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Lasting from 2700 to 1700 BCE,
the Indus River Valley civilization--one of the oldest civilizations
in the world--was partly located in the Punjab (see The
Punjab and Its People).
Historically, successful invaders of the Indian subcontinent have
entered India by land from the northwest. After passing through the
mountain passes of the Karakorum
and Hindu Kush ranges (see physical
map), the invaders would cross the Punjab to reach the rest of
India. Some of the most important invaders by land were the Aryans,
Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, and Afghans. Only the British conquered
the Indian subcontinent from the south coming by the sea.
the late 18th century, the Mughal
emperors authority declined in the subcontinent.
The Punjab became a battleground fought over by competing empire builders:
the Persians, Afghans, British, and Sikhs. The Persians under Nadir
Shah invaded from the northwest in 1737-1738 to sack Lahore and Delhi
and to cart off Mughal treasure (the Peacock Throne and Koh-I-noor
diamond). Then, the Afghans launched a series of invasions of the
Punjab to loot and dominate the area. At the same time, the
British East India Company was beginning to expand its influence
and control over northwest India, including the Punjab.
Singh Created a Sikh State
Finally, the Sikhs, native to the Punjab, found a leader who yearned
to create a powerful Sikh state. In 1793 when he was 13 years old,
Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) succeeded
his father as the ruler of a small Sikh state. Five years later at
the age of eighteen, he embarked on his ambitious plans to expand
his territory and to unite all Sikhs under his rule. Ranjit Singh
created a large and powerful Sikh state, which included all of the
Punjab, through clever diplomacy and waging numerous wars against
rival Sikh princes, Muslim rulers, and Afghan invaders. Throughout
his long and successful rule, he avoided conflict with the expanding
British empire. Image: Portrait of
Ranjit Singh. Photo © 1999 -www.arttoday.com
Sikhs view Ranjit Singh as their greatest military and political leader.
They claim that they wish to imitate his success by creating a modern
Sikh state, Khalistan (Land of the Pure). Ironically, Ranjit Singh
did not create a sectarian state where
Sikhs and their religious creed received preferred treatment. He was
a popular ruler who appointed Muslims and Hindus as well as Sikhs
to important positions. He frequently appeared among his people. He
listened to them, addressed their complaints, and treated all of his
subjects equally, regardless of their caste or creed. Although Ranjit
Singh is seen as a model Sikh ruler, he would not have chosen to rule
in the sectarian fashion that today's supporters of Khalistan (see
Demand for Khalistan) would favor.
Sikh State Fell Apart
Following the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh empire soon fell apart. His oldest son and
successor, Kharak Singh, was soon ousted from power, imprisoned, and then poisoned to
death. Sikh generals supported rival claimants to the throne; corruption, civil strife,
and political chaos resulted. To divert the peoples attention from the political
problems of the kingdom, the Sikh leaders whipped up anti-British sentiment and sent the
Sikh army to attack British territory in December 1845.
The British defeated the
Sikhs in three months after a series of hard fought battles. They forced the Sikhs to
accept British resident advisors, which enabled the British to interfere in the internal
affairs of the Sikh kingdom. Anger at British interference led to a second British-Sikh
war in 1848-1849. The British quickly defeated the Sikhs and then eliminated the Sikh
government. Then, the British began to directly rule the territory.
Accepted British Control
The Sikhs accepted British control and remained loyal to their new
rulers during the general Indian rebellion of 1857-1858. The British
rewarded the Sikhs by giving them preferential treatment in appointments
to the British army and the civil service. Under the leadership of
John and Henry Lawrence, the British government greatly transformed
the Punjab. The British government built a network of canals and dams
to irrigate the doabs, or lands, of rich alluvial soil between the
rivers of the Punjab (see physical
map and land use map).
This combination of nature (alluvial
soil) and technology (irrigation) have helped to make Punjab one of
Indias richest agricultural areas today. Image:
Portraits of Henry and John Lawrence.
Photo © 1999 -www.arttoday.com