24 JANUARY 1931, Page 13

The Problem of the Sikhs


THE Sikhs are a distinct community living almost entirely in the Punjab Province and in certain Indian States which are in the Punjab area and ruled by Sikh princes. They constitute over 11 per cent. of the population of the British Punjab. At the close of the eighteenth century on the disruption of the Moghul Empire the Sikhs established themselves strongly under the powerful leader, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the Punjab became an independent Sikh kingdom. Though Sikhs formed only a small portion of the population of the l'unjab, they both established a strong Government at Lahore and kept unruly tribesmen on the frontier under their sway. Indeed; 'at one time they carried their arms to the gates of Kabul.

- The death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 deprived the Sikhs of a strong leader. Serious dissensions ensued. The Sikh army came into collision with British forces, and after some of the fiercest battles that the British ever fought in India, the Punjab was annexed in 1849. From that day for- ward the Sikhs, instead of showing resentment, have heartily thrown in their lot with the British. In the past seventy years there has scarcely been a British campaign of serious im- portance which does not testify to their sterling qualities as soldiers. During the Great War, in, addition to the thirty thousand Sikhs already serving in the Army, they supplied over eighty-nine thousand combatant recruits. With a .population of about two and a half millions in British India, they provided a much larger proportion of recruits than any other community in India. Nearly one-third of the total awards to the Indian Army for deeds of valour and daringsaeri- fice on the battlefields were won by Sikh soldiers.

When the Minto-Morley reforms were introduced in India in 1909, the Moslem minorities in various provinces received separate representation, but the Sikh Minority in the Punjab obtained none. Consequently, in two elections no Sikh was returned to the Punjab Council, and in one election only one Sikh was returned. The. Sikhs were naturally perturbed by this situation and put forward their claim for one-third repre- sentation in the Legislature of the Province of which they had been masters in living memory. The Hindus and Moslems, however, entered into what is known as the Lucknow Pact of 1916 and entirely ignored the claims of the Sikhs, to their great dissatisfaction. In the Montagu-Chelmsford Report hopes were raised by promising to the Sikhs (in the Punjab) the same concessions as were granted to the Moslems in other provinces, but to the dismay of the Sikhs when the actual proportion of representation came to be fixed, the Lucknow Pact was taken as a guide. The Moslems in the Punjab got reserved scats in separate electorates and the Sikhs were given only about 19 per cent. The Moslem minorities in other provinces, however, got a much higher representation, e.g., in Bihar and Orissa with less than 11 per cent. of the population the Moslem Minority were given about 26 per cent representation. On a corresponding basis the Sikhs should have secured about 30 per cent. of the elected seats in the Punjab. This injustice is keenly felt by the Sikhs.

The entire Sikh community is united in the demand that their special interests in the Punjab should be effectively protected. They insist upon protection being provided for them of the kind that is given to the Moslem minorities in othei provinces. They cannot agree to a theory of repre- sentation designed fol. the protection of a majority community in the Punjab. To place one community under separate coin- munal electorates in a position of statutory majority is beyond all conception of popular Government. Such an arrangement creates a position which will never allow such a majority to give up its position of statutory advantage. Communalism in that case will come to stay permanently in the political life of the country.

While the existence of three distinct communities--- Moslems, Hindus and Sikhs—in the Punjab differentiate the position there from that of other provinces where two coMmunities—Moslems and Hindus—have to adjust their Claims, the question cannot be considered without some regard being paid to the general position under the coming reforms. The Moslems ask not only for protection in a, particular Way -in provinces where they arc hi a minority, but also seek

the creation of a new Moslem majority province by the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency. Further, the introduction 'of reforms in the North-West Frontier Province, where the population is overwhelmingly Moslem, is demanded. If these claims are conceded the Moslems and the Hindus will be in a position to protect their respective minority interests still further by reciprocal action by virtue of their majorities in different provinces. The Sikhs on the contrary can look for no outside help of this kind, since they are con- centrated in the Punjab. Hence it is a reasonable conclusion that their minority interests can be protected only by their holding . the balance as between the Hindus and the Moslems of the province. No impartial observer can deny that the existing representation of about 19 per cent. for the Sikhs is much too low, in view of their historic, military and economic importance. The Sikhs pay 11i million rupees land revenue out of a total of 44 million rupees, and they hold it to be unjust that in a province where they fill so important a place they are relegated to a position of such electoral inferiority.

They ask for adoption of the democratic principle in the effective sense of the rule of the people by the people-- Moslems, Hindus and Sikhs—combined. They claim that they must be placed in the Punjab Legislature in a position to be able to make an effective appeal to other minorities against communal tyranny. This is more essential now, when the provinces of the future will be autonomous and the Provincial Legislatures will enjoy wide powers. There can be no doubt that a just settlement of the Sikh grievance will have a beneficial effect upon general administration, for it will avoid the possibility of one section of the population domina- ting other sections. • The recent despatch of the Government of India does not do justice to the Sikh claims. Instead of providing further protection to the Sikh minority interests, it proposes to increase the representation of the Moslems—the majority group in the Punjab—by two per cent. and thereby places the other two groups (Sikhs and Hindus) in a minority of two seats. •

• The Sikhs also urge that provision should be made for one- third representation of their community in the Cabinet of the Punjab, and also their due.share in the Services.

The Sikhs are also not satisfied' with their existing repre- sentation of 2 per cent. in the Central Legislature,_ and demand that it should be raised to 5 per cent. It is only fair • that where 150,000 Europeans and Anglo-Indians arc enabled to secure 10 per cent. of representation, the Sikhs, numbering 2/ millions in British India, should be provided with at least 5 per cent. of the total elected seats in both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Central Legislature. It should be remembered that though the great majority of Sikhs live in the Punjab, members of the race, and important Sikh shrines, are found in every part of India. The Sikh com- munity provides no less than 15 per cent. of the total strength of the Indian Army, and has continually made great sacrifices for the consolidation and maintenance of the majtie fabric of Imperial India built up under the British Crown.