Saturday, 25 April 2009

Anglo-Sikh Wars

Sikhs are the "bravest and most warlike and most disruptive enemy in Asia." Lord Hardinage(1785-1856) Governor General of India(1844 - 48), commenting on British-Sikh relations before the Wars.

"the safety of our own State requires us to enforce the subjection of the Sikh is indispensable to the security of the British territories and to the interests of the people, that you should put an end to the independence of the Sikh nation and reduce it to entire subjection." Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General India, Papers Relating to the Punjab, 1847-1849, page 663

Direct hand-to-hand combat with a Akhali Sikh fighter:

"a party of Akhalees...on foot stopped and fought us, in some instances very fiercley. One...beat off four sowars one after another, and kept them all at bay. I then went at him myself, fearing that he would kill one of them. He instantly rushed to meet me like a tiger, closed with me, yelling "Wah Gooroo ji", and accompanying each shout with a terrific blow of his sword. I guarded the three of four first, but he pressed so closely to my horse's rein that I could not get a fair cut in return. At length I pressed in my turn upon him so sharply that he missed his blow, and I caught his tulwar backhanded with my bridle hand, wrenched it from him, and cut him down with the right, having received no further injury than a severe cut across the fingers; I never beheld such desperation and fury in my life. It was not human scarcely...." William Hodson, Twelves Years of a Soldier's Life in India, London 1859

"No nation could exceed them in the rapidity of their fire...No men could act more bravely than the Sikhs. They faced us the moment we came on them, firing all the time...their individual acts of bravery were the admiration of all." 'Camp Ramnuggar, 25 November 1948' in Illustrated London News, 27 January 1849

Panjaab was the last region of South Asia to be conquered by the British imperialism. Whilst the various territories and kingdoms were swallowed up from 1750s onwards, Panjaab continued to hold steadfast against British overtures. Its proud Sikhs continued to declare their independence, and their intention of not become another victim of British expansionism.

The much unknown and undiscussed Anglo-Sikh Wars, represented the most intense challenge to the stability and safety of British rule across South Asia ('India'). The Wars comprised two parts, first 1845-1846 and then, again, as the Sikhs refused to be subdued, in 1848-1849.

"The Sikhs were always the most formidable opponents of the British among the natives of India..." Karl Marx, First Indian War of Independence 1857-1859, page163

"the Khalsa fought as no man ever did in India before."
Subedar Sita Ram, an Indian officer in the British Army

Following agreements and alliances and co-operations, forged decades earlier in the form of the Treaty of Amritsar 1809, and lesser known Treaty of Amity and Friendship in 1806, relations between the Sikh Panjaab and the delicate British Raaj in South Asia broke down from 1839 onwards. Tensions, suspicions and rivarly was already in place, as both powers suspected each others regional intentions. Panjaab remained anxious and apprehensive about the unending British expansion across the whole map of South Asia. The famous Ranjeet Singh, Maharajah of Panjaab, predicted during his life, that "one day the whole map of India will be red." Red depicting British control. By the 1830s, Panjaab had begun to feel encircled by British territorial expansion.

"The quality of resistance experienced from the Sikhs was higher than the British ever met in India before, even from the Gurkhas...The English were badly mauled at Ramnagar, Sadulpur and at Chillianwala..." Colonel Landen Sarafield, Betrayal of the Sikhs, 1946, page 18-19

The British found the staunchly independent Panjaab, a major political sore to their grand plan across South Asia. A strong, independent, assertive state like Panjaab posed serious difficulty to the interests across the whole region. Their continuous designs on Afghanistan, would require co-operation from Panjaab. Panjaab had made it plain that it was not prepared to be a lame ally, and certainly not be used as a pawn in Britain's 'grand game' across South Asia. Panjaab had a full sense of self-existence and self-confidence. Unlike the rest of India's independent kingdoms and territories, it had no intention of being subdued and subsumed into the mushrooming British India.

1831 circa, Ranjeet Singh had invited the rajahs and maharajahs of India to rally behind him, in a united resistance to the unceasing British expansion. However, not a single of them came forth. All of them became a target of Britain's quest for supreme territorial power across South Asia, toppling like dominoes one after the other.

This Panjaabi pride and independence, continued to prick the British political mind. Unlike Panjaab was subdued once and for all, the British Raaj could never be stable. The Anglo-Sikh wars were a product of these mounting tensions.

"With the conquest of Scinde and the Punjab, the Anglo-Indian Empire had not only reached its natural limits but it had trampled out the last vestiges of independent Indian states." Karl Marx, The First Indian War of Independence 1857-1859, p.35

The Anglo-Sikh Wars comprised a series of battles across Panjaab. Finally, the Sikhs, through a combination of British military subterfuge (i.e. bribing the Hindu Dogra Generals of the Sikh armies with money and offers of royal titles over Kashmir and sabotage of Sikh canons) and military fire-power; the Sikhs were defeated.

"In spite of the fine organisation of their army, which fought against the British with stubborn bravery, the Sikhs were defeated in battles at the village of Mudki (near Ferozepore) on December 18, 1845, at Ferozeshah on December 21, 1845, and at the village of Aliwal near Ludhiana on January 28,1846. As a result, the Sikhs lost the first Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46. The chief cause of the defeat was treachery on the part of their supreme command." Karl Marx, page 195

"It is only since 1849, that the one Anglo-Indian Empire has existed." Karl Marx, First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859, p.24

The Panjaab was signed off in the Treaties (Amritsar, Lahore and Bhyrowaal) that followed, as a 'protectorate' and then fully annexed into British India.

"Punjab was conquered in British campaigns against the Sikhs in 1845-46 and 1848-49. The Sikh teaching of equality (their effort to reconcile Hinduism and Islam) became the ideology of the peasant movement against the Indian feudals and Afghan invaders in the late 17th century. As time went on, a feudal group emerged from among the Sikhs whose representatives stood at the helm of the Sikh state. In the early 19th century the latter included all Punjab and a number of neighbouring regions. In 1845, the British colonialists enlisted the support of traitors among the Sikh gentry to provoke a conflict with the Sikhs, and in 1846 succeeded in turning the Sikh state into a vassal principality. In 1848 the Sikhs revolted, but were totally subjugated in 1849. With the conquest of Punjab all India became a British colony."
Karl Marx, The First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859, p.186

"India: Another Victory over The Sikhs" - Times (London), 31st March 1846

"At the close of the second Sikh war it was determined to annex the Punjaub to British territory, and to put an end to the separate Khalsa Government of the Sikhs." Memorandum by Charles Wood and the Council of India, 21st March 1860

1 comment:

  1. bhai jagdeesh singh ji,Guru fateh. This is a remarkable site and I am very impressed woith it. You have done tremendous research and have produced a very informative manuscript.If you go to google and put bhaimansasinghji as one word then you shall see a book written in Gurmukhi has been translated by me in English. It has my profile and geneology chart. I have also put a chapter on Anglo Sikh war. I had the privilage of dinning with the British Regiment which fought (their forefathers0 in the first war. CAN WE LINK MY SITE WITH YOURS?