Sikhs in the Deccan and North-East India 9781138096363, 9781351201070

This book is a major intervention in the understanding of the dynamics of internal migration in South Asia. It traces th

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Table of contents :
Cover
Title
Copyright
Dedication
Contents
List of figures
List of tables
Preface
Acknowledgements
1 Introduction
2 Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan
3 Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in the North-East
4 Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs in the Deccan and the North-East
5 Local is authentic
6 From material to the mental
7 In lieu of conclusion
Glossary
References
Index
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Sikhs in the Deccan and North-East India

This book is a major intervention in the understanding of the dynamics of internal migration in South Asia. It traces the historical roots of certain migrant Sikh communities to the south and north-east India; chronicles their social, religious and economic practices; and examines peculiar identity formations. This first-of-its-kind empirical study examines the socio-economic conditions of Sikhs in the Deccan and the North-East who are believed to be the descendants of the soldiers in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army despatched to the two regions in the early nineteenth century. It draws on extensive ethnographic accounts to present the social realities of the different communities, including language, religion, culture, occupation, caste, marriage and kinship, and agency. It also questions the idea of Sikh homogeneity that many within the community have come to believe in, while revealing both differences and similarities. The book will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of sociology and social anthropology, migration and diaspora studies, religion, especially Sikh studies, cultural studies, as well as the Sikh diaspora worldwide. Birinder Pal Singh is Professor of Eminence, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Punjabi University, Patiala, India. He has a doctorate from Panjab University, Chandigarh, and an MPhil from the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1993–1995). His research areas cover tribal, peasant and other communities and the sociology of violence. He has published the books Economy and Society in the Himalayas: Social Formation in Pangi Valley (1996); Problem of Violence: Themes in Literature (1999); Violence as Political Discourse: Sikh Militancy Confronts the Indian State (2002); ‘Criminal’ Tribes of Punjab: A Social-Anthropological Inquiry (edited, 2010); and Punjab Peasantry in Turmoil (edited, 2010). He has also published several research papers including in Sikh Formations, Economic and Political Weekly, Gandhi Marg and Journal of Punjab Studies.

Sikhs in the Deccan and North-East India

Birinder Pal Singh

First published 2018 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2018 Birinder Pal Singh The right of Birinder Pal Singh to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-09636-3 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-351-20107-0 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC

For Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs

Contents

List of figures List of tables Preface Acknowledgements

viii ix x xvii

1

Introduction

1

2

Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

12

3

Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in the North-East

57

4

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs in the Deccan and the North-East

103

5

Local is authentic

139

6

From material to the mental

161

7

In lieu of conclusion

179

Glossary References Index

225 229 235

Figures

2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 6.1

Old Gurdwara Barambala, Sikh Chhawniat, Hyderabad (1832) A Dakhani Sikh at Bidar A Sikligar boy at work (Hyderabad) Sikligars’ Guru Gobind Singh Colony, (RRD) Hyderabad Banjara Sikhs at Gurdwara Nanak Jhira, Bidar Axomiya Sikhs of Barkola Gurdwara Mata Ji, Chaparmukh (1820) Gurdwara Badi Sangat, Barkola (1825) Bara Bazar, Shillong A Sikh woman at Gora Line, Shillong Karam Singh’s memorial in front of his house at Barkola A room in a Sikligar house, Hyderabad

16 27 29 30 36 66 69 70 77 80 97 163

Tables

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 5.10 5.11 5.12 6.1

Demographic parameters Education statistics Number of family members Age group (years) Caste Type of work (present) Income group (in thousand rupees) Family assets Since when staying at the place of present residence Place of father’s residence Mother’s community Mother’s religion Mother’s language Wife’s community Wife’s religion Son-in-law (occupation) Daughter-in-law’s community Interaction with own community (six monthly) Visiting other communities Visiting religious places of other communities Supporting which kakar, the five Ks

104 106 108 109 111 119 126 127 140 141 143 144 146 147 148 151 152 155 157 158 167

Preface

The proposed study makes an attempt to undertake issues that are very crucial, but were not addressed by the previous study conducted under the patronage of the National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi by Pradeep Bijalwan et al. under the guidance of its member Harcharan Singh Josh. It is titled A Study Report on the Social, Economic, Educational, Cultural, Traditional and Occupational Status of Sikligars, Vanjaaras, Lobanas and Dakhini Sikhs (2009). It appeared to be an ambitious project that actually could not take off. The study was carried out in 14 states of India ‘covering 286 settlements/camp of the study population residing across the country.’ It is based on a sample of ‘3551 respondents/households.’ Unfortunately, such a large amount of data has been described in 47 pages only, double-spaced, including the tables and pie diagrams and the policy recommendations. However, it does not include the Axomiya Sikhs and the safai karamcharis in the NE. The present study differs from the earlier one in many respects but two specifically with regard to the Dakhani Sikhs. First, while discussing Dakhani Sikhs, it limits the field to the confines of the Deccan territory of the erstwhile state of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Second, if it has limited its scope in this respect – territory – it has increased its horizon by examining their social, cultural and religious aspects besides studying the Axomiya Sikhs in the NE that incidentally make an interesting comparison with the Dakhani Sikhs as there are significant similarities between the two despite regional differences. More important than this is that rather than widening the area of study, it has tried to go deeper into the subject within the parameters of the study. A relatively in-depth study is preferred to a broad survey. The major objectives of the present study have been delineated by the requirements of the funding agency, the National Commission

Preface

xi

for Minorities, New Delhi for the project – Socio-economic Conditions of Dakhani Sikhs in Particular and Minority Sikh Communities Settled in South and North-East India. Its interest lies in identifying such communities among Sikhs in the two regions who need government’s attention for their welfare. Thus, identification of such communities and profiling them on parameters of socio-economic conditions was more a directed consideration than other issues of theoretical and methodological concern. It is for this reason, for instance, the sociologically distinct communities have been clubbed under two heads only and their profiles are obtained in detail. Their profiles of poverty will help understand their predicament and make effective policy for their socio-economic empowerment. If the distinctive traits of these communities are established, it may help the government take community specific policy measures for their overall empowerment. The ethnographic accounts of respective communities shall not only situate them anthropologically but bring out differences between and within communities more effectively. It may initiate further research in this area for deeper inquiry. The comparison between two streams of communities, the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs, in two different parts of the country that believe themselves to be originating from a single source – Punjab – under comparable circumstances is interesting in its own right. The NE is radically different from the Deccan. The former is predominantly tribal and relatively liberal and the latter feudatory and conservative. This study would also dispel claims on the homogeneity of Sikh community in the two regions as also elsewhere. It would further illumine the socio-economic conditions of those Sikh communities that are far from affluence. The present study focuses on the Axomiya Sikhs and the safai karamcharis or Mazhabis in the NE and the Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs in the Deccan. The Dakhani Sikhs are largely concentrated in two major cities, namely, Hyderabad and Nanded. At the former place they are conspicuously confined to the Sikh Chhawniat at Barambala (also called Maharaja Ranjit Singh Nagar in Kishenbagh, Attapur), Gowliguda, Huppuguda, Ameerpet, Rehmatnagar (now called Guru Ram Das Nagar), Rodamistry Nagar, Kothapet in Gokulnagar and so forth. The Sikligar Sikhs are located at Guru Gobind Singh Colony (Ellamabanda) in Kukattpally region of the Ranga Reddy district, Balnagar and Subash Nagar. Outside Hyderabad, the Dakhani and Sikligar Sikhs both are found in the state of Andhra Pradesh (now Telengana) at Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Warangal, Nalgonda and Medak, to mention the prominent centres from where respondents have been

xii

Preface

included in the sample. Bidar and Nanded are two other important places, especially the latter with a significant Sikh population from where requisite samples are drawn. With the help of local community leaders, a households list from each colony or settlement was obtained and a random sample was drawn taking care that it represents the universe uniformly. The total number of respondents at both the places is 1,011; 540 are from the NE and the remaining 471 from the Deccan. Let me reiterate: given the homogeneity of the universe, it is a fairly large sample with a high degree of statistical significance. As mentioned before, the case of sample drawing is not complex in the NE. The Axomiya Sikhs are confined to the district of Nagaon largely in Barkola and Chaparmukh villages and towns of Nagaon and Lanka. The safai karamcharis or Mazhabis are concentrated at Guwahati/Dispur and Shillong. Their identification and accessibility is most easy since their habitations are called the Punjabi colonies that are well demarcated and thickly populated. These are the areas of their concentration. The sampling was not problematic since the homogeneity of the universe and the sample is manifestly conspicuous in terms of almost all the indices of the socio-economic status (SES). A detailed interview schedule with open-ended and closed-ended questions was served to the respondents selected randomly in a stratified manner. The latter type addresses such issues where the scope of variation is least and specific information is required on given parameters. The former type of questions are asked to elicit the viewpoint of the respondents that are more subjective than objective and where the respondents’ subjectivity is desired to throw light on their beliefs and practices. Interestingly, all Sikhs at both places in the Deccan and the NE but for the safai karamcharis are imbued with local culture. Thus, the language of their communication is local, that is, Telugu in the Deccan, now Andhra Pradesh (before declaration of Telengana); Marathi in Nanded; Kannad a in Bidar; Axomiya in Assam; and Khasi in Shillong. No doubt they feel more comfortable and at home in the local language but for the safai karamcharis who use Punjabi among themselves. Hindi is the lingua franca across the two regions and across all communities except in the case of Axomiya Sikhs who are rural-based and not well-versed in Hindi either. To facilitate free and easy communication with the respondents, local project fellows are appointed for the collection of data. They are asked to record information verbatim and wherever necessary to give their translations but using the parenthesis for the original. The responses to the open-ended questions are noted on separate sheets

Preface

xiii

for details. The project fellows are asked to maintain field diaries with their comments and observations on the respondent, her behaviour, her responses and whatever significance they find in her. These diaries are maintained on a daily basis. They are advised to focus more on those respondents who are informative and forthcoming with the required information. They are asked to identify such respondents for interview later with the project director. The ethnographic accounts of the select respondents are best obtained by detailed interviews that have been conducted and recorded by the project director himself. These are the leaders of the communities, certain heads of households, welfare organisations, institutions, government officers and other well-informed persons of the community and the region. The case studies of those who could not make to the sample have also been included. Such cases (respondents) provide useful information that enriches the quality of qualitative data. The ethnographic details from the senior generation are much useful to know the elements of oral history travelling with them thus far. The senior respondents will take away the details of their past with them soon. Here is an attempt to tap such resources for the present study as also for further research in this area. In the age of information and communication technology, the younger generation is glued to gadgets and the ‘global’ culture. It has hardly any time to listen to the elders about their past. Such valuable ethnographies will be lost in the times which are changing fast. The secondary sources are also used to supplement and corroborate the information provided by the respondents in the field. The state government archives – Andhra Pradesh State Archives at Hyderabad and Assam State Archives at Guwahati – and the Meghalaya State Record Room at Shillong are also consulted though without much success since the record keeping is in mess and in total disarray. No proper cataloguing or information is available besides the paucity of staff that is always used as an alibi for the poor management of records and documents. Salar Jung Museum Library (both English and Persian sections), Gauhati University library, the library of the Department of Antiquities, Art and Culture of Assam at Guwahati and Meghalaya Government library, Meghalaya State Secretariat library and NEHU (North Eastern Hill University) library, all at Shillong, have been consulted for relevant information and records besides the libraries in Delhi and the National Archives. The records of the Nizam of Hyderabad about the Nazim-i-Jami’ati-Sikhan are in Persian. Persian readers have been deployed to browse through the material and to translate certain documents into Hindi/ Urdu and English. Same strategy has also been employed at Assam but

xiv

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not to look into the archival material but translate such documents that have been published in Axomiya magazines and books. All information obtained through the questionnaire is transferred to the code sheets for computation. The frequency distribution tables are prepared for all questions for various classifying variables. In the columns, the tables give options of the question that have been analysed. In the rows, the tables give various sub groups of the classifying variable. The Chi square test of independence and the coefficient of contingency (C) based on the same have also been computed. The notations used are: (**) showing significance at 0.01 level and (*) showing significance at 0.05 level. It is easier to make tables of the codified data especially of the closed or fixed options–type questions but difficult for the open-ended types. The latter are handled manually. As a table is self-explanatory, its description is made to bring out certain manifest patterns in the respondents’ information only wherever necessary, thus avoiding duplication of details in words and figures. The facility of computation has helped relate all data to income levels of the respondents, but all of these are not necessarily explained to avoid repetition and seeming monotony of description since most of these are self-explanatory. The tables showing necessary and significant patterns have been described to make the discussion interesting and lucid. The focus on the Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs being one of the main objectives of the study, wherever necessary, relevant information about them that is given in the discussion has been separately culled from the main data. A major limitation of the study is the lack of efforts made by the project fellows to tackle the open-ended questions that need consistent probing and goading, due to the subjective content of the information sought. The respondents have faltered on this count. The whole idea of putting forth such questions is to know the respondent’s mind and to find out what goes into the making of that thought or action significant. For a simple question like, ‘What is the seasonal cycle of work in a year?,’ the project fellows are required to give details on the cycle that each occupation has. For example, even a housewife has a cycle of work. The project fellows were guided and goaded to note details on such issues but to no use. Other questions that need subjective insights are also filled casually. Similarly, such questions that require a brief history or explanation draw blank. The responses are filled in short hand. Despite such weaknesses, the quality of other information collected is rich and significant and more so for the simple reason that such a detailed and elaborate exercise has been done for the first time in the history of these communities in both the regions. The questions

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xv

concerning the Sikh symbols and related issues also have been recklessly filled, especially in the case of safai karamcharis of the NE. Such schedules providing not only incomplete but wrong information could be identified due to the active engagement of the project director in the field. Such schedules were refilled later to obtain correct information. The modern communication services also proved helpful in clarifying doubts and ambiguities left in the data as hardly any respondent was telephonically inaccessible. The community leaders and informative respondents were bothered time and again to fill gaps and gather necessary information. There are 85.52 per cent respondents with mobile phones. In the remaining households or the respondents, a neighbour or a relative could be bothered to tap the required information. The information gathered about these communities in such details is a maiden attempt. It has not been done before by anyone anywhere. This is the first study to obtain extensive empirical data on the Axomiya Sikhs and the safai karamcharis in the North-East. Himadri Banerjee discusses the former in his The Other Sikhs (2007) from a historical perspective based on their (Sikhs’) accounts in literature, and the latter in a paper ‘Sikh Dalits from NE India’ (2010b). Birinchi Kumar Medhi (1989) did his PhD thesis in Anthropology from Gauhati University on the Barkola Sikhs only but did not publish it, though he did use that data in certain papers. Smriti Grantha (1986) and Samurai (2006) are collections of articles on Axomiya Sikhs by their own people and mostly in their own language, but these lack scientific rigour. Some other people have also contributed to these bilingual volumes. Interestingly, if the Axomiya Sikhs were writing on and about themselves, the Dakhani Sikhs draw a complete blank on this count. Nihang and Singh (2008) are an exception in this regard who penned down their history from earlier times to the present anecdotally. The fat volume on glossy paper is studded with pictures. Bijalwan et al. (2009) are pioneers in collecting empirical data but that has not been put to much use in any respect as mentioned previously. Thus, an attempt is made here not only to collect minute details but also to put these in comparative perspective between the communities within a region and between regions, too. The present study throws up certain interesting patterns that may lead to further research and deepen the projected sociological and social anthropological inquiry. It raises numerous issues that may be understood with further inquiry. The present study is a modest attempt, being the first one of its kind in configuring broad contours and patterns; the nuances are yet to be brought out and analysed. For instance, why Axomiya Sikhs speak Axomiya only at home while no Dakhani Sikh speaks Telugu only at home?

xvi

Preface

The translations in the text are by the author unless specified otherwise. An attempt has been made to remain closest to the original meaning, literally, even if it means ‘bad’ English. The photographs in this book are also by the author as are all compiled tables based on fieldwork.

Acknowledgements

The present study was launched at the initiatives of Dr Jaspal Singh, Vice Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala, and Shri H. S. Hanspal, then member (2009–2012) of the National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi. The latter’s interest in this project could usher things forward without which it would not have been possible. The logistical support was solely due to the efforts of the Vice Chancellor. This duo deserves my special thanks. I am thankful to Prof. A. S. Chawla, the Registrar of Punjabi University, Patiala, for helping me with administrative clearance at various levels so very necessary for the execution of a project. The professors at various universities in the field of this study, such as Gattu Satyanarayana of Sociology at Osmania University, Hyderabad; Munirul Hussain of Political Science and Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences at Gauhati University; Birinchi Kumar Medhi, Department of Anthropology, Gauhati University; Avaya Kumar Mahapatra, Department of Geography and Apurva Barua of Political Science at NorthEastern Hill University, Shillong; Tiplut Nombgiri, Centre of the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, including Dr Sabeena Yasmeen Saikia, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Gauhati University have all helped in one way or another, both for academic and para-academic inputs that have enriched the quality of information required to make a study authentic. I am indeed grateful to them. I am thankful to Harpreet Singh (IAS), Secretary in the Government of Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad, for sharing information and historical records about the Dakhani Sikhs. Pritam Singh, SP (Retd), President of the Guru Nanak Girls School, Hyderabad; Satveer Singh Sandhu, Secretary and Tarlochan Singh, President of the Gowliguda Gurdwara Management Committee; and Nanak Singh Nishter, a veteran journalist and a crusader for the Sikh cause at Hyderabad have given insights into their history.

xviii

Acknowledgements

Jathedar Kulwant Singh, Head Granthi, Takht Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib, Nanded and Devinder Singh Chawla, Manager, were helpful in their own way. Gurcharan Singh Ghadisaz and Arjan Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspector (Retd) are to be thanked especially for showing the old documents of his grandfather and his service book of the Irregular Troops. Punn Partap Singh is to be thanked for making my stay comfortable at Nanded and taking me around the field and helping me contact the key personnel throwing light on their history. My heartfelt thanks are due to my friends Professor Udayon Misra and Tillotama Misra of English at Guwahati and Professor Javeed Alam of Political Science at Hyderabad. I am also thankful to Nand Singh, ASP in the Assam Police; Rajinder Singh, Inspector Police (Retd) at Barkola; Pritam Singh, President of the Assamese Sikh Association at Nagaon; Harcharan Singh at Chaparmukh; Laxmi Parsad Singh, Manager, Punjab and Sindh Bank at Guwahati; and Bhupen Singh, former principal of the degree college at Guwahati deserve special thanks for laying bare the oral history of their community. These are the Axomiya Sikhs of Nagaon district. The list of people to be thanked at Shillong is not small, either. Foremost among them is Gurjit Singh, Principal of the Guru Nanak Middle School at Bara Bazar and Secretary of the Harijan Panchayat Committee whose President is Billoo Singh. I thank him for sharing with me all official documents and necessary information. He is spearheading the legal battle against the municipal and urban development authorities of Shillong. Prem Singh, the president of the Gora Line colony at Laitumkhrah, an employee and a leader of the safai karamcharis at NEHU, Shillong is also to be thanked for his cooperation besides helping the project fellows do fieldwork in the city. Last but not the least is the turn of project fellows whose sincerity and dedication to execute the work assigned to them has made the quality of the data collected worth appreciation. Without their commitment to the job this work would not have been possible. Aminul Islam and Utpal Borah, the research students of the departments of Sociology and Anthropology respectively at Gauhati University have taken pains among odds to collect the data in Assam and Meghalaya. Venu Gopal Reddy, a research scholar of the Department of Sociology at Osmania University, Hyderabad single-handedly looked after the data collection in the Deccan. Habeeb Hydari, a research scholar at Maulana Azad University, Hyderabad also helped me browse the records of the Nizam in Persian at the Archives. I owe thanks to the Director of the Andhra State Archives at Hyderabad, Dr Zareena Parveen for assistance. The Deputy Director,

Acknowledgements

xix

Dr S. Ramakrishna, is to be thanked specially for his efforts in locating information about Dakhani Sikhs. The Assistant Director Md. Abdul Raqeeb has also assisted in locating files from the stacks. I am thankful to him. Manpreet Kaur, research scholar at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Punjabi University, Patiala, deserves my thanks. Her quality work made easy the analysis of the data, later tabulated through the services of Professor Inderjit Singh of the Department of Economics at Punjabi University, Patiala. I am thankful to him. Baltej Singh Bhathal and Jagmal Singh at Punjabi University have helped in looking after the administrative and accounts matters of this project. I am thankful to them for their untiring assistance. Last but not least, I owe thanks to the proverbial lady behind the success, Dr Harinder Kaur, and Himpreet Singh, my son, for letting me work on this project that required long absence from home, not once but many times. Later his wife, Jasmin, also made things easy for me. I owe thanks to them. In the process, I also ignored my aged mother who took my each departure sportingly and with ashirwad. My thanks are too small for her. Unfortunately, she is not with us to see the volume in print.

1

Introduction

The Sikhs are an enterprising people found in every nook and corner of the globe notwithstanding the conditions of life and work there. Some also say, they are like potatoes: they grow everywhere! The notion of being a stranger in a place distant from home is quite alien to their temperament. Some traveller may ask the owner of a wayside Sher-ePunjab dhaba (eatery), ‘Bai ji, aithey kiven?’ Brother, how come you are here? A usual reply is: ‘Bas ji, aithey kumm mil gaya, beh gaye.’ I got the work (occupation) here, hence settled down. It is not that one finds such dhabas on the trunk routes but even in the remote areas of the country. Neil Armstrong’s popular anecdote sums up the adventurous and enterprising Sikh spirit and their zest for life. The anecdote goes like this: when Neil Armstrong had just put his first step on the moon, from Apollo 11 (20 July 1969), which was to be a giant leap for (hu)mankind, a sardarji walked up to him and said: ‘Badshao kithey chaln’ai.’ Sir, where would you like to go? Bemused and deflated, Armstrong asked him: ‘How come you are here? I thought I was the first one to land on the moon.’ He replied casually: ‘Bas ji, Partition pichhon aithe’i aa gaye si.’ I settled here after the partition (August 1947) of the country. The moon is farther away, but Deccan and the North-East (henceforth NE) are not so close to Punjab either, where we find substantial Sikh populations in the urban and rural areas of the country. The socioeconomic and political conditions there are not so congenial either, especially at the latter place where the local versus outsider issue is at the core of regional politics and militant violence. It is interesting to note certain similarities between the two distant regions of the country, as far as the Sikh population is concerned, despite regional differences. We come across three types of Sikhs who believe themselves different from each other and maintain social distance despite common religious affiliation and identity.

2

Introduction

The first type of Sikhs to reach there, both Deccan and the NorthEast, are those who travelled with the Sikh gurus and stayed there to further the cause of Sikh religion and complete the project launched by the respective gurus. The ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur visited Assam in 1669. He stayed at Dhubri on the right bank of the Brahmaputra, then in the district of Goalpara but now the headquarters of an independent district by the same name. The Guru then moved on to Guwahati and visited the famous Kamakhaya Devi temple. A part of his handwritten scroll, saved from destruction, is lying preserved with a panda (priest), whose ancestor had the privilege to meet the Guru. Framed in glass, the priest claims that it is a prized possession with that family. One version of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s visit is that he was preaching and reviving the message of Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh guru who had also visited Dhubri, among other places in Assam during his first udasi, the preaching tour between 1500 and 1506. He had a discourse with Srimanta Shankradeva, a neo-vaishnavite who like him believed in one God and preached eka sarana dharma. According to another version, Aurangzeb asked Raja Ram Singh of Amber to conquer Assam, following the defeat of an earlier attempt by the Moghul forces. The Raja requested the Guru, then stationed at Patna along with his family, to accompany his army to Assam to ward off the evil and magical effects of the sorcerers there since that area had the reputation of being the land of tantra and mantra.1 The army contingent and the Guru first went to Dacca and then to Assam. The Guru returned to Patna when he got the news of the birth of his son, later named Guru Gobind Singh. According to this version, Ram Singh was sent there because Aurangzeb wanted to punish him for supporting Shivaji in his escape from captivity in Agra. When he was to move, his principal queen advised him to seek the protection and support of the Guru. On reaching Patna, he narrated his predicament to the Guru and sought his blessings. Ram Singha then received from Guru Teg Bahadur formal initiation as a Sikh by the ceremony of Charan-pahul. The Raja then requested the Guru to accompany the expedition, to which he agreed. The Guru admitted afterwards that he had accompanied Raja Ram Singha in the triple capacity of friend to the Raja, preacher of God’s word, and averter of bloodshed. (Bhuyan 1994: 113–14)

Introduction

3

This in short is the story of the Axomiya Sikhs of Nagaon district in Assam. Likewise, the Dakhani Sikhs argue that they are a progeny of those Sikhs that accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to Nanded. No doubt, some of them returned to Punjab with Banda Bahadur to accomplish the task assigned to him by the Guru, but others stayed put to look after the gurdwara there and to further the cause of Sikh religion, such is the belief of people there. They claim that they are carrying out that task still with sincerity and commitment. The Sikh religion or sikhi, colloquially, is surviving there due to them only. The Sikligar Sikhs are particular in keeping their Sikh form and are widely spread all over the southern peninsula. They believe to have accompanied Guru Gobind Singh while he was passing through Rajputana. These nomadic tribal people of Rajput origin used to saiqal swords. It is an Arabic word that means to polish. This community specialised in the manufacturing of swords, knives and daggers. The swords are no longer in use since the wars are being fought by other means. Yet they are continuing with their manufacture, as a Sikh bridegroom at the time of marriage must have a sword in his hand. Thus, each Sikh household has a sword or two. These are, however, also used on ceremonial occasions like nagar kirtan jaloos (religious procession in the city). Thus, Sikligars at Nanded, given the greater demand there, are still engaged in this task. They maintain the Sikh form intact even if their living conditions are dismal.2 They have been constrained by the forces of modernisation and urbanisation to shun nomadism and adopt a settled way of life. They still hover around the place of their settlement carrying out chores of their traditional occupation and selling products in the neighbouring area extending up to a couple of kilometres. There are also tribal Banjara Sikhs in the Deccan who had specialised in the salt trade traditionally, hence they are called Lavana, or Labana in Punjab or Lambada in the Deccan. At some stage, they also carried armaments and ammunitions for the marching armies. Their caravan comprising a convoy of bullock carts loaded with material is called a tanda. Their encampment is also known as tanda.3 They had taken to Sikhism, and believe that Makhan Shah Labana, who recognised the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur at Baba Bakala in Punjab, was a Banjara. Another noted and revered one is Lakhi Shah Banjara who cremated the beheaded body of Guru Tegh Bahadur after his martyrdom at Delhi. It is also a nomadic tribe distributed throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is quite likely that some of them might have travelled with the Guru’s contingent, carrying and

4

Introduction

supplying food and munitions. The tribal Banjaras around Nanded and Bidar are also converting to Sikhism through formal training in Sikh seminaries at the aforementioned places. For instance, at Banda Ghat, Nanded, they learn to recite gurbani with and without musical instruments.4 In 2012, Banda Ghat had 80 students on its rolls. Another type of Sikhs in both the Deccan and the NE are those who believe themselves to be the descendants of a contingent of Sikh soldiers despatched there by Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh to support the local rulers. The Axomiya Sikhs believe themselves to be the progeny of those soldiers sent there to support the Ahom King Chandrakanta Singha against the Burmese invasion in 1820. Similarly, the Dakhani Sikhs believe (and each one has this story to narrate) that they are the descendants of the soldiers sent there to maintain law and order in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad-Deccan. The oral history informs that 14 Risalas were sent by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1830 at the request of the then Nizam of Hyderabad. The present study focuses largely on the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs who had been there for about two centuries and there are significant parallels of a sort between them. There is yet another kind of Sikh people who call themselves Punjabi Sikhs. The local people address them similarly. They are high caste entrepreneurs and business people who came to the two regions not for employment but for business. They are further categorised into two groups. One group belonging to the peasant stock has adopted business in the recent past, whereas the other one belonging to the khatri caste had been doing so traditionally. The latter settled there following the partition of the country in 1947. These khatri Sikhs uprooted from Pakistan migrated to large cities like Hyderabad and Guwahati, and to small towns as well, to earn livelihood through business and trade of wholesale and retail. Those belonging to the peasantry are largely the transporters who came later, over the last 40 years. They handle all kinds of surface transport companies, from passenger transportation through cabs and buses to trucks carrying goods of all sorts including tankers. It is a consequence of the development of roads and proliferation of business. The motor parts are virtually their monopoly in the two metropolises – Hyderabad and Guwahati. The Punjabi Sikhs in both the Deccan and the NE consider themselves superior to the local Dakhani, Axomiya and other Sikhs. There is yet another type of Punjabi Sikhs and some Christian converts in the erstwhile Assam who had been there for about the past century. They are safai karamcharis belonging to the Scheduled Castes,

Introduction

5

also called Mazhabi Sikhs. They were brought to Shillong, then capital of Assam, by the colonial army. Their ancestors were employed in the municipal council/committee and other government offices. These are concentrated still in urban areas, especially in Guwahati/Dispur (Assam) and Shillong (Meghalaya). Their residential area is called the Punjabi colony in official records as well. Besides these broadly common features with respect to their migration patterns at the regional levels, there are similarities at the level of intra-community characteristics as well. The Sikhs – Axomiya and Dakhani – at both the NE and the Deccan, respectively, have immersed themselves completely in the local language and culture. They are fluent and comfortable in Axomiya as in Assam, in Telugu as in Andhra Pradesh (now Telengana), in Marathi and Kannada too, which are the languages of their residential districts in the respective states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, respectively. The Axomiya Sikhs living in the rural areas of the district of Nagaon know only Axomiya, not even Hindi. It is true of the elderly generation, though others as residents of multilingual urban spaces are also fluent in languages other than their mother tongue. The educated and employed Axomiya Sikhs are an exception. The Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs speak their own languages as is true of the tribal communities. One common and significant feature of these people that is not appreciated by the Punjabi Sikhs is their ignorance of the Punjabi/Gurmukhi language. Some of the respondents do understand it but could neither read nor write. On this count, they are an object of ridicule for the Punjabi Sikhs who consider them low in economic status and social prestige. The safai karmacharis of the NE – Assam and Shillong (Meghalaya) – are an exception in this respect. They speak Punjabi well despite prolonged stay there, and they are also proficient not only in the local languages Axomiya and Khasi, respectively, but in Hindi too. Their complete command of their mother tongue, Punjabi, is exceptional, so much so that they maintain the dialect/accent of their native region (Majha) in Punjab. They, however, converse with local people in their language and with the outsiders in Hindi, but always use Punjabi among themselves. The localisation of the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs has been possible because their ancestors married local women in Assam and the Deccan and did not force their spouses to adopt their language (Punjabi) and culture, if they had been sent from Punjab. It could not be possible either. The ignorance of the Punjabi language, however, has started bothering them lately in the two regions. It is seemingly a consequence of their encounter with the Punjabi Sikhs who are rich and

6

Introduction

affluent. The Axomiya and Dakhani Sikhs, including others are eking out their living with low income. Those in employment or service have low level jobs. Paradoxically, the Punjabi Sikhs call them ‘duplicate’ Sikhs and ridicule them: ‘Eh keho jihey Sikh ne, Punjabi nahin jande.’ What sort of Sikhs are these who do not know Punjabi – thus suggesting they are lesser Sikhs. The Axomiya Sikhs of Nagaon do not speak or understand Punjabi but many Dakhani Sikhs do understand it but cannot speak it. They are more comfortable speaking the local language – Telugu, Marathi or Kannada, as the case may be – and Hindi. During my fieldwork in the Deccan, a respondent would converse with me in Hindi but would switch to Telugu with my project fellow, unmindful of my presence and lack of my understanding of their conversation. The same was the case in Assam with the Axomiya Sikhs. It is not a case of language chauvinism. Anyone familiar with Punjabi words would attempt to insert these in their conversation with me. This is suggestive of their comfort level with the local language. It is certainly a good and healthy sign of their localisation that the Punjabi Sikhs must appreciate. Another common thing between the Axomiya and Dakhani Sikhs is their commitment to maintain the Sikh form in letter and spirit. They mince no words in claiming that ‘Hamney sikhi ko sambhala hai, Punjab mein to bura haal hai.’ Literally, we have conserved the Sikh religion (form) that is in ruins in Punjab. They know well that the Sikh form is vanishing in Punjab through the media besides the fact that some of them have also travelled there. Moreover, they encounter them especially at Nanded and Bidar where pilgrims from Punjab visit regularly and in huge numbers. It is relevant to note that religious tourism has picked up in a big way over the last two decades. The ‘conducted tours’ from Punjab to all the important pilgrim centres of Sikhism is a flourishing business which has increased the possibility of contact between the local Sikhs and those from Punjab, hence this reaction. Gurdwara Sach Khand at Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) is next to Harmandar Sahib at Amritsar in importance and adoration. Nanak Jhira at Bidar (Karnataka) has also been added lately to the circuit. It is an integral part of the Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) itinerary. In this respect, the NE is lagging. The pilgrims from Punjab do not go beyond Patna Sahib, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh, and one of the five takhts of Sikhism. They hardly think of Dhubri Sahib and never of Gurdwara Mata Ji at Chaparmukh, both in Assam. For a local non-Sikh person, the aforementioned distinctions among Sikhs are neither existent nor relevant. The Sikhs for them are all those with a beard and a turban who visit a Sikh mandir (temple). They are a

Introduction

7

helpful and generous people. They think all Sikhs are alike. Their presence, of course, is conspicuous not only in terms of their Sikh form but also because of their general well-being and thrifty lifestyle, and some among them have made their name there. For instance, wherever one may go, a huge advertisement of Bagga Wines is there to greet you. A professor at Hyderabad mentions that ‘in case of need a Sikh neighbour is the first among others to extend a helping hand.’ A similar comment came from a professor of anthropology at Guwahati. These Sikhs are still living with certain essential tenets of the Sikh religion and philosophy, it seems. The Sikhs keep their word, and women especially feel secure with Sikh drivers. The local non-Sikh persons attest to this observation. One may analyse and explain the data collected along the lines of types of classification suggested above, that is, for each kind of Sikh community like Dakhani, Sikligar, Banjara, Axomiya and safai karamcharis. But that would do us no good since the socio-economic status indices and the living conditions of the respondents across the two regions – the Deccan and the NE – are so similar that they pass off well as a single homogeneous group, which is why all types have been discussed together for an easy and smooth reading. Despite differences between the two regions at the socio-cultural, economic and political levels that are at times no doubt glaring, yet given the nature of study, these have not proved to be of much significance insofar as explanation of the poverty level of the respondents is concerned. The cultural and religious practices of the Sikhs also are quite different with respect to the Punjabi Sikhs but similar in many ways between the two regions. This is not to claim that inter-regional differences have not impacted their orientation and practices given different socio-economic conditions. Such patterns of similarity and differences between the two communities, especially Axomiya and Dakhani in the NE and the Deccan, respectively, make the present study significant and comparison between them interesting. The five types of Sikhs that are the subject of this study, sociologically speaking, are unique and distinct from one another. If the Axomiya and Dakhani Sikhs belong to the trading, agricultural castes and the service class including some from the Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs are the Scheduled Tribes in the Deccan. The safai karamcharis in the NE, on the other hand, are the Scheduled Castes from Punjab. The different communities in different socioeconomic conditions call for separate explanations no doubt, but given the objectives of the study to profile them for purposes of government’s welfare measures these have been clubbed and discussed together. And,

8

Introduction

it makes sense. The regional differences do not matter in terms of their conditions of material living, such as low income level, slum dwelling, lack of basic amenities and so forth that are central to situate them on the lower indices of socio-economic status. The cultural practices are always region-specific, yet we may have similarities of a sort that are important sociologically. The responses on issues relating to culture, language, religion and so forth are also showing strong parallels in many ways. This is what makes the present study worthwhile and calls for further research and probing. This is a broad survey, given the requirements of the National Commission for Minorities, which has shown such patterns of similarity and difference. Only further research can fruitfully explain the intricacies necessary for a more meaningful academic exercise. This sort of homogeneity of the sample, the consistency in the information of the respondents and the uniformity of data on various counts calls for the clubbing of communities. The two major communities – Dakhani and Axomiya – stand out from others for different reasons. There are interesting similarities between them despite being poles apart in very many other ways. Thus, for purposes of discussion all communities have been clubbed and explained together under two heads – those in the NE and in the Deccan. The latter has Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs while the former has Axomiya and safai karamchari Sikhs. An attempt has been made to distinguish patterns between sociologically divergent communities across regions and within the region on issues that belong to them as Sikhs. The differences between them notwithstanding, the specificities of each community have also been treated separately especially for the Dakhani and the Axomiya Sikhs. These have been marked out from others for two reasons. First, these are people belonging to assorted castes and classes who claim communal solidarity and homogeneity on grounds of their common background of being the soldiers of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Second, these people are not historically cohesive in the sense we find the tribal Sikligars and Banjaras, and the safai karmacharis. Sociologically speaking, their cohesiveness flows from their closed nature and being exclusive categories of people. When reference is made to the ‘Sikhs in the Deccan,’ it includes all the three communities there, the Dakhani Sikhs being one among them. At other times when reference is made to the Dakhani Sikhs, it is only about those Sikhs that claim to be the progeny of the Sikh soldiers. The former is a generic term and the latter specific. In the NE too, the two together are referred to as the ‘Sikhs in the NE’ and separately as Axomiya Sikhs and as safai karamcharis. The sample size of the Axomiya and Dakhani Sikhs too has been proportionately

Introduction

9

higher, being the focus of study, from its very inception. I have tried my best to keep things separate during discussion; yet some sort of confusion at times is unavoidable and if the reader feels it, she has a valid reason. For instance, the Sikligar Sikhs are prior to the Dakhani Sikhs but the latter are more in the limelight than the former, which is why they seem to stand out in a discussion on the Sikhs in the Deccan. An attempt is made to keep issues clear and distinct, yet it might have been a casualty at times. The discussion has been carried out at the level of two regions separately and also within the region between communities. Given the nature of study and the survey at a broad level, explanations are bound to be suggestive. Only further probing will establish their authenticity. Nevertheless, the similarities between them have been brought out and the dissimilarities are highlighted. The greater differentiation among respondents with respect to socio-economic variables would call for analysis and discussion of each community separately, which is not relevant here. The universe of the present study is the specific type of Sikh communities settled in the South and NE India, called Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs for purposes of identifying the minority community needing the government’s welfare. The objective of the study is to look at them from the viewpoint of the National Commission for Minorities that are a minority there by all standards of ethnic and/or religious criteria, and need the government’s attention for their welfare. Therefore, while focusing on these two communities specifically, such other Sikh communities like the Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs in the Deccan and safai karmacharis in the NE have also been included that deserve the attention of the government urgently. These are described separately as ‘Sikhs in the Deccan’ and ‘Sikhs in the NE.’ The Sikhs are an ethnic group and do claim socio-religious solidarity among themselves for all political and economic purposes, but they are not as homogeneous as their leaders – political and religious – make them to be, by any standards of sociological imagination either in Punjab or in the two regions of the present study. There are different types of Sikhs with different socio-economic and demographic indicators. For instance, they may be categorised into three broad types. First, the oldest of them have been living there for a few centuries, to be precise about two centuries. They are the Axomiya and Dakhani Sikhs. Second, there are other local tribal communities like Sikligars and Banjaras/Lambadas who migrated there even earlier especially in the South. There are others, who travelled with the tenth guru to the Deccan and the ninth guru to Assam. Some local tribal people have also converted

10

Introduction

to Sikhism in the recent past, especially around Nanded. The Punjabi Scheduled Castes too reached Assam a century ago. Third, there are others who migrated around the partition of the country in 1947 for business. This type also includes those Sikhs who settled there over the past 30 to 40 years due to expansion of economic activities. These are Punjabi Sikhs. The Sikhs in the last category are engaged in the business of retail or wholesale and transport primarily. The distinction further is also clear and marked. Those who migrated from West Punjab in Pakistan at the time of partition of the country are traders and khatri by caste. They indulge in trades of various kinds, from steel and cement to cloth and paper to grocery. Some also ventured into manufacturing as well. The other type are the transporters with their own transport companies and spare parts trade in the metropolises of the South and the NE, that is, Hyderabad and Guwahati, respectively. These are called Punjabi Sikhs at both places. They are affluent and well entrenched in the local economy and politics. They keep their social identity distinct and separate from other local Sikhs and do not have relations of marriage and kinship with them. Of the three types of Sikh communities, the present study focuses on the first two, namely, those settled there for about two centuries and the local tribals, as in the Deccan. In the NE, the Mazhabi Sikhs, that is, safai karamcharis who have settled there for the past century have also been included. They too deserve the government’s attention for their poverty and slum dwelling. They are located in clusters at two places only – Shillong in Meghalaya and Guwahati/Dispur in Assam. There are no tribal Sikhs or converts in the NE as we find Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs in the Deccan. The Axomiya Sikhs are comparable to the Dakhani Sikhs in ways more than one. If the latter are a progeny of the soldiers of Ranjit Singh sent to support the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1830, the former are a progeny of a similar contingent sent to support the Ahom ruler in 1820. Both of them are very particular about their Sikh appearance and strictly adhere to the Sikh symbols manifestly. The difference between the two is that the Axomiya Sikhs are settled in the villages of the Nagaon district in Assam, namely Barkola, Chaparmukh and Hatipara. They are land owners and agriculturists whose children are now migrating to towns for education and employment. The Dakhani Sikhs are not all those living in the South but only the residents of Hyderabad-Deccan. This was the kingdom of the Nizams from the eighteenth century until 1952 when this state was annexed to the Union of India. It comprised 16 districts that now stand trifurcated

Introduction

11

into the three states of Andhra Pradesh (now Telengana), Maharashtra and Karnataka. The larger chunk lies in Andhra Pradesh, namely, Hyderabad (Secundrabad, Ranga Reddy District), Warangal, Adilabad, Medak, Nalgonda, Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Mahboobnagar. The five districts in the present Maharashtra are Nanded, Aurangabad, Parbhani, Beed and Osmanabad. The three districts in Karnataka are Bidar, Raichur and Gulbarga. Bidar does not have a large population of the Dakhani Sikhs as compared to Nanded in Maharashtra. The latter has a large concentration, especially due to the Gurdwara Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib being one of the five takhts (literally a throne) of the Sikh religion. It is interesting to note that the Dakhani Sikhs make a cohesive community despite territorial demarcations across three politico-administrative states with different and distinct languages. Their social networking and kinship relations cutting across three states bind them together.

Notes 1 Barpujari writes that outside Assam people believed it to be a land of sorcerers and black magic, therefore the invaders would take with them spiritual persons like Guru Tegh Bahadur. Ram Singh ‘also brought five Muslim saints with him as warranted by records preserved in the Dam Dama Gurudwara. Guru Tegh Bahadur also visited the Kamakhaya temple and left behind many of his disciples in Assam’ (Barpujari 1994: 242). S. K. Bhuyan (1994) also mentions the names of the five Muslim pirs – Shah Akbar, Shah Bagmar, Shah Saran, Shah Safi and Shah Kamal. The Panchpir Dargah is close to the gurdwara Dhubri Sahib where the remains of Shah Akbar lie buried (p. 112). Those visiting the gurdwara also pay respects there. 2 The pardhan of the Sikligar Samaj, Bahadur Singh at Guru Gobind Singh colony, Hyderabad says with authority that in case of head injury even we do not allow shaving of hair, stitching or no stitching (tanke lagen ya na). 3 Tanda refers to a caravan of loaded bullock carts of the Banjaras as also their encampment. 4 The seminary has two levels of gurbani recitation programme. The first level is to learn simple recitation of the Guru Granth, called path karna. The other level is to sing the shabad or shalok of the scripture with musical instruments in the tradition of the north Indian classical music.

2

Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

The Dakhani Sikhs derive their identity and this nomenclature from the fact that they are settled in Dakhan or Deccan, which means ‘south’ in Punjabi/Urdu and in the administrative records of the Nizam as well as the colonial authority. The majority of respondents are not averse to this labelling as they seem to justify: ‘We are called Dakhani Sikhs because we stay in Dakhan.’ The dominant view is that the Dakhani Sikhs are the residents of the Nizam’s state of Hyderabad, qualified by the term Deccan because there is another Hyderabad in the north, in the erstwhile United Punjab, now in Pakistan. It is called Hyderabad Sindh. Nanak Singh Nishter, a senior respondent among them and a journalist by profession, writes: ‘Deccani is not a word for segregation from the mainstream Sikhs, but it is a geographical identity which was attributed to the North Indians settled in Hyderabad Deccan such as Deccani Pathan etc’ (2011: 15). However, some respondents contest such labelling. They tend to argue that all Sikhs are alike and without any hierarchy. This of course is a philosophically correct position in Sikhism. A Sikh is a Sikh only and without any label that may be suggesting hierarchy and differentiation. Their protest, thus, seems justified since it smells of not only segregation but of stratification too vis-à-vis the Punjabi Sikhs. The latter consider themselves superior to the former not only in terms of their socio-economic status but also in their commitment to religion. It is very likely that this name (Dakhani) is given to them by the Punjabi Sikhs who settled in Hyderabad largely after independence in 1947. In the official records of the Nizam, there is no such labelling. They are called Sikhs simply, and their force as the ‘Sikh Force’ under the state department of Nazim-i-Jami’at-i-Sikhan. In The Ancient History of the Deccan, G. Jouveau-Dubreuil refers to the geographical dimension of the term:

Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

13

India may be divided into two parts, the North and the South. From the remotest times, the division has been adopted by the Indians who have given the name Dakshina (Daksginapatha) or ‘the South’ to all the Country that extends from the Narbada to the extremity of the peninsula. (1920: 5)

The Deccan The Nizam’s state is called Hyderabad-Deccan in the official documents. It comprised 16 districts (see Chapter 1) that were trifurcated later into three states of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana) with the largest share, Maharashtra that includes the famous Takht Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib, Nanded with five districts, and Karnataka with Bidar as an important pilgrim centre called Gurdwara Nanak Jhira, with three districts (including Bidar). The Sikhs are spread all over South India, but the prefix Dakhani goes only with those who belong to the state of Hyderabad-Deccan since 1830. This term is not used in the generic sense. The Urdu language replaced Persian as the official language of the later Nizam’s state in 1884. In 1918, the Osmania University was established with Urdu as medium of instruction (Luther 1995: 411). It is also called Dakhani Urdu. It is the peoples’ lingua franca, too, which is why Dakhani Sikhs feel comfortable conversing in Hindi. Dakhan also has its specific cuisine, such as the famous biryani Hyderabadi and many more. It is for this reason that most Dakhani Sikhs are not uncomfortable with this identification. A noted historian of the Deccan, H. K. Sherwani suggests: The scions of the dynasty (Qutb Shahis) formed a connection link between the Bahmanis and the Asif Jahis, and they were also promoters of that peculiar culture which is sometimes dubbed as Dakhani culture, itself the result of the synthesis of cultures from particularly all parts of the country as well as from overseas, which came face to face in the great table land of which the Qutbshahi dominions formed a significant part. (1974: ix) The syncretic culture of the Deccan is further authenticated by Karen Leonard while writing in the context of Hindu-Muslim cultural synthesis in Hyderabad, the basic belief of the Mulki movement, comments: ‘Certainly Hyderabad’s heterogeneous society included both Muslims and Hindus, and men of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, and

14

Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

social backgrounds achieved success within the Nizam’s state. Religious institutions of many kinds secured the patronage of the Nizam’ (1973: 215). Bilkees Latif also alludes towards the communal harmony and integration of different religions that was an important aspect of the Deccan culture. Latif writes in Her India: ‘There were some intermarriages between Hindus and Muslims amongst the nobility, and Maharaja Kishen Pershad, one of the best Prime Ministers, had a Hindu wife and a Muslim wife, and their children are representatives of the best of both’ (1984: 112). In independent India following the policy of linguistic states, the Nizam’s territory was divided into three states. The Sikhs of Andhra Pradesh formally speak Telugu, while those in Maharashtra and Karnataka speak Marathi and Kannada, respectively, since their residential location has not been disturbed with the linguistic demarcation of states. Despite this linguistic division and state allocation for administrative purposes, the social linkages cross-cutting these provincial barriers have remained intact since the Dakhani Sikhs prefer marrying within their own community without bothering about the provincial and linguistic terrritorialisation. They have close social networks all over the region – the erstwhile Deccan – across the three states. The Dakhani Sikhs take pride in informing that they are the descendants of the soldiers of that contingent of the Sikh army that was sent by Ranjit Singh from Lahore to support the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad, fourth in line, named Nawab Nasir Uddaula (1829–1857) whose regime was virtually in shambles and anarchy prevailed all over. In the words of an Englishman: ‘Despite British influence, the administration was appallingly bad. Finance was hopelessly muddled. The countryside for half a century was dominated by Arabs and Rohillas, mostly disbanded mercenaries from the Maratha and Pindari armies’ (Barton 1934: 197). The Sikh forces were despatched there to restore rule of law and internal order under such circumstances. The oral history informs that before seeking the Maharaja’s favour, an emissary of the Nizam of Hyderabad-Deccan came to the Lahore Darbar and presented a shawl embroidered with silver. The Maharaja accepted it but offered the same to the guru, the Granth Sahib at Harmandar Sahib as chandoya, a canopy saying that such a precious gift suits there only. The respondents add that that gift was destroyed during Operation Bluestar in June 1984 when the Indian armed forces moved into the Golden Temple (Harmandar Sahib) for the eviction of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other militants.1

Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

15

It is believed that the Sikh contingent of 14 Risalas from Punjab reached Hyderabad in 1830. It was stationed at two places: one at Barambala, locally called Sikh Chhawniat in Kishan Bagh (Attapur) now a buzzing suburb, and another one at Huppuguda. A 2013 internet source (Puratan Gurudwara Sahib Asha Singh Bagh Shaheedan Singh Asthan) says: 1500 Lahori soldiers in the supervision of 14 Risaldars was (sic) sent to Hyderabad State and Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji announced that the salaries and basic equipments for this Lahori Force will be sent from Punjab. 200 acres of land . . . was given to Lahori Force for their cantonment. But according to Nishter: In 1830, after completing four months of arduous journey, the Sikh army arrived from Lahore in Hyderabad. The army consisted of twelve Risalas– army units, each comprising of a 100 personnel and each Risala headed by a Risaldar. . . They were first stationed outside the walled city of Hyderabad near the Mir Alam Tank on Rajinder Nagar road from Bahadar Pura, which place till today is famously known as the Braham Bala Sikh Chhawni – the Sikh Cantonement, and the army was called Jamiyat-i-Lahori (Army of Lahore). Their salaries and expenses for maintenance of equipment etc., used to come from the treasury of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as they were here on a goodwill mission from Punjab. (2011: 15–16) Nishter cites a Punjabi source, Hazoori Sathi by Akali Kor Singh Nihang of Kashmir, who wrote in 1933 that Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent 12 bedey (contingents) of Sikh Army to help the Nizam for the protection of his state (ibid.: 12). According to another source, The Lahore Darbar sent 1400 soldiers, 1200 infantry and 200 cavalry for the Nizam’s help. They were asked not to return until recalled by the Maharaja. Some of them took their families too with them. Naina Singh Nihang and Akali Phoola Singh Nihang too were sent with extra men of 300 Akali Nihangs. The convoy set off from Lahore in 1832. These troops were stationed at Mir Alam Tank by Raja Chandu Lal. (Nihang and Singh 2008: 118)

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Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

Figure 2.1 Old Gurdwara Barambala, Sikh Chhawniat, Hyderabad (1832)

The Encyclopedia of Sikhism also subscribes to the aforementioned notions of the oral tradition and qualifies that the exact number and the time of the arrival of the Sikhs in Hyderabad is not known but old records refer to the existence of a Sikh Force in 1810. Its strength has been estimated at 1200. . . . They proved so efficient in the performance of their duties that they soon won the Nizam’s favour and had their emoluments doubled. . . . During the time of the fourth Nizam, Nasir-ud-Daula (1829–57), another 1,000 Sikhs trickled into Hyderabad and joined the state army and the police force . . . Sikh Jami’at . . . was disbanded with effect from 1 May 1951 when each soldier of the force was given five years’ salary as compensation and dismissed. . . . The Nizam, who was redesignated as Rajpramukh of the state, also retained 100 Sikhs under Risaldar Khem Singh in his personal bodyguard. (1998: 160–1)

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Muslim Outlook (1924) carries an editorial in which Sardar Diwan Singh Maftoon appeals to the Sikhs to support the Nizam to secure a retrocession of Berar on the grounds that his treatment of Sikhs is particularly praiseworthy. He endowed a considerable jagir to Nanded gurdwara and the Hyderabad treasury always pays for the langar expenses at Nander.2 Moreover, the descendants and relations of the 10,000 Sikhs, who were drafted into the Nizam’s army during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and who helped the then ruler of Hyderabad in repelling the Marhatta invasion, are treated with special consideration in the State and thousands of Sikhs are present in the Nizam’s service, some of them occupying posts of great responsibility in the civil and military department. (ibid.: 1924)

Maharaja Chandu Lal There is not much historical record, if I may say so, to confirm the Dakhani Sikhs’ belief (see conclusion) that such a contingent was ever formally despatched by Ranjit Singh.3 The peoples’ memory, however, acknowledges distinctly that Raja Chandu Lal, the then prime minister of the Nizam of Hyderabad, was instrumental in soliciting this support from Punjab. He wielded much power and authority in the Nizam’s state, and he had the title of Maharaja Bahadur.4 His brother and other relations were also a part of the state administration. Chandu Lal had an illustrious ancestry that goes far back to Raja Todar Mall, the revenue minister of repute in the court of Akbar. One of his ancestors Rai Mulchand accompanied Asaf Jah Nizam-ul-mulk in his invasion on the Deccan. Chandu Lal was born in 1776. After a fairly good education, he started his career in the customs department where he held a subordinate position. His diligence and hard work made him the Peshkar in 1806. Subsequently, the authority of the Government was at the same time entrusted into the hands of Maharaja Chandulal who was the principal power in the State and controlled its destiny uninterruptedly for a period of full thirty-five years until the day of his resignation – the 6th September 1843. (Mudiraj 1929: 151) After 18 months of retirement, he died on 15 April 1845.

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Sir Henry Russell, the British Resident in Hyderabad from 1811 to 1820, writes that Chandu Lal ‘rises early enough’ and retires well past midnight: He is free from ostentation of any kind and is not expensive in his own family or person. He is very well educated both as a scholar and as a public officer. His understanding is sound, his talents quick, his memory retentive, his industry indefatigable and he has great experience and aptitude for all kinds of business from the highest branches to the most minute detail. (ibid.: 152) Russell also writes about him: The Nizam’s obstinate retirement from public business of every kind rather strengthens Chandulal’s authority than otherwise. It compels everybody to look up to him alone for the adjustment of any business they have to transact and constitute him in fact, though not in name, the sole and for ordinary purposes the absolute Minister of the Government. (Regani 1988: 213) Chandu Lal’s intelligence and administrative acumen lay in balancing the two forces, Nizam on the one side and the British on the other. Peter Wood writes about him: ‘Although he owed his original appointment to Company pressure, his survival as Peshkar tended to rest upon his ability to maintain a precarious balance between British interests and those of the Nizam’ (1981: 368;5 emphasis in original). He adds: ‘Thus, when Chandu Lal had basked in Henry Russell’s sunshine, Sikandar Jah had brooded warily over his Minister; and as Metcalfe had steadily eroded his standing in Company eyes, Chandu Lal had turned to the Nizam for succor’ (ibid.: 369).6 It is also chronicled about him: A talented and shrewd statesman, Chandu Lal tried to make good his deficiencies in social status and strength of character by means of intrigue and jobbery. To appease the growing enmity of the Muslim courtiers, and to neutralize the odious opinion they held of him, Chandu Lal distributed money without limit; bribes were made to extravagant and profligate nobles and all their retainers, while large sums passed to the private hoards of the nizam himself; even his favourite mistress, Chandani Begum, became

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Chandu Lal’s special patron. . . ‘the whole of the nizam’s family was bribed, that every one of his own servants was in Chandu Lal’s pay, and that even his own mother-in-law sent to the minister a daily report of the occurrences of the inmost recesses of his house.’ (Nihang and Singh 2008: 73) Wood also notes: Even more significantly, in view of her influence in the mahal, Chandu Lal assumed charge of the management of the financial affairs of the Bukshi Begum, first wife of Nizam Ali and adoptive mother of Sikandar Jah. In public recognition for such services Chandu Lal received the title of Raja Bahadur, with the honorific suffix amari that denoted his entitlement to an elephant with a special seat fitted with a canopy. (1981: 89) Chandu Lal was famous also for his generous almsgiving. He was believed to be a true Hindu who upheld dharma by practising the tenets of Hinduism. Even though he had an annual income of three lakhs of rupees, he was always out of pocket. He would give away large sums of money in charity not minding how his household expenses would be met the next day. His name and fame as a benevolent and philanthropic Raja spread far and wide and people from different parts of India used to flock to his court for help. People speak of him even today as the Hathim Tai of India. (Mudiraj 1929: 154) It is also noted about him: Chandu Lal was universally known for his liberal almsgiving and for his generosity. Even to-day, oral traditions persist in Hyderabad which illustrate this aspect of Chandu Lal’s personality. These recall, for instance, how even as a boy little more than ten years old, he had given his entire daily allowance to beggars in the bazar. (Wood 1981: 99) Besides the Lahori Fauj, the Dakhani Sikhs may also be the progeny of those Sikhs that accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to Nanded. Since

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they were asked to run the affairs of the gurdwara, later Hazoor Sahib, they are called Hazoori Sikhs. Nihang and Singh note that ‘Anyone who ever visited Hazoor Sahib cannot help but notice how brazenly proud the Hazoori Sikhs are of their Singh-Khalsa identity’ (2008: iv). They are steadfastly against cutting their hair as also of their children. ‘This is one of the most significant physical markers distinguishing Hazoori Sikhs from Punjabi Sikhs, contrasting latter’s laxity in this respect’ (ibid.: iv). As the Sikh risalas reached Hyderabad, they constructed a gurdwara at Barambala that exists still though dilapidated and in ruins. The foundation plaque bears 1832 as the year of its establishment. Karsewa, voluntary service is currently on for the construction of a new gurdwara larger in size and more elegant in structure than the older one, in the adjoining area.7 Like at other places all over the country, the old religious monuments are neither protected nor preserved but get replaced by newly built elegantly styled marbled structures. Two important relics that are in the custody of this gurdwara include a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib with illuminated folios and an old gun whose wooden butt has been partly destroyed by termites. All around the gurdwara are settled the Dakhani Sikhs, including a few Sikligar households. There is also an adjoining colony of the Bijnori Sikh Sikligars. They are from Bijnor and settled here for the past four decades. Besides differences in physical features and facial complexion between these two groups of the Sikligars, they do not maintain social relations like marriage between them. There are 550 households of Dakhani Sikhs at Barambala, but now given the expansion of Hyderabad over the last three decades, many other people have also bought land and houses there while some of the local residents have rented out theirs to outsiders. This locality being on the outer side of the metropolis, housing is not congested though it looks more like a village settlement in Punjab. The colony does not have a proper layout and roads. The sewerage system is also irregular and non-functional. However, there is one large and elegant building in the colony, the Guru Nanak Girls High School now aided by the government. Another Sikh contingent was stationed at Huppuguda, also known as Sikh Chhawni, on the other side of the metropolis. Presently, it does not have very many Sikh households. There is also a Sikh Village and the Sikh Village Road in Bowenpally, a locality of Hyderabad by the side of the present cantonment. There are a few Sikh households presently, four to be precise. Gowliguda, Ameerpet and Rahmat Nagar (Guru Ram Das Nagar) are the colonies of Dakhani Sikhs with

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a noticeable presence. The largest among these and the oldest one is Gowliguda with a sizeable Sikh population. It is in the heart of the old Hyderabad. There is an old gurdwara that has been renovated recently. It is also reported by the People of India that the ‘Deccani Sikhs live predominantly in the city areas of Gowliguda Sikh Chawni, Uppuguda, Nallakunta Sikh Chawni, Ameerpet Sikh village and Balnagar. They are also scattered in the districts of Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Warangal, Aurangabad, Jalna, Nanded, Nalgonda and Medak’ (Singh 2003a: 475).

Nanded In the whole of Deccan besides Hyderabad, Nanded is another place with a large Dakhani Sikh population. Bidar in Karnataka has quite a small number compared to the two mentioned earlier. Nanded has the privilege to have Gurdwara Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib associated with the last Sikh guru, Gobind Singh. It is a flourishing town that attracts Sikh devotees from across the globe round the year. The gurdwara has grown significantly in the recent past. The main gurdwara complex underwent a facelift and beautification for the celebration of 300 years of gurtagaddi in 2008. The central and the state governments pumped in huge funds for the infrastructural developments in the gurdwara and the city. Gurtagaddi refers to the enthronement of Guru Granth Sahib as the guru: ‘Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai guru manyo Granth, Guru Granth Ji manyo pargat guran ki deh.’ The last guru issued a commandment to all Sikhs to believe Guru Granth Sahib as the living guru. Presently, there is a spurt in the construction of sarais, the residential accommodation for the devotees in and around the gurdwara with modern amenities like air conditioners and geyser-fitted bathrooms for the affluent NRIs (non-resident Indians). Other residential complexes of lesser order are also mushrooming.8 A Sikh museum is also under construction nearby. The influx of tourists has given the town an air link directly from Mumbai and Delhi besides it being on the railway trunk route from Hyderabad to Mumbai. The airport is named after the last guru. Swami Ram Tirath University meets the educational requirements of the region along with other colleges of technical education, including medical and engineering. Nanded is a large town with 550,439 persons in 2011, situated in the Marathwada region of south-eastern Maharashtra bordering Telengana on the northern bank of Godavari river. It acquired its name from Nandi (Lord Shiva’s bull) who had done tapasaya (penance) on the

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river bank, hence Nandi-tat. Its existence goes back to the fifth century bce though its present status owes largely to its being a seat of Sikh religious authority, takht second in command or significance to Harmandar Sahib at Amritsar. Its importance owes to the fact that the last guru – Guru Gobind Singh – spent the last years of his life at this place. He breathed his last on October 8, 1708. It is noted: ‘Guru Gobind Singh arrived at Nanded with all the majesty of a regional Rajput court. In his entourage were 300 heavily armed Akali-Nihang warriors and a stately retinue bustling with mendicants, poets, scholars, musicians, cooks and scribes’ (Nihang and Singh 2008: 73). It is said he was moving along the Moghul army on its Deccan expedition, when he developed a liking for this place situated on the banks of Narmada. The deep forests and the guru’s love for hunting attracted him. Unfortunately, the guru could not stay there for long. Two Pathan brothers who were allegedly chasing him for revenge stabbed him. The wound had not healed properly, and when the guru tried hard to pull up the strings of a bow, the wound reopened and ultimately proved fatal. The historians inform that one of the important events of the guru’s Nanded visit was meeting Banda Bairagi, a warrior turned renouncer of worldly goods. The guru motivated him to leave this life of a recluse and do some good for the poor and the exploited at his home (Punjab) since the Moghul regime had unleashed the forces of oppression all over. The guru made him partake amrit and renamed him Banda Singh Bahadur. He was despatched to Punjab with a band of his lieutenants to organise the Sikh army to confront the empire’s terror. Guru Gobind Singh’s presence at Nanded was eventful though shortlived. There are a number of gurdwaras associated with him in and around Nanded such as Hira Ghat, Shikar Ghat, Nagina Ghat and Gurdwara Maal Tekdi besides the most important Takht Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib Abchalnagar.9 The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. III mentions: Guru Gobind Singh had desired one of his Sikhs, Santokh Singh, who supervised the community kitchen, to remain in Nanded and continue running the Guru ka Langar. A number of other Sikhs also decided to stay back. They built a small shrine in memory of Guru Gobind Singh and installed Guru Granth Sahib in it. (1997: 191) It continues: Around 1823, Raja Chandu lal, . . . secured for the shrine an endowment of about 525 acres of land. In 1832, Maharaja Ranjit Singh

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built on the site a two-storeyed gurdwara, with a golden dome. During this time, Sikh artisans and workmen came to Nanded in large numbers, and many of them settled here permanently. Additionally, the Nizam enlisted a troop of Sikhs in his army. (ibid.: 191) The Takht Hazoor Sahib has a large contingent of Sikh sewadars numbering about 800 on its payroll. They are working in different capacities performing various duties characteristic of a large institution such as this one that invites a huge influx of pilgrims from all over the world, throughout the year. It is a potential source of employment to the Sikhs – Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara – and a substantial majority of them are dependent on it directly and indirectly. Besides employment in the gurdwara, the great rush of pilgrims has led to the growth of allied activities and services that are a source of productive engagement to the local Sikhs and others.

Bidar It is another town of the erstwhile Deccan, and the present Karnataka that has emerged as an important place on the Sikh religious tourist circuit in the recent past. It has a population of 211,944 persons (Census of India 2011). Its religious connection goes as far as to the visit of Guru Nanak who halted there for his discourses with scholars of Persian and Islamic philosophy and religion. It was an important centre of learning then developed by a sufi scholar Mahmud Immamuddin Gawain, the prime minister of Bahamani kings. Bidar was the capital of this empire. It is said that the choice of capital was made due to its cool climes. It is also known for a specific kind of carving on metal works and jewellery called Bidari art. In the words of a Russian traveller, Athanasius Nikitin, who was in the Decaan from 1469 to 1474, it was the ‘chief town of the whole of Mohamedan Hindustan.’ The city was about 15 miles long and as much broad and contained many inhabitants, while trade abounded in horses, cloth, silk, pepper and many other kinds of merchandise. . . The kingdom was a rendezvous not only for the Deccanis but for the whole of India. (Sherwani 1985: 205) Bidar was made the capital in 1429 by Ahmed Shah Wali, the tenth king of the Bhamani dynasty. When he visited this place, he saw a dog

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chasing a fox. After a long chase, the fox stood at bay and attacked the dog and drove it away. The King beholding the tiger-like courage of the fox attributed it to the invigorating climate of the place, and decided to build there a town with a fort and high mansions. He laid there the foundations of a strong fort more durable than the heavens, . . . made it his capital. (Yazdani 1992: 3) The climate of the place is also extolled by Meadows Taylor: There is no more healthy or beautiful site for a city in the Dekhan than Bidar. . . . Its central situation as well as its lofty position gave it several advantages over the low-lying ancient capital, Gulbarga; and once it was given this honour, it always retained it until the final annexation of the town to the Mughal empire. (ibid.: 4) Thus, it is no surprise that even today it has the reputation of being called ‘a poor man’s Ooty’ since Ootacamund, called Ooty in popular parlance, is an important hill station in the Nilgiris of Karnataka established by the British. It is not the climate only but the soil too is equally fertile. Sherwani notes that Ferishta who travelled far and wide in the country had not found any portion of India that was so rich in crops while ‘most of the fruits of the earth are grown there,’ and there is no doubt that the fertility of the local soil must have been the main consideration for the transfer of capital. (1942: 37–8) The Imperial Gazetteer of India also records that ‘Bidar is noted for its healthy climate. The waters of the lateritic region are chalybeate, and possess tonic properties’ (1908–1931, vol. 8: 164). The cool climate, fertile soil and abundance of water reservoirs had gone together in making the choice of Bidar as the capital of its erstwhile rulers. It is recorded: In the lowlands are two other domes covering the shrine of Syed Sadat, and this is held in such veneration by both Mohamedans and Hindus that every Thursday a large concourse of people

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assemble there to perform their vows, as well as to bathe in the reservoirs which are supplied by the tepid mineral waters oozing from an adjoining spring, and which are believed to be very effective in curing skin diseases. In addition to their curative power, the reservoirs are reputed to work miracles for anyone who chooses to immerse himself forty times in this water. Several less important springs exist about this quarter, at the head of one of which is a mosque built by the emperor Aurangzeb, with a stirring inscription on it. (Bilgrami 1883: 464) The brochure of the Gurdwara Nanak Jhira outlining its brief history published by the Parbandhak Committee has its own take on the quality of water at Bidar that is contrary to the accounts previously mentioned: The pir (Jalaluddin) also narrated the woeful condition of the local people due to the scarcity of drinking water. The water at Bidar was saltish and was not fit for drinking purpose. Due to worst condition of water no person from the surrounding areas was prepared to give his daughter in marriage to a boy residing at Bidar. The local people who thronged to Guruji to seek his blessings also complained about the hardships they were facing for want of clean sweet drinking water. (Parbandhak Committee n.d.: 4) Guru Nanak stayed at Bidar on his return from Sri Lanka in his second udasi, the journey to South. The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. I notes: Since the establishment in the town of the great Madrasa by Mahmud Gawain in 1471–72, it had been a famous centre of Arabic learning in the Deccan. Guru Nanak stayed next to a monastery of Muslim ascetics on the outskirts of the town. . . The monastery was built on a rock in an undulating barren tract, without any water in the vicinity. Tradition says that, at the supplication of Jalal ud-Din, Guru Nanak lifted a stone and from underneath it a fountain of clear sweet water gushed forth. The spring, called Amrit Kund, the Pool of Nectar, is still in existence. The place came to be known as Nanak Jhira and was looked after by Muslim priests. (1995: 367)

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The Sikhs bow before amrit kund with great devotion and take a chuli, a palmful of sacred water as prasad. At that place now stands an elegant gurdwara that has started growing in size over the last about two decades. According to the Parbandhak Committee brochure on its history: In respect of Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jhira Saheb, it will not be out of place to mention here that this Gurudwara is second super natural occurances [sic] of Sri Nanak Devji. Whereas, the first one was ‘Sri Punja Saheb’ (Now in Pakistan & strictly prohibited for free visits). Hence, Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jhira Saheb is ‘Second Punja Saheb’ of India. (Parbandhak Committee, n.d.: 6) Everyone who visits Nanded (Hazoor Sahib) must go there as well, covering a distance of about 200 km. It has a huge staff of sewadars in various ranks at different positions for executing diverse functions of a large religious institution. The local Sikhs – Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara – are employed there and enjoy the facility of residential quarters. The gurdwara runs a general school and a free charitable hospital as well. Keeping in view the rush of pilgrims, new rest houses or sarais are under construction, once again with air-conditioned and ordinary rooms. Under the auspices of the Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Bidar, Guru Nanak Engineering College was established in August 1980. It used to admit students on donations or capitation fees. A large number of them from Punjab used to take admission there. The management of the educational trust also mooted the proposal to establish a medical college in 1988. As alleged by the present incumbents of the management committee, some local political leaders were involved in opening up a medical college sponsored by a Hindu organisation. The clash of political interests led to communal rioting that took the lives of six Sikh students of the engineering college. This communalisation of politics had happened in the wake of earlier anti-Sikh ‘riots’ in November 1984 that started in Delhi and spread all over the country. The Sikhs and their property were targeted in the city of Bidar. The chain of events did not stop but led to the murder of Sardar Joga Singh, a prominent and an affluent Dakhani Sikh who was then chairman of the management committee of the engineering college and also of the gurdwara trust. He was decorated posthumously as Panth Rattan, a jewel of the Sikh community by the Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The Sikh militants from Punjab allegedly gunned him down at the behest of certain radical Sikhs who held him responsible for the deaths of Sikh students.

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Bidar has quite a few famous historical monuments that include the remains of forts of the Bahamani kings and the famous Madrasa of tourist interest. According to Goetz’s remarks on the monuments of the Deccan, ‘The Madrasa takes rank among the greatest architectural creations of the East’ (Bilgrami 1883: 205). It was then one of the most remarkable monuments of Bidar that was built in 1471–1472. The three-storey building was 205 feet long and 80 feet wide. It had cubicles for a thousand students, quarters for teachers, lecture halls and a well-equipped library with 3,000 manuscripts. Muhammad Gawain, himself a scholar of repute invited renowned authorities on their subjects from Iran, Iraq and other parts of the world especially Asia. M. A. Nayeem notes: He (Gawain) cherished the desire to make the Bahmani kingdom one among the leading Islamic states and at the same time he did succeed in making the Bahmani capital Bidar equal to Baghdad and Nishapur as a seat of Islamic culture. (1975: 404) It is understandable why Guru Nanak halted at this place during his return from the southern trip, udasi. The present reputation of the

Figure 2.2 A Dakhani Sikh at Bidar

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Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan

town is negligible but for the Guru Nanak Engineering College where students from Punjab had been going off late. A medical and a nursing college have also come up in recent years. It is also an important base of the Indian Air Force. Presently, Bidar does not have a large population of Dakhani Sikhs. Most of them have self-dependent enterprises like keeping items of interest and utility to the pilgrims in and around the gurdwara premises and the city as well besides being sewadars. Some ply autorickshaw and cabs. The Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs outnumber them, though their population too is not large. The Sikligar households are largely confined to a congested settlement in Gandhi Nagar colony while most of the Banjaras are working in the gurdwara. They have their kirtani jathas.

Sikligars The Sikligars have been included in this study along with the Dakhani Sikhs. As mentioned earlier, the Sikligars claim to be the older residents of the Deccan and surrounding area, since they came along the guru’s convoy moving southwards. The Sikligars joined the guru passing through Rajputana. But according to the People of India: The Sigligar Sikhs have migrated from the Punjab State during the Nizam’s rule. On the Nizam’s request, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh sent 14,000 Sikh risaldars (sic) (soldiers) from his defence force. Along with them, he sent the Sigligar Sikh also. The Sigligar Sikh migrated to Hyderabad city, where they have settled since 150 years. . . . They are distributed in the 14 districts of the Nizam’s dominions. At present, they are distributed in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, Nalgonda, Karimnagar, Adilabad and Rangareddy districts. (Singh 2003a: 1744) The Sikligars were originally tribal nomadic people manufacturing and polishing swords for the Rajput kings in Rajputana. Saiqal means to polish, hence saiqalgar or colloquially Sikligar. The ancestors of present-day Sikh Sikligars have been converted to this religion by the sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind (1595–1644) who donned the two swords of miri (temporal) and piri (spiritual) and organised an army of Sikhs for the first time in their history to fight the Moghuls following the martyrdom of the fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev. Subsequently, the Sikligars scattered all over the southern states and some as well might have travelled with Guru Gobind Singh from Punjab.

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They collect scrap from the junk yards where metal equipment is dismantled. Usually, the whole family works on it. Each member, young and old, male and female, is engaged in this occupation at different levels of work. The large metal sheets are cut into smaller pieces that are beaten and grinded to render a piece the shape of a knife, a vegetable-cutter, an iron pan and so forth. No polishing is required on the kitchen items they make. Once the product is ready for marketing, the male head of the household or the son(s) load these on their cycles and move around selling them and also repairing or mending the used items. One may encounter them often on a bicycle fitted with a grinder for sharpening knives. They also specialise in repairing locks and making keys. In the cities of Punjab, one may often notice them hawking – ‘Chaku-chhurian tej karalo; chabi lavalo.’ In the Hyderabad metropolis, given the opportunities for work there, Sikligars have the largest concentration. They are able to access new avenues of employment and self-dependence since their traditional occupation is no longer in high demand. Now they have diversified themselves in other kinds of iron works, like making iron grills and gates for the residential and commercial establishments. Some of them

Figure 2.3 A Sikligar boy at work (Hyderabad)

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have been able to seek employment in the heavy metal industry as well. Rodamistry Colony, Balnagar, Subash Nagar, Kothapet in Dilsukh Nagar, Shamsabad and Guru Gobind Singh Colony (Ellamabanda) in the Kukatpally region of Ranga Reddy District are their citadels, the last one being the largest in the whole of Deccan. Bahadur Singh, the president of the Sikh Sikligar Samaj at Hyderabad, tells that they had been making representations to the government time and again, but it was only due to the interest of Surjit Singh Barnala, then governor of Andhra Pradesh (January 2003 to November 2004) that the Guru Gobind Singh housing colony consisting of 285 houses was approved for construction. Most of the houses have been occupied while work on others is in progress. A gurdwara with a large hall is under construction, plus a school for the children.10 Nanded too has substantial population of this community where they are engaged in their traditional occupation, since swords remain in demand there as they are important symbols and an integral component of the khalsa Sikh outfit. A Sikh bridegroom at the time of anand karaj – the solemnisation of marriage by circumambulations around Guru Granth Sahib – must have a sword in his hand.11 Thus, as a matter of theory and practice, each Sikh household has a sword

Figure 2.4 Sikligars’ Guru Gobind Singh Colony, (RRD) Hyderabad

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or two. Besides the marriage ceremony, swords are also used on occasions of religious celebrations like a religious procession in the city (nagar kirtan jaloos) on gurpurab, a guru’s birth or death anniversary or Baisakhi, the birth of the Khalsa. During the celebrations of Hola Mohalla (see below) a sword is most in demand at Nanded, since each participant in the procession (jaloos) must have it in his hand. Most pilgrims too purchase a sword as a replica from Hazoor Sahib. But, the community leader, pardhan of Sikh Sikligar Samaj at Nanded, Pujari Singh lamented during an interview: The industrially manufactured swords from Ludhiana have made an adverse impact on our trade and occupation. Those swords are three times cheaper. The quality surely is not comparable to ours but people are interested in paying less for a sword for ceremonial purposes. Those who know the meaning and value of sword and love to own it, definitely buy from us. Takht Hazoor Sahib has employed Sikligar sewadars, whose function is to clean and polish the guru’s shastars (weapons) that are displayed every evening after the evening prayer (aarti), and especially on occasions like Guru Gobind Singh’s birth anniversary (gurpurab), Baisakhi and Hola Mohalla. According to The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. IV, Sikligar Sikhs of Central and South India have great faith in Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib at Nanded, which they visit regularly. On the annual Takht ishnan (lit. bath ceremony) at the Takht Sahib, it is the special privilege of Sikligar Sikhs to clean and oil the old weapons preserved there as sacred relics. (1998: 200) Earlier in their nomadic life, they used to camp near towns and villages to perform these chores until required and then move on to the next destination. Most of them still pursue their traditional occupation and lifestyle of nomadism despite the fact that they had been coerced by the respective governments to settle down following the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Singh writes in the context of Punjab: These nomadic communities were forced to settle down on the government lands or on the peripheries of villages and towns. They were also issued identity cards which were mandatory for them to carry whenever they moved out of their settlement. (Singh 2010: xv)12

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The industrial products with fine finish and good quality have also affected their market considerably. Yet, even when they have been made to settle down, they do create a makeshift settlement and commute to their clients in a radius of about 10–15 km on a bicycle – and at times that too is hired. The case of Manna Singh of village Morthad (near Nizamabad) illuminates the state and fate of the majority members of this community. The frail 65-year-old man travels on a hired bicycle for his pheri (business round) in the surrounding villages and towns because he cannot afford to buy one. The day he hires the bicycle, he stays overnight. He has a wayside kulli, a hutment on the roadside in one corner of an open space where weekly vegetable market is held on the panchayat land. His kulli is far from the structure of a thatched hut in a tribal area that we are given to imagine in the school textbooks. The polythene cover is tattered and there are layers of material of one kind or another to hold the rainwater. The sheet covering the sides of the kulli has gaping holes. Two cots hold the household baggage that is removed at night to make space for the family to sleep. Two hens are also a part of the family, besides a dog. He lives with his wife and an unmarried younger son. The elder son is married and staying nearby in a brick house close to his in-laws’ quarter. The case of another Sikligar family in Nizamabad city about 160 km from Hyderabad is worse still. Manna Singh has fresh air and open ground, at least in the front, while Kishan Singh has 33 members of his family living in a single room – one shudders at the very number. This is incredible India, ‘Mera Bharat mahan,’ more than 65 years after independence.

Banjaras Banjaras or Lambadas are traditionally nomadic tribes that specialised in the trade of salt, that is, lavana, hence their name. Vanaj in local parlance also means trade, hence Vanjara or Banjara as in Punjab(i) means a trader. According to the Encyclopaedia of Indian Tribes and Castes (2004), Banjara term has numerous variations as Brinjara, Lambadi, Lamane, Wanjara, Gohar, Herkeri (Carnatic) who are primarily grain and salt carriers, cattle-breeders and cattle dealers, found all over the Dominions . . . They have no settled homes, but lead a wandering life in bands . . . Their camp, comprising a large number of followers with their pack bullocks, is known as tanda.

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Robert Varady, writing about the north Indian Banjaras, suggests: With nomadism as a point of departure, there are three key features which can serve as identifying criteria. First, Banjaras generally speak a language akin to Marwari, and there is agreement concerning their Rajasthani ancestry. Secondly, virtually all chroniclers of these peoples have noted their connection with oxen. And finally, a common factor extending well into the nineteenth century was their institutional role as teamsters and transporters. (1979: 2) He explains further that As freelance suppliers of bulk items throughout the Mughal period, Banjaras maintained a key role in the military campaigns of the emperors. They held a virtual monopoly, annually conveying hundreds of thousands of tons of commodities on the backs of their oxen. Movement was slow at less than ten miles per day, but not much slower than the advancing armies. Cost was reasonable. . . They are regarded as neutral in all wars; they enjoy a right of transit through all countries; and the armies which spare nothing else, act under a species of obligation, seldom violated, of respecting the property of the Brinjarries. Although the loyalties of the different Banjara tandas, or camps, belonged to the highest bidders, once engaged they could be counted upon. Some Banjara tribes of Rajput origin reportedly preferred suicide to the dishonour of relinquishing their consignments. (ibid.: 3) Raghavaiah writes that ‘The Cheran Banjaras, according to Mr. Cumberlege also first came into Deccan with Asaf Khan in a campaign by Emperor Sahjahan’s forces about 1630. Their leaders Bhangi and Jhangi were having 1,80,000 pack bullocks’ (1972: 386). He also mentions that ‘In 1911 the Banjaras’ number was 56,000 in Madhya Pradesh, 80,000 in Berar and 1,74,000 in Hyderabad where their number is still the largest in India’ (ibid.: 385). Bokil mentions that ‘The Banjaras were packers and transporters of the Mughal armies but were sent packing when the empire collapsed. The same fate met the “Shikligars” who were involved in preparing and grinding metal weapons’ (2002: 3). Another shift in their traditional occupation occurred due to the development of modern mechanical means of transport by the British. Not only that, they too were declared

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criminal by the colonial government under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and made to settle down forcibly in the villages and outskirts of the towns. Many of them were sent to reformatories both industrial and agricultural so that once out from there, they should be able to earn their living after settling at one place, thus posing no threat to the law and order situation of the countryside and the country.13 It was their nomadic way of life with the moving tandas and carrying men and weapons for the security of merchandise that they were considered a threat to the law and order situation, hence declared criminal. Bilgrami counts their number at more than 200,000 in the Deccan whose kulwami is Guru Nanak. He writes: The whole race is totally illiterate, a Banjara who can read or write is unknown. But their memories from cultivation are marvellous and very retentive. They carry in their heads without slip or mistake the most varied and complicated transactions, and the share of each in such, striking a debtor and creditor account as accurately as the best kept ledger, while their history, their songs, & c., are all learnt by heart and transmitted orally from generation to generation . . . In the main they are truthful and very brave, be it in war or in the chase, and once gained over are faithful and devoted adherents. (Bilgrami 1883: 342) He mentions about their criminality that many of the Lambhanas or Banjaras are not thieves. In the old days their dacoities and plundering used to be on a much larger scale . . . At present their depredations are chiefly confined to the commission of road dacoities or road robberies. (ibid.: 346)14 Some of the Banjaras with large tanda were very powerful and they were decorated by the Nizam with a title. Bilgrami writes: Sarung was the first Banjara who ascended the Dekhan godi or seat of honour, getting his position and title for services rendered to the Nizam. His representative rules at Narsi near Hingoli at the present time, with a powerful lieutenant in the Wun district of Berar, known as Rama Naik. (ibid.: 339)

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The naikship is not hereditary but elective and dependent on ability. It is informed further: The headquarters of the caste in His Highness’s Dominions are in the Telingana districts. During one of the campaigns of the first Nizam against the Mahrattas he presented Bhangi and Jhangi, with a license engraved on copper alluded to by Major Mackenzie. The inscription on it is – Ranjan ka pani, chapar ka ghas/ Din ka teen khoon maaf./Aur jahan Asaf Jah ke ghore, Wahan Bhangi Jhangi ke bael. (ibid.: 343) The scenario of the small and marginal peasants in these southern states has worsened over the past few decades as also in many other parts of the country where even traditional peasants are committing suicide. The Marathwada region of the present Maharashtra is worst affected. The Banjaras are no exception, which is why their boys are adopting Sikhism. Many of the respondents informed that they are not unhappy with their decision and the present occupation, and their parents are not objecting to it. It has been noticed in the field that the new Sikh Banjaras are motivating other members of their family and friends to follow them and reap the harvest of Sikhism to earn their bread and butter through religious conversion and occupational diversification. The tribal Banjaras especially of Maharashtra villages adjoining Nanded are taking to Sikhism quite enthusiastically. Most of the kirtani jathas – bands of persons singing hymns from Guru Granth with musical instruments – in the Deccan gurdwaras including Takht Sach Khand at Nanded are of Banjara Singhs. Out of seven kirtani jathas there, four belong to them. The same is the case at Nanak Jhira gurdwara at Bidar.15 It is quite in consonance with what Raghavaiah noted about them: By and large they are a beautiful tribe given to hard work but still retaining their light complexions despite the beastly summer of south India and Deccan. Song and dance are in their blood and a tribe which retains them, retains all the jest in life. (1972: 387) Their religious grooming also takes place in a taksal (seminary) at gurdwara Banda Ghat, Nanded though a smaller one also runs at gurdwara Nanak Jhira, Bidar. Presently, there are 80 students at Nanded

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Figure 2.5 Banjara Sikhs at Gurdwara Nanak Jhira, Bidar

and 40 at Bidar. The majority students are Banjara and some are from other communities and states including the distant Bihar. Some leave the course midway and become pathis – that is, recite Guru Granth Sahib – while those who complete the course take to kirtan (hymn singing) as well and form their own jatha (band). Many of the first generation converts are happy with their decision of adopting Sikh religion and serving it. According to The Encyclopedia of Sikhism: Vanjara Sikhs or Banjaras, akin to Labana Sikhs of the Punjab, are found scattered throughout Central and South India . . . the Vanjaras during the medieval times formed a class of travelling traders and carriers of merchandise in Central India, the Deccan and Rajputana. . . . Vanjaras of Central and South India are, generally speaking, no longer Sikhs in external form, but most of them own the Gurus and the Sikh tenets. They visit gurdwaras and are especially attached to Sri Takht Sachkhand Abchalnagar, Hazoor Sahib, at Nanded . . . Measures are now in progress under the supervision of Gurdwara

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Board of Sachkhand to integrate them more closely with the Sikh faith by spreading general and religious education among them . . . and administering to them amrit or the Khalsa initiation. (1998: 405–6) The People of India has this to say about these people in Andhra Pradesh: ‘The Banjara Sikh migrated some 200 years back from Rajasthan to Nanded and to the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, when Aurangzeb’s Moghul armies invaded South India’ (Singh 2003a: 314). The Banjara Sikh are the original Banjaras who embraced Sikhism. . . . They are distributed in Nalgonda and Warangal districts. They live in interior jungles in small tandas (exclusive settlements). Nomadic in early days, they are now settled agriculturists. Though they are Banjara Sikh they perform their traditional ceremonies too. (ibid.: 314)

Socio-cultural features of the Dakhani Sikhs All Dakhani Sikhs claim to be amritdhari because at the time of marriage one must partake of amrit even if one is not able to honour that commitment expected of her.16 Many of them are quite loose with observing the prescribed code of conduct, rehat maryada, and some do not carry kirpan with them all times. They provide an explanation of this apparent looseness and argue that those of us who have taken khande di pahul, as Punjabis call khande-baate da amrit, are strict in observing the code of conduct, but those who partake amrit with kirpan can afford to be lax. Earlier the latter practice of partaking amrit among the Dakhani Sikhs was meant for local women from different non-Sikh/Hindu castes and communities. Such functional rationality probably was the need of the hour for those Sikhs to co-opt local Hindu women. The Dakhani Sikhs were otherwise particular about their identity, as also noted by Captain A. H. Bingley: ‘The Dakhani Sikhs jealously preserved their religious and cultural identity, though they could not remain totally immune to local influences’ (1899). The majority of Sikhs in the Deccan including Dakhani Sikhs are far from affluent (see Chapter 4). They live in clusters of their own and most of them make slums of the worst kind. No doubt, a few among them, the Dakhani Sikhs have risen the ladder of modernisation and development by dint of hard work and education but that is a minuscule minority. Their number is small enough to be counted on fingertips even at a place like Hyderabad. A substantially large majority is

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given to eke out their living through government jobs of low status or small self-dependent enterprises of their own. Many men of the senior generation are drivers in the state transport or other government offices while most of the younger lot are auto drivers or taxi/cab operators. They often undertake other odd jobs characteristic of lower socio-economic strata like small-scale trading or petty shopkeeping. It is, however, a recent trend as the government jobs are getting squeezed given the poor financial condition of the state governments not only in Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra but all over the country. Historically, the Dakhani Sikhs have preferred salaried jobs or service to business for which they have least disposition. A middle-aged educated respondent at Nizamabad encapsulated the argument: ‘Dakhani Sikh bahut khuddar hain. Kisi ki gulami pasand nahin karte isi liye chhote-mote apne kaam ko tarjeeh dete hain.’ Dakhani Sikhs are too self-respecting. They prefer self-employment to private service, since it has freedom. The data seems to validate this self-perception of the Dakhani Sikhs since 23.14 per cent respondents are in job/service compared to 38.15 per cent in the NE. This proportion does not include the Sikligars in the Deccan since their share in the workforce is 31.36 per cent and all are engaged in metal works. When one moves among them, as I had the opportunity to do so during fieldwork, one finds that social cleavage between the Punjabi and Dakhani Sikhs is clear and sharp. No doubt, they do interact and extend cooperation to each other yet they do not take and give daughters in marriage. The Punjabi Sikhs have a hardbound 146page directory with glossy quality paper called Twin Cities Sikh and Punjabi Directory published by the Singh Sabha Sahayak Society, Hyderabad (2008). It gives the residential and business addresses of the heads of households, names of their children, occupation, age, blood group and ‘mobile & phone numbers.’ The Dakhani Sikhs are not included in it. And, they have none of this type of information on them. One may notice the class difference between the two communities. The two communities have separate gurdwaras with own managements, but for the celebration of gurpurabs, the Sikhs of both communities participate collectively at all important gurdwaras in the metropolis. In Hyderabad, there are 18 gurdwaras out of which four are under the management of the Punjabi Sikhs. These are called Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwaras located at Secundrabad, Sitaphal Mandi, Ashok Bazar and Amberpet. They have mutually decided to celebrate these occasions between them at separate gurdwaras though the other group ensures effective participation. For instance, gurdwara

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Gowliguda under the management of Dakhani Sikhs celebrates the gurpurab (birth anniversary) of Guru Gobind Singh, whereas the Gurdwara Singh Sabha at Secundrabad under the Punjabi Sikhs, celebrates Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on katak purnima. Another gurdwara at Ameerpet also under the management of Dakhani Sikhs, celebrates Baisakhi, the birth of the Khalsa on 13 April. These three occasions are considered most important in the Sikh religion. The Sikhs celebrate these occasions wherever they may be. The Dakhani and Punjabi Sikhs along with others observe gurpurabs and other religious occasions with gusto and glamour. Over the past decade or so, such celebrations have become highly ostentatious in terms of displaying wealth and power. A usual feature is the city procession, nagar kirtan jaloos, that begins with the mounting of Guru Granth on a decorated open motor vehicle to move through the city’s major lanes, followed by a large procession of people of all age groups and sex. Ahead of the Guru Granth, move on foot the five beloved ones, panj piyaras dressed in saffron or blue attire carrying naked swords upright. Still ahead of them young Sikh boys play gatka, the Sikh martial art. Most men and boys in the procession too carry swords with them. No doubt shabad gaan, hymn singing is integral to the programme but it is frequently punctuated with jaikaras, the war cries of Jo bole so nihal, sat Sri Akal (blessed is the one who says the Timeless only is true); Degh tegh fateh (victory to the kettle and the sword); Waheguru ji ka khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh (the Khalsa belongs to the God and the God is ever victorious) and a starkly political one, Raj karega Khalsa (the Khalsa shall ever rule). Such war cries at a loud pitch from a large crowd brandishing swords definitely unnerve the local people, if not scare them. The Sikhs’ fondness of shastars (weapons) traditional and modern, and brandishing them valiantly during nagar kirtans, is no less impressive and aweinspiring than the Republic Day parade at Raj Path in Delhi displaying all the forces and the newly acquired weapons. Such religious processions definitely enervate the local Sikh populace whatever be its denomination. The procession starts from one gurdwara and ends at another traversing the trunk routes of the town. All along the route, the shopkeepers and the residents put up stalls of free snacks (langar) and drinks, hot or cold, depending on the season. Prasad too is given to the bystanders and observers all along the procession. At Nanded, the celebration of Holla Mohalla is a big occasion now where the enactment of offence and defence between two warring camps creates a real warlike situation. There is a Halla Bol Chowk in

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the city centre where the whole battle scene is enacted annually, hence the name. According to The Encyclopedia of Sikhism: Holla Mohalla or simply Hola, a Sikh festival, takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet which usually falls in March. This follows the Hindu festival of Holi. The name Hola is the masculine form of the feminine sounding Holi. Mohalla, derived from the Arabic root hal (alighting, descending), is a Punjabi word signifying an organized procession in the form of an army column accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers. . . The custom originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708) who held first such march at Anandpur on. . .22 February 1701. . . Unlike Holi. . .the Guru made it an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles. . .at Takht Sri Abchalnagar Hazur Sahib, Nanded. . .the procession is led by a white horse believed to be a scion of the favourite blue-black stallion of Guru Gobind Singh. (1996: 282–3) In the recent past in October 2008, 300 years of gurtagaddi divas (day) was celebrated with heightened pomp and show at Nanded as never before. There was a massive procession of Sikhs participating from different states and places. The excitement and thrill of participants was enormous that it scared certain people so terribly that they left the town out of fear. A Dakhani Sikh respondent at Nizamabad informs: ‘Jab 300 sala divas manaya to kayi parivar dar ke Nanded chhod kar yahan aa gaye.’ When the 300th anniversary was celebrated, many non-Sikh families left Nanded for Nizamabad out of fear. Such warlike celebrations reinforce the strength and valour characteristic of the Sikh Force of the Nizam days when the presence of a Sikh would deter the criminal from indulging in a heinous act. The Dakhani Sikhs fondly narrate stories that how the presence of an ordinary Sikh, not a soldier or official of the Jami’at-i-Sikhan, generated confidence in the minds of the villagers when they had a threat from a lootera (plunderer) gang. Samuhik vivah An interesting feature of the Sikhs in the Deccan that distinguishes them from the Punjabi Sikhs is the regular practice of samuhik vivah, group marriages that are performed annually once in the second week of May at Sikh Chhawniat, Barambala (Hyderabad) and twice

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at Hazoor Sahib, Nanded in April and December. This time (on 13 May 2012), 22 couples tied their nuptial cords at the former place. The number of marrying couples at Nanded is much larger compared to Hyderabad. The practice here is going on for the past more than a decade that was earlier performed at Gurdwara Gowliguda in the heart of Hyderabad, being the oldest gurdwara and managed solely by the Dakhani Sikhs. For the lack of open space and problem of traffic congestion there, the venue of samuhik vivah has been shifted lately to Gurdwara Barambala at Sikh Chhawniat. It is large in size with wide open space. The Guru Nanak Girls High School next door provides ample accommodation to all the couples and their parents and relatives for two to three days. On day one engagements are solemnized, while on the following day all couples are married. All major functions in a marriage ceremony, from the arrival of barat – the bridegroom on the horseback accompanied with band-baja – to the doli, the departure of the bride, are planned by the organisers. The prospective couples are made to squat on the floor in front of the Guru Granth at the gurdwara in a semi circle on ‘numbered positions,’ the number they also wear on their shoulders. Both the bride and the bridegroom are given the same number to avoid any mismatch. The most important ceremony, anand karaj, is performed in the customary way with the recitation of four lavan, couplets from Guru Granth. After each lanv (single couplet), all couples go around the Guru Granth and take their respective positions. Some noted bhai ji performs the marriage ceremony followed by kirtan, the hymn singing by a noted kirtani jatha. The religious solemnity of the occasion is maintained properly. Subsequently, langar (free meal) is served to all present there irrespective of any consideration. There is always a large congregation since everyone from the Sikh Chhawniat and surrounding areas visit the gurdwara. Finally, doli is sent from the premises of the school nearby. Each couple is also gifted some household items like a television, a cycle and a sewing machine worth Rs. 15,000 only. These gifts are handed over to the bride, not the bridegroom. This amount is now approved to be raised to Rs. 25,000 from the next year (2013). The gurdwara management charges Rs. 4,100 only per couple for all expenses relating to marriage solemnisation. The donations are also solicited to make up the deficit for the aforementioned marriage gifts and other expenses. The Sikh community does have the minority status in Andhra Pradesh, but there is no provision for the allocation of government grants to them including funds for such purposes. The funds, however, are routed through the Christian Minorities Welfare

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Association of Andhra Pradesh. The samuhik vivah function is also organised under the auspices of the Christian association. A minister is usually invited to grace the occasion. In earlier times, high income group families too preferred samuhik vivah for their children, given its simplicity and affordability which is in tune with the prescriptions of Sikhism. The culture of pomp and show has now started showing its colours there too. Therefore, certain families get the marriage performed collectively and later host private reception. The gurdwara management too forbids this practice but violations of the directive are becoming frequent.

Irregular Troops The Irregular Troops, according to a Report of the Administration (1895), were originally raised in the time of Asif Jah for military purposes, and comprised Arabs, Rohillas, Sikhs, Rathors, Rajputs, &c. Their numbers were augmented from time to time till the formation of the Hyderabad Contingent Troops, . . . The strength of the Irregulars subsequently underwent a further reduction, by large numbers of them being drafted into the Regular Troops and the Golconda Brigade, when these were organized. (Report 1895: 143) These troops were under a special department called Nazim-i-Jami’at, directly with the Military Minister that looked after their organisation, equipment, employment and payment of salaries. These were employed on the police or escort duty, guarding the palaces of the Nizam, the central and district treasuries, the government offices and the residences of wealthy and influential persons in the State. They assist the regular police in the prevention or detection of dakaities, highway robberies and other heinous offences. They also escort the mails from one district to another, and are not unfrequently [sic] called into requisition for lending additional pomp and importance to social or religious processions. (Report 1895: 141) The Report informs further that the contingent of Sikhs, that earlier formed part of the Irregular Troops, is now placed under the Inspector-General of District

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Police, and is mainly employed as an armed police force in the districts. There are 979 unmounted men, with a complement of 21 horses and 7 mianas; the number of sowars is 103 with 120 horses. (ibid.: 146) In the subsequent Report of 1899 (for the period 1894–1898) the number of Sikh Force goes to 1,087 men and 142 horses. ‘Of this number, . . . 766 men are employed in the districts and 321 in the city of Hyderabad. The annual cost of this force is Rs. 1,98,594.’17 The later budget report for the year 1313 Fasli (1903–1904) mentions that the Irregular Troops were organised ‘for the purpose of bringing the Deccan into subjection and constitutional order.’ It is composed of the Afghans, Beluchis, Turks and other warlike tribes besides those mentioned above. The number of the Sikh troops that year was 1,082. It is mentioned further that these troops were reorganised and amalgamated in 1884. In November 1884, a new regiment of the Irregular Troops was brought under the Kotwal from part of which a new body of military police was organised. This force consisted of Afghans and Sikhs and was designated the Afghan City Police Force. It was under the supervision of a European commander (1313 Fasli [1903–1904]: 115–6). Three quarters of a century before, Raza Ali Khan informs that the Nizam reorganised his army on modern lines with cavalry, infantry and artillery and raised the strength of the army to 50,000. In the year 1847, Nizam’s army had 1,228 Sikhs besides Arabs, Rohilla and others (1990: 194). The laxity of the Nizam administration is also reflected in the deteriorating condition of these troops over time. The Report for the year 1294 Fasli (or 1884–1985) notes: The largest body of troops in the State is designated the ‘Irregular Troops.’ Poorly paid, unbridled, and undisciplined, they can scarcely be reckoned as a force, and while in the main useless for military purposes, are a serious drain on the finances of the State. . . Their strength at the end of the year was 20,820 combatants, 3435 horses, with 9 guns and elephants, palkees, &c. (Report 1886: 20) Of the total combatants, 5,250 were posted at ‘different places of importance in the districts and the remainder were kept at or near the city.’ The Report recommended necessary reduction in their numbers and their absorption into the Police and Jail Guards (ibid.: 20). The Report of the subsequent year (1903–1904) mentioning the duties of the Irregular Troops described above also mentions that they ‘lend

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additional pomp and importance to weddings and other social or religious processions. Generally stationed in the city, with the exception of about 5402 men, who are camped in the outlying districts’ (1313 Fasli: 113). It is further informed that these troops ‘wear private garments or anything they like. . . They are innocents of even the elements of drill or discipline’ (ibid.: 113). In the beginning of the last century 1906–1907, the number of the Sikh Force stood at 1,099 persons. Only one addition took place by the end of 1910 but by 1921–1922, its strength came down to 758. In the same year, the number of the Sikh boys in the Police School was 60. It is pertinent to mention here that the positions in the Sikh Force were hereditary. Their sons were given training in the police school and after passing out they were absorbed in the Sikh Force. The respondents inform that a stipend was given to each son on attaining the age of five years when he was admitted to the Police school. After passing out at the age of 18 years, he was recruited to the Sikh Force. The Report of 1331 Fasli (6 October 1921 to 5 October 1922) mentions that 60 Sikh boys were under instruction at the beginning of 1331 Fasli and ‘four Sikh boys were appointed to hereditary posts and 14 boy orderlies were enlisted as constables during the year’ (p. 17). In the previous year, that is, 1330 Fasli 7 Sikh boys were appointed on hereditary posts and seven boy orderlies as constables (ibid.). In the year 1940–1941 (1350 Fasli), ‘The strength of the Sikh Force, including the office establishment, was 607. Four posts were brought under reduction, as the incumbents died heirless’ (Report 1350 Fasli: 61). The Andhra Pradesh District Gazetteers: Nizamabad takes note of the administrative scenario then: A police administration on sound lines did not exist in the districts of the Nizam’s Dominions until the later part of the 19th century ad. Police functions in those days were discharged by the Irregular Troops, Sibbandi peons, Nizamats and village servants. . . The troops peons and others with their salaries perpetually in arrears were naturally indifferent to their duties. This resulted in the utter breakdown of law and order. Murders, robberies and oppression of all kinds were rife. Gangs of armed Rohillas were plundering villages with impunity. The Afghan creditors and the merchants trading in the Nizam’s Dominions with their Arab retainers were a terror to the people. (1973: 149)

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Maoulavi Chiragh Ali too documents the ground reality in the Nizam’s state of Deccan: Dacoity and plunder was an everyday occurrence of the times; and the perpetrators of these violent crimes would sometimes be so bold as to write to the Amil demanding a money payment, if the latter wished to keep the district under their charge free from their inroads. In such cases the Amil had either to comply with their demands or to incur a certain amount of personal risk. The force, whose special duty it was to capture these offenders, was often, if not altogether, useless. . . the dacoits were allowed to escape; and if, as happened on some occasions, the criminals ran away, leaving the plundered property to fall into the hands of this force, the latter considered the spoils their own and did not think of making the property over to its rightful owners. (1886, Vol. III: 316) The unbridled power of the Afghan and Arabs is illustrated further: The Afghan and Arab creditors were even more exacting and tyrannous than the merchants and hawkers; the Afghans exceeded the rest, but the cruelty of both towards their unfortunate debtors was of a description hardly ever experienced even by the criminals of these days. Heavy stones were placed on the heads of debtors unable to pay and their bodies branded; the officials although fully cognizant of these proceedings refrained from interfering in any matter whatever. Any opposition or interference on their part would have led to prompt retaliation from the Afghans. Sometimes these men would keep zamindars and Deshmukhs confined in a small room without food and water till the latter executed bonds in their favour for money they had not received. (ibid.: 315) Ali continues to explain the situation: The Rohillas also (cf. Arabs) who were chiefly immigrants from Northern India or Afghanistan, are not now so numerous as they were earlier. These mercenaries were employed by the Government at one time, in large numbers, by local Jamadars and Native Chiefs, and in short by anyone who could afford to pay them. Not unfrequently [sic] they formed bands among

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Dakhani and other Sikhs in the Deccan themselves and looted and ravaged the country, until their outrages had to be suppressed by the Hyderabad Contingent troops, against which force they had become so formidable as on several occasions to offer battle on equal terms. The reckless habits and swashbuckler made the Rohillas sought after as mercenaries, and their swords were always at the command of those who paid them most. (ibid.: 459–60)

The notoriety of Rohillas is also authenticated by Sir Richard Temple and hence the steps taken by the government to check their activities: ‘The Rohillas, who prowled about the country in herds like hungry wolves are resting in enforced quiet . . . A regular administration in civil affairs has been introduced throughout the country’ (1881: 67). It seems the problem of the Deccan state’s Nizams’ weakness was not recent rather a perennial one. Sir William Barton also narrates vividly the chaotic nature of the Nizam’s state: At one period the Arabs practically overshadowed the government. They held most of the important forts, including Golconda: they had their own law courts: their own officers, and were to all intent and purposes a military republic superimposed on the Hyderabad administration. The big bankers employed armed contingents of these marauders to coerce their debtors: the farmers of the revenue utilised their services in a similar manner. They served in the Nizam’s armies. In fact, there was reason to believe that the Nizam tacitly supported the Arabs as a counterpoise to the minister. This was the gravamen of the indictment of the Governor-General in 1851 when he told the Nizam that the Arab soldiery were his masters and not his servants. What, one is tempted to ask, was the use of the Contingent if it was not allowed to keep the Arabs, of whom there were at this time about eight thousand in the Nizam’s dominions, in order? (1934: 197; emphasis added) Much before the happenings mentioned above Warren Hastings while returning home in 1784 had foreseen that ‘the Nizam, once a nominal officer of the Mughal Emperor, was destined to be a satellite, either of the rising power of the Marathas or of the East India Company. . . . His dominions are of small extent and scanty revenue; his military strength is represented to be most contemptible; nor was he at

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any period of his life distinguished for personal courage or the spirit of enterprise’ (Munshi 1957: xix). The alarming situation in the rise of the problem of law and order in the state was saved by Sir Salar Jung I around 1853 when these troops were put under Ziladars. Moulavi Chiragh Ali also notes that the ziledari system was very effective in curbing the crimes of dacoity and highway robberies committed largely by Rohillas. A large number of them were either killed or captured and imprisoned in the city’s Sultan Shahi Jail. Some hundreds of Rohillas, thus convicted were deported to the British Penal settlements (Ali 1886: 325–6). The Regular Police, however, was formed in 1865 and the functions of the police were separated from the revenue department in 1867–1868. The police reforms brought by the newly appointed Inspector-General A. C. Hankin were substantial. He served the State for about two decades. An attempt was made to bring all police forces under ‘one head and one system’ during 1912–1913, but this task could only be completed in 1948. Andhra Pradesh District Gazetteers: Nizamabad informs: ‘The Sikh Force of irregulars, which was till then working independently, was brought under the Inspector-General of Police’ (1973: 151). The history of Jami’at-i-Sikhan, the Irregular Troops of Sikhs or simply the Sikh Force, shows evidently that it has not only maintained the Sikh martial tradition of chivalry but also enhanced its honour and prestige among the local people. As mentioned earlier, the Sikh Force was assigned duties of importance and responsibility where the security of persons and protection of material wealth was primary. It was also engaged in the collection of revenue, as also to recover payments from the defaulters. It was entrusted also with the duty of guarding the royal processions in the city of Hyderabad. The most important of course was to tame the marauding Arabs and Rohillas. The Force, no doubt, had the patronage of Maharaja Chandu Lal. The Arabs resented strongly against the patronage given to the Jami’at-i-Sikhan and protested to the Nizam. He is believed to have appeased them saying that in case of an emergency while they (Arabs) would take time looking for their dress and weapons, soldiers of the Sikh Force are ever ready who sleep with their weapons on them. They are there for this reason and for their assistance. To make his point clear and convincing to the Arabs, the Nizam is said to have arranged a mock fight between the two forces. The warrior’s agility and strength of the Sikh soldiers led credence to the Nizam’s argument. The Arabs had to cut a sorry figure in the contest but their resentment against Sikhs remained and brewed latently. Later, it manifested in clashes and skirmishes between them in the city of Hyderabad itself. The

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Chronology of Modern Hyderabad records that on 16 October 1829, on Friday: ‘Owing to strained feelings, a fight ensues between the Sikhs and the Arabs near Maharaja Chandulal Bahadur’s residence’ (1954: 192). And, five days later on 21 October, on Wednesday, ‘By the orders of Maharaja Chandulal, a reconciliation is brought about between the Sikhs and the Arabs’ (ibid.: 192). The reconciliation did not last long. The two groups clashed again on 1 May, 1831,which led to many casualties on both sides (ibid.: 199) Balchand and his son died of wounds ten days later (11 May) and the former’s wife ‘becomes Sati on the funeral pyre of her husband’ (ibid.: 199). The confidence generated in the state administration by the Sikh Force by performing duties diligently helped them win respect of the local people too. Their sincerity and commitment to duty became so entrenched in the peoples’ minds that even when a Sikh came to visit someone in a village on a personal call, people surmised that the incumbent must have defaulted which is why the Sikh (Force) had come to him. The respondents narrate such stories vividly and proudly. Such awe and fear of the Sikhs is still fresh in the local peoples’ memory. The Dakhani Sikhs, who checked the robbers and tamed the marauders and miscreants earlier, assumed the role of evictors over a period of time. Nihang and Singh note that in the autumn of 1849, ‘some 100 Sikhs “armed cap-a-pie, with matches lit” had taken forcible possession of an opulent banker’s shop in the Begum Bazar suburb of Hyderabad. Apparently, they had become partisans of a businessman in a quarrel with his partner’ (2008: 175). Interestingly, this practice, it seems, is continuing. They are still cashing on the martial legacy of their ancestors. It is common occurrence in Hyderabad now, where the prices of land are skyrocketing continually, that services of the Dakhani Sikhs are solicited by those property owners whose plots or houses are under dispute or someone has occupied it forcibly. In the words of a Dakhani Sikh at Sitaphal Mandi, Hyderabad: The owner hires the Sikhs, through friends of course, gives them a small daily wage of say Rs. 500/- only along with food and drinks and makes them sit at his plot. The opponent fearing Sikhs simply gives in. Their honesty is respected by the people as they do not demand excess knowing full well the real worth of the plot. Once they make a commitment, the other party paying more money is not entertained. He continues lamenting: ‘Kuchh hamare log he aisa karte hain aur garibon ko utthne nahin dete.’ Some among us only are exploiting the

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poorer ones for such purposes and do not let them come up. Another person sitting with him supplements information by naming a few persons from among them, the propertied ones, who used to take possession of the disputed plots and make money through their poorer brethren. The Sikh Force’s legacy of nabbing the revenue defaulters and of being evictors is being cashed upon by their progeny still. The Dakhani Sikhs do not have surplus money, given their poor socio-economic conditions, but whatever little they have is given on loan to petty shopkeepers or labourers at a high rate of interest on daily basis. It seems quite paradoxical that those who do not have enough money with them indulge in financing. The riddle gets solved when respondents inform that ‘their (Sikhs’) money never sinks.’ Other respondents also attest it. In the words of a senior non-Sikh person at Nanded: ‘Many financers’ money gets forfeited but never that of a Sikh.’ The fear of the Sikhs still prevails and no one dares to run away with their money, hence whatever little they have is given on loan. These, of course, are small money, short-term loans given on high rate of interest to petty hawkers, wage labour or small vendors. Given their reputation, it is quite likely that some financers may be using them to lend own money in their name, to minimise chances of forfeiture. Another interesting feature about the Dakhani Sikhs is that they are peace-loving people in the eyes of the local population ‘who do not fight unnecessarily with others.’ The history of Nanded informs that it happened there once when there was communal tension between them and the Muslims. The rioting proper did not take place and the situation was saved by the timely intervention of the Nizam’s administration. The case was resolved in favour of the Sikhs. The communal tension brew over the issue of Gurdwara Maal Tekdi, so named since it had a treasure underneath. It is believed that Guru Gobind Singh discovered the treasure in a hillock there, got it excavated and gave that to the Mughal army on its southern expedition that pleaded financial assistance. According to another version, the said treasure is believed to be discovered earlier by Guru Nanak. The legend goes that there used to live an old and infirm Muslim faqir by the name Lakkad Shah. He desperately wished to see Guru Nanak before his demise but could not move out. His earnest prayers bore fruit and Guru Nanak visited him. He blessed the faqir that given his poor health, he need not do any hard work but dig an asharfi from there that would be necessary for a day’s living. He was blessed also that his abode would become sometimes an important centre of pilgrimage.

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This place is located at a distance of about 5 km from Nanded. There is situated Lakkad Shah’s dargah (tomb) and a gurdwara close by. In December 1926, some miscreants demolished the gurdwara and buried a Muslim corpse there to lay claim to the land. The dispute escalated into communal violence between the Muslims and the Sikhs. The Nizam of Hyderabad appointed a high-powered three-member committee for an independent inquiry into the incident. The verdict came in favour of the Sikhs and the body buried there was ordered to be exhumed.18 The Dakhani Sikhs also derive their honour and self-respect from another important event in the lives of their ancestors. The respondents narrate proudly that their forefathers were much concerned about their self-esteem. Once it so happened that when the Nizam offered them the jagir (fiefdom) of Nirmal for their excellent services to the State of Hyderabad, they rolled the said farman, an order of the government, inserted into the muzzle of a gun and blew that off, saying: ‘We get salary from our Maharaja (Ranjit Singh). He is our lord. Who is he (Nizam) to give us jagir?’ The respondents maintain that until the death of the Maharaja, salary of the Sikh Troops was paid from the Punjab treasury since ‘the economic condition of the Nizam was not sound.’ Each and every Dakhani Sikh, rich and poor alike, narrate this incident verbatim and feel proud that the Sikhs have maintained their glory till date. The past and the present thus reinforce each other to uphold the present image of the Dakhani Sikhs. It is common utterance well summed up by a young man of Nanded in colloquial Punjabi: ‘Singhan da dabdba poora hai ji.’ That, the Sikhs have maintained their prestige and domineering effect on people. And, it is a result of this continuity of the past practices and of their reputation, that Sikhs derive their honour and respect from the local people even today. As far as the Lahori Fauj (army from Lahore) is concerned the above-mentioned aspect is well in tune with the working style of the eighteenth century misaldars(misl chiefs) in Punjab. The Sikh theory and practice of religion and politics holds that a Sikh does not recognise any king or lord other than sachcha padshah, the almighty god, literally the True Lord. The misl, confederacy chief would take orders from the temporal authority vested in the Akal Takht, the throne of the Timeless, within the premises of Harmandar Sahib, the Golden Temple.19 In similar vein, the Sikh risaldars and soldiers too did not care for the Nizam or his officers if they did not ‘behave properly.’ There are some instances but one among them refers to Asa Singh who revolted against the Nizam and challenged the state forces. The trouble started with the non-payment of salaries for some months.

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He refused to take orders from the administration. Despite numerous casualties, he did not yield and valiantly laid his life. In Kishan Bagh now stands an elegant gurdwara in his memory called Asa Singh Bagh Singh Shaheedan Gurdwara. It is quite close to the main gurdwara at Barambala. Such a behaviour is also expected from the descendants of the Hazoori Sikhs who had accompanied the guru and remained there. Their descendants too might have joined the Sikh Force. The case of Narayan Singh Morthad, in this respect, is also revealing and interesting. The village Morthad is about 50 km from Nizamabad on the Nizamabad-Mancherial state highway. A large village now, then happened to be the area of operation of Narayan Singh, once a soldier of the Irregular Troops of the Sikhs. He too got disgruntled with the administration and rebelled against the Nizam. He started Robbin Hooding in the region. He looted the wealthy and helped the poor and the needy. A nearby hillock where he camped is named after him, the Narayan Singh Pahar. There are stories about his strength and chivalry. People hold that he lived among tigers and one of their dens was his resting place. The state police was terribly scared of him. Many expeditions were despatched to arrest or kill him but all in vain. Finally, he was poisoned through a lady to whose house he used to visit for food. The police had coerced her to poison him. It is believed that he sensed it when he was poisoned. First, he killed her and later shot himself after taking a chadar (sheet of cloth) on himself as his coffin. People narrate that the dead Morthad was fired upon for an hour before ‘capture.’ His terror was so much that when his chadar fluttered due to wind, the policemen would run for their lives, fearing he was alive. The naxalites or the Maoists of the region, however, keep him alive in their revolutionary songs.20 The distinction between the Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs, and the Dakhani Sikhs is important. All these communities are sociologically distinct and keep social relations to themselves only. There are well marked social and historical differences between them. The Dakhani Sikhs are non-tribal people who have been urban dwellers and service people in the Nizam’s administration. The Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs are nomadic tribals who specialise in own traditional occupations. The former have mastered the art of making and polishing of weapons that they are continuing still to some extent. Their economic condition is worse than the Dakhani and Banjara Sikhs and so are their living conditions. They are still nomadic and semi-nomadic to a large extent, living on the outskirts of small towns or villages. The Banjara Sikhs, traditionally merchants turned agriculturists are now taking to gurmat sangeet forming own hymn singing bands, kirtani jathas. The Dakhani

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Sikhs married local women from outside their caste, community and religion initially while the Sikligars and Banjaras marry strictly within own tribal community with exceptions of course. All tribes practice tribal endogamy and gotra exogamy. Another difference worth noticing is that the Sikligar community do have the Sikh Sikligar Samaj, a formal association for their welfare. The Banjara Samaj too looks after their issues but the Dakhani Sikhs, quite paradoxically have none of their own. However, they are part of a number of Sikh welfare associations like the Sikh Pratinidhi Board, Andhra Pradesh Sikh Welfare Association, Sant-Sipahi Sewak Jatha, Telengana Sikh Association etc. that are incidentally dominated by the Punjabi Sikhs and none of the Dakhani Sikh member is presently an office bearer. The elite among them do look after the cultural and educational aspects of the community. There is Sikh Heritage Foundation, Hyderabad that frequently organises lectures, seminars and exhibitions relating to the Sikh religion and history at the Salar Jung Museum. There is Guru Ram Das Educational Guidance and Counselling Centre at the Central Gurdwara Gowliguda Sahib. The International Sikh Centre for Interfaith Relations, Gowliguda publishes and distributes literature on the Sikhs and Sikhism. The Guru Nanak Educational Trust is managing the affairs of schools for boys and girls. Interestingly, the Sikh Educational Society, Hyderabad was established as early as 1939 to promote education among the Dakhani Sikhs. On the contrary, the Sikligars do not have such associations for their community. This is indicative of their adherence to traditional practices of life and occupation and maintenance of distance from agencies of modernisation and economic development necessary for social change. The preceding discussion shows that the Sikhs who appear to an observer, may be not so naïve, a homogeneous community, are not so at all. The People of India too makes an observation of this type that is certainly misleading: ‘There is no significant difference between the Sikhs who migrated during the Nizam’s rule and the Sikhs who migrated after Independence. Hence, these two groups are studied as Punjabi Sikh in the State’ (Singh 2003a: 1740). There are a variety of castes and classes among Sikhs, virtually all castes characteristic of the Hindu society. The Dakhani Sikhs who claim to be natives of the Deccan have minimal caste; the Punjabi Sikhs belonging to the trading (khatri) caste and the peasantry are relatively more conservative while the tribal Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs know no caste. All of these are sociologically distinct communities that do not inter-marry. Both the Dakhani and the tribal Sikhs do not believe in the theory and practice of caste system even if for purposes of nomenclature,

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in the surveys of the government or otherwise, the former do refer to the general caste, the Scheduled Castes and the OBCs. The marital alliance being one of the most important index of caste relations, crosscuts these nominal barriers since Dakhani Sikhs marry among themselves irrespective of any caste consideration. They consider themselves more close to the spirit of Sikh religion and philosophy in this sense and in keeping the Amritdhari Sikh form of supporting beard, kirpan and other Sikh symbols. Interestingly, most respondents do not even know what is their caste or gotra even if they call themselves Other Backward Classes (OBC) and the Scheduled Castes. It is interesting to inform the case of a 35-year-old respondent in the Sikh Village (Hyderabad) to name his caste or gotra (clan name or surname), as is the wont of a sociologist. He drew blank. When I insisted, then he took me to his aunt’s house nearby who might know the answer. He asked her: ‘Chachi apni jaat kya hai? Apna gotra kya hai?’ Aunty, what is our caste? Our gotra? The elderly lady scratched her head and finally told, ‘Tumhare chacha ko Kohli kehte thhe.’ (Your uncle was called Kohli (a gotra of khatri caste)). An 80-year-old retired assistant sub-inspector (ASI) of Maharashtra Police, resident of Nanded clarified: ‘At the time of marriage we bother neither about gotra (clan name) nor jati (caste) but religion only, and that they should be amritdhari. We do not marry outside.’ Lastly, the Sikligar and Banjara or Lambada Sikhs are the nomadic Scheduled Tribes. They are outside the caste system though they have segmental divisions for marriage purposes. Keeping in view the objectives of the present study, the Dakhani and the tribal Sikhs have been clubbed together since on socio-economic parameters they are quite similar and demand equal attention from the government for their welfare. Chapter 4 provides details on such aspects of their lives.

Notes 1 For details on the subject see Birinder Pal Singh (2002). 2 Such difference in spellings like Nanded, as also of other proper nouns, sometimes with ‘d’ and sometimes with ‘r’ is common; as also in the case of ‘Moghul’ and ‘Mughal’; gurdwara and gurudwara; Sikligar, Sigligar, Shikligar and Sikhlegar; Dakhani and Dakshini; Hazoor and Hazur; and Mazabi and Mazhabi, to name a few. 3 Sohan Lal Suri’s Umdat-ul-Tawarikh (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 2002 rpt.)is the complete diary of the Lahore darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It bears no reference to an appointment given to an emissary of the Nizam nor of any orders to despatch the soldiers to the Deccan. Professor J. S. Grewal, an authority on Punjab history and of Ranjit Singh

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period also confesses ignorance of any such document or reference to it in a personal interview at Chandigarh on 26 May 2013. 4 In the official documents of the Nizam, Chandu Lal is addressed by numerous titles such as Rajah Chandu Lal, Maharaja Chandu Lal, Rajah Chandu Lal Bahadur, Raja Chandu Lal Maharaja Bahadur, Raja Maharaja Chandu Lal Bahadur etc. The Chronology of Modern Hyderabad 1720–1890, The Central Records Office, Hyderabad Government, Hyderabad, 1954, pp. 153, 163). 5 This is a typed manuscript and the words are underlined. 6 If Henry Russell had praise for Chandu Lal, Charles Metcalfe was to observe that Chandu Lal’s handling of the State’s revenue had seemed to reflect his attitude to personal wealth. Metcalfe accused him of watefulness and extravagance, of having considered ‘only his wants.’ Instead of matching expenditure to revenue he had begun at the wrong end. In this was the Country said to have gone to ruin under Chandu Lal’s administration. (Wood 1981: 100) 7 The Prabandhak Committee in its printed bilingual (English and Punjabi) brochure A Brief History of Historical Gurudwara Saheb Barambala, Sikh Chhawniat puts in print the oral view of their history on the occasion of the laying of foundation stone of the new building on 24 December 1999: Maharaja Ranjit Singh had sent 14 Risalas to Hyderabad Nizam. Each Risala consisted of one Risaldar (Army Chief) with 1000 Soldiers. They were soldiers sent under 14 Nishans to Hyderabad Nizam with ordinance that, ‘It is the duty of Sikh to give protection to whomever, who comes for protection’. The soldiers salary payment will be sent from Punjab Treasury. . . . The ordinance clearly stated that, S. Chanda Singh is being sent from Lahore, who is an Architect, with Rs. 3,00,000 to build the holy Structure [sic] of Takhat Sachakand (sic) Sri Hazoor Sahib Nanded. (Prabandhak Committee, Maharaja Ranjit Singh Nagar, Hyderabad, 1999) 8 Quite paradoxically, there is a variety of accommodation suiting every pocket from the simple sleeping on the floor to the cushioned beds and geyser-fitted and air-conditioned luxury rooms in the NRI Bhawan. 9 For details see The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. III, PUP, 1997, pp. 191–4. 10 The Secretary (FAC) of the Andhra Pradesh government writes to Bahadur Singh in view of the letter from the housing corporation: In view of the above, you are requested to contact directly to the Housing Corporation for allotment of houses in respect of Sikhlegar Community and concerned Executive Directors of A.P. State Minorities Finanace Corporation at district levels for sanctioning of loans under Self Employment Schemes to them. (Letter No. 34: 2008) 11 ‘Anand Karaj, lit. joyful ceremonial occasion or proceedings is the name given the Sikh marriage ceremony. For Sikhs married state is the norm and the ideal; through it, according to their belief, come the best opportunities for serving God’s purpose and the well-being of humanity, . . . Guru Amardas (1479–1574) composed the long 40 stanza hymn Anandu,

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12 13

14

15

16 17

18 19

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in the Ramkali measure . . . His successor, Guru Ram Das, composed a four-stanza hymn, Lavan, which is recited and sung to solemnize nuptials’ (The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. I, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1995, pp. 120–21). For details on the Act and reformatories see ‘Introduction’ in Birinder Pal Singh (ed.), ‘Criminal’ Tribes of Punjab, 2010. ‘All things considered the Police deserve much credit for what has been done during this year under very trying circumstances. The year’s record is so satisfactory and embraces such widespread action that some important instances of the good work done deserve notice. To wit, in Warangal in addition to other ordinary bad characters, . . . 15 Banjaras, . . . all professional criminals were prosecuted for bad livelihood.’ (Report on the Administration of the District Police of His Highness The Nizam’s Government for the year 1313 F. by A. C. Hankin, C.I.E. Inspector General of District Police and Jails. A. Venoogopaul Pillai & Sons, Hyderabad-Deccan, September 1905, p. 38.) The attack commenced throwing stones, victim hit on the head or face with sticks. Never speak but grunt signals to each other. Gang runs away with booty, sometimes drop small portion of booty to put police off track. Sometimes throw these near the opponent’s tanda. They hide stolen property in nullah, old wells and platforms from which crops are watched. They are also expert cattle-lifters (Bilgrami 1883: 346). A leader of the community at Nanded informs that following the initiative of Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the former president of the SGPC, Amritsar, a gurmat school was started at their dera (tanda). It has 100 Banjara students. The Gurdwara Sachkhand Control Board also displays at its entrance a large notice board inviting funds/donations for teaching gurmat sangeet to the Banjaras. A school functionary asserts: ‘We try in every possible way to make them learn rehat maryada and gurmat sangeet.’ This is a standard reply though the data collected shows that only 75.58 per cent respondents in the Deccan including Dakhani Sikhs have taken amrit (see Chapter 4). The year of the Report is not mentioned but appears to be published in 1899. The Classified List of Officers names 13 Sikh officers as Risaldars in different districts working under the supervision of the district police. The column on ‘Native country or birth place’ shows all of them from Hyderabad except one from Punjab. And, it is only he who has his surname or gotra (Sodhi) against his name, none else. It would be of interest to know that Guru Gobind Singh too was a Sodhi. The Classified List of Officers of The Military Department of H.E.H. the Nizam’s Government (1932): Corrected up to 1st Azur 1341 Fasli (7th October 1931). The Government Central Press, Hyderabad-Deccan, 1932. For details see Nishter (2011). The formation of misls, confederacies in the eighteenth century was an illustration of equality and fraternity. No doubt, the Jutts dominated but lower castes also threw up their chiefs who were no less important. In the selection of its Chief or Sardar preference was given to ‘suitability over hereditary claims and caste distinctions.’ Bhagat Singh, SikhPolity: In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Oriental Publishers, Delhi, 1978,

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p. 94. For instance, a Jutt could also lead a Ramgarhia misl. All the misls combined to form the Khalsa or Sikh commonwealth. Also see J. D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs, S. Chand and Co., Delhi, 1972, pp. 96–9. 20 This information came from people in Hyderabad, Nizamabad and Nanded even but not from the village itself where a day was spent finding elderly people to narrate this story. Some did acknowledge his presence in the region but none came forward to explain it. The buck was passed on, ‘that person may know it.’ A landed and business septuagenarian visibly avoided my presence and evaded answering any question. The deterrent probably is, myself being a Sikh, and the fear of raking up some pending inquiry against the outlawed.

3

Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in the North-East

As mentioned in the introduction, the Sikh people had first moved into Assam with Guru Tegh Bahadur in the second half of the seventeenth century. There is no authentic information in this respect as to who are the descendants of such Sikhs and where they are, but it is definitely true that the Axomiya Sikhs have significant presence in Assam, though not in numbers. The Sikhs have also followed the migration streams to the NE that took off later. These streams in greater magnitude were activated with the colonisation of Assam in 1826 following the Treaty of Yandabo. The defeat of the Burmese forces by the British initiated the process of imperial colonisation of this region that boosted the Sikh migration too from Punjab. The mechanics and carpenters specifically of the Ramgharia caste were the first to move. The industrial and allied infrastructural developments, like laying of roads and rail lines, were a boost to migration from other parts of the country too. This encouraged the tea planters and other investors in wood and oil sector that further attracted the Sikhs to Assam.1 The British introduced tea plantation as an alternative to Chinese tea and it became a big business in a short time. It gave a big boost to the migration of manual labour from Bihar that now includes the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The Bengalis also moved into Assam in huge numbers to look after the administration of industry, tea plantations and the government and other offices. The colonisers took an active interest in these migration streams since they had seen and tested the skill and efficiency of the respective communities for specialised works. Nandana Dutta confirms the migration streams: Most scholars identify same periods and phases of migration and sets of migrants into Assam over the last 150 years. These are 1826–1905 and 1905–47. First phase has tea plantation labour,

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Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in North-East office employees, merchants and traders. Second phase comprised of Muslim peasants from East Bengal. (2012: 169)

In The Comprehensive History of Assam, Barpujari quotes Miles Bronson who wrote to the home authorities in August 1865 asking for increased allowance in the wake of soaring prices in the region: to the immense tea cultivation that are being carried on all around us. Large companies are formed with large capital. The tea-planters are flush with money, eager to employ every man, every servant, ready to buy up every article of food for themselves and their labourers at any price. Added to this, the Government is constructing road, telegraphs and carrying other public works. Men must be had at any price. (1993: 134; emphasis added) Myron Weiner also writes: By the turn of the century there were 764 tea gardens in Assam employing 400,000 persons, and producing 145 million pounds of tea per year. The number of migrants to the plantations soared even higher between 1911 and 1921, when the tea industry imported 769,000 labourers. Another 422,000 came during the following decade. Migration rose again during the Second World War when Assam tea garden laborers were employed by the American and British armies to build roads and aerodromes to defend Assam against a possible Japanese invasion from Burma. (1978: 90) There are three types of Sikhs in the NE as in the Deccan. First, the Axomiya Sikhs are rural and agriculturist by occupation, unlike the Dakhani Sikhs who are urban and do no agriculture. Like their Dakhani counterparts, they have been here for the last two centuries. Second, safai karmacharis, the Scheduled Castes or the Mazhabi Sikhs have also been there for about a century and are concentrated in the cities of Guwahati/Dispur (Assam) and Shillong (Meghalaya). Third, as in the Deccan, are the Punjabi Sikhs, the entrepreneurs who moved there for business over the last few decades. The khatri Sikhs take to retail and wholesale business whereas the peasants called Jutt Sikhs take to the transport and auto spare parts business.

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Like in the Deccan, the Punjabi Sikhs do not qualify for the present study since they are economically well off and do not deserve any social or economic welfare. They compete with the locally entrenched castes and classes comfortably and most often are ahead of them on socio-economic status (SES) indicators. Thus, we are left with two types primarily, namely the predominantly rural Axomiya Sikhs and the urban Sikh safai karamcharis who need assistance from the government and other welfare organisations for their economic and social upliftment. Both of them are interesting in their own right.

Axomiya Sikhs The Axomiya Sikhs, going by their oral testimony, are the progeny of a contingent of about 300 (some say 500) Sikh soldiers sent there by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to support the Ahom king against the Burmese invasion. They argue that during the second decade of the nineteenth century the Ahom kingdom had weakened due to its internal contradictions and power struggle. During Chandrakanta Singha’s earlier stint (1811–1818) the Ahom monarchy showed little signs of vitality and strength. To make matters worse under Chandrakanta the court was divided into two hostile camps – the kings and the members of the royal family on the one side, Purnananda Burgohain, the Prime Minister and his supporters on the other side. (Barpujari 1977: 2) The Burmese appeared on the scene in 1817 to help Chandrakanta assume full control on the situation by crushing all opposition and ‘returned with a huge indemnity and an Ahom princess as a present to the Burmese Monarch’ (ibid.). The rebellion against the king resurfaced and he was removed from the throne. Another scion of the royal family, Purandara Singha was installed on the seat. The Burmese army was invited again to rescue Chandrakanta in February 1819 who made Purandara flee to Guwahati in the British territory. Chandrakanta was reinstalled but found the Burmese to be dangerous allies who had developed own aspirations to rule the Ahom kingdom. He was deposed subsequently and Jogeshwara Singha was put on the throne by the Burmese. The deposed king started mustering support and forces for fighting against the former allies. It was then he is believed to have solicited military support from Ranjit Singh. The Burmese army attacked the Ahom kingdom and

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the battle took place at Hadira Chauki, Assam’s customs post on the northern bank of Brahmaputra at the confluence of river Manah, now in the district of Goalpara. Despite fighting bravely in the severe battle, the defenders could not hold the field. Chaitanya Singh, commander of the Sikh forces, died fighting valiantly. The Axomiya folk literature does tell this story vividly (see below). Thus escaping the wrath of the mighty forces of Burma the surviving soldiers led by the commander’s wife, the revered Mata Ji who too fought the battle bravely after the martyrdom of her husband, navigated upstream looking for a safe hideout in the forests. They finally settled at Chaparmukh, about 40 km from the Nagaon town, also the district headquarters. There are not only contesting arguments among historians on the number of Sikh soldiers but even the very possibility of such troops from Punjab. Himadri Banerjee doubts: Actually there was considerable difficulty for five hundred Sikh soldiers to come to Assam at that time. First, following the Amritsar treaty of 1809, there were certain restrictions on Ranjit Singh’s movement of troops in the east of the Sutlej. Besides, how could five hundred soldiers traverse the territory from the Sutlej to the western border of Assam without being detected? Moreover till 1814, Ranjit Singh’s relations with Burma was known to be good. We learn from the East India Company’s records that in 1823 a band of Sikh soldiers even went to Burma. (2007: 61) J. S. Grewal, an authority on Punjab history too confirms these doubts following the rules of British paramountcy.2 However, a noted historian of Assam, H. K. Barpujari informs that ‘In 1820, it is said, five hundred Sikh soldiers came from Punjab at the instance of Ranjit Singh for fighting against the Burmese in favour of king Chandrakanta Singha. The commander of the soldiers was a Sikh Chaitanya Singh’ (1994: 242). A noted colonial administrator Sir Edward Gait writing A History of Assam also notes: ‘In the following year (reference to 1820) Chandrakanta collected another force of about two thousand men, chiefly Sikhs and Hindustanis, and again entered his old dominions’ ([1905] 2008: 235). S. L. Baruah using the above reference but without mentioning the source writes in the Last Days of Ahom Monarchy: ‘During the period of his stay in Bengal, Chandrakanta collected an army of 2,000 men, mostly Sikhs and Hindustanis to expel the Burmese invaders’ (1993: 224).

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A. C. Banerjee, however, is silent about Chandrakanta soliciting help from the Sikhs and others, though he does mention that In June 1814 it was discovered that the Burmese were intriguing with the Sikhs. A confidential agent of the King of Burma proceeded to Northern India in the guise of a merchant. His purpose was to collect information about the military resources of the Company and to establish, if possible, friendly relations with Ranjit Singh. (1934: 173–4) He substantiates further in a footnote that ‘It seems that the Burmese really succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the Sikhs. In 1823 some Sikhs, who claimed to be agents deputed by Ranjit Singh, came to Amarapura (the capital).’ He continues: The object of their ‘mission’ was ‘a treaty, offensive and defensive, to drive the British out of India.’ The Burmese received them (Sikhs) honourably, but during the war with the British (1824–1826) they became suspected and even imprisoned for a short time. ‘They were finally sent back with letters, and a sum of money given to each individual.’ (ibid.: 174) However, B. C. Chakravorty writes: In 1891 at the time of Manipur rebellion, it was found that the rebel court of that state was instigating Khonoma to join the rebels, so a Sikh regiment was brought to Golaghat to overcome the Khonoma people, and the result was salutary. (1964: 124) S. K. Bhuyan is another historian of Assam who too refers to the presence of Sikhs there even in the latter half of the eighteenth century: ‘The burkandaz rabble now rallied round the standard of Krishnanarayan. They consisted of Sikhs, Rajputs and all manner of men from Bengal to Lahore’ (1949: 279). He writes elsewhere that Haradatta and Birdatta had a large force of Hindustanis and Sikhs. These mercenaries were called Dumdumiyas or Dundias, probably because the Sikhs had their headquarters at Gurudwara Dumdume at Dhubri. . . founded

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Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in North-East in 1669 during his (Tegh Bahadur) visit to Assam with his patron Raja Rama Singha. (ibid.: 431)3

If Bhuyan refers to the Sikhs, Gait tells us about the presence of Punjabis: Soon after Kamleshwar’s accession (1795–1810) a serious rising was reported from Kamrup. Two brothers named Har Datta and Bir Datta, with the secret aid, it is said, of the Rajas of Koch Bihar and Bijni, who hoped through them to recover Kamrup for one of their race, raised a band of Kacharis and of Punjabi and Hindustani refugees and declared themselves independent. Large numbers flocked to their standard, and nearly the whole of North Kamrup fell into their hands while according to some they also occupied a part of the south bank. They were nicknamed Dumdumiyas. ([1905] 2008: 224)4 That the Dumdumiyas were part and parcel of the barkandaz becomes clear from the murder of a merchant. Bhuyan writes about the episode: One of the first acts of the Dumdumiyas had been the murder of the Goalpara merchant Daniel Raush in January 1796. He had come to Darran with several boats loaded with merchandise to demand adjustment of his claims, specially in connection with the loss suffered by him at the hands of Krishnanarayan’s Burkandazes on June 30, 1792. . . Amongst the Dumdumiyas there must have been many persons who had served Krishnanarayan in 1791–1793 and whose attitude towards Raush was avowedly hostile. (1949: 433) Barpujari, however, does reflect on the internal turbulence in the Ahom kingdom that suggests the possibility of seeking military help from outside: From the middle of the 18th century the Ahom monarchy was on the decline. The throne was occupied by a number of weak but unscrupulous rulers whose only ambition was the preservation of own lives and power regardless of the interests of the state. The court became the hotbed of intrigues and conspiracies and this was followed by political assassinations and insurrections. (1977: 2)

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Himadri Banerjee too tends to follow Bhuyan for the Sikh soldiers’ barkandaz origin. He writes: There are reasons to believe that their (barkandaz) ranks were swelled by a few Sikhs. They were possibly men from Bihar, an important centre of Sikhism since the mid-eighteenth century. It is likely that with the Ninth Guru Teg Bahadur’s visit to Bihar and lower Assam (1666–71), a few Bihari-Sikhs might have accompanied him from Patna and stayed back in Assam. They were asked to manage the local gurdwara set up in Dhubri commemorating the Guru’s visit. (2010a: 242) This gurdwara is called Dumduma. In the absence of concrete historical evidence of the Sikh presence in Assam, he seeks it in literature. He identifies four texts, two by Rajanikanta Bardoloi – Manomati (1900) and Dandua Droha (1909), Lakshminath Bezbaroa’s Padum Kunwari (1905) and Sailadhar Rajkhowa’s Pashan Pratima (1935).5 All of these are celebrated litterateurs and their texts are extremely popular with the people of Assam. Bardoloi in particular is called Walter Scott of Assam (Phukan 2013: 438). He infers that these texts seem to suggest the Sikh presence not only in the region but also that these are seemingly in consonance with the belief of the community. He brings out two main issues on the bases of these works of literature. First, ‘Litterateurs like Bezbarua, Bardoloi and Bhuyan and Rajkhowa did not look to Punjab for reconstructing their Sikh characters, preferring to stay within the confines of Assam’ (Banerjee 2007: 71). Second, There may be some doubts regarding the nature and extent of Sikh participation in the battle (at Hadirachaki), but the presence of a small contingent of Sikh soldiers in Ahom army has been confirmed in contemporary British records, popular memories, folk songs, myths and latter day Assamese printed sources. (Banerjee 2013: 311; emphasis added) Yet, analysing the conflicting representations of the Sikhs in these texts, he argues: It is likely that the perception of the Asamiya-Sikhs as a group of outsiders in the Brahmaputra Valley affected them deeply. It had possibly prompted them to ‘invent a tradition’ to make them free from an unfortunate past imposed upon them by the dominant

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Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in North-East community of the region. Their alternative version of history offered an opportunity of dissent against the ‘Little Nationalism’ of the Valley remaining within the Asamiya culture with its roots deeply implanted in the plurality of the region. The revised Asamiya-Sikh narrative underlines that a motive larger than merely serving their own narrow self-interest of the community had brought the Sikhs to Assam. (2013: 323)

One may tend to disagree with Banerjee on this count of reinventing their (Sikhs’) past history for the following reasons. First, these texts are not produced by the Sikhs themselves where they are trying to project or reconstruct their own self-imagined image but by the established prominent litterateurs who I wonder would have been under any influence of the Sikhs but for their own disposition, for whom they penned down their history. Second, the time period of these writings is also crucial, that is, the first decade of the twentieth century when the issue of identity construction and, of course, of subnationalism had not gained momentum even on the Indian mainland. A third point may also be mentioned that since the Axomiya Sikhs are primarily rural dwellers, the issue of identity consciousness and more so of ‘correcting’ it in favour of proving themselves to be the sons of the soil could not bother them then. The idea of nationalism and identity touches the urban heart more than the rural, since modernity dawns there first à la Benedict Anderson. The heterogeneity and anonymity of the urban space are compelling factors in searching one’s identity and proving own worth. It is useful to quote Bimal Phukan who sums up the issues raised in these four popular texts mentioned above: Thus far, there are three instances of Sikh soldiers coming all the way from Punjab to fight in Assam. While in Bezbaroa’s ‘Padum Kunwari,’ Hardatta and Birdatta merely talk about sending emissaries to Punjab to seek Ranjit Singh’s help, in Bardoloi’s ‘Manomati’ and ‘Danduwa Droh,’ Sikh soldiers physically arrive from Punjab to take part in the battle. Bardoloi’s two books, however, make no mention of the Sikh soldiers from Punjab having been sent by Ranjit Singh. (2013: 440) Phukan mentions further that Rajkhowa inspired by Manomati ‘immortalizes in brilliant verse the encounter at Hadirachaki and the

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ultimate sacrifice of Sikh commander Chaitanya Singh’ (ibid.: 440). While endorsing Banerjee’s line of argument, Phukan does refer to ‘pitfalls in reconstruction’ citing more evidence but concludes: Today Asomiya Sikhs can feel genuinely proud of their contribution to the Assamese society in various walks of life. They have done more than enough not to need a thin link to a legend to gain acceptance and respectability. They no longer need a crutch to prove their status because sons of the soil they are, and in the truest sense of the term. (ibid.: 448–9; emphasis added). Birinchi K. Medhi, studying Barkola Sikhs anthropologically for his Ph.D thesis The Assamese Sikhs: A Study of their Social Relations in a Rural Situation (1989), informs that The present day Assamese-Sikhs would thus appear to be the descendants of different groups of people: (a) Sikh disciples of Guru Tegh Bahadur who settled at Dhubri and Chaotala in the seventeenth century; (b) the Sikh soldiers who were brought to Assam in connection with the secret manoeuver in the eighteenth century and those Sikh soldiers who were brought to Assam to fight against the Burmese army in the nineteenth century; and (c) those Sikhs who migrated to Assam from Punjab during the 1830s for trade and gradually mingled with the Assamese people. (2013: 348)6

With respect to their identity, he claims emphatically that the Assamese Sikhs have preserved their identity largely through various exclusive community institutions and organisations. At the same time, they maintain a fair degree of contact and communication with the wider Assamese society through their participation in different socio-cultural milieus. The expansion of social horizon of the Assamese Sikhs through their participation in different spheres in the wider society has resulted in the widening of inter and intra-community networks of social relations which in many ways have contributed to the functioning of Assamese Sikh social life. (ibid.: 342)

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Figure 3.1 Axomiya Sikhs of Barkola

In the subsection of his paper ‘The Assamese Sikhs and the Wider Society,’ he lists numerous people of the community who have contributed to the fields of education, economy, literature, culture and politics (ibid.: 383–6). These Sikhs are ‘integrally related to’ the Assam Sahitya Sabha, the state’s paramount literary organisation. They had been part and parcel of the Indian freedom struggle including the noncooperation movement. In the post-independence era they had been active in the Assam movement (1979–1985) that centred round the issue of detection of foreign nationals. Medhi continues, the Assamese Sikhs extended their full support and participated in different programmes undertaken by various organisations and regional parties like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Assam Sahitya Sabha, Jatiyatabadi Dal, Purbanchaliya Loka Parishad, Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chhatra Samaj, All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, AGSP, alternately All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, AAGSP, which was formed on August 27, 1979. (ibid.: 387)

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What about the Axomiya character of these Sikhs? Medhi concludes: The basic values of the Assamese Sikhs are derived from Sikhism. But there are significant regional and syncretistic variations. The indigenous Sikhs observe Sikh rituals and practices, along with some local customs and festivals. The socio-religious life of the Sikhs tends to be guided by the doctrines of Sikhism. But at the same time the influence of indigenous folk beliefs and customs is quite appreciable in their life. . . Social intercourse, including marriage, of the early Sikh settlers and their descendants with the indigenous people is responsible for the presence of folk elements in Assamese Sikh social life. (ibid.: 389; emphasis added) The discussion above remains inconclusive with regard to any validation of their originally belonging to Punjab as believed by the Axomiya Sikhs themselves, but the historians even are given to believe that the Sikhs were surely there who fought for the Ahom ruler. It does not matter they were from Bihar or Bengal or elsewhere. It is also a fact that during the field observations we did come across many respondents who claimed not Punjabi but Bihari lineage. It seems plausible that over a span of 200 years intermixing of communities must have taken place. Any certainty in this respect may be attained through more penetrative social anthropological research. Whatever is the historical veracity of facts, but the situation on the ground is that this is indisputably believed by the Axomiya Sikhs that they are the descendants of soldiers sent by Ranjit Singh to fight against the Burmese invasion. And, they have a story to narrate with a high degree of consistency across caste and class differentiation. Why did the Sikhs who settled in the villages of Assam take to agriculture? It is understandable in the light of what Anandram Phukan suggests about the fertile land and peoples’ engagement with it: There is not a single family in Assam that is not engaged in the cultivation of land and everyone provide for itself by agriculture with almost all the necessaries of life. They cultivate rice, pulses, fruits and vegetables to supply their table, mustard to light their houses and silk or cotton to provide their garments. (Barpujari 1993: 134; emphasis added)

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It is substantiated further by H. Z. Darrah: A small amount of fertile land affords the cultivator all that he requires in the way of food and generally provides him with a surplus which the market ready at his door enables him to exchange for such money as he may need. As he has no ambition and no desire for accumulation of money. . . he has no desire to increase the outturn of his lands or to improve the breed of his cattle. (ibid.: 135; emphasis added) Besides the rural habitation of the Axomiya Sikhs, the overall social milieu of the region is also responsible for their general character. It is pertinent to recall such characterisation by an American Baptist, A. H. Danforth, originally cited in Mills: Assam, though a rich and beautiful valley, is greatly in want of population, and its resources lie undeveloped. The Ryots are satisfied to cultivate merely enough for their own use, and what little trade there is, is carried on almost entirely by the Bengallees and Kayahs (a term used for the Marwaris). The want of an enterprising and impulsive spirit is everywhere seen, and until this monotony is broken up by drawing the attention of the natives to the advantages of commerce, and the blessings which honest industry is certain to secure, little can be hoped from the Province. . . The statesmen and philanthropists should find an antidote for this death like inertia, the means for arousing the slumbering energies of a people who have the natural ability for greatly improving their own condition (Dutta 2012: 209; emphasis added)

Chaparmukh Chaparmukh is called Sing Gaon (Sikh village) in popular parlance. It is a large village with widely scattered houses. It has a population of 1,052 persons according to the Census of Assam 2011. There is a railway station as it falls on the rail route from Raha to Lumding and Dabaka through Kampur and Hojai. According to The Imperial Gazetteer, ‘The principal centres of trade are at Nowgong, Raha, & Chaparmukh, where there is considerable business in cotton and lac’ (1908–1931, Vol. 19: 226). Presently, it does not have a large Sikh population. They have migrated to other towns like Nagaon and Lanka for better prospects of earning their livelihoods but all in the same district of Nagaon.

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Figure 3.2 Gurdwara Mata Ji, Chaparmukh (1820)

The commander’s wife constructed a gurdwara there in 1820. It is now named after her and called Gurdwara Mata Ji, the most venerable place of pilgrimage for the Axomiya Sikhs. She was not only a valiant fighter but a deeply religious and pious lady. She used to grind flour for herself and the family with a pair of grinders now preserved in the gurdwara as a relic of the past and her memory. It also has two guns and a sword that belonged to her. Very recently, the swords have been stolen and the remaining relics have been put under lock and key in the main hall of the gurdwara where lies the Guru Granth. They call the granthi singh, pujari (priest) in local lexicon.

Barkola Barkola Sing Gaon, about 20 km from Chaparmukh, is the village in NE India with the largest Sikh population. It had 1,830 persons in 2011. There are three schools including a government higher secondary school, primary and middle schools, a polytechnic, a naamghar, a community hall, Guru Nanak Shankar College

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Figure 3.3 Gurdwara Badi Sangat, Barkola (1825)

and Guru Nanak Library. When Giani Zail Singh, the then chief minister of Punjab, visited this place he announced a grant of Rs. 25,000 for the library that was built in 1975. When another chief minister of Punjab, Surjit Singh Barnala, visited the village he was requested to appoint a Punjabi teacher. Subsequently, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar appointed one teacher. Interestingly, he too married a local Axomiya woman and constructed his own house and bought land at Barkola. There are three gurdwaras, including the oldest one established in 1825 called Sri Guru Singh Sabha Central Gurdwara, also called Gurdwara Badi Sangat. The original structure made of wood and tin sheets is now used as a godown and langar (community kitchen) hall while the new one made of concrete and marble is under construction. The ground floor has been completed recently. There is another gurdwara that too claims puratan (old) status bearing the year 1825 on its face. It belongs to the descendants of Subedar Ram Singh, the first Sikh to arrive at this village. One among them is Pritam Singh, the president of the Assamese Sikh Association. Subedar

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Ram Singh married a Brahmin woman and had another wife from the Scheduled Castes (SC) whose progeny acquired the low caste status, so believe the Axomiya Sikhs. This version seems to explain why 32.6 per cent of Axomiya Sikhs claim the SC status though others from the community argue that it is a ploy to obtain state welfare provisions in a state where the Scheduled Tribes dominate since they cannot obtain the tribal status. However, majority respondents (65.48 per cent) return themselves belonging to the general caste and 1.92 per cent only to the OBC (Other Backward Classes). There is another Gurdwara Nanaksar built in 1991 on the main road from Nagaon to Kampur. The older ones, however, are in the interior though not far from the main road. Medhi quotes Rabinson (1841) suggesting that ‘During the 1830s, quite a number of Sikh traders migrated from Punjab to parts of Nagaon district. . . A few such traders used to visit Kampur and Barkola on business tours’ (2013: 364). The inconclusive discussion on the origin of the Axomiya Sikhs is further compounded by certain colonial administrators’ accounts that lend credence to the peoples’ belief. It does not matter if they were the soldiers of Ranjit Singh’s army or other Sikhs from Punjab or elsewhere, but fighters they were. For instance, according to W. W. Hunter: Shortly before the Burmese invasion of Assam, a few hundred Sikhs were brought from Punjab in the pay of the native government. They were stationed at Hadira Chauki opposite Goalpara, and fought against the Burmese that took place in the neighbourhood. After the Burmese occupation of Assam, the survivors scattered themselves over the Province, and are still locally called Singh. . . . These Sikh soldiers were not accompanied by their wives, and on settling down they married of the country, generally of the lower castes of Hindus, such as Rajbhansis, Rabhas etc. (1975: 46; emphasis added) Another colonial administrator, B. C. Allen also writes in the Assam District Gazetteers: Nowgong that there were 214 Sikhs in 1901: The Sikhs are the descendants of soldiers who came for service to Assam about 1825 or a little later. The original settlers have inter-married with Kewats, Koches, and Kalitas, and all, except the latest arrivals from the Punjab, have now an admixture of Assamese blood. The majority have taken to agriculture but their community includes a few carpenters and contractors. They are

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Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in North-East found in the Singaon and Hatipara villages in the sadr tehsil and at Chaparmukh. (1905: 95)

Contrary to the contentions of those suggesting that the Sikhs married low caste women, Medhi mentions that the Barkola Sikhs married Keots, a respectable agriculture caste, higher in caste hierarchy and Kalitas, just lower to Brahmins but an agriculturist caste (1989: 65). Dimbeswar Neog too mentions: ‘That the Kalitas were always an imposing and leading people for their culture’ and adds a critical account of a foreign observer: ‘The original inhabitants of the country of two races – the Assamese (i.e. Ahoms) and the Kalitas. In all things the latter are superior to the former’ (1947: 186). Gait too mentions prior to the above scholars: ‘Next to the Brahmanas, we have the Kayastha caste. But the Kalitas are the numerically predominant caste of the province. They are the enlightened and advanced community’ (2008: 258; emphasis added). B. C. Allen too writes in the Gazetteer of Assam (Goalpara), referring to the Census Report of 1901, that there are different theories as to the origin of Kalitas whether they are Kshatriyas or Kayasthas or else they are a priestly caste. The most plausible suggestion is that they are the remains of an Aryan colony, who settled in Assam at a time when the functional castes were still unknown in Bengal, and that the word ‘Kalita’ was originally applied to all Aryans who were not Brahmans. . . Cultivation is, in fact, the traditional occupation of the caste. (2012: 44) Barpujari also mentions the above quote of Allen and writes subsequently: Whatever may be their origin, the Kalitas were considered as the ‘Purest of the Hindus’ in the Assam Valley. Formerly they had the monopoly of priesthood and high offices and even under the British they exercised considerable influence as priests, officials, traders, soldiers, agriculturists etc. (1993: 154) The preceding discussion tends to suggest that whatever the historical facts and their contesting interpretations, those Sikhs who call themselves Axomiya are believed to be truly local in the sense that they

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are born and brought up in Assam and that they are fully immersed in its language and culture. It does not matter whether they came from Punjab two centuries ago or from Bihar or elsewhere, or maybe they belonged to the disbanded armies of lesser feudatories in the region and formed the barkandaz. The issue is that the Sikhs of Nagaon claim to be Axomiya because they are imbued with the colour and flavour of Assam and remain indistinguishable from other Axomiya natives who might have come to the region a little before them. Another important inference that may be drawn from the preceding discussion is that they married women of high castes despite being ‘outsiders.’ Axomiya is the mother tongue of these Sikhs, and that is quite an important index of a person’s nativity. According to those of the community who claim to represent them and are contesting their rights and claims of indigeneity at some level, the very definition of an Axomiya is that one should not only be born in Assam but her mother tongue should be Axomiya. They need to impress upon this dimension of nativity to neutralise the politics of the Punjabi Sikhs who now claim to be Assamese and represent the Sikhs in Assam. In the words of Manjit Singh, an established Axomiya litterateur and a former secretary of their association: An Asomiya Sikh is one whose family has lived in Assam for generations or one who is born in Assam and is a permanent resident here, whose mother tongue is Assamese, who practices the Sikh religion but has wholeheartedly embraced Assamese culture, and considers Assam as his motherland. . . The majority of the present Asomiya Sikhs are descendants of the Sikh warriors who had come to Assam to fight on behalf of the Ahoms. . . Some others came during the first and second world wars to work, and decided to stay back and adopt Assamese culture and language after being assimilated with the local Asomiya Sikhs. (quoted in Phukan 2013: 433; emphasis added) The emphasis on two aspects of Axomiyaness is clear, first, that these Sikhs consider themselves local, the sons of the soil along with others who migrated later but got assimilated with them, do qualify to become Axomiya. Second, the adoption of Assamese culture and language, of course, is very significant. The current president of the Assamese Sikh Association informs that not only birth in Assam but Assamese as mother tongue is the eligibility criteria for its membership.7 Dutta refers to Chandan Sarma, who wrote Assomiya Kaun? He puts together elements that constitute identity narrative of Assamese.

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This is the idea of Ahom rulers and unification of people under the umbrella concept of Assamese identity. Moreover, a ‘we-feeling’ emerged from a predominantly anti-Bengali sentiment out of British patronage to the Bengalis. This argument is widely acceptable and without criticism (2012: 199). The historians may contest the question of Ranjit Singh’s army being sent to Assam but they do not deny the possibility of organising an army or armed band of Sikhs already there fighting in favour of the Ahom ruler, as is also possibly true of the Dakhani Sikhs in the Deccan. The Sikhs of Nagaon know no other language but Axomiya or Assamese only. Those who have moved out of the village and have schooling or are working in some office know Hindi as well, and others with higher qualification understand English too. From the two villages – Chaparmukh and Barkola – they have spread out to earn a livelihood or for studies and employment, to other towns like Nagaon, Lanka and to smaller places like Bebejia and Hatipara, but all within the same district of Nagaon. Some have also moved to other towns in Assam, and a few outside too. In the words of Banerjee: Except their turban and beard, the Assamese Sikh male folk can hardly be distinguished from the rest of the Assamese population. ‘Even the lady of the house looks like just any other Assamese married woman – adorned with sindhoor (vermillion) and clad in mekhala-chaddar, the traditional Assamese dress.’ Her language, food, daily work schedule, social response, community celebrations, etc. come to her Assamese neighbour, that one would often find it difficult to demarcate the domain of one from the other. . . . These local Sikhs are so intimately acquainted with the roots of Assamese culture that their claim of being hare himjue Assamiya (hundred per cent Assamese) does not appear a false assertion. (2006: 106–7) One conspicuous feature of Axomiya Sikhs is their ignorance of Punjabi language as is also true of most Dakhani Sikhs that appears an anomaly to the Punjabi Sikhs (see conclusion). They do not expect a Sikh not to know or speak Punjabi. All Axomiya Sikhs believed to have a progeny of mixed lineage – Punjabi and Axomiya – have now lost touch with Punjabi language. Those soldiers married local women whose children and grandchildren grew up in Assam and spoke Axomiya. In a village, there is little chance of grooming the language of an outsider, thus the future generation of Sikhs must have lost touch

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with Punjabi language, even if they were from Punjab. It is not a slur on them. It was the socio-historical conjuncture that left them with no other existential choice but to accept the Axomiya language. The agriculture being their means of subsistence, and located in villages farther from the towns, left them with no option of encountering other languages, including Punjabi. Not to talk of Punjabi; they are cut off from the national language Hindi too. These villages are about 130 km from Guwahati, the only bustling metropolis of the NE. Thus, these Sikhs are well immersed in the culture and language of Assam. Nand Singh Barkola, an officer in the Assam Police, earned the 2012 Award of the Sahitya Academy, New Delhi, for his contribution to the Axomiya literature. He writes poetry and short stories, and has authored 15 books. He is also interested in understanding the past and present of his community. Bhupen Singh, a retired principal of the Pragjyotish College in Guwahati, has also translated some sacred texts of Granth Sahib like Japji, Sukhmani Sahib, Anand Sahib, Rehras Sahib and so forth in Axomiya. Other contributors in the field of literature, music and theatre include Niranjan Singh, Gurmail Singh, Bijaya Singh, Iqbal Kaur, Avtar Singh, Joginder Singh, Jagjit Singh, Pritam Singh, Dr Sulochana Kaur and Birendra Singh (Medhi 2013: 386).8 Besides these Sikhs contributing to the Axomiya literature, there are few others who rose to superior positions in education and administration but their number is small. Pritam Singh, a descendant of Ram Singh was teaching political science at the Nagaon College. He is also president of the Axomiya Sikh Association with head office at Nagaon.9 Safai karamcharis Besides Axomiya Sikhs, there is another type of Sikh community who may be clubbed with them for purposes of this study. They have been residing in the NE for the last about one century and are located in Guwahati/Dispur in Assam and Shillong in Meghalaya. These are safai karamcharis or the sweepers, belonging to the Scheduled Castes. These are the Balmiks or Mazhabi Sikhs of Punjab to be precise. The parents/ grandparents of these Sikhs were made to migrate there by a British army regiment that had its earlier stint in Punjab. But, Gait mentions that there was an outbreak of rebellion in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills in January 1862 which was suppressed in April the same year. When there was resurgence of rebellion, ‘Two regiments of the Sikhs and the Elephant battery were moved into the operation in the hills.’ The peace returned finally in March 1863 (Hazarika 1987: 400).

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Shillong was made the seat of district administration following the transfer of the district headquarters from Cherrapunji in 1864 and it became the seat of chief commissioner of Assam in 1874. The colonial administration had thought it proper to shift administrative offices from Kolkata to Shillong for close vigil and effective control on the restive tribes of the region and to make secure the working of the tea estates in Assam. Shillong was then capital of Assam. These Mazhabi Sikhs were given employment in the secretariat and the municipal committee to perform menial jobs of cleaning offices and the town. Presently, these people are concentrated at two colonies in Shillong called the Bara Bazar in Mawlonghat and the Gora Line in Laitumkhrah. The former is larger in size and more densely populated than the latter. Earlier their barracks were located on the periphery of the colonial settlements but now these are in the heart of the capital of Meghalaya. These settlements are called the Punjabi colonies of Bara Bazar and Gora Line. The same is true of Guwahati and Dispur. Their clustering of houses is close to the secretariat in Dispur called the Last Gate Colony. In Guwahati, they are concentrated at Marakhali near the Nehru Stadium and also scattered at some other places like Malegaon, Fatasil and Reshabari though in small numbers. Bara Bazar and Gora Line in Shillong and Last Gate Colony (Dispur) and Marakhali (Guwahati) are their large settlements. Though known as Punjabi colonies, people from other states like Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu also reside there. All of them are migrants and belong to the Scheduled Castes. The formation of Meghalaya as a separate state in 1972 led to the formation of a new capital of Assam at Dispur, adjoining Guwahati. It resulted in the dislocation of the Punjabi safai karamcharis at Shillong. Those working in the government secretariat were given the option to choose their workplace out of Dispur (Assam) or Shillong (Meghalaya), while those working with the municipal corporations remained at respective places. However, some of them moved with the civil secretariat to Dispur, the new capital. In terms of the total population of safai karamcharis and their households, Shillong outnumbers Guwahati and Dispur significantly.

Bara Bazar Bara Bazar, the largest Punjabi colony of safai karamcharis in the whole of NE is in the downtown Shillong. Punjabi Mazhabi Sikhs including a few Christian converts have the largest concentration of

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more than 500 households though the number of houses is 252. The growth in family size and its division following the marriage of son(s) has led to an increase in the number of households within the same space. The houses are built on both sides of the main road linking the old bus stand with the Police Bazar, an upbeat shopping centre. The City Centre Point too is at a walking distance. There are different estimates of population at Bara Bazar. The figures mentioned above are given by the pardhan (president) of the colony. There is active contestation on this issue of numbers between the two parties, one, the residents of the colony, and two, the city administration and the municipal corporation. The reason for this contestation is the problem of their dislocation. Given the prime location of the colony and growing congestion of traffic and parking, the government is interested in relocating them to an outer area that is not acceptable to the residents. Thus, according to a ‘Note on Sweeper Colony, Mawlonghat’ submitted by the Director of Urban Affairs Department, Shillong in July 2010 there were residing 200 families in 1990 that increased to 249, as per a joint survey by the Shillong Municipal Board and the Harijan Panchayat Committee in March–April 2007. It rose to 342 in

Figure 3.4 Bara Bazar, Shillong

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2010. Whatever be the game of numbers, the fact is that it is a densely populated area.10 On a hilly terrain, the upper side of the Punjabi colony has the city gurdwara besides two temples of Shiva and Durga and a Balmik ashram. On the opposite side of the road near the petrol pump is Guru Nanak School with 250 students on the rolls in June 2012. It was a lower primary school when established in 1964 and was upgraded to upper primary level in 2010. All along the road, on both sides, are small shops that may better be termed as large booths, given their size. All sorts of items from furniture to grocery and stationery are sold there. The repair shops for mobile phones and household electrical gadgets and electronic instruments have a significant presence. The general secretary of the city gurdwara management committee in his letter addressed to the Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi dated 16 November 2009 mentions that the said gurdwara has been in existence since 1893. The Syiem of Mylliem and his darbar issued four pattas of land to the gurdwara and the Guru Nanak School in 2000. In the revenue records, the land belongs to the Syiem and not to the municipal board. It is pertinent to note that with the accession of Khasi and Jaintia Hills, the British had allowed proprietary rights on certain territories to the Syiems, the tribal chiefs following their traditional rights and practices. The colonial revenue or administrative rules were not applicable there, which is why the residents have moved to the civil court against their eviction. Shibanikinkar Chaube writes in the Hill Politics of the North East India: Confusion shrouded the position of Shillong, the common capital. Before independence, Shillong was made of certain ‘British’ areas ceded by the siem of Mylliem and certain areas belonging to the siem, technically being the part of a native state. But, as the township expanded, with the siem issuing patta over fallow lands to individuals and governmental agencies certain laws of the British territories including the jurisdiction of the municipality were extended to the ‘State’ area. (1973: 133–4) He continues: Politically, there were two Shillongs – the British and the Mylliem. Whereas Mylliem Shillong was nominally part of a native State, British Shillong was never included into the ‘backward tracts’

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since 1919, and had representation in the provincial legislatures like the plains areas. (ibid.: 134) The general secretary of the gurdwara committee, who is also the principal of the school, informs that the gurdwara needs renovation urgently for which the committee has approached the SGPC, Amritsar for grants but to no avail. They have also lodged request for the extension of class rooms for the school building, but that too has not materialised. Whatever development of the school has been done from the local resources and donations. This has also been the sore point of these people with the Sikh organisations in Punjab that turn a deaf ear to their needs and requirements whether it is with respect to religious (gurdwara) or educational institutions or even the teaching and propagation of Gurmukhi, that is, Punjabi language. The small houses in the Bara Bazar colony have tiny rooms, heavily overstuffed with items of domestic use. The winding alleys are small and narrow where it is difficult for two persons to cross each other. Initially, the settlement was not that bad and congested but over the years, as a result of the natural growth of population, these have become overcrowded. It generated the need for more accommodation, thus making rooms within rooms so much so that many households are forced to cook and clean in the street itself. In the absence of any provision to buy land or house in Shillong, the residents are left with no option but to increase living space within that space only and encroach as much upon the street or whatever land is available around the house, as is possible. The same is the case of Gora Line Punjabi colony at Laitumkhrah (Shillong).

Gora Line, Marakhali and the Last Gate Colony There were three barracks with eight houses each at Gora Line for as many families to begin with, but presently there are 143 households living within that space. One can imagine the extent of congestion. It is not an isolated instance of Gora Line and Bara Bazar colonies at Shillong but all localities of safai karamcharis at all places in Assam.11 Marakhali at Guwahati and the Last Gate Colony at Dispur are no better. The former has 80 households and the latter 150. The urban and municipal administrations of both the cities and the states have classified these colonies as ‘clearly identifiable slums.’ If purchasing a house or land is not officially banned at Guwahati, there is no space around their locality where they may expand. Moreover, the prices of

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Figure 3.5 A Sikh woman at Gora Line, Shillong

land and property are exorbitantly prohibitive that these safai karamcharis and their younger generation cannot dare to purchase. The residential structure and pattern of houses at all places – Bara Bazar and Gora Line at Shillong and at Dispur and Marakhali

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(Guwahati) – is the same. These are over-congested, heavily stuffed and narrow meandering alleys full of filth and dirt. Since the majority inhabitants are Mazhabi Sikhs, a gurdwara is inevitably present at each locality, yet there is a Balmik temple or ashram too since they are harijans, the Scheduled Castes. A temple of Mata (Durga) or Shiva is also there but no church. There is no discrimination by the residents in the celebration of gurpurabs and other occasions at the gurdwara and also of celebrating Balmik jayanti or other occasions of Hindu religious significance at their temple(s). All of them go to each other’s place with equal respect, upholding the Gandhian principle of sarva dharma sambhava. The number of Punjabi Christians is quite small. A few of them were already Christian converts when they migrated from Punjab. Some of the younger generation have taken to Christianity relatively recently owing to its dominance in the region. The Christian organisations too are quite forthcoming in wooing converts from the weaker sections by offering welfare measures and support to them. These Punjabi converts, as a senior member remarks, are only making hay in the shining sun of Christianity at Shillong.12 This phenomenon is not observed at Dispur and Guwahati. The Department of Urban Affairs (DUA) of Shillong has drawn plans to relocate the residents of Bara Bazar in particular for the beautification of the downtown. The Gora Line too adjoining the cantonment area is considered a dark spot. The same is the case at Marakhali in Guwahati and the Last Gate Colony at Dispur where respective municipal corporations have drawn similar plans. It is not only the problem of bad housing now but also the hard and the dirty work their ancestors were doing under harsh working conditions. Banerjee narrates the ordeal the parents of these safai karamcharis undertook at Shillong: The workforce included different categories of menial employees, most of whom were probably retained as sweepers. They were asked to clean some of the major thoroughfares of the city and pick up waste from the side gullies and drains. Another group was engaged in carrying night soil and ensuring its disposal at the central depot. They formed a reliable army of sweepers and sewage cleaners for keeping the city clean. It is likely that there would be a few minor variations in their wage rates. It remained an endless issue for many of them to satisfy the upper echelon of the municipality, which levied many complaints against them. One was the slow speed of transporting urban waste to the disposal depot beyond the city limits. This was largely due to the long, meandering journey that the bullock carts carrying waste had to

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The residents of Shillong and Guwahati/Dispur though about 100 km apart are also interrelated socially and culturally since they belong to the same caste and occupation. The exchange of women takes place both ways, which is why they have strong familial bonds. It is the case of ‘Je saure Guahti te peke Shillong’ and vice versa. That is, if parents are at Shillong then the in-laws are at Guwahati and vice versa. It is interesting that all these people belong to the two districts in Punjab – Amritsar and Gurdaspur. In the survey, we could find none from other than these two. They maintain strong organic connection to their native districts so much so that their Majhaili (of Majha region comprising the two districts) Punjabi accent is distinctly intact. Sitting with them, one wonders if one is in the NE or Gurdaspur. These safai karamcharis can also pass for ‘locals’ for their long duration of residence but are not allowed that status by the government in Meghalaya where they are declared as ‘outsiders’ (dhakar) by the native Khasis. They had been there for the past about 100 years, yet there is ambivalence about their residential status. They are not allowed to purchase property or land despite their presence before the birth of the Indian nation-state. Banerjee writes about them: It is difficult to suggest any specific year pointing out the presence of Mazhbis there. As safai karamcharis, by the late 1910s they were already on the payroll of the local municipality, which had come into existence in 1910. It is likely that they were employed in its Conservancy Department through the recommendation of one of the British regiments then posted in Shillong cantonment area. Local sources suggest that in the early twentieth century, a small group of Mazhbis were first brought to Shillong by a British military regiment that had earlier served in the Punjab. (2012: 6) The fate of residents at all the four places is the same. Over the last three decades, they have been threatened with eviction numerous times, but they are resisting still. Their fault is the prime location of their settlements, that the builders and the administrators have their eyes on. The appropriation of this land is the prime objective that could be done in the name of slum clearance and beautification. The Department of Urban Affairs and the Shillong Municipal Corporation

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have drawn elaborate plans to beautify the downtown, planning flyovers and parking lots at Bara Bazar to ease traffic congestion. The residents are consistently resisting their relocation.13 The Guwahati Municipal Corporation, however, has succeeded in its project of beautifying the sweepers’ locality by constructing two seven-storey complexes at the very site of their residences in Marakhali. Each family would be allotted a one-room flat. The vertical housing complexes shall vacate the land for other developmental projects or at least will relieve the place from congestion. The residents are also willingly accepting the proposal since they are not being dislocated to a distant periphery as in Shillong. A senior resident of Marakhali comments: ‘Sannu kehra saf-suthhari than changi nahin lagdi. Guahti carporation da changa uprala hai saade vaste.’ We too care for cleanliness. Guwahati (Municipal) Corporation has done good to us. The Bara Bazar residents are also asking the Shillong administration to follow the Guwahati model in their rehabilitation but it is shying away for ‘technical reasons.’ Similar is the problem with residents at the Gora Line and the Last Gate colonies since the administration plans to dislodge them from those sites. The local residents are doubtful of the administration’s plans especially at Shillong because the dominant Khasi people keep calling them dhakar (outsiders). The Punjabi youth often have skirmishes with them on this count. These incidents occur quite often though they have not escalated to a major riot as happened in the month of March 2012 when the local administration including the police and the area member of the legislative assembly (MLA) were on the side of the Khasis. They believe that the administration’s move to settle them elsewhere is only a ploy to evict them not from Bara Bazar and Gora Line but from Shillong itself. The Punjabis are very sore on their being labelled as ‘outsiders’ despite their century-long habitation. They cannot call themselves ‘local’ and they are discriminated against by the administration at various levels and in devious ways, so allege the residents.14 The problem of traffic and congestion is perennial and widespread not only in these cities of the NE but all over the country, which is why the residents of Punjabi colonies at Shillong especially at Bara Bazar are doubtful of the administration’s moves. The Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) of Bara Bazar is struggling against the government and the Shillong Municipal Corporation. It has approached the Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities, Delhi; the SGPC, Amritsar seeking help in this regard but without success. The secretary of the HPC is busy mailing grievances of his community to all quarters. A lawsuit has been filed against eviction,

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citing evidence that the Siyem (chief) of Mylliem had allotted this land for their settlement then. The judgement is pending in the Meghalaya High Court. The history of Shillong has witnessed expulsion of other communities like the Nepalese and the Bengalis but only the Punjabis are sticking so far despite the socio-economic calculations of its elders. Numerous respondents comment in this respect: ‘Haletak Sikhan naal kuchh nahin hoyiya.’ Nothing has happened to the Sikhs so far. But, they are apprehensive since they are becoming the target of local peoples’ rage frequently. However, they are neither moving out nor shying away from clashes with the local hooligans. The Punjabi youth have resolved not to be the sitting ducks to them. They rather retaliate fiercely. Colloquially put: ‘Asin chupp nahin behnde, karara jawab deyi da wa, nahin tan sir chad jaan ge. Bhaji rakhi di nahin, ikki de katti maudi de aa.’ Whenever there is some brawl, they take out their kirpans and ‘teach the miscreants a lesson.’ An educated young man who plies a taxi remarks ‘Je asin na boliye o’ chha jaan ge. Hun saare sidhe keete hoye aa. Khalse agge koi nahin bolda.’ Literally, they will dominate us if we do not retaliate. Now all of them have been ‘put in a line’ and no one dares to stand up against the Khalsa. Two such incidents, one in the recent past (2012) are important. In the first case of 2012, a group of Punjabi boys were standing at the turn (mor) of their colony (Gora Line). Some Khasi boys came in a car and shouted at them: ‘You outsiders (dhakar) why don’t you go home (des). One of them alighted from the car, hit our boy with a beer bottle and fled away. Our boys (Punjabi) gathered own people, got on their motor bicycles and chased them. They got hold of them and thrashed them well,’ so narrates a respondent of the Gora Line. Subsequently, the KSU (Khasi Students Union) boys reported the case to the police. The local minister, a lady, came to the Gora Line colony with the police and other district officials and insisted on handing over the concerned boys. All residents came out of their houses and refused to hand them over. The officials kept camping there until midnight. Finally, the community leaders agreed: ‘We shall hand over our boys only if you hand over to us the Khasi boys.’ The stalemate continued for some time without any conclusive result.15 In the second case of 2004, when 40 houses of the Gora Line were gutted in fire and the residents started rebuilding their houses, the city administration found an opportunity to stall reconstruction, a step in the direction of their ultimate eviction and slum clearance.

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The police force was also used for this purpose. The residents already apprehensive of the administration’s design resisted eviction and arrests putting up their women as shield. The KSU boys too pelted stones on them in the presence of the local police.16 ‘Our men too were ready with swords and sticks in case of any eventuality,’ recalls a respondent. It was the occasion of Guru Nanak gurpurab (birth anniversary) celebrations, when an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinder had burst in the gurdwara kitchen. A senior respondent recalls: ‘The reconstruction of the gurdwara too was stalled many a time but we were not relenting. Overnight we would raise the structure that finally led to its completion in many stages and over many years. It was completed in 2009.’ What happened above has its own history of differences, discord and distrust between the two communities. The fire that broke out in Bara Bazar on 22 March 1996 gutted many houses including a part of the Guru Nanak School. The president and the secretary of the city gurdwara, Shillong mention in their representation dated 3 October 2006 to the National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi: No Government authorities (sic) came to their assistance; only the two Gurdwaras in the city helped the victims . . . On top of it, the D.C (Deputy Commissioner) East Khasi Hills District issued prohibition U/S 144 Cr.P.C. in the Colony to prevent the victim citizens from building their homestead. A Writ Petition was filed (Civil Rule No. 31 (SH) 96) . . . the learned Single Bench of the High Court stayed the order of the D.C. and made a remand in his judgement: ‘I fail to understand why on the same day even when the fire was not put out, the District Magistrate passed the impugned order.’ The president and secretary of the CGMC and HPC, Bara Bazar had been making representations to authorities at all levels from the local police to the president of India from time to time apprising them of their grievances but to no avail. The oft quoted grievance, as in a letter dated 25 November 2011 to the National Commission for Minorities, Delhi, is that the Shillong Municipal Board, the Urban Affairs Department and its Agencies and other such authorities have always been looking down upon the community and there has been conspiracy after conspiracy to demolish the Gurudwara & Guru Nanak School and drive away the people of the colony.17

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The local versus the outsider As already mentioned, the problem of the local versus the outsider had taken roots in Shillong since the last quarter of the twentieth century especially after it was separated from Assam in 1972. It became more acute subsequently with a growth in population. The census registers a jump in its decadal population growth to 42.32 per cent in 1971–1981 from 19.88 per cent in 1961–1971. Over these years, the local leaders and the administration had made announcements from time to time for their (safai karamcharis) eviction and relocation. The Urban Affairs Minister reiterated on 21 August 2007: ‘the government was firm in its decision to shift sweepers from Sweepers Line, Mowlonghat, to the government housing units at Nongmynsong’ (The Meghalaya Guardian 2007). But the local leaders have already challenged and condemned the government’s decision: ‘Government’s move to accommodate the sweepers in the Housing department’s colony at Nongmynsong was unacceptable, arguing that the colony was meant for providing housing facility to poor and homeless people.’ Moreover, ‘Nongmynsong does not fall under Shillong Municipal Board’s jurisdiction’ (The Shillong Times 2007a). The residents of Bara Bazar have decided to come to terms with the administration by stating their own terms and conditions of settling them at the same place in a housing colony. They have seemingly realised that the winds are not in their favour and there is mounting pressure of multiple factors against them, including the local politics of ‘the insider versus the outsider.’ The administrative measures to beautify the town and ease traffic congestion in the wake of growing tourist and transport industry is also not unrealistic.18 They have also witnessed the eviction of other communities over the past many years. Moreover, there is the problem of rising congestion within the colony itself. All these factors have purportedly softened their stand on relocation. Thus the HPC in its meetings on 24 September 2011 and 9 October 2011 resolved the terms and conditions for the proposed residential colony. It listed 27 items and submitted the same to the Urban Affairs Minister on 20 October 2011 with copies of the proposal to 18 offices, from the president of India to the local media.19

To be or not to be The senior generation, as per their tradition here, especially after retirement, wishes to return to Punjab for emotional reasons (aapni dharti wa), their motherland. One respondent who retired from the

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Meghalaya State Electricity Board says: ‘Bas ji bachian karke baithe’an. Ji tan Punjab jaan nu karda wa. Othon da tan paani vi gheo vang lagda’i.’ We are here for the sake of children but wish to return to Punjab. Another 80-year-old former president of the Guwahati Municipal Sweepers’ Union, with many feats to his credit, is insisting on settling in Punjab. His son remarks (emphasis added): I ask him to visit Punjab and be there for as long as he likes but permanent shifting is not possible. People there always look at us what have we brought for them (ki liaaye aa), at least tea if nothing else. After a few days stay, things are different. . . We had built three shops near Central Jail Amritsar. The occupants are neither vacating nor giving us rent. I approached the local M.L.A (Member Legislative Assembly) (names him). He refused help, saying, ‘We have to listen to our voters, not you.’ Then I lodged a complaint with the police. No one listens. On my insistence, the police officer tells: ‘Tusin tan baharle’on, asin tan aithon walian nu sunna’i.’ (You are an outsider. We have to listen to the locals.) Finally, we had to ‘strike a deal.’ What do we do under such circumstances? My father doesn’t listen to me. He gets emotional (bhavuk ho janda’i). I have some business in Guwahati (vadda shehar’ai). What shall I do there (in Punjab)? No one knows me there and no employment chances as well. We are a tragic people, outsiders here and outsiders there. All Punjabi people in the NE are living with this dilemma, to be or not to be, there. One getting a chance to move out on basis of education, business or employment prefers it making an excuse: ‘Yahan kuchh nahin hai.’ There are no opportunities here. All others tend to stick out there under whatever circumstances. They have understood the message of the times present. They have formed associations at the level of locality and community to fight for their rights and their welfare. The data reveals that 96 per cent have such associational memberships, though each one does not have acumen to engage in active community politics, that is the creed of 58.3 per cent respondents. In a way, politics is imposed on them. A senior respondent remarks: ‘Changey-bhaley baithhey san, ehna ne majboor kar ditta wa.’ We were busy with our own lives, but threats of throwing out have forced us to show our strength and nuisance value to the local administration and people. This ambivalence causes heart burning in them. Should they settle there? That, they cannot. Should they return to Punjab?20 It is not an

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easy option either, since they have been out from there for generations. Most of them do not have land or house in the village to bank on and they do not have enough money to start a business, though small. Here they have something to fall back upon. Their children do not want to go to Punjab given the facilities and lifestyle at Shillong especially. But they cannot permanently settle here, since buying property of any kind – land, house or shop – is not allowed. This is the dilemma that this generation of elders is confronting especially those who are either about to retire from service or have retired recently. Thus, they tend to shuttle between the two ends of the country, their ancestral home (Punjab) and the present one. The jobs for them are also becoming difficult because the local people are now willing to take up their jobs and populist politics is on their side – ‘No jobs for outsiders.’ The administration too follows this policy covertly. The Shillong administration has a different take on the residents of Bara Bazar and Gora Line. The different officers on separate occasions have spoken about it to the author during their interviews. These views are best summed up by the director of the Department of Urban Affairs, Shillong: Bara Bazar residents indulge in all sorts of anti-social activities like gambling, prostitution etc. Even the police do not enter their area out of fear. On the other hand, the residents of Gora Line are simple and sincere. They listen to you.21 He also narrated the case of a local NGO that had filed a complaint to this effect that antisocial activities carried out in the Bara Bazar colony are posing a threat to the law and order situation in the city. The inquiry was conducted by the Extra Assistant Commissioner of Shillong.22 The post-independence resurgence of tribal political consciousness in liberal democracy has made them aware of their constitutionally protected rights and privileges to gain further political mileage.23 The adoption of the ‘sons of the soil theory’ has conveniently made all nonindigenous people as ‘outsiders’ and has become the source of conflict between them. Weiner comments in the context of Assam: ‘Clashes between migrants and the indigenous population have become prominent feature of post independence politics within multiethnic developing countries’ (1978: 75). A hill resort and a colonial town as administrative hub for the far east in the midst of Khasi and Jaintia hills and dominated by the Khasis has numerous communities from outside the region including Mazhabi Sikhs from Punjab besides the

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Bengalis, Marwaris, Nepalese, Biharis and Muslims now referred to as Bangladeshis and the tribal people from neighbouring states. Bhaumik informs: In Meghalaya, the tension between indigenous tribesmen and outsiders has been largely restricted to the state’s capital Shillong. . . . Since loss of tribal lands. . .has been restricted mostly to Shillong and its surroundings, violence against settlers has been most intense in and around Shillong. (2009: 69) The issue of ‘outsiders’ does not bother the Mazhabi Sikhs much in Guwahati/Dispur that, of course, is the concern of the tribal outfits in the interior areas of Assam. The large size of the metropolis and the heterogeneity of its population too act as buffers. The formation of a separate state enhanced the morale of local tribal militant groups who started dictating own terms to the elected government.24 In the words of Bhaumik: In recent years, all across North East, generic identities that emerged during the last days of colonial rule and consolidated in the early years of the Indian republic have tended to splinter. The material advantages that follow recognition as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in India have encouraged retribalization. (ibid.: 28) The political demand of reserving jobs for the locals only generated hostility between communities. It led to the persecution of the nontribal as ‘outsider.’ Tribal people even from other regions of the country were not tolerated.25 To safeguard the economic interests of the locals, the government banned purchase of property by the ‘outsiders.’26 Discrimination and physical assaults on them are common. Such rules of the government and criminalisation of politics (presently an all India phenomenon) has put all migrant communities including Sikhs at great risks of all sorts – physical, economic, social and political.27 It adds to their dilemma, and confounds them further to be or not to be there. The senior generation wishes to return to Punjab but the younger one finds present residence more fascinating given their peer group and metropolitan opportunities for education, jobs and self-employment at least compared to Punjab where they see no scope. The economic situation in Punjab, the problem of drug abuse

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and extensive out-migration of its youth are abundantly available to them from the electronic media and social networking. They see no future and do not want to lose whatever little they have in the NE. To the younger generation with its heightened dalit consciousness, the question of social status and identity also comes in the way of listening to their elders. They know that in Punjab, living at the outskirts of a village in a caste society or even in a city is more discriminating than being ghettoised in the NE. Inder Pal Singh, profiling a village in the Amritsar district of Punjab, writes about the Mazhabis in the early 1970s: They live on one side of the village, and a long wall of the backs of the houses of the higher caste group separates them from others in the village. About twenty families live a hundred yards away on the land given to them for residence by the father of the Sarpanc on the birth of his first son. Mazhbis work as farm laborers, while their wives clean the courtyards, collect cow dung and make cow dung cakes. (1975: 279) Further, they have a separate well and a separate small room as marriage palace (janj-ghar) ‘in their part of the village’ while all other castes use the gurdwara premises for marriages (ibid.: 280). Balbir Madhopuri writes in his autobiography about his own village in Punjab: If an untouchable (chamar-churah) boy moved out from home after a bath with combed hair, then someone from the Jutt group (dhani) sitting under a tree or tharah (platform of bricks) would put sand on his head. If he protested, then he was thrashed (fainta chariah janda). Similarly, if an untouchable moved out with a new set of clothes, he was beaten too on the pretext that he was imitating or trying to be like them. (2004: 13; author’s translation) The situation about 40 years later (since 1975) is not all well. Judge and Bal write about five villages in the same district and the city as well: mazabi respondents of Amritsar district reported caste-based exclusion of religious practices. Many of them said that the upper caste Sikhs did not allow them to carry the sacred book to their

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residence for purpose of performing various rituals/ceremonies . . . Similar information was given by the mazabis of Guru Ki Wadali – an erstwhile village that has become a locality of Amritsar city. (2008: 52) Judge and Bal does note that much change has taken place over time, yet: At the level of the caste system, inequalities and exclusion continue to show their existence, the evidence of which could be ascertained on the basis of data on social ecology, occupation and access to religious places. (ibid.: 55) And before them Jodhka too concludes from his survey on untouchability: ‘Not withstanding the changes experienced in almost all spheres of life, the continuities are not yet insignificant. Rural Punjab has not forgotten caste’ (2002: 1822). Jodhka and Judge Bal do notice considerable decline in most cases of caste-based prejudice against dalits but a respondent (bhai ji of gurdwara) in Dispur notes: The Akali Dal has forced many of us to convert to Christianity. They were not allowing us to enter Darbar Sahib. They would refer to us as ‘some’ (koi) Sikh brought the beheaded head of Guru Tegh Bahadur. A former president of the SGPC would refer to us as, ‘kachhehrian diyan juan ne, uppar na charan diyo.’ These ticks of the long breeches should not be allowed to climb.28 In the NE, they are not discriminated as low caste at least but on grounds of ethnicity only, as Punjabis that also includes and affects upper caste and class Sikhs. Other communities too face similar discrimination. The Khasis are hostile to all outsiders (dhakar) and so are many militant outfits in Assam. Mazhabis find it convenient to neutralise this hostility in their quotidian life than do anything with their caste status in Punjab that is deep rooted. They know how to fight back. A young man comments on the character of the local people that is worth mentioning in this context: ‘Vaise Khasiye vi darpok ne jadon Shillong to bahar jande ne. Guahti ehna di ma mari rehndi’aa. Aithhe vi je agge khar jayo, bhaj jande ne.’ Briefly put, the Khasi people are cowards especially outside Shillong but here too, they run away when someone confronts them.

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Once in December 2007, a local newspaper received an email in the name of Balwinder Singh, Regional Commander (North-East) of the Babbar Khalsa International: By the end of this month (December), we are going to explode (blast) bombs in Shillong city to take revenge on Khasi Students Union for committing atrocities on Punjabis residing in Sweepers Colony (Punjabi Colony) in Iewduh in previous years and for India’s oppression on us. (The Shillong Times 2007b) Singh writes about this militant outfit in Punjab: The Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), one of the most dreaded militant outfits in the last phase of the Sikh struggle especially during 1989–1992 also championed the cause of the poor and the exploited by the capitalists. The poor are getting poorer while the rich are growing richer. The poor peasant, however, gets exploited twice. (Singh 2002: 71) Such was their perception of the Indian political system. A young man of Gora Line reminisces: ‘Khasiyan da moot nikkal gaya. Sadian minnatan karde phiran, “Hamne to kuchh nahin kaha. Tum hamara bhai ho.” ’ The Khasis literally pissed out of fear. They were requesting us to acknowledge their innocence that they did us no wrong. We are brothers they were saying in broken Hindi (tutti-phutti Hindi’ch).The Khasis are afraid of them on this count only. That is why the Sikhs find it easy to neutralise them even in a physical confrontation, hence sticking to the place. The history of Sikhs also tells them not to remain subdued. Moreover, the Punjabi culture too values fierce retaliation – ikki de katti paune or itt da jawab pathar naal dena and so forth.29 The rise in ethnic violence and increasing political disorder is coercing them to contemplate, should they settle here, where they can not or should they return to Punjab, which is also not an easy option. They had been out from there for long and do not have money enough to start a business. Here in the NE they have something at least, may it be a house in the slum area or a corner shop to fall back upon. We must note that these are the Scheduled Castes, whose parents did menial jobs in Punjab too and did not have landed property. The parental house, for majority of them, must have been divided among brothers over generations.

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There are a few households with double salary (both husband and wife) who have invested in a plot or a house, preferably in a nearby town in Punjab primarily for two reasons. First, to show the parental family and others that they are better than them. The property making not only enhances their social status and prestige but that of their family too. Second, they can fall back upon that residence or property in case of an exodus from the NE. This tendency of investing in Punjab has picked up since the 1980s, when Meghalaya and other NE regions witnessed heightened consciousness of the tribal versus the non-tribal, and the insider versus the outsider. The ban on purchasing property may be seen as a boon in this respect of solidifying their ties with their ancestral homeland (Punjab) by investing there. The eldest son of an erstwhile president of the Guwahati Municipal Sweepers Union at Marakhali informs: My father is eighty year old who wants to settle in Punjab. I tell him not to go there following my own experience. I have a small business in Guwahati. I invested surplus to buy a shop and a plot at Tarn Taran. I rented the shop which is not being vacated. I reported to the police who are not willing to take action. The local people have their network. The police ‘listens’ to them (ohna di sunadi hai) since we are the outsider there (asin tan baharwale ’an). We neither belong here nor there. We are outsider for the locals here as well as for the locals there. This is our fate. . . But my father wishes to settle there (Oh Punjab jana chaundai). I do not stop him but have warned him. Let him try. . .I can’t go because children are in school and I have a small business here. If I go there, I have to start from the scratch there. Where is that much money for business in Punjab?

Punjabi Sikhs Like in the Deccan, the Punjabi Sikhs in the NE too are entrepreneurs who belong to two castes/communities, the trading and the peasantry. The former came in larger numbers after the Partition in 1947 or even after and aggressively indulged in the retail and wholesale trade in the cities. They belong to the trading castes of the united Punjab. The Fancy Bazar gurdwara in the heart of Guwahati is the oldest one whose management is now with them, though initially it vested with the Ramgharias who migrated earlier and built it. The second type of Punjabi Sikhs with peasant background came to the NE for business in transport and autoparts over the last few decades. Some of them own a

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fleet of trucks and tankers especially besides plying cabs and buses ferrying passengers. Weiner also mentions that the migration into Assam among others included ‘a small but economically significant number of Punjabis working in the transport industry, and more recently in their own businesses’ (1978: 86). Beltola in Guwahati is the citadel of such entrepreneurs. There is a grand gurdwara whose management is controlled by them. They are spreading their tentacles to control the management of the Fancy Bazar gurdwara as well that is yet not with them. They consider themselves superior to all other types of Sikhs the local Axomiya Sikhs, the Ramgharia (OBC) Sikhs and also the khatri Sikh traders. The money and muscle power they have makes them exercise control over different gurdwaras and Sikh associations, of course, with some political clout. The famous historical gurdwara Damdama Sahib at Dhubri at a distance of about 350 km from Guwahati is also under their control. The relations between the Punjabi Sikhs (peasants and khatris) and the Axomiya Sikhs until recently had been cordial, but with increasing economic interests and the tendency among the former to wield political power, as they tend to assume the role of being the sole spokespersons of the Sikh community not only in Shillong and Guwahati but in the whole of NE, their cordiality has been jeopardised. Thus, emerges the need to capture the gurdwara management as a foremost religious institution, symbolising the solidarity and cohesiveness of the Sikh community. It makes a significant political clout in populist democracy. A brief historical overview of their relationship is illustrative of the emerging schisms between them. The Assam-Sikh Association was initially launched by the Axomiya Sikhs way back in 1939 with Jog Singh as its general secretary ‘to get Sikhs recognized’ as an ‘under represented community’ in Assam so that they may receive ‘a larger share in different governmental institutions’ (Banerjee 2013: 328).30 It is the only means in a democracy to articulate the community’s issues and problems to the government. In the year of independence itself, the All Assam Sikhs Association was formed which comprised all types of Sikhs, including Axomiya. Gradually, as is the practice of such institutions, the clash of interests led to parting ways. The slackness over the years was overcome with the formation of Assomiya Sikh Sanstha or Association in 1980, with Dhyan Singh as its president. After him, Prof. Pritam Singh became its president, and currently it is Nand Singh Barkola. Of late, its headquarters were at Nagaon. Pritam Singh’s own brother launched Assomiya Sikh Kalyan Parishad in 2006 and became its president. The Axomiya Sikhs were never given to

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large-scale gurpurab celebrations like the Punjabi Sikhs. They remained concerned with their religious activities at Chaparmukh’s Gurdwara Mata Ji. The seriousness of religious celebrations came from the Punjabi Sikhs who indulgently celebrate an occasion with pomp and show. The economic power of the Punjabi Sikhs is manifest in such celebrations with lavish food (langar) and quality decorations. Their enlarging influence scared the Axomiya Sikhs in usurping their identity as well. A proposal was moved by Dhyan Singh, then president of the Axomiya Sikh Sanstha, that since ‘the guru belongs to all of us’ we should celebrate jointly Guru Tegh Bahadur’s janam tithhi (birth anniversary) in April at Mata Ji’s gurdwara at Chaparmukh and his shaheedi purab (martyrdom day) at Dhubri sahib in December. The resolution was adopted then, three decades ago for the joint celebrations by the Punjabi and the Axomiya Sikhs. The latter gurdwara’s management is with the Punjabi Sikhs while the former’s is with the Axomiya Sikhs. Following this formal decision, the Sikh sangat from the whole of NE would attend these functions and celebrate gurpurabs collectively. For the first time after three decades in December 2012, two parallel functions have been organised by them. A senior activist of the Axomiya Sikhs in a personal interview deliberates: ‘We were forced to take this hard decision by the high headedness of the Punjabi Sikhs who violated the code last year by holding a parallel function at Dhubri when it was our turn at Chaparmukh.’ He continues arguing: ‘We had always been cooperating with them and abiding by the collective decisions but they are becoming arrogant and rude.’ The Axomiya Sikhs also hold the view that the Punjabi Sikhs do not hold a good opinion of them. A leading representative of their community remonstrates in a personal communication: ‘They hold us in low esteem. They have money hence they think they are better Sikhs. Now they call themselves Axomiya Sikhs.’31

The Assam movement The Axomiya Sikhs believe that they are the sons of the Assam soil, hence they participated actively in the Assam Movement of 1979–1985 launched by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) to identify the illegal immigrants or the ‘foreigners’ and to safeguard the rights of the local and indigenous people. Their participation may appear paradoxical but they were in the thick and thin of the movement. The relevance of discussing this movement here makes sense because it has long-term and broad-based effects not only in Assam but also the neighbouring states including Meghalaya. If the rural Sikhs of Nagaon are not much

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bothered about such a mindset of the larger community, it is swallowed bitterly by the safai karamcharis and other Sikhs in Shillong (Meghalaya). The formation of Bangladesh following the liberation of East Pakistan in 1971, opened the floodgates of Bangladeshi migration to India in huge numbers. These were primarily Muslim Bengalis. The Assam agitation against these illegal immigrants, thus labelled ‘foreigners,’ gradually expanded to include other Indian communities like the Hindu Bengalis, the tribal people from then Bihar now called Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, Oriya and the Nepalese who had settled there from the early colonial times. The leaders of the movement demanded government jobs for the local people of Assam, implementation of Asamiya language as medium of instruction in schools, colleges and universities and as official language of the state government. The mushrooming growth of numerous militant outfits of the native and the tribal people and students occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. The killings of so-called foreigners and non-Axomiya Muslims in particular was rampant and massive. Nellie in central Assam, about 45 km from Guwahati, witnessed the infamous massacre of 2,191 persons on 18 February 1983. The Assam agitation culminated in the Assam Accord on 15 August 1985. Numerous participants of the movement came together under Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to form the government. Sanjib Baruah writes that the ‘inauguration of an exceptionally youthful ministry that consists mostly of student leaders of the Assam movement’ was attended by 200,000 people at the public meeting. It was ‘the latest and possibly the grand finale of the six year old Assam movement’ (ibid.: 282). Baruah continues: The AGP came to power riding on a wave of Assamese subnationalism that was remarkably inclusionary: its appeal was not only to the Assamese speaking population – among whom their support appears to be near-total – but to many segments of Assam’s diverse population. . . . there are significant indications that the AGP’s support is more broad-based than most analysts had anticipated. (1986: 282) Besides others, three young men of Barkola village laid their lives during the struggle. Two of them were Sikhs, Chandan Singh (February 1983) and Karam Singh (March 1983) and the other one Balindra Majumdar (March 1983). There is a common memorial to the three martyrs on the main road to Kampur in Barkola.

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Figure 3.6 Karam Singh’s memorial in front of his house at Barkola

Munirul Hussain has a different take on the Assam movement during the times when the left politics was quite weak and virtually eroding: Needless to say the leadership of the Assam movement has been very tacitly using the movement itself to crush the left and democratic

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Axomiya and Mazhabi Sikhs in North-East movement in Assam. . . . The nativist ideology propagated by the leadership of the Assam movement in collaboration with the high caste dominated Assamese bourgeois press has been successful to a large extent at least for the time being to present it as an ideology of liberation of the Assamese nationality. (1987: 1332)

K. M. Sharma, tracing the historical roots of the Assam movement, also refers to the British hand in the migration of other people into Assam: These contradictory anti-imperialist and anti-non-Assamese aspects of Assamese nationalism were spotted by the British quite early and they naturally tried to destroy the former and encourage the latter. This resulted in the development of a strong Assamese intellectual tendency which saw the imperialists as saviours or at least as friends against other Indians. The importation of lakhs of tribal workers from Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Central India, Madras Presidency and even Bombay Presidency (as ‘Black Tribals’) to work in the tea plantations set up by the British. These workers were so segregated from the local population that at one time they were paid in company tokens which could be converted to commodities only in the company shops within the plantations. (1980: 1322) The preceding discussion makes clear that like in the Deccan there are a variety of Sikhs of different castes, classes and ethnicities that do not make a homogeneous community by any parameter of socioeconomic criteria. Broadly, there are three types of Sikhs in the NE specifically in Assam and Meghalaya – Axomiya, the natives; the safai karamcharis or the Punjabi sweepers; and the Punjabi traders and transporters. These Sikhs belong to all major castes of the Hindu society for all practical purposes despite the fact that in Sikh religion and philosophy caste has no place. The Punjabi Sikhs are the khatris, the peasants and the OBCs, specifically Ramgharias. The Scheduled Castes remain excluded. The Axomiya Sikhs claim to be true (native) Sikhs in letter and spirit since they keep the Sikh form intact and they do not believe in the caste stratification for marital and residential purposes. Many scholars and respondents have attested to this feature of their society. When a caste specific question was addressed to them, they did mention belonging to the general caste, the Scheduled

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Castes and the OBC, and in that order but they do not believe in caste practices.32 These Sikhs, like their Dakhani counterparts, are a major component of the present study whose ancestors are believed to have come to this region 200 years ago. They are the residents of the Nagaon district primarily in Assam. Ironically, the Punjabi Sikhs consider them ‘duplicate’ Sikhs.

Notes 1 Digboi in Tinsukhia district had the first oil well in Asia drilled in 1901. It is functional still. 2 Personal interview at Chandigarh, 26 May 2013. 3 Medhi refers to S. K. Bhuyan’s Annals of the Delhi Badshahate, Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Government of Assam, Gauhati, 1947, pp. 272–3 in this context that Sikhs were recruited along with other soldiers by two brothers, Hardatta and Birdatta in connection with a secret manoeuvre to expel the Ahoms from Guwahati during 1790. 4 This gurdwara is named Damdama sahib because Guru Nanak had halted (taken rest) there on way to Guwahati. He also had a dialogue with Srimanta Shankradeva. 5 For details on this aspect, see Banerjee (2007: 49–67). 6 In fact these could not be traders but mechanics and carpenters belonging to the Ramgharia caste brought by the British for infrastructural developments following the treaty of 1826. The trading community among Sikhs are khatris who largely migrated slightly before and primarily after the partition in 1947, most of them refugees from Pakistan. 7 Personal interview with Pritam Singh at Nagaon on 15 June 2012. 8 Some others not noted by him are Jivan Singh, Izzat Singh, Gunanda Kaur, Manjit Singh and Dr Charan Kaur. Those in the past include Atma Singh, Lal Singh, Dr Thir Narayan Singh, Jog Singh Chhetri, Sohan Singh, Jogendra Lal Chhetri, Dhyan Singh and Rup Singh. 9 Amarjit Singh is teaching political science at a college in Lanka. There was one Deputy Inspector General of Assam police too. L. P. Singh is working as senior bank manager at Guwahati while Nand Singh is Additional Superintendent of Assam Police at Kokrajhar, to name a few prominent ones from the community. Some of them are also active in the state politics. One from Barkola was in the higher offices of the Assam Gana Sangram Parishad of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who formed the state government and became the chief minister of Assam. Some are also active in the Indian National Congress as well. 10 The department of urban affairs, Shillong conducted a survey in 2007 to ascertain the number of legal or actual municipal employees staying at Sweepers Colony, Bara Bazar and found out that a total of 1,204 persons are staying there, out of which 291 adult males and 282 adult females are working with Shillong municipality while 47 adult males and 48 adult females are with other departments of the government. The remaining population consists of the minor children (Office record).

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11 Nandini Chakravarty (1998) mentions there are 24 clearly identifiable slums in Shillong. 12 A young cab owner of Gora Line at Shillong comments: ‘Kristen banan’ch faida wa. Maithon pichhon aaya si mere pindon ‘ai, ohnu naukri vi mil gayee te naale gharwali nu wi. Mera hale tak voter card vi nahin banya.’ It is beneficial to adopt Christianity. A lad from my village came here after me. He and his wife both got the job. I have not yet got my voter’s card even. Another middle aged respondent working in the gurdwara informs that one day his 80-year-old mother asked him: ‘Main Kristen ho jan. Ahende si bada faida wa.’ May I become Christian. They (missionaries) were saying it is beneficial. ‘I simply said no to her.’ 13 The director DUA informs that under Settlement and Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers Scheme, DUA had constructed flats for them near the Governor House in the European Ward of Shillong but these people are not shifting there. Only 42 families have shifted, the remaining flats are vacant still. 14 The director DUA informs that the two issues are responsible for the status quo. First, there is a feeling of mistrust between the residents of the Punjabi Colony and the government including the city and the municipal administration. Second, the residents there are running good business of gambling, scrap and liquor. This business runs into lakhs. 15 For more details see Birinder Pal Singh, 2016. Also see fn. 17. 16 The Sikhs in the NE and in Shillong particularly have more confidence in the paramilitary CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) than the local police. 17 The Panchayat cites another case of their harassment by the district administration whereby the annual procession on Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, a routine feature for the last nine years, was disallowed on the eve of procession. It was on the intervention of the General Officer Commandingin-Chief of 101 Area of the Indian Army that the Deputy Commissioner, Shillong granted permission. See ‘Prayer for remedy of grievances of Sikh minority community in Meghalaya,’ letter to the Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi dated 25 November 2011 with copies to the President and Prime Minister of India, Governor of Meghalaya, Presidents of the SGPC, Amritsar and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), New Delhi. 18 The enormity of the road traffic may be gauged from the long duration jams in the heart of the city despite blocking the heavy traffic during the day. The long rows of trucks and tankers may be seen in routine waiting for the time to pass through Shillong. 19 Harijan Panchayat Committee, Representation From the Inhabitants of the Harijan Colony, Bara Bazar, Shillong, 20 October 2011. 20 For details see Birinder Pal Singh (2016). 21 Banerjee also refers to this distinction though in the Suniar lexicon, the fellow Sikhs of artisan caste, the goldsmiths. He writes: ‘Those who had remained loyal to them were generally put in the former bracket (“Good Harijans”) while those who were opposed to their leadership were placed in the latter (“Bad Harijans”). I had the occasion of coming across a few “Good Harijans” in the Gora Line’ (2011: 200). This distinction of the Suniar Sikhs is with respect to the Harijans observing the Sikh tenets loosely.

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22 Mr Rynjah, a social worker had complained to the Department of Urban Affairs, Shillong against Pal Singh ‘for extorting money from the shopkeepers and misleading the youth.’ The department asked the Extra Assistant Commissioner to conduct the inquiry and he found Pal Singh guilty of flesh trade, illicit liquor, gambling and extortion (Department files). 23 Government of India has an independent Ministry of Tribal Affairs ensuring their development and welfare. National Scheduled Tribes Commission looks into their grievances. 24 Tribal militant organisations like KSU (Khasi Students Union), FKJGP (Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People) in Meghalaya. In Assam there are about three dozens of these groups and the most noted ones are United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and Bodo Liberation Tigers Front (BLTF). 25 The Global IDP (internally displaced persons) survey (1998), according to Bhaumik ‘gave incorrect data about IDPs in Assam, where 1000s of Santhals, Mundas and Oraons have been displaced due to violence by Bodo guerrillas’ (2009: 129). 26 The Sikh youth grumble: ‘Asin outsider kiven hoye. Koi Pakistano aaye aan. Asin Hindustani nahin?’ How are we outsiders? Have we come from Pakistan? Aren’t we Indians? 27 B. R. Nayar notes in the context of coalition politics in India when Congress led UPA formed cabinet in 2004 with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister: As a result, some half-dozen ministers turned out to be of questionable integrity, with criminal cases facing them in the courts, and were thus regarded as ‘tainted.’ Their presence was testimony to the criminalization of politics, increasingly evident over the years with the entry into politics of strongmen with criminal records. (‘Regime Change in a Divided Democracy,’ Asian Survey, Vol. 45, No. 1, January/February, 2005, p. 77) Criminalisation of politics and corruption was also the subject of Satyamev Jayatey, a highly rated Indian television programme by Aamir Khan (2012–2014). Andrew Wyatt also writes: ‘The Supreme Court has also taken an interest in the criminalization of politics, ruling in July that sitting legislators who are convicted in serious cases should be disqualified from holding office at the moment they are convicted’ (‘India in 2013: Braced for an Election,’ Asian Survey, Vol. 54, Number 1, January/February, 2014: 155). He continues: ‘Remarkably few politicians have been convicted of criminal offenses, and no less than 76 Members of Parliament (MPs) facing serious charges have served in the current Lok Sabha. Cases involving politicians move very slowly in the courts’ (ibid.: 156). Nithya Nagarathinam writes: ‘From ADR’s (Association for Democratic Reforms) compilation of data on 5,380 candidates contesting the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 17 per cent have declared criminal charges in the affidavits submitted to the Election Commission; 10 per cent have declared serious criminal charges such as murder and rape charges.’ The proportion of MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha facing criminal charges is not only high but actually increased between the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabhas. The proportion of MPs facing serious criminal charges (like murder, kidnapping and

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29

30

31 32

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extortion) also showed an increase from 12 per cent in 2004 to 14 per cent in 2009. ‘While any random candidate has one in eight chances of winning a Lok Sabha seat, a candidate facing criminal charges is twice as likely to win as a clean candidate’ (‘Criminalisation of Politics,’ The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, April 30. www.thehinducentre.com/verdict/getthe-fact/article5962667.ece). Bhai Ji of the Last Gate colony interviewed on 7 June 2012. He adds: ‘Aithon da mahaul Punjab nalo changa wa. Saade munde smack tan nahin peende, daru-sikka chald’ai. Mere pind’ch (near Rayiya in Amrtisar district) 40 smakiye ne.’ Literally, the milieu here is better than Punjab. Our boys do not take smack at least, though they do take liquor. There are about 40 boys in my village in Amritsar district who take smack. Literally, if one gifts 21, say rupees, other reciprocates with 31 or if one hits you with a brick, hit back with a stone. Punjabi language is replete with terms of violence as it is rather a matter of celebration in Punjabi culture and society. The geopolitics has its own role to play in this language and culture construction besides the role of soil fertility and agriculture as means of subsistence and of course the emergence of Sikhism synthesising religion and politics. Popular songs of the day are replete with such violence. For details see Birinder Pal Singh (2002: 200–10). Banerjee mentions a couple of names like Atman Singh Chhetri (1893– 1970), Ranjit Singh (1897–1967), Phula Singh Chhetri (1890–1986), Suren Singh (?), Kamal Singh (1898–1965), Phatik Singh (1910–1987), Mahtab Singh (1915–1973), Janga Singh (1899–1968) and Chanda Singh (1901–1995) who participated in the non-cooperation movement and also ‘planned protest meetings, organised national schools, set up mobile volunteer groups for propagating the use of khadi (home-spun cotton) and suffered varying terms of imprisonment’ (2013: 326). This respondent was a senior officer in a public sector undertaking who is also concerned about their identity issues. For details, see Chapter 4.

4

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs in the Deccan and the North-East

The previous two chapters have highlighted the socio-historical background of the Sikh communities settled in the Deccan and the NorthEast, respectively. It is now pertinent to look into their socio-economic and cultural profile that seems to defy the commonsense understanding of the Punjabi Sikhs, given to believe that Sikhs cannot be living in such shabby circumstances as one finds from the present empirical study. It is interesting to observe that there is quite a resemblance on the socioeconomic parameters between the respondents in two different regions and two separate societies. In the contemporary market society, the minimum material means of subsistence are essential to make a living, if not to maintain a healthy human existence in a civilised society. This chapter tends to show that their living standards are far from bare living, let alone modest. Most households are defying the minimum standards of sanitation and hygienic conditions. Their slum dwelling is challenging the human rights of living standards in the twenty-first century. The following information would substantiate that the living conditions of majority respondents are more than miserable. They are not victims of the culture of poverty à la Oscar Lewis (1959) but of the mismanagement of the liberal democratic state. The very import of the present study is to provide an empirical evidence in this respect to those agencies, governmental and non-governmental, that may wish to dole out certain benefits of welfare measures to them. This chapter will thus lay bare the economic and other material living conditions of the Sikhs in the two regions, in two different corners of the country. Besides this description of their profile, it will also dispel many doubts and whims about their persona, their cultural adaptation and assimilation in respective societies. It will also reflect on the critical issue of their relation to Punjabi language (Gurmukhi) and their adherence to the Sikh religion and practice.

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Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

It would be useful to remind the reader that the following discussion uses ‘Sikhs in the Deccan’ as a generic term referring to all three communities – Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara – while the Dakhani Sikhs will be taken in its specific sense only. Similarly, ‘Sikhs in the NE’ is a generic term that includes the Axomiya and the Mazhabi Sikhs or safai karamcharis. For the confusion that may persist, my apologies are due.

Demographic features The Sikh households totalling 1,011 have been surveyed in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh (now Telengana), Maharashtra and Karnataka with focus on the Dakhani and the Axomiya Sikhs. Let me recall that given the objectives of the study and for the convenience of discussion also, it is preferred to club the variety of Sikh respondents – Dakhani, Sikligar, Banjara, Axomiya and Mazhabi or safai karamcharis – under two heads only, one belonging to the North-East (NE) and the other to the Deccan region. The justification is already given in the introduction. There are 540 heads of households as respondents from the NE and 471 from the Deccan, that is 53.41 per cent and 46.59 per cent, respectively. The total population of the sample households is 4,955, out of which 2,342 are from the NE and the remaining 2,613 hail from the Deccan. The gender composition of this population is 2,330 females and 2,625 males. Of the latter, 1,242 are in the NE and 1,383 in the Deccan. The female population is 1,100 and 1,230, respectively. In a market society, income of the household is the most important variable since all other appurtenances flow from it. The survey shows that since income levels are not high, it is considered useful to divide the respondents into three levels. Of these 313 (30.96 per cent) households fall in the lowest income group

Table 4.1 Demographic parameters Parameters

Total

Region North-East

Total population Male Female No. of households Average family size Average age

4,955 2,625 2,330 1,011 4.9 29.03

2,342 1,242 1,100 540 4.34 30.28

Deccan 2,613 1,383 1,230 471 5.55 27.9

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

105

of Rs. 5,000 per month and below; 439 (43.42 per cent) in the middle group from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 per month; and the highest income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month has 259 (25.62 per cent) households. The average size of the family is well within the normatively stipulated number of 4.9 persons to a nuclear family, though there is an exceptional case of a Sikligar family in the Deccan that has 33 members, that being a joint family. The average size is lower in the NE with 4.34 members than the Deccan with 5.55 members. The age of the respondents is also an indicator of the qualitative character of the sample population, its productivity, gumption and consumption. The average age is not high, that is, 29.03 years. If the size of family is small in the NE, the average age is higher (30.28 years) there than in the Deccan (27.9 years). After browsing through the demographic parameters of the sample population, it is useful to look into its educational statistics. Education is a crucial factor in the modern society since it improves the quality of the respondent’s life chances in terms of employment and productiveness besides affecting the quality of each aspect of her life. It is thus important to gloss over the broad contours of the data in this respect. Of the total 4,955 persons, largest share goes to the matric (class ten) and primary level (class five) of education with 1,432 (28.9 per cent) and 1,393 (28.11 per cent) persons, respectively. The number of graduates is 323 (6.52 per cent) and that of the postgraduates is further lower, 50 (1.01 per cent) only. It is dismally low for the population that is largely not only urban but metropolitan, that is, in and around Guwahati/Dispur and Shillong and Hyderabad. Leaving aside Guwahati all are the capital cities of the respective states in the NE and the Deccan. Dispur is the capital of Assam but Guwahati is larger in size and the two make a compact urban agglomeration. In such cities, there is no dearth of quality educational institutions following the legacy of the colonial regime and the Christian missionaries providing convent education. Despite that, the illiterates too have a large share, with 996 persons constituting 20.1 per cent of the sample population that is quite disturbing in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The regional variations are quite significant. The population in the NE is much ahead of its counterpart in the Deccan in certain respects. The number of those with matric and primary level education is almost similar, that is, 34.85 per cent and 35.57 per cent in the NE, while the corresponding figures in the Deccan are 23.43 per cent and 21.26 per cent, respectively. The number of graduates is slightly higher in the Deccan, 7.2 per cent compared to the NE, that is 5.85 per cent but the

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Table 4.2 Education statistics Education level

Total No.

Illiterate Below 5th Primary Matric Graduate Postgraduate

996 761 1,393 1,432 323 50 4,955

North-East

Deccan

%

No.

%

No.

%

20.1 15.36 28.11 28.9 6.52 1.01 100

242 292 844 827 137 31 2,373

10.33 12.47 36.04 35.31 5.85 1.31 100

754 469 549 605 186 19 2,582

29.2 18.16 21.26 23.43 7.2 0.74 100

order is reversed at the postgraduate level. It is insignificant at 1.01 per cent in the total sample, yet the NE scores higher than the Deccan, that is, 1.31 and 0.74 per cent, respectively. The Deccan on the other hand leads the levels of percentage at the primary level of education and those who are illiterate. These figures are 18.16 per cent and 29.2 per cent respectively in the Deccan compared to 12.31 per cent and 10.2 per cent in the NE, respectively. In the total sample of 1,011, 90.11 per cent have male heads of household and 9.89 per cent have female heads. The region-wise break-up shows that 540 households have been surveyed in Assam and Meghalaya, out of which 88.33 per cent are headed by the males and the remaining 11.67 per cent by the females. The corresponding figures in the Deccan area are 92.14 per cent and 7.86 per cent, respectively, out of a total of 471 households. The larger share falls in the metropolis of Hyderabad and its suburbs, and Nanded with second largest population of the Dakhani Sikhs. A look at the gender-based heads of the households’ division of income levels informs us that 90.11 per cent households can be split into three levels that do not mark much significant differences. There are 84.35 per cent households that fall into the income level of up to Rs. 5,000 per month, while 90.43 per cent and 96.53 per cent households have incomes between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 per month, and above Rs. 14,000, respectively. For these households, number increases with increase in income levels touching the highest 96.53 per cent. But the situation with female heads of household is the reverse. There are merely 9.89 per cent households with female heads. Their proportion decreases with rise in income level. Out of 9.89 per cent households, 15.65 per cent have income level of less than Rs. 5,000 per month; 9.57 per cent fall between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 per month; and

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only 3.47 per cent have income more than Rs. 14,000 per month. It tells us clearly that households with female heads do not carry out well as far as income generation is concerned. On the contrary, in the case of male heads of households there is no significant difference between the three levels, though there is gradual rise in their proportion from 84.35 per cent to 90.43 per cent to 96.53 per cent, respectively, as the income level rises from the lowest to the highest level. It suggests that a female does not take the command of the house under normal circumstances but only in the absence of an effective male member of the household. Interestingly, there is hardly any effect of the socio-cultural and/or regional factors on this aspect of heading a household in India. The male domination and household leadership is inevitably conspicuous, be it the feudal Deccan or the tribal and liberal Christianised NE. The Khasi culture of matriarchy has no effect on the Sikh households in this respect. When this variable is related to income, it upholds the popular perception that the lower the income level is the percentage of female heads of households. In this sample, the proportion of male heads rises with an increase in income levels. The households with income of up to Rs. 5,000 per month report 84.35 per cent male heads. This figure jumps to 90.43 per cent as income rises to Rs. 14,000 per month and to 96.53 per cent for households beyond the previous level. Conversely, 15.65 per cent households in the first income group have female heads that fall to 9.57 per cent and 3.47 per cent respectively as income levels increase. In terms of the size of family, larger proportion of sample (46.88 per cent) has three to four members followed by 33.14 per cent that have five to six members only. Thus, the majority of households fall in the middle range of three to six members. Their total stands at 80.02 per cent. This shows that majority Sikh households across regions – NE and the Deccan – and across rural and urban areas, have three to six members only. It is important to note that both extremes of family sizes, namely, up to two and more than six members have smaller percentage of households, 4.95 per cent and 15.03 per cent, respectively. Is it the effectiveness of the Government of India’s slogan for family planning – Hum do hamare do? Literally, we two and ours two. This study also tends to defy the popular perception that small income groups have families larger than the middle or high income groups. A further analysis shows that when one looks at the lowest income group of up to Rs. 5,000 per month, there are 48.88 per cent households that have three to four members only. On the other hand, for the highest income group of Rs. 14,000 and more per month, highest percentage (41.7) of households have five to six members.

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Table 4.3 Number of family members Group/ subgroup

Up to 2

3–4

N

%

N

%

N

%

N

%

31 19

5.74 4.03

304 170

56.3 36.09

173 162

32.04 34.39

32 120

5.93 25.48

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 28 8.95 153 2. 5–14 16 3.64 232 3. Above 14 6 2.32 89

48.88 52.85 34.36

100 127 108

31.95 28.93 41.7

32 64 56

10.22 14.58 21.62

All data

46.88

335

33.14

152

15.03

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

50

4.95

474

5–6

Above 6

This is the picture for the total sample but a comparison between the households of the NE and the Deccan also makes an interesting observation. The figures between the two regions are similar when the family size confines to five to six members. The NE has 32.04 per cent households while for the Deccan it stands at 34.39 per cent. There is greater variation at all other numbers of family members, for instance, three to four members are reported by 56.3 per cent households in the NE while the corresponding number stands at 36.09 per cent in the Deccan. It seems to go well with the prescription of family planning in India – Hum do, hamare do – that more than half the population in the NE, despite the menial caste of safai karamcharis and the ruralite Axomiya Sikhs, that the families are planned. When we consider the number of households with more than six members, there is greater variation between the two regions. It is 5.93 per cent in the NE but 25.48 per cent in the Deccan. No plausible explanation, however tentative, is available. Only further research may give us some clue to this riddle. A look at the age structure of the heads of the household in the total sample shows that 14.34 per cent heads of the households are young, up to 30 years, and the rest fall in the higher age group. There are 28.78 per cent that fall between 30 and 40 years, 27 per cent between 40 and 50 years and 29.87 per cent in the category of 50 years and more. It shows that the decennial age structure at three levels from 30 to 50 years and above has almost similar percentage of heads of households. A relation with income shows interesting results. The three income

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109

Table 4.4 Age group (years) Group/subgroup

Up to 30

30–40

N

%

N

%

N

%

N

%

9.44 19.96

175 116

32.41 24.63

152 121

28.15 25.69

162 140

30 29.72

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 71 22.68 100 2. 5–14 41 9.34 143 3. Above 14 33 12.74 48

31.95 32.57 18.53

82 124 67

26.2 28.25 25.87

60 131 111

19.17 29.84 42.86

All data

28.78

273

27

302

29.87

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

51 94

145

14.34

291

40–50

Above 50

levels have least effect on the average age of the heads of households between 30 and 50 years that falls for the age group of up to 30 years and rises for the last group of 50 years and more. For the respondents, younger than 40 years, the number falls with increase in income levels from Rs. 5,000 per month to Rs. 14,000 and more while it remains constant at all the three levels for the age group of 40–50 years. On the other hand, those above 50 years register a jump from 19.17 per cent to 42.86 per cent heads of households as income rises from the first to the third level. The inter-regional variations are also not significant except only at the first level of up to 30 years. In the NE, it is lower at 9.44 per cent heads of households while the corresponding figure in the Deccan is 19.96 per cent, meaning thereby that larger number of households in the Deccan have younger heads compared to the NE. For the 30 to 50 years group the gap between the regions narrows and is completely decimated when it reaches the last category of 50 years and above. There is no difference at all. Both regions record 29.87 per cent heads of households, specifically 30 per cent in the NE and 29.72 per cent in the Deccan. The caste composition of the heads of the sample households is quite skewed for two reasons. First, it is considered an anomaly in Sikh society since the Sikh religion and philosophy do not permit or prescribe caste stratification, rather it demolishes this age-old system of Hinduism. Second, in the quotidian life of respondents, in a caste and class society where they are required to mention their caste inevitably while

110

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filling an application form for admission, employment or financial grant, or ration card, how does one run away from it? It is pertinent to recall, that Guru Nanak along with other bhaktas of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had vociferously condemned and debunked caste system in the harshest terms. All the subsequent Sikh gurus made their own contributions in eradicating caste system by establishing gurdwaras and institutionalising other practices of sangat (congregation of people), pangat (queue) and langar (free meals or community kitchen) and so forth. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh finally created the Khalsa, of amritdhari Sikhs, a brotherhood of people irrespective of any caste, class or creed. He made all caste people take amrit (nectar) from the same bowl and renamed them, given the suffix ‘Singh’ to men and ‘Kaur’ to women in lieu of their surnames and caste designations.1 It has to be a society of equal people but militant in character, ever ready and willing to fight against any kind of domination and oppression in society and politics. This was a well-thought-out and planned strategy of the Sikh gurus to instil the sense of equality and justice in the caste-divided Indian society. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts of the Sikh gurus and their attempts to institutionalise these principles of Sikh religion and philosophy in various ways for a just society have been set aside over the years. These principles have been overpowered by the age-old caste system of Hinduism. On the other hand, the quotidian life of the majority people in the sample who are marginal in some respects in their society are vying for the government measures given to different castes in particular, announced from time to time. It has been observed during the field survey that in case of the Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs, classification on basis of caste had been problematic. They are not conscious of it. They would like to be called simply Sikhs. Then there are those who for getting benefits of welfare schemes call themselves Scheduled Castes or OBC. Thus, we practically have two major divisions, the general caste and the Scheduled Castes among the Sikhs in the sample. Interestingly, in the NE there are neither Scheduled Tribes nor the OBCs among Sikhs while in the Deccan these are slightly more than 2 per cent each. The Sikligars are a Scheduled Tribe and they would identify themselves strictly with their name rather than a general category of a Sikh or a Scheduled Tribe. Each respondent said: ‘We are Sikligar.’ All other identities including Sikh are secondary to them. A look at the caste data shows that despite official proclamation of the Sikh religion, castes in the Sikh society do exist at both the places – NE and the Deccan – though in diluted form compared to Punjab or

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111

Table 4.5 Caste Group/subgroup

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

General/ Sikh

SC

N

N

%

253 46.85 281 261 55.41 10

%

Sikligar

OBC

Other/ ST

N

N

N

%

52.04 2.12 179 38

%

%

6 1.11 11 2.34 10 1.83

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 130 41.54 58 2. 5–14 245 55.81 130 3. Above 14 139 53.67 103

18.53 111 35.46 29.61 55 12.53 39.77 13 5.02

All data

28.78 179 17.71 11 1.09 16 1.58

514 50.84 291

4 1.28 10 3.2 6 1.37 3 0.68 1 0.39 3 1.16

elsewhere. It is not only for the sake of convenience that we club these into the general, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the OBCs. It is a regional feature that majority respondents in the NE characterise themselves as belonging to the ‘general’ caste while those in the Deccan would like to identify themselves not with caste but religion. Thus for purposes of tabulation and analysis, such respondents at both places have been clubbed under the general category. The tribal people too are there in the Deccan sample who remain outside the caste fold. Thus, we have 50.84 per cent general caste or Sikh, 28.78 per cent Scheduled Castes, 19.29 per cent Scheduled Tribes, that is, Sikligar, Banjara/Lambada and 1.09 per cent OBC. Interestingly, the question of caste draws two inferences in the two regions. In the NE, there is a clear polarisation between the general and the Scheduled Castes, the latter being 52.04 per cent and the former 44.07 per cent, respectively and 2.78 per cent respondents returned themselves as Sikhs but did not mention any caste (as prescribed in Sikhism) but they belong to the general category, hence their total number is 46.85 per cent. In the Deccan, on the other hand, no one returned oneself in the general caste but as a Sikh. This proportion amounts to 55.41 per cent. Others in the sample are the Sikligars, who have returned themselves by their tribal identity while the Banjaras/ Lambadas call themselves Sikh. There is no anomaly in the tribal response. The latter are earning their living as religious functionaries. From the preceding discussion, one is tempted to draw an inference that the Dakhani Sikhs are practising the tenets of Sikhism by opting

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Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

out of the caste hierarchy. A deeper study may reveal something different on the ground. One may wonder at the large population of the Scheduled Castes in the NE. Their number in the total sample of 540 is 281 which accounts for 52.04 per cent households. These people constitute 28.78 per cent households in the total sample of 1,011. This large size is due to two factors as mentioned earlier. First, there is a sizable population (162) of safai karamcharis, the Scheduled Castes from Punjab settled in the NE. Second, 119 Axomiya Sikhs have also returned themselves as the Scheduled Castes. Thus, we have a total of 281 Scheduled Castes in the NE. Two explanations follow (see below). When we relate the caste data to levels of income, some interesting observations show up. Of the Scheduled Castes households, 39.77 per cent have income of more than Rs. 14,000 per month while 48.14 per cent fall below that level. A further break-up shows that in the whole sample, 18.53 per cent respondents fall below the income level of Rs. 5,000 per month. It is not surprising when we look at the occupational structure of this population as mentioned earlier. The Axomiya Sikhs based in villages have land and safai karmacharis in the capital towns are employees in the public or semi-public sector undertakings drawing salaries. They have small businesses too, looked after either by the respondent’s wife or a grown up child who is usually an unemployed son or a school dropout. Such factors boost the monthly income of these Scheduled Castes families. In the present times when jobs are getting scarce, some of them have arranged loans for their sons from the government and/or other funding agencies to ply their own cabs, though many of them are employed as drivers privately. These young men find this work closer to their temperament and profitable too with rise in tourism – religious or otherwise – and the hotel industry besides the increased routine business. In the NE, these cabs shuttle between Guwahati and Shillong as also between Nanded and Bidar in the Deccan on a daily basis. The latter is primarily religious tourism while the former is general since Shillong is the ‘Scotland of the east’ and Guwahati is its gateway, as also of the NE. There are other similarities and dissimilarities in the responses of the subjects of this study between the two regions. The significant similarity is that all those who claim to be the descendants of the soldiers sent by Ranjit Singh, namely the Axomiya Sikhs in Assam and the Dakhani Sikhs in the Deccan, claim to believe and practise the tenets of Sikh religion and philosophy. They neither mention their caste nor

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113

the surname, and even if one asks them persistently, they express ignorance. ‘We do not know’ is the standard reply. It is observed in the field that when some younger heads of the households asked their elders about it, they too drew blank. Only a few among them mentioned their gotra or surname but not the caste. There is hardly anyone who displays his gotra identity either on the nameplate or the visiting card (of course with exceptions) but some do claim they are Sandhu, Bhullar, Sodhi or Bedi. It is pertinent to mention that the first two are the gotras or surnames of the Jutt Sikhs in Punjab and the remaining two of the Sikh gurus. Those of them who are establishing alliances of their children in Punjab especially are getting conscious of this aspect of their identity and social status while others are still not bothered about it. They prefer to be called as singh sahib or sardar ji. A Dakhani Sikh summed it up well: ‘Yahaan iski zaroorat nahin.’ It is of no use here. A verbatim reply came from the Axomiya Sikhs as well. Besides these larger chunks of the sample, Sikligar and Banjara/Lambada communities in the Deccan that also subscribe to the Sikh tenets do not mention caste or surname. We have not come across a single case in the sample. It seems more an effect of tribal tradition than Sikhism. A tribe by definition does not have caste and there is opposition between the two on this count, but the gotra too is not mentioned by them. The gotra, however, is not hierarchical but only segmentary, for purposes of marital alliances. The tribal people do not subscribe to the caste ideology, and Sikhism seems to have further legitimised and concretised their non-hierarchical disposition with regard to social stratification. The tribal communities in the present study constitute about 41.82 per cent households, that is, 197 in the sample of 471 in the Deccan only. Thus, we are left with 55.41 per cent households of the Dakhani Sikhs, besides the tribal. The situation in the NE is similar in the sense that the Axomiya Sikhs constitute 46.85 per cent households in the sample who prefer to address themselves belonging to the general caste despite the fact that they do not display their caste or surname anywhere. Paradoxically, quite a large number among them are Scheduled Castes. There are two versions about it. First, the former claim to be the progeny of a Scheduled Castes woman who married their ancestor Ram Singh though he also had another wife from a higher caste. Second, others contest this argument and consider it a ploy to seek and secure jobs, admissions, promotions and other benefits from the government – central or state – on account of the reservation policy due to the Scheduled Castes.

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Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

Communication between people The question of language is an important indicator of a person’s identity. It affirms a person’s rootedness in a given culture and society. It is very crucial in the Axomiya Sikh context since most of them speak one language only. The Assamese Sikh Sanstha has made it a yardstick of one’s Axomiyaness.2 The same condition however does not apply in the Deccan where the Dakhani Sikhs have spread over three linguistic states and have proficiency in the state language besides others. Their social networking, kinship and marital alliances across different linguistic states are a binding factor in this direction and constructing their Dakhani identity. A look at the data reveals that the Axomiya Sikhs are thoroughly immersed in the local language and culture of Assam, if language spoken by them is considered a criterion. The present study tries to look at both the dimensions of language, namely, written and spoken. The latter is divided further into two categories, that is, language spoken at home and outside. The former makes the private sphere where a person feels comfortable in one’s mother tongue. It is, the language learnt first by a child. The latter being public sphere has numerous constraints of speech defined largely by the language of the dominant community. The state language too coerces people to correspond and communicate in the official language. In the case of NE, 62.78 per cent heads of households speak only Axomiya at home that makes 339 of the total sample of 540 households that includes the Punjabi safai karamcharis too. A break-up from the Axomiya Sikhs (339/365) makes it 92.87 per cent. There are 4.26 per cent respondents who combine it with Hindi that enhances the number of Axomiya speakers to 67.04 per cent from the total NE sample and to 97.14 per cent from among the Axomiya alone. Those who speak Hindi only at home are mere 0.56 per cent. Interestingly, there are 29.26 per cent respondents in this sample who speak Punjabi only at home. These are safai karamcharis of Guwahati/ Dispur and Shillong. Very few (1.11 per cent) of these people combine it with Hindi for communication within the family. These people do not marry local women but always look forward to somebody from their own community, either there or from Punjab. As already mentioned, the residents of the two capital towns of the NE have close social ties. The marriages between the residents of these two places is common, almost a norm. It is this reason that the typical Punjabi dialect and intonation characteristic of their area of origin in Punjab – Amritsar and Gurdaspur – are still intact despite staying there for long,

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115

since birth even. There are 2.04 per cent respondents only who use more than two languages at home. Given the location of their residence and nature of occupation, they are multilingual. For instance, the majority residents of Shillong may speak Punjabi at home, Khasi in public and Hindi with outsiders. Those visiting Assam frequently also have working knowledge of Axomiya. The situation of the residents at Guwahati/Dispur is similar where Khasi is replaced by Axomiya, and in that order. The case of language in the Deccan is different from that of the NE. It is surprising to note that those Sikhs who speak Telugu only, being in Andhra Pradesh (Telengana), is nil. I repeat, there is no one who has returned speaking Telugu only at home though they are very fluent in it. There are 54.35 per cent who return Hindi only as their language of conversation at home while 5.94 per cent combine it with Punjabi. Interestingly, 0.42 per cent respondents only speak Punjabi, which in Punjab is considered the language of the Sikhs. This is the communalisation of language, which is why the communal Hindus in Punjab do not return Punjabi as their mother tongue.3 The Punjabi Sikhs at both places, the NE and the Deccan are no less infected with this communal virus – so much so that they consider it as an index of one’s true Sikh identity (more later). For them, knowledge of Punjabi language is so essential for Sikh identity that one who does not know it is considered ‘duplicate,’ hence this slur – ‘Eh keho jehey Sikh ne, Punjabi nahin jande?’ What sort of Sikhs are these who do not know Punjabi? The lingua franca of the Dakhani Sikhs is Hindi even if they are very fluent in Telugu. It may be due to the metropolitan character of Hyderabad and also Urdu being the official language of the Nizam’s state. The predominance of the Muslim population subscribing to Urdu is another factor that is historically determined. The linguistic proximity between Urdu and Hindi also make it convenient for public conversation. Nanded and Bidar being centres of religious tourism make impelling conversation in Hindi that cuts across regional and linguistic boundaries where they have to interact with people of other regions and languages. The migrant labour from northern India, Hindi films and songs, and the proliferation of information technology together contribute to the popularity of Hindi in daily life. Thus, Hindi comes in most handy. It is found there are 4.03 per cent respondents only who use more than two languages at home. The Sikligars are a case different from the Dakhani Sikhs. They have their own language or dialect called Sikligari for communication within the family and the community. They are particular about it and their proportion in the Deccan sample only stands at 33.55 per cent.

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Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

A further break-up suggests that 29.09 per cent respondents speak Sikligari only at home and 4.46 per cent combine it with Hindi. The pro-Hindi factors mentioned above influence them too besides their interaction with other people outside their community. If the preceding description tells us about the language spoken at home, it is also worthwhile looking into the language of conversation in the public domain. In the case of the NE, 51.85 per cent respondents communicate in Axomiya only while 16.3 per cent also combine it with Hindi. Adding the two figures, the total number of Axomiyaspeaking Sikhs in the NE becomes 68.15 per cent. Those who speak Hindi only are 17.96 per cent. Since the Sikh safai karamcharis also reside at Shillong, they also combine Khasi with Hindi and this comes out to be 6.3 per cent. The scene in the Deccan is different. Surprisingly, there is not a single Sikh respondent who speaks Telugu only in Andhra Pradesh (Telengana), or Marathi only in Maharashtra or Kannada only in Karnataka. All these state languages are combined with Hindi in the public domain. Thus, we have 31.21 per cent respondents who combine Hindi with Telugu which is the largest population in the sample from Andhra Pradesh (Telengana). There are 11.25 per cent respondents who combine it with Marathi that occupies the second position in the combination of languages, while the last one combining Hindi with Kannada is mere 1.5 per cent. This of course is linked to the size of the respective community and its sample. The Dakhani Sikhs at Nanded and Bidar do speak Punjabi, especially those working in the gurdwaras due to the heavy rush of Punjabi pilgrims. Those operating transport vehicles for the tourists and others owning shops and booths near the gurdwaras also try to communicate with the pilgrims in Punjabi, but this is never the sole language of communication in the public domain in the Deccan but for the Punjabi pilgrims. This tooty-phooty or broken Punjabi is to impress the tourist, a bid to develop rapport with her. They never use Punjabi among themselves in public domain. The proportion of those respondents who combine Hindi, Marathi and Punjabi is 9.98 per cent while those who combine Punjabi with Hindi and Telugu is mere 3.4 per cent. It is important to note that there are 10.4 per cent respondents among Sikhs in the Deccan who speak Hindi only outside the home. There are 8.28 per cent respondents who use more than three languages while talking to people outside the home. Such proportion is less in the NE; 3.34 per cent respondents only. Having looked at the spoken language at home and outside, it is relevant to see what is the writing skill of the respondents in the sample and which language they use. As per the Census of India, a literate

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

117

person is one who may be able to write her name. There are 20.57 per cent respondents in the total sample who expressed their inability to write any language. A break-up of this figure in terms of region shows that the proportion of those who cannot write is quite small in the NE (6.48 per cent) while it is quite large (36.73 per cent) in the Deccan. An obvious explanation may be the greater literacy level of general population in the NE as also of the component of safai karamcharis who are invariably employed in the secretariat and other government offices. The educational facilities in terms of number and quality also are easily available there. The colonial legacy of the Shillong town and Christian missionary zeal are responsible for boosting the school education. Besides the capital towns of Guwahati/Dispur and Shillong where there is no dearth of government and other schools of all types and for all classes of people, the villages – Barkola and Chaparmukh – of the district of Nagaon in Assam (NE) too have schools from lower to higher levels. Barkola village boasts of a college and a Guru Nanak Library. In the case of NE, 44.63 per cent respondents write in Axomiya only. They use no other language. There are 20.19 per cent respondents (Table 4.6), who combine Axomiya with one more language. Therefore, the total number of respondents who write in Axomiya is 350 or 64.82 per cent. On the other hand, those who can write in Hindi are 8.33 per cent respondents while 8.33 per cent combine it (Hindi) with English. Those who combine it with other language are 9.82 per cent. The latter figure is solely due to the safai karamcharis of the NE and that too of senior generation since modern youth are not given an exposure to writing skills in their native language, Punjabi. The situation in the Deccan is different where 36.73 per cent respondents cannot write. It may be attributed largely to the Sikligar population in the sample. It is due not only to their utter poverty but also due to the fact that they do not reside permanently at a place following their nomadic lifestyle and traditional occupation. It is for the first time in their history that a housing colony – Guru Gobind Singh Colony – was developed in the Ranga Reddy District. It does not let us infer that the Dakhani Sikhs have high literacy rate. Out of the remaining, those who could write in Hindi, their strength stands at 11.25 per cent and those who could do so in three languages, namely Hindi, Telugu and English are 10.62 per cent respondents. There are 7.01 per cent respondents who can write in Hindi and English both. Obviously, these are the respondents of relatively younger generation who have schooling to some higher grade and are employed in some office. Others who could write in Hindi and Telugu, and Hindi and

118

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

Marathi are 7.86 per cent and 5.31 per cent respondents respectively. All other combinations of languages in which these respondents could write vary from 1.27 per cent to 5.31 per cent.

Making a living In the traditional Indian society the communities followed their own occupations that were either defined and determined by the caste in the mainstream society and in the tribal world by a variety of occupations and constraints defined by the community’s expertise and the available natural resources. In a way, as in caste, each tribe specialised in some occupation for its livelihood as the Sikligars specialise traditionally in metal works and the Banjaras/Lambadas in trade. With the modernisation of Indian society and onset of industrialisation and urbanisation, the traditional occupations of the tribal and mainstream communities have undergone change, defined less by nature but more by the market. It is thus significant to look into the nature of occupations of the respondents and sources of income generation in the modernising Indian society where market has assumed paramount importance. There is rich diversity of occupations, present and past. The locales of their work also range from a big metropolis to class I cities to small towns and finally, the villages. Thus, we have respondents living and working in Hyderabad as also in villages like Barkola and Chaparmukh in Assam. It is common knowledge that income and occupation or the type of work are positively correlated. There is noteworthy homogeneity in the type of low income occupations that the respondents are following across the two regions. The respondents who are engaged in high status and high salary jobs may be counted on fingertips at both places. Following the discussion on income levels, it is clearly brought out in Table 4.6 that higher income levels in the NE as compared to the Deccan lie in the fact that in the case of former, 19.07 per cent households are engaged in agriculture and 38.15 per cent in service or jobs. The corresponding figures in the Deccan are a mere 1.91 and 23.14 per cent households. Besides these, the metal works is the only activity that has a high proportion of 31.63 per cent households. These respondents constitute the largest proportion (28.12 per cent) in the lowest income level of up to Rs. 5,000 per month. On the contrary, those in job or service have the largest share of 49.42 per cent in the top income level of Rs. 14,000 and above. The only other type of work that comes next with 23.55 per cent respondents is small business. All other types of work lag far behind.

All data

151

14.94

81

8.01

4.79 13.44 2.7

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 88 28.12 15 2. 5–14 49 11.16 59 3. Above 14 14 5.41 7

0.37 31.63

7.96 8.07

2 149

%

N

N

%

Driver

Met. work

43 38

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Group/subgroup

Table 4.6 Type of work (present)

47

17 26 4

35 12

N

4.65

5.43 5.92 1.54

6.48 2.55

%

House work

186

50 75 61

100 86

N

18.4

15.97 17.08 23.55

18.52 18.26

%

Self/busi.

112

19 73 20

103 9

N

11.08

6.07 16.63 7.72

19.07 1.91

%

Agricult.

315

65 122 128

206 109

N

31.16

20.77 27.79 49.42

38.15 23.14

%

Job/serv.

119

59 35 25

51 68

N

Other

11.77

18.85 7.97 9.65

9.45 14.44

%

120

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

The majority respondents in the sample of 1,011 are engaged in low income/status level jobs, like a driver of an autorickshaw or a taxi, or in a private or a religious institution like a gurdwara which is a major source of employment to them in the Deccan. Some have petty businesses like small corner booths or stalls selling assorted items or repairing some electronic gadgets or selling souvenirs and gifts. Some others are engaged in labour. The women heads of households have invariably returned their occupation as housework. In the NE 6.48 per cent and in the Deccan 2.55 per cent respondents are engaged in housework. In the overall sample, 1.78 per cent respondents only do not work which is more due to their old age and ill health.4 The Sikligars are self-employed in the sense that they make their own products and sell them as hawkers. All members of this community have returned metal works as their main occupation which is also their traditional occupation. In the Deccan, 31.63 per cent heads of households fall in this category that makes 14.94 per cent of the total sample of 1,011 households. These people also have the largest share in the low level income category of Rs. 5,000 and less per month. Those respondents who have returned job or service as their present occupation take the largest share with 31.16 per cent. Out of these, 38.15 per cent are in the NE and 23.14 per cent in the Deccan. The business or self-employment, as one would like to call even a small booth in a corner of one’s house, has 18.4 per cent households and the share of numbers between the two regions is just the same, 18.52 per cent in the NE and 18.26 per cent in the Deccan. The number of those respondents as heads of households engaged in driving is also similar, that is, 7.96 per cent and 8.07 per cent, respectively. Doing labour does not have a significant share in the sample. It is mere 4.65 per cent. A look at the overall data shows that of all the occupations, selfemployment or business and job or service, the proportion of respondents increases with rise in income. For instance, there are 15.97 per cent respondents in the Rs. 5,000 per month income group that rises to 23.55 per cent in the Rs. 14,000 and more per month income group. The corresponding figures for the service people are 20.77 per cent and 49.42 per cent, respectively. On the other hand, in the case of driving and agriculture the majority respondents concentrate in the middle income category of Rs. 5,000–14,000 per month, that is, 13.44 per cent and 16.63 per cent, respectively (see Table 4.6). The nature and type of occupation determines the income of the individual person and the socio-economic status of the household. The preceding description of the type of work respondents undertake suggests that the income levels of the respondents are not high.

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

121

A look at the data informs that 30.96 per cent households fall in the lowest income group of Rs. 5,000 per month, while 25.62 per cent have monthly income of Rs. 14,000 and more. The largest proportion of households (43.42 per cent) lie in the middle income level of Rs. 5,000–14,000 per month. Thus we have about 74.18 per cent households that have monthly income of less than Rs. 14,000. But inter-regional variations are quite manifestly visible. The households in the NE have consistently higher income than those in the Deccan. In the NE, the number of households in the first slot (up to Rs. 5,000 per month) is a mere 18.89 per cent while that in the Deccan stands at 44.8 per cent. For the next slot of up to Rs. 14,000 per month, 50 per cent households in the NE are juxtaposed to 35.88 per cent in the Deccan. Once again, in the highest income category of more than Rs. 14,000 per month, the Sikhs in the NE excel those in the Deccan. The latter have 19.32 per cent households only while the former have 31.11 per cent. The reason seems to lie in the nature of occupations that is different at two places. The agricultural income and regular employment of the heads of the households in the NE put them at a pedestal of higher income compared to those in the Deccan where majority respondents are involved in petty business and low income work of the nomadic Sikligar community. The preceding discussion throws some interesting observations. One, that the respondents in the Deccan show lower income levels despite Hyderabad being a well-known economic hub of the South India. The metropolitan economy throws open many employment and self-dependent opportunities to people in a market society. The Dakhani and the tribal Sikhs, however, seem to remain insulated. The second issue flows from above that makes the presence of a metropolis redundant as we find that in both the regions, the proportion of people employed in own small-scale business or self-employment is exactly similar, that is, 18.52 per cent in the NE and 18.26 per cent in the Deccan. The third issue too flows from the above, that is in both cases the number of households engaged in driving is similar, 7.96 per cent and 8.07 per cent, respectively. How is it, and why so? It may be unearthed with further research and deeper inquiry. In a modernising society, agriculture is not a preferred productive activity for the people. The levels of development and modernisation too are determined on the basis of how much population is not engaged in this primary activity. The lesser the population in it, more advanced is the society. But this formulation of social change does not fit into the present study where we find that 19.07 per cent households in the NE (Assam) are engaged in agriculture. It is an insignificant 1.91 per cent

122

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

only in the Deccan. The society might have modernised but the plight of the respondents has not improved. Why do the Sikhs in the Deccan not opt for agriculture? When this question is put to the respondents, they reply that since their parents had been employed in the Nizam’s forces and the service of a male member in the family was ensured by the state, they never bothered about the education of children. It may be recalled, that the son of a soldier of Jami’at-i-Sikhan, the Irregular Troops of Sikhs on attaining the age of five, was given a stipend and later absorbed in the forces proper at the age of 18 years. A senior Dakhani Sikh respondent of Hyderabad informs: Since our jobs were secure we never bothered to look for anything else and which is why we never took education seriously. It is our service orientation that made us least disposed to any other kind of trade or agriculture. We prefer a petty job to agriculture. The latter is not in our blood (hamare khoon mein nahin). That is why you will not find Dakhani Sikhs engaged in agriculture. It makes quite a contrasting picture with Assam (NE) where the ancestors of the Sikhs, who lost the battle and flew to hide in the rural hinterland, had no option but to adopt agriculture as means of their livelihood. The abundance of natural resources, virgin land and plenty of water must have attracted them towards agriculture, if nothing else, out of survival strategy. Moreover, if they were no shudras originally they must be cultivating land for their living. This engagement with virgin land and agriculture as a source of livelihood made them stick to the rural areas in the villages of Nagaon (Assam). The clearing of the forest for cultivation is also suggestive of their familiarity, if not expertise, in this occupation. If the Sikhs had married Keots and the Kalitas (cf. Medhi 1989: 65), the respectable agricultural castes of Assam, it might have been due to their gains in agriculture as successful cultivators that made them sufficiently eligible for marrying among these established castes. The respondents when asked about their present occupation and the one over the last five years informed there is no change in the occupation of 95.55 per cent heads of the households at both the places. For the NE, this figure is still higher with 97.41 per cent sticking to the same occupation while the corresponding figure is 93.42 per cent in the Deccan. The difference, of course, is not significant. This speaks about the changelessness of the attitude of the respondents about their occupation that may mean many things, such as varying from

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

123

contentment or satisfaction with the present job to the impossibility of laying hand on a new one as the discussion below suggests. First, there are no opportunities available for this class of people in terms of capital, education and technical skills and such other resources. The middle and the higher classes may cash upon the opportunities for occupational mobility – vertical or horizontal – in the metropolitan and capital towns of the ‘shining India.’ It is also more likely that they may not be able to lay their hands on something better effectively. Thus, lack of opportunities acts as an external constraint. Second, there may be an internal constraint on the part of these people. They may be willing to carry on with the present occupation, hence the existing lifestyle just following the force of inertia. Their religious orientation of contentment in life may have its own role. Most Indian religions prescribe keeping away from the material goods and wordly possessions since all these are illusory. Most respondents also suggested the oft quoted dictum: ‘Rabb ki hi raza mein razi rehna.’ That means to remain contented with the God’s will. The Sikh religion too emphasises this aspect in one’s life. Max Weber too seems to validate this formulation when he argues that ‘A man does not “by nature” wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he lives and as he is accustomed to live, and to earn as much as he is required to do so’ (1992 [1930]). The latter argument may be substantiated by a related question about the satisfaction level with their present occupation. It may be surprising to note that many respondents do not report gross dissatisfaction with their present occupation, whatever it is. For the total data, 53.91 per cent respondents expressed dissatisfaction while 46.09 per cent are satisfied. The gap between the two levels is not very prominent especially in the present times when gross dissatisfaction is associated with heightened aspiration levels necessary for progress and development. And, when matinee idols like Shah Rukh Khan advertise: ‘Don’t be santusht (contented) . . . (since it is half the phrase).’ The range of variation between the responses of the sample of two regions also is not that significant. Whatever difference is reflected is conspicuously marginal. For instance, if 56.11 per cent respondents are not satisfied with their present occupation in the NE, the corresponding figure in the Deccan is 51.38 per cent. Similarly, the proportions of those satisfied are 43.89 and 48.62 per cent, respectively. The higher proportion of the dissatisfied in the NE may be due to the menial jobs that safai karamcharis there are performing and the additional factor would be the label of outsider on them in Meghalaya. Numerous respondents confessed during their interviews these aspects of their

124

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

occupation and satisfaction. One of their senior leaders phrased their predicament in chaste Punjabi: ‘Phasey hoye ‘an. Chhadna vi chaunde ‘an, chhad vi nahin sakdey. Aithey koi hor karobar vi nahin kar sakde. Dukan-makan khareedan te pabandi aa.’ Literally, we are caught in a situation. We want to leave but cannot. We cannot do any business either. There is a ban on buying property – house or shop. All occupations of whatever type, have a cycle of work whatever that may be, but surely there is. Thus, we ask the respondents about their work cycle over the year under normal circumstances. It is found that 41.84 per cent respondents have an ‘all season work’ whereas 37.29 per cent respond that it does not apply to them. By this they mean that they are engaged in this occupation, for instance, as employees round the year. This had been a lacuna with the present study that the project fellows collecting data were not able to grasp the significance of this question despite repeated instructions. The respondents need not be blamed for inadequate information. Whatever information has been gathered shows that there are inter-regional variations in this response. In the NE, 69.63 per cent respondents opted for the ‘all season work,’ compared to 9.98 per cent in the Deccan. On the contrary, 17.59 per cent respondents in the former region and 59.87 per cent in the latter region reply that this question does not apply to them. The Sikligars were quick to mention that in certain months when religious and other festivals fall, for instance Diwali, Dussehra, Dhantera or Navratras, their engagement is doubled which is lean in other periods. Most of them have agreed: ‘Hamara season to char mahiney ka hota hai. Aatth mahiney to khatey hi hain.’ That we have a working season for four months only, we eat for the remaining eight months. Another question from the respondents about doing an activity when not gainfully engaged in a productive activity also meets the same fate. It was neither put to the respondents properly nor answered by them adequately. Whatever responses we have obtained show that 16.12 per cent respondents in the total sample spend time with family and friends while 28.68 per cent respondents keep themselves busy doing the housework, that is, the household chores. Mind you, it is not work at home or from home. The substantially large majority (55.19 per cent) filed a ‘does not apply to them’ column. Whatever be the quality of data collected, the inter-regional variations do reflect therein. In the NE, 26.3 per cent respondents remain with friends and family but a mere 4.46 per cent do so in the Deccan. This difference in response needs further inquiry. On the other hand, 22.96 per cent in the NE and 35.24 per cent respondents in the Deccan are busy doing housework.

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

125

When an enquiry is made from the respondents about the number of days of their gainful employment or engagement in occupation, it is informed that 29.48 per cent heads of households are engaged round the year. It includes those in employment in a government or a private or some other institution or even running an autorickshaw or a taxi. There are 15.23 per cent respondents that remain engaged for 240–365 days and 7.22 per cent for 120–240 days in a year. Only 6.33 per cent respondents are engaged for fewer than 120 days. But there is a large number of respondents (41.74 per cent) that inform that this question does not apply to them. Of the two regions, this proportion is too high for the respondents in the NE, that is, 71.48 per cent. My hunch is that due to improper articulation of the question by the project fellows, those engaged in self-employment and agriculture returned these figures. Only 11.3 per cent respondents remain engaged for about 120 days. In the Deccan on the other hand, 76.43 per cent respondents remain gainfully employed from 240 to 365 days in a year. The corresponding figure for the NE is poor, 17.04 per cent. We are also interested in finding out the inter-generational change in the occupations of the respondents and their parents. As a result of the forces of modernisation and change in economy over the past few decades and especially since independence of the country (1947), there is significant change in the occupational structure between two generations. The present generation is less likely to follow the traditional occupation of their parents. The present study too upholds this theoretical formulation. Table 4.6 (occupation of the head of household) when compared with the occupation of the head’s father attests to the above formulation. We can see clearly a shift in the low paid, less skilled and low income level occupations to high income, more skilled, regular service occupations. What we mean is that with modernisation of economy and society, agriculture and other land-related occupations recede in preference whereas technical and skilled services tend to go up. The Sikligar community is an exception as it is sticking to its traditional occupation though trends of diversification and change have started manifesting there too. The data informs that fathers of 33.63 per cent heads of households are engaged in agriculture compared to the present 11.08 per cent heads of households. This proportion is still higher because of the agriculturalists’ preponderance in the NE. A region-wise break-up of information shows that in case of the NE, it is found that 54.44 per cent of fathers of the present heads of households have agriculture as their principal occupation, that is, 9.77 per cent for the Sikhs in Deccan. The corresponding proportions for the present generation are

126

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

19.07 per cent heads of households in the NE and a mere 1.91 per cent in the Deccan. Thus, we find a clear inter-generational shift in agricultural occupation from 54.44 per cent to 19.07 per cent in the NE and from 9.77 per cent to 1.91 per cent in the Deccan. It is not surprising since it is a universal trend due to the modernising of traditional societies the world over. This figure may appear to be higher in the case of Sikhs in the Deccan given their social and occupational history who were in the services of the Nizam until the middle of the last century when the state was annexed by the Indian forces. There were 9.77 per cent of people of the previous generation that had landholdings not in and around Hyderabad but other smaller towns like Karimnagar, Warangal, Adilabad and Medak in the present state of Andhra Pradesh (now Telengana) and in Bidar and Nanded, also in the erstwhile state of Deccan. Whatever landholdings were there, got fragmented over generations and rendered nonviable, hence an insignificantly small population of the Dakhani Sikhs remains engaged in agriculture. Moreover, these Sikhs do not have such disposition to work on the land. Those who could not seek employment in the Nizam’s state services took to this work. The culture of service in the Dakhani Sikhs is also borne out from the present data. The proportion of fathers engaged in job or service stands at 30.79 per cent in the Deccan compared to 23.14 per cent of the present heads of households (see Table 4.7). This fall in proportion is obviously not due to their disinclination but due to the scarcity of government jobs over the last few decades. This inclination among Table 4.7 Income group (in thousand rupees) Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Up to 5

5–14

N

N

102 211

%

18.89 270 44.8 169

14 Plus %

50 168 35.88 91

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 313 100 2. 5–14 439 100 3. Above 14 All data

313

30.96 439

N

% 31.11 19.32 Chi^2=79.75**(df:2) C=0.27;

259 100

43.42 259

25.62

Chi^2=2022**(df:4) C=0.82;

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

127

the Dakhani Sikhs is well borne out when we compare the data with their counterparts in the NE. The present generation has 38.15 per cent respondents in jobs or services compared to 19.81 per cent of the previous generation. This higher proportion is due to shifting from agriculture to other occupations, especially government or public sector employment. In a modern society, shift from agriculture to service is a welcome step, but not the other way round. Interestingly, the continuity of traditional occupation is seen best in the case of Sikligars. This is also a tribal trait to carry out their specific occupation throughout the community. There is matching in the proportions of the present generation’s occupation and that of their fathers. There are 31.21 per cent respondents of the previous generation who were engaged in the metal works (same occupation), while it stands at 31.63 per cent for the present heads of the households. It hardly alludes to any change in occupation. There is hardly any variation and intergenerational change in the occupations of the mothers of the present heads of households. For the total sample, the proportion of mothers engaged in domestic or housework stands at 98.71 per cent. The region-wise break-up shows hardly any variation, that is, 98.89 per cent in the NE and 98.51 per cent in the Deccan. There is remarkable similarity in this respect of women’s occupation or work in India’s two corners that are socio-culturally different. The family assets are also a significant measure of one’s socioeconomic status. We have to focus on two main types of assets, that is Table 4.8 Family assets Group/sub- Land group N % Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Shop

Both

None

N %

N %

N

283 52.41 23 33 7.01 42

%

4.26 5 0.93 229 42.41 8.92 2 0.42 394 83.65 Chi^2=244.76**(df:3) C=0.44;

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 63 20.13 12 3.83 2 0.64 236 75.4 2. 5–14 161 36.67 24 5.47 4 0.91 250 56.95 3. Above 14 92 35.52 29 11.2 1 0.39 137 52.9 Chi^2=46.17**(df:6) C=0.21; All data

316 31.26 65

6.43 7 0.69 623 61.62

128

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

land and shop, since these have appeared most in the data. The data show if 31.26 per cent households have land and 6.43 per cent have a shop, there are 61.62 per cent households that do not own assets of any kind whatsoever. The households with both the assets are a meagre 0.69 per cent. The inter-regional variations do surface here as well. The difference is most conspicuous in the case of landholders and those who have none of these. There are 42.41 per cent households in the NE that fall in the latter category but the number is much higher, almost double (83.65 per cent) in the Deccan. The population possessing land is also high in the NE, since there are 52.41 per cent households but there is steep fall in the case of landowners in the Deccan. It is only 7.01 per cent. Since the community of Sikhs at both places are not belonging to the trading castes, shops are owned by 4.26 per cent households only in the NE and by 8.92 per cent in the Deccan. These proportions too are a result of self-employment for income generation by the families in their own houses, often managed by family members engaging an unemployed son or an unmarried daughter. The level of respondents’ poverty may also be assessed from the fact that 0.69 per cent households only in the total sample have both land and shop. The ratio of landowners is higher in the NE due to the Axomiya Sikhs engaged in agriculture. It is intriguing that 52.9 per cent respondents in the top income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month have neither land nor shop. It may be due to the secretariat/ municipal employment of safai karamcharis in the NE where they are not allowed to buy any property, neither land nor house and shop.

The living space After examining the major socio-economic characteristics of the Sikh communities in the NE and the Deccan, it is imperative to look into the types of their dwellings and other household amenities that are essential for a living. These material means of possession and livelihood are the bare minimum that a human dwelling requires. A glimpse into the data reveals the plight of majority respondents and exposes the deplorable conditions of their existence more than six decades after independence. It is quite shocking to the Sikhs in Punjab that their own brethren in their own country live under such pathetic conditions. Whatever be the size of dwelling and its type – kulli, own house and rented – 82.39 per cent households own it, that may be pucca (made of concrete) or kacha (made of mud). One may also own a kulli (hutment), a make shift arrangement of bamboos or sticks with a tarpaulin

Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs

129

or polythene cover, erected at a public place or in a vacant plot. About one per cent households still live in these temporary structures. On the other hand, 16.72 per cent households live in the rented accommodation. It is not surprising, given the location of the sample households in the capital towns in the NE and the Deccan. There are inter-regional variations as 88.7 per cent households in the NE and 75.16 per cent in the Deccan have their own house. The number of those living in rented accommodation also varies between the two regions. Double the number (23.35 per cent) have rented houses in the Deccan, compared to the NE (10.93 per cent households). In the NE, 0.37 per cent respondents live in kullis while 1.5 per cent in the Deccan, and all of these are Sikligars. Manna Singh’s kulli described above is an example of such habitation. When we look at the type of house – pucca, kacha or mixed – it is found that 74.19 per cent houses are pucca, made of bricks and cement plastered even if partially. Another 17.8 per cent houses are kacha. The proportion of pucca houses is more in the NE (79.26 per cent) compared to 68.36 per cent in the Deccan. In the total sample, 8.01 per cent houses are mixed, that is, both kacha and pucca. The number of such houses is double (10.37 per cent) in the NE compared to 5.31 per cent in the Deccan. In common parlance, pucca feature of a house lies in its roof, if it is permanent and made of concrete, called lentil. Earlier, roof made of bricks and wooden bars also qualified for permanent structure. The other type of roof is temporary, made of corrugated/tin sheets and may be tarpaulin/polythene covers. Given the price of metal, the corrugated sheets and fibreglass have become its substitutes. The poorest of the poor, however, take shelter under tarpaulin/polythene sheets only. In the total sample, 57.07 per cent houses have permanent roof while 1.58 per cent have temporary roof of tarpaulin/polythene. There are 41.35 per cent houses in the mixed category with roofs made of corrugated or fibre sheets. Interestingly, comparing the two regions, we find lower proportion of permanent roof houses in the NE despite high rainfall but more in the Deccan, 60.72 per cent. After the roof follows, the turn of floor type to characterise a house as pucca or kacha. There are 71.14 per cent houses with a cemented or pucca floor while 22.45 per cent have kacha. It means these are not even unplastered bricks. It is made of mud only. Looking at the two regions it is found that more houses in the Deccan have pucca cement floor than in the NE. The figures are 84.92 per cent and 59.63 per cent, respectively. On the other hand, figures for the kacha floor at the two places are 13.38 per cent and 30.37 per cent, respectively. If the mixed

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houses are 8.01 per cent in the sample, 6.13 per cent houses have mixed floors but there is huge difference between the two regions. For instance, if there are 10 per cent such houses in the NE, the figure for the Deccan is mere 1.7 per cent. The size of dwelling is an important indicator of one’s socio-economic status and it is easily and best indexed in terms of the number of rooms. There is a range of one to four or more rooms in a house. A look at the combined data for the two regions shows that except for the single room houses (17.61 per cent), all other types from two to three and four or more rooms approximate one another closely at 24.83 per cent, 29.18 per cent and 28.39 per cent houses, respectively. The majority households with two to three rooms stand at 54.01 per cent. There are regional variations that are worth noticing and tell us more about differences in the sample households. The data show that if 35.24 per cent houses in the Deccan have a single room, this number is negligible (2.22 per cent) in the NE. Likewise, when the number of rooms is four or more, the NE houses count at 40.19 per cent while those in the Deccan stand at a much lower 14.86 per cent. Similarly, there is inter-regional variation in the number of two and three room houses. In the NE, two room houses are 20.74 per cent, but in the Deccan 29.51 per cent, while three room houses count at 36.85 per cent and 20.38 per cent, respectively. The relation of this variable with levels of monthly income is more than obvious. There is definite direct relation between the two. There are 41.21 per cent houses that belong to those respondents that have monthly income lower than Rs. 5,000. This percentage falls sharply to 2.7 per cent for those who have income of Rs. 14,000 per month. It shows the number of rooms in a house increases with increase in levels of income. Along with the number of rooms, kitchen, toilet and bathroom are an important indicator of the civic status of a household. In modern urban life, a house without these basic amenities is considered substandard, not worthy of human habitation. In earlier times and in the traditional dwellings, bathroom and toilet are supposed to be away from the living rooms if not outside the house itself, but not now. Moreover, these two were always kept separate from the dwelling space. Bringing them together is modernisation. Now these have been brought closest to the living space, the bedroom. Given this modern sensibility and lifestyle, it seems difficult to believe that 13.25 per cent houses in the total sample do not have a toilet. There are still more houses (18.47 per cent) in the Deccan that lack this facility. On the other hand, there are 8.7 per cent such houses in the NE. A relation with the income level also shows that if there are 24.28 per cent

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houses in the first income group, which is more likely, there are 6.56 per cent such houses in the top income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month. Whatever be the facility and however unclean it may be, since the Sikhs in the NE are either in villages – Barkola and Chaparmukh – or living in capital towns like Guwahati/Dispur and Shillong, they (91.3 per cent) have the provision for a toilet. As far as bathroom is concerned, there is hardly any difference with respect to the data on toilet for the total sample of 1,011 households. Inter-regional variations are there but relatively less pronounced. If 15.56 per cent houses in the NE have a bathroom, there are 11.68 per cent such houses in the Deccan, though there are 18.47 per cent houses that do not have a toilet. In the total sample, at both the places, 86.25 per cent houses have bathrooms while 13.75 per cent do not have this facility. One may find it surprising that 6.95 per cent houses in the top income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month are without a bathroom. The cooking of meals is a major yardstick of civilised existence because this is a primary and most essential component of a settled life. Once again, the reader is in for a surprise since 19.29 per cent houses in the sample across two regions do not have a kitchen and this number is appallingly higher in the Deccan, 35.46 per cent. The case of the NE is slightly better in the sense that there are only 5.19 per cent such houses. It is necessary to relate this aspect with the levels of income of the respondents. It is fair enough for the lowest income group of less than Rs. 5,000 per month that 37.38 per cent houses in the total sample do without a kitchen, but there are 8.11 per cent houses in the top income group that do not have a kitchen. The percentage of those in the middle income group per month (Rs. 5,000–14,000) is 9.34 per cent. This anomaly needs to be probed further. Drinking water is absolutely essential for life. Paradoxically, with the development of other facilities and capital intensive technologies, drinking water is becoming a scarcity all over, which is why some people surmise that the next world war would be over the issue of water. We already have disputes between different states of the country on the issue of water rights and water sharing in the north and the south. The water market has already emerged in the country for drinking and irrigation purposes. In the recent past (May 2016), trains have ferried water to the dry Marathwada region in Maharashtra. Therefore, obtaining information on the source of drinking water of the sample households is pertinent. It could be owned personally or else shared with others, what is called a community tap installed by the municipal committee in a town. A Sikligar respondent’s statement

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was shocking that some members of their community do not have a single such source, not even in the vicinity. They take water from the irrigation channels in the nearby fields depending upon the mercy of the farmer. Mind you, there is not an iota of exaggeration. It would be interesting to look into three ordinary sources of drinking water like own tap and/or hand pump and the community tap accessible to all and sundry.5 In the total sample, there is no difference in the proportion of households having a tap and a hand pump. These are 34.32 per cent and 34.03 per cent households, respectively. There are 21.76 per cent households with a common source of water while 9.89 per cent households depend still on some other source that may mean a distant tap or a hand pump or sometimes even a water channel for irrigation. The inter-regional variations are also worth noticing and revealing about the availability of the very source of life. No doubt, for the overall data 34 per cent households have water taps and hand pumps but when the two regions are compared, we find 16.67 per cent households have taps while 60 per cent have hand pumps. The corresponding figures for the Deccan households are 54.56 per cent and 4.25 per cent, respectively. The data show that the majority (76.67 per cent) households in the NE enjoy the ownership of a source of drinking water that may be a tap or a hand pump but there are only 58.81 per cent houses in the Deccan with similar facility. However, the number of households that depend on a common source is almost equal at both places, that is 20.19 per cent and 23.57 per cent households, respectively. Putting all the figures together, we find that 96.86 per cent households in the NE and 82.38 per cent in the Deccan do have some kind of facility of drinking water. The remaining proportion is no less significant. It is dismaying that 17.62 per cent households in the Deccan neither own a source of drinking water nor have a common source; they depend on other sources. This percentage is small (3.15 per cent) in the NE, but given the abundance of water there and high rainfall, this is a matter for concern. A penetration into the data for the lowest income group reveals that their proportion is highest among all to depend on the common and other sources of drinking water. But this is also interesting that 7.72 per cent households in the top income group rely on the common source and still larger proportion of them (9.65 per cent households) depend on other sources. Their number is not far behind those in the lowest income group at 11.5 per cent. The source of light is also important in the present times when consumption of electricity is an index of modernisation and development

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in society. For the Indian middle class, living without electricity has become impossible even if this facility is merely a few decades old. The electrification of all Indian villages is still a distant dream. The cities have this facility, but the tragic part of reality is there are pockets of dwelling spaces that do not enjoy the benefits of electricity in the twenty-first century. The data reveals the ground reality of certain Sikh households in the NE and the Deccan. The source of light could be either an electric bulb or a traditional earthen lamp. As far as electric bulb is concerned, 83.78 per cent houses in the total sample avail this facility, while 5.93 per cent houses use the earthen lamps. The number of houses using lamp are more in the NE (7.04 per cent) compared to the Deccan with 4.67 per cent. This is despite the greater poverty in the Deccan where 44.8 per cent households have income of less than Rs. 5,000 per month compared to 18.89 per cent in the NE (see Table 4.7). However, there are 10.29 per cent houses in the total sample that use the electric bulbs and earthen lamps both. The number of households using both sources is significantly higher (14.26 per cent) in the NE than in the Deccan, that is, 5.73 per cent. The region-wise break-up shows there are 89.6 per cent houses in the Deccan that use an electric bulb and 78.7 per cent in the NE. At the latter place, 14.26 per cent houses use both sources, which percentage (5.73) is quite small in the Deccan. Life is not possible without food, for which a source of cooking is essential. LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), kerosene and firewood are the three main types that are short-listed from the data collected. Insofar as the use of LPG is concerned, it is comparable for both the regions where the average stands at 64.79 per cent households and there is hardly much difference between the two regions. Of the total 1,011 households, 18.2 per cent use kerosene and 16.42 per cent burn firewood. The inter-regional difference is noted in the use of kerosene and firewood. The former is used more by the households in the NE, that is, 30.56 per cent while the latter is consumed more in the households of the Deccan, 32.7 per cent. Only 2.22 per cent households in the NE use firewood. It is interesting to observe that there is relatively more forest, and more than half the sample population is living in the villages of Assam where there is no dearth of fuel wood. The Sikhs in the Deccan hardly live in villages, yet they are consuming the firewood. It seems anomalous and needs further exploration. Once again, there is obvious positive correlation between this variable and the income of respondents, but a certain pattern is seen which is quite interesting. The use of LPG is more closely related to income levels and the difference between the lowest and the highest income

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groups is almost double, taking a leap from 46.96 per cent at the first level to 84.56 per cent at the highest level. Conversely, there is greater fall from 34.5 per cent using firewood with low income level households to 3.47 per cent in the higher group. The use of kerosene however, is not that significantly influenced by the income levels. It hovers around 18.2 per cent only. The present study intends looking further into other amenities in the household while most among them have ceased to be so any longer, as these have become essential items for a very basic level of civilised existence. It is seen that many of these minimally required items also are not available in all the households. For instance, a cooking stove and a pressure cooker are required in any kitchen not just to save fuel but also time. A look at the data shows that in the total sample, 45.9 per cent households have a stove in their kitchen. This information needs to be looked into separately for the two regions since there is clear disparity between them. In the NE, 30.55 per cent households use a stove while in the Deccan this percentage is significantly higher, that is 61.26 per cent. The data show that 30.56 per cent households use kerosene for cooking purposes while the number of households having stove is 61.26 per cent in the Deccan but only 4.03 per cent households there use kerosene. The pressure cooker is another essential component of the kitchen irrespective of the type of fuel one uses even though its effectiveness and efficiency is maximum with the LPG, followed by stove and least with fuel wood. It is for the said reason that we find 71.39 per cent households using this appliance for cooking at both the places. Once again, like the stove, pressure cooker distribution is skewed in the two regions. If 87.59 per cent households use the pressure cooker in the NE, it is much lower in the Deccan at 55.2 per cent. These figures showing the use of stove and pressure cooker are suggestive of the levels of poverty that one finds afflicting the Sikh communities there, more so in the Deccan compared to the NE. The Sikligar community seems to lower this ratio there. If food and cooking are essential for survival, fans and coolers are no luxuries either when the level of technological development and comfort levels are on the rise in the neighbourhood. In the total sample, 72.47 per cent households have fans. This means that 27.6 per cent households are still without fans. Barring Shillong in the hills that has a cooler climate, all other places in the field of study are hot and humid. In Shillong too, residences and offices have installed air conditioners that must be hiking the sense of relative deprivation. The inter-regional break-up shows that 65.55 per cent households in the NE and 79.4 per cent in the Deccan own fans. The relatively better economic position of the respondents in the NE but lower proportion of fans may be due to

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135

the population of sample residing at a hill station (Shillong) with the reputation of being the ‘Scotland of the east.’ The geographical location of the NE with high rainfall and high humidity including the hill station (Shillong) calls for the ineffectiveness of the air coolers, which is why there are only three coolers in the whole sample of 540 households, or 0.55 per cent households. On the other hand, in the Deccan there are 88 coolers, that is, 18.66 per cent households. Once again, 91 coolers in the whole population comprising 1,011 households, a mere 8.7 per cent, is indicative of poverty. The story of electric supply all over the country is the same. No state has surplus electricity as to make it available full time to its people and at cheap rates. It happens the other way around that there may be ‘power cuts’ in one’s own state but the neighbours are sold to fill the emptied state treasury. If the power cuts are frequent and tripping of electric supply is a perennial feature, then the use of inverters in households is an index of this malaise and also of the heightened comfort level of its people, as is the case in Punjab. Conversely, the lack of inverters is also an indicator of poverty of population and their acceptance of lower levels of comfort. Despite poverty in the NE, and also due to the cool climes of Shillong in particular and due to a significant proportion of the agricultural households living in the villages of Nagaon where people are more accustomed to live with nature and in nature compared to the city people, there are only 6.3 per cent households that use inverters. That does not sound to be a very poor proportion given the factors mentioned above. The poverty of the Deccan Sikhs is reflected again in the data that show there are six households only out of a total sample population of 471 households that have inverters. Having earned the day’s living doing hard work, rest is essential for an individual so that she may get up fresh the next day charged for the new day’s work. The culture of sleep is peculiar to each society. Some prefer to sleep on the floor, and others on a cot or bed. These are also the markers of one’s social status. The present study shows quite interesting results such that only five households in the total sample of the NE have cots while 490 have beds, that accounts for 90.65 per cent households in the region. The corresponding figures for the other region, namely the Deccan, is 348 (out of 471) or 73.77 per cent households having cots and only 109 or 23.1 per cent households having beds. The inter-regional differences are also starkly visible such that in the NE the culture of using cots is almost nil while in the Deccan the percentage of households having beds is relatively small. The respondents have difficulty making difference between the cots and beds. They are informed that cots are the traditional netted charpai or khat or what is more likely to be understood differently as

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a folding charpai, in the present times whence the wooden bars are replaced by metallic pipes or rods. The bed refers to the wooden cot with a plywood plank replacing the net, and a mattress made of cotton, coir or foam over it. In popular parlance, beds refer to a pair of wooden cots that are fixed, hence called the double-bed. These may be simple ones or box beds. This study is also interested in observing the mode of transport owned by the respondents. If 18.52 per cent households in the NE do not own a vehicle, the figure is much higher in the Deccan where it stands at 40.98 per cent. The number of households in the total sample that do not own a vehicle is 28.98 per cent. Those who own a scooter or a motorcycle are 42.73 per cent and the data between two regions is highly comparable, 41.85 per cent in the NE and 43.74 per cent in the Deccan. Only 5.34 per cent households own cars which too is not starkly different between regions. The big difference however lies in the ownership of a bicycle that stands at 20.38 per cent for all the households in the sample. In terms of regional proportion, 31.67 per cent households in the NE (it is wholly in Assam) own it while the corresponding percentage in the Deccan is 7.43 per cent. This is understandable in the sense that leaving the capital town population in the NE, a large sample living in the villages of Nagaon uses the bicycle as the mode of their mobility and transportation. The ownership of cattle by the tribal or rural population is also an important variable though it is almost impossible in a metropolis like Hyderabad or in the congested colonies of Gora Line and Bara Bazar of Shillong or of Dispur or Marakhali in Guwahati. That is why 76.26 per cent households in the sample do not have any cattle. The remaining 15.92 per cent households have cows and 4.75 per cent have goats. Looking for inter-regional differences, it is observed that 95.75 per cent households in the Deccan have none of the cattle – cow or goat – whereas the corresponding percentage in the NE is 59.26. However, 29.07 per cent households there, and it is true of the Axomiya Sikhs only living in the villages of Assam, that own a cow or more while 6.3 per cent have a goat or more. There are 3.07 per cent households that have both cow and goat. Surprisingly, four households only in the whole of Deccan have a cow that is mere 0.85 per cent of its sample. It is also interesting to note that income levels are strangely influencing the ownership of cattle. If we take the case of cow owners, the households with the lowest and the highest incomes per month are similar, that is, 10.86 per cent and 10.81 per cent respectively, but in the middle income group of Rs. 5,000–14,000 per month, there are 22.55 per cent households.

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137

The legacy of old lifestyle of living with pets is described above in the case of Manna Singh who himself has no space to live yet he owns a dog and a pair of hens. The rich people own them for status and entertainment; yet the poor ones have them for being a part of nature. In the modern day market society afflicted with high price rise and inflation, it is becoming difficult to own pets just out of economic compulsions. It is now more a hobby of the affluent. The data show that 71.32 per cent households do not have pets at all while there are 9.2 per cent households that have many pets that may include any of cat, dog or hen and in combination thereof. A further look into the data reveals that if 82.11 per cent households in the lowest income group have no pets, there are 67.95 per cent households without them in the highest income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month. The inter-regional variations in this regard are also significant. There are 54.07 per cent households in the NE without pets compared to 91.08 per cent households in the Deccan. The latter has 4.67 per cent households with dogs while the same figure for the NE is mere 2.59 per cent. This number should have been higher in the NE compared to the Deccan since 19.07 per cent households there are engaged in agriculture and reside in rural areas while the corresponding figure in the Deccan is mere 1.91 per cent (cf. Table 4.6). It is probably due to the culture of Sikligar community that more pets are reported from the Deccan. A dog does not need special enclosure or space, but a hen does, which is why their numbers are large in the NE, that is, 25.37 per cent households have a hen while 2.97 per cent households only have a hen in the Deccan. In the NE and especially in Assam, there are 16.67 per cent households that have more than one type of pet which is due to the agricultural occupation of Axomiya Sikhs with enough space around the house suitable for pets and cattle like cow, bulls, dog or hen and so forth. On the other hand, there are only three households (0.64 per cent) in the Deccan that have many pets.

Notes 1 The Guru is said to have ordained that all those who have taken amrit shall be delivered from their traditional castes and occupations (karam nash). Their birth shall not come in the way of their identity (janam nash). All of you are brothers and sisters without any hierarchy. When amrit is being administered, the seeker is addressed: Today you take a new birth in the House of the Guru. You have become a member of the Khalsa Brotherhood. Guru Gobind Singh is the Father, and holy Sahib Kaur is the mother of the Khalsa Brotherhood. Your birth-place is Sri Kesgarh Sahib, the Blessed Fort of the Uncut Hair,

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Socio-economic profile of the Sikhs and you are a citizen of Anandpur Sahib, the Town of Bliss that is beyond words. . . . Your Previous race, name, genealogy, country, religion, customs and beliefs, your subconscious memories and pre-natal endowments, samskaras, and your personality-traits have today been burnt up and annihilated. Believe it to be so, without a doubt and with whole of your heart. You have become Khalsa, a sovereign man today, owing allegiance to no earthly person or power. One God Almighty, the Timeless, is your only sovereign to whom you owe allegiance, and He alone is entitled to your devotion and worship. (Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, (1959) 1989, pp. 57–60)

2 See Manjit Singh’s definition, Chapter 3. 3 It is common practice among the urban Hindus to use Hindi rather than Punjabi in their homes, especially while conversing with their children. Those given to the Arya Samaj ideology are more particular about it. For details on the Hindu-Sikh conflict and communalism see Birinder Pal Singh (2002). 4 Chakravarty (1998) in her survey of slums in Shillong (1998) notes that in Laitumkhrah and Bara Bazar, 42.14 and 33.83 per cent respondents are employed in the organised sector (government and private), respectively; 37.28 and 41.28 per cent as wage labour, respectively, and 1.02 and 2.63 per cent in the informal sector, respectively. The proportion of the unemployed is 19.56 and 22.26 per cent respectively. 5 Mrs Mohapatra, a lawyer at Shillong informs that in the Sweepers’ colonies at Bara Bazar and Gora Line, majority cases pertain to conflict over water. Recently, a case of a broken arm due to a fight between women has been reported after duly filed FIR in the police station (Personal interview, 10 June 2012).

5

Local is authentic

The question of material and physical needs necessary for civilised living has been explained above and we have seen that majority households of the Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan have the bare minimum type of essential elements. Besides these material components of living, what is more important for human existence is the mental well-being and having a sense of meaningfulness and realisation at the place of one’s habitation. One assumption that is underlying the present research is to study the local character of the Dakhani and the Axomiya Sikhs in particular. This information may be drawn by posing such questions that may help us draw an inference in this regard such as, since when are they putting up there? Who are their neighbours? How do they relate to them? Do they visit houses, religious places and social functions of the members of other communities? What do they eat and wear? Questions concerning the language of their communication at home and outside shall be discussed below. From their responses, we may draw inferences about their entrenchment in the local culture and society. Thus, the first thing to know from the respondents in this set of relevant questions is about their stay at the place of their present residence since all other responses will flow from there. The very duration of residence at a given place is an important indicator in this regard. The respondents’ period of stay has been counted at three levels – since birth, for the last 15 years, and more than that period. Table 5.1 shows that out of 1,011 households, 69.63 per cent respondents are residing at the same place since their birth while 17.61 per cent and 12.76 per cent respondents are residing there for the last 15 years and more, respectively. Thus, we find 87.34 per cent respondents have been living at the place of their present residence for more than 15 years. This by itself is an important pointer in the direction of determining one’s local character or what may be termed as ‘authentic locals.’

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Local is authentic

Table 5.1 Since when staying at the place of present residence Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Since birth

15 Yrs+

15 Yrs

N

%

N

N

508 196

94.07 29 5.37 3 0.56 41.61 149 31.63 126 26.75 Chi^2=333.29**(df:2) C=0.5;

%

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 164 52.4 79 25.24 2. 5–14 340 77.45 66 15.03 3. Above 14 200 77.22 33 12.74

All data

704

%

70 22.36 33 7.52 26 10.04 Chi^2=68.42**(df:4) C=0.25;

69.63 178 17.61 129 12.76

The regional variations are also important to note which are quite prominent. Quite expectedly, 94.07 per cent respondents in the NE reply that they are staying there since birth while the corresponding figure for the Deccan is 41.61 per cent. This lower proportion may be due to the nomadic character of the tribal communities especially the Sikligars and the Banjaras/Lambadas. Now they are being made to settle at Guru Gobind Singh colony near Hyderabad that is still in the process of becoming an operationally permanent settlement of the hitherto nomadic people. The proportion of Sikhs in the Deccan staying at the place of their residence for the last 15 years and more is 58.38 per cent and there is not much quantitative difference between the two periods of stay. The data also show that the respondents with low income of up to Rs. 5,000 per month are less sticking to the place of their birth since their number is 52.4 per cent while those having more than Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 14,000 and more include 77.45 per cent and 77.22 per cent respondents respectively. When information is gathered about the father’s residence (Table 5.2) of the head of the household, it is found that 56.28 per cent fathers live(d) at the same place as the respondent. The remaining 43.72 per cent resided at some other place. The fathers of 65.64 per cent respondents in the highest income group of Rs. 14,000 and above resided at the same place. Once again, there are regional variations that are worth noticing. In the case of NE, 66.85 per cent respondents inform

Local is authentic

141

Table 5.2 Place of father’s residence Group/subgroup

Same place

Other place

N

%

N

%

361 208

66.85 44.16

179 263

33.15 55.84

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 142 45.37 171 2. 5–14 257 58.54 182 3. Above 14 170 65.64 89

54.63 41.46 34.36

All data

43.72

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

569

56.28

442

Chi^2=52.64**(df:1) C=0.22;

Chi^2=25.28**(df:2) C=0.16;

that their fathers are living at the place of their residence while this figure for the Sikhs in the Deccan is 44.16 per cent. The proportion of those fathers who reside at some other place is 33.15 per cent in the NE while this number is much higher (55.84 per cent) in the case of Deccan. Sociologically speaking, when people are residing at a place since birth, they tend to stay with own people. Social ecology also informs us about this aspect of human settlements thus strengthening the community bonding leading further to the boundary formation à la Fredrik Barth (1969a). As a large majority of respondents are residing at the same place as their fathers for long, it generates curiosity to know who their immediate neighbours are. Do they belong to their community? Quite expectedly, 84.57 per cent respondents reply living with their own community in the two regions. It is quite a significant number who live with the people of their own community. Social ecology also attests to this togetherness. The remaining population is quite small, that is, 15.43 per cent respondents who have members of other communities as their immediate neighbours. Very interestingly, there is minor regional variation on this count between the two culturally, historically and socially diverse regions of India, the NE and the Deccan. The proportion of respondents for the latter is 82.59 per cent and for the former, 86.84 per cent. When this variable is related to levels of income, it shows that the proportion of respondents living with neighbours of their own community falls with the rise in income levels. The data reveal that at

142

Local is authentic

the lowest income level (up to Rs. 5,000 per month) 89.14 per cent respondents live with neighbours belonging to own community, but this proportion falls to 80.7 per cent for the highest income level of more than Rs. 14,000 per month. After exploring the factors of birth, duration of residence followed by the father’s residence and then the neighbourhood, it becomes imperative to probe deeper into the matter of ascertaining the local character and nativity of the respondent. To my mind, it is best achieved by knowing the community of the respondent’s mother. It is given to believe in both the regions of study, that the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs are the progeny of Sikh soldiers of Ranjit Singh’s army. Their facial features seem to attest to their belief that these are due to their ancestors marrying the local women. Thus, it is considered important to identify not only the community of the mother but also her religion, since the two are different and distinct. It is assumed that the Hindu women of different caste affiliations married the Sikh soldiers and adopted the religion of their husbands, Sikhism. The same practice is continuing as there are always some Sikh boys who marry girls of other communities in the two regions. The field study proved this assumption right. So in such cases the wife’s community may be non-Sikh but she becomes Sikh by adopting Sikhism at the time of marriage. How come the majority respondents’ mothers belong to the Sikh community? The reason is twofold. First, that the respondents’ mothers invariably claim membership of the Sikh community since they are many generations down the line of their Sikh parents even if their parents at some stage were Hindu or tribal. Second, it is imperative in the Sikh marriage (anand karaj) that whatever be the caste or community or religion of a person she or he must partake amrit before the nuptial cord is tied. Therefore, the question of mother’s community and her religious affiliation assume significance for collecting data about this variable to throw light on the inter-religious and local marriages. But this dimension could not be explored for reasons given above. Presently, there is substantial population of the local Sikhs in both the regions, which is why it is reported that 70.03 per cent respondents’ mothers belong to the Sikh community. The tribal people in the sample, Sikligar and Banjara are also Sikh and they marry within their communities. It makes 19.29 per cent respondents’ mothers as Sikhs. This leaves about 10 per cent respondents who may have mothers from other communities, but 5.93 per cent respondents’ mothers’ claim belonging to the Punjabi community. All of these are respondents from the NE, safai karamcharis to be precise, and these are Sikh too. Thus, the total number of mothers belonging to the Sikh community is 95.25 per cent.

Local is authentic

143

Table 5.3 Mother’s community Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

A N

P %

48 8.89

N

S %

N

SKL %

60 11.11 432 80 276 58.6

N

B/L/Other %

N

%

177 37.58

18

3.82

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 17 5.43 15 4.79 156 49.84 111 35.46 2. 5–14 25 5.69 29 6.61 328 74.72 54 12.3 3. Above 14 6 2.32 16 6.18 224 86.49 12 4.63

14 3 1

4.47 0.68 0.39

All data

18

1.78

48 4.75

60

5.93 708 70.03 177 17.51

A = Axomiya; P = Punjabi; S = Sikh; SKL = Sikligar; B = Banjara; L = Lambada

The regional variation is interesting in the sense that in the case of NE, 80 per cent respondents’ mothers belong to the Sikh community whereas in the Deccan it is only 58.6 per cent. This figure appears to be dicey on the face of it because the Sikligars give primacy to their own community belonging than to their religious affiliation. Hence, their mother’s community is returned as Sikligar and not as Sikh even though they keep the Sikh form intact completely. It is also true of the tribal Banjara/Lambada as well. The proportion of Sikligar respondents’ mothers’ community is 37.58 per cent and of the latter is 3.18 per cent. The total Sikh proportion thus comes out to be 99.36 per cent in the Deccan. The same is true of the NE. If 80 per cent respondents’ mothers belong to the Sikh community, there are 11.11 per cent who identify themselves as Punjabi. Many of the Mazhabi Sikhs (safai karamcharis) are clean shaven yet identify themselves as Sikhs. The case of Punjabi Sikhs is similar to the Sikligars. They would identify themselves as Punjabi and not as Sikh especially when they are outside their home state, Punjab. Thus, the total proportion of mothers belonging to the Sikh community reaches 91.11 per cent in the NE. The remaining 8.89 per cent respondents’ mothers belong to Axomiya or Khasi or Hindu communities. A feature that marks off the Sikhs in the NE from those in the Deccan is that the former register 8.33 per cent respondents whose mothers are local women, that is, non-Sikhs, hence Axomiya or Khasi primarily as in Assam and Meghalaya respectively. The marriages with

144

Local is authentic

local women are not common because these are not encouraged by the community but it does happen these days given the liberal milieu in the NE compared to the Deccan. An interesting observation is noticeable between the Sikh and Sikligar communities when the respondent’s mother’s community is related to the levels of income of the household. In the case of former, as income rises from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 and subsequently more than that, it is seen that the percentage of respondents increases from 49.84 per cent to 74.72 per cent to 86.49 per cent, respectively. It is reverse in the latter case, showing a decrease in proportion from 35.46 per cent to 12.3 per cent and 4.63 per cent, respectively. Sociologically speaking, there is a difference between the concepts of community and religion, though people at large seem to confuse the two and consider them synonyms. We tried to maintain this difference and do claim success to some extent. A clear distinction is made between the Sikh and Hindu religions though some have also returned their religion Sikligar and Banjara/Lambada. Table 5.4 shows that 92.68 per cent respondents’ mothers’ religion is Sikh while 5.24 per cent respondents are Hindu and the remainder are the tribal people named earlier. The table shows hardly any difference between the NE and the Deccan, but when the question of Hindu religion and tribal population is considered there is a difference. The tribals in the latter region account Table 5.4 Mother’s religion Group/sub- H group N %

S N

%

SKL

L/B/Other

N %

N %

Region 1. NE 44 8.15 492 91.11 2. Dakhan 9 1.91 445 94.48 10 2.12 Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 20 6.39 277 88.5 2. 5–14 25 5.69 409 93.17 3. Above 14 8 3.09 251 96.91

All data

7 2.24 3 0.68

4 0.74 7 1.49

Chi^2=31.73**(df:3) C=0.17

9 2.88 2 0.46 Chi^2=25.87**(df:6) C=0.16

53 5.24 937 92.68 10 0.99 11 1.09

H = Hindu; S = Sikh; SKL = Sikligar; L = Lambada; B = Banjara

Local is authentic

145

for 3.61 per cent respondents who have returned their tribal identity as their religion. The fieldwork informs that all of these are Sikh and subscribe to this religion in spirit and form. If their strength is added to the 94.48 per cent Sikhs in the Deccan, the figure touches the 98.09 per cent mark. Interestingly, there are 1.91 per cent respondents only whose mothers are Hindu and the corresponding number in the NE is 8.15 per cent. This number however matches with the 8.33 per cent respondents’ mothers belonging to the Hindu community. A person’s mother tongue is a significant index in determining the native rootedness of an individual, and it is best confirmed from the language of her mother. Since the present study is also interested in examining the acculturation and adaptation of the Sikhs whose forefathers supposedly moved there about two centuries ago, it would be of interest to inquire into the language of the respondents’ mothers since we have already looked into their communal and religious identities. The issue of language used by the respondent at home and outside has already been discussed. Given the distribution of sample over five states in India demarcated on linguistic bases in the NE and the Deccan, we come across a wide range of languages spoken by the respondents’ mothers. Thus, it has been clubbed under certain broad heads. It shows that no single language dominates the sample. The highest position is taken by the Axomiya language, but that too is only onethird of the total sample, that is, 33.41 per cent followed by Hindi at 17.11 per cent. The Punjabi language comes close with 16.91 per cent. The mothers speaking Telugu and some other language come next with 16.82 per cent. The Sikligars who are in the Deccan only speak their own language, Sikligari, at 14.64 per cent. There are, however, differences worth noting between the two regions. The share of Axomiya in the language distribution both in the region and the total sample is largest. It is 60.37 per cent in the NE and that means Assam. Surprisingly, there are only two mothers of the respondents (0.37 per cent) in the NE who speak Hindi only. The corresponding number in the Deccan is 36.31 per cent. The case of Punjabi is its converse, 31.11 per cent in the NE but 0.64 per cent only in the Deccan. At the latter place, 34.15 per cent speak Telugu in combination with some other language. Sikligari is the only language spoken by 31.42 per cent respondents’ mothers. There are 26 respondents’ mothers who combine some other language with Axomiya. They make 4.98 per cent of the NE sample. When the mother’s language is related to the levels of income of the household, one glaring observation may be noticed, and that is true for all languages in the whole sample except Sikligari, whose speakers

326

60.37

326

30.84

173

17.11

14.7 16.4 21.23

0.37 36.31

%

A = Axomiya; H = Hindi; P = Punjabi; S = Sikligari; T = Telugu

All data

46 72 55

2 171

N

N

%

H

A

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 71 22.68 2. 5–14 175 39.86 3. Above 14 83 32.05

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Group/subgroup

Table 5.5 Mother’s language

171

32 80 59

168 3

N

P

16.91

10.22 18.22 22.78

31.11 0.64

%

148

93 43 12

148

N

S

14.64

29.71 9.79 4.63

31.42

%

26

6 20

26

N

2.57

1.37 7.72

4.98

%

A+Other

167

72 64 31

167

N

16.52

23 14.58 11.97

34.15

%

T+Other

Local is authentic

147

stick to own language even as income levels rise. When we ascend the income level from the first to the third level, that is, lowest to the highest, the rise in Axomiya speaking mothers rises too from 22.68 per cent to 32.05 per cent; for Hindi, from 14.7 per cent to 21.23 per cent; and for Punjabi, from 10.22 per cent to 22.78 per cent. But this tendency is reversed in the case of Sikligari, sliding from 29.71 per cent to a mere 4.63 per cent. Given the information that we have, it remains inexplicable. After looking into the linguistic ancestry of the respondent that informs us about the social milieu of the family and the respondent’s socialisation, it becomes imperative to know the same about their own family and children. Thus, looking into the respondent’s wife’s community and religion, the focus of observation and analysis shifts from one’s family of orientation to one’s family of procreation. An attempt is made to procure similar details about the respondent’s wife as we obtained for her mother. Once again, the problem of confusion between the two terms, community and religion, as above is visible. These have been used synonymously by the respondents, for instance, when they say 12.5 per cent respondents’ wives’ community is Axomiya, they mean by this they are Hindu (Table 5.6). For the total sample, the wives who responded belonging to the Sikh community are 61.62 per cent in the NE. All other communities lag far behind just as Sikligars are 18.53 per cent, followed by Axomiya 12.5 per cent and Punjabi 4.28 per cent while the Banjara/Lambada including Hindus constitute merely 3.07 per cent respondents. Table 5.6 Wife’s community Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

A N

%

114 23.94

B/L,H

P

N

N

%

S %

N

SKL %

N

%

7 1.47 39 8.19 317 66.6 21 4.82 245 56.19 169 38.76

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 26 9.41 16 5.84 10 3.65 118 43.07 104 37.96 2. 5–14 54 13.53 6 1.5 21 5.26 265 66.42 53 13.28 3. Above 14 34 14.23 6 2.51 8 3.35 179 74.9 12 5.02 All data

114 12.5

28 3.07 39 4.28 562 61.62 169 18.53

A = Axomiya; B= Banjara; H= Hindu; L= Lambada; P= Punjabi; S= Sikh; SKL= Sikligar

148

Local is authentic

The regional variations are also conspicuous for the simple reason that the nature of communities is different in the two regions. What is common between the two regions is the preponderance of wives from the Sikh community, 66.6 per cent in the NE and 56.19 per cent in the Deccan. The Sikligar community dominates the rest with 38.76 per cent respondents followed by Axomiya and Punjabi in the NE with 23.94 per cent and 8.19 per cent respondents, respectively. A relation of the above variable with levels of income is also telling. The tendency to marry within one’s own community rises with rise in levels of income that is most conspicuous in the case of Sikhs. If there are 43.07 per cent respondents’ wives who belong to the Sikh community, the number jumps up to 74.9 per cent as income rises from lowest to the highest level, that is, from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 per month and above. This trend is reversed when the respondents belong to the tribal community. The case of Punjabi community is not affected by this factor since safai karamcharis marry the Punjabis only, with exceptions of course. The religious distribution of respondent’s wives (Table 5.7) also shows interesting patterns. Once again as expected, the Sikh religion dominates with 83.88 per cent respondents’ wives belonging to it followed by Hindu religion with 13.6 per cent. The regional variations are there. We find that 74.79 per cent respondents’ wives in the NE subscribe to the Sikh religion while the corresponding figure in the Deccan is 93.81 per cent. The Hindus are a mere 2.29 per cent while they are 23.94 per cent

Table 5.7 Wife’s religion Group/subgroup

H

S

SKL

B/L/Other

N

%

N

%

N

%

114 10

23.94 2.29

356 409

74.79 93.81

9

2.06

7 7

1.47 1.61

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 31 11.31 230 2. 5–14 54 13.53 338 3. Above 14 39 16.32 197

83.94 84.71 82.43

5 3 1

1.82 0.75 0.42

8 4 2

2.92 1 0.84

All data

83.88

9

0.99

14

1.54

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

124

13.6

765

H= Hindu; S= Sikh; SKL= Sikligar; B= Banjara; L= Lambada

N

%

Local is authentic

149

in the NE. The number of the unmarried is also higher there (11.85 per cent) compared to 7.43 per cent respondents in the Deccan. After looking at the religious denomination of the respondent’s wives, it would be useful to enquire about their language as well. The data show that there is greater range of languages spoken by them compared to their mothers-in-law. This is understandable since the younger generation is relatively more educated and exposed and move out of home more frequently than their parents, especially mothers. This exposure compels them to gain expertise in the use of different languages, hence this relatively wider range. Despite this factor, the number of those who use one language is definitely larger than those who use more than one. For the overall sample, the pattern is the same as for mother’s language. It means Axomiya speakers dominate with 36.44 per cent, followed by Sikligari (18.97 per cent), Hindi (18.31 per cent) and Punjabi (16.12 per cent). The remaining respondents’ wives speak two and more languages. If we look at the data in terms of region, we find that in the NE, 65.76 per cent speak Axomiya, 30.25 per cent Punjabi and the rest of the respondents’ wives speak a mix of two or more languages. These numbers, however, are quite small. The linguistic diversity is more in the Deccan where Hindi and Sikligari speakers are 38.3 per cent and 37.84 per cent, respectively. Those who combine Hindi with Marathi are 10.55 per cent due to the concentration of Banjara Sikhs at Nanded while others combining Hindi with Telugu are 8.49 per cent. Those who speak Punjabi only are a mere 0.69 per cent. A further look into the localisation of the present generation is to look into the marital alliances they seek for their sons and daughters. Likewise, as above for the respondents’ mothers and wives, their community, religion and language dimensions also are explored. These figures shall only allude towards the trend since a larger proportion of households remain out of this purview, since this query does not apply to them as their daughters are not married yet. This proportion is large: 73.99 per cent for the whole sample; 79.81 per cent respondents in the NE and 67.3 per cent in the Deccan. The responses from the remaining sample may be analysed better region-wise than collectively. In the NE, 33.03 per cent sons-in-law belong to the Axomiya community, 62.39 per cent to the Sikh community and 3.67 per cent to either the Punjabi or Hindu community. In the Deccan, on the other hand, 56.49 per cent are Sikhs, 40.26 per cent Sikligar and there is not a single son-in-law from a Punjabi or Hindu community. The case of their religious affiliation is not much different. 80.61 per cent respondents’ sons-in-law are affiliated to the Sikh religion and 17.11 per cent

150

Local is authentic

to the Hindu religion. The regional differences are also noticeable. In the NE, there are 63.3 per cent Sikhs and in the Deccan, this number is more than double, that is, 92.86 per cent. In the NE, the number of Hindu sons-in-law is 35.18 per cent. When we look at the language(s) used by the sons-in-law, there is no specific language that dominates the distribution of the sample. In the NE, 60.55 per cent respondents’ sons-in-law are Axomiya speakers, 21.1 per cent Punjabi speakers and the remaining 17.43 per cent communicate in more than one language. In the Deccan, 37.66 per cent speak Hindi and 32.47 per cent Sikligari. Interestingly, compared to the NE where 17.43 per cent speak many languages, in the Deccan the number of respondents’ sons-in-law is 28.57 per cent who use many languages. The occupations of the respondents’ sons-in-law (Table 5.8) are varied, but the majority of them are engaged in small business, that is 33.46 per cent, followed by metal works, which means that in the Deccan all of these belong to the Sikligar community. The job or service has its share of 23.19 per cent. The inter-regional differences are not very prominent since in the NE and the Deccan, the number of those in business stands at 42.2 per cent and 27.27 per cent respectively while for job or service the corresponding figures are 28.44 per cent and 19.48 per cent respectively. In agriculture, the Axomiya Sikhs’ sonsin-law have the larger share of 12.84 per cent while the corresponding figure in the Deccan is 2.6 per cent only. If 73.99 per cent daughters of the respondents are not married in the sample the number of sons is greater still at 79.13 per cent. Hence, the proportion of daughters-in-law is 20.87 per cent of which 55.92 per cent belong to the Sikh community, 26.07 per cent are Sikligar predominantly, 14.22 per cent Axomiya and 3.19 per cent Punjabi. When it comes to their religion, 84.83 per cent belong to the Sikh religion besides those who claim themselves to be Sikligar, but Sikh nevertheless. Adding it up makes the total 86.26 per cent. Looking at their inter-regional variations, we find that the number of unmarried sons is higher (81.85 per cent) in the NE, compared to the Deccan (76.01 per cent). Of these, 75.51 per cent are Sikhs in the NE and 92.92 per cent in the Deccan. When we enquire about their language, there is no concentration of speakers of a particular language rather fairly distributed over all major languages named by the respondents. In the NE, 69.39 per cent daughters-in-law speak Axomiya and 24.49 per cent speak Punjabi. In the Deccan on the other hand, 42.48 per cent speak Hindi while 38.05 per cent subscribe to Sikligari (language). Punjabi is the language of a small minority of

72

27.38

2

1.33

0.92 0.65

0.76

1 1

All data

9.17 40.26

1.12

10 62

%

N

N

%

Labour

Metal work

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 37 49.33 1 2. 5–14 25 25.25 3. Above 14 10 11.24 1

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Group/subgroup

Table 5.8 Son-in-law (occupation)

18

5 7 6

6 12

N

Driver

6.84

6.67 7.07 6.74

5.5 7.79

%

88

20 29 39

46 42

N

33.46

26.67 29.29 43.82

42.2 27.27

%

Self-employ

18

4 9 5

14 4

N

6.84

5.33 9.09 5.62

12.84 2.6

%

Agriculture

4

1 2 1

1 3

N

Priest

1.52

1.33 2.02 1.12

0.92 1.95

%

61

7 27 27

31 30

N

23.19

9.33 27.27 30.34

28.44 19.48

%

Job/service

152

Local is authentic

Table 5.9 Daughter-in-law’s community Group/subgroup

A/H

P

S

N

%

N

%

24 6

24.49 5.31

7 1

7.14 0.88

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 9 18 2 2. 5–14 15 17.44 3 3. Above 14 6 8 3 All data

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

30

14.22

8

SKL/B/L

N

%

N

%

67 51

68.37 45.13

55

48.67

4 3.49 4

14 44 60

28 51.16 80

25 24 6

50 27.91 8

3.19

118

55.92

55

26.07

A= Axomiya; H= Hindu; P= Punjabi; S= Sikh; SKL= Sikligar; B= Banjara; L=Lambada

1.77 per cent daughters-in-law. In the total sample, the Punjabi speakers are very few, a mere 12.32 per cent. This again is due to the presence of Punjabi safai karamcharis in the NE who speak this language at home and among themselves. Surprisingly, there is no one in the NE who speaks Hindi at home. After analysing information about the language of the respondents, their mothers, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law which is an important measure of one’s cultural and regional affiliation, it would be pertinent to look into one’s dress code which is also a significant element in one’s regional rootedness and local adaptation. On the basis of dress, one may immediately decipher the community and sometimes even religion of a person which is especially true in case of women more than men. For instance, a Punjabi woman’s common attire is salwar-kameez while that of a Hindu is sari, as is trousers or skirt for a Christian in the NE. No doubt these are stereotypes but quite common till date when the impact of globalisation, fashion industry and media, and migration, of course, is influencing and changing the dress code radically. The present study is interested in probing the dress patterns that may allude towards the social moorings of the respondents and their family members. The information on this issue has been collected under three heads – local, Punjabi and both. For the benefit of the reader, it is useful to mention that by the local dress we mean the dominant or the most common wear of the region that may be a sari, trousers or skirts. The

Local is authentic

153

Punjabi dress refers to salwar-kameez. It is prescribed for the Sikh women in Punjab and elsewhere when they go to a gurdwara. The information is also sought under the ‘both’ heads. By ‘both’ we mean Punjabi and the local dresses worn separately on different occasions. For instance, a woman may wear a salwar-kameez at home but adorns a sari when going to the market or cinema. She may also wear trousers in routine but dons salwar-kameez while going to a gurdwara. It has been noticed that senior women in both the regions prefer the local dress while the young girls prefer salwar-kameez, that is, Punjabi dress while going out of home.1 Thus in the total sample, 47.87 per cent women wear both the Punjabi and local dresses; 24.93 per cent women wear local dress and 27.2 per cent Punjabi. A region-wise break-up shows that if 32.41 per cent wear local in the NE, only 16.35 per cent do so in the Deccan. At the latter place, 23.14 per cent wear Punjabi dress while the figure for the former stands at 30.74 per cent. This is largely due to the Punjabi background of safai karamcharis in the NE. Those who support both dresses are significantly higher in the Deccan (60.51 per cent) compared to the NE where 36.85 per cent women do so. The case of food and cooking is also like the above variable an important indicator of one’s regional and cultural dispositions. The present study, like the dress code mentioned above looks at three categories of food, that is Punjabi, local and mixed. For the total sample, the corresponding figures are 16.02 per cent, 53.81 per cent and 30.17 per cent, respectively, but there are inter-regional variations. If Punjabi food is cooked in 28.52 per cent households in the NE, 1.7 per cent households only do so in the Deccan. On the other hand, 78.34 per cent households take local food while 19.96 per cent have the mixed type. In the case of NE, 39.07 per cent households go for the mixed type and 32.41 per cent for the local food. The high proportion of Punjabi style cooking may be attributed to the presence of safai karamcharis in the NE who keep strong organic connection with Punjab and Punjabi culture. When patterns of food consumption are related to the levels of income, it becomes clear that more people in the low income group consume local food, in this case 69.65 per cent. There are 11.18 per cent who take Punjabi and the remaining 19.17 per cent take mixed food. This pattern is reversed as income levels rise from Rs. 5,000 per month to Rs. 14,000 per month and above. In the latter category 42.08 per cent take local, 19.31 per cent have Punjabi and the remaining 38.61 per cent go for the mixed food.

154

Local is authentic

Community interaction The above parameters of social and material existence tell us about the regional adaptation and acculturation of Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan. The aforementioned insights into the study are further deepened by probing more questions relating to their intra-community and inter-community interactions. As expected sociologically, the ‘migrant’ communities tend to be closed and derive strength from their social solidarity, thus it would be relevant to enquire into the range and frequency of interaction patterns at the level of mohalla, village, city, state or region. It is observed that social clustering is significant to the Sikhs wherever they are, whether in the NE or the Deccan, in a big metropolis like Hyderabad and a lesser one like Guwahati or smaller still like Shillong or villages like Barkola and Chaparmukh in Assam. Besides the physical clustering of their houses in the form of colonies and mohallas, social clustering is equally significant in their lives. It serves many ends like emotional and social bonding, cultural and religious functions including political mobilisation at places where they are a minority, and more so at places they are considered ‘outsiders.’ We have seen that 84.57 per cent respondents in the whole sample live with members of their own community. Now we are interested in knowing the frequency of their formal meetings more for social and political purposes in the sense of discussing issues concerning their day-to-day living. There are certain variations between the two regions. The question of their meeting in a month does not assume any significance and the responses to this question have been negligible and of no sociological consequence since they are living in social clusters and interacting each day of the week, morning and evening. Moreover, there are frequent occasions of religious celebrations that inevitably bring the whole community together, not only of the mohalla or city but of the region as well. Thus, another question with longer time span (six months) makes more sense. Table 5.10 shows there are 2.67 per cent respondents only who do not answer this question. The rest that meet once in six months include 3.26 per cent at mohalla level, 23.64 per cent at village level, 62.02 per cent at the city level and 8.41 per cent respondents answer meeting at the regional level. The inter-regional variations are important. The village level meetings attended by 43.52 per cent respondents solely belong to the NE which is virtually absent in the Deccan. On the other hand, 38.33 per cent respondents meet at the city level in the NE while 89.17 per cent respondents do so in the Deccan.2

33

3.26

239

235 4

All data

2.04 4.67

48 125 66

11 22

N

N

%

Village

Mohalla

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 17 5.43 2. 5–14 10 2.28 3. Above 14 6 2.32

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Group/subgroup

23.64

15.34 28.47 25.48

43.52 0.85

%

627

219 250 158

207 420

N

City

Table 5.10 Interaction with own community (six monthly)

62.02

69.97 56.95 61

38.33 89.17

%

85

20 45 20

78 7

N

Region

8.41

6.39 10.25 7.72

14.44 1.49

%

27

9 9 9

9 18

N

N.A.

2.67

2.88 2.05 3.47

1.67 3.82

%

Chi^2=30.16** C=0.17;

Chi^2=358.56** C=0.51;

156

Local is authentic

Then what is the pattern of inter-community interaction since the Sikhs are believed to be Punjabis, hence a ‘migrant’ community in the two regions? Thus, it is befitting to know what is the level of interaction with local community(ies). That would tell us about the level and quality of their interaction in that milieu and hence a measure of their adaptability and adjustment in the respective regional social milieu. The Sikhs however do carry the image of being very helpful and engaging people who have a tendency to make each place their ‘home’ wherever they live. Their adaptability is phenomenal. The overall data of 1,011 respondents show (Table 5.11) that 14.34 per cent respondents often visit members of other communities, 35.81 per cent do so sometimes while 37.39 per cent visit others only when invited. However, there are 12.46 per cent respondents who do not visit other communities. This interaction pattern becomes more meaningful when we look at the data regionwise. In the NE, 24.63 per cent respondents often visit others while 57.96 per cent do so sometimes and a small number, that is, 13.52 per cent visit them only when invited. They do not expect formal invitation for visiting persons of other communities while those in the Deccan are much given to this formal invitation. 64.76 per cent respondents fall in this category.3 Strangely, 22.29 per cent respondents there do not visit other communities in comparison to just 3.89 per cent in the NE. There are 10.4 per cent respondents in the NE who visit others sometimes only. The reasons could be many, but what seems likely is the effect of metropolitan culture of Hyderabad that has definitely become more formal with modernisation and globalisation and more so the increasing constraints of the market society that tend to confine everybody to one’s family and home. The other could be that Dakhani Sikhs as a progeny of Sikh soldiers of the Nizam’s Irregular Troops, enjoying the state privileges have their inflated egos. None thinks oneself inferior to the other, and each one believes that going to someone’s place without invitation is humiliating. But more important than that seems to be the modern urban culture of market society that has made every one ‘busy,’ as often remarked: ‘We wish to meet but there is no time.’ The question of reciprocating and inviting others is also posed to the respondents. A significantly large majority of 91.3 per cent respondents in the total sample reply affirmatively. This also speaks about the large-heartedness of the Sikhs. Like their gurdwara open to all the people all the time, they too keep the doors of their houses open to people of other communities. There are 8.7 per cent respondents only who do not invite members of other communities. The inter-regional variations are also worth noting at this level. In the NE, those who invite

362

All data

14.34

75 167 120

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 30 9.58 2. 5–14 76 17.31 3. Above 14 39 15.06

145

313 49

133 12

35.81

23.96 38.04 46.33

57.96 10.4

%

N

N

%

Sometimes

Often

24.63 2.55

Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

Group/subgroup

Table 5.11 Visiting other communities

378

138 154 86

73 305

N

Invited

37.39

44.09 35.08 33.2

13.52 64.76

%

126

70 42 14

21 105

N

No

12.46

22.36 9.57 5.41

3.89 22.29

%

Chi^2=72.15**(df:6) C=0.26;

Chi^2=489.47**(df:3) C=0.57;

158

Local is authentic

others are a larger number still, that is, 97.96 per cent that falls down to 83.65 per cent in the Deccan. It seems that the relative openness of the Sikh heart is enhanced by the liberal character of the NE society. This level of interaction increases with increase in the income level of the household. It seems an anomaly in comparison to the city culture of the day where people with higher income tend to remain in relative isolation and tend to avoid others. For the overall data, 83.71 per cent respondents in the income group of Rs. 5,000 per month invite others while those above that income level of up to Rs. 14,000 and more touch higher marks of 94.53 per cent and 94.98 per cent, respectively. This may be due to better economic condition because entertaining others involves expenditure in the Indian culture of mehman nawazi, as the guest is deemed to be an angel, a devta. The preceding information pertains to social visits at the intercommunity level. The pattern of visiting the religious places of other communities is further probed. It only attests to solidarity between different religious communities though its absence does not necessarily reflect any hostility between them. People in India have the culture of tolerance that allows space to other religions for their development following the principle of sarva dharma sambhava. The respondents too, on further probing inform that is summed up by an old Dakhani Sikh at Hyderabad: ‘It is not due to our ill will or hatred against them or their religion that we do not go there but out of respect for their religious institution that may not get violated due to our ignorance.’ Table 5.12 Visiting religious places of other communities Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan

NO N

%

Often

Sometimes

N

N

117 21.67 38 174 36.94 37

%

7.04 385 7.86 260

Income group (thousand rupees) 1. Up to 5 106 33.87 37 11.82 170 2. 5–14 115 26.2 24 5.47 300 3. Above 14 70 27.03 14 5.41 175

All data

291 28.78 75

7.42 645

% 71.3 55.2

Chi^2=30.84**(df:2) C=0.17;

54.31 68.34 67.57 Chi^2=22.36**(df:4) C=0.15; 63.8

Local is authentic

159

Table 5.12 shows there are 28.78 per cent respondents who do not visit religious places of other communities. Out of the remaining, 63.8 per cent respondents visit only sometimes while it is quite a frequent activity (often) with 7.42 per cent respondents. It is interesting that for this category there is hardly any difference between the respondents of the two regions but variations are significant when it comes to other responses like ‘no’ and ‘sometimes.’ If more (36.94 per cent) Sikhs in the Deccan do not visit religious places of other communities compared to their counterparts in the NE, 71.3 per cent of respondents there do so sometimes relative to 55.2 per cent at the former place. There is also a positive correlation with the levels of income. The respondents of the low income group (33.87 per cent) are not willing to visit the religious places of other communities compared to 27.03 per cent respondents in the high income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month. Those who visit sometimes only are 54.31 per cent and 67.57 per cent respondents, respectively. The Sikhs in the Deccan are probably more orthodox and conservative than those in the NE where the rural peasant is more liberal by temperament and one may say more casual about religion and its ritualistic observances compared to her urban counterpart. In the case of NE, greater number (71.3 per cent) may also be due to safai karamcharis who believe in Sikhism and in Hindu gods and goddesses too. They also have Balmik ashrams/temples along with a gurdwara in their colony and all of them not only visit the two religious places but also celebrate religious occasions together. The Axomiya Sikhs in the villages also visit naamghar as the teachings of Shankardeva are similar to Nanak’s. The classification and differentiation of religious spaces is more a problem of the modern urban mind than with people at large. For them, despite communalisation of public sentiments over the last century, there is hardly a difference between a temple and a gurdwara or any other space with religious or quasi-religious significance. The people bow down everywhere and wish to get a boon from there. Therefore, peoples’ participation is always there unless the milieu is vitiated by certain vested interests. The community of safai karamcharis is subscribing to different religions in their lives. For this reason, I believe, the proportion of respondents going to religious places of other communities is high in the NE that is not so in the Deccan. The presence of Takht Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) and greater intensity of Sikh preachings may have influenced Sikhs in the Deccan to believe in their own religion and One God than other gods and goddesses. In the Sikh religion, belief in any object or deity other than God is prohibited.

160

Local is authentic

Notes 1 For instance, Mrs Singh runs a PCO (Public Call Office) at the entrance of Gurdwara Nanak Jhira, Bidar and her husband is employed in the gurdwara press. She embellishes her forehead with a large bindi and wears sari regularly. One day, she opened the PCO late. On asking the reason, she informs: ‘Bai late aaye aur aaj Devi ka varat bhi thha. Puja karte late ho gayi.’ The maid came late, so got late for puja too. Today, I had fast in the Devi’s name. Then came her daughter’s son (seven-year-old) in school uniform with a headgear (patka). He touched her feet. She blessed him and said: ‘Pehle gurdware ja ke aa.’ First, pay obeisance at the gurdwara. Here is a lady with an interesting blend of all shades – wears sari and a bindi, a stereotypical Hindu lady’s outlook; worships a Hindu goddess; recites Sikh prayers daily; speaks Hindi and Telugu; born at Char Mahal, Hyderabad in a Sikh family; married to a Dakhani Sikh at Nizamabad; residing at Bidar; husband an employee of gurdwara; and motivates her grandson to have faith in gurdwara. 2 In the NE, 14.44 per cent respondents hold meetings at the regional or state level and 1.49 per cent only in the Deccan. There is no explanation at this stage about this difference between the two regions. 3 Is it an element of being khuddar, self-respecting people as they claim? As mentioned before, they prefer independent service to private employment.

6

From material to the mental

Let us now shift discussion from the material to the mental. Having discussed patterns of food consumption, it is imperative to examine food for thought pertaining to the domain of religion. It is important to see how these Sikhs take to their religion which is manifestly different from other religions found in the two regions and also in the sense of giving a definitely different form and distinct appearance to its followers that makes them conspicuously visible from a distance without revealing one’s identity herself. It would thus be significant to know how many Sikhs there maintain their appearance prescribed in the Sikh religion? What are the patterns of observing their religious rituals, festivals and functions? What impact do the local religious practices and customs have on them? Such questions have been framed to look into their religious orientation and interaction with other religious communities. The Sikh religious orientation makes an important aspect of the present study especially in the wake of Operation Blue Star and the subsequent all India killings of Sikhs following the alleged shooting of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The local issues of killing of six Sikh students at Bidar in 1987 and murder of Joga Singh are also important. A Sikh by definition must have faith in Guru Granth Sahib and believe in all the Sikh gurus. We may have two broad types of Sikhs. An amritdhari Sikh keeps the form complete with kesh, kirpan and three other kakars (Ks) (see below). A sahajdhari Sikh has the aforementioned faiths but not the Ks. Thus by definition, a Sikh must have faith in Guru Granth Sahib, keep some of the five Ks and visit a gurdwara to mention the seminal features. The popular perception of a Sikh (male) recognises one with kesh or uncut hair. Uberoi mentions, ‘the custom of wearing long and unshorn hair (kes) is among the most cherished and distinctive signs of an individual’s membership of the Sikh Panth, and it seems always to

162

From material to the mental

have been so’ (1996: 1). The Encyclopedia of Sikhism notes that the definition given by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1971, passed by Indian Parliament, lays down a stricter definition in that it requires keeping hair unshorn as an essential qualification for a Sikh and that, besides belief in the Guru Granth Sahib and the Ten Gurus, it requires a Sikh to affirm that he follows their teachings. (1998, Vol. IV: 129) The data collected indicates that all the 1,011 respondents answered positively the question about their belief in the Sikh gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. Not a single respondent in the sample answered in the negative. They make 540 respondents in the NE and 471 in the Deccan. This belief cuts across levels of income as well. Then how many of them visit the gurdwara, the sacred institution where Guru Granth is recited and worshipped? There are a number of patterns in the lives of Sikhs on the question of frequency of visits to the gurdwara. There is a variety of a sort and interregional variations. Of the total sample, 58.56 per cent respondents visit the gurdwara daily, 28.49 per cent go weekly and 4.15 per cent monthly while 8.31 per cent respondents visit sometimes. It validates the above observation of their belief in Guru Granth Sahib and in the gurdwara, thus attesting the significance of panth and the Granth in Sikhism. An infinitely small proportion (0.49 per cent) do not visit the Sikh place of worship. There are also clear regional variations in this aspect of the Sikh respondents’ behaviour. The Sikhs in the Deccan with 65.61 per cent respondents are ahead of their counterparts in the NE (52.41 per cent) in visiting the gurdwara daily, whereas the latter (36.3 per cent) excel the former (19.53 per cent) in the Deccan in their weekly visits to their place of worship. There are more respondents in the NE (6.48 per cent) than those in the Deccan (1.49 per cent) who pay monthly visits only while the latter’s percentage is higher (12.95 per cent) than the former (4.26 per cent) in visiting the gurdwara sometimes. When the number of visits by the respondents is related to the levels of income of the households an interesting observation is made that, but for the daily visitors income levels do not make much difference. In this case respondents with lowest income of Rs. 5,000 per month are 52.08 per cent, which goes up to 59.23 per cent as income rises to Rs. 14,000 and higher still to 65.25 per cent with income level above Rs. 14,000 per month. The belief in Granth Sahib and visit to gurdwara is reinforced further by their participation in gurpurab celebrations. The responses here

From material to the mental

163

too are in the absolute. Only three respondents out of 1,011 (0.3 per cent) replied negatively. All respondents in the sample are Sikhs who are practising Sikhism in a social milieu where the culture and society including the dominant religions are different, thus it is pertinent to seek the influence of the surroundings on their observance of rituals. Are they able to maintain the purity of the rituals prescribed in Sikhism, else are there local influences on them? The data show that 2.08 per cent respondents only in the total sample agree that local influences are strong on them and 19.98 per cent respondents mix the Sikh rituals with local religious practices. This category implies that these respondents make a blend of the two pure types. The majority Sikhs (77.94 per cent), however, stick to the Sikh rituals. The regional variations are also significant in these two – Sikh and mixed – categories. In the Deccan, 94.48 per cent respondents perform the Sikh rituals while in the NE their number is 63.52 per cent. It is in the NE that the local and the Sikh rituals are mixed in the religious ceremonies. Out of the total, 19.98 per cent respondents performing mixed rituals, those in the NE count for 35.56 per cent while those in the Deccan are a mere 2.12 per cent.

Figure 6.1 A room in a Sikligar house, Hyderabad

164

From material to the mental

One difference that marks off the NE from the Deccan is their observance of Sikh rituals. This difference of about 31 percentage points less in the NE compared to the Deccan may be explained due to the rural habitation of the Axomiya Sikhs. A peasant by temperament is neither as conservative nor orthodox as an urbanite.1 The factor of marrying the local women is common in both the regions. The tenacity of the local tradition may be another factor in influencing this gap. The Deccan has a Sikh Takht and people had been associated with the preaching and practising of Sikhism since 1708. It draws Sikh devotees and pilgrims from all over the globe in millions. It is a source of huge revenue and is a major source of employment to the Sikhs. Those in the service of gurdwara, sewadars in one capacity or other, are ordained to maintain the Sikh form. The villages in the interior of Assam are bereft of such influences – religious or employment. Besides the Takht, there are Dakhani Sikhs, whose ancestors had to maintain the Sikh form in the Sikh Force since that was the reason for them to be there. The Sikligars are also conservative in keeping the Sikh form and they have the stories to narrate to attest this fact that they are very orthodox.2 Lastly, there are the Banjara Sikhs as many among them are formally associated with gurdwaras and the Sikh religion. They have own kirtani jathas. They have to keep the Sikh form as it is mandatory and a source of their livelihood. Another important factor may be the tendency especially of the Dakhani Sikhs to cash upon their identity that has earned them name and fame thus far, at least in the Deccan. Whenever and whoever one may talk to, Dakhani Sikhs narrate the Nirmal story very fondly and proudly. ‘Our ancestors did not accept the jagir of Nirmal.’3 Such self-perception of honour and dignity still keeps them in high spirits besides the chardikala – ever in high spirits – of the Khalsa. The jathedar of Hazoor Sahib is also a Dakhani Sikh, Jathedar Kulwant Singh. The Dakhani Sikhs and the Hazoor Sahib have their own religious practices that are different from those prescribed and practised by the SGPC. These Sikhs are particular about such observances and sensitive too about them and consider these a mark of their identity. Besides Hazoor Sahib in Nanded and allied institutions of charity and service to people, the gurdwara Nanak Jhira at Bidar is also running its own school, a hospital and a seminary besides the Guru Nanak Engineering College. Its president is also the president of the gurdwara management. These major institutions associated with Sikhism encourage others to sustain and adopt Sikhism giving them employment, health and educational services.

From material to the mental

165

Such institutions of that scale and prestige, and as sources of revenue are not available in the NE. Gurdwara Damdama Sahib at Dhubri and Gurdwara Mata Ji at Chaparmukh (Nagaon) are visited by the Sikhs from the NE only and that too on the birth and death anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur. It is quite paradoxical that Dhubri town has only three Sikh families at present and all the sewadars (in 2012) are from Bihar called Bihari Sikhs. The manager, however, is a Punjabi Sikh from Guwahati. Another factor in the NE, with no parallel in the Deccan is the large proportion of safai karamcharis there who are Sikhs no doubt and claim to be so but less concerned about the Sikh form. It is their practice in Punjab too. Many of them do not keep kesh but by name and belief they are Sikhs and subscribe both to Guru Balmik and the Sikh gurus including the gurdwara. In the Sikh religion, those individuals who have taken amrit have superior religious status since they enjoy the grace of the Waheguru. Such Sikhs are very particular about rehat maryada (code of conduct) prescribed for them including the five Ks (kakar). In the Deccan, two kinds of amrit are partaken by the devotees, one of khande di pahul and other one of kirpan (sword). It is informed by the respondents that the latter type is usually given to women and its observance is relatively lax. Now some men take this type of amrit too. The respondents are conscious of the fact that partaking amrit is not difficult but its observance is, which is why they say: ‘We have not taken amrit since violating that is greater sin than not taking it.’ The total number of respondents that have taken amrit is 83.98 per cent. This proportion is significantly higher in the NE with 91.3 per cent respondents compared to 75.58 per cent in the Deccan. It is intriguing that in the Deccan, 24.42 per cent respondents have not taken amrit compared to 8.7 per cent in the NE.4 This low percentage is despite the significant presence of the safai karmacharis. The partaking of amrit is also positively related to the levels of income. The number of amritdharis increases with rise in income, from 72.84 per cent respondents in the lowest income group to 88.8 per cent in the highest income group of more than Rs. 14,000 per month through 89.07 per cent in the middle group. There is hardly any difference between the upper two levels. The following of Sikh religion and observing its tenets, rehat are also crucial questions that need to attest one’s belief in the Sikh religion. Here one comes to notice that despite all the positive responses to the above questions, when it is enquired about supporting the five Ks (kakar), 62.81 per cent respondents in the sample answer affirmatively. The inter-regional variations are not very significant, but when

166

From material to the mental

seen in terms of income levels it is clear that from the lowest to the highest level there is a jump from 49.52 per cent respondents to 75.68 per cent respectively. This shows that following the religious prescriptions strictly increases with a rise in income. There are 83.98 per cent amritdharis but 62.81 per cent respondents only support the five Ks. This necessitates further probing as to what type of kakar do the remaining 37.19 support so that they be identified as a Sikh? Which kakar is considered significant by them for their identity? There is a mix of different combinations that the respondents seem to support. For instance, all safai karamcharis wear kada but 32.57 per cent respondents wear both kirpan and kanga. I am told during the fieldwork that the trend of keeping the Sikh form is now picking up with their youth who are taking amrit as well.5 Those respondents who do not support all five Ks but are Sikh constitute 37.19 per cent of the total sample. The difference between the two regions is hardly significant, the NE having 35 per cent respondents and the Deccan 39.4 per cent. Then it is thought to be prudent to look into those respondents that keep some of the five Ks to be identified as a Sikh. There are numerous people who may not have any kakar yet identify themselves as Sikh, for instance, the Jutt Sikh boys in Punjab. But we are not concerned here with subjectivity but certain objective criterion to enable the observer to identify correctly. What is the scene in the field of this study? In this context, kesh and kada are significant indicators of visible/manifest Sikh identity. Kuchha (long breeches) are ignored for two reasons. First, the respondents take it in the sense of underwear and reply positively. Second, if it is taken in the religious sense, as long breeches, then only the functionaries of the gurdwara or some elderly Sikhs wear it. It is normally not worn under a pyjama or a pant. Medhi studying Barkola village mentions there are 439 males, ‘only six elderly males regularly wear kuchha while others wear general underwears [sic]’ (1989: 109). Thus to avoid this ambiguity in responses and controversy on the subject of underwear, it has been ignored at this stage. Table 6.1 shows there are 376 respondents out of 1,011 that are the subject of inquiry: 48.14 per cent have kesh, 31.65 per cent wear kada while 20.21 per cent respondents support some of the five Ks. With respect to kesh, difference between the NE and the Deccan is not that significant as between those supporting kada and some other kakar. The proportion of respondents wearing kada is significantly high (50.75 per cent) in the NE but those supporting ‘some’ Ks is high (38.42 per cent) in the Deccan.

From material to the mental

167

Table 6.1 Supporting which kakar, the five Ks Group/subgroup Region 1. NE 2. Deccan All data

Kesh

Kada

Some

Total

N

%

N

%

N

%

N

%

90 91 181

45.23 51.41 48.14

101 18 119

50.75 10.17 31.65

8 68 76

4.02 38.42 20.21

199 177 376

52.93 47.07 37.19

(Income level percentages not worked out due to later construction of this table)

It is also prescribed in the rehat that gurbani should be recited by a Sikh each day, morning and evening. There is in fact a set of five banis – Japu Ji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Savaiye are the morning prayers and Rehras Sahib and Kirtan Sohila Sahib are the evening prayers. The day must begin and end with gurbani recitation. It is part of rehat. When a pointed question is asked to the respondents on the recitation of gurbani each day of the week, 61.82 per cent respondents agreed while 38.18 per cent did not. This phenomenon is also positively related to the levels of income. As income level rises, so does the percentage of those who recite gurbani. It takes a jump from 48.56 per cent to 75.29 per cent respondents as income rises from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 14,000 and above per month. It is also important to note, if the respondents are not reciting gurbani, do they listen it, as also katha and kirtan on modern media. Today there are huge facilities through numerous electronic and digital gadgets that one can avail the facility of listening to the music of one’s choice. No wonder that 71.22 per cent respondents in the total sample watch/listen to it on television while 7.81 per cent respondents use compact disc (CD) players or cassette recorders for this purpose. But there are 20.97 per cent respondents who do not listen to gurbani and katha or kirtan at all. On this count, surprisingly there are no interregional differences. These differences are also not that significant in terms of hearing gurbani but only at the level of using a medium like a CD player or a cassette recorder. In the NE, if 77.41 per cent respondents listen to kirtan on television and 2.22 per cent on CD players or cassette recorders, in the Deccan 64.12 per cent respondents use television and 14.23 per cent use other media respectively. In relation to income levels, there is positive relation between the two variables. If 55.59 per cent respondents belonging to the lowest income group see television, this number rises to 84.94 per cent for the highest income group of Rs. 14,000 and more per month. But there are 11.2 per cent

168

From material to the mental

respondents in this group who also use CD players and cassette recorders. There are 3.86 per cent respondents only who do not listen to gurbani at all. This number of non-listeners is highest (38.34 per cent) in the lowest income group of less than Rs. 5,000 per month. The ecological and environmental conditions are also necessary for the growth of human institutions. Their practices require a definite type of social milieu to flourish. The question of maintaining the Sikh form and distinct identity especially after 1984 has become a contentious issue with the Sikh community. When there is rise in the clash of identities within the nation itself, it becomes relevant to inquire into this aspect of one’s religious identity and other functions like celebration of religious festivals that make a part of believing and practising Sikhism in the Deccan and the NE India. The respondents are given thus a more pointed and focused question: ‘Do you have difficulty in believing and practising Sikhism?’ Contrary to our expectations, 97.53 per cent respondents answer this question negatively. It is a healthy trend indeed, indicating communal harmony in the country where communalism and social conflicts are on the rise. There is hardly any inter-regional variation on this aspect that makes a still more significant observation. Undertaking pilgrimage is an important component of all religions in the country. It cleanses the body and mind and increases social solidarity amongst the pilgrims. Tirath yatra or pilgrimage has special significance in the lives of devotees. The Sikhs are also given to undertake pilgrimage to the five takhts countrywide and to other gurdwaras of historic importance. It is thus pertinent to enquire into this aspect of the Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan. What are the ways and means of their pilgrimage? What patterns emerge from there? The data show that 85.16 per cent respondents in the sample undertake pilgrimage while 14.84 per cent do not. The proportion of Sikhs in the Deccan is 97.24 per cent that is higher than the NE (74.63 per cent). This means there are 25.37 per cent respondents in the NE who do not undertake pilgrimage to the Sikh places of worship. This percentage is extremely small (2.76 per cent) in the Deccan. It is very likely due to the presence of historically famous gurdwaras there associated with the first and the last gurus that have become centres of attraction to Sikhs the world over. The local people too get motivated to visit these gurdwaras periodically, compared to the NE where there is only one gurdwara at Dhubri Sahib that commemorates the collective memory of Guru Nanak and Guru Tegh Bahadur. In the Deccan, the Sikhs undertake pilgrimage to Nanded and Bidar frequently and regularly. Very few among them have come to

From material to the mental

169

Harmandar Sahib at Amritsar though each one expresses a strong desire for its darshana. The Sikhs in the NE visit once a year gurdwara Damdama Sahib at Dhubri and gurdwara Mata Ji at Chaparmukh, the two centres of pilgrim attraction in the NE. But the Sikhs there too harbour similar sentiments as their counterparts in the Deccan about Harmandar Sahib and other historical gurdwaras in north India. When this variable is related to levels of income there is definite positive correlation between the two, and rightly so, since it is a matter of economic investment which is why most people lament: ‘We want to visit Darbar Sahib and other dhams (religious places) in Punjab but there is no money with us.’ If 84.66 per cent respondents belonging to the lowest income group of up to Rs. 5,000 per month undertake pilgrimage, 93.05 per cent respondents in the top level do so. The rich transporters come to the rescue of the poor in helping them undertake pilgrimage. It is common practice with them to ply their vehicles – buses and trucks – to ferry people to the pilgrim centres on special occasions. It is their way of taking out dasvand, partaking the tenth part of their income in the service of people and religion.

Punjabi cultural orientation After examining the religious orientation of the Sikhs in terms of their commitment to their religious beliefs and practices, it is useful to look into their cultural orientation and to observe how far they connect to Punjab or Punjabi culture, if they claim to be the progeny of Ranjit Singh’s soldiers. It may be called their Punjabi cultural orientation. There must have been more hurdles in such a connectivity of the migrant people with their homeland earlier but in the age of information technology, this facility is amply available to all people anywhere in the world. Thus, connectivity is not an issue anymore. The world has become a global village in this sense. The present study is thus interested to explore the type of connection, to what extent and of what type is existent between the Sikhs there and the imagined land and culture of their ancestors. The most visible aspect of Punjabi culture today is songs and dance. The popularity of the Punjabi songs has now acquired a pan-Indian status. It would be no exaggeration to state that it is increasingly getting internationalised when world famous pop stars like Shakira are singing to its tunes. The Punjabi bhangra also acquires a high rating on the British Broadcasting Corporation channel. The truck operators playing these songs ply all over the country, and the wayside dhabas also play these tunes round the clock to create the Punjabi ambience

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for the Punjabi transporters. The bhangra and giddha beats are enamouring the populace all over the country and beyond. In such a milieu, how do Sikhs in the sample keep their imaginary umbilical cord alive and kicking? In the total sample, 29.77 per cent respondents do not listen to the Punjabi songs and this percentage is quite high (42.68 per cent) in the Deccan compared to the NE (18.52 per cent). An explanation to this anomaly is not available, that could have been otherwise. In the NE, the residents of villages – Barkola and Chaparmukh – are virtually cut off from the Punjabi language and the community, hence they may not be listening to this music as they also communicate only in Axomiya language. But how does it happen in the Deccan where the presence of local Punjabis is also significant besides the tourist rush to Hyderabad and the religious tourism to Nanded and Bidar. The transporters of all kinds are not only predominantly Punjabis, but others too play Punjabi songs on their vehicles. During fieldwork in Marakhali, Last Gate Colony (Dispur), Bara Bazar and Gora Line I could hear Punjabi songs played at high pitch throughout the day. Interestingly, a non-Punjabi marriage party at Shillong played these songs at full pitch and the people danced. Thus, safai karamcharis’ high propensity to Punjabi music compensates lack of orientation of the Axomiya Sikhs especially of the senior generation. Notwithstanding the absence of Punjabi speakers at both the places, the younger generation, other than safai karamcharis, is listening to the popular Punjabi songs. The tabled response, of course, is that of the heads of the household whose young ones are on a different track in this respect. The data show that 70.23 per cent respondents do listen to the Punjabi songs. And mind you, this is the respondents’ choice of songs and not of their children, who are definitely more disposed towards Punjabi songs and bhangra beats. The adult response has regional variation of course, such that 81.48 per cent respondents belong to the NE and 57.32 per cent to the Deccan. A relation with income levels shows a positive correlation between the two variables. The tendency to listen to the Punjabi songs increases with rise in income levels. If 53.04 per cent respondents belong to the lowest income level of Rs. 5,000 per month, 83.78 per cent belong to the highest level of Rs. 14,000 per month and above. After Punjabi songs is the turn of Punjabi films. How do Sikhs in the Deccan and the NE view Punjabi films? There are numerous television channels in Punjabi exclusively besides the compact discs (CD) – original and pirated cheaper ones – available in the market. In the total sample, 55.79 per cent respondents view Punjabi films. Once again,

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this proportion is small in the Deccan (42.04 per cent) and higher (67.78 per cent) in the NE. The higher percentage is surely due to safai karamcharis who have a live connection with Punjab and Punjabi culture. For other Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan, these films do not make much sense because Punjabi is not their lingua franca and the Sikhs of Barkola, Chaparmukh, Lanka and Nagaon in the NE do not understand Punjabi. This variable is also positively related to the income levels. As income rises, the tendency to watch Punjabi films also rises. If there are 38.66 per cent respondents in the lowest income level who see Punjabi films, there are 73.36 per cent in the highest income group. Every respondent may not be interested in the films, therefore watching or not watching these may not be a valid criterion of the respondents’ Punjabi cultural orientation. Thus, another question is posed to them with regard to viewing the Punjabi programs on television channels. There is a definite different response on this count when the two figures are compared. The figures depict that 75.07 per cent respondents watch these shows and there are no regional variations on this count at all. Why this is so is not explicable and needs further exploration. The viewing of these programmes is positively related to the rise in income levels. If 57.83 per cent respondents in the lowest income category of Rs. 5,000 per month watch Punjabi programmes, then 92.28 per cent do the same in the highest category of Rs. 14,000 per month and more. The said issue of cultural orientation is supplemented by inquiring into the respondents’ interest in organising and attending Punjabi cultural shows at their respective places. The question of organising such shows does not arise with them and each one of them says that ‘it is beyond their capacity.’ The Punjabi singers demand too much money. It is not possible. In the words of a senior Dakhani Sikh: ‘We find it difficult to feed our own family, how can we organise such shows. The Punjabi singers demand many lakhs for a show.’ But to the allied query of attending such functions also does not draw a very ‘encouraging’ response since 70.13 per cent respondents replied it in the negative. There is not much difference between the two regions either. If there are 72.96 per cent respondents in the NE, there are 66.68 per cent respondents in the Deccan. Such programmes are organised sometimes by the Punjabi Sikhs at Hyderabad and Guwahati given their capacity and enough resources, but these are not very frequent. A 29.87 per cent positive response is more in the sense of attending and willingness to organise such programmes. Interestingly, more than the popular Punjabi songs, the Axomiya Sikhs express greater desire to listen to the

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noted kirtan singers, but once again their high performance-fees get in the way of inviting them. The entertainment is an important component of today’s society. It would not be an exaggeration to state that today’s society may be called an ‘entertainment society.’ Each and every person is glued to such gadgets that keep delivering songs and music of a sort round the clock. One may see youngsters with plugged ears whatever they may be doing and wherever they may be. The radios and tape recorders gained prominence in that order earlier but now both of these have become outdated. The radio used to cater to a common person’s entertainment but now it has become virtually obsolete. Interestingly, only 7.02 per cent households in the whole sample have radio sets while the number of households that have cassette recorders is further lower, a mere 0.2 per cent. The radio has a wider variety of programmes for entertainment than cassettes. Now the radio and the cassette recorder both have been phased out by a superior and more compact technology with instruments that are multifunctional. For instance, a mobile cell phone performs multiple functions. It has a large storage capacity of songs that is one of its functions among many others. One may hear one’s choicest selection of music or songs – folk, cinema, religious, spiritual, virtually anything – by putting on the earphones and without disturbing the person seated next to her. In the total sample, 85.52 per cent households have mobile phones, 90.37 per cent in the NE and 80.67 per cent in the Deccan. The mobile phone, a product of information and communication technology, has phased out not only the traditional instruments of music and entertainment but wiped out the landline telephones as well, the pride of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Just seven out of 1,011 households (0.69 per cent) in the sample have landline telephones and all of these are in the Deccan. There is not a single household in the NE with a landline telephone connection. The mobile phone has also eliminated the compact disc (CD) player that had earlier replaced the cassette recorder. Only 10.08 per cent households in the sample have CD players, the Deccan people having double the number of such players compared to the NE. In today’s society under the spell of information technology and media proliferation, life does not seem to be complete without television, so people think. It is referred to as an ‘idiot box’ by some and an apparatus of the state for manipulating peoples’ tastes and attitudes by others, but its possession and viewing are certainly on the ascending scale. Arundhati Roy writes in Walking with the Comrades (2010) that a senior police officer told her that an easy way to fight

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the Maoists in the tribal red corridor is to install a television in each house. One can understand the significance of this mode of entertainment for the powers that be. Any slum colony in the country may lack the basic amenities but it never falls short of the television antennae and dishes. They seem to take seriously Shah Rukh Khan advertising: ‘Don’t be santusht (contented), wish for dish.’ The situation is no different in the two regions of the present study where poverty looms large on the heads of the sample households. In the total sample, 76.33 per cent households possess television sets and there are not much inter-regional differences. The percentage of households with television is 2 per cent higher than the average in the NE but 2 per cent less in the Deccan.

About Punjab This section attempts to know the Sikhs’ social and spiritual links with Punjab, their imagined homeland. No doubt, all Sikhs in the two regions consider Punjab the home of their ancestors, but they assert emphatically, ‘Jahan rehte hain ghar vahin hota hai. Ab hamara ghar to yehi hai.’ Literally, the home is where you stay. Now this is our home. Yet almost all of them expressed strong desire to visit Punjab and when they say this, they actually mean to visit Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar and other places of religious significance. But each one is not resourceful enough to arrange such a visit. Some people in the NE and the Deccan express their desire saying: ‘Punjab jana to chahte hain par paisa nahin hai.’ We wish to visit Punjab but have no money. In the sample, 51.34 per cent respondents have visited Punjab while 48.66 per cent respondents have never been there. In terms of regional variation, there is a swing of about 10 per cent in favour of the Sikhs from the Deccan. They make 56.48 per cent respondents compared to 46.85 per cent in the NE. It seems anomalous that safai karamcharis are the only respondents in the total sample of 1,011, who regularly visit Punjab, yet the NE has smaller percentage of respondents compared to the Deccan. The fact is that the high frequency of safai karamcharis is neutralised by the Axomiya Sikhs who have never been to Punjab. The higher number in the Deccan is probably due to a special free train from Nanded to Amrtisar in 2008. A positive relation of this variable with levels of income is more than obvious. If there are 39.3 per cent respondents that fall in the lowest income level, the number of those who visited Punjab is double, that is, 74.9 per cent for the highest level.

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It is further substantiated from their interviews that many of those who have visited Punjab are not on their own but with yatri jathas, the travellers’ band/group as part of pilgrimage especially to Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar and other places like Anandpur Sahib or Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo or Muktsar Sahib or Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab. It is pertinent to note that all these gurdwaras are related to certain crucial events in the life of Guru Gobind Singh. As a matter of fact their main purpose of visit to Punjab is to pay respects there – darshan karne ke liye. The rich transporters of Hyderabad and Nanded send their vehicles sometimes for this purpose. This trend, set in Punjab, has been picked up by them only recently. On the occasion of the 300 years of gurtagaddi in 2008, a fully sponsored train was despatched from Nanded for the pilgrims in the Deccan to visit the historic gurdwaras in the Punjab. Many people then travelled to Punjab for the first time in their life. The SGPC, Amritsar for the first time sponsored a similar trip of 186 Axomiya Sikhs to Punjab in March 2008 that made headlines in the newspapers then. Such treats have not been repeated since then in the NE. These jathas are sent sometimes from the Deccan but never from the NE. The Sikh transporters of the NE though ferry devotees from all over the region to Dhubri and to Chaparmukh on the birth and death anniversaries of Guru Tegh Bahadur but never outside the region, not to Patna Sahib even. As already mentioned, when they wish to visit Punjab, they mean by it undertaking pilgrimage to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. They do not wish to be there searching for roots that most of them do not know about. It becomes clear when we relate it to another table showing their family links in Punjab. Of the total respondents, 73.89 per cent have no family links in Punjab while 26.11 per cent do have some family ties, including remote. If family links are not there, they ask, ‘Where do we go?’ and ‘Vahan kiske paas jana hai?’ To whom do we go there? Thus, two major constraints with respect to their visiting Punjab are the absence of kinship relations and the lack of funds. The safai karmacharis are the most frequent visitors to Punjab. Almost every senior respondent expressed desire to settle in Punjab as they are not allowed to buy property at Shillong or in Megahalaya. The elder generation is in dilemma. What to do? Our children do not wish to return but we cannot do anything here. In almost all households, it is preferred that one or two children are married in Punjab so that in case of any eventuality of being thrown out from the NE, there is someone to fall back upon. It is out of this insecurity that kinship relations, of giving daughters and taking daughters-in-law from Punjab, that this connection is intact. There is a small percentage of

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younger people who have never visited Punjab. The better off among them travel more often, which means once in three to four years; they do take a family trip during school vacations to Punjab to renew family ties, but their number is not large. The Axomiya Sikhs have no such ties in Punjab, but a few well-off among them are not averse to take a daughter- or son-in-law from there given the suitability of marital alliance. The same is true of the Deccan. The concern here is matching social status. Such instances are sporadic which is why we find that 26.11 per cent respondents only have links in Punjab and majority of them are from the NE, that is, 34.07 per cent while 16.99 per cent are from the Deccan. These links are not only through the marriages of their children but also of their elders as well. The high percentage in the case of NE is solely due to safai karamcharis. This dimension of Punjab connectivity is assuming greater significance as the politics of identity is picking up in the NE especially in Meghalaya where they are considered outsiders and cannot buy land or property. The absence of such a community – safai karamcharis – in the Deccan brings down their proportion to half, that is, mere 16.99 per cent. There are 83.01 per cent respondents that have no links in Punjab. It is because of the local entrenchment of the Dakhani Sikhs in the culture of their karma bhoomi. Besides the sociological factors of consolidated social networking in the respective region and similarity of cultural norms and values, the economic factor is important for those who do not find an equal match there. They make an alliance through the media or concerned agencies, but the preference then is not Punjab but a Sikh, wherever, they say. When we break up this information in terms of economic categories, it becomes clear that 18.21 per cent respondents with income less than Rs 5,000 per month have links in Punjab. As the income level rises beyond Rs. 14,000 per month, their number rises too, to 40.15 per cent. Conversely, these proportions for those who have no links in Punjab are 81.79 per cent and 59.85 per cent respondents, respectively. The preceding discussion that majority Sikhs have never been to Punjab and have no social relations there, especially familial and majority of them are staying in the NE and the Deccan for about two centuries. They hardly have memories of Punjab. When respondents were asked ‘Do you have memories of Punjab?,’ 87.24 per cent respondents replied negatively. This figure is higher for those in Deccan (91.72 per cent) than those in the NE (83.33 per cent). This proportion too seems higher due to the presence of safai karamcharis

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there who are quite a significant number in the sample of the NE and have active organic links in Punjab. Despite this, this proportion is high (83.33 per cent). Those having memories are mere 16.67 per cent respondents and that too are elderly. The corresponding figure in the Deccan stands at half, that is, 8.28 per cent. Despite these interregional variations, the economic factor keeps its weight in a market society. In this case too, the data show that the proportion of those having memories of Punjab increases with the rise in income levels. Of the total data, if 8.31 per cent respondents in the income group of Rs. 5,000 per month have memories, the number goes double (19.3 per cent) for those above Rs. 14,000 per month. For those who answered in the negative, their proportions are 91.69 per cent and 80.69 per cent, respectively. Interestingly, certain elders of safai karamcharis who have retired and harbour a wish to return to Punjab are not returning. Why do they harbour this wish then? A senior respondent who retired from the electricity department replies: ‘Apna ghar apna hunda wa. Aithon pata nahin kadon kadd dein. Naale ji, Punjab da tan paani vi gheu (ghee) vangun lagda wa.’ Literally, your home is yours. No one knows when they (government) may throw us out. Moreover, the water of Punjab is just like ghee, the butter oil. The pardhan of Gora Line (Shillong) says: ‘Punjab di khushboo hi vakhari aa.’ The very fragrance of Punjab is unique. The Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan do have caste and/or community associations for consolidating their social solidarity based on caste, community, occupation or locality. It is observed that 68.05 per cent respondents are having an affiliation with such an association while 31.95 per cent do without that. One may wonder that despite their being called ‘outsiders,’ especially in the Meghalaya state of the NE and elsewhere too branded as ‘duplicate’ Sikhs, why their participation in such associations is not high? But this doubt is dispelled when we look at the regional variation. The inter-regional differences make interesting revelations. There is stark difference between the NE and the Deccan. The former has 95.74 per cent respondents who have caste and/or community associations while those in the latter region have 36.31 per cent. This proportion seems higher in the NE because of the urban segment of safai karamcharis in the NE, especially in Shillong. They are living in compact colonies there. They have formed an association or panchayat committee that looks after their interests in a situation marked by active conflict with the locally dominant community, the Khasis including the local government.

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Besides catering to the social and welfare interests of the respective members, these associations are also contesting against those local politically entrenched interests including that of the government that intend to throw them out of their place on one pretext or another. The skirmishes and clashes between the Sikhs and the Khasis, including the attempts of the Shillong Municipal Corporation to clear areas of Bara Bazar and Gora Line, have made each person involve herself in some occupational and residential association. They have City Gurdwara Management Committee (Shillong), Harijan Panchayat Committee at Shillong, Guwahati Municipal Workers Union at Marakhali and also at Dispur and so on. The situation is no different in Guwahati/Dispur where these people have been asked to move out. Similar situation developed also at Hyderabad and at Nanded in the name of widening the streets around the main gurdwara Sach Khand. Once again, the economic variable shows its influence in joining these associations. Those in the lowest income group are 52.08 per cent respondents while those in the highest group are 80.31 per cent. It is understandable. The economic stakes impel them to protect their interests and fight against the oppressive forces. The poor have no stakes and not much to lose. Despite these associations and their high membership in the NE, these people do not involve themselves in the local politics. In the total sample, 59.64 per cent respondents do not involve in politics. Moreover, politics for them means to be a member of a political party and contesting elections on that platform for assuming an office of political power like the MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) or the MP (Member of Parliament). The politics for them does not mean fighting for own rights and for a just cause, such as resisting ouster from one’s living space where they are residing for the past one century. It is due to this conception of politics that 44.81 per cent respondents in the NE do not claim to involve themselves in politics while the corresponding figure for the Deccan is 76.65 per cent. There is no such pressing issue for them to come together and protest at the moment. It is relevant to look into the level of their participation for those who involve themselves in politics. Do they participate at the level of a village, city or the state? In the whole sample, their participation is 18.89 per cent, 20.77 per cent and 0.69 per cent respondents, respectively. This data attests to the above contention that what does politics mean to them? Interestingly regional variations do not matter much for the participants in politics except at the level of village. In the NE, 34.63 per cent respondents involve in politics while in the Deccan it is a mere 0.85 per cent.

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Notes 1 An anecdote among others informs the peasant orientation to orthodoxy. A peasant went to the village gurdwara in the very early hours of the morning and was moving here and there frantically. The Bhai ji (priest) asked what was he doing there. He replied, please forgive me if I disturbed you. I am only looking for my missing buffalo. Have you ever seen me earlier? 2 A Sikh Sikligar does not allow shaving of hair for stitches by the doctor, tanke lagen ya na. 3 For details see Chapter 1. 4 The seemingly low percentage of amritdharis is due to the centrality of takht Hazoor Sahib where tenets of Sikhism and amrit parchar are advocated seriously and persistently. Therefore, for fear of being declared patit (fallen) a person who cannot sustain amrit rehat, the code does not take it which is why many respondents in the Deccan have said that it is easy to take amrit but difficult to sustain it, hence this low percentage. Otherwise, each person, man or woman has taken amrit once in life, at least at the time of marriage. The NE lacks such an institution that reinforces the Sikh principles and rehat maryada. 5 Bhai ji of the Cantonement area gurdwara in Shillong informs that 51 youth have taken amrit at the Fancy Bazar Gurdwara, Guwahati on the Baisakhi day this year (13 April 2012), out of which 11 boys were from Bara Bazar, Shillong.

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The present study in the mode of community profiling following Hawtin et al. (1994) is a comprehensive description of the needs of a population that defines itself as a community for improving its quality of life. It is an attempt to obtain focused comprehensive empirical data, first hand, for the first time on the Mazhabi Sikhs in Shillong and Guwahati/Dispur; the Axomiya Sikhs of Nagaon in the NE of India; and the Dakhani Sikhs along with the tribal Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs in the Deccan. This study seems to be fulfilling its objective of not only identifying the sections of the Sikh community dispersed in the Indian subcontinent but also those among them that need immediate attention of the government to uplift them from the drudgery they are experiencing. This is the manifest intention of the study to highlight the socio-economic characteristics of these Sikhs that are a minority community in two different geographic locations in India. The Deccan in the south-west and the North-East are distinctly separate socio-economic zones and cultural areas. This study rejects prima facie a popular perception of the Sikhs in Punjab about their brethren elsewhere that they can never be part of unliveable slums, whatever be their circumstances. They are ever thriving and prosperous people. It also intends to highlight the heterogeneity of Sikh population that the political and the religious leaders tend to underscore for their purposes, rather project them as a homogenous mass of people subscribing to one religion, Sikhism. The data revelations are not easily digestible to the Sikhs in Punjab. These are rather shockingly disturbing to the dominant community of peasants, the Jutt Sikhs. For them, the Sikhs and poverty do not go together. They have a very bloated self-image of being a domineering and prosperous people who never cow down before odd circumstances. They do not reconcile to the ‘poor Sikh’ image.1 The Sikhs are believed to be an adventurous, enterprising and dynamic people who

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have the tenacity to thrive in any situation howsoever uncongenial and hostile that may be à la the proverbial ‘Sikh cabbie on the moon.’ They harbour the sentiment of remaining ever in high spirits (chardikala) given to them by their religion that expects every Sikh to make a living by doing work (kirat karo), in the name of God (Naam japo) and remain contented in life and believe in the will (bhana manno) of God, the Waheguru. One should never have remorse for the downs in life since these too are His will. There is another cardinal principle of wand chhako, that is to share your earnings with others. This, however, is least practised by them except in doing charity and giving donations to a gurdwara liberally. The study reveals that most respondents are experiencing poverty of the extreme kind yet they have not given up their zest for life. It is significant to note that they are fighting for better working and living conditions and ever trying to make their lives better qualitatively. The Sikh religion is of the present and for the present but not without an oversight of the past. The Sikh prayer, ardas is a highly condensed recapitulation of the Sikh religious history given in a capsule, yet its social and philosophical prescriptions preach existential living. No place in the world is alien to the Sikh temperament since the Guru is with her everywhere and always. So prescribes Guru Arjan Dev: ‘Jithe jaye bahe mera Satguru, so than suhawa Ramraje.’ That place is blissful where sits my eternal Guru. Satguru here refers to Guru Granth Sahib. A gathering of five persons constitutes a community of the Sikhs or the khalsa that may undertake any social and religious function or ceremony necessary for social existence, including the crucial rites of passage. If none is available, even a single person can do ardas for executing any such action. It carries the same religious validity and social legitimacy as a large congregation. In the words of Niharranjan Ray: History therefore taught the Punjab and her people one very important lesson, namely, not to forget or be oblivious of temporal or secular situations of any given time or space, howsoever engrossed one might find oneself in matters of mind and spirit. (1975: 105) Ray also suggests that Guru Nanak was very particular about the socio-temporal, that is, the secular aspect of life. He took it with as much seriousness as the ethical and the spiritual. ‘This emphasis on the material basis of life generated in the community an activistic attitude towards life from the very beginning, unlike any other sect that

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emerged out of the Bhakti movement’ (ibid.: 107). This blending of the secular with the spiritual is instrumental in the Sikh value system of taking the socio-temporal issues with religious commitment. In all Sikhs including Dakhani, Axomiya and others, this blending of the socio-temporal and religious commitment is reflected. Captain Bingley affirms the religious identity of Sikhs in the Deccan: ‘The Dakhani Sikhs jealously preserved their religious and cultural identity, though they could not remain totally immune to local influences’ (1899). An extensive but not so intensive study of the socio-economic profile of 1,011 respondents, 540 in the NE and 471 in the Deccan, informs that all is not well with all sections of the Sikh community. And, it is not homogeneous by any socio-economic standards. Most Sikhs believe themselves to be a homogeneous community and their religious elite and political leaders further confound them in this respect. The cases of Manna Singh of Morthad and Kishan Singh of Nizamabad described above, besides the living conditions of the Mazhabi and the Sikligar Sikhs, including Dakhani, are evidence in the direction of heterogeneity and extreme poverty among the Sikhs. The two types of Sikhs that have been the focus of this study are the Dakhani and the Axomiya Sikhs. Their case is interesting in ways more than one. There are remarkable coincidences as well as divergences between them. Other Sikh communities, like the Mazhabis in the NE and the tribal Sikligars and Banjaras in the Deccan that deserve attention of the government have also been included. Incidentally, the present study has all the different shades of the Sikh spectrum like the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the OBCs and the general castes including those in agriculture, trade and services. The study reveals interesting similarities and dissimilarities between the Sikhs within the region and between the two regions, and between the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs in particular, with respect to their arrival, the caste system, their social and religious practices besides their cultural orientations. The first and the foremost is the remarkable coincidence in these peoples’– Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs – journeys towards the NE and the Deccan. These seem to originate under similar circumstances and conditions, yet we find sociologically different traits in the descendants of their ancestors groomed under different socio-economic, political, cultural and historical conditions. It appears if the two stories are a plant by design. There is remarkable resemblance in the two narratives. For instance, both of them claim to be the progeny of Sikh soldiers of the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent to support the Nizam in the Deccan in 1830 and the Ahom ruler in 1820. Both these

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rulers sought the Sikh support to restore internal law and order in the Deccan and to fight the foreign aggressor, the Burmese in Assam. The Sikh soldiers remained in the Deccan because Ranjit Singh died and the Nizam wanted to retain them in the Irregular Troops under Najim-e-Jami’at-e-Sikhan. Their presence was politically solicited and patronised by Maharaja Chandu Lal to strengthen his own administrative clout in the Deccan state. In the case of Assam, the Sikh soldiers went into hiding after losing the battle at Hadira Chauki. Unlike their counterpart in the Deccan, they were left in lurch and rudderless who had to struggle hard to make a living in the dense forests and compelled to take to agriculture. The Imperial Gazetteer of India notes, Nowgong is, in fact, the most sparsely-peopled and jungly district in the whole of Assam Valley. . . In 1904 wild animals were said to have killed 8 men and 1,246 heads of cattle. Rewards were paid in that year for the destruction of 38 tigers and leopards. (1908–1931, Vol. 19: 222) Incidentally, Nowgong like the rest of Assam, has never experienced famine. In 1896 and 1900 the rainfall was insufficient and the rice crop from drought, but no means of relief were necessary. Floods often do damage, but their effects are only local. (ibid.: 227) As a result of different material conditions of earning their livelihood, the subsequent differences have become manifest in the occupations and the patterns of life of their ancestors’ progeny. The Dakhani Sikhs are primarily urban dwellers and do no agriculture. They prefer salaried jobs, wherever and of whatever kind, to business and agriculture. They argue that ‘service is in their blood,’ not business or agriculture, since their ancestors were a service class whose male descendants had an ensured admission to the police school with a stipend from age five and a regular service in the Irregular Troops on passing out. Now there is no state patronage, hence they are into all kinds of petty jobs and services like driving an autorickshaw, taxi or other transport. They work as sewadars in the gurdwaras or may take low status level office jobs in the government and private sector. Running a petty vendor’s shop from their residence is now picking up especially by their unemployed children and women (housewives). We find a clear

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shift from their parents’ occupation who made a salaried class in the Nizam’s state. The abolition of that state led to their downfall, where they were a privileged people enjoying status and authority in the state and society. There is a strong similarity of a kind between the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs with respect to caste and gotra. Both of them claim authoritatively that they neither believe in caste nor class but look only for the Sikh religion at the time of marriage. Their being Sikh is not enough; they should be amritdhari over that and if not, then both the prospective bride and groom should partake amrit. Only then shall marriage be solemnised. This prescription of the Sikh religion and philosophy has been incorporated in the rehat (code of conduct) approved by the highest Sikh religious body, the SGPC. According to a senior person of Ramgarhia caste, an outsider who became an insider by marrying a descendant of Mata Ji at Chaparmukh, confirms in a personal interview that ‘these Sikhs believe neither in caste nor in gotra.’ It is useful to recall an elderly retired police officer’s similar remarks at Nanded: ‘At the time of marriage we bother about neither gotra (clan name) nor jati (caste) but only religion and that they should be amritdhari. We do not marry outside.’ Medhi, an anthropologist, also confirms the absence of ‘caste and sub-castes’ among the Axomiya Sikhs, besides others (1989: 110). Both these communities do have caste nomenclature for practical purposes but of a loose kind. It is dichotomous by and large – general caste and the Scheduled Castes. Some members do claim the OBC status too. This seemingly paradoxical situation with respect to caste is understandable in the context of their poor socio-economic status in a liberal state where allocation of welfare schemes is made on basis of caste criterion. Thus, caste for them is a means to procure a state benefit, for admission in an educational institution, for obtaining a scholarship, for availing a subsidy or employment in public sector. It is driven also by the government ordinances to mention an applicant’s caste category at least in terms of the general or the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes. The census and other surveys including various types of social science research require a definite answer to this question – a practice in vogue from the very first census in 1881, when people referred to their dual (religious) identity that colonial officers could not appreciate. How could one be a Hindu-Muslim or a Hindu-Sikh simultaneously? In both the regions, no person puts gotra to one’s name except the educated and affluent who have married their children outside the region in Patna, Delhi, Bombay and Punjab and so forth, though very

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few.2 Some among them do claim to be Bhullar, Sandhu, Gill and so forth. But this information is given on insistence only. It is pertinent to inform that these are Jutt Sikh gotras of Punjabi Sikh transporters at Hyderabad and Guwahati. They may name Bedi and Sodhi as well, that are the gotras of the first and the last Sikh gurus. The two communities diverge with respect to their habitat. The Axomiya Sikhs are largely rural dwellers, doing agriculture primarily while their wards are looking for employment after suitable education. They are also getting into petty trading and employment of whatever kind like the Dakhani Sikhs. If annexation of the Nizam’s state has affected the Dakhani Sikhs, coercing them to shift from their traditional occupation, the fragmentation of land is coercing the Axomiya Sikhs to leave their traditional occupation. It is a different matter that agriculture is also not a coveted occupation in a modern industrial society. It is a primary activity according to the classification of workers by the Census of India, lower in prestige and status to the manufacturing and service sectors. The working logic of market society and the pattern of economic development in India is overcoming the traditional disparities and differences between the two communities in the NE and the Deccan. These are being coerced to homogenise on many counts though not for good. The range of occupational diversity is narrowing and converging on petty trading and self-employment including agriculture (29.48 per cent), low level jobs (31.16 per cent) and plying cabs and autorickshaws or some other transport (8.01 per cent) for earning a livelihood.3 The Sikligars are an exception that are still holding to their traditional occupation and diversifying in the metal works only. Their proportion is 14.94 per cent. The situation is further confounded when we notice no change in the occupation of 95.55 per cent heads of the households over the last five years in both the regions, even if 53.91 per cent respondents are not satisfied with their present jobs. There are 41.84 per cent respondents who have ‘all season work’ while 29.48 per cent heads of the households remain engaged round the year. There are 69.73 per cent respondents who reside at the same place since their birth and 17.61 per cent for more than 15 years. Adding the two figures makes 87.34 per cent. This is indicative of changelessness in the lives of these Sikhs. This kind of occupational trend shows low income of these communities including the Sikligars and the Banjaras. These nomadic tribal communities are also facing the onslaught of modern market. The data reveals that out of 1,011 households, 313 (30.96 per cent) fall in the lowest income group of Rs. 5,000 per month and below, 439

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(43.42 per cent) in the middle group of Rs. 5,000–14,000 per month and the highest one of more than Rs. 14,000 per month has 259 (25.62 per cent) households. It is pertinent to note that barring the Axomiya Sikhs, majority respondents are residents of the capital towns of Hyderabad, Shillong and Guwahati/Dispur that are otherwise expensive. It is not surprising that most of these respondents are living in slums of the worst kind. This shows that even if their income levels do not appear to be so low, they can afford the slum dwelling only. The Sikligar Sikhs are the only people in the sample who are continuing with their traditional occupation of what may be called the metal works in the absence of a suitable word. They are still seminomadic and as poor as can be. There are 31.21 per cent respondents of the previous generation who are engaged in the metal works (same occupation), while it stands at 31.63 per cent for the present heads of the households. However, the modern industrial products with refined appearance though not that durable are encroaching upon their occupational territory and coercing them to look for alternatives to earn their livelihood. Another tribal community of the Banjaras is picking up as religious workers doing katha and kirtan in gurdwaras and outside. Many of them are recent converts to Sikhism. Thus, we find a shift in their occupation from agriculture to religious workers and a shift in their religion as well since many of them are studying in the Sikh seminaries and learning hymn singing (kirtan). They are comfortable with this religious and economic shift and are coaxing their kith and kin to follow suit. The safai karamcharis are also losing their occupation though for different reasons. The availability of government jobs is continually receding but besides that, the state government is under pressure from the local politics not to employ the ‘outsiders’ (dhakar). Earlier the colonial government coaxed these people to emigrate from Punjab for the menial jobs that the local tribals would not perform. Now the local people are asking them to out-migrate since it is not their land. If safai karamcharis were keeping social relations in Punjab active earlier for reasons of their untouchability, now they are doing the same for being ‘outsiders’ and fear of exodus – pata nahin kadon kadd dein – from the NE anytime due to populist politics of the ‘sons of the soil.’ What is common to the Sikhs – Sikligar and Dakhani – in the Deccan with the safai karmacharis in the NE, is slum dwelling. The living conditions are dismally poor and not at all worthy of habitation. The number does not matter, but there are houses that do not have the basic amenities like a toilet, a bathroom or a kitchen. It is also true

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of the houses of Axomiya Sikhs to some extent in not having a toilet, but they are far more comfortable compared to others for the simple reason that they are not residing in congested localities of the big cities but in villages with fields and open spaces. Bijalwan et al. make a similar conclusive observation: ‘However, the present study done on the Vanjaaras (read Banjaras), Sikligars, Lobanas and the Dakhini Sikhs reveals that these Sikh communities are leading their lives in a state of utmost deprivation and are extremely vulnerable’ (2009: 41; emphasis added). Their living conditions are not worthy of human existence. Even if 82.39 per cent respondents own a house, 57.07 per cent houses have permanent roof, 13.25 per cent houses are without a toilet and a bathroom, and 19.29 per cent are without a kitchen. In a city like Shillong, these Sikhs do cooking and laundry in the street, blocking passage. There are 61.62 per cent households that do not own assets – land or shop – of any kind and 28.98 per cent do not have any means of personal transport. The idea of repeating the statistical information is to impress upon the poor socio-economic conditions under which these Sikhs are living. A closely related variable is education, so very necessary in the twenty-first century. The data show that not for the respondents but their family members too totalling 4,955 persons, including children, 20.1 per cent are illiterate. There are 6.52 per cent graduates and a dismal 1.01 per cent postgraduates. It is a disturbing figure for the city and metropolitan dwellers more so in the present times when parents try their level best to give quality education to their children since this is the only means of employment in the public and private sector. The preceding discussion generates some interesting observations that may be explained only by a more penetrating inquiry. First, how is it that the respondents in the Deccan show relatively lower income levels than their counterpart in the NE? In the Deccan, Hyderabad is a well-known economic hub not only of the region but of the whole south of India. The metropolitan economy throws open many employment and self-dependent occupational opportunities to people in a market society, which is why a metropolis grows in size and numbers as is true of Hyderabad. But the Dakhani and tribal Sikhs seem to remain insulated from Hyderabad’s grandiose character. The second issue that flows from the preceding point intrigues more than that. It is puzzling how the proportion of people employed in the own small-scale business or self-employment that is exactly similar, that is 18.52 per cent in the NE and 18.26 per cent in the Deccan.

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What is the significance of Hyderabad then? How is it comparable to much smaller cities like Guwahati and Shillong in this respect? The third issue again flows from the above, that in both cases the number of respondents engaged in driving is also similar – 7.96 per cent in the NE and 8.07 per cent in the Deccan. These are a few superficial observations, for instance, and many more of the kind that remain inexplicable requiring explanation. A couple of issues have emerged from the present study that need be researched further. No doubt, neither the communities nor their conditions of existence – material, social, cultural and political – are comparable, yet there are some significant similarities and dissimilarities that may be collated to cull out certain patterns. These issues range from their early settlement to their present problems that these people face as a minority community at both the places, so divergent in very many ways. It is pertinent to remind that these people have been there for more than 100 to about 300 years. The common issues transcending regions, societies and cultures pertain to their arrival in the respective regions almost under similar circumstances. These Sikhs face the question of their religious form and identity almost similarly. Their cases are also comparable on the language issue, that is, Gurmukhi. The problem of Punjabi Sikhs’ indifference towards them and labelling them ‘duplicate’ Sikhs is common at both places.

The oral history of arrival The issue here is not to ascertain the veracity of oral history of the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs if they are a progeny of the soldiers of Ranjit Singh’s army from Punjab sent there on the request of respective rulers but how these Sikhs are living with this belief. The respondents’ self-perception cannot be ignored altogether. As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, the confusion remains as some scholars and historical documents allude to the veracity of oral history while others tend to doubt it, if not refute it outright. It may be useful to recall the major arguments discussed above very briefly though, by the noted historians and the British administrators for an easy understanding on the subject, without straining one’s mind on it. Let us consider the arguments of the historians of Assam and the North-East and of the colonial administrators who have the reputation to be authentic, though from their own perspective. Barpujari mentions, ‘In 1820, it is said, five hundred Sikh soldiers came from Punjab at the instance of Ranjit Singh for fighting against the Burmese in favour of king Chandrakanta Singha. The commander of

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the soldiers was a Sikh Chaitanya Singh’ (1994: 242). A. C. Banerjee (1934) is silent about Chandrakanta soliciting help from Sikhs (Ranjit Singh) and others against the Burmese invasion while Himadri Banerjee doubts the possibility of troops from Punjab following the treaty of Amritsar in 1809 (2007: 61). But Gait writes: ‘In the following year (i.e. 1821) Chandrakant collected another force of about two thousand men, chiefly Sikhs and Hindustanis, and again entered his own dominions’ (2008: 235). Chakravorty writes: ‘In 1891 at the time of Manipur rebellion, . . . so a Sikh regiment was brought to Golaghat to overcome the Khonoma people, and the result was salutary’ (1964: 124). Hunter writes, there were 24 Sikhs in Goalpara district in 1871–1872 and 32 in the Nagaon district (Kashyap 2013: 468–9). Bhuyan too refers to the presence of Sikhs in Assam even in the later half of the eighteenth century: ‘The burkendaz rabble now rallied round the standard of Krishnanarayan. They consisted of Sikhs, Rajputs and all manner of men from Bengal to Lahore’ (1949: 279). Barpujari does reflect on the internal turbulence and the possibility of seeking help from outside: ‘From the middle of the 18th century the Ahom monarchy was on the decline. . . The court became the hotbed of intrigues and conspiracies . . . followed by political assassinations and insurrections’ (1977: 2). Allen also mentions: ‘The Sikhs are the descendants of soldiers who came for service to Assam about 1825 or a little later. . . They are found in the Singaon and Hatipara villages in. . .Chaparmukh’ (1905: 95). Hunter too suggests, Shortly before the Burmese invasion of Assam, a few hundred Sikhs were brought from Punjab in the pay of the native government. They were stationed at Hadira Chauki opposite Goalpara, and fought against the Burmese. . . These Sikh soldiers were not accompanied by their wives. (1975: 46) Medhi also mentions about ‘the Sikh soldiers who were brought to Assam in connection with the secret manoeuver in the eighteenth century and those Sikh soldiers who were brought to Assam to fight against the Burmese army in the nineteenth century’ (1989). Besides the historical and administrative writings, the noted litterateurs of Assam have also sung paeans of the Sikhs fighting for the protection of the Ahom ruler. It must have been due to the Sikh presence of some significance that those people who do not belong there have become a part of the folk culture and the mainstream literature.

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It is important to note that Rajanikanta Bardoloi (1900 and 1909), Lakshminath Bezbaroa (1905) and Sailadhar Rajkhowa (1935) were established writers in Axomiya.4 In the Deccan, we have not come across such illustrious persons of letters penning down or about the Dakhani Sikhs but for the case of Narayan Singh Morthad, a rebel from the Sikh Force who has become a part of the Maoists’ folklore. The lack of research on them is also a lacuna in this respect. Besides, scholars writing on Chandu Lal with oblique reference to the Sikhs, Latif is an exception who writes, The power of Ranjit Singh was now consolidated and his fame at its height . . . Distant sovereigns sought his friendship. In 1826 Darvesh Muhammad vakil of the Nizam of Hyderabad, waited on the Darbar of Lahore with presents. (1889: 443) Is this the emissary that oral history recounts, that brought their ancestors to the Deccan? The historians of Punjab, Banerjee (2007, 2010a) and Grewal, not only doubt but reject the possibility of Ranjit Singh sending troops to the NE and the Deccan following the Treaty of Amritsar (1809) and the rules of British paramountcy. J. S. Grewal informs that it is a matter of foreign relations between the Indian states and no king could send military support without their permission since it had to pass through the British territory. Moreover, ‘I have not seen any such entry in the British records to the best of my information. The same is the case of records at Lahore darbar.’5 Suri’s Umdat-ul-Tawarikh (1961) also draws blank on this note. But The Encyclopedia of Sikhism argues that, ‘In order not to arouse British suspicions these soldiers travelled to Hyderabad in small batches’ (1998, Vol. IV: 160). Therefore, the only explanation that sounds plausible is the barkandaz factor, that the Sikhs were already present in the two regions, for whatever reasons they might have been there, who were organised into troops by some ‘commanders,’ whose assistance was sought by the Nizam and Chandrakanta Singha. It is interesting that the contingent of soldiers that lost the battle has been noticed by the historians, the administrators and the litterateurs but those who got embedded in the state of Hyderabad under a full-fledged department of Nazimi-Jami’at-i-Sikhan, have gone into oblivion. There seems little doubt that it was under the patronage of Maharaja Chandu Lal that the Sikh Force got entrenched in the Deccan.

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The oral history lauds the role of Chandu Lal but the recorded history is otherwise. Wood notes: The sometimes precarious nature of Chandu Lal’s position was betrayed by his choice of Sikhs for his personal bodyguard and his own considerable military establishment. In this matter too, Metcalfe had not been slow to complain. Nor was this complaint without justification. The presence of several thousand Sikh mercenaries, with little attachment to Hyderabad’s cultural milieu, and with a reputation for military skills, did little to quell the chronic violence of the City. Indeed Chandu Lal’s Sikhs provided just one more example of those unruly and now disparate new elements that were constantly being woven deep into the fabric of Hyderabadi society. And it was a fragile fabric that, from time to time, would burst at the seams and become tarnished with blood. Yet, given the frayed nature of the Hyderabadi politics in the first half of the nineteenth century, and given the almost total absence of any rule of law, Chandu Lal’s private army of Sikhs was simply another aspect of his genius for self-preservation. (1981: 375; emphasis added) Another historical document, Hyderabad Residency Correspondence (Vol. 35) recounts contrary to the peoples’ belief – Chandu Lal sent an emissary to Lahore – that Ranjit Singh sent an emissary to Hyderabad. Regani quotes the document: About the year 1810, Chandulal received a messenger from Maharajah Ranjit Singh informing him that certain potentates in India like Doulat Rao Scindia, Jaswant Rao Holkar, the Rajah of Bharatpur and Amrut Rao were intending to form a confederacy in association with Ranjit Singh against the British. Ranjit Singh sought the frank opinion of Chandulal about the efficacy of such a confederacy and his frank opinion of the English. Instead of giving his opinion to Ranjit Singh, of the British as became a friend of the latter, Chandulal went to the extent of showing that letter to the Resident and asking him of the nature of reply he should give. (1988: 213) This argument that Ranjit Singh might have sent him such a letter seems plausible in the wake of parallel developments in the NorthEast. A. C. Banerjee writes:

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In June 1814, it was discovered that the Burmese were intriguing with the Sikhs. A confidential agent of the King of Burma proceeded to Northern India in the guise of a merchant. His purpose was to collect information about the military resources of the Co. and to establish, if possible, friendly relations with Ranjit Singh. Bayfield probably refers to this incident when he says that in 1814 the Magistrate of Chittagong ‘discovered, and reported an intrigue of the Burmese to engage the native princes to join them in a scheme to expel the British from India.’ Bayfield also says that in 1818 three Burmese agents tried to reach Lahore. It seems that the Burmese Government really succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the Sikhs. In 1823, some Sikhs, who claimed to be agents deputed by Ranjit Singh, came to Amarpura. . . The object of their ‘mission’ was ‘a treaty, offensive and defensive,’ to drive the British out of India. The Burmese received them cordially, but during the war with the British (1824–1826) they became suspected [sic] and were even imprisoned for a short time. They were finally sent back with letters and a sum of money was given to each of them. (1934: 193–4) In the wake of such recorded evidence, it is less likely that Ranjit Singh would listen to the request of Chandu Lal and send 1,400 personnel on his pay rolls to help his Nizam. This too alludes towards the plausibility of the barkandaz factor. Who are the barkandazes? Let us hear from a historian, S. L. Baruah: The Barkandazes were originally guards of the frontier posts in the estates of the zamindars under the Mogul rule. But when they were disbanded by their masters, many of them, having no means of subsistence took to ravage and plunder. There were also among them disbanded personnel of the Maratha army or from the armies of the later Moguls and Rajput chieftains. The Barkandazes were both Hindus and Muslims. They were equipped with horses, elephants and camels and different kinds of arms e.g. matchlocks, swords, rockets, jinjal pieces etc. Because of their militant character, they specialised as mercenary soldiers. They were also locally recruited into the local cadre of the sannyasis to fight for the establishment of the legitimate rights of the ryots and the peasants. (1993: 117–8)

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Baruah mentions further that Krishnanarayan ‘then recruited in Rungpore an army of about 3,000 strong composed mainly of Barkandazes, which included Sikhs, Rajputs, Hindustanis from Bundelkhand and also fighting sannyasis from different provinces’ (ibid.: 117). He later entered Assam by way of Bhutan and Bijni in December 1791. He had among his agents and captains besides others one Dhir Singh Jamadar of Punjab (ibid.: 118). The problem may thus be sorted out by arguing that it hardly matters if they were soldiers of the Ranjit Singh’s army, but there is no denying the fact that they were soldiers indeed or at least quasisoldiers, who executed similar functions as a regular army. Whatever it be, the Nizam was happy with their services and co-opted many of these from the Irregular Troops to the prestigious Hyderabad Contingent. Chandu Lal factor also must have played an important role in the placement of many among them to higher positions of authority and responsibility. If Dakhani Sikhs believe themselves to be the progeny of such soldiers, they may not be lying. In nutshell, it seems, that if the Axomiya Sikhs derive legitimacy from the folk and mainstream literature for being in the lineage of soldiers, the Dakhani Sikhs draw evidence for their being the progeny of soldiers from the administrative records of the state of Deccan. Certainly, more research is required for being authentic.

The Sikh form The question of religion is very significant for the Sikhs in the Deccan and the NE including the safai karamcharis, who among them are least concerned about the Sikh form. The focus of discussion is on the Dakhani and the Axomiya Sikhs. In the words of Clifford Geertz: Religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (1993: 90) The Sikh religion thus plays a tremendously important role in the construction of their selves including identity. Men are singular in this respect as their markers are manifestly visible that is not the case with women. Moreover, the Dakhani and Axomiya women wear sari that is not considered the dress of a Sikh, a Punjabi Sikh stereotype

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indeed. The girls going out to school or office prefer Punjabi dress (salwar-kameez) and also at home for its convenience, though senior women feel comfortable in sari at home even and outside. The Sikh girls wearing jeans and trousers too, wear Punjabi dress when going to a gurdwara. One thing very conspicuous in the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs is their formal religious appearance with complete Sikh look that means having a beard more often flowing than tied up and a turban or keski, a piece shorter than the turban to cover the head. The Dakhani Sikhs call it siropa and the Axomiya Sikhs gamochha. By definition, a Sikh must have faith in Guru Granth Sahib and believe in the ten Sikh gurus. Between the two ideal typical forms of Sikhs – amritdhari and sahajdhari – there are variants in vogue with some of these symbols and traits of Sikhism in different combinations thereof (McLeod 1989). In popular perception, a Sikh must have beard and turban conspicuously besides some other symbols. In Sikhism those who have taken amrit have superior religious status and they observe strictly the Sikh rehat. They must keep the five Ks or kakar and recite gurbani daily besides other restrictions. The Sikhs in the Deccan and the NE except the safai karamcharis, neither keep their heads uncovered as prescribed in the code nor cut the beard. In the younger generation too it is not common at all. It is not surprising to see such Sikhs in the Deccan but definitely so in the remote villages of Nagaon in Assam. The remarks of a Sikh taxi driver’s cousin at Barkola are worth recalling: ‘Bha, ah vekh aithe Sikhi poori kaim’ai.’ Look brother at the Sikhs here, so far from Punjab. They have maintained the complete Sikh form. We do not find such Sikhs in our villages (Amritsar district) even. The significance of keeping hair is emphasised by Kapur Singh: One of the four grave breaches of discipline, any one of which results in automatic suspension from the Khalsa Brotherhood, is disregard of the injunction forbidding trimming or shaving of hair of any part of the body. Indeed, the breach of this injunction is viewed most seriously, with greater horror, than breach of any other injunction. (1989: 73) Medhi (1989) too reports that when two boys in Barkola had trimmed beard, that created much ruckus in the village.6 He also mentions the incident of slapping a fine on a newly married Sikh couple moving bareheaded in the gurdwara at Barkola. The filmy style looks

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of Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan, following the effect of media and the cosmetic industry that has influenced the Sikh youth in Punjab, has not impacted the Sikh youth in the Deccan and Assam. But there, too, the trimming of beard is appearing on the scene though not so common yet even among youth. The senior generation of course is orthodox in both the regions. The Dakhani Sikhs’ concern for sikhi may be gauged from a 40-year-old respondent’s attitude in the Sikh village at Hyderabad. He did not mention the name of his younger brother while filling information in the questionnaire. Later on, looking at the family photo, it was discovered that he had been outcast from the family for cutting his hair. ‘We have no relation with him,’ he confirmed later. The Sikligar community too is conservative in this respect. They believe themselves to be more orthodox than others in keeping the Sikh form. For instance, they do not allow shaving of hair in case of even head injury, stitching or no stitching. The Banjara Sikhs on the other hand, for their association with gurdwara as its functionaries, makes them adhere to the complete Sikh form prescribed in the Sikh rehat. The only exception with regard to the typical Sikh form is the safai karmachari community of the NE, but many among them keep the complete amritdhari khalsa form.7 The senior generation, no doubt keeps kesh and turban with kada, though the middle group is more loose on this count but the younger ones are becoming conscious of their Sikh identity. Numerous respondents, young and senior confirmed that the younger generation presently is getting more inclined towards religion and the Sikh form (sikhi saroop). A young amritdhari taxi driver who teaches gatka, the Sikh martial art at Gora Line tells, that he advises youth: ‘Aapni pachhan vaste dadhi tan rakho, qatar bhavein layo.’ For your identity, do keep the beard that you may trim. Many of them cut their hair and beard; yet believe in the Sikh gurus and Guru Granth Sahib and visit gurdwara as well. A kada, mostly a heavy one is definitely a part of their body. Their residential colonies – Bara Bazar and Gora Line at Shillong, Last Gate Colony at Dispur and Marakhali (Guwahati) – inevitably have a gurdwara and a Balmik temple and a Devi’s (Durga) temple. There is no discrimination by the residents in the celebration of gurpurabs and the Balmik jayanti including Mata’s puja (worship) in their respective colonies. All of them go to each place with equal respect upholding the Gandhian principle of sarva dharma sambhava. Some Christian converts too participate in these celebrations.8 The proportion of total respondents that have taken amrit is 83.98 per cent. But their ways of observing the Sikh tenets (rehat) are quite flexible and loose with respect to the prescriptions. It becomes clear from their supporting different kakar. There are 62.81 per cent

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respondents, that have them all. From the remaining sample, there are combinations of one or other kakar. It is important to note in the study that many amritdhari respondents are not very fussy about having all the Ks, all the time and at all places. They may have these according to their convenience. For instance, they may support a kirpan like any other part of their dress and have no qualms in separating it from their body. It is pertinent to note that as per the Sikh rehat, an amritdhari is never supposed to part with it come what may. One is expected to tie it to one’s head while taking a bath. It is also true of the breeches (kachha). After the bath, one is supposed to remove the wet breeches from one leg and before removing the same from the other leg, the fresh breeches must be slipped on the first leg. From the point of view of an orthodox Sikh, if this practice is not followed, it is a violation of the Sikh code, rehat maryada. The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, notes how particular the ancestors of the Dakhani Sikhs were in this respect: They not only adopted the five K’s, . . ., but also carried five weapons each, viz. two pistols, a sword, a dagger and a musket or, later, rifle. Moreover, they insisted on wearing their traditional dress comprising a chola (long cloak), kachhahira (drawers reaching down to cover the knees), and chakkar (sharp-edged quoits) over the turban. For over half a century they resisted the government’s orders to put on regulation dress of the Western style. (1998: 161) Much water has flown down the river since then. From the perspective of the present-day Sikhs in the remote areas of Assam and in many parts of the Deccan too, farther from the centres of puritanical prescription of Sikh religious practices of the ideal type, it is not much of an issue. The fountainhead of these puritanical prescriptions is the SGPC at Amrtisar. It has sanctioned these prescriptions codified in rehat, under the influence of Singh Sabha ideology that the Sikhs are separate from other communities/religions following the episteme of difference rather than resemblance. For instance, Kahn Singh Nabha wrote Hum Hindu Nahin in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For ‘ordinary’ Sikhs, that is, those not executing functions of a religious institution, in their quotidian life it is not workable ordinarily to maintain the purity and prescriptions of religious orthodoxy of the ideal type. It is well said by an elderly respondent at Nizamabad: ‘Amrit lena mushkil nahin, ise sambhalna mushkil hai. Yeh har admi ke bas ki baat nahin.’ It is easy to take amrit but difficult to sustain. It is not everybody’s cup of tea. Thus having some of the five K’s, as per their

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convenience, seems good enough to them as an identity marker, and that is what is expected of an average person in one’s routine life. That is what these Sikhs do. They keep the turban and beard flowing, and put on kirpan when going out of home. Since they are not particular about rehat they are labelled kachae Sikh.9 This practice is common to the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs in the two regions. Despite that, they believe they are not kachae but pakke (definite/for sure/100 per cent) Sikhs. Their reference to the Sikhs in Punjab in this context is important as there seems a factual element in their patting own backs, and claiming ‘Hamne Sikhi ko sambhala hai, Punjab mein to bura haal hai.’ The Punjabi Sikhs labelling them duplicate does not mean they themselves are strict followers of rehat living up to its prescriptions. The Jutt Sikhs among them are definitely not so and are least ritualistic while those belonging to the khatri caste are much closer to the Sikh form manifestly. But, the Jutts consider themselves only as Sikh and the latter are called bhapas. In Punjab, too, all other castes other than Jutts and Mazhabis tend to maintain the Sikh form but the former consider themselves most superior. The point here is that these Sikhs in the two regions are very particular about any such visible symbol (kakar) that establishes their identity as a Sikh. It could be one or more of the five Sikh symbols. There are different patterns. For instance, if one has hair (kesh), these must be kept covered with a turban or a keski or gamochha, also called siropa by these Sikhs and these are invariably supported by the beard – flowing or loose, tied up and netted or maybe trimmed. The other person may have kesh with turban and kada as visible markers of his identity. Kirpan is mandatory for an amritdhari, who may support it either outside the shirt or underneath, but for others it is a symbol whose miniatures are equally potent and effective. The Sikhs, both men and women, can have these miniatures on their bodies. The small comb (kanga) too has a kirpan and a khanda fixed on it. Kapur Singh draws support from the guru himself: the symbol of kirpan, which, contrary to the current belief in certain quarters, need not, on every occasion, assume the form of an actual long sword, but may also wear a small steel miniature of the sword, kept tied to the comb tugged up in chuda of the head-hair. That is not to stay that any alien authority or fiat may limit the possession of this symbol to this form, but that the symbol may be, when desired, kept in this form, is not in doubt. The ancient usage, going back to Guru Gobind Singh himself, sanctions it. (1989: 108)

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Thus, a Sikh may not be amritdhari yet she or he may have all the five Ks in this form including kachha in the form of a modern underwear. This two-in-one model works here too for majority Sikhs in routine life. The issue thus is, there are a number of sets and patterns of the Sikh symbols that people may support according to their convenience that may not appear enough to an orthodox Sikh observer but the bearer feels confident and considers herself enough of a Sikh. Kaur also notes in the case of Jat (Jutt) Sikhs of Punjab that ‘Most Sikhs wear at least two of these overt symbols – the turban signifying uncut hair and kara or the steel bracelet. Most non-Sikhs identify Sikhs by these symbols’ (1986: 222). The case of the long breeches (kachha) is also interesting. Those who wear the breeches prescribed for the functionaries (sewadars) of a gurdwara or worn by nihangs, must have a turban with flowing beard and wearing kirpan over the kurta, a long shirt. It is the most potent identity marker of a traditional amritdhari Sikh. In its modern version, the western dress may have all the five Ks. Office goers tend to conceal kirpan under their shirt and tie up or net the beard. Similarly, the modern urbanised Sikhs, including those not going to an office or school, do not have such breeches but shorter modern underwear. Medhi found in Barkola that ‘only six elderly males regularly wear kuchha while others wear general under wears [sic]’ (1989: 109).10 The question of following strictly the Sikh rehat at every level either in the Deccan or in the NE does not arise not only due to a difference in socio-cultural milieu but largely because the Sikh soldiers there married local women. No doubt, these women were formally made to partake amrit and adopt Sikhism before marriage but their traditional cultural baggage could not be dispensed with easily. More than men, women are concerned about the ritual aspect of the religious celebrations and social customs. It was very natural and normal for them to continue with their cultural practices thus making a blend of the two pure types. The pure types, by definition are hard to find in reality. The data also show this aspect of their lives. In the NE, the Axomiya Sikhs celebrate gurpurabs too but Bihu certainly has greater enthusiasm besides other festivals. Medhi mentions: ‘Among the Hindu gods and goddesses, the Sikhs worship mainly Ai-bhagabati (goddess of pox), Krishna, Lakshami and Shiva’ (ibid.: 372). He continues: The socio-religious life of the Assamese Sikhs tends to be guided by the doctrines of Sikhism. But at the same time the influence of indigenous folk beliefs and customs is quite appreciable in their

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The People of India also records: The other festivals observed by them are the bohag or rangali bihu, magh or bhogali bihu, koti or kangali bihu, Dipannita, Phakuwa, Lakshmi puja etc. along with the neighbouring Hindu community, moreover, they also observe Baisakhi and Sankranti (last day of each month) with Ashadiwar and Sabad kirtan in the Gurudwara. . . . This community is an admixture of the migrant Sikh of Punjab and the local Assamese Hindu. (Singh 2003b: 86; some vernaculars are not italicised in the original) Besides the socio-religious background of the local women, unorthodoxy of the rural peasant Sikhs of Nagaon district could also explain this behaviour. A peasant by temperament is neither that conservative nor orthodox as an urbanite belonging to the trading community, besides the fact that these Sikhs have a mixed culture of Sikhism and Hinduism.11 The present study shows that the local influence is more strong on the Axomiya Sikhs of the NE than others. Banerjee once again has similar observations: ‘The syncretic face of Sikhism has steadily brought the Assamese-Sikhs closer to the Assamese culture’ (2006: 107). In the Deccan 94.48 per cent respondents perform the Sikh rituals, while in the NE their number is 63.52 per cent and that includes safai karamcharis as well. If this information is sought for the Axomiya Sikhs alone, we find 46.85 per cent respondents perform Sikh rituals in different religious ceremonies while 52.6 per cent mix the two, the Sikh and the local. Out of the total sample, 19.98 per cent respondents who perform the mixed rituals, those in the NE count for 35.56 per cent while those in the Deccan are a mere 2.12 per cent. We may say, the preponderance of the Sikh rituals in the Deccan owes more to the overarching presence of the religious institutions like the Takht Hazoor Sahib, Nanded and the institutional conservative religiosity in the metropolitan Hyderabad besides the closed nature of the tribal community of Sikligars and Banjaras. Many among these are working in the gurdwara. Despite these factors, observing the local Hindu rituals (3.4 per cent) is continuing: The Deccani Sikhs visit both Hindu temples and Sikh Gurudwaras especially during Sivaratri. Sikh women observe a fast (upavas or

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okkapoddu) during the day and jagran during the night. They go in procession along with other Hindu women to perform Bonalu. These rites are decreasing day to day. They do puja (prayer) to Devi, and put muggu (rangoli) before their homes, which is a typical Hindu culture. (Singh 2003a: 478) The question of maintaining the Sikh form and distinct identity besides following the Sikh practices assumes significance especially in the wake of the 1984 all India Sikh killings. It is an important observation of the study and quite contrary to common expectations that 98.08 per cent respondents in both the regions have no difficulty in believing and practising Sikhism neither at the level of individual nor at the community level, celebrating religious festivals and taking out processions in the city. It is indeed a healthy trend alluding to communal harmony when ethnic conflicts are on the rise, especially in the NE. The ideology of the ‘sons of the soil’ is gaining ground there. Weiner comments: ‘Clashes between migrants and the indigenous population have become prominent feature of post-independence politics within multi-ethnic developing countries’ (1978: 75). This aspect has been vitiated further following the criminalisation of politics in India over the last few decades (see Chapter 3, note 27).

Issue of the Sikh identity The question of Sikh identity, as of its form, is closely related to the practice of Sikh religion. The Sikh symbols are a manifest measure of a Sikh’s form and identity. A male person having a beard and a turban are a sure sign of his Sikh identity. An ordinary Sikh is to be differentiated from an amritdhari Sikh, the Khalsa. McLeod (1989) rightly suggests a continuum between a sahajdhari and an amritdhari Sikh. ‘The existing literature on religion and identity is limited,’ according to Oppong. He continues: ‘However, evidence from few studies in the area suggests that religion is correlated with identity formation. For instance, religiosity is found to be relevant in explaining commitment and purposefulness in terms of identity formation’ (2013: 14). It is a positive correlation. This is something that Durkheim had talked about when religious solidarity is seen as a function of social circumstances. This would further affirm one’s identity and reinforce commitment to the group solidarity. Citing numerous studies, Hammond argues: Little doubt exists about the intimate link between religion and ethnicity. Whether the latter is conceived objectively or subjectively,

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I propose to argue, following Jenkins, that ‘all human identities are, by definition, social identities. Identifying ourselves, or others, is a matter of meaning, and meaning always involves interaction: agreement and disagreement, convention and innovation, communication and negotiation’ (2012: 17; emphasis in original). A manifestly active dialectic between the social and religious identities historically provides the community a self-sustaining force for constructing and reinforcing its self-identity. The social history of a community is reinforced by the history of its members’ religion and vice versa. The past and the present reinforce each other. This is not a real life distinction but only for purposes of analysis and understanding. By social history, I mean the history of the respondents’ perception of self-identity at a place where they are a minority and the way others perceive them. Barth argues in this context: ‘we give primary emphasis to the fact that ethnic groups are categories of ascription and identification by the actors themselves, and thus have the characteristic of organizing interaction between people’ (1969a: 10). By religious history, I mean the theory and practice of Sikh religion in North and South India, in the past and in the present. I argue further that not only the dialectic between the social and the religious identities but between the past and the present also sustain the identity of the Sikhs, and Sikhism in the Deccan and the NE. The historical aspect of the social identity refers to the images, the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs in particular besides others carry with them. Both of them take pride in being the progeny of the Sikh soldiers of Ranjit Singh’s army. He was no ordinary King but with a title Shere-Punjab, the lion of Punjab who extended the boundaries of the Sikh empire from Afghanistan to Kashmir and down to Satluj. It was a matter of pride to be associated with him and his army. The Axomiya people revere Chaitanya Singh’s chivalry who fought for the Ahom king against the Burmese. According to Phukan, Rajkhowa inspired by Rajnikanta Bardoloi’s Manomati ‘immortalizes in brilliant verse the encounter at Hadirachaki and the ultimate sacrifice of Sikh commander Chaitanya Singh’ (2013: 440). The bravery of the Sikh soldiers has become a part of the folklore and the mainstream literature in Assam.12 The Sikhs take pride in this and claim that that is why the ‘Ahom people like them.’13

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The Dakhani Sikhs too harbour similar sentiments about themselves. They have larger storehouse of stories and anecdotes about their ancestors’ achievements than the Axomiya Sikhs. This may be due to their entrenchment in the state administration of the Hyderabad-Deccan. The notorious bands of Arabs and Rohillas were neutralised to establish law and order; they provided security to the palaces and processions of the Nizam, besides the treasury; they collected revenue and policed the districts all over the Deccan. The Nazim-i-Jami’at-i-Sikhan ensuring employment to their sons tells the story of their power and prestige in the Dakhani society. The story of Nirmal – blowing off the Nizam’s farman – is fondly and proudly narrated by each and every Dakhani Sikh, rich and poor. They boast of the self-esteem of their ancestors who bothered neither the authority of Nizam nor his gifts and fiefdom in particular, the grant of land at Nirmal. The rebellion of certain Risaldars against the State and immortalising their martyrdom in the form of memorials like Gurdwara Asa Singh Bagh Singh Shaheedan at Sikh Chhawniat is a testimony to their ancestors’ selfrespect, honour and independence. (Puratan Gurudwara Sahib Asha Singh Bagh Shaheedan Singh Asthan.) They did not cow down but took position on the face of Nizam. These are the sources of inspiration for all Dakhani Sikhs and they try to emulate them in their daily lives in whichever way they can. The People of India volume too notes that, ‘The community’s selfperception at the regional level is high’ (Singh 2003a: 475). We find in it a parallel with the value of hospitality in the Pathan culture analysed by Barth. He argues: On a deeper level, it confirms basic premises of Pathan life: the wealth is not for amassing, but for use and is basically without importance, that only the weak man is attached to property and makes himself dependent on it, that the strong man bases his position on qualities within himself and people’s recognition of these qualities, and not on control of people by the control of objects. (1969b: 121; emphasis added) The identity of the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs at present, however, is disjointed. The people of their own origin and religion, the Punjabi Sikhs consider them ‘duplicate.’ They are relatively poor and humble, engaged in petty business and at low status-level jobs in the service sector. They have seemingly lowered the image and status of the Punjabi Sikhs. On the other hand, the Dakhani Sikhs are respected by the local people for their uprightness and forthcoming spirit in helping

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others. Javeed Alam, former professor of political theory residing at Hyderabad remarks: ‘Whenever there is need for help a Sikh neighbour is the first one to come forward.’14 Similar remarks were made by Medhi, the professor of anthropology at Guwahati: ‘The relations of Sikhs with locals are very cordial. They are very forthcoming in giving help to others. It has made them respectable in Assam. Other communities did have some quarrels and fights but not the Sikhs.’15 It is noteworthy about the Dakhani Sikhs that people in their neighbourhood feel safe and passengers feel secure in their vehicles, be it an autorickshaw (three-wheeler) or a taxi. The parents too prefer to put up their daughters in their paying guest accommodation in the Ameerpet area of Hyderabad, the place of their concentration. Thus, for local people their poverty does not come in the way of social respect for them. The money they lend never gets forfeited and the commitment they make to someone too is not violated irrespective of their personal gain or loss. Barth explicates the perpetuation of Pathan identity on a more individual basis: ‘As money-lenders and as night watchmen, Pathans can defend and capitalize on their virtues as fearless, independent, and dominant persons’ (1969b: 129). The aforementioned bits of everyday experience reflecting social esteem keep them going as Sikhs. Alfred Schutz remarks, The everyday world of common-sense objects and practical acts is, the paramount reality in human experience – paramount in the sense that it is the world in which we are most solidly rooted, whose inherent actuality we can hardly question (however much we may question certain portions of it), and from whose pressures and requirements we can least escape. (1982: 226) The Axomiya Sikhs do not have such feats as their counterparts in the Deccan, but they did prove their credentials of being the true sons of the soil by participating actively in the Assam Movement of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) during the 1980s. It is pertinent to remind that this movement was against the people of outside Assam origin. Two Barkola Sikhs laid down their lives during the struggle. They had also been active in the following years and a few assumed positions of authority in the Praffula Mahanta’s government and the political party, Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AGSP). Besides politics, a couple of Axomiya Sikhs have excelled in literature and fine arts. Nand Singh Barkola was given the Sahitya Academy Award in 2012.

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The Dakhani Sikhs on the other hand have neither such literary feats to their credit nor achieved anything of significance in politics or governance. They are however active in consolidating their hold on the Takht Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) that the SGPC, Amritsar wants to bring under its control. This gurdwara has own tradition and practices different from the prescriptions of the SGPC. To mention a few for purposes of illustration, its jathedar is always a Dakhani Sikh and a bachelor; the sanctum sanctorum is adorned by the two granths, Guru Granth and the Dasam Granth with similar ritual status; a ram is sacrificed within the premises of the gurdwara that does not happen anywhere else especially in gurdwaras under the SGPC. These Sikhs want to maintain their own, and their institution’s identity distinct from its northern counterpart. Nihang and Singh suggest ‘an undivided loyalty to Guru Gobind Singh, the Hazoori Sikhs take a radically different approach from many of their Punjabi brethren in their understanding of what it means to be a Sikh’ (2008: iv), and that ‘they alone have preserved the bonafide, unalloyed traditions imparted’ by the Guru (ibid.: vi). The Dakhani Sikhs are more conscious of the political aspect of their social identity that is not the concern of Axomiya Sikhs who have now started raising their head. The Sikh-Muslim tension had always been there from the early times of Maharaja Chandu Lal and erupted again in Nanded over the issue of Gurdwara Maal Tekdi. To a simple poser, is there tension between the Sikhs and the Muslims?, the response invariably was, yes, that was once when the Sikh-Muslim communalism was fanned, following the Maal Tekdi incident. The Muslims solicited help from the Rohilla and the Arab bands to subdue the Sikhs. On the day of Bakr Id, Muslims wanted to take procession on the Gurdwara road. It led to clashes. The Sikhs not only stopped them but made them run away. Now none raises one’s head. ‘Bhaga diye.Ab koi choon nahin karta.’ This incident is so fresh in the respondents’ minds that they narrate it as if it is a matter of recent past. On inquiry: ‘When did it happen?’ The reply is ‘peechhe hi’ (sometime ago). On insisting, when? ‘Thhodi der ki baat hai’ (it is only a short while ago). It was discovered later that this incident took place in 1929. This notion of living with respect and domineering effect (dabdba) is ever important to them in their day-to-day life. They still feel in them the elements of the Nizam’s Sikh Force and tend to behave likewise. The past and the present thus reinforce each other to uphold the present image of the Dakhani Sikhs. It is common utterance well summed up by a young man of Nanded, and a close associate of the Jathedar, in colloquial Punjabi: ‘Singhan da dabdba poora hai ji.’ That, the Sikhs

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have maintained their prestige and domineering effect as ever. It is a result of this continuity of the past practices and of their reputation that Sikhs derive their honour and respect from the local people. Barth helps us understand it better: ‘Since belonging to an ethnic category implies being a certain kind of person, having that basic identity, it also implies a claim to be judged, and to judge oneself, by those standards that are relevant to that identity’ (1969a: 14). That the Sikhs believe themselves to be people with fighting spirit has been perpetuated and ‘authenticated’ by the British rulers in India. They identified ‘martial races’ in India and Sikhs were one among them. R. G. Fox writes in the chapter ‘A Martial Species,’ quoting R. W. Falcon: The Sikh is a fighting man and his fine qualities are best shown in the army, which is his natural profession. Hardy, brave, and of intelligence; too slow to understand when he is beaten; obedient to discipline; attached to his officers; and careless of caste prohibitions, he is unsurpassed as a soldier in the East. . . . The Sikh is always the same, ever genial, good-tempered and uncomplaining; as steady under fire as he is eager for a charge. (1987: 144) The safai karamcharis too believe similarly in this respect with the Dakhani Sikhs in giving a befitting reply to the opponent in event of a clash. It is put in chaste Punjabi: ‘Asin chupp nahin behnde, karara jawab deyi da wa, nahin tan sir chad jaan ge. Ikki de katti mori de aa.’ Whenever there is some brawl, we do not sit quietly but retaliate fiercely. Otherwise, they will dominate us. The Sikh youth take out their kirpans and teach the miscreants a lesson. A taxi driver remarks: ‘Je asin na boliye o’ chha jaan ge. Hun saare sidhe keete hoye aa. Khalse agge koi nahin bolda.’ Literally, they will dominate us if we do not retaliate. Now all of them have been ‘put in a line’ and no one dares to stand up against the Khalsa. A young cab driver aptly said, ‘bhaaji rakhi di nahin, mori di aa.’ Whenever there is a skirmish between the local Khasi and the Sikh youth, the latter never cow down. The case of Pal Singh of Bara Bazar is also telling. He ran a liquor bar and was a terror to the local miscreants. He never bothered the people at large. The president of Harijan Panchayat Committee (Bara Bazar) who has held this post for the past 12 years remarks: ‘Khasiye kuchh nahin kehnde, saade munde hi panga lende ne.’ The local Khasis do not make mischief, but our boys only dare do that. Another respondent attests: ‘Aithhe pind wala mahaul aa. Jadon kuchh hunda wa, saare kathhe ho jande ne. Kutt-katai vi kar deyi di aa. Dabdba hai saada. Lor pain

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te telepnone vi karva deyi d’ai.’ Literally, we have a village-like milieu here. Whenever something happens, everyone comes together. The miscreant too is given a good thrashing. We are domineering. If our boys are detained by the police, we use our contacts in the secretariat to put in a word to the concerned officer. All said and done, safai karamcharis, the marginalised caste and community not only in their ‘erstwhile homeland’ but also at a distant place are attempting to create space for themselves where they are recognised as ‘somebody.’ Not only the local people, but even the police are scared to enter their colony at Bara Bazar, so confirms an officer of the Department of Urban Affairs. Their attitude of inducing mischief (panga laina) is an attempt to feel their domineering effect that further asserts their self-image of being somebody. The Axomiya Sikhs have no such pretentions to power and domination, but safai karamcharis of the NE are like the Dakhani Sikhs in this respect. The urban and rural sites may be largely responsible for such dispositional characteristics of the communities as social tension is more likely to erupt at the former place than the latter. The heterogeneity and anonymity in the urban milieu become one of the sources of social conflict, as also the high density of population and the most important element of competitiveness in a market society. Thus, there is need to assert one’s presence that is not much of an issue in a ruralscape. The participation in religious celebrations on a large scale with greater intensity and heightened ostentation is a recent trend towards showing own community’s strength and ‘manpower.’ The celebration of Hola Mahalla at Halla Bol Chowk in Nanded, enacting scenes of offense and defence and creating a warlike situation, is a message to the local people of the Sikhs’ fighting disposition. The Sikh youth with weapons in their hands charging in the streets of Nanded are scaring the local people. Such nagar kirtan jaloos definitely unnerve the local populace and the administration, which is why certain families left Nanded following the gurtagaddi celebrations in 2008. The safai karamcharis resemble the Dakhani Sikhs in this regard. They have lately taken up such celebrations with pomp and show to unnerve the dominant Khasi people. The participation of Sikhs in religious processions brandishing weapons is also a mechanism to demonstrate to others that they may have nuisance value when bothered unnecessarily. Such processions, of course, are a show of their manifest solidarity. The safai karamcharis may not be missing their home, as Khurana remarks in the context of diaspora that such celebrations are a way of expressing solidarity ‘within this negotiation of the “homeland” and the new “home” ’ (2011: 232). But their religious fervour in

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this respect goes well with her conclusion: ‘The nagar kirtan. . . acts as a public reminder to non-Sikhs of their presence amongst them. It is for these reasons that the nagar kirtan is truly multidimensional and multivalent’ (ibid.: 245; vernaculars not italicised). These religious processions are nothing less than the demonstrative Republic Day Parade in Delhi. Such a strategy to show the strength of an imagined community, the nation-state seems to have been adopted by the migrant community, that is surely less imaginary and relatively more concrete. The element of ostentation and glamourisation of the city procession during the religious celebrations has increased paradoxically in the post-Bluestar (June 1984) period and after the all India Sikh killings in November 1984. It has become an index of the Sikhs’ strength and solidarity and a reaffirmation of their distinctive religious identity. The high-spirited enthusiasm and martial demeanours of the Sikh community leave the local people simply wonderstruck. They are rather scared of the Sikhs since they carry the swords large (siri sahib) and short (kirpans) with them, the latter being an integral component of a Khalsa Sikh. The significance of procession is also a measure of their bolbala, a domineering effect in the present times. The Dakhani Sikhs narrate proudly that when no one was allowed to take out a procession on the day of President Clinton’s visit to Hyderabad on 24 March 2000, they were not stopped from protesting against the killings of Sikhs in Kashmir. Such celebrations in the post-1984 era seem to provide them a heightened sense of security, which is why 99.7 per cent respondents participate actively in them. And despite being a minority community, 97.53 per cent respondents do not fear practising Sikhism in both the regions of the study. This is due to the functional rationality of the religious celebrations and processions manifesting the solidarity of the community, migrant or otherwise. If the Dakhani Sikhs are descendants of the soldiers of the Lahori Fauj, there remains little doubt about their Sikh credentials since that army was more likely to be imbued with the colour of Sikh religion and philosophy, given the religious devoutness of Ranjit Singh.16 If they are the descendants of Hazoori Sikhs who accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to Nanded, the chances of their being coloured with Sikhism are still more potent. Finally, if their ancestors were Sikhs scattered around in the Deccan, their enrolment in the Sikh Force could be possible only if they were true to their religion in form and spirit, especially the former. Even if they were lax in keeping their complete form and distinct identity before recruitment, it must have induced them to be more particular about these elements of their personality post-employment since a job in the police force must have

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been a great attraction. The Sikh religious identity had to be maintained in the Sikh Force vis-à-vis other forces of the Arabs, Yemeni, Turkish, Afghani, Rohilla and Africans. Thus, Jami’at-i-Sikhan must have contributed directly to the construction and sustenance of these soldiers’ Sikh identity. The question of social identity is well-founded as a result of boundary maintenance à la Barth. The data for Axomiya Sikhs, culled out separately from the main study, tends to show more definitely the idea of boundary maintenance well within the limits of a single district (Nagaon). The mothers of 88.21 per cent respondents belong to different places but all in the same district.17 The remaining 11.79 per cent mothers belong to other places in Assam only, except four from Bihar and one from Punjab. The wives of 79.28 per cent respondents also hail from the same district (Nagaon) well within a distance of about 60 km from each other.18 Similar is the case of 71.64 per cent daughters-in-law19 and 69.44 per cent sons-in-law, who all belong to the Nagaon district. On the basis of data collected nearly three decades ago, Medhi too explains their ‘marriage area’: ‘Most of the affinal kins (sic) of Barkola Sikhs belong to five different places of Nagaon district including Nagaon town. Again, of these five places, majority of the affinal kins [sic] of Barkola Sikhs belong to two places, viz., Chaparmukh and Lanka’ (2013: 363). The safai karmacharis of the NE are also highly localised in terms of kinship relations, be it within the NE or from Punjab even. All respondents belong to two districts – Amritsar and Gurdaspur – in Punjab and they seek marital alliances from there only. In the NE too, they hardly ever go beyond Shillong and Guwahati/Dispur. At times, they need not go outside their colony even. Such marriages are socially permitted but with one condition, that the bride and the groom should not belong to the same village in Punjab. Another important condition is that the two families must agree to it. This is all about their marital universe. It may aptly be formulated: ‘Je saure Guahti te peke Shillong’ and vice versa. That is if parents are at Shillong then the in-laws are at Guwahati and vice versa. The Dakhani Sikhs too remain within their region but with a difference that their region is relatively larger in size, the Deccan. It does not matter for marital and social relations that the erstwhile districts now stand divided into three states – Andhra Pradesh now Telengana, Karnataka and Maharashtra – that are linguistically distinct and different. The administrative and political boundaries despite linguistic chauvinism in South India, do not interfere in the Dakhani Sikhs’ social and kinship networking. The boundary formation is already always

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strong with the tribal communities hence it does not call for an explanation here. What is interesting and very conspicuous with all types of Sikhs under study in the Deccan and the NE is the display of their Sikh identity, that is, usually a Sikh emblem on their person or on the face of their house and/or on the main gate.20 It is also put up on their auto-rickshaw, cab or car and two wheelers. The Sikh men, women and children also have them around their necks and some men or boys on their turbans. Their minority status does not deter them to conceal their identity. Banerjee’s narrative of meeting Dhyan Singh in Guwahati is also illustrative of an Axomiya Sikh’s identity and indigeneity: ‘It (house) was almost a local landmark with the name “Singh Niwas” boldly inscribed on its gate’ (2013: 304). What Garfinkel calls identity constancy by asking ‘what are the conditions under which the person’s interpreter regards the person as the same?,’ I suggest that the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs in particular have maintained a continuity with their past identity that remains functional. The correspondence of the social space with the physical or geographical space are going a long way in marking them off from other communities and concretising their own identity – social and religious. They enjoy still social esteem from the local people even if the affluent fellow Punjabi Sikhs ridicule them. They maintain manifest religious markers, especially the flowing beard and turban without exception. And, with Sikhs, the social and the religious are inseparable. I would rather re-verse Niharranjan Ray, saying that however engrossed a Sikh may find oneself in matters of day-to-day life in the present-day market society, she or he is never oblivious of the ‘religious.’

The problem of language The problem of language is peculiar too with the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs in both the regions. They neither speak nor understand Punjabi, something that surprises and disturbs the Punjabi Sikhs. Like religion, their linguistic identity is also manifestly obvious. The Axomiya Sikhs in the villages understand nothing more in Punjabi or Gurmukhi than ‘Sat Sri Akali’ (the Timeless is true), a Sikh greeting or salutation. The Dakhani Sikhs, except at Nanded and Bidar do not understand Punjabi either. They converse in Hindi with an outsider, but with the local person it is always in the language of their region, which could be Telugu, Kannada or Marathi or Hindi, but all of them anywhere never converse among them in Punjabi. Even with Sikhs from Punjab, they talk in Hindi only. It is pertinent to remind that

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0.42 per cent respondents only in the Deccan speak Punjabi at home while 5.94 per cent combine it with Hindi. In the NE, if we exclude the safai karamcharis who speak Majhaili Punjabi, not a single Axomiya respondent speaks Punjabi at home. I repeat, not a single Axomiya Sikh speaks Punjabi at home. It is not a Sikh only who feels surprised when another Sikh does not speak in Punjabi, but Banerjee too got amazed when he met the president of the Asamiya-Sikh Sanstha at Guwahati. In his words: ‘I detected a few other things which amazed me. Here was a turbaned Sikh with beard, talking not in Punjabi but in his mother tongue – Asamiya’ (2013: 305; emphasis added). The Punjabi Sikhs settled in both the regions fail to digest that these Sikhs neither speak nor understand Punjabi, that is, Gurmukhi. The bonding of religion and language is so strong in their mind that they go to the extent of calling them ‘duplicate’ Sikhs. The problem of labelling these Sikhs as duplicate is not only confined to the Deccan (Singh 2014) and the NE (Singh 2017). Najnin Islam reports similar treatment with the Agrahari Sikhs in Kolkata: The fact of social marginalization is further evident in the ascription of ‘nakli’ or ‘kachha’ [sic] Sikhs that most of my Agrahari respondents complained of. Several factors contribute to the ascription of this slur. The accusation of falsehood derives from the very fact of them being Biharis hinting at a certain kind of territorial/locational bias as also the manner in which they conduct their ritual life. The Agraharis maintain a highly syncretic profile. Not only do they celebrate the major gurpurabs but also engage in idol worship. Chhat Puja, Janmasthami are some of the festivals they celebrate apart from worshipping goddess Laxmi, Ganesh and Kali. (Islam: 64) The Punjabi Sikhs wonder – ‘Eh keho jehey Sikh ne, Punjabi nahin jande.’ What kind of Sikhs are they, who do not know/understand Punjabi, thus implying they are lesser Sikhs. This is the attitude of the economically dominant Punjabi Sikhs in the NE and the Deccan. This labelling does not seem to be out of any rivalry – economic, social or political. It may be a justification of keeping themselves aloof from the people of their religion due to their low economic status. To them, the Sikhs and poverty do not seem to go together. There is some justification in such perception, as Jodhka informs: ‘Of the major religious communities of the country, the proportion of poor among the Sikhs is lowest. . . . only 5 per cent of rural Sikhs and around 6 per cent of urban

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Sikhs were recorded to be below the poverty line’ (2009: 7).21 There is no other relation between them but for purposes of religious celebrations. The demarcation of boundary between them does not evaporate there too. In the Deccan, Hyderabad specifically, they have identified the gurdwaras and gurpurabs or other occasions between them for celebrations that does give the semblance of solidarity, at least to the outsiders. But in the NE, such a religious celebratory cooperation that was continuing for the past 31 years had started experiencing pangs of separation that led to organising parallel functions at Dhubri Sahib and at Gurdwara Mata Ji at Chaparmukh in December 2012. The Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs make an interesting comparison on the issue of language. The former are unilingual people, whereas the latter are polyglot. In the total sample, Axomiya speakers have the highest percentage of 60.37 per cent despite safai karamcharis who have returned Punjabi as their mother tongue. The multilingual nature of the Dakhani Sikhs flows from their boundary maintenance that encompasses much wider space for kinship networks spreading across three states than the Axomiya people whose marital alliances are confined largely to a single district. The question of culture flows from language, as the two are intrinsically connected, and reinforce each other. It is no denying the fact that but for safai karamcharis in the NE, all other types of Sikhs in the sample are imbued with the local culture reflected primarily in the use of language especially at home, followed by dress or costumes, food, rituals regarding life crisis rites, songs to mention the important ones. It is often said that Axomiya Sikhs celebrate Bihu more than Baisakhi. No doubt, the latter is more important for Sikhs but the former is most important in Assam. How could a festival of such an import be ignored by those people who are not only a minority there but whose men are wedded to the local women. Banerjee also writes: ‘Their dual self also underlines that they “enjoy doing Bihu (Assamese spring festival) not bhangra (Punjab mens’ folk dance)” ’ (2006: 107). It is useful to look at the parallel case of Muslims in Assam that are believed to be more orthodox and conservative than the Sikhs. If they could get fully immersed in that culture, why not the Sikhs? Barpujari notes: When in early 1838 Jenkins enquired of the Muslims of Upper Assam how they came to Assam, the latter replied that they were the remnants of the Omrahs who had accompanied the Mughal general. The Assamese Muslims were their descendants and also of the converts made by them. Some of them were said to have

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joined the Faraizi sect, but they were not so fanatical as in East Bengal. On the contrary, ‘their processions and ceremonies as well as their worship of village divinities and saints show that they have practically renounced Islam.’ Even in 1662, Shihabu’ddin Talish found among the Assamese Muslims ‘nothing of Islam except the name. Their hearts are inclined far more towards mixing with the Assamese than towards association with the Muslims.’ (1993: 157–8) It is not possible to keep alive a language or culture in the land of one’s migration, especially when one is cut off from own land for a long period. The culture in this sense is not to be confused with religion. The Sikhs in the Deccan and the NE, other than safai karamcharis keep the Sikh form, which is a religious prescription, otherwise they are fully immersed in the local culture by virtue of speaking the language of the people. It is useful to recall that on introducing my local project fellow, the respondent would immediately switch over to the native language unmindful of my incomprehension. Banerjee’s first meeting with Dhyan Singh is also noteworthy: With a brief introduction in English, Singh quickly switched over to Asamiya. In a supple voice he expressed his preference to communicate in mother tongue. . . . In the midst of our discussion, he signalled for my refreshment. It was all Assamese dishes and served by his wife. . . . It struck me that I had not also heard any Punjabi word from Sardar Dhyan Singh’s mouth. I realized that these were possibly some of the important markers of indigenous Sikhs of rural Assam. (2013: 304–5) Both the Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs have this feature in common since they have married local women and communicate in their language. It made the language of their children, hence their mother tongue. The comments of an Axomiya scholar about Axomiya Sikhs are worth noting, ‘This is indeed a fascinating tale of acculturation leading almost to assimilation,’ and continues: Assamese Sikhs which constitute the smallest minority community in the whole of the North East India and perhaps one of the smallest one in the country been playing a significant role in promoting social harmony in Assam. While the community has become indistinguishable from the rest of Assamese in dress, food, festivals

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Another scholar of Assam attests the above statement: More importantly, they have stood hand in hand with our society in Assam through thick and thin. Where do you find such shining example of whole hearted assimilation? Have we adequately paid back our gratitude? Unfortunately the entire community is still ruing its slow pace of development. The community that embraced significant features of our culture whole heartedly finds itself on the throes of a dilemma resulting from our seeming insensitivity. (Choudhury 2013: 395) The safai karamcharis are an exception in this respect. They could sustain Punjabi culture not only because they speak Punjabi but maintain a live organic relation with Punjab, the land of their ancestors, earlier for reasons of the pull factor and later or currently for the push factor. The first generation employees of the colonial government pulled their near and dear ones to Shillong for government employment, a big attraction then. The marriage of their children was a large conduit for migration there. The trend, however, was reversed during the 1980s when the tribal versus non-tribal and insider versus outsider became the political issue in the NE. It has initiated the push factor to marry children in Punjab. It is important to note that across the two regions, the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs both including the Sikligars feel belittled for their lack of reading and understanding Gurmukhi. The Punjabi Sikhs’ economic domination and their political clout make these local Sikhs feel small in this respect, which is why they are trying to teach their children skills in Punjabi language. Besides imparting language skills to children in the main gurdwara of a city or a village as in Barkola and Chaparmukh, certain rich persons too finance such programmes at their level. In the Sikligar colony of Balnagar at Hyderabad, a Punjabi teacher from Punjab with post-graduation in religious studies is supported by a local businessman. He is looking after the religious functions of the gurdwara as also teaching language skills to the children. It is one of the earliest gurdwaras established by the Sikh Sikligar Samaj. Similarly, the Sikhs of Barkola requested the chief minister of Punjab on his maiden visit there to arrange a Punjabi teacher. The SGPC obliged by deputing a Punjabi teacher. All gurdwaras at all the places are running such schools on their premises.

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When it was argued with the Axomiya Sikhs that they should not feel belittled for not knowing Gurmukhi but communicate with local people in their language – Axomiya, Jasbir Singh, a young bhai ji of Barkola confirmed: ‘I addressed a large religious congregation of local people in Axomiya about the Sikh religion and Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They were very happy. It is meaningful to talk to them in their language.’ Despite that, their labelling by ‘own people’ bothers them. To facilitate understanding of Guru Granth Sahib some scholars have already translated the five banis (guru’s voice or words) into regional languages including Sukhmani Sahib and Sahib. A former college principal at Guwahati has rendered these banis into Axomiya and the work is going on other texts. A learned Sikh of Karimnagar (Andhra Pradesh now Telengana) has also translated the five banis into Telugu. He was also good at doing katha and kirtan in that language. But why do Punjabi Sikhs look down upon these Sikhs in this manner on the language issue? Probably, for them language and religion are bound together as is also true for people at large which is why language has become a communal problem in Punjab since 1947. The Hindi gets adopted by the Hindus, Punjabi by the Sikhs and Urdu by the Muslims.22 Since Gurmukhi is the language of Guru Granth, the living guru of the Sikhs (and none in body and soul after Him), it seems to be a natural ally of the Sikhs. In Sikhism, there is a clear distinction between a gurmukh (who looks towards the guru) and a manmukh (who looks towards the self).23 Thus, it is plausible to believe that one who does not understand Punjabi, that is, Gurmukhi in this case as opposed to Shahmukhi in Persian script of the West Punjab in Pakistan, is considered a non-gurmukh, hence a non-gursikh and a manmukh over that by implication. Such a person, to them, I believe cannot be a true Sikh but a ‘duplicate’ one, a naqli Sikh. This probably is the underlying assumption of such a labelling. It is not desirable since it is also not in consonance with the teachings and philosophy enshrined in the Guru Granth that lays emphasis on unity in variety, in pluralism and universalism more than the modern day multiculturalism. The Punjabi Sikhs should rather pat these Sikhs on their backs for grooming Sikh religion at places where they are a minority. Ideally speaking, the affluent Punjabi Sikhs and the SGPC should help these Sikhs financially to translate or transliterate the religious and other Sikh historical texts in the native languages. If the Axomiya and the Dakhani Sikhs find themselves on a weak wicket on the issue of Gurmukhi, both of them retaliate in labelling the

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Punjabi Sikhs on account of not keeping the Sikh form. An educated young man at Nanded was very sore about it and commented: ‘Hamey to Punjabi nahin aati, woh to Sikh hi nahin lagte.’ It is right we do not know Punjabi, but they do not look like Sikhs even. The respondents of the senior generation too mince no words in claiming that they have conserved the Sikh religion: ‘Hamney Sikhi ko sambhala hai, Punjab mein to bura haal hai.’ The reference here is to the Punjabi Sikhs in both the regions, as also in Punjab. The historians may be contesting the interpretations of Guru Gobind Singh’s southward journey, but the Dakhani Sikhs have a definite answer to this riddle. A retired police inspector at Sikh Chhawniat remarked: ‘Guru sahib jaani-jaan thhe. Voh Dakhan mein isi liye aaye thhe ki Sikhi to vahin bache gi, Punjab mein nahin.’ Literally, the guru had grand intuition. He knew too well that the Sikh religion will be saved in the Deccan not in Punjab, which is why he travelled southwards.24 The Axomiya Sikhs too have similar opinion about the Punjabi Sikhs in the NE, especially in Guwahati. A leading representative of the former community at Chaparmukh comments about the latter’s Sikh credentials: ‘Dus guruon ke naam bhi soch-soch kar batate hain. Panch Singh sahiban ke naamon ka pata nahin, hamko Sikhi padhane chale hain. Woh Sikhi ko istemal karte hain. . . Paisa phenko, election jeeto, party karo aur media mein khabar lagayo. Yeh hai unki Sikhi.’ They cannot name the ten gurus in one go. They do not know the names of five Singh sahibs either. How could they teach us Sikhism? In fact they are ‘using’ it. They throw money, win elections, make news and go partying. That is their Sikhism.25 He continues criticising: ‘Shaheedi purab kaise manate hain, hum unhe sikhayenge. Path karenge, kirtan hoga aur Guru sahib ko shradhanjaliyan di jayengi. Mela nahin lagayenge jaisa Punjabi log Dhubri sahib mein karte hain.’ We shall teach them how to celebrate the Guru’s martyrdom day. We shall recite gurbani, hold kirtan darbar and pay homage to the Guru (Tegh Bahadur). We shall not make it a show of wealth display like the Punjabi Sikhs at Dhubri sahib. The relation between the Axomiya and the Punjabi Sikhs in the recent past has become manifestly more tense. The Axomiya Sikhs hold the Punjabi Sikhs responsible for this tension. A senior spokesperson at Chaparmukh remonstrates: ‘We were forced to take this hard decision due to the high headedness of the Punjabi Sikhs who violated the code last year by holding the parallel function at Dhubri when it was our turn at Chaparmukh.’ He continues arguing: ‘We had always been cooperating with them and abiding by the collective decisions but they are becoming arrogant and rude. Moreover, they do not hold a

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good opinion of us and call us “duplicate”.’ Banerjee too noticed this underlying tension: But the financially rich Punjabi-speaking Sikhs residing in the different urban centres of Assam who came to the region at a later period do not regard these Assamese-Sikhs as their social equals. They also do not hold a very high opinion about the cultural distinctiveness of the Assamese-Sikhs. A deep tension has long been going on between them regarding the question of Sikh identity in Assam. (2007: 65, fn 74)

Looking back to Punjab There are different types of Sikhs in the sample, but safai karamacharis in the NE are the only ones among them that are looking back to Punjab. In the total sample, only one-fourth of the total respondents – 26.11 per cent to be precise – have family ties there and this population also includes the safai karamacharis (17.3 per cent) who invariably marry one or two children, son or daughter, in Punjab. The geographical distance too is significant, besides time and money. The better offs make it a point to visit Punjab with the family once in two or three years: ‘Har saal tan nahin, do-tinn salan’ch tan parvar naal ja aayida wa.’ Of the respondents, 88.57 per cent have close family links in Punjab and 91.43 per cent have visited there at least thrice. Once again, it is the father’s sister(s) that make the ancestral homeland connection in majority cases. Their kin in Punjab hardly ever visit them. It is lots of money for them. ‘Nale saak sambandhian nu mill aayi da wa.’ Only we go there to see kinsmen. The case of safai karamacharis is also peculiar for two reasons. First, they are the Scheduled Castes who could not find marital alliances earlier in the NE. Second, a strong reason is that they are the only people in the sample that are predominantly located in Shillong where they do not have the right to buy land or other property. This is so despite being the resident of that place for more than 100 years. The members of the senior generation after retirement wish to return to Punjab more out of nostalgia but not others. An employee of the Public Health department whose retirement is far away still (2027) laments: ‘Jaana kithhe wa. Bachae nahin jana chaunde. Aithhe hi koi kumm kaar chalanvan ge. Naukrian tan hai nahin, jehdiyan hain, oh Khasian vaste ne. Agge tan Khasi kumm nahin si karde, hun ohna nu gall samaj aa gayi je, ki kumm-kaar tan hai nahin, paise jaroor ne.’ Where to go?

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The children do not want to move; hence will start some business here only since jobs are not available and whatever there are, they are meant for the Khasis. Now they have realised that there is no work in a government job but salary surely is. The case of an 80-year-old former president of the Guwahati Municipal Sweepers’ Union at Marakhali, Jarnail Singh, is illuminating. Why does he wish to return when his four brothers are with him and he is married at Shillong? All his children are married and settled here but for a daughter. He explains that when he was leaving his village (near Batala) he was 18 years old. The village elders cautioned him to return home after retirement, which is why he invested ten lakh rupees in a house at his native village: ‘Pind de budhiyan ne aakhiya si naukri pichhon mur aavin. Othhe joga na ho ravein. Ise karke das lakh da ghar kharidiya wa. Oh vi tan dekhna’i.’ This dilemma is common to all senior people. The elder respondents use such epithets for Punjab as ‘Punjab di khushboo ‘e vakhari aa’; ‘Punjab tan Punjab e’ai’; ‘Punjab da tan paani vi gheu (ghee) vangun lagda wa.’26 This emotional bonding is fine in the imagination but when it comes to real life, things are different. Their children do not want to go to Punjab given the facilities and lifestyle at Shillong but they cannot permanently settle there since buying property is not permitted. Under such circumstances, they keep sticking to the place, especially the elders who wish to ‘return’ but cannot. The pardhan of Gora Line colony quips, ‘Punjab ton bina nahin reh sakde. Pata nahin ki gall wa. Ehdi khushboo ‘e vakhari aa.’ We do not know the reason but we cannot live without Punjab. Its fragrance is unique. He cites, ‘Punjab summers (season) are one of the major deterrents to children.’ The jobs for them are also becoming difficult and the populist politics too is against them. A young respondent sums up the general sentiment: ‘Phelon tan naukrian hi nahin. Je nikaldi hai tan NGO pahunch jande ne ki local layo.’ First there are no jobs. As and when advertised, then the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) dictate that the local people only be employed.27 Banerjee too notes this dilemma among them during fieldwork in Guwahati in 2009: There are others who feel like going back to Punjab after retirement from a sweeper’s job. An important factor in this decisionmaking process is the legal compulsion to vacate official quarters. With no security of employment of their sons in the GMC, no permanent place of residence and no property here in Guwahati, they ‘do not mind going back to the Punjab.’ But there too, they

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‘have no permanent asset.’ They represent the unfortunate lot who ‘have no where to go.’ (2010b: 22) This dilemma is not without basis since they have witnessed the exodus of other communities from there. Bhaumik writes: Bongal Kheda (Drive Away Bengalis) as an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing originated in Assam but was not restricted to the state. In the early 1980s, it spread to Tripura and Meghalaya. In both states, ethnic tribes people attacked Bengalis. . . In Meghalaya, the mayhem was largely restricted to Shillong. . . where Bengalis dominated the bureaucracy and the professions. In 1980, a Bengali legislator was killed and many Bengali localities came under systematic attack. The pattern was repeated at regular intervals, mostly before or during the main Bengali Hindu festival of Durga Puja. . . . Since the early 1980s, an estimated 35,000–40,000 Bengalis have left Shillong and some other parts of Meghalaya and settled down in West Bengal and other states of India. (2009: 138;28 emphasis added) The pardhan of the Gora Line Sweepers Colony at Shillong confirms: ‘The Bengalis being the dominant and the most conspicuous among the migrants were the first one to be targeted in 1979 followed by the Biharis in 1987 and the Nepalese in 1992.’ He echoes the voice of Sikhs there: ‘Haletak Sikhan naal kuchh nahin hoyiya.’ Nothing has happened to the Sikhs so far. But they are becoming the target of local peoples’ rage frequently since they are neither moving out nor shying away from retaliation. The Punjabi youth, it seems, have resolved not to be sitting ducks to them. Gohain had already written about this phenomenon earlier: The agitation over the presence of so-called ‘foreign nationals’ has grown into a massive movement, bringing out into the streets hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women passionately committed to defending Assam from an alleged ‘silent invasion’ by foreigners, sowing seeds of deep suspicion and mistrust among different communities who have been living as peaceable neighbours for generations, and causing outbreaks of mob violence. (1980: 418)

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These safai karamcharis would have never come to the NE but for the British army regiment. Now the state and local governments are in a sleep mode to protect their interests. Their fate is like numerous other communities that were encouraged to settle in the NE by the colonial government to suit its requirement but they have become the victims of present-day populist politics. These could be the Nepalese, Bengalis or Biharis and now it may be the turn of Sikhs and so on. Dutt writes about the Nepalese people who are now hardly visible in Shillong: Active British encouragement to Nepalese settlement in the northeast was not always confined to ex-soldiers, but also included many other Nepalese peasants, particularly those from eastern Nepal, the Kiratis. However, while the British were pursuing a deliberate plan, the people so involved, namely the Nepalese were not acting out of some sinister expansionist design. It was their economic condition which allowed their use in imperial schemes. (1981: 1054) Another potent factor that adds to their dilemma is the factor of caste. Whatever be the measures taken by the government to fight exclusion, and by the Sikh religion to fight untouchability but much has not changed at the ground level. Judge and Bal note above that at ‘the level of the caste system, inequalities and exclusion continue to show their existence’ (2008: 55), and Jodhka too concludes on untouchability that ‘the continuities are not yet insignificant. Rural Punjab has not forgotten caste’ (2002: 1822). The Jutt-Dalit conflict on ownership and distribution of the shamlat land in villages and the management of gurdwaras is not thawing but rather gaining frequency due to increasing crises of the market society in Punjab.29 The younger generation thus finds this curse dispelling besides the peer group and the socially liberal milieu of Shillong and Guwahati. No doubt, the caste system exists in Assam too but it is quite weak as also due to the teachings and practices of Srimanta Shankradeva preaching equality of people and simplification of religious rituals that was also the project of Guru Nanak in Punjab. The element of weak caste in Assam is true historically. If Risley is to be believed about the fourfold caste system in the rest of the country, that such division, if ever existed, had already disappeared and that the system contained a vast number of social groups, the constitution and the status of which is changing or in a process of change.

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The Brahamana continued to exist, but Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras had disappeared and their place was taken by the Kalita. (Barpujari 1993: 151) It was later reaffirmed by C. S. Mullan while referring to the census report of 1931 that ‘there was no “depressed” class in Assam proper as in Madras or elsewhere in India whose mere touch demanded immediate purification and who were not allowed to read in the schools along with other boys’ (ibid.: 158). Moreover, discrimination against safai karamcharis and their children in the NE is largely based on class and ethnic grounds rather than caste, which is more deeply entrenched and difficult to change. And, they are not alone in such discrimination as there are other communities too, including those from the rich class. The two dominant communities – Axomiya and Dakhani – are indifferent to the idea of looking back to Punjab. No doubt, there is an element of reverence in the very idea of Punjab and they do look forward to visit that place but when they say so, that means only going to Amritsar, and that means paying respects (darshana) at the Golden Temple or Swarna Mandir, as they say. The viewing of PTC television is also high among them because it relays directly the morning and evening programmes at the Golden Temple. The enterprising transporters in Punjab had started cashing on religious tourism by conducting tours to the Sikh religious gurdwaras of historic significance outside the state. The Sikhs in the Deccan too picked it up and sent a sponsored train to Punjab on the gurtagaddi diwas (2008).30 The majority Sikh respondents in the Deccan (56.48 per cent) visited Punjab then only. Sometimes, buses too were sent to North India. Despite these opportunities made available to them, 43.52 per cent respondents in the Deccan, that is, close to a half, have never been to Punjab. This proportion is higher still (53.15 per cent) for the Sikhs in the NE despite two important reasons. First, the safai karamcharis are inevitably linked to Punjab as explained above, and second, the SGPC also sponsored a train trip to the Swarna Mandir at Amritsar and other gurdwaras in Punjab. A break-up of these figures for the safai karamcharis only shows that ‘88.57 per cent respondents have close family links in Punjab and 91.43 per cent have visited there at least thrice’31 (Singh 2016). If one impresses upon them the idea of the ‘land of their ancestors,’ they invariably reply: ‘Vahan kiske paas jana hai?’ A few respondents in the Deccan who had relatives did mention ‘ab to bhua bhi nahin rahi.’ It is invariably the father’s sister that was married in Punjab. Now the girls are resisting this pressure. They find the relatively

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conservative value system of the Punjabi society suffocating. A senior respondent at Shillong answers: ‘Saddian padian likhian kudian hun gohe-koode da kamm nahin na kar sakdian.’ Our educated girls now cannot do the menial jobs. Moreover, bhai ji of gurdwara in the Last Gate colony, Dispur commented piquantly: ‘Punjab ‘ch mundian da bura haal aa. Saade mundian nu smack vaghaira da koi aeb nahin. Daru-sikka chalda wa.’ The boys in Punjab are much into drugs like smack etc. that our boys do not take. They do take liquor. It is fine. For this reason too, we do not like to marry our daughters there. The study reveals that 83.01 per cent respondents in the Deccan have no family links in Punjab while the corresponding figure in the NE is 65.93 per cent despite significant quantum of the safai karmacharis. The Axomiya Sikhs are the most cut off from Punjab. The larger socio-economic and political milieu of the NE and its links with the ‘mainland India’ may have its own contribution in this respect.32 The study of Sikhs in the Deccan and the NE makes clear that all types of Sikhs settled for centuries in different religio-cultural and socio-economic regions of the country have certain remarkable commonalities. They are very particular about their Sikh form and religious identity despite their complete immersion in the local culture. They participate in their religious celebrations with gusto and without any fear despite being a minority. What bothers them now is not their Sikh identity but their lack of understanding of Punjabi language (Gurmukhi). Paradoxically, this complex is given to them by none other than the Punjabi Sikhs settled there. Even if these Sikhs are economically poor they remain ever in high spirits (chardikala). The safai karmacharis in the NE are a contrast of a sort to the Dakhani and Axomiya Sikhs.

Notes 1 There are numerous popular songs eulogising the Jutt honour and their grand image sung by top singers like Punjabian di shan vakhari; Sanu Rabb ne banaiya maharaje saadi rees kaun kar lu and many more about the Jutt machoistic image. These popular songs display riches of the peasantry on screen possessing most expensive cars and SUVs, latest weapons, branded clothes, big bungalows amid large fields and all other accessories showing affluence and power including beautiful women. The inflated self-image belies the hard reality of the farmers’ suicides and their indebtedness in Punjab. The drug menace is an allied component of its bleak economy. From number one state in the green revolution period, it has slid below Bihar, the proverbial BIMARU state in India. For details see Birinder Pal Singh (ed.), Punjab Peasantry in Turmoil, Manohar, Delhi, 2010. 2 In 2012, a senior bank manager of Chaparmukh engaged his MBA son to a lecturer in music at Government College for Girls at Patiala (Punjab).

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A girl from the Sikh village in Hyderabad is married to a Sikh of Jammu. An IT-trained girl of Barkola married a Brahmin from Bhubaneshwar. But such instances are few and far between. No doubt these figures are for the total sample, but a separate exercise done for the two dominant communities shows no difference. According to Banerjee, ‘Much valuable material can be gleaned from the annual commemorative volumes of the Assam Sikh Association, dating mostly from the 1980s. Dhyan Singh, President, Assamese Sikh Association, claims the lion’s share of the credit’ (2007, p. 69, fn. 82). He also mentions: ‘Under British rule, Assamese Sikh studies showed a distinct variety. The journey began with Orunodoi (1846) and ended with Lachit Barphukan by Surya Kumar Bhuyan (1947)’ (ibid.: 69). There is no such parallel in the Deccan either of Sikhs in general or the Dakhani Sikhs. Personal interview at Chandigarh on 26 May 2013. I myself travelled with a young taxi driver, a clean shaven and unmarried Axomiya Sikh of Nagaon. He informs that there are a few others like him but in the cities only. The case of a laboratory assistant in the science department of NEHU (North Eastern Hill University), Shillong is interesting. He not only keeps the complete khalsa form but performs path and kirtan in the city gurdwaras and at private homes. According to him, in a personal interview: ‘Then my Jija ji (brother-in-law employed in NEHU) got me here for Rs. 11 a day as a safai karamchari. After a year, I got the ad hoc post. My sanitary officer, a Bihari, was good natured. I requested him to make me a peon. I pleaded that it is merely a change in the designation. The salary remains the same. I have the complete khalsa form and I do kirtan and katha. People too call me giani ji, hence it does not behove of me to do the menial job. Please change my designation to the peon so that I may lead my life with dignity.’ In his own words: ‘Dari-kes rakhe ne, eh kumm karda changa nahin lagda. Peon la diyo, main we sir chak ke jee sakan. Main pathi we han te kirtan we karda han. Saare giani ji aakhde ne.’ My file was moved many a time but without any action. Then I approached the vice chancellor, whose wife was Punjabi. Even she did not help. Finally, with the grace of Waheguru I got the present designation. It is all the God’s grace. I got more than I deserve. A resident of Gora Line (Shillong) quips: ‘Aithhe 25–30 ghar kristna de ne. Oh saade’ch shareek nahin hunde, 4–5 gharan nu chhad ke. Langar khan tan saare aa jande ne, uun nahin.’ There are about 30 households of the Christians in this colony who do not join us except four or five. But all of them do come to take langar (free food). This is one reason why these Sikhs are labelled ‘duplicate’ and/or ‘kachae.’ It is also said about them that they get up while performing akhand path that means continuous recitation of Granth Sahib without any break. It is prescribed that while taking turns (raul) for the recitation of the complete Granth Sahib, there should be no break and those reciting it must maintain continuity for full 48 hours, the time taken to complete path. A senior Axomiya educated professional was critical of this finding of Medhi. He has done wrong reporting on other issues too. He remarked pungently about Medhi that how has he seen our underwears? ‘Bhayi tumne kaise dekha ki kuchha pehna hai?’

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11 For Jutt Sikh peasantry of Punjab, see the ‘Introduction’ in Birinder Pal Singh (ed.), Punjab Peasantry in Turmoil, Manohar, Delhi, 2010; Ravinder Kaur, ‘Jat Sikhs of Punjab’ (1986); Joyce Pettigrew, The Robber Noblemen: A study of the Political System of the Sikh Jats, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1975. 12 Phukan quotes from Rajkhowa, and here are relevant excerpts: ‘At yonder Hadirachaki/Last seat of Assam free/Chandrakanta Singha has set the stage/ To protect Assam’s last/ Bastion of Independence. Let’s go/ The maidens from heaven say/ And watch today/ The war dance of/ The heroes of Assam.’ ‘Next morning, the sun rose in the east/ Tear-stained and red/ Drawn swords all/ Sikh, Asomiya, Pathan, Mughal.’ ‘Inspired today are the braves of Kamrup/ Excited are the Sikh, Mughal, Pathan./ With death on their lips/ Jump into the open fight,/ Cut the Burmans to pieces. The mighty sword of Chaitanya hero/ clots of blood on his palms/ The kirpan flashes, a head rolls/ Phulara watches standing by;/ Kills the demons with both hands/ But the flow of Burmans never ends.’ Phukan writes: ‘This stirring poem published in 1935 made its way into the school textbooks in 1940. . . . Described by critics as “mytho-poetic treatment of natural objects”, this poem was a game changer for Asomiya Sikhs. It gave them dignity, respectability and an identity they were thirsting for’ (2013: 443). 13 There are a couple of historical novels that have portrayed a positive role of Chaitanya Singh while others not. For details on this issue of Sikh image in the literature of Assam, and rest of east India, see Banerjee (2007). 14 Personal interview at Hyderabad on 20 May 2012. 15 Personal interview at Guwahati on 13 December 2012. 16 For instance, Ranjit Singh named his rule not of a king’s but Sarkar-iKhalsa and wanted himself to be addressed as Bhai Sahib (elder brother) not as Maharaja. He moved around his capital, masquerading as a commoner to see if his people were happy. His devotion to the religion is attested when he offered himself to be flogged, when jathedar of the Akal Takh announced punishment for his unmoral conduct. 17 To be precise, 28.76 per cent respondents’ mothers belong to Nagaon town, 27.94 per cent to Barkola, 20.55 per cent to Chaparmukh and 10.96 per cent to Lanka. 18 To be specific, 35.04 per cent wives of the respondents belong to Nagaon town, 20.12 per cent to Barkola, 11.71 per cent to Chaparmukh and 9.61 per cent to Lanka. Only 2.74 per cent respondents belong to Guwahati and 18.08 per cent respondents’ wives hail from other places but all in Assam. 19 The details of the distribution of the daughters-in-law within the district are Nagaon town, 41.79 per cent; Barkola, 23.88 per cent; and Chaparmukh, 5.97 per cent. 20 The Sikh emblem, according to The Encyclopedia of Sikhism comprises a khanda (two-edged sword) and chakra (an edged circular weapon, a disc or quoit and two kirpans which cross each other at the handles, with the blades flanking the chakra (Vol. III, 1997: 239) 21 Medhi narrates an incident in personal interview at Guwahati in December 2012: ‘A Punjabi girl married an Axomiya Sikh boy. She was retrieved forcibly and her father commented: “Aithe viah karan di bajai kise chuhreh naal nahin viah diyanga.” Every one in Barkola knows about it and someone has also written about it somewhere.’ I shall better give my daughter to a Scheduled Castes boy than to an Axomiya Sikh. This incident was confirmed

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223

by Nanda Singh among others. According to him this incident is prior to 1970s. He adds: ‘This statement that even Harijans are better than us led to much differences between the two communities. When the Assam movement started and the issue of insider versus outsider cropped up only then these Punjabis started visiting our villages and developing friendships with us’ (Personal interview at Guwahati June 2012). The economic dimension appears significant as the well offs among them do have marital alliances and sometimes as far as in Punjab or Delhi. But these are far from common. 22 Hind Samachar, Jagbani, PunjabKesari are the daily newspapers launched by Lala Jagat Narain who was killed by the Sikh militants for communal and anti-Sikh writings. Ajit and Akali Patrika are papers with pro-Sikh orientation. All of these are based at Jalandhar. 23 According to The Encyclopedia of Sikhism gurmukh is the God-conscious or the God-inspired man who, imbued with the Word, is crowned with glory at the Lord’s portal. . . . However, the principal sense in which the word most frequently occurs in the Guru Granth Sahib is that of the God-inspired or theocentric man – one who follows the way of life prescribed by the Guru and acts on his precepts. In this sense, he has his ‘face turned towards the Guru’ . . . Gurmukh stands in contradistinction to manmukh, the ego-centred one, who has turned his face away from the Guru: the ego-centred one turns his back (upon him). (Vol. II, (ed.) Harbans Singh, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1996: 180.) 24 I (inspector) went to Punjab near Barnala to attend a marriage. The people were least interested in the religious ceremony. They were bothered about the delay bhai ji was causing. They were getting impatient: ‘Pata nahin itna time kyon laga raha hai?’ 25 An extended interview at Chaparmukh on 15 December 2012. 26 It is not the case of the marginalised low caste people. It is largely true of majority migrants that they wish to return to their native land especially in the old age. An engineer friend from California, employed in the federal state service, married to an American lady and settled there for over three decades once remarked on his maiden visit since he left India: ‘Bai ji, hun tan aithon di mushak vi changi lagdi‘ai.’ Literally, brother, now the foul smell too of this (native) place smells good. 27 NGO is a misnomer to the tribal militant organisations like the KSU (Khasi Students Union), FKJGP (Federation of Khasi Jaintia Garo People) and so forth. Anjum Hasan also notes: At the moment they appear to be battlegrounds for the fight for that ‘clean’ culturally homogeneous city. Stories are rife about how nontribal teachers, appointed to the few college teaching posts still open to them, have in several instances been summarily dismissed by college authorities under pressure from local organizations euphemistically described as NGOs, organizations in pursuit of the same xenophobic dream of a pristine Shillong. (Anjum Hasan, ‘I Love this Dirty Town,’ Granta, 7 June 2013, date accessed 24 July 2017.) In the Deccan, there is no such discrimination and the problem of insider versus outsider but the Dakhani Sikhs have started noticing such feelings.

224

28

29 30

31 32

In lieu of conclusion

For instance, a young lady of Nizamabad complains: ‘We are considered a minority in Andhra Pradesh but have no benefits. If ten sewing machines are to be given to women, a Muslim officer gives seven to own community members, two to the Scheduled Castes and one to the OBC. The Sikhs get nothing.’ A young man too complained angrily about his interview for the post of a constable in the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) 22 years ago when the commandant asked him ‘Punjab se bhag kar aaye ho? Attwadi ho!’ Literally put, have you run out of Punjab? Are you a terrorist?’ This refers to the period of Sikh militancy (1978–93) in Punjab. The Axomiya Sikhs too are sore about their non-membership in the Assam Minority Commission although two/three members are there in the Assam Minority Board. Banerjee quotes Hemchandra Barua describing Bangal as the inferior people of Bengal. Another source points out that Bangal stands for foreigners and Bangalar Din for the British days. British were also called Baga (white) Bangal. In Assamese literature Bangal was a term of contempt (2007: fn 52, p. 53). Dutta quotes Kanaksen Deka: ‘It was only with the advent of the British that the earlier term “Aham” (often used to refer to the Ahom kingdom) became Assam’ (2012: 193). She continues: ‘From the time the British arrived, almost all the inhabitants of Assam came to be known as Assamese. In the list of communities, Deka now includes “Bongali, Rajasthani, Bihari, Sikh and Mymensinghia” ’(ibid.). Deka is quoted again: ‘In the post independence era, the idea found place in many minds that Assam was only for Assamese speakers and all non-Assamese were second class citizens’ (ibid.). It is pertinent to mention that Axomiya Sikh Association too focuses on the Assamese language as mentioned in Manjit Singh’s definition. Ronki Ram, ‘Burden of Tradition and Vision of Equality: Political Sociology of Jutt-Dalit Conflicts in Punjab,’ pp. 265–96, in Birinder Pal Singh (ed.), Punjab Peasantry in Turmoil, Manohar, Delhi, 2010. This train was sponsored by a businessman. This has become the culture of present day populist politics. In 2015, the Punjab government sent sponsored trains to Nanded (for Sikhs), to Banaras (for Hindus) and Ajmer Sharif (for Muslims) under the Mukh Mantri Tirath Yatra Scheme (A Government of Punjab’s novel initiative for spiritual augmentation) from different districts. In addition, ‘80 buses will take pilgrims to various religious places every month from different districts, free of cost travel facility’ (Hindustan Times,19 August 2016). Parkash Singh Badal is the chief minister (fifth term) of the ruling SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) and BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) alliance. It was a populist move by the cash-strapped government to woo voters for the coming February 2017 assembly elections in the state. The Punjab government spent Rs. 46 crores on the scheme in 2015–2016 (Hindustan Times,9 August 2016) Recently, Haryana government also notified Swarn Jayanti Guru Darshan Yatra Scheme 2016 to Nanded, Nankana Sahib (Pakistan), Hemkunt Sahib and Patna Sahib to woo the Sikh voters. For details see Birinder Pal Singh (2016). The relations between the NE and ‘mainland India’ are tenuous at very many levels. Even I was introduced numerous times: ‘He is from India.’ People in routine life too use such vocabulary when moving out from there: ‘I am going to India.’ In ‘mainland India,’ they are sometimes also referred to as ‘chinkies’ (taken to be a racial slur). They have been victims of violence in Bengaluru and other places.

Glossary

amrit nectar; sweetened water for baptising to Sikhism amritdhari one who has partaken amrit; a khalsa Singh amrit kund pool of nectar anand karaj Sikh marriage ceremony ardas the Sikh prayer asharfi gold coin bani Guru’s voice or words; hymns of Guru Granth bazar market bedey contingents bhangra Punjabi men’s folk dance with drum (dhol) bolbala domineering effect chadar sheet of cloth chakkar sharp-edged quoit chamar-churah untouchable, lit. Ramdasia and Balmik chandoya canopy charan-pahul neophyte sipping water from the guru’s toe charpai/khat cot chola long cloak dargah tomb darshana to pay a visit or respects dasvand tenth part of one’s earnings degh karah prasad (pudding made from wheat flour, sugar and ghee i.e. clarified butter) des home devta angel dhaba Punjabi eatery (roadside) dhakar outsider dham religious place of seminal significance dhani group doli palanquin; ceremonial departure of bride

226

Glossary

dupatta Punjabi woman’s long apparel to cover head/hair farman an order of the (Nizam) government gamochha Assamese apparel giddha Punjabi women’s folk dance godi seat of honour gotra clan name or surname granthi singh principal religious official of Sikhism gurbani guru’s word or voice; the text of Guru Granth Sahib gurdwara Sikh religious place where lies Guru Granth Sahib gurmukh who looks towards the guru gurpurab guru’s birth/death anniversary ishnan bath (ceremony) jagir fiefdom or land grant as reward jaikaras war cries janam tithhi date of birth anniversary janj-ghar marriage palace jati caste jayanti birth anniversary kacha made of mud kachae half-baked; immature; not solid kachha/kachhahira/kuchha long breeches covering knees kada steel bracelet kakar five Ks, the Sikh symbols kanga comb karsewa voluntary service rendered for the cause of gurdwara katak purnima full moon day in November–December, birth of Guru Nanak katha story kesh hair (unshorn) keski piece of cloth to cover head but shorter than turban khande di pahul water stirred with double-edged steel sword (khanda) for amrit kirat karo doing labour to make a living; bread labour kirpan short sword kirtan singing hymns from Guru Granth Sahib with musical instruments kirtani jatha band of hymn (Guru Granth Sahib) singers kulli hutment kurta long shirt langar community kitchen; free meals lavan four couplets from Guru Granth recited during anand karaj (Sikh marriage) lavana salt

Glossary

227

lootera plunderer mahal palace mandi market manmukh who looks towards the self; ego-centred (antonym of gurmukh) mehman nawazi looking after the guest mekhala-chaddar traditional Assamese dress for women misl confederacy mohalla neighbourhood; organised procession in the form of an army column nagar kirtan jaloos religious procession in the city pakke definite/for sure/100 per cent or solid pangat queue panth community of the khalsa pardhan president pathi who recites Guru Granth Sahib prasad offerings pucca made of concrete; of bricks and cement; solid puja worship pujari priest puratan old rehat maryada/rehat Sikh religious code of conduct risala army unit risaldar head of risala sacha padshah the almighty God, literally the True Lord safai karmachari sweeper sahajdhari gradualist or a clean shaven Sikh saiqal to polish salwar-kameez Punjabi woman’s popular/common attire samuhik vivah group marriages sangat people or congregation sarai residential accommodation for the travellers sewadars those doing service shabad gaan hymn or couplet singing shaheedi purab the day of martyrdom shamlat common land in the village shastars weapons sikhi Sikhism sikhi saroop the Sikh form sindhoor vermillion takht throne; seat of authority in the Sikh religion tanda caravan; settlement of Banjara people tapasaya penance

228

Glossary

tharah platform of bricks tirath yatra pilgrimage tooty-phooty broken udasi preaching tour of Guru Nanak vanaj trade wand chhako to share one’s earnings with others yatri jatha travellers’ band or group on pilgrim tour

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Index

Ahom 4, 10, 59, 60, 62, 63, 67, 72, 73, 74, 99, 181, 188, 200, 224 All Assam Students Union (AASU) 66, 95, 202 Allen, B.C. 71, 71, 188 amrit 22, 37, 55, 110, 137, 142, 165, 166, 178, 183, 193, 194, 195, 197 amritdhari 37, 53, 110, 161, 165, 166, 178, 183, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 199 Amritsar 6, 22, 53, 55, 60, 70, 79, 82, 83, 87, 90, 91, 114, 169, 173, 174, 188, 189, 193, 203, 207, 219 anand karaj 30, 41, 54, 142 Andhra Pradesh 5, 11, 13, 14, 30, 37, 38, 41, 42, 44, 47, 52, 54, 104, 115, 116, 126, 207, 213, 224 Arabs 14, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 207 ardas 180 Asaf Jah 17, 35 Asamiya 63, 64, 96, 209, 211 Asamiya-Sikh Sanstha 114, 209 Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) 96 Asomiya Sikhs 65, 73, 222 Assam 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 57, 58, 60–8, 71–6, 79, 86, 88, 89, 91, 94–9, 101, 104, 105, 106, 112, 114, 115, 117, 119, 121, 122, 136, 137, 143, 145, 154, 164, 182, 187, 188, 192–5, 200, 202, 207, 210, 211, 212, 215, 217–24 Assamese 65, 66, 67, 70–4, 96, 98, 197, 198, 210, 211, 215, 221, 224

Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AGSP) 66, 99, 202 Assam Movement 66, 95–8, 202, 223 Assam-Sikh Association/Assamese Sikh Sanstha 70, 73, 94, 95, 114, 221, 224 Aurangzeb 2, 25, 37 Axomiya (language/culture) 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 60, 70, 73, 74, 75, 114, 115, 116, 143, 145, 146, 147, 149, 151, 170, 189, 192, 208, 210, 211, 213 Axomiya Sikhs 3–10, 57, 58, 59, 64, 66–9, 71, 74, 75, 94, 95, 98, 104, 108, 110, 112, 113, 114, 128, 136, 137, 139, 142, 151, 159, 164, 170–5, 179, 181, 183–7, 192–7, 201, 202, 203, 205, 207, 208, 209–14, 219–22, 224 Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) 92 Baisakhi 31, 39, 178, 198, 210 Balmik/Balmik ashrams 75, 78, 81, 159, 165, 194 Banda Singh Bahadur 3, 22 Banerjee, Himadri 60, 63, 64, 65, 74, 81, 82, 94, 99, 100, 102, 188, 189, 198, 208–11, 215, 216, 221, 222, 224 Banjara Sikhs 3, 4, 5, 7–11, 23, 26, 28, 32–7, 51–5, 104, 111, 113, 119, 140, 142, 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 152, 164, 179, 181, 184, 185, 186, 194, 198

236

Index

Bara Bazar 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 83, 85, 86, 88, 99, 100, 136, 138, 170, 177, 178, 194, 204, 205 Barambala 15, 16, 20, 40, 41, 51, 54 Bardoloi 63, 64, 189, 200 Barkola 10, 65, 66, 69–75, 94, 96, 97, 99, 117, 119, 131, 154, 166, 170, 171, 193, 197, 202, 207, 212, 213, 221, 222 Barpujari, H.K. 11, 58, 59, 60, 62, 67, 72, 187, 188, 210, 219 Bengalis 57, 74, 84, 89, 96, 217, 218 Bezbaroa 63, 64, 189 bhangra 169, 170, 210 Bhuyan, S.K. 2, 11, 61, 62, 63, 99, 188, 221 Bidar 4, 6, 11, 13, 21–8, 35, 36, 112, 115, 116, 126, 160, 161, 164, 168, 170, 208 Biharis 89, 209, 217, 218, 221, 224 Bihari Sikhs 63, 67, 165 Bihu 197, 198, 210 Bluestar (operation) 14, 206 Brahmaputra 2, 60, 63 Burkandaz 61, 62 Burmese 4, 57, 59, 60, 61, 65, 67, 71, 182, 187, 188, 191, 200 Chaitanya Singh 60, 65, 188, 200, 222 Chandrakanta Singha 4, 59, 60, 61, 187, 188, 189, 222 Chandu Lal 15, 17, 18, 19, 22, 47, 48, 54, 182, 189, 190, 191, 192, 203 Chaparmukh 6, 10, 60, 68, 69, 72, 74, 95, 117, 119, 131, 154, 165, 169, 170, 171, 174, 183, 188, 207, 210, 212, 214, 220, 222, 223 Dakhani Sikhs 3–14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 26, 27, 28, 37–41, 48–53, 55, 58, 74, 99, 104, 106, 110–17, 121, 122, 126, 127, 139, 142, 156, 158, 160, 164, 171, 175, 179, 181, 182–9, 192–6, 200–14, 219, 220, 221, 223 Damdama Sahib 94, 98, 165, 169, 174 Dasam Granth 203 demographic features 9, 104, 105 Department of Urban Affairs 77, 81, 82, 85, 88, 99, 101, 205 dhakar 82, 83, 84, 91, 185

Dhubri/Dhubri Sahib 2, 6, 11, 61, 63, 65, 94, 95, 165, 168, 169, 174, 219, 214 Dispur 5, 10, 58, 75, 76, 79–82, 89, 91, 105, 114, 115, 117, 131, 136, 170, 177, 179, 185, 194, 207, 220 duplicate Sikh 6, 99, 115, 176, 187, 196, 201, 209, 213, 215, 221 family assets 127, 128, 186 Gait, Sir Edward 60, 62, 73, 75, 188, 202 gatka 39, 194 globalisation 152, 156 Gora Line 24, 76, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 88, 92, 100, 136, 138, 170, 176, 177, 194, 216, 217, 221 Gowliguda 20, 21, 39, 41, 52 Grewal 53, 60, 189 gurbani 4, 11, 167, 168, 193, 214 Gurdaspur 82, 114, 207 Gurdwara Harmandar Sahib/Golden Temple 6, 14, 22, 50, 169, 173, 174 Gurdwara Maal Tekdi 22, 49, 203 Gurdwara Mata Ji 6, 60, 69, 81, 95, 165, 169, 183, 194, 210 Gurdwara Nanak Jhira 6, 13, 25, 26, 35, 36, 160, 164 Gurdwara Sach Khand/Gurdwara Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib 6, 11, 13, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 31, 35, 36, 37, 41, 54, 55, 159, 164, 177, 178, 198, 203 Gurdwara Singh Sabha 38, 39, 70 Gurmukhi 5, 79, 103, 187, 208, 209, 212, 213, 220 gurpurab 31, 38, 39, 81, 85, 95, 162, 194, 197, 209, 210 gurtagaddi 21, 40, 174, 205, 219 Guru Gobind Singh 2, 3, 6, 11, 19, 21, 22, 28, 31, 39, 40, 49, 55, 110, 137, 174, 196, 203, 206, 214 Guru Granth Sahib 14, 20, 21, 22, 30, 35, 36, 39, 41, 69, 161, 162, 180, 193, 194, 203, 213, 221, 223 Guru Nanak 2, 23, 25, 26, 27, 34, 39, 49, 85, 99, 100, 110, 159, 168, 180, 218 Guru Tegh Bahadur 2, 3, 11, 57, 62, 63, 65, 91, 95, 165, 168, 174, 214

Index Guwahati 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 58, 59, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 83, 87, 89, 93, 94, 96, 99, 105, 112, 114, 115, 117, 131, 136, 154, 165, 171, 177, 179, 184, 185, 187, 194, 202, 207, 208, 209, 213, 214, 216, 218 Guwahati Municipal Sweepers Union 87, 93, 216 Hadira Chauki 60, 63, 64, 71, 182, 188, 200, 222 Halla Bol Chowk 39, 205 Harijan Panchayat Committee 77, 83, 100, 177, 204 Hazoori Sikhs 20, 51, 203, 206 Hindi 5, 6, 13, 74, 75, 92, 114–17, 139, 145, 146, 147, 149, 151, 152, 160, 208, 209, 213 Hola Mohalla 31, 39, 40 Hyderabad-Deccan 4, 10, 13, 14, 55, 201 Irregular Troops 20, 42, 43, 44, 47, 51, 122, 156, 182, 192 Jutt (Sikhs) 55, 56, 58, 90, 113, 166, 179, 184, 196, 197, 218, 220, 222, 224 kakar 161, 165, 166, 167, 193–6 Kalita 71, 72, 122, 219 Kannada 5, 6, 14 Karnataka 5, 6, 11, 13, 14, 21, 23, 24, 104, 116, 207 katha 167, 185, 213, 221 khalsa identity 20, 30, 110, 206 khande di pahul 37, 165 Khasi 5, 75, 78, 82–5, 88, 91, 92, 101, 107, 115, 116, 143, 176, 177, 204, 205, 216, 223 Khasi Students Union (KSU) 84, 92, 101, 223 khatri Sikhs 4, 10, 52, 53, 58, 94, 98, 99, 196 kirpan 37, 53, 84, 161, 165, 166, 195, 196, 197, 204, 206, 222 kirtan 36, 41, 167, 172, 185, 198, 213, 214, 221 kirtani jathas 28, 35, 41, 51, 164

237

Lahori Force 15, 19, 50, 206 Laitumkhrah 76, 79, 138 Lambada 3, 9, 32, 53, 111, 113, 119, 140, 143, 144, 147, 148, 152 langar 17, 22, 39, 41, 70, 95, 110, 221 language 5, 6, 8, 11, 13, 33, 73, 74, 75, 79, 96, 102, 103, 114–17, 119, 139, 145, 146, 147, 149, 151, 152, 170, 187, 208–13, 220, 224 Last Gate Colony 76, 79, 81, 83, 102, 170, 194, 220 Majhaili Punjabi 82, 209 Marakhali 76, 79, 80, 81, 83, 93, 136, 170, 177, 194, 216 Marathi 5, 6, 14, 116, 119, 149, 208 Mazhabi (Sikhs) 5, 10, 53, 57, 58, 75, 76, 81, 88–9, 90, 91, 104, 143, 179, 181, 196 Medhi, B.K. 65, 66, 67, 71, 72, 75, 99, 122, 166, 183, 188, 193, 197, 292, 207, 221, 222 Meghalaya 5, 10, 58, 75, 76, 82, 84, 86, 87, 89, 93, 95, 96, 98, 100, 101, 104, 106, 123, 143, 175, 176, 217 memories (of Punjab) 175, 176 modernisation 3, 37, 52, 119, 121, 125, 130, 132, 156 Morthad 32, 51, 181, 189 mother tongue 5, 73, 114, 115, 145, 209, 210, 211 Muhammad Gawain 23, 25, 27 Mylliem 78, 84 Nagaon 3, 5, 6, 10, 60, 68, 71, 73, 74, 75, 94, 95, 99, 117, 122, 135, 136, 165, 171, 179, 188, 193, 198, 207, 221, 222 nagar kirtan jaloos 3, 31, 39, 205, 206 Nanded 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26, 30, 31, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 49, 50, 53–6, 106, 112, 115, 116, 126, 149, 159, 164, 168, 170, 173, 174, 177, 183, 198, 199, 203, 205, 206, 208, 224 Nand Singh Barkola 75, 94, 99, 202, 223 Narayan Singh Morthad 51, 189 National Commission for Minorities 8, 9, 78, 83, 85, 100

238

Index

Nazim-i-Jami’at-i-Sikhan 12, 16, 40, 42, 47, 122, 182, 189, 201, 207 Nepalese 84, 89, 96, 217, 218 nihangs 15, 22, 197 Nirmal 50, 164, 201 Nishter, Nanak Singh 12, 15, 55 Nizam (of Hyderabad) 4, 10, 12–18, 23, 28, 34, 35, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 50, 51, 52, 54, 115, 122, 126, 156, 181, 182, 189, 191, 201, 203 Nizamabad 11, 21, 32, 38, 40, 44, 47, 51, 56, 160, 181, 195, 224 oral (history) 4, 14, 16, 19, 54, 59, 187, 189, 190 Other Backward Classes (OBC) 7, 53, 71, 94, 98, 99, 110, 111, 181, 183, 224 pilgrimage 49, 69, 168, 169, 174 Punjab 7, 9, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 22, 26, 28, 29, 31, 36, 50, 54, 55, 57, 60, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 75, 79, 81, 82, 86–93, 102, 112–15, 128, 135, 169, 173–6, 179, 180, 183, 185, 187, 188, 189, 192, 196, 198, 207, 212, 214–20 Punjabi colony 76, 78, 79, 83, 92, 100 Punjabi language 12, 50, 70, 74, 75, 79, 82, 102, 103, 114–17, 138, 143, 145–9, 151, 152, 170, 171, 208–14, 220 Punjabi Sikhs 7, 10, 12, 20, 38, 39, 40, 52, 58, 59, 73, 74, 93, 94, 95, 98, 99, 103, 115, 143, 165, 171, 183, 187, 192, 201, 208, 212–15, 220 Punjabi sweepers 98, 114 Ramgharia 57, 93, 94, 98, 99 Ram Singh, Raja 2, 62 Ram Singh, Subedar 70, 71 Ranjit Singh, Maharaja 4, 8, 15, 17, 22, 28, 50, 53, 54, 59, 181, 190, 222 rehat (maryada) 37, 55, 165, 167, 178, 183, 193–7 Rohillas 14, 42, 44–7, 201

safai karamcharis 4, 5, 7–10, 58, 59, 75, 76, 79, 80, 81, 82, 86, 96, 98, 104, 108, 112, 114, 116, 117, 123, 128, 142, 143, 148, 152, 153, 159, 165, 166, 170, 171, 173–6, 185, 192, 193, 194, 198, 204, 205, 207, 209–12, 215, 218–21 sahajdhari 161, 193, 199 samuhik vivah 40, 41, 42 Scheduled Castes 4, 7, 10, 53, 58, 71, 76, 81, 92, 98, 110–13, 181, 183, 215, 222, 224 Scheduled Tribes 7, 53, 71, 75, 89, 101, 110, 111, 181, 183 Sherwani, H.K. 13, 23, 24 Shillong 5, 10, 58, 75–86, 88, 89, 91, 92, 94, 96, 99, 100, 101, 105, 112, 114–17, 131, 134, 135, 136, 138, 154, 170, 174, 176–9, 185, 186, 187, 194, 207, 212, 215–18, 220, 221, 223 Shillong Municipal Corporation 77, 82, 83, 177 Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) 55, 70, 79, 83, 91, 100, 164, 174, 183, 195, 203, 212, 213, 219 Sikh Chhawni/Chhawniat 15, 16, 20, 21, 40, 41, 54, 201 Sikh form 3, 6, 7, 53, 98, 143, 161, 164, 165, 166, 168, 192, 193, 194, 196, 199, 211, 214, 220, 221 Sikh identity 20, 37, 64, 65, 115, 166, 168, 181, 187, 194, 196, 197, 199, 206, 207, 208 Sikh Sikligar Samaj 11, 30, 31, 52 Sikh Village 20, 21, 53, 194, 221 Sikligar Sikhs 3, 5, 7–10, 20, 23, 26, 28–32, 38, 51, 52, 53, 104, 105, 110, 111, 113, 115, 116, 117, 119, 120, 121, 124, 125, 127, 129, 131, 134, 137, 140, 142–9, 151, 152, 163, 164, 178, 179, 181, 184, 185, 186, 194, 198, 212

Index Sing Gaon 68, 69, 72, 188 Srimanta Shankradeva 2, 99, 218 Sweeper Colony 77, 86, 92, 99, 138, 217

239

Telengana 11, 21, 37, 52, 104, 126, 207 Telugu 5, 6, 14, 115, 116, 117, 145, 146, 149, 160, 208, 213 Weiner, Myron 58, 88, 94, 199