THE SIKHS by Patwant Singh


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A revealing, historical account of the Sihk sect and the rise and fall of the Sikh kingdom in Northern India that seeks to peel away misperceptions about this self sufficient, and dynamic group.

Author Patwant Singh (India and the Future of Asia, 1966) argues that, despite being marginalized in Indian politics throughout their 500-year history, the Sihks have played an important and undervalued role in past and present India. Formed in the 15th century in reaction to the injustices of the Hindi caste system, the Sihks defended India’s Northern borders to outsiders, held their own militarily against British colonial forces, and created a thriving agricultural society. They got little thanks for their efforts and were often persecuted and sacrificed in political power struggles. Singh goes behind episodes—such as the Sihks’ abstention from the 1857 mutiny against the British and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the hand of Sihk attendants—that have condemned the Sihks to be seen as a self-interested group, divisive to India. The reality put forth by Singh is that the Sihks have been an integral part Indian nation-building. He writes, “Had the mutiny been more than a mutiny, the Sihks would have played a key role as they did many times in later years when the countdown to India’s independence actually began.” He also makes the case that by rejecting an opportunity to form their own state during partition negotiations in 1946, Sihk leaders made “no distinction between ‘Sihk interests’ and the interests of a soon-to-be-independent India.”

The Sihks often reads as a folkloric tribute rather than an historical exploration. Nevertheless, it is an essential book for any South Asian collection, offering a unique lens through which to view India’s troubled history and current politics.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40728-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000