Sikhs living in Assam feel neglected



Itanagar: Over 50,000-strong Sikh community in Assam feel they are a neglected lot with neither Assam nor Punjab governments giving them due recognition.

Mostly scattered in Nagaon and Sonitpur districts, the Assamese Sikhs, as they have come to be known, trace their origin to 1820 when Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent 500 Sikh soldiers to the region to fight Myanmarese invaders.

Led by Chaitanya Singh, the contingent came to Assam in response to a request made by the Assam king, Chandrakanta Singha, to fight invaders from Myanmar.

Nearly two centuries later, at least 166 Assamese Sikhs started on a historic journey back to Punjab to find their roots.

"We started on the historic journey four years ago because never before had Assamese Sikhs made such a pilgrimage in an organised manner to find if any relatives, near or distant, were left," said Pritam Singh, president of the Assamese Sikh Association.

Singh said it was like throwing pebbles in the dark because none of the 166 persons knew from which villages they hailed from.

"Punjab too has undergone a lot of changes since then. That was a very interesting journey, especially because none of us can actually speak or understand the language Sikhs speak elsewhere in the country,” he said.

Singh regretted that the state government did precious little for the community's socio-economic development despite assimilation of Assamese culture into theirs. Though former Assam Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia in 2002 promised that a piece of land measuring three bighas would be allotted in Guwahati to the community to construct a Guru Nanak Bhawan and a Sikh Cultural Centre, it is still to be implemented, he said.

"We have sent representations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on several occasions telling him about our history and how we have become an inseparable part of the Assamese society," Singh stated.

He lamented that the Prime Minister, who got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam, "did nothing" when he was requested to provide land and fund for preservation of Sikh culture in the state. Shrawan Singh, a police officer posted in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, said the Prime Minister was yet to visit either Borkola or Chapormukh, where the Sikhs are concentrated.

In 2010-11, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had sanctioned Rs four lakh for construction of a gurudwara at Borkola, while Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Ajanta Neog during 2009-10 sanctioned Rs 80 lakh for the construction of the vital Borkola-Kampur road.

The Punjab government back in 2008 had sponsored a religious trip by 200 Assamese Sikhs to visit religious places in the land of the five rivers, while former President of India Zail Singh visited Borkola during 1975 and donated an amount of Rs 25000, Pritam Singh recalled. "From that amount we have constructed a Guru Nanak Gramya Puthibharal (library)," he said.

Going back to history, Singh said the Assamese Sikhs after completing their campaign against Myanmarese invaders reached Chaparmukh in Nagaon district through the Kapili River and under the command of 'Mataji’, wife of Chaitanya Singh established their first settlement.

"The arms used by the soldiers during the war are preserved at Chaparmukh till today," Singh said.

PTI