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Assuaging the Sikhs: Government Responses to the Akali Movement, 1920–1925

  • Tai Yong Tan (a1)
Abstract

In 1920, Sikhs in the Punjab started a campaign aimed at freeing their principal gurdwaras (temples) from the control of their hereditary incumbents. The campaign quickly gathered momentum, and, within a few months, it developed into a non-violent anti-government movement. Unlike the rather shortlived 1919 Disturbances and the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement in the Punjab, the Sikh agitation, which came to be known as the Akali movement, did not cease until 1925 and caused considerable concern to the Punjab authorities, as well as the Government of India. The Akali movement was not limited, as in past cases of anti-British agitation involving the Sikhs, to small groups of disaffected Sikhs, returned emigrants, or Congress sympathizers; at its height in 1922, the unrest encompassed the bulk of central Punjab's Jat Sikh peasantry, one of the most militarized sections of Punjabi society. The Sikh community's martial traditions, fostered by their religious doctrines and culture, had been kept alive during British rule by the recruitment policies of the Indian Army, where, in 1920, one in every fourteen adult male Sikhs in the Punjab was in service. This meant that the abiding allegiance of the Sikh community to the Raj was a matter of considerable importance, and their estrangement, especially that of the Jat Sikh peasantry, would adversely affect the Sikh regiments of the Indian Army. It also meant that if the community as a whole was provoked into open rebellion, British hold on the Punjab could well nigh prove untenable.

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D. A. Low , ‘The Government of India and the First Non-Cooperation Movement—1920–1922’ in Journal of Asian Studies (JAS) 25, 2 (1966), pp. 241–59.

N. G. Barrier , ‘The Punjab Disturbances of 1907’, in Modern Asian Studies 1, 4 (1967), pp. 353–83.

Kenneth Jones , ‘Communalism in the Punjab: The Arya Samaj's ContributionJAS 28, 1 (1968), pp. 3954.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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