Punjab And Punjabis Had To Pay The Heaviest Price For Imperialist Subjugation


By Dr. Sawraj Singh

Punjab was always the leading region of the Indian subcontinent. The Indus Valley civilization developed here with its centers Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Sapt Sindhu, the ancient name for Punjab, was undoubtedly also the center of the Aryan civilization. The Vedas were written here and the first university in the world, Takshila, was also established here. The Greeks invaded Punjab. The Arabs, the Mongols, the Afghans, the Persians, and many other invaders also invaded Punjab. In modern times also, the most powerful kingdom was also established here. Even Queen Victoria, the most powerful ruler of her time, had to concede that the Kingdom of Punjab was the second-most powerful kingdom of her time. Punjab also maintained its lead in the evolution of Indian spirituality and thought. It was a very important center of Buddhism, Sufism, and other spiritual sects. Punjab is the birthplace of Sikhism and it is here where the climax of eastern spirituality and thought were reached in the form of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Punjab was annexed about one hundred years after the British were able to subjugate the rest of India. Not only that, Punjab put up very strong resistance before the British were able to defeat Punjab. In the first Anglo-Sikh War, the British won the war by the conspiracy and treachery of the traitors among the Sikhs. However, in the Second Anglo-Sikh war, the Sikhs fought very bravely and extracted a heavy toll from the British. In the Battle of Chillianwala, the British suffered so many casualties that some British historians remarked that if the British had to fight one more battle like Chillianwala, then the British Empire could collapse.

The British realized that to keep control over India, they have to weaken Punjab. From the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the main focus of the British policy was to weaken Punjab. The British did this by dividing the Punjabis along religious lines, into Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The end result of this deliberate policy was the partition of India. Many Punjabis and Indians agree that the partition of India into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan was the result of the British policy of Divide and Rule.

While the British imperialists divided the Punjabis along religious lines, their continuation, the American imperialists, have done something far more damaging: they have divided Punjabis into Jatts and non-Jatts. I call this division more damaging because the division on religious lines is more obvious while that division is more subtle. The religion-based division took us a couple of centuries back while the caste-based division is more primitive, it took us back to the tribal level (many, many centuries back). Moreover, tribal-based division is much narrower than religion-based division because a religion is a much bigger entity than a tribe and religion evolved much later than the tribes.

Before the British, the Kingdom of Punjab was much bigger. To the West, it reached the Khyber Pass; to the East, it reached the Yamuna River (the area between the river Sutlej and the river Yamuna was called the Trans-Sutlej state of Sikh rulers). To the North, it included Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Ladakh used to be under China. The Sikhs defeated the Chinese and made Ladakh a part of the Kingdom of Punjab. The British, under their plan to weaken Punjab, immediately started cutting the size of the Kingdom. The first blow was that they took Jammu and Kashmir out of Punjab. The people of Jammu are called Dogras (meaning hill people) and their language is Dogri, which is a dialect of Punjabi. Similarly, Pahari (the language of mountain people), which is spoken all the way to Lahaul and Spiti, is also a dialect of Punjabi. If you listen to Dogri or Pahari, they sound much closer to Punjabi than some people speaking Punjabi in the areas close to Bangar region in Patiala. Even the British called the mountains of the Shivalik Range as hills of Punjab.

When the British left India, they had already reduced the present Punjab (on the Indian side) to less than one-third of the size of the original Punjab. Lahore evolved as a historical and cultural center of Punjab. The British took away this center from the Punjabis. After the Partition, Lahore in a way withdrew its claims as the center of Punjab and the Punjabis. It no longer can be called the center of all Punjabis, for all practical purposes, Lahore can be called the center of Muslim Punjabis.

Whereas the British imperialists took away our historically developed and established center from us, the American imperialists prevented us from developing a new center. After the Partition, Delhi became the urban area with the largest Punjabi population in the world. After 1947, the Punjabi population of Delhi soared. I have heard some knowledgeable people saying that in the fifties and sixties, Punjabis constituted about 85% of Delhi’s population. After that, the ratio of the Punjabi population started falling because many non-Punjabi people moved here and also the new areas incorporated into Delhi were non-Punjabi. Let us take a rough estimate of the Punjabi population in Delhi. The population of Delhi can be close to 15 million. Let us say that almost one-third of Delhi’s population is Punjabi, then that makes the Punjabi population of Delhi close to 5 million. This Punjabi population is more than in any other city in the world. Let us compare it to the Punjabi population in Ludhiana, the biggest city of Punjab. It has a very large non-Punjabi population. My guess is that the total number of Punjabis living in Ludhiana cannot be more than 1-2 million, much lower than Delhi.

The so-called Green Revolution was in reality an alliance of the rich peasantry of Punjab with the American imperialists. After this alliance, the rich peasantry of Punjab got transformed into the capitalist class. This class has completely monopolized the power in Punjab. To maintain its monopoly and control, this class did two things. First, to deliberately push the Hindu-majority areas out of Punjab so as to keep Punjab a Sikh-majority state on which it can maintain its complete control. Second, it fueled Jatt chauvinism (Jattwaad). Again, there were two purposes behind this. First, to maintain its monopoly and control, and the second, it wanted to weaken the Sikh heritage of the Jatt peasantry because the Sikh values are in direct conflict with the values promoted by the newly emerged capitalist class. Such policies not only cut further Punjab’s size to almost one-fifth of the original size; this also led to disowning Delhi as the center of the Punjabis. We have roughly divided the Punjabis to those living in a Jatt Punjab and a non-Jatt Delhi. Therefore, while the British imperialists are responsible for the loss of Lahore as a center of Punjabis, the American imperialists are responsible for the loss of Delhi to take over as the new center. Losing territory and losing their major centers has made Punjabis the worst victims of imperialism in the Indian subcontinent. We have lost our culture, values, relations, stability, peace and tranquility at a much faster rate not only in India but perhaps in the whole world. The worst thing is that we are only focused on our short term and material gains and are almost completely ignoring the long term and spiritual losses. Bengal was also punished by the British by being divided. However, Bengal has been able to preserve its culture, traditions and way of life much better than Punjab. This is not only my personal experience but is shared by many Punjabis who have lived in Bengal.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at [email protected].