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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

In Bihar’s rural heartland, mini Punjab thrives

Sikh presence in Katihar villages dates back to 1666 when Guru Tegh Bahadur, en route Assam, had stayed here

patna Updated: Jan 02, 2019 09:00 IST
Aditya Nath Jha
Aditya Nath Jha
Hindustan Times, Patna
The Sikh population in Katihar is around 18,000
The Sikh population in Katihar is around 18,000(HT Photo)

The mild cyclonic shower that hit parts of Bihar and neighbouring Jharkhand in December 2018 has left farmer Balwant Singh, 40, worried for his wheat crop he has grown on his five acres of field at Lakshmipur in Bihar’s Katihar district.

Clad in a lungi, kurta and a saffron turban, he discusses with other farmers of his clan, all in colourful turbans, at a roadside eatery, about the preventive steps to be taken to save the crop from getting damaged.

If you are a stranger in the village, a big surprise awaits you here. You find majority of the tall turbaned Sikhs conversing in chaste angika, a language spoken primarily in the Bihar and Jharkhand and the Terai region of Nepal. But for their looks, you find them inheriting all the characteristics of people of Bihar — from speaking their dialect to sharing similar food habits and lifestyles.

Settled here for around four centuries, the miniscule Sikh population of this northern Bihar district has adopted the local culture while successfully protecting its religious identities. It’s a mini Punjab, albeit with a difference.

Numbering around 18,000, the Sikh population in this district is spread in over seven villages namely Uchla, Bhandartal, Hussaina, Bhaisdiyara, Marwa, Maheshwa and Lakshmipur, all adjacent to each other under Barari police station.

In Lakshmipur, there is a big Gurdwara named after Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth of 10 Gurus of the Sikh religion, about 300 kms from Patna Sahib, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru.

Unlike other communities living in their surroundings, the Sikhs of this area in Katihar do not depend on government schemes for their welfare and development. They claim they believe only in their hard work. “The more you depend on government, the more trouble it will bring for you,” said Sardar Preetam Singh, 40, a local resident. “We thereby arrange and manage everything by ourselves, and believe more in giving rather than taking.”

The Sikh presence in this northern district dates back to 1666 when Guru Tegh Bahadur, during his visit to Assam, had stayed here. Later, people embraced him and his religion before carrying on the legacy and preaching of the ninth Guru.

In 1857, the gurdwara was established and people got a place to offer their daily prayers. The 250-year-old gurdwara is now ready in a new look and shall be formally inaugurated soon, Paramjeet Singh, a local resident said.

Don’t they ever feel going to Punjab, amongst their community brethren?

“We have our home and hearth here. Apart from our farmland and other properties, we have our place of worship, community kitchen, dining area and meditation room. We never feel we live outside Punjab,” says Ravindra Pal Singh.

“We Sikh,” Ravindra Pal Singh, 44, says, “Love our land and hence wherever we live we give our heart and soul in developing the place with our sweat and toil. If you are honest to your land, it has many things to offer to you.”

Paramjeet Singh, 40, recalls how the community elders and their ancestors toiled hard against odds to make the place, which was cut off the mainstream and ridden with poverty and deprivation, a better place to live. “Despite facing several hardships, they did not give up. They converted barren land to cultivable land and brought all basic amenities to the villages without begging from the government.

“Sab rab di meharbani hai” (Everything is due to grace of God), they say.

“The Sikh farmers here have set example for us and by emulating them we too have brought a change in our lives,” a local Hindu farmer, Suraj Mandal of Barari, says. “They have taught us a lot in farming,”

The community, however, has its set of grievances against the government, which has allegedly kept them deprived of their just rights. “We are being discriminated when we seek minority certificates. In Bihar, minority means Muslims. Our young men and women are made to run from pillar to post for official documents,” Meenu Sodi, 40, says.

Sodi is principal of Guru Tegh Bahadur Academy, a private CBSE school at Lakshmipur. Her school provides free education to weaker sections of society irrespective of their caste and religions. “Our ancestors have donated land to over a dozen government schools. Our Sikh boys and girls do very well in competitive exams. Many of our students cracked NDA and have made the state proud in games and sports. Srijan Kaur was adjudged Miss Popular and was felicitated at a fashion show in Singapore,” she says.

A Sikh boy, Sukhvinder Singh, cracked the NDA exam early this year, she says.

Katihar figures in 25 most backward districts out of the total 640 in the country. It is one of the 36 districts in Bihar currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF).

Local MP Tariq Anwar says, “People in Katihar’s mini-Punjab are extremely hard working and sincere with their work. They never complaint and crib on issues, instead they are ready to extend helping hands to solve problems.”

Home away from home

Around 18,000 Sikhs live in seven villages

The area has a 250-yr-old gurdwara, which has now been renovated

Sikhs here converse in chaste angika, a language spoken primarily in Bihar, Jharkhand and Terai region of Nepal

Mainly engaged in farming

Katihar figures in 25 most backward districts in the country, but Sikhs here have done well

First Published: Jan 02, 2019 09:00 IST

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