It is a matter of pride for the Sikhs and a tribute to the vision of Guru Gobind Singh Ji who established the Brotherhood of Khalsa on this day to defend the religious freedom of every Indian that Vaisakhi is now being celebrated at No. 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence, and also in the House of Commons, the British seats of power, as a mark of respect for the Sikhs and their Gurus. This just shows how far the Sikhs have come in Britain and beyond against all odds. I believe the best is yet to come for the world from a liberated community.
We must never forget such great events which changed the course of our destiny and made us an economic and social force in the world today. It is imperative that we celebrate Vaisakhi, the Birthday of the Khalsa, to remind our younger generations of the supreme sacrifices paid by our Gurus and their followers for mankind and to further the cause of humanity.
The story of Vaisakhi has its origins well before the 1699 and began with the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, who was publicly beheaded by Aurungzeb, the then Mughal ruler, for refusing to give up his faith. Regrettably, Aurungzeb had become overzealous with his blend of religion and wanted to force everyone to convert to his faith or face dire consequences. Guru Tegh Bahadur stood up for the rights of Hindu Pundits who were being threatened with conversion and stood for their right to worship as they deemed fit. The Guru challenged the emperor to convert him first before the Hindu Pundits. As Guru Ji refused the emperor’s demands, he was beheaded for his act of defiance and the Guru’s martyrdom unleashed anger amongst his followers and they did not rest until they brought an end to the tyrannical rule in India. It just goes to prove that the Sikh Gurus were amongst the first to championed human rights.
In 1699 and on Vaisakhi day, the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, established the brotherhood of Khalsa to fight the tyranny and injustices of Emperor Aurungzeb. The guru realized, having seen the tyranny and religious oppression that if people were suppressed either by religion or state, they then could not develop wholesomely. Suppressed people could not contribute much to society except to behave like obedient servants. He decided to do something about human freedom and liberation by fighting against the injustices and control of the emperor in the name of religion.
It is worth remembering that Sikhs took up arms, not to oppress or suppress anyone, but to liberate those who were being oppressed and suppressed in the name of their religion. They took up arms to defend and not to conquer anyone. As a matter of fact, the Sikhs do not convert anyone with coercion or by false inducement of a place in a “Heaven”. Instead, they respect every religion of the world and, as per the teachings of their Gurus, believe religious labels are not important but that deeds and the actions of an individual are more important to God almighty. Those who shared his beliefs were encouraged to have an easily recognisable identity, a beard and turban, to show what they stood for and Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s ethos of human freedom.
Sikhs are less than 2% of India’s population, yet punch above their weight many times over in every field for India. They are also the defender of Indian faiths. 59,000 Sikh Gurudwaras worldwide provide over 6 million meals daily to anyone who comes through their doors regardless of their religion, race, gender or colour, simply because Sikhs believe in the Universal Brotherhood of Mankind.
We can see how people in many countries are still ruled by dictators for 20, 30 or even 40 years by suppressing their people in the name of religion. In stark contrast we can see liberated Sikhs working hard on one hand but also enjoying their lives with their folk music, Bhangra, and food being world famous, but above all, they are known for their hearty characters. They have become the best amongst the rest. Not a single Sikh beggar can be found in the world. As a matter of fact, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics shows that 82% of Sikhs in Britain own their homes which is higher than any other religious group. Those who own their homes, undoubtedly pay higher taxes, claim less benefits and as a result, benefit society more.
The Brotherhood of the Khalsa not only defeated the Moguls, but also helped create the first secular kingdom in India under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was also Guru’s followers like Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh who sacrificed their lives to uphold the honour of Mother India.
84,000 Sikh soldiers sacrificed their lives during the two great wars defending world freedom which is more than any other community in comparison to its numbers. The Sikh Regiment is one of the highest decorated regiments in the Indian Army. As a matter of fact, it was also the most decorated regiment in the entire British Empire.
Even after India’s independence the Sikhs continue to fight for the defence and integrity of India. It is on record that Sikhs made and are still making more sacrifices for India than any other community.The highest-ranking General in the history of the Indian Air Force at the time of his appointment was also the most senior officer in the Indian Defence Forces, Marshal of the Air Force, Air Marshal Arjan Singh DFC. The only Indian Air Force Officer ever to receive the highest decoration to date, Param Vir Chakra Awardee is also a Sikh, Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon. Two of his followers the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia are giving shape to modern India as we know it today.
More importantly, before Guru Gobind Singh Ji Indians used to die for India and after Guru Gobind Singh Ji, they now fight to defend India. I shudder to think what would have been our future and that of mankind without the Brotherhood of the Khalsa. Sikhs are the epitome of self sacrifice for others. Next time you see a Sardarjee, please do give him a hug and give a thought as to why he decided to wear a beard and a turban for India and mankind.
Dr. Rami Ranger MBE, FRSA
The British Sikh Association.
Proud to be Sikh- Proud to be British Indian.