Sardarji jokes or Sardar jokes, is a genre of jokes that targets Sikh ethnicity and portrays a stereotype of Sikhs being stupid and strips away their honorific history.
And here is why this is no laughing matter…
Most mainstream jokes center around 12 o’clock . It is suggested that Sikhs turn ‘Stupid’ when the clock strikes Twelve. Even though, this 12 o’clock is a pertinent time in Sikh history and more to do with Sikh valour that stupidity.
Here is why Sikh Valour should be associated with 12 o’clock instead.
In 1739 Nadir Shah, King of Persia, crossed the frontier and swept down towards New Delhi, India. He was the first invader who was here only to plunder and kill, with no intention of staying. His troops reached Delhi, where they killed 150,000 people, both Hindus and Sikhs. He looted India and was carrying lot of Indian treasures and nearly 2200 Hindu women along with him. The news spread like fire and was heard by Sardar Jassa Singh who was the Commander of the Sikh army at that time. Sikhs were very few in numbers while the army of Mughals was in hundreds of thousands. Sardar Jassa Singh decided to attack Nadir Shah’s army at midnight.
He did so and rescued all the Hindu women and they were safely sent back to their homes. It didn’t happen only once but thereafter whenever any army from Afghanistan or Iran attacked and looted an Indian city and were trying to carry the treasures and women in order to sell them in Arab markets, the Sikh army although fewer in numbers but brave-hearted attacked them at midnight, 12 O’clock, and rescued the women along with the treasure.
Finally, Sikhs under Ranjit Singh, in 1798 bought an end to the 800 years of foreign invasions into India through Khyber pass, by bringing it under their control. This was the best gift Sikhs gave to the nation which finally allowed the rest of India to breathe in peace. Hari Singh Nalwa, who manned the Khyber pass for years became a name of threat in Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh brought the world famous Kohinoor diamond back to India, which was looted by Nadir Shah earlier.
If it was not for the Sikhs, who brought back Kashmir in 1819, today Kashmir would have been a part of Afghanistan. Ladakh owes its existence on the map of India to Zorawar Singh, who brought the region back to India in 1836.
The Battle of Saragarhi was fought on 12 September 1897 at the North West province of India between twenty-one Sikhs of the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment defending an army post against 10,000 Afghans. All 21 Sikhs fought till the last bullet had been fired against the Afghan army. Twenty one Sikh soldiers then charged with their Kirpans to be eventually cut down to pieces. The easier way out would have been to surrender but the spirit of Sikhs has always made them do what Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru had said, “Grant me this wish, O Sword. I may never fear to stand up for righteousness. I may not fear when I go to war. If my defeat is definitive, I may die fighting in the battlefield for the sake of righteousness”.
With an end to Mughal invasions from Afghanistan, British invasion from the south initiated. Sikhs were the last to surrender to the British in the Indian sub-continent and were the first to raise arms against them.
After two bloody Anglo-Sikh wars did British manage to take over Punjab as the last kingdom on the map of British-India Empire. It is an irony of fate that the Sikhs had to fight against their own countrymen as British forces employed Indians from the south to invade Punjab. It was not due to lack of soldiers’ courage or conviction that the wars against British were lost, but a treachery by Gulab, a minister under Ranjit Singh, who joined hands with the British in exchange for the title of Kashmir upon winning the war.
Despite the loss of empire to British, the spirit of freedom amongst Sikhs was soaring high. Whereas the British would daily fire a canon at 12 noon by the East India Co. time, the Sikhs on the other hand refused to recognize the British time. There is one and a half hour time difference between Calcutta and Punjab time and therefore the Sikhs maintained their firing of the Canon at 12 noon Punjab time. Amongst the general public there was confusion as to which canon denoted the 12 noon. Therefore at the fire of the first canon the public would say “12 o’ clock of British” and on the second fire, an hour and a half later, they would say “12 o’ clock of Sikhs.” Soon the spirit of defiance and freedom was forgotten by fellow Indians and they started linking the heroism demonstrated by Sikhs during Nadir Shah and Abdalis invasions at 12 noon to the act of defiance during British period and again started the 12 o’ clock jokes.
Much before 1919, when Mahatma Gandhi issued the call for satyagraha (boycotting English goods), the Sikhs under Baba Ram Singh had started the boycott movement in 1863. Eighty two Sikhs were tied to canons & blown apart by British. Sikhs were the only Indian community to be internationally acclaimed as early as 1897 for their heroism and courage.
On April 13, 1919, the British conducted Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which consisted of killing 1300 unarmed Indians mostly Sikhs in a single day. Thousand of unarmed, innocent & peaceful Indians had assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar to register a peaceful protest against British colonial rule when General Michael O’ Dwyer came with his troops and opened fire on the unarmed civilians.
The first battle for freedom from British was won by Sikhs, when after loss of many lives in 1929 they were able to take over the charge of their shrines from British. On this victory Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram writing, “The first decisive battle of independence of India won – congratulations”.
Bhagat Singh while studying in Berkeley University in California went back to Punjab to fight against the British army and was hanged in 1913 while fighting for freedom.
Udham Singh in 1940 went to London and shot General Michael O’ Dwyer at a public meeting as a revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Udham Singh did not flee, surrendered himself, and was later executed.
Even though Sikhs were 2% of the population of India, out of 42,000 recruits in the Indian National Army under the command of Subhash Chandra Bose, 28,000 soldiers, contributing 67% were Sikhs.
Contributions of Sikhs towards the Indian Defense Services is the highest with respect to their 2% population size. Sikhs have also won the maximum number of gallantry awards since independence – 5 Param Vir Chakras (PVCs), 40 Maha Vir Chakras (MVCs), 209 Vir Chakras (VrCs).
Today Sikhs are still 2% of the population of Indian but 20% of Indian Military consists of Sikhs.
As a part of Indian Military, Sikhs have constantly been fighting Muslim terrorists on the border of Pakistan and India since last India-Pakistan war. Pakistan lost all the wars.
So where did this Sikh history get so skewed and ignored that it came to be associated with ‘Stupidity of Sikhs’.
Although jokes about other ethnic and linguistic communities are found in various regions of India, Sardarji jokes are the most widely enjoyed ethnic jokes and found across the country.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this slowly but surely driving of an agenda to make Sikhs look stupid has been a political strategy to ridicule and consciously target Sikhs and get their valour past forgotten. I though would like to say this.
In the present times, most people have come to believe that Sikhs are a stupid comic bunch and thus all brain dead instances must be immediately credited to Sikhs in keeping with the Santa Banta genre or Sardarji jokes.
Infact, the ridiculing is now mainstream and people demand it as a right!
The jokes on Sardars are nothing less of being racist under the garb of humor and perpetuated basis the acceptance and tolerance of the Sikh community at large.
Here is the definition of Racism in common parlance:
Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Modern variants are often based in social perceptions of differences between people.
Santa Banta Jokes or Sardarji jokes are now a license to be racist. We have allowed that this scourge of racism, rudimentary and subtle, to continue to grow in the years after we became a democracy.
Here’s a thought. While I may joke about myself or take one on myself, doesn’t make it right for you to do it to me.
If this simple thought is alien to most, a quick course in manners is much a calling.
This article relies heavily on http://www.realsikhism.com/ and has quoted verbatim parts related to Sikh history.