The Sikh Regiment: Courage, Valour and Grit
“Sura So Pahchaniye, Jo Lare Din Ke Het; Purza Purza Kat Mare, Kabhun Na Chhade Khet."
They are brave who fight for humanity, Even when dismembered they steadfastly refuse to leave the field of battle.
One of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, the Sikh regiment’s prowess to uphold challenges worldwide, with their heroic deeds, remains unmatched even today. Although its official history began in the year 1846, the roots of the Sikh regiment lies in Sher-e-Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa Army, which was originally formed by Guru Gobind Singh. The modern-day insignia of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army is inspired by the Khalsa Army. The insignia is the quoit or the chakkar, which encircles a lion. A quoit is sharp-edged circular ring and was used as a weapon by the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh (1674-1708 CE), and his Khalsa Army. The symbolism of Ashoka’s Lion Capital recapitulates the attributes of the Sikh Regiment. The four lions, symbolize power, courage, pride and confidence.
The strong foundation of the Khalsa army lay in the teachings and sacrifices of the 10 Sikh Gurus. In pre independence India, Sikhs chose to maintain a combative stance, for they were often targeted for their religious beliefs. With Hinduism spreading rapidly and Islamists persecuting Sikhs, the term ‘saint soldier’ was coined. The persecution of Sikh gurus increased friction between Sikh communities which led to numerous Sikh confederacies fighting amongst themselves and uniting solely to fight against external threats to the Sikh community as Dal Khalsa. The Khalsa Army was an epitome of courage and valour as they fought valiantly against the Afghans and Mughals. The skill and bravery of the Khalsa Army while fighting numerous Afghan-Sikh and Anglo-Sikh wars left the East Indian Company, awestruck.
Although the Indian Army does not discriminate on racial lines, The British upheld the Sikh soldiers as a martial race. The mettle of the Sikh soldiers was appreciated significantly by the British, who then formalized the Khalsa Army to the Sikh regiment of the British Indian Army on 1st August, 1846. The two battalions raised were mainly the Regiment of the Ferozepur Sikhs and the Regiment of the Ludhiana Sikhs, who played an active role in the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The increased involvement of the regiment cemented their bearing in the British Indian Army, who felicitated them with two Battle Honours, the Siege of Lucknow and the Defence of Arrah. However, the most heroic pre-independence battle fought by the Sikh Regiment was the Battle of Saragarhi.
In the 19th century, tensions between Russia and Britain increased as they battled over Afghanistan and Central Asia, in general. This was known as the “Great Game”. After the demise of Sher-e-Punjab, the British occupied forts built by the Khalsa Army. Fort Gulistan and Fort Lockhart in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan were two such forts. Fort Saragarhi was built as medium of heliographic communication between the two forts. On 12th September, 1897, Fort Saragarhi was surrounded and attacked by approximately 10,000 tribesmen. Led by Havaladar Ishar Singh, the 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army, fought fearlessly till their last breath. The bravery of these soldiers in one of the most intense last stands in history is celebrated not only by the Indian Army, but also by the British army. These brave hearts were posthumously awarded with the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award a solider could be awarded with in pre-independence India. The 36th Sikh, redesigned as the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment was also awarded Battle Honours for this feat. The Regiment commemorates 12th September as Saragarhi Day and is also celebrated as The Regimental Battle Honour day.
The military fame of the Sikh Regiment spread worldwide and the British were convinced that the Sikhs could stand their ground against the most ferocious armies of the world that ultimately led to an unforgettable contribution of Sikhs in both the World Wars, respectively.
The Great War, also known as the World War 1, began in 1914 and lasted till 1918. India provided the British with not just men during the World War 1, but also with finances and material.
The recruitment drive for the First World War saw a huge response from Sikh soldiers. By the end of the 19th century, many Sikh battalions had been raised and the loyalty of the Sikhs to the British Raj had been persistently displayed in events like the British Mutiny, the North Western Frontier Campaigns and in the fierce battle of Saragarhi. Following this, the army shifted their recruitment drive to the province of Punjab. In September 1914, Sikh troops arrived on the Western Front.
Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities and fought bravely, which led to the media coverage of their mettle, worldwide. Sikh soldiers comprised of 1/5th of the Indian servicemen, fighting in Flanders fields to the Mesopotamian oil fields (modern day Iraq). By the end of the First World War, the Sikh Regiment was awarded with Battle Honours and other gallantry awards. Many claim that the efforts of the Sikh troops have been overlooked by military historians, globally even though they played an important role in the Battle of Ypres.
The First World War brought out glaring deficiencies in the British Indian Army and so, it was reorganized, in 1922. The Second World War lasted from 1939-1945. Most nations of the world were involved, forming two opposing military alliances. The Second World War was a war for human freedom and the Sikh Regiment, with the rest of the Indian Army, fiercely protected the Indian borders to prohibit the Japanese from setting foot on Indian soil. The 5th Battalion of the 11th Sikh Regiment fought in the Battle of Niyor, killing several invading Japanese soldiers which allowed two British brigades to withdraw safely.
The Battle of Niyor was a major highlight of the Malayan campaign. In 1944, when the Japanese attacked India through Burma, the Sikh Battalions fought in Kohima and Imphal until the Japanese withdrew their troops and dislodged themselves from Burma, completely. The Sikh regiment also played a pivotal role in the Italian campaign of the Second World War. 2 years after the culmination of the Second World War, India was independent from colonial rule. During the pre-independence era, the Sikh regiment and its officers earned Battle Honours and numerous gallantry awards for their meritorious service and contribution towards the British Indian Army.
Post-independence, India has had to protect its territorial borders fiercely. During the 1962 Indo-China war, 1 Sikh Regiment was called from Jaipur as tensions on the border grew. War seemed inevitable and 1 Sikh was stationed at Tongpen La, near Bum La, Tawang. Subedar Joginder Singh was the platoon commander and had served in the British Indian Army. On 23rd October, Subedar Joginder Singh was martyred as he fought against the Chinese troops. He was heavily outnumbered but managed to kill several Chinese soldiers with his bayonet, solely. Heavily injured, he later died in Chinese captivity. Subedar Joginder Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously. Sepoy Kewal Singh from 4 Sikh was martyred during the Battle of Walong. As the Chinese troops got dangerously close to the defences, Singh rushed out of the post, as he yelled the war cry of the regiment, Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal (one will be blessed eternally who says that God is the ultimate) and attacked the enemy with his bayonet, killing many soldiers. He was severely injured and succumbed to his injuries. He was awarded with the Mahavir Chakra, India’s second highest gallantry award.
Left: Subedar Joginder Singh Right: Sepoy Kewal Singh
Captain Haripal Kaushik who served in the 1st Battalion of the Sikh regiment was a company commander at the Battle of Bumla and was awarded with Vir Chakra. He later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, the Sikh regiment, namely 4 Sikh played a major role in the Battle of Barki.
While the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 primarily focused on the independence of Bangladesh, Pakistan attacked from the Western front. It was the 6th Sikh Battalion who, 44 years ago, defended the town of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir. For this heroic act, the battalion was awarded with one Maha Vir Chakra and five Vir Chakras and the battle honour ‘Defence of Poonch 1971.’ The Battle of Chhamb in 1971 was also fought by 5 Sikh with the rest of the Indian Army.
The Sikh regiment remains undefeated for years. 8 Sikh and 14 Sikh were inducted for operations during the 1999 Kargil conflict.
The 8th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment played a significant role as they rightfully captured Tiger Hill on 6th July, 1999. The “Chardikala” battalion held onto the flanks of Tiger Hill until they proudly hoisted the tricolor on it. Although successful in their retreat, 35 from 8 Sikh were martyred and received gallantry awards posthumously. 14 Sikh were successful in securing the eastern flank of the Chorbatla.
With a fierce regimental motto, Nischay Kar Apni Jeet Karon (with determination, I’ll fetch triumph), the Sikh regiment remains undefeated in the most adverse situations. The Regiment has the highest number of gallantry awards, 2,749 to be precise, ranging from the Param Vir Chakra for highest gallantry to Commendation Cards.
In Order of Merit, tallying the three highest gallantry awards (i.e., PVC, MVC and VrC), the Sikh Regiment with a total of 79 is at the First position. The Regiment has earned the highest number of Battle Honours and Theatre Honours, with over 100 of them. This remains unsurpassed by any other regiment of the Indian Army. The two senior-most battalions, 4 Mechanised Infantry (1 SIKH) and 2 Sikh have been awarded the ‘Bravest of the Brave’, two amongst a handful of units in the Indian Army and eleven battalions have received the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Unit Citation. With a humble beginning of just 2 battalions, the Sikh regiment stood strong in the early 21st century with 18 regular infantry battalions, 3 Rashtriya Rifle battalions and 3 Territorial Army battalions (affiliated) strong.
The Sikh Regiment and the Sikh soldier upholds the unique “soldier-saint” tradition, established by their Guru, as they continue to safeguard the nation’s territorial borders, even today with utmost grit and tenacity. An integral part of the Indian Army, the Sikh Regiment displays the same steadfastness and endurance as it did decades ago, fully prepared to lay their lives down for the nation, promptly.