ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Demand for Khalistan

A remarkable feature of the Akalis agitation was that it was non-violent, and the British had to give up their opposition. Before the end, the Akalis were split into the mainstream and an extreme wing of Babbar Akalis who abjured non-violence and whose leaders were rounded up and tried summarily for sedition.

The Sikhs have passed through a number of ordeals in their history and this has influenced their approach to their current positio n in India. From time to time there have been gloomy forecasts that the Sikhs wil l be absorbed by the Hindus and the first such prognostication was made in 1855 when the British carried out a census of the Punjab "done by actual enumeration of the people" on the night between December 31,1854 and January 1, 1855. The Census Commissioner Richard Temple gave the population of British Punjab as 12.7 million, with another 6.75 millio n in the princely state. Of the former, "there are 5,352,875 of Hindus to 7,364,974 of Mohammadans. From the Jamuna to the Chenab Hindus are in excess. .. The Sikhs in Lahore division were 1,81,172!' This is a surprisingly small number out of the total population of 3.458 millio n in Lahore Division. Temple has this to say, "The old Sikhs are dying out, the new Sikhs initiated are but few, the children of the Sikhs are and remain Hindoo. A vast number of Sikhs though organised and linked together by political bonds, were, as regards faith and religious practice, but little different from Hindoos, now that Sikhism is politically defunct, they return to Hinduism!* In fact this was not to be so, though since that first foreboding there have been others right upto contemporary days, but in fact the reverse has happened. The Sikh population has increased in numbers to a greater extent than their proportion, and the community have gained in importance, and rightly earned the name of being one of the most advanced communities in the country.

The role of Akalis and of gurdwaras in the political life of the community has been decisive. The Akalis in fact originated even earlier than the Khalsa first baptised by Guru Gobind Singh, having appeared first in 1690 under Man Singh, and were "the most ardent defenders of Sikhism and against all innovation" (J C Archer, "The Sikhs", Princeton University Press, 1946). The Akalis convened the first 'Guru matta' in Amritsar in 1764. The headquarters ofthe order has been the Akal Takht. They were militant ascetics, abjuring the use of liquor. In the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh they formed the only infantry units which had earned distinction, despite the fact that they were not overly disciplined. In fact, they were a law unto themselves but they were retained as part of the army because their role in battles was many a time crucial. When the British replaced 'the Purbeeas' by the Punjabis in the Bengal Arm y after the Mutiny of 1857, the Akalis provided the bulk ofthe recruits to the British army. Apart from the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, there were gurdwaras that had been set up early in Sikh history all over the Punjab, and outside the province also. Archer (quoted above) has recorded that government made a move in 1863 by which all gurdwaras were  placed under the Sikhs. But as time passed, gurdwaras although set up and financed by local effort, had passed into the control of mahants, who were mostly of Uoasi sect; and this despite the strong current of democratic control that had always been a predominant feature of Sikh sangats. There were from time to time attempts made to wrest control from the mahants, but by the time of the first great war there were about 300 gurdwaras in charge of their own mahants.

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