In 1849, the second Anglo Sikh war resulted in the conquest and annexation of Punjab by the East India Company and Punjab was placed under the British colonial rule. Punjab was placed under a deeply authoritarian and paternalistic form of government. The Namdhari movement or more notably known as the Kuka Movement was then formed by Sri Satguru Ram Singh Ji, this movement was the most important phase within Punjab’s role in India’s struggle for freedom, as it aimed to overthrow the unjust British rule and restore Sikh sovrenty over Punjab.
Sri Satguru Ram Singh ji is credited as being the first Indian to use non-cooperation and boycott of British merchandise and services as a political weapon. The Kuka Movement was a successful multi-dimensional revolution that rightfully fret the colonial officers. These tactics were eventually deployed by Mahatma Gandhi during the non-cooperation movement and the subsequently civil disobedience movement.
In rebuttal, fragile relationships were tested by utilizing the notorious militant strategy of divide and conquer. Punjab had a long history of strong anti-cow slaughter sentiment and laws. Specifically prohibiting slaughter in Amritsar, a holy city for Sikhs.
The British officials lifted the ban on cow-slaughter and sanctioned the opening of slaughterhouses within the province. Within short time, Amritsar became a trading centre for raw skins, where not only cows but also bulls were slaughtered. This deeply offended the religious sentiments of the Hindu and Sikh communities. Groups rallied and protested for the urgent foreclosure of the slaughterhouse in the pious city of Amritsar. The government refused to listen and remained discourteous. Namdhari Sikhs could no longer restrain their fury as we are known for our reverence to cows and we consider the cow to be illustrious and inviolable.
4 courageous Namdhari Sikhs took it upon themselves to infiltrate the slaughterhouse, their intentions were pure and simple, release the captivated cows that were scheduled for slaughter. Nearly 100 cows were freed that night, the butchers sustained injuries ensuring a halt to any further harm, preserving the sanctity of Amritsar. Escaping into the night, no trace left behind, they emerged victorious. The authorities were franticly searching for answers, forcing innocent individuals to take false ownership through the means of torture. Sri Satguru Ram Singh ji quickly learned about the wrongdoings of the authorities, Satguruji asked the 4 individuals to surrender. Without hesitation the Namdhari Sikhs declared themselves responsible for the accusations, the final verdict, death by hanging. On the morning of the 15th of September 1871, the 4 individuals bathed with water from the holy tank following their morning rituals in accordance with the purity principle. The scene was surreal, a congregation consisting of 4 martyrs accompanied by loved ones as they made their way to the hanging ground. An atmosphere filled with devotional music, songs and raw emotion. The large assembly of onlookers were amazed, questioning who is to be punished as there was no trace of fear or repentance on any faces. At the hanging grounds the 4 Namdhari Sikhs forwarded 2 demands: Firstly, they should not be hanged with a noose made of leather Secondly, they would place the nooses over their own necks. Saying their final prayers, the four Namdhari Sikhs became immortal martyrs by embracing death in amidst passion filled slogans of Sat-Sri-Akal! This is historically noted as the first attempt for the independence for Punjab.
This was not an isolated incident, Courageous Namdhari Sikhs defended moral truth by shutting down slaughterhouses and releasing 1000s of captivated cows. They would happily endure martyrdom rather than allow cows to be slaughtered under their watchful eye.
The most notable incident took place after a partial judge ordered an ox to be butchered in front of a protesting Namdhari Sikh who had witnessed a vender mistreating the ox. The conflict arose when the vender was asked to stop but failed to comply and a clash ensued. A band of almost 200 Namdhari Sikhs proceeded towards avenging the wrongdoing, this incident escalated quickly becoming a pivotal point in the history of the Namdhari world.
Unjust action by the authorities led to 66 Namdhari Sikhs being blown apart by cannon fire. The event has many legends embedded within; I would like to share 2 with you today. A Namdhari Sikh named Sant Waryam Singh was too short for the cannonball to hit him. He is reported to have collected stones, creating a mound, he then stood on top of the mound asking to be martyred.
Upon seeing the blooming and innocent face of a merely 12-year-old Sant Bishan Singh, the commissioner’s wife’s heart melted. She requested her husband relieve the child from this vicious punishment. The commissioner agreed, provided Sant Bishan Singh was prepared to say that he was not the disciple of Sri Satguru Ram Singh Ji. Sant Bishan Singh listened attentively and expressed his desire to whisper into the commissioners ear, compelling the commissioner to kneel. Sant Bishan Singh pounced upon him with a single leap catching hold of the commissioner’s beard, the surrounding soldiers ran to the commissioner’s rescue, but their efforts proved futile. The soldiers then beheaded Sant Bishan Singh with their swords, cutting his tiny hands into little pieces. The hair of the commissioner's beard was still seen entangled in the tender fingers of Bishan Singh who became an immortal martyr, hacked to death at the tender age of 12.
66 Namdhari Sikhs where barbarically slaughtered in the most treacherous manner, without any trial or recording of statements of the alleged culprits, they were made to stand before the mouths of seven cannons and were blown up in seven rounds. The last wish of the Namdhari Sikhs, that they would brave the cannon balls upon their chest, embracing the most heroic death of martyrs. These precious souls sacrificed their lives for the most imperative cause of the Namdhari Sikhs fight against animal slaughter.
These events caused a series of ripple effects throughout the nation, this unseen devotion to the reverence of cows was praised by many. In recognition of the fact that this was the first organised effort for cow protection in the modern era, Namdhari Sikhs earned the prestigious title of the cow protector. It became our identity and a major cultural asset. These actions went on to become the stand-alone pillar of the initiation of the cow protection movement, a movement that acquired social and political dimensions. Quickly becoming an all India campaign, it preserved India’s reputation as a cow respecting nation. It legitimized a religious responsibility towards the cow. The political overtones of this movement were optimistic, by presenting unbiased religious and economic arguments in deference of cow protection the outcome was well worthy. Till date, our martyr’s courageous actions are remembered by many, their influence on an entire nation is celebrated in several distinguished forms.