Guru Granth Sahib’s teachings are for the benefit of the whole universe and command eternal validity. We are often taught this pangti:
Ek pita ekas ke ham barik tu mera gur haaee.
The one God is our father;we are the children of the one God. You are our Guru.
Sikhism teaches us Sarbat Da Bhalla which we try to implement in our lives truly. Our philanthropy is famous worldwide and a BBC survey has concluded that Sikhism is the most generous religion in the world. We organise free kitchen [langar] on our Gurpurabs and routinely also. We also organize chhabeels or sweet water stalls to commemorate the Shahidi of Guru Arjun Dev Ji. Sounds great on listening, but somewhere down the line we have lost the meaning of seva.
We have hopelessly divided ourselves in groups and are now afflicted with diseases called disunity, egotism and mistrust. We identify ourselves as superior and categorise others as inferior. A few such ‘inferior’ groups are Sikligars and Vanjaras. Now who is a Sikligar:
Sikligar – One who cleans rust, polisher
Sikligars came in contact with our Gurus at the time of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji.
Maula Baksh used to supply weapons to Guru Ji, but fearful Mughals, who came to know of his supply of weapons, started supplying inferior quality forged weapons. Guru Ji decided to manufacture weapons at factories and sent Bhai Jetha Ji and Bhai Bidhi Chand Ji to Marwar to fetch ironsmiths from there. First Kehar Singh came with his weapons and his weapons passed the test of quality. Susequently, Guru Ji ordered to bring more marwari ironsmiths. These ironsmiths were so impressed by Guru Ji’s personality and high ideals of Sikhism that they themselves embraced Sikhi.
Now they fought battles with Guru Ji’s side and simultaneously forged and prepared weapons. From Guru Hargobind Ji’s jyoti jyot to Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s time, the need of weapons did not arise and some of these ironsmiths returned to Marwar. These brave warriors again presented themselves to Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Kalgidhar Patshah was so impressed by their skill that he bestowed upon them the title of Sikligars. Guru Sahib established a factory at Lohgarh Fort to manufacture weapons [tegey-khandey- nenjey-dhallan] and these were of very high quality and beautifully crafted.
Weapons presently occupying place of pride at Takhts are manufactured by Sikligar warriors. The majority of Panthik warriors and martyrs at that time were Vanjaras and Sikligars. Some of these stalwarts were Bhai Makhan Shah Lubhana, Bhai Lakhi Shah Vanjara, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Udai Singh, Bhai Vichitar Singh, Bhai Anik Singh, Bhai Ajab Singh, Bhai Ajaib Singh, Bhai Baj Singh.
During Sikh Misals and Maharaja Alla Singh’s time, Sikligars manufactured weapons for Sikh warriors.
During Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s reign also all weapons were manufactured by Sikligars only. The British Government also kept some of these Sikligars with them to manufacture Khukris for Gorkhas but they banned country-made weapons. Sikligars were closely watched lest they supply weapons to rebels. Tapriwas tribes were declared criminals and when Government started to check stoking-kilns at night, Sikligars pledged to stop manufacturing weapons. Now to eke their livelihood they started manufacturing knives, legal small arms, buckets, tawas, tasley, hoves, ploughs etc. They lived a nomadic life and sold their wares by moving from one place to another. This nomadic lifestyle led to their backwardness and illiteracy but kept their Sikhi Saroop intact.
Since independence they were categorized by government as criminal tribes and we played into its hands. We forgot their supreme sacrifices and crucial role in our society. The Sikligars were relegated as inferiors and even discarded as backwards. Only a last few years have seen some organisations taking up their cause and endeavouring to bring them back to mainstream. Guru Gobind Singh Ji had perhaps these brave Sikhs in mind when he said:
Inhee ki kirpa ke sajje hum hain nahin moso garib karor parre.
I came across one such Sikligar in Delhi in 2008 who asked for help in building a Gurdwara in their locality in Dadri where 100 plus Sikligars dwelled. We contacted several panthdardis and went to their basti. It was located on the edges of a water body which happened to a workplace of washer men as also resting place for buffaloes. Basti residents drew drinking water from a hand pump which belched contaminated water because of its location. Hygiene was absent in all children as was education. We visited their basti several times for two months, educating them basic hygiene besides Gurmat knowledge. Then we enrolled their children in a nearby school and arranged for their school fees, uniform, books, copies, shoes and stationery etc.
Then we arranged for a survey of such Sikligar Bastis in Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which numbered 70 and collected data like no. of boys and girls, studying or otherwise, besides total no.of residents, their head and contact numbers. Dadri was replicated in several other bastis like Chirori, Barout, Binnauli Adda, Ramgarh , Bamnauli, Ustara, Rajpurgarhi, Parasoli. We hired a teacher who was stationed in their basti itself and taught them Gurmat principles and Punjabi besides supervising their school studies. We regularly held health camps for their benefit and arranged for medicines from Sangat and magnanimous public. We organised regular Gurudham yatras of historical Delhi Gurdwaras to acquaint them about Sikh history besides instilling in them a spirit of oneness. Towards goal of women empowerment and self-dependence, we arranged for sewing and embroidery classes for womenfolk and after training them, distributed sewing machines to supplement their income besides saving a lot of money they used to expend on getting their clothes stitched.
But many more bastis of Sikligars and Vanjaras are awaiting our help in which you can be a significant part. Please adopt as many children for education and Gurmat as possible and spend your dasvand in their upliftment. In our march to achieve our goals, converting our vision into reality, many helping hands and support is required. A collective endeavour by us will surely eradicate poverty of these poor Sikligars and help them in standing on an equal pedestal with us with their pride intact. A child’s education expenditure costs Rs.4500/- annually. You are requested to adopt as many children as possible for education from your Dasvandh contribution generously so that we can help more poor people in more areas. Our Gurus have also ordered us to set aside some of our earnings as Dasvandh and distribute for noble causes.
S. Jasvinder Singh
General Secretary, Sewak Welfare Society