of the Indian population).
(Figures below provided by Maulana Abul Azad, President of the Congress Party at the time of Indepedence.)
|Out of 2125 Indians killed in the atrocities by the British, 1550 (73%) were Sikhs.
Out of 2646 Indians deported for life to the Andaman Islands (where the British exiled political and hardened criminals) 2147 (80%) were Sikhs.
Out of 127 Indians sent to the gallows, 92 (80%) were Sikhs.
At Jalliawalla Bagh out of the 1302 men, women and children slaughtered, 799 (61%) were Sikhs.
In the Indian Liberation Army, out of the 20,000 ranks and officers, 12,000 (60%) were Sikhs.
Out of 121 persons executed during the freedom struggle, 73 (60%) were Sikhs.
The Sikhs, who had thrown themselves, heart and soul, into the Indian independence struggle, were the third party with whom the British negotiated for the transfer of power. However, due to inadaquency of Sikh leadership, misplaced trust and false promises made by Gandhi and Nehru, the Sikhs lost their claim to power.
In 1929, following a huge peaceful Independence rally was held by Sikhs in Lahore; in the words of The Times, the 500,000 strong procession “put the Congress show into shame and shadow,” Gandhi and Nehru met the Sikh leaders and put forward the notion of Sikh-Hindu unity, a unified India where all Sikh sentiments (social, economical and religious) would be catered for.
The following solemn assurances were made:
|“Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress to you. Our Sikhs friends have no reason to fear that it would betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. Moreover, the Sikhs are brave people. They know how to safeguard their rights, by the exercise of arms, with perfect justification before God and man, if it should ever come to that” (Young India 19 March 1931)
“No Constitution would be acceptable to the Congress which did not satisfy the sikhs.” (Collected works of M K Gandhi Vol.58. p. 192)
“The brave Sikhs of Panjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom. (Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress meeting: Calcutta – July, 1944)
The Sikh homeland Panjab was divided and the Sikhs suffered great loss. Sikh shrines such as Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and many more along with the capital city of Lahore was given to Pakistan, over 70% of the most fertile land owned by sikhs was taken by Pakistan and over 500,000 men, women and children lost their lives during the partition.