Farmers struggle and remembering the martyrdom of Chhote Sahibzade

Even in the most hateful regimes, there are individuals who respond to the voice of their conscience....

By Pritam Singh | OPINION |

It is of great historical and political importance that the historic farmers’ protest currently going on in India against the BJP governments’ agro-business market reforms in Indian agriculture has understood the significance of the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas, and the link between the current struggle and the great sacrifices of the Sahibzadas. The farmers organisations have taken a wise and important decision which might have long term implications for strengthening the farmers movement in Punjab in particular but possibly in India to honour the memory of the Sahibzdas’ martyrdom at the protest sites.

I am using the word honouring the memory and not using the word celebration which some people wrongly use in relation to the martyrdom. To emphasise the point about honouring the memory and not celebrating the day, I should mention that it was a tradition for many centuries in the areas surrounding the site of the martyrdom that people used to fast on those days and also sleep on floor and not on proper bed to remember the suffering of the Guru de lalan di (Guru’s sons). It is the nature of majoritarian Hindu bias in Indian historiography which permeates the accounts even by historians who would claim to be not so biased that the story of the Sahibzadas is largely unknown to the majority of Indians outside Punjab.

The farmers organisations, by deciding to honour the memory of Sahibzada’s martyrdom at the protest sites around Delhi, have brought to the forefront the significance of this martyrdom in Indian imagination for fight against oppression...

...We do not know if there are any descendants of Wazir Khan and that Qazi but if there were to be any, they would be ashamed of family association with them. On the contrary, the Sahibzadas are remembered with love, admiration, reverence and inspiration by millions and they would continue to be remembered this way. A broad lesson of history is that evil wins momentarily but good wins eventually.

Let us now look at several aspects of human character. Let us first reflect on the conduct of the Sahibzadas who at that young age climb to the heights of wisdom, bravery, steadfastness and unshakeable faith. They were obviously conscious of the great tradition set by their grandfather Guru Tegh Bahadur who had given his life to defend the religious human rights of his ideological opponents- the Kashmiri Brahmins. It is not difficult to imagine that they were educated about their family history and the high traditions of their faith by their grandmother Mata Gujari who would have taught them about the prime need to remain firm in their belief and faith, and that remaining true to one’s faith was of higher order even if it meant giving one’s life than abandoning faith for the mere physical survival of one’s body They were young in age but mature in their understanding of their historic role. This also tells us that although there are physical and biological limits associated with age, these limits are flexible. Someone can be young but very wise and brave while someone else can be mature in age but infantile in behaviour and character...

...In our memory and historical texts, Wazir Khan and Gangu Brahmin are treated with contempt while we honour the young Sahibzadas and also Nawab of Malerkotla, Baba Moti Ram Mehra and Diwan Todar Mal. This way of remembering has another significance in the current Indian and diasporic context where Hindutva ideologues are trying to appropriate Sahibzadas martyrdom as a weapon against Islam and Muslims. Contrary to the Hindutva narratives, one of the villains in this case was a Brahmin Gangu and one of the defenders of the Sahibzada was a Muslim Sher Mohammad Khan, the then Nawab of Malerkotla.

The current farmers struggle is, in different ways, carrying on the same legacy of fighting for justice against injustice, and the role of many individuals in strengthening or sabotaging the struggle would be similarly remembered as the role of individuals who sided with tyranny or opposed it at the time of the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas.

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