This story is about the plight of those people from the Khalsa Panth who according to some accounts, took to weapons manufacturing on the order of the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in order to defend the country. Even three centuries later, they are longing to return to the mainstream. Far away from education and development, this Sikligar Sikh community is forced to lead a life hidden along the far flung villages of the hilly jungle terrain of the Satpura. Priyanka Dubey reports.
Khaknar tehsil, situated in the tribal belt of Burhanpur district in south western Madhya Pradesh, serves as home to the Sikligar Sikhs. Behind the lone petrol pump located along the main road of the tehsil is a half beaten track leading towards the hills of Satpura. Twenty six kilometers further down this path, after crossing thick jungles and valleys, Pachauri village becomes visible sitting atop Satpura’s hills. Amid 100 families residing in the village only 500 people belong to the Sikligar Sikh community. Staying here for the last 46 years, all these Sikhs are masters in the craft of making country guns, revolvers, self loading rifles (SLR) and other deadly weapons.
This community, crafting guns from iron for generations for their livelihood has not only had to endure social neglect but has now come under the scanner of security agencies. If the intelligence wing of Madhya Pradesh police is to be believed then the Sikligars are the primary suspects in the manufacturing of illegal country made weapons, huge caches of which have been confiscated in the tribal belt of the state recently. It is noteworthy that during the arrest of Sikligars in the past 2 years, Madhya Pradesh police have claimed for the first time that these people illegally manufacture and supply weapons to arms smugglers and militant groups. Madhya Pradesh ATS (anti-terror squad) believes that country made pistols and revolvers retrieved from 18 SIMI (Student’s Islamic Movement of India) activists, arrested in the state in June 2011, had been manufactured by the Sikligars.
In June 2011 police raided Sikligar Deras in Burhanpur after 10 SIMI activists were arrested in neighbouring Khandwa district. In the meantime, Jaspal Singh, son of the state president of all the deras in Sikligar, Sardar Prem Singh Patwa, was arrested on murder and terrorism charges. In a talk with Tehelka, Prem Singh says, “Our main protest is against the branding of our children as collaborators of terrorists. We are Khalsa Sikhs, willing to lay down our lives for our country, how can we help terrorists? They can slap arms act on us because we manufacture arms, but we started doing so for defending this country.”
The arrest of Sikligars from Pachauri village is not new. In a raid conducted in 2002 the local police had arrested five Sikligars. These also include the priests of the village Gurudwara. Atiq Singh, one of those arrested during the raid, alleges that on many occasions the police arrested people from his community on fabricated charges just to win accolades. He says, “In 2002, the police who came to raid came disguised as buyers. Our community is so illiterate and backward that we couldn’t recognise the police. We are poor people who just wanted to sell our goods and get paid. Then the police started beating us up, and arrested the priest of our Gurudwara, Gyani Takdir Singh and Gyani Deewan Singh, who were walking by at that time.”
The Sikligar community outraged at the arrest of its religious heads protested against this police operation but all the five arrested Sikligars, along with the priests, are still being tried under the Arms Act. In May 2003, a few months after this incident, the entire Sikligar community of Pachauri upset at the continuing arrests of its members surrendered before the Madhya Pradesh government.
After talking to the Sikligars, it is apparent they need to be provided with some alternate means of employment. Prem Singh says, “Our people have no other skills to earn a livelihood. We have made thousands of requests to the government but they have made no effort to align us to the mainstream. We are forced to make weapons to feed our children.” Following a Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order all charges against Jaspal Singh, of being associated with terrorist groups, have been dropped. But for Prem Singh it is just a new beginning of an old fight.
During the course of this conversation all the families of Pachauri village have gathered around the main chaupal. Pointing towards the village children, Prem Singh says “We don’t want our next generation to make weapons. You see for yourself, even after this legal battle my son has been restrained by the authorities from entering the village and is still being charged under Section 302. Sikligars have never been involved in any violent crime. We only made weapons, and sold it to whoever wanted to buy. Because all we know is to make weapons.”