Jalandhar: As the martyrdom day of ninth Sikh master, Guru Teg Bahadur, is being observed on Wednesday, only a few may know that he was the first martyr for human rights, who attained martyrdom for defending the rights of followers of a different faith to practice their faith.
It was around a century before the popular quotation, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, attributed to French writer, deist and philosopher Voltaire, that the ninth master demonstrated it literally.
Ironically, this statement became more popular in the world than its real demonstration, which preceded it a century ago in the Indian subcontinent.
“Guru Teg Bahadur was undisputedly the first martyr for human rights. His martyrdom was unparalleled in world history as never before somebody had laid down life to defend the right of followers of another faith to practice their faith,” said former IAS and Sikh scholar, Gurtej Singh.
“It was his martyrdom in 1675 that forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam under the rule of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb could be checked,” he said.
After guru Teg Bahadur laid down his life, Pandit Kirpa Ram Dutt, heading a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits, had approached the Guru to protect them from forcible conversion and later became a Khalsa. He then became Kirpa Singh and attained martyrdom in the battle of Chamkaur in presence of Guru Teg Bahadur’s son and tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh. Later Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his four sons for the righteous cause and to end tyranny.
“Once I wrote in a national daily to set the record straight about his martyrdom by referring to a number of historical references as a noted historian had tried to create confusion about his martyrdom. It was the sheer uniqueness of his martyrdom that my article was reproduced by several publications in various languages of South and all this was done by non-Sikhs,” Gurtej recalled, adding, “There is much wider audience for Guru’s martyrdom in and outside the country”.
Gurbachan Singh, general secretary of Punjab Human Rights Organization, said that lessons from Guru Teg Bahadur’s martyrdom assume more significance as human rights issues are turning much more serious across the world. “At a philosophical level also, he has beautifully explained the idea of accepting death fearlessly and naturally in his hymns.
His hymns can inspire even those in deep despair,” he said. “He was rightly called Hind Di Chadar (saviour of Hindus and their faith),” Gurbachan Singh said.
A contemporary of Guru Teg Bahadur had put the idea of his martyrdom in a few couplets — Baanh Jinna Di Pakrie Sir Dije Baanh na chhodiye (If you take somebody under your protection, you may give your life but don’t leave your asylum seeker) and Guru Teg Bahadur Bolia Dhar Paaiye Dharam Na chhodiye (Guru Teg Bahadur demonstrated even if you get entire earth, don’t give up your faith).