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Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji – The Epitome Of Resistance Against Genocide and Forced Conversion

In the year, the world celebrates 400th birth anniversary of the ninth Guru of Sikhs, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675), the fearless challenger of genocide and religious persecution of the Hindus in the seventeenth century, the Government of India took a historic stand at the United Nations (UN). On December 1, 2020, addressing the UN General Assembly session on ‘Culture of Peace’, India’s Permanent Mission to the UN had lamented that the UN was selective in condemning religious persecution and has failed to acknowledge violence against non-Abrahamic religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism (The New Indian Express, 3 December, 2020). The 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur and India’s calling out the “selectivity” of the United Nations in condemning acts of violence against religions, serves a fitting opportunity to recount the atrocities and persecution suffered by Hindus at the hands of Indian Muslim rulers and the supreme sacrifice made by the Sikh Guru to protect their right to worship.

Hindus, and later along with Hindus, the Sikhs, suffered the worst of genocidal violence and religious persecution during fifty years of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s reign (1658-1707) and almost the same number of years thereafter. According to Sikh history, as outlined by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) on its website, Aurangzeb, was a cruel bigot who wanted to establish Muslim theistic state (Dar-ul-Islam) in India by the power of the sword. With this sinister design, he let loose a reign of terror and tyranny on the Hindus. They were coerced to give up their faith and embrace Islam. He ordered heavy handed implementation of serval oppressive Islamic fundamentalist programs that deliberately inflicted unbearable group conditions of life on Hindus and Sikhs, calculated to bring about their physical/mental destruction. Imposition of religious tax (jazia) on Hindus to curtail their economic sustenance; prohibition on celebration of Diwali and Holi, the most popular Hindu festivals; demolition of Hindu Temples and erection of mosques in their place, were some of these diabolical group conditions. Forced mass conversion of Hindus and Sikhs to Islam became the first and foremost function of the Indian Islamic state. Resistance to these atrocities meant loss of life and dignity. Millions of Hindus, largely in Kashmir, were massacred to instil fear and force acquiescence to conversion to Islam.

According to an earliest historical narrative relied on by the SGPC and other historical literature, Hindus of Kashmir, unable to withstand the state oppression, approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for support. The Guru accepted their prayer and agreed to defend their religious freedom. He decided, even if it cost him his life, to resist the nefarious act of forcible conversion of Hindus. On his instructions, a communication was sent to Aurangzeb that if the Sikh Guru could be persuaded to accept Islam, the Hindus would convert as well. Hearing this, the Guru was summoned by Aurangzeb to Delhi, and, when he refused to forsake his faith, he was publicly beheaded on 11 November 1675. Before him, his devout followers were butchered in cold blood for their refusal to abandon their faith. Thus, the Guru, led a stubborn, but non-violent, resistance against zealous proselytization and bigotry of Aurangzeb and willingly sacrificed his life for the cause of freedom of religion, truth, humanity and peace. With his supreme sacrifice, he set a unique example of a man giving up his life, not for his own liberty, but for the freedom and dignity of mankind at large.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh Guru to be executed by the Mughals for their unyielding commitment to freedom of religion. Seventy years preceding his execution (1675), his grandfather, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), was tortured to death. Irked by the fast spread of Sikhism under Guru Arjan Dev, that threatened the orthodox Muslim clergy, Mughal emperor Jahangir ordered the execution of the Guru, and, in compliance with the royal decree, he was incarcerated in Lahore Fort. To escape death penalty and regain personal freedom, Jahangir demanded that the Guru pays two lakh rupees as fine and purge the Adi Granth (the Sikh holy scripture) of all texts that was found objectionable by the clergy. But the Guru, even in the face of frightful brutality and imminent death, remained unrelenting and declined to omit any portion of the Adi Granth. Infuriated by the Guru’s rebuff, Jahangir condemned him to death by torture. “He was tortured continuously for three days in a manner unknown in the history of mankind. He was made to sit on the hot iron plates and burning sand was poured over his naked body. When his body was blistered, he was chained and thrown into the river Ravi on 30 May, 1606 at Lahore” (SGPC, https://sgpcamritsar.org/sikh_history.php).

The resistance of Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and, later his son and successor, Guru Gobind Singh, against religious persecution invited the wrath and fury of the Mughal empire on Sikhs in all its might. While the two elder teen aged sons of Guru Gobind Singh were slain in battle of Chamkaur (1704) against Mughals, his two younger sons, aged seven and nine, were bricked alive for refusing to embrace Islam. Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh’s hand-picked commander, was savagely killed. After his capture by the Mughal army on 7 December, 1715, Banda Bahadur was brought from Punjab to Delhi in a barbarian spectacle with 780 chained and caged Sikh prisoners, hundreds of heads of killed Sikhs hung on spears, and cartloads of heads and bodies of slaughtered Sikhs. As none of the captured Sikhs agreed to convert to Islam, every day a batch of Sikh soldiers were brought out of their prison cells and slaughtered in public. Banda Bahadur’s young son was killed, his heart shredded and thrust into his father’s mouth. Banda Bahadur was himself slayed on 9 June 1716.  Before he was done to death, his eyes were gouged out, his limbs were severed and his body de-skinned and dismembered. In 1746, thousands of Sikhs were massacred by Mughal forces in a holocaust (chhota ghallughara) at Kahnuwan Chhambh near Gurdaspur. A much larger holocaust (wadda ghallughara) took place at Kup-Rahira village near Sangrur in 1762 in which over 30,000 Sikhs were massacred by Ahmed Shah Abdali, a Muslim raider.

The United Nations recognises that at all periods of history, genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity and therefore considers it to be an international crime of high order. Recalling its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the UN General Assembly, on 1 November 2005, had resolved that “the United Nations will designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.” Through the same resolution, the UN further urged the “Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide”. But these resolutions recognise genocide and holocaust of only members belonging to Abrahamic religions like Jews, Christians and Muslims. Sadly, genocidal violence against Hindus and Sikhs to force conversion during the Islamic rule in India has escaped the attention of the world.

It would be fair, just and appropriate if the martyrdom day of Guru Tegh Bahadur is celebrated in India as the ‘Day of Commemoration in memory of the Hindu and Sikh victims of Genocide and Holocaust.’ Objective of such a commemoration is not to stigmatise any particular religious community or provoke any retribution or hatred against it. Its objective ought to be as simple as to not let horrors of the past be lost to history and to inculcate future generations with the lessons of the past in order to help prevent future acts of religious violence, in all forms, against all.

P.S. Views expressed in this essay are personal.

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