In 1914 – a conflict broke out which would engulf the World in War.
From India, many thousands of Sikhs volunteered to fight for Great Britain.
Most had never stepped outside their villages or towns; but now they were being sent to serve in far flung parts.
Their story is all the more special because where they went – and what they did – ensured the growth and prosperity of the Sikh community all over the world.
The British had found the Sikhs, post-Punjab annexation, to be a community in need of direction. In 1847, the Sikhs were leaderless and demoralised after the fall of the Sikh Kingdom under Maharaja Duleep Singh.
But what the Sikhs were were good fighters – the Anglo-Sikh Wars were a close fought affair and only favoured the British because of the duplicity of the Dogra brothers and infighting in the court of Lahore.
And so after annexation, the British remobilised the Sikhs under the Punjab Frontier Force and sent them to fight the other menace – the Afghans – in the North West Frontier Province.
There in Afghanistan, the Sikhs excelled as they have always done as fighters. And to British eyes the notion of Sikhs as a martial race was once again seen in their loyalty during the India Mutiny of 1857.
So why do we say – that 50 years later with the Great War – the conflict ensured growth and prosperity for Sikhs?
The Sikhs had until 1914, only ever ventured outside the sub-continent for work, study or pleasure.
Work – Sikh soldiers and civil servants who served the Empire
Pleasure – Sikh raja’s who could afford to travel for fun.
Study – the rare few sent to English universities.
The War opened up the possibility of actually living outside of the homeland because Sikhs now got to see what the lands of the ferenghi
were actually like. And they liked it.
Without this the mindset of the Sikhs would not have become more international – and taken risks in uprooting themselves and their families to live in far away places.
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