THE FIRST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
Not many people know that the Namdhari Sikhs led by their founder Satguru Ram Singh, laid down their lives for the freedom of the country on January 17, 1872 much before emergence of a national movement. He had also launched the non-cooperation and Swadeshi Movement against the mighty British Raj. Namdharis had made supreme sacrifices for the freedom struggle way back in January 1872.
Earlier, he had launched a vigorous crusade against social evils like killings of girl child and dowry system, besides non-cooperation against the British Raj and struggle for Swaraj. Simultaneously, he started mass marriages in Bhaini Saheb Gurdwara at Ludhiana on the occasion on Jor Mela every year. This is still continuing.
What made Namdharis immortal in the freedom history of India was the attack on the British administration of Malerkotla (Punjab) on January 15, 1872, by the contingents of Namdharis under the leadership of Hira Singh and Lehna Singh. In the fierce fight, Hira Singh had lost his left arm. Realising the might of the British Empire, Hira Singh addressed a big public meeting at village Rarh near Ludiana and resolved to surrender with the view to avoid mass carnage of Namdharis.
He had said, “Our purpose of conveying a message to the British Raj that India has woken up and would not tolerate the foreign rule any more has been achieved.” Coven was the Superintendent of the Council of Administration, Malerkotala. He ordered that the Namdhari revolutionaries should be brought to the Parade Ground and blown up with cannons.
That ground as symbol of martyrdom has been named now as ‘Kukian Da Shaeedi Park’. In one of the most treacherous manner and without any trial or recording of statements of the alleged culprits, 49 rebels were made to stand before the mouths of seven cannons and were blown up in seven rounds. The last wish of the Namdharis that they would brave the cannon balls on the chest and not on back was accepted and they embraced a heroic death of martyrs.
Next day on January 18, 1872, 16 more Namdharis were blown up with cannons. When a child of 12 years was brought before the cannon, the stone-hearted Cowen couple which was witnessing the gruesome holocaust shed crocodile tears and offered to forgive him. The brave child of tender years refused to be pitied by the butchers and pounced upon Cowen and pulled his beard with a force.
Angry Coven ordered to chop his hands and head on the spot. Waryam Singh, a Sikh of short stature, was asked to go free because he fell short of the range of cannon mouth. He collected pebbles and stood on them and asked the executors to fire at him.
It is said that he was being set free because he was a close relative of Maharaja of Patiala, who had cordial relations with the British Empire. He did not oblige the butchers and also made the supreme sacrifice. In his book, Indian and Home Memories, Henry Cotton dealt at length with home memories and reminiscences of that day in 1872.
“I can recall nothing about my service in India more shocking and revolting than the cruel execution of Namdharis,” he wrote. The Namdhari Sangat at Mandi, Bhaini Saheb, Malerkotla and elsewhere in the country have hailed the decision of the Deputy Commissioner Sangrur (Punjab) to declare January 17, 2015, a Government holiday to commemorate the great sacrifices made by Kuka martyrs on this day in 1872. Britishers continued the repression on freedom fighters and perpetrated atrocities on Namdharis.
In the follow up action, hundreds of them were sent to jails and many were deported to Kala Pani — Andaman Island. Namdharis later joined hands with the Indian National Congress in the struggle for the freedom. They also attended the famous conference in Baradella Hall at Lahore.
They also participated in the annual session of Congress at Lahore on December 27, 1929. Food to all participants was served by the Langar opened by the Namdharis. In the freedom rally held on this occasion, Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru was riding on a white horse followed by other office bearers and volunteers of the INC, contingents of corps and a cavalry of Sikhs dressed in spotless white wearing smart and stylish turbans.
On April 13, 1919, 47 years after carnage of Namdharis, the British rulers again committed one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in the history of world, when General Dyer ordered firing at an unarmed gathering assembled in Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar adjacent to the Golden Temple, who had gathered there on the auspicious day of Baisakhi to register peaceful protest against the persecution of freedom fighters. It was perhaps the climax of bloodshed let loose by the British Raj.