When we think about Sikhs in India or its history, we remember the former Chief Justice of India, Jagdish Singh Khehar, the former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the former President of India, Gyani Zail Singh. Lt Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora, who led the Eastern command in the 1971 war as well as Bhagat Singh, the passionate freedom fighter are the few names that come to our minds. The history of India is rife with Sikhs who have contributed to the nation and brought glory to it repeatedly.
Sikhism has existed for 550 years and is the fourth largest religion in India which contributes to 1.7% of the population. Sikhs are also conspicuous in the Indian army, primarily because of their history as defenders of righteousness. The Sikh view rejects all social distinctions that produce inequities, including gender, race, religion and caste, the predominant structure for social hierarchy in South Asia. When one questions the left-wing, they are not questioning Sikhs as they occupy a significant place in India.
Here are few Sikhs who have played an important role in India’s past to its recent history:
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born in 1780 and is also known as the Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab) for his bravery. He is well-known for the golden beautification of the Golden Temple. Ranjit Singh is respected as one of the most revered heroes in Indian history as he failed the king of Afghanistan’s invasion of India at 17. Under his tenure, the Sikh Empire was very secular since it allowed men from different religions to rise to commanding positions of authority and did not discriminate on account of their religion. In his honour not only is there a 22-feet tall bronze statue of Singh in the Parliament of India but also the French town, Saint Tropez.
Lt Gen. Aurora led the crucial Eastern Command of the Indian Army during the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to the birth of Bangladesh and is known as the ‘Liberator of Bangladesh’ after India’s 1971 victory. Apart from the military honour of Param Vishist Seva Medal, he was also awarded the Padma Bhushan for his role in the 1971 operations. Later, he criticized Indira Gandhi for sanctioning Operation Blue Star in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. In the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Aurora sought to rehabilitate the victims. In 1986, he became a Rajya Sabha MP as an Akali Dal nominee.
Bhagat Singh is one of the most famous freedom fighters. He rejected religion, which alienates the masses, and provided socialist criticism of two systems of oppression – capitalism and casteism. Before that, Indian revolutionaries had only targeted capitalism and colonialism. The combination of socialism, humanism and nationalism that was the trademark of Bhagat Singh as he joined various movements and organizations. Bhagat Singh was influenced by Western authors like Marx, Trotsky, Tagore and John Stuart Mill and these authors contributed to making him a rationalist and a socialist.