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Cops Attack Sikh in MP: How Sikligars Became a Hounded Minority

Once Guru Gobind Singh’s weapon makers, Sikligar Sikhs now face harassment from police officials across India

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Cops Attack Sikh in MP: How Sikligars Became a Hounded Minority
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"Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki Fateh" - Prem Singh Chawla kept chanting as policemen thrashed him and dragged him by his hair in Palsud in Madhya Pradesh's Barwani district a few days ago.

"Sangatji...The police are beating us, they are committing atrocities on us, they don't let us put up our shops," Chawla cried out for help, addressing the Sikh community.

The video of Chawla crying out for help as the police thrashed him and pulled his hair - an article faith for Sikhs - went viral and sparked outrage.

In another video, Chawla narrated what happened. He alleged:

“I run a lock and key shop and am also a Granthi at the Gurudwara in Khalsa Nagar Palsud. Three cops, including Kavita Ganesh, ASI Sitaram Bhatnagar and head constable Mohan Jamre came to my shop and asked me to shut the shop or pay them money. I was unable to pay as I had only Rs 200 that I had earned. They assaulted me and desecrated my turban, pulled my hair and beat me up.”
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In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress cornered the ruling BJP over the incident. Party spokesperson Narendra Saluja said:

“The police attacked Prem Singh’s turban and pulled his hair. The turban and hair are considered sacred among Sikhs. The police has attacked symbols of the Sikh religion”

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee president Manjinder Singh Sirsa also demanded action against the policemen involved in the attack.

Due to pressure from the Opposition Congress and ally Akali Dal, the MP government suspended two policemen - Sitaram Bhatnagar and Mohan Jamre.

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History of Harassment

However, this incident isn't an isolated one. For many years, the Sikligar community has been at the receiving end of harassment and violence.

A large number of Sikligars were also massacred during the 1984 pogrom in Delhi as their settlements faced the brunt of the violence.

In June 2020, Sikligars in MP’s Khargone district claimed that they had to flee their homes and were forced to live in the forest due to being hounded by the police.

In 2018, houses belonging to Sikilgars and a Gurdwara were damaged by the police in Balsa near Parbhani in Maharashtra.

A Sikligar Sikh at his workshop on Koppal, Karnataka
Nishkam Sikh Welfare Society

Sikligars complain that the police frequently raids their settlements and arbitrarily picks up young men from their community.

2011 was a particularly tough year for the community in Madhya Pradesh as the state police raided several Sikligar deras and homes. The cops accused members of the Sikligar community of providing weapons to the banned Student Islamic Movement of India.

The son of the president of Sikligar deras was also arrested by the police.

The charges weren't proven in most cases but the community's stigmatisation only increased after this.

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Who Are Sikligar Sikhs?

Sikligar Sikhs are originally said to be from the Marwar region in Rajasthan and are said to have first come into contact with Sikhi through Guru Hargobind. Initially blacksmiths, they came to specialise in the manufacturing swords, spears and other weapons out of iron.

During Guru Gobind Singh's military expeditions, Sikligars are often said to have travelled with him, making weapons for the Khalsa Army.

As a big proportion of the 10th Sikh Guru’s time was spent in the Deccan, the region became home to a large number of Sikligars. Small Sikligar pockets can be found in MP, Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Huzur Sahib at Nanded holds a special place for Sikligar Sikhs. The ones in Deccan speak a language that is said to be a mix of Hindi, Marwari and Punjabi, though they are well-versed in the local language as well.

However, the British period led to a loss of livelihood for Sikligars with the manufacture of weapons being made illegal.

As a result many Sikligars shifted to the manufacture of household implements, locks and keys. This also made some Sikligars semi-nomadic as they travelled from one area to another sharpening knives or making keys.

While those who came to Punjab or Delhi got some support and acceptance from the larger Sikh community, those in other states continued to remain marginalised with their settlements often being located outside towns

Why Are They Targetted?

Sikligars often face a great deal of stigma at the hands of the police as well as dominant communities. At least in Madhya Pradesh, the police has accused community members of being involved in the manufacture and smuggling of illegal weapons such as country-made pistols.

Most of the raids have been conducted against them with this pretext. Sikligars who manufacture locks and keys often get unfairly targetted in cases of robbery as well. The fact that they seldom have local support, makes them even more vulnerable.

The local media also stigmatises them by linking them to crime. For instance local newspapers commonly put "Sikligar arrested" right in the headline when a member of the community is picked up in connection with a crime. This is hardly done with any other community.

Take these headlines for instance.

This headline from Patrika reads: “Came to Repair Lock and Key, Sikligar Steals Gold and Silver Jewelry. You Should Beware Too”.

In the above story from Nai Dunia, the headline says, “Sikligar Can Make a Country Made Pistol With Materials Worth Rs 800 Only”.

Such news stories also contribute to the entire false narrative of Sikligars being prone to crime.

While Sikh organisations, including many from overseas, have undertaken a great deal of welfare work among Sikligars of central India, the attitude of government officials, media and local communities remains largely that of stigma and suspicion leading to incidents like what happened in Barwani.

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Topics:  Guru Gobind Singh 

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