SIKH RELIGION AND JUST WAR THEORY: AN ANALYTICAL STUDY
“When all efforts to restore peace prove futile and no words avail,
Lawful is the flash of steel, it is right to draw the sword.”
Guru Gobind Singh in Zafarnama.
The just war theory is one of the most important theories of Christian religion. This theory has been used to judge the legality and legitimacy of war in the West. The Western scholars always take pride in the fact that the Christianity is the only religion which has just war tradition. The just war theory has two basic principles jus ad bellum (justice of resort to war) and jus in bello (justice in the conduct of war). Under category of jus ad bellum there are eight principles, (a) Right Authority, (b) Just Cause, (c) Right Intention, (d) Last Resort, (e) Proportionality, (f) Reasonable Hope, (g) Relative Justice, and (h) Open Declaration. Under jus in bello there are two principles, (a) Discrimination between combatants and non-combatants and (b) Proportionality of use of force. Therefore, in this context, the present article is an attempt to show that not only the West but also the Indian sub-continent, particularly Sikh religion has unique just war theory which is known as Dharmayudh. Dharmayudh does not mean war for religion or for a religious cause but it means war in the defence of righteousness.
Sikhism is the chief religion of Punjab. Its followers are called Sikhs. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs in the late 15th century CE. It is the youngest of the world’s monotheistic religious traditions.1 The word Sikh appears to have been derived from the word Sikka of Pali Sikkha or Sisya in Sanskrit meaning “follower”2 or “disciple.”3 The Sikh code of conduct defines the Sikh under Article one. It says, “Any human being who faithfully believes in: (1) One Immortal Being, (2) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Granth Sahib, (5) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and, (6) The baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.”4
There is an anecdote in Sikh tradition that after a mystical vision in 1496, Nanak emerged from the Bein river, where he had gone to bathe, and stated: ‘There is no Hindu and no Musalman.’ He realized the inherent truth and oneness of all religions and began to teach what had been revealed to him.5 After Guru Nanak breathed his last in 1539, nine more Gurus succeeded till the Adi Granth6 was finally anointed as the last Guru7 by Guru Gobind Singh.
Just before his
martyrdom Guru Arjun Dev instructed his son (Guru Hargobind) to sit fully armed on his throne and maintain an army to the best of his ability.’8 It proved to be a turning point in the Sikh history. Guru Hargobind Sahib, following the advice of his father wore two swords; Miri signifying temporal authority and Piri signifying spiritual authority. Seated upon the throne, he exercised a worldly authority in addition to the spiritual powers. Now the Panth was armed and in a position to defend itself.9
However, the final form was given to the Sikhs by the last of the ten Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh. In the autumn of 1675 Guru Gobind’s father, Guru Teg Bahadur was summoned to Delhi by the Mughal Emperor Aurungzeb and ordered to accept conversion to Islam. He refused and was beheaded by the sword.
After Guru Gobind Singh succeeded his father, Guru Tegh Bhadur, he founded a commonwealth known as Khalsa on 30th March,1699 at Anandpur on the day of Vaisakhi, the annual harvest festival in India. The word Khalsa has been taken from Arabic word ‘Khalish’ which means pious, sacred, pure and noble. The ‘Khalsa’ land belonged to the king and all revenues from such land were deposited directly to the treasury of the King. Similarly Khalsa was created to be sovereign, directly under the authority of the Almighty. The creation of the Khalsa was aimed at making a commonwealth of such persons who follow a life of stoic (saints) according to Sikh ideals, who are selfless servants of this worldly life, who are the saviour of the innocent people, helpful and encouraging to people.10 Hence, he established the unique concept of Saint-Siphai (Saint-soldier). According to Mcleod, “The Khalsa is best described as an order, as a society possessing a religious foundation and military discipline.”11 In the process, he gave the community a new understanding of its special relationship to God on the one hand, and its mission to participate in establishment of the Halemi Raj (kingdom of God) on the other hand.12 He also introduced the ceremony of giving nectar (Amrit) to Sikhs who wanted to embrace Sikhism. After baptism, Sikhs turned into Singh meaning ‘lion’ and who would keep five Karar (Symbols) like Kes (uncut hair), Kirpan (a sword), Kangha (a comb), Karha (a steel bracelet) and Kaschha (long shorts).13
The Khalsawas ordered to give up any kind of discriminations based on caste, colour, creed, sect, race, ethnicity and gender and futile religious ceremonies, dogmas and superstitions. Any person who believes in humanity and equality can embrace Sikhism irrespective of his/her caste and religion.
The Khalsais an ideal man of Guru Gobind Singh who is above the sectarian and parochial outlook. He is the guarantor of justice and destroyer of evil and tyranny in the society. The Khalsaas an individual and social order mirrors the supreme Reality. The Khalsaas an emancipator of mankind is the representative of the Akalapurakh14 on the earth. He is expected to live up to this ideal in the practical life. It is the institutionalised form of the Sikh society.15 The Khalsa was ordered to fight the war of Dharmayudh. Dharamayudh has been defined as ‘a moral war of truth against untruth; war of the good against the evil.’ Sainapat, one of the fifty two poets of Guru Gobind Singh also interprets the Dharmayudh by saying that the Khalsa was created to annihilate the wicked and to safeguard righteousness.16
The aim of Guru Gobind Singh, as he himself reveals in Bachitra Natak, was to spread of righteousness, elevation of saints, and eradication of evil doers. He says “For this purpose was I born, understand all ye pious people, to uphold the righteousness, to protect those worthy and virtuous to overcome and destroy the evil doers.”17 This purpose was fulfilled by the creation of the Khalsa. “The Khalsa is my determinate form I am immanent in the Khalsa.”18 The purpose of creation of the Khalsa was not to conquer a territory or establish a kingdom but to liberate society from the tyranny of the enemies and to defend Dharma and the rights of the people.19
Theory of Dhrmayudh
The theory of Dharamyudh is inherent in the Sikh philosophy as can be derived from Gurbani. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Nanak carried on with the same ideals. The basic principles were; (1) God as the Eternal Protector of the good as against the detractors and oppressors; (2) Ethical value of the struggle waged by the heroes and heroine of Hindu mythology; (3) Uncompromising resistance to tyranny and; (4) Justification of the use of force in fight against tyranny.20 All these ideas were coordinated and developed into a definite theory which he designated as Dharmayudh and of which he declared himself to be a divinely ordained agent.
The Guru drew upon the ancient Indian literature to install in his followers a sense of righteousness, justice and chivalry and a new tradition was developed where sufferings, sacrifice, and difficulties in the way of success were duly acknowledged in the struggle of righteousness. Sadly the theory is not being put into practice.
War as a Last Option
Like in any other religion, Sikh religion also believes that the war must be the last option particularly when all the means to restore peace have been rendered useless and futile. “When all efforts to restore peace prove futile and no words avail, Lawful is the flash of steel, it is right to draw the sword.”21 Khalsa was ordered to protect the humanity and to fight for the noble and legitimate cause. “For this was the Khalsa created: To fight the evil, to smite the wicked, and to get rid of crisis.”22 Guru Gobind Singh himself prayed to God and wished to die for the sake of righteous deeds. “Grant me such a boon, O Almighty, I may never deter from righteous deeds. And when fight I must, I fight for sure to win.”23 In another source of contemporary period this commandment was given, “No Singh should separate his weapons from his person. He should remain docile as a cow. But when he finds himself confronted with a tyrant bent upon mischief and dead to all appeals, when religion and honour are at stake and when there is no other alternative left, then he must resort to weapons as a remedy of the last resort.”24
According to Professor Gurharpal Singh, in the Sikh tradition, justice is the bedrock of political rule. Conversely, in conditions of justice, or where the moral order is threatened, the defence of Dharma (moral order) should be undertaken at all costs. The use of force, however, is sanctioned in defence of Dharma, and then only as a last resort, as a defensive act for the protection of the oppressed and in the cause of liberty. The Sikh, it is made clear, should never be the first to draw the sword. Hence, Dharmayudh is viewed as a defensive act. Within Sikh tradition there is no legitimation for a pre-emptive war.25
Use of Arms for Eradication of Evil
In Sikhism power is not to be exploited for worldly gains and to harm the adversaries. Violence is to be used for eradication of evil in society. In Sikh faith, the use of force for the welfare of humanity is the highest form of Ahimsa. The use of the sword as the defensive weapon is used for restoring social justice in the society. It is not used for encroachment on others’ territories and grabbing their wealth and property. Moreover, the decision to take up arms is not to be taken unless other means of persuasion etc. have been applied in full and have failed. In other words, Sikhism primarily believes in reforming the evil and not to punish as the first step.26 Hence, violence is defensive tool and force for giving a new life to the depressed and the deprived. Guru Gobind Singh says in one of his own hymns, “It is sinful to submit to the oppressor and the miscreants. Humility should be exhibited only where it is effective. Humility cannot breed gentleness in the beasts. It emboldens the demons and evils doers. The sword of righteous, the bow and tongue are the fit tools to combat the charlatans.”27
Guru Nanak Dev also condemned use of violence on innocent and unarmed. When he met Emperor Babur at Emanabad, he vehemently criticised his invasion on India in CE 1526, though he had not taken resort to the sword at that time. His truthful utterances were in the nature of thrusting sword into Babur’s consciousness. His hymns are crusade against tyranny and injustice of the then Mughal Emperor.28
Guru Gobind Singh, in order to ameliorate the suffering of Hindu society emphasised the use of weapons against the tyrants. He exhorted that the sword was God and God was sword. He says in Bachitra Natak, “Sword thou art the protector of the saints, thou art the coverage of the wicked; scatter of sinners; I take refuge in these, hail to the Creator, savour and sustainer, hail to these, Sword supreme.”29 At the same time Guru Gobind Singh warned that the sword must be used for the furtherance of righteous act and for the suppression of wicked people but if it is used for oppression of the people and for the lust of power, it loses all significance.30
Ethics in Battlefield
The Khalsa was ordered to be a disciplined organisation. It was prohibited to adopt mala-fide practices in the battlefield. Qazi Nur Muhammad31 has given full detail of Sikh ethics adopted during the battle between Sikhs and Shah Durrani. Although he used very abusive language for Sikhs out of hatred yet he was very much impressed by the lofty character and bravery of the Sikhs in battlefield. He says, “Do not call the Sikhs ‘dogs’ because they are lions and are courageous like lions in the field of battle. In no case would they slay a coward nor would they put an obstacle in the way of a fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth or ornaments of a woman, be she a well-to-do lady or a humble servant. There is no adultery among them nor are these people given to thieving nor there are house-breakers among them. They do not make friends with adulterers and house-breakers.”32
The rules of chivalry in the course of war were to be duly observed. Sikhs were ordered not to pursue the running enemy or take an undue advantage of the opponent’s hard luck or of any mischance that might have befallen him. Guru Gobind Singh felt very much displeased and annoyed when some Sikhs after victory against Hill Rajas from Anandpur pursued the retreating army to avenge themselves.33
The same code of conduct is expected to be followed even today.Sikhs have injunctions to follow this moral code strictly. They are prohibited to engage in dubious associations, stealing and gambling etc. They must make an honest living by hard work. A Sikh must acknowledge another man’s daughter as his own daughter and regard another man’s wife as his mother. He must have coition with his own wife alone.34 A Sikh must abstain from indulging in such malpractices even in the battlefield. Guru Gobind Singh himself defines ethical characteristics of the Khalsa in these words. “He is of the Khalsa, who speaks evil of none, who is faithful and loyal to Guru, receive enemy’s steel on the front, aids the poor and destitute, slays the evil doer, ever mounts the war horse and remains ever ready for war.”35
Gobind Singh himself followed the strict code of conduct in the battlefield even though his two younger sons were bricked alive by enemies and two elder sons were martyred in battlefield. His mother too breathed her last soon after. Even then, he was never an aggressor even in the battlefield. It was only after he was attacked that he defended himself to ultimately make the enemy submit to him.36
Guru Gobind Singh was a unique military general who in spite of all odds fought bravely. Even in the battlefield he was so compassionate that after the battle of Muktsar, he went straight into the battlefield and moved about lifting the heads of the dead and putting them into his lap, wiping their faces with a piece of cloth, one by one.37 One of Sikhs of the Guru, Bhai Kanahyia served water to the wounded soldiers without any discrimination between Sikhs and enemy soldiers after the battle of Anandpur. He was brought before Guru Gobind Singh. On being asked by the Guru, he replied that he did not find any difference between a friend and a foe as he saw the light of Guru in every human being. Guru Gobind Singh was much pleased on hearing his response and gave him the ointment and bandages for dressing wounds of all soldiers. Without any discrimination between own and enemy soldiers, Guru ordered Sikhs to perform the last rites of all dead soldiers according to their own rituals.
This is the brief analysis of the concept of Dharmayudh in Sikhism. From this analysis we may cull out the following broader principles of Dharmayudh.
– The war must be the last resort. All other ways of resolving the conflict must be tried first and the motive must not be revenge or enmity.
– The army must not include mercenaries and it must be disciplined.
– Only the minimum force needed for success should be used and civilians must not be harmed.
– There must be no looting, territory must not be annexed, property taken must be returned and treaties and cease-fires must be honoured. The Khalsa shall not plunder the lawful belongings of others. And also the places of worship (of any faith) should not be damaged. 38
– The Khalsa shall not injure women, children and the aged. The Sikh shall always be ready to save the honor and chastity of women.
– The Khalsa shall not seek help of any form from way layers or dacoits in the furtherance of the Holy war.
– The Khalsa shall never attack such soldiers as are not carrying arms, have been captured or are on their heels in the battlefield.
– The Khalsa shall attend to the wounded in the battlefield and perform last rites of enemy’s dead soldiers as per their religious beliefs.39
Justifying the use of force by Guru Gobind Singh, the late Dr. Radhakrishnan, our Philsospher President once said, “Our country has taken pride in spiritual values but if by spiritual tradition we are unable to resist evil, we have to use military might. In using military might we are not doing anything which is unscrupulous and untraditional. It is something which has been enjoined on us by our own scriptures. Nothing in this world was achieved without suffering and sacrifices.”40
As a community with a history of persecution and ambiguous boundaries, Sikhs have evolved the doctrine as a defensive mechanism, a means of survival in a hostile world. But it is also a doctrine that goes to the very heart of Sikhism as a faith based on political rule where justice has to be the guiding force of political rule and the moral order.41 The history also bears testimony that Sikhs have never used violence first. They were compelled to use arms when they were brutally attacked and tortured. Hence, Sikhism has a very unique and noble concept of Saint-Soldier where the Sikh is first a saint and peace loving person but if circumstances compel, he can also be a soldier who can wage a just war against the tyrants and oppressors. It is also clear that Sikhism is very much concerned to save the humanity and permitted the use of force as a last resort. Even some principles of Dharmayudh (treating the injured enemy soldiers with respect and humility) have surpassed the just war theory of the West. Thus, in Sikhism, a sword (Kirpan which means to bliss) is raised only to protect the poor, downtrodden, weak and helpless people; and not for acquiring territory or any other worldly gains.
1 Sikhism being monotheistic believes in only one Eternal Lord. The Mool Manta (the basic belief) in Jupji, themorning prayer states, “There is one God. He is the supreme truth. He, the creator. Is without fear and without hate. He, the omnipresent, pervades the universe. He is not born, nor does he die to be born again.”
2 Encyclopedia of World Religions, 1007 (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., London, New Delhi, 2006).
3 Roshen Dalal, The Penguin Dictionary of Religion in India, 440 (Penguin Books, India, 2006).
4 Sikh Rehat Maryada, available at: http://sgpc.net/sikh-rehat-maryada-in-english/ (Visited on 29July, 2013).
6 The sacred text of Sikhs, Adi Granth or Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604 by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru. The text of Guru Granth Sahib contains the compositions of Gurus, Hindu and Sufi Saints. Till now the Guru Granth Sahib is regarded as Guru and it is worshiped in Gurudwara, the Sikh shrine.
7 A Sanskrit term that literally means ‘one who appoints the way.’ Traditionally it is used as a respectful term for a spiritual teacher or preceptor.
8 Khushwant Singh, The Sikhs, 27-28 (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1953).
9 Hew Mcleod, Sikhism, 33-34 (Penguin Books, London, 1997).
10 O.P. Ralhan (ed.), The Great Gurus of the Sikhs, Vol. 4, Guru Tegh Bhahadur & Govind Singh, 149 (Anmol Publication, New Delhi, 1997).
12 Supra note 2, 1008.
13 Id. 1008-1009.
14 Akalapurakh means Eternal Lord who does not become the part of cycle of birth and death. W.H. Mcleod translates it as “One beyond time.” See: W.H Mcleod, Sikhism, xi (Penguin Books, 1997).
15 Nirbhai Singh, The Sikh Vision of Heroic Life and Death, 247 (Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2006).
16 Gurbachan Singh Nayyar, “Creation of the Khalsa: The Legacy” in Shiv Kumar Gupta (ed.), Creation of the Khalsa: Fulfilment of the Guru Nanak’s Mission, 71 (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patilala).
17 Guru Gobind Singh in Bachitra Natak, available at: http://searchgurbani.com/baanis/bachitar_natak, (Visited on 5th August, 2013).
19 G.S. Sandhu, “Insitution of the Khalsa-A Philosophical Perspective” in Shiv Kumar Gupta (ed.), Creation of the Khalsa: Fulfilment of the Guru Nanak’s Mission, 114 (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patilala).
21 Zafarnama, available at: http://www.zafarnama.com/ (Visited on 4th August 2013).
22 Poet Senapat in Gursobha quoted from, Fauja Singh, “Foundation of the Khalsa Commonwealth: Ideological Aspects” in Shiv Kumar Gupta (ed.), Creation of the Khalsa: Fulfilment of the Guru Nanak’s Mission, 12 (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patilala).
23 Nirbhai Singh, The Sikh Vision of Heroic Life and Death, 56 (Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2006).
24 Supra note 22, 14.
25 Gurharpal Singh, “Sikhism and Just War” in Paul Robinson (ed.), Just War in Comparative Prospective, 129 (Ashgate Publishing Limited, England, 2003).
26 Harbans Singh, Degh Tegh Fateh: Socio-Economic & Religio Political Fundamentals of Sikhism, 134 (Alam Publishing House, Chandigarh, 1986).
27 Ravi Batra, Leadership it its Final Mould: Guru Gobind Singh, 58 (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, 3rd edn., 2003).
28 Id., 248-249.
29 Supra note 21, 116, G.S. Sandhu, “Insitution of the Khalsa-A Philosophical Perspective.”
31 The Sikh history is grateful to Qazi Nur Muhammad of Gunjaba who accompanied Ahmad Shah Durrani on his seventh expedition against the Sikhs in the winter of 1764. With pen in hand and sword hanging by his side, the Qazi was present in all of Durrani’s battles against the Sikhs and has recorded his own first-hand impressions of their character and martial qualities. Full detail is also available at: http://www.esikhs.com/articles/jang.htm (Visited on 5th August 2013).
32 Supra note xxi, 149, Bhagat Singh, “Transformation through Sikhism.”
33 Narain Singh, Guru Gobind Singh Retold, 82-83 (All India Pingalwara Charitable Society, Amritsar, 2003).
34 Sikh Rehat Maryada, available at: http://sgpc.net/sikh-rehat-maryada-in-english/ (Visited on 29July, 2013).
35 Supra note 30, 26.
36 S.R. Bakshi (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Gurus, Vol. VI, 71 (Rima Publishing House, New Delhi, 1994).
37 Id., 75.
38 The Sikh Concept of a Just War, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/ (visited on 6th August 2013).
39 Supra note 18, 31.
40 Supra note 39, 72.
41 Supra note 28, 136.
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