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    The lone Sardar of Bamiyan (Afghanistan)

    In the dusty and decrepit streets made slushy by a continuous non-seasonal downpour, in the historic town of Bamiyan, north west of Kabul, there is little to do once you’ve surveyed the huge cliff where the massive Buddhas once stood in all their splendour.

    Our plans to go to the Band-e-Amir lakes, a good four-hour drive from Bamiyan, and at a height of 2,590 metres had to be abandoned because of nasty weather, so we decided to look at the quaint little shops in the town.

    As we were constantly cribbing about our miserable hotel room, our driver Hussain Dhat, who was very angry with the hotel owner for charging us $60 a night - minus even breakfast - for the terrible accommodation, volunteered to show us some more options.

    Though cheaper, they were even more miserable and had to be politely turned down. But the quest for better accommodation took us to the shop of Chandu Singh, the only Sardar resident in the entire town.

    He runs a Unani medicine store and his little shop is well stocked with Unani medicine from both India and Pakistan. Having heard about and seen Indian medical teams working in Afghanistan, and witnessing the tremendous faith and respect the Afghans have for both Indian education and health care, it was not surprising to find that Chandu enjoys good patronage from the local people.

    In a country whose economy has been so battered that the average wage in Kabul is not more than $60 (about 2,800 Afghani) even for qualified teachers, it was surprising to find that Chandu casually makes about 8,000 to 9,000 Afghani a month, which is considered quite a princely sum. The local people trust his medicines when it comes to fever, cold and cough, and all kinds of aches and pains.

    But the living conditions in Bamiyan are so difficult and education opportunities so minimal, that Chandu’s family - wife and three children - stays in Kabul. “I get along very well with the local Hazara people who are warm and kind,” says Chandu, who uses his little store as his home. “I sleep here, cook here and even do my ibaadat (prayers) in this shop,” says the young Sardar.

    However, during the Taliban era he had to shut shop and go away to Kabul. A little puzzled when we kept asking him where he originally comes from, Chandu said, “I come from here; this is my country. My forefathers came here 2,050 years ago.” But he did admit that during the last decade when Afghanistan was rocked by war and violence, many Sardars, particularly from Kabul, went away to India. “But we stayed in Kabul, as this is our country… actually I’ve never been to India. But I do have plans to go there to visit the Golden Temple,” he said.

    He returned to Bamiyan about a year ago, but during the harsh winter months, when the road to Bamiyan is closed for three months as the region is under a heavy blanket of snow, he goes to Kabul to stay with his family. “I go in a Toyota van and the 250-km journey costs me 350 Afghani.” Considering that we were paying $100 a day for our Toyota HiAce - minus the diesel, which in Afghanistan costs 26 Afghania a litre, one Afghani more than petrol which is 25 Afghani a litre - one was sure that the van transporting him to Kabul would be packed with fellow customers!

    On life during the Taliban era, he says, “They insisted that we should dress like them, which we did. But they never interfered with our religion.” Somebody in Kabul said that many Afghans, to escape from the Taliban’s crazy norms on long, flowing beards and harsh Islamic edicts “used to say they were Sardarjis!”

    So does Chandu think his country is finally on the road to peace?

    "I think so. Things are improving, even though slowly. But I already feel safe and secure enough to leave my wife and children in Kabul. Of course, my brothers live there," he adds.

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    Sardar…

    Sardar…

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    A Sikh Sardar mowing his lawn in traditional Punjabi wear.

    A Sikh Sardar mowing his lawn in traditional Punjabi wear.

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    A old Punjabi farmer.

    A old Punjabi farmer.

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    Punjabi Sikh Sardar.

    Punjabi Sikh Sardar.

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    A Sikh hakim Sardar Pritam Singh in a village in Punjab (Pakistan).

    A Sikh hakim Sardar Pritam Singh in a village in Punjab (Pakistan).

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    A Punjabi farmer on his tractor from 1970’s, Zetor tractors were made by state owned HMT in India.

    A Punjabi farmer on his tractor from 1970’s, Zetor tractors were made by state owned HMT in India.

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    ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ

    ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਪਰਿਵਾਰ ਦੀ ਸਿੱਖ ਰਾਜ ਨੂੰ ਦੇਣ ਕਈ ਪੱਖਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਮਹੱਤਵਪੂਰਨ ਹੈ। ਸਿੱਧੂ ਗੋਤ ਦਾ ਇਹ ਜੱਟ ਪਰਿਵਾਰ ਜ਼ਿਲ੍ਹਾ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ ਵਿਚ ਸਥਿਤ ਅਟਾਰੀ ਦਾ ਵਸਨੀਕ ਸੀ। ਜੋਧ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਨੇ ਮਹਾਰਾਜਾ ਰਣਜੀਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੀ ਫੌਜੀ ਨੌਕਰੀ 1805 ਵਿਚ ਅਰੰਭ ਕੀਤੀ ਸੀ ਅਤੇ ਉਸ ਨੂੰ ਪੋਠੋਹਾਰ ਦੇ ਇਲਾਕੇ ਵਿਚ ਮਹਾਰਾਜੇ ਨੇ ਵੱਡੀ ਜਗੀਰ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਸੀ। ਉਸ ਦੇ ਮਰਨ ਉਪਰੰਤ ਉਸ ਦਾ ਬੇਟਾ ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਇਸ ਜਗੀਰ ਦਾ ਮਾਲਕ ਬਣਿਆ। ਉਹ ਸਿਆਸਤ ਅਤੇ ਰਾਜਸੀ ਝਮੇਲਿਆਂ ਤੋਂ ਦੂਰ ਰਹਿ ਕੇ ਬਹੁਤਾ ਸਮਾਂ ਖੇਤੀਬਾੜੀ ਦੇ ਕੰਮ ਵਿਚ ਗੁਜ਼ਾਰਦਾ ਸੀ। 1843 ਵਿਚ ਮਹਾਰਾਜਾ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੇ ਕਤਲ ਹੋ ਜਾਣ ਉਪਰੰਤ ਜਦੋਂ ਉਸ ਦੀ ਬੇਟੀ ਤੇਜ ਕੌਰ ਦੀ ਮਹਾਰਾਜਾ ਦਲੀਪ ਸਿੰਘ ਨਾਲ ਮੰਗਣੀ ਹੋ ਗਈ ਤਾਂ ਉਸ ਨੂੰ ਸਿੱਖ ਰਾਜਸੀ ਖੇਤਰ ਵਿਚ ਸਿਰਕੱਢ ਸਥਾਨ ਪ੍ਰਾਪਤ ਹੋ ਗਿਆ ਅਤੇ 1846 ਵਿਚ ਉਸ ਨੂੰ ਪੇਸ਼ਾਵਰ ਦਾ ਗਵਰਨਰ ਲਾ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਗਿਆ।

    ਨਵੰਬਰ, 1847 ਵਿਚ ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਨੂੰ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਦੀ ‘ਰਾਜ ਪ੍ਰਤੀਨਿਧ ਪ੍ਰੀਸ਼ਦ’ (ਕੌਂਸਲ ਆਫ ਰੀਜੰਸੀ) ਵੱਲੋਂ ਰਾਜਾ ਦੇ ਖਿਤਾਬ ਨਾਲ ਸਨਮਾਨਿਤ ਕੀਤੇ ਜਾਣ ਦੀ ਸਿਫਾਰਸ਼ ਕੀਤੀ ਪਰ ਉਸ ਨੇ ਇਸ ਖਿਤਾਬ ਨੂੰ ਆਪ ਸਵੀਕਾਰ ਕਰਨ ਦੀ ਥਾਂ ਆਪਣੇ ਪੁੱਤਰ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ ਦੇਣ ਦੀ ਇੱਛਾ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਾਈ ਜੋ ਸਵੀਕਾਰ ਕਰ ਲਈ ਗਈ ਅਤੇ ਰਾਜਾ ਦਾ ਖਿਤਾਬ ਉਸ ਦੇ ਪੁੱਤਰ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ ਦੇ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਗਿਆ।

    ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਨੂੰ ਪੇਸ਼ਾਵਰ ਤੋਂ ਬਦਲ ਕੇ ਹਜ਼ਾਰੇ ਦਾ ਗਵਰਨਰ ਲਾਇਆ ਗਿਆ, ਜਿਥੇ ਉਸ ਦਾ ਕਪਤਾਨ ਜੈਮਜ਼ ਐਬਟ ਨਾਲ, ਜੋ ਉਥੇ ਸਹਾਇਕ ਬ੍ਰਿਟਿਸ਼ ਰੈਜ਼ੀਡੈਂਟ ਸੀ, ਝਗੜਾ ਹੋ ਗਿਆ। ਝਗੜਾ ਗੁਲਾਬ ਸਿੰਘ ਡੋਗਰਾ ਨੂੰ ਅੰਗਰੇਜ਼ਾਂ ਵੱਲੋਂ ਦਿੱਤੇ ਜੰਮੂ ਅਤੇ ਕਸ਼ਮੀਰ ਦੇ ਇਲਾਕੇ ਦੀ ਹੱਦਬੰਦੀ ਨਿਰਧਾਰਤ ਕਰਨ ਉੱਤੇ ਹੋਇਆ ਅਤੇ ਇਸ ਹੱਦ ਤੱਕ ਵਧ ਗਿਆ ਕਿ ਕਪਤਾਨ ਜੈਮਜ਼ ਐਬਟ ਨੇ ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੇ ਕਿਲ੍ਹੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਹਮਲਾ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤਾ। ਜਦੋਂ ਕਿਲ੍ਹੇ ਦੇ ਅੰਗਰੇਜ਼ ਕਮਾਂਡੈਂਟ ਕਨੋਰਾ ਨੇ ਤੋਪਾਂ ਚਲਾਉਣ ਤੋਂ ਨਾਂਹ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਤਾਂ ਉਸ ਦਾ ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੇ ਹੁਕਮ ਨਾਲ ਕਤਲ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਗਿਆ। ਫਲਸਰੂਪ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਦੀ ‘ਕੌਂਸਲ ਆਫ ਰੀਜੰਸੀ’ ਨੇ ਅਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਨੂੰ ਗਵਰਨਰ ਤੋਂ ਹਟਾ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਅਤੇ ਨਾਲ ਹੀ ਉਸ ਦੀ ਜਗੀਰ ਜ਼ਬਤ ਕਰ ਲਈ। ਉਸ ਦਾ ਪੁੱਤਰ ਸ਼ੇਰ ਸਿੰਘ, ਜੌ ‘ਕੌਂਸਲ ਆਫ ਰੀਜੰਸੀ’ ਦਾ ਮੈਂਬਰ ਸੀ, ਆਪਣੇ ਪਿਤਾ ਨਾਲ ਆ ਰਲਿਆ।

    ਇਹ ਸਥਿਤੀ ਅੰਗਰੇਜ਼ ਗਵਰਨਰ ਜਨਰਲ ਲਾਰਡ ਡਲਹੌਜ਼ੀ ਨੇ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਉੱਤੇ ਕਬਜ਼ਾ ਕਰਨ ਲਈ ਉਚਿਤ ਸਮਝੀ। ਫਲਸਰੂਪ ਨਵੰਬਰ, 1848 ਵਿਚ ਰਾਮਨਗਰ ਵਿਖੇ ਜਨਵਰੀ 1849 ਵਿਚ ਚਿਲਿਆਂਵਾਲਾ ਵਿਖੇ ਅਤੇ ਫਰਵਰੀ, 1849 ਨੂੰ ਗੁਜਰਾਤ ਵਿਖੇ ਸਿੱਖਾਂ ਅਤੇ ਅੰਗਰੇਜ਼ਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਲੜਾਈਆਂ ਹੋਈਆਂ ਪਰ ਜਿਵੇਂ ਕਹਾਵਤ ਬਣੀ ਹੈ, ‘…ਇਕ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਬਾਝੋਂ ਫੌਜਾਂ ਜਿੱਤ ਕੇ ਅੰਤ ਨੂੰ ਹਾਰੀਆਂ ਨੇ…’ ਹੋਇਆ। ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ ਅਤੇ ਉਸ ਦੇ ਦੋਵਾਂ ਪੁੱਤਰਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਕੈਦ ਕਰਕੇ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਇਲਾਹਾਬਾਦ ਅਤੇ ਫਿਰ ਕੋਲਕਾਤਾ ਭੇਜ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਗਿਆ, ਜਿਥੇ ਚਤਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਟਾਰੀਵਾਲਾ 27 ਦਸੰਬਰ, 1855 ਨੂੰ ਅਕਾਲ ਚਲਾਣਾ ਕਰ ਗਿਆ।

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    Sikh Sardar.

    Sikh Sardar.

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    A Punjabi Sikh.

    A Punjabi Sikh.

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    A Handful of Sardars Help Resuscitate Indian Hockey

    Sandeep Singh can bring a dead match alive when he takes his position to slam a penalty corner. His drag-flicks have become a virtual patent and a sure shot to success, something fans eagerly look forward to.

    He did that many times over against France in the Olympic Qualifying Men’s Hockey Tournament at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium here, propelling India into the London Olympics, after missing the Olympic bus to Beijing four years ago.

    He contributed five goals in India’s 8-1 win; all through penalty corner conversions.

    There was a huge vacuum in this department after Jugraj Singh met with a crippling road accident a few years ago. Jugraj was a match-winner, and he had great potential, but the messy car crash in Punjab cut short his international career. But Jugraj kept himself abreast with the game by playing it as best as he could, at the local and national levels. And now, his experience has come in handy to chisel the drag-flicks of Sandeep Singh, as India have at last found a hit-man, who can deliver goals with unerring accuracy.

    But in his hour of triumph, Sandeep did not forget to remember chief coach Michael Nobbs, who has brought qualitative change in India’s fortune, and in coaching methods.

    “Nobbs is the best coach I have worked with. He absorbs the pressure on himself, instead of putting the players under pressure. Nobbs ensures that the dressing room atmosphere is relaxed and stress free”, Sandeep said.

    And the match against France was “one of the best I have ever played”.

    Sandeep did not forget Jugraj’s contribution in improving his game, but Nobbs’ strategic thinking of “attack is the best defence”, has hugely paid off as the ploy mostly protected the suspect defence from caving in.

    India won all the six matches in the Olympic qualifiers with conviction and courage, barring the one against Canada (3-2). That was a close call, but once again, Sandeep rose to the occasion to apply the knockout punch on the visitors.

    Sandeep has a neat, clean style of hitting penalty corners, with quick-silver reflexes, without much flourish. And invariably, his drag-flicks and scoops strike bang on target, giving no room or time for the rival defence and keeper to react.

    Sandeep had a success rate of 80 per cent with penalty corners, to tote up 16 goals out of India’s total tally of 44 goals, to emerge as the biggest scorer of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. His doughty display at the defence also played a big role in India conceding just nine goals in six matches.

    But he alone could not have performed such miracles without the hard work put in by Sardar Singh in the mid-field. Sardar was a roving play-maker, who created moves, moved up to attack, and fell back to defend, as the occasion demanded. The vice-captain’s presence in the field was omnipresent, and it was just as well that he led the team to victory in the title clash against France, when regular captain Bharat Kumar Chetri was rested.

    In one sweep action, Sardar sends the ball screeching towards to the top of the circle, where Sandeep quickly does the final kill. The entire operation is completed in one full sequence, instead of breaking it into parts.

    Sandeep has had to battle many odds to come this far, as in 2006 when he got shot accidentally on his back in a train near Ambala, this boy from Shahabhad never thought that he would hold a hockey stick again. But after battling for two years, he got back on his feat, and into the hockey field. But then, he faced another kind of trial - problems with the hockey administrators on ground of discipline. He escaped a two-year ban for walking out of the national camp to attend a press conference held by the World Series Hockey only after he gave a written reply to Hockey India.

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    A turban makes you a Sardar…Pagri Sambhal Sardarji

    A turban makes you a Sardar…Pagri Sambhal Sardarji

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    A Sikh Bajurag (Old Man) enjoying the sunshine.

    A Sikh Bajurag (Old Man) enjoying the sunshine.

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    Turban, a matter of pride and honour…

    PRIDE and honour make a potent potion and the turban evokes these feelings in those Sikhs who wear a turban. People have been wearing turbans since time immemorial and you find individuals wearing turbans in many nations in Asia and Africa. While for some turbans might be an optional, formal, attire, for the Sikhs wearing a turban is a religious imperative.

    Turban-wearing Sikhs stand out in a crowd, for good or bad, and there are many documented cases, spread over centuries and spanning the globe, when the Sikhs have faced discrimination and worse because of their turbans.

    Often prominent people would stand up for their rights. When the question of Sikhs wearing turbans and refusing to wear steel helmets came in front of the British parliament, Sir Winston Churchill said it was “a matter of deep regret that consequent to contemporary cynicism, people had been toying with many precious social and religious values, but those who want to retain and maintain them with due respect should receive our appreciation as well as help. The Sikhs need our help for such a cause. We should help them willingly. He who is familiar with Sikh history knows the Sikhs’ relationship with England, the high degree of their achievements, and must help them with full strength. The Sikhs should be exempted from wearing steel helmets because it hurts their religious feelings”.

    Especially in the final decades of the last century, the Sikhs would take recourse to the legal systems of the nations that they faced discrimination in, and more in time would be granted relief since courts worldwide recognised the fundamental right of the Sikhs to wear an item of their religious attire. This was so in Britain, Canada and the US, to name just three major nations.

    In France, however, it was the state that discriminated against Sikh school students and banned them for wearing turbans to school, because turbans were seen as “conspicuous religious symbols”. It enacted an all-embracing law against “conspicuous religious symbols” in 2004 and enforced it vigorously. Others affected by the law include Muslim girls wearing headscarves, Jewish boys wearing scull caps and Christians wearing large crosses.

    The logic behind this decision is to take secularism not as equal respect for all religions, as it is seen in India; or a separation of the church and the state as is practised in most of Europe and the US, but a particularly narrow and strident interpretation that seeks to stamp out religion and religious symbols to preserve secularity.

    French courts have supported the government in this and now the principle is being extended-the Sikhs are being asked to uncover their heads while being photographed for driving licences. Recently, United Sikhs, an international charitable organisation that has also been fighting for the cause of the turban, reported that its appeal regarding Shingara Mann Singh, 52, a French national who was refused a replacement driver’s licence because he did not take off his turban, was turned down by a top French court. Similarly, appeals by eight French students, who have sought to be allowed to attend school, have met with a similar fate.

    The forthcoming visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has drawn attention to this issue again. The issue of banning turbans in French schools has been raised , protest marches have taken place, and vigils are being planned.

    It is a historical fact that 80,000 Sikh soldiers fought for France and many lost their lives during the two world wars, fighting major battles in Ypres, La Bassée, NeuveChapelle, Festubert, Loos, Givenchy and Somme.

    The late Hardit Singh Malik was granted the French Legion of Honour Award in 1952. He had served as a fighter pilot for the French Air Force, and won nine aerial battles in World War I. The turbaned Malik also served as Indian Ambassador to France soon after India became independent.

    The issue is neither the contributions of the Sikhs to the freedom of France, nor the ties they have with France and the French people. What is at stake here is a fundamental matter of giving people the freedom to profess and practise their faith.

    The following are excerpts from a statement by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2007, which is being circulated on the Internet:

    “Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human…To deny that is to sow the seeds of humiliation. A ‘clash of civilisations’ will not be averted by forcing everyone to think and believe alike; cultural and religious diversity must be accepted everywhere and by all.”

    Quite so, Mr President.

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    A Punjabi Sardar relaxing on a “Mudha” ( a cahit made from Wicker).

    A Punjabi Sardar relaxing on a “Mudha” ( a cahit made from Wicker).

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