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The Kuka Movement: Contradictions in the British Records.

Contadictions in the 'death report' of Satguru Ram Singh Ji:

The report - From the Civil Surgeon, Mergui, to the Deputy Commissioner, Mergui, No. 99, dated the 29th November, 1885, states - " I beg to report to you upon the death of State prisoner Ram Singh, which event has taken place just this moment 4.30 P.M. The man has been in a decline sometime past, and with the setting in of the cold weather, he has had another attack of Diarrhoea and he complained of the change very much. I beg also to report to you that I have arranged for the cremation of the body at about 8 O'clock tomorrow morning and that I shall be present at the burial place early to see to the necessary arrangements being completed for the burning according to the Hindu custom."

This is followed by another report on 2nd December 1885 - "The ashes were collected and cast into the river in my presence this morning. The cremation and casting of the remains into the river were done very quietly. The men selected to perform these offices were two convicts (one of them the attendant, a Brahmin and the other a Hindoo) and two warders of the 'Brahmin caste belonging to the Jail guard."

But kuka circles refuse to believe this information. Their suspicions were true because events and reports suggest otherwise. Official documents confirm that Satguru Ram Singh Ji was alive after 1885!

Sir Charles Bernard, Chief Commissioner of British Burma, in his letter dated 23rd August 1886, informed Sardar Atar Singh of Bhadaur "Ram Singh, Kuka, is going to be transferred to a more remote spot, where communication with him will be less easy." This information, from the highest authority of the British Burma, contradicts the Civil Surgeon's 'death report'.

Moreover, Burma Jail Report Statement No. XVI— Vital, showing the deaths From the chief Diseases among the convicts in the jails and subsidiary jails of British Burma, during the year 1885, does not list any death at Mergui due to "Dysentery and Diarrhoea." The column designated for death due to dysentery has been kept blank.

Suba Kahn Singh, Kuka State prisoner released from Chunar Fort in 1888, was reported by the Punjab Special Branch telling the Kukas that "Guru Ram Singh is alive and will soon return."

It can, therefore, be concluded that Guru Ram Singh did not expire on 29th November 1885. Either he was transferred to a 'more remote spot', as written by the Chief Commissioner of British Burma, or disappeared quietly from the prison.

Irregularities are exposed in the British reports on the Kuka Movement:

In an article by by Swaran Singh Sanehi, M.A., more such irregularities are exposed in the British reports on the Kuka Movement:

It would be unfair and unjust to the makers of a nation if we accept the official documents as the true and only basis for writing the history of a people. In case of the British in India and the Punjab, many of the reports had been written by servants of the Raj, in order to perpuate the colonial subjugation of India and, more particularly, to please the superiors. Most things when they become old after passage of time, are classed as precious and rare. Old writings and reports also fall in the same category. But at such a time, when there remains no source or authority to differentiate between the truth and fabrication, it becomes more difficult to accept or reject the same on their face value. Many reports written by the officers of the British Government about Namdharis, or Kukas fall in this category. Those officers, or other hostile elements had many a times made incorrect reports which resulted in abundance of contradictions in the recorded statements which often form the basis of contemporary writings on the Kuka movement.

"Kukas... who professed, "in the words of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to be ethically strict followers of Guru Gobind Singh.... so they revived the Sikhism after Guru Gobind Singh."

Who joined the kuka movement?: They adopted the hard and fast religious principles of Guru Gobind Singh and gave the first preference to morality. But the police informers being ‘loyal’ and corrupted natives and Punjabis, were themselves ignorant of the principles of their own faith and the moral aspect of the Kuka movement. They never paid any heed to the Kuka principle of initiating only those who had foresworn all the unethical practices including meat-eating, drinking, smoking, theft, adultery etc. Sardar Shamsher Singh of Rajasansi could not be accepted because of his addiction to drinking and meat-eating though he had faith in Maharaj Ram Singh. Captain Wall confirmed this fact in his report of January, 1871. Perhaps for the first time, the immorality aspect was ascribed to the Kuka Sikhs by Captain Elphinston, the Deputy Commissioner of Jullunder when he reported that Mani Ram - a Brahmin by caste, was renouncing the Kuka sect, because he felt that the Kuka doctrines had been leading him to immorality, while a memorandum published by the Central Police Office, Lahore in January 1867, states to the contrary. Moreover, in the printed memorandum it is recorded: “other accounts affirm strict morality to be a distinguishing feature of the Kuka principles.” With reference to the reports by Major Perkins, the Memorandum adds, “Major Perkins writes in 1866, that on initiation all vices are supposed to be foresworn such as lying, stealing, drinking, adultery, etc. and are strictly forbidden. Kukas so offending are punished by a Panchayat.“ The Inspector General of Police, Punjab, in his letter dated 19th January 1871 says that the Kuka preachings were immoral but the Officiating Commissioner of Ambala, Mr. J.W. Macnabb, wrote on 4th November the same year: “One of the original tenets of his sect was a stringent prohibition of adultery and fornication. Against his (Maharaj Ram Singh’s) own character, I have heard no well-founded charges...”

Social status of members of kuka sect: Regarding the recruitment to the sect, it has been stated in the reports that only the poor embraced it, which warranted no anxiety about the same. However, the fact remains that besides those from the lower classes, others from the higher social status were also amongst the renowned Kukas. In its memorandum of 1867, the Punjab Government admitted that Jagirdar Mangal Singh had promised help to Kukas in case of any rebellion. Based on rumors, Turton Smith informed the Government in February 1867 that even the Maharaja of Patiala had joined the Kukas. Sardar Hira Singh and Lehna Singh, who led the rebellion in 1872 were all Sardars in the courts of Sikh Chiefs. Conveying the view of the Lieut-Governor of Punjab, the officiating secretary to the Punjab Government, Mr. L.H. Griffin had written to Mr. E.C. Bailey, secretary to the Government of India, on 22nd January 1872, “while a few years ago, no men of good family and position had joined the new creed, there is now a considerable number of petty Sirdars and men of good family among its avowed adherents. “This shows that the men of high family joined the sect only in 1872, but the official reports had already confirmed that during his visit to Anandpur and Amritsar, the Namdhari leader was visited by several men of high reputation, including Sardar Shamsher Singh of Rajasansi and Sardar Pratap Singh Sodhi of Rasoliwala. It was reported in 1867 that a noble man of Kabul named Abdul Razak, had sent his two sons to the Kuka Headquarters. According to Captain Menzies, Sirdar Mangal Singh, who as relative of Maharaja of Patiala, had promised with the Kuka leader to send two hundred rupees every month from Dholpur where he had been transferred.

Kuka Population: The Kuka preachings, became popular and the people started joining the sect in large numbers. According to Ghulam Bheekha, contemporary religious historian - their number swelled to lakhs within a few years. He says that the entire population of some villages had joined the Kuka movement. Captain Menzies however estimated their strength up to 40,000 in 1863, while Major Perkins considered it to be 60,000 in September the same year. Captain Tulloch reported on 27th October that ‘the sect in his district (Sialkot) does not muster more than 200, but adds that 80,000 necklaces had been given away by Ram Singh to a like number of admitted disciples. It must be remembered in this context that the necklace was given only to the initiated. Thus in Sialkot alone, Kukas numbered about or more than 80,000. Rana Jang Bahadur - the Prime Minister of Nepal - had told the British Resident there in 1871 that the Kukas in Punjab were not less than 3,00,000.

Amritsar: Against tradition, and the law prevalent in the Punjab before its annexation in 1848, a slaughter-house was opened at Amritsar near the Golden Temple. Its situation being next to the holy precincts, the birds used to take the bones from the slaughter-house and drop them in the tank or the precincts of the Temple which was sacrilege. The objections raised against it by some Hindus and Sikhs bore no fruit. Ultimately the Kukas came into action in 1871. They attacked the slaughter-house on the night of 14th June and killed four butchers while three others were wounded. The police failed to trace the perpetrators of the act but forced confessions from twelve innocent people. These ‘criminals’ were to be hanged for the butchers’ murder and their case had been forwarded to the Session Judge. In the meantime, the real culprits went to their guru who ordered them to confess their guilt before the judge and cause thereby, the release of the innocents. They did the same by providing all the proofs which resulted in their executions. This fact however is nowhere mentioned in the records as the official effort was to show that the police had arrested the Kukas after due investigation. On the other hand, Mr. Macnabb - Commissioner of Ambala admitted in his letter published on 9th February 1872, in London Times that the police had failed in this case. He futher added that real culprits had visited their guru after attacking the slaughter-house at Amritsar but before committing the similar crime at Raikot. We have a contemporary Punjabi publication of 1883, published with the approval of Dr. Leitner of the Punjab University which gives the authentic story.

Malerkotla: Similar confusion persists about the Kukas’ attack at Malerkotla. The records made by different officials agree that the Kotla authorities had been informed about the intended attack by the morning of 14th January 1872. Major Perkins’ diary states the time of attack as 8 AM on 14th January 1872. That means that the state authorities had more than 24 hours at their disposal to prepare for their defense. The District Superintendent wrote in his diary that the Kotla people, being informed a little time before the attack, were not fully prepared. On the other hand, Mr Cowan, the D.C. of Ludhiana admitted that the Kotla had made necessary arrangements for their safety. The guards were withdrawn early in the morning forecasting no threat of attack after that. The “Englishman" of 25th January says, “Owing to the information they had previously received from the authorities, they were in great measure prepared, some very hard fighting, however, occurred....”This was also corroborated by Major Perkins in his letter quoted earlier. He said while he was on the way to Malaudh, he received a man stating “...that when he left, the place was surrounded by Kukas and heavy fighting was going on.” 

The account of surrender of the rebels is no less interesting. The first reports, including telegrams, show that Kukas surrendered voluntarily. But afterwards, it was stated that the isurgents were arrested. Who made the arrests then? The Civil Surgeon of Ludhiana says in his medical report dated 18th January, that they were arrested by the Tehsildar of Sherpur. Except the “Englishman" of Calcutta, all other reports mention the name of Naib Nazim, Niaz Ali of Patiala who was later on rewarded for this arduous task.

Deportation of Satguru Ram Singh Ji: Regarding the deportation of the Kuka leader, Mr. Douglas Forsyth writes in his autobiography: “I asked (the Lt. governor) for the specific order to apprehend the leader Ram Singh, but I could get nothing out of the Lieutenant Governor and was obliged to leave without. I distinctly remember my last words to him, which were these: “Then I shall act on my own judgement, and you must support me." On the other hand, the Lt. Governor’s account differs from his completely. In the memorandum he said that Mr. Forsyth was ordered verbally to arrest the Kuka leader. “I promised he should have written orders on this point only. These were issued in respect of all the Subas to the Inspector General of Police but through some misapprehension, not for Ram Singh himself.” On the other hand, Mr Forsyth - in a letter addressed to Mr. Griffin on 24th January admits, “I then received verbal instructions to proceed to Ludhiana and report before any orders would be given about Ram Singh. Subsequently, the news of the second attack was received, and then it was decided that more expedient measures should be taken. I certainly understood from His Honour that I was to receive written instructions on the subject.” He continues, “I looked for these instructions upto the time of my arresting Ram Singh, but all that I received were the orders to arrest and deport sundry Subahs.” Captain Menzies opposed the proposal of deporting the Maharaj. 

The Exceutions: Regarding the mode of executions, it is believed that the Kukas were tied to the canons before they were blown away. This is based upon the word ‘tied’ used by Mr. Cowan, though the fact is otherwise. Ind Kaur and Khem Kaur were amongst the 68 rebels who surrendered and about whom Cowan noted as having been handed over to the Patiala authorities. They witnessed the whole scene and were subsequently released. According to them, Cowan had proposed that the rebels should be tied to the guns, but they had refused saying they would come before the cannon-mouth turn by turn and would get the shot in their chests as brave men do.

Bishen Singh was a youth of about twelve years. For some derogatory remarks by Cowan, the boy had lept on the DC catching hold of his beard. Cowan himself admitted the truth writing, “but one man escaped from the guards and made a furious attack on me seizing me by the beard and endeavoring to strangle me and, as he as a very powerful man, I had considerable difficulty in releasing myself.”

Similarly, Waryam Singh was related to the Maharaja of Patiala and the firing-squad desired to save his life on the pretence of his short stature. On hearing this, Waryam Singh ran to the neighbouring field and returned with some bricks and clods of earth. Standing on them, he asked the firing man to fire the gun so that he could join his comrades, and was blown to bits. Had the men been tied to the cannons, how could these incidents have taken place.?
The records are replete with similar contradictions. Only a bird’s eyeview has been presented for the sober reader to understand how complex is the history of the Kukas and how unfair are some of the accounts based on tainted and self-serving records.

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