Amar Singh: The Real Heroic History Of Sikhs At "12 O’Clock"
"True midnight heroics have been bafflingly replaced by those wishing to malign Sikhs with the lie of midday insanity."
June 16, 2022 | 3 min. read | Opinion
When I first came to hear of Kiran Bedi’s derogatory comments regarding Sikhs and “12 o’clock”, I was quite honestly perplexed. I did not even understand what the link was between the two.
So the historian in me got curious. What is the connection?
It first starts with the reign of Ahmad Shah Abdali within Punjab. During this time Mir Manu was the governor and under his direct rule women would be abducted from their villages.
Many of these women would be freed by bands of Sikh horsemen. They would attack the soldiers and free the women at midnight, with the darkness helping to provide cover.
It is said that these very soldiers coined the term “Sikhon key barah baj gayey.” This was done out of fear of an attack at the hands of the swift Sikhs.
However, the story does not stop there, the same tactic of using darkness as cover and guerilla warfare tactics are utilised again in 1739.
Nadir Shah, the Shah of Iran, had invaded Punjab in 1738 and captured Delhi in the following year.
After sacking Delhi, taking the Peacock Throne, which included the Koh-i-Noor, and thousands of women and children as slaves, Nadir Shah left Delhi. The Mughal Empire had essentially been completely decimated.
However, the Sikhs of Punjab had not been wiped out. Nadir Shah decided to take the route along the foothills of the northern mountains to escape the heat of the plains of Punjab.
Some way through his journey, Nadir Shah reached Akhnoor, by the river Chenab and was shocked to hear that all of the slaves had been freed by Sikh bands.
It was these raids, mainly done in the middle of the night, when it was the darkest and helped provide the most cover, that the Sikh horsemen, led by a young 21-year-old Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, freed thousands of slaves and took a large quantity of booty.
This tactic of using darkness as cover and striking the enemy at midnight also appears during the Anglo-Sikh wars.
It was these events that cemented the connection between Sikhs and “12 o’clock”, midnight.
Over time and in an attempt to caricature and demean the Sikh identity, some have corrupted the connection between the two, and flipped the meaning on its head, to infer that Sikhs are completely out of their mind at 12 midday.
True midnight heroics have been bafflingly replaced by those wishing to malign Sikhs with the lie of midday insanity.
This caricature has been further cemented by books like ‘Khuswant Singh’s Joke Book’ and numerous variations of the connection between Sikhs and “12 o’clock” have appeared in more recent times.
One ‘joke’ insists that the madness of the Sikh sets in at 12 o’clock midday, caused by the intense heat of Punjab. Another version suggests the temper of a Sikh ostensibly climaxes as the time approaches 12 o'clock.
This is not the first time Sikh “12 o’clock” jokes have been called into question. The SGPC took the issue to the Supreme Court in 2016.
Next time someone thinks about cracking a dumb “12 o’clock Sikh” joke, tell them to think twice, read some books, and understand the real heroics behind the saying.
Amar Singh, since graduating with a history degree and a law degree, has put his passion for history into sharing snippets of Sikh and wider South Asian history through social media, as well as running a top 200 history Apple podcast. You can find out more via - https://linktr.ee/ramblingsofasikh
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There is another connection: when the British Annexed Punjab, they implemented their own standard time which was off by an hour to the local time. Meanwhile, the Sikhs continued to defy the newly imposed standard by manning the clock towers to the original time. British stooges and those eager to please them went overboard in ridiculing the Sikhs for their defiant act