12 o'clock joke and many more

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Many Hindus or Sahajdhari Sikhs who don't wear turbans laugh at some jokester's poor job of modifying a photo of a western wrestler adding a turban and ax. Now known as the turbanator, the photo is often seen and remarked upon by people saying, "Sardar kae baranh waj gaye" (Sardar, is it 12 O'clock). I (the writer) found this once as an auto rickshaw driver standing at a petrol pump a Hindu said "sardaar jee peechae ho jao, barahn baj gaye hain kyaa" (Sardar ji- stand back - is it 12 O'clock). Personally this hurt my feelings but interestingly some Sikhs are angered by this while others find it amusing.

Even in the Punjab it amazes me that (headless?) Sikhs, both males and females, even relate the jokes to other Sikhs.

So let us first look at some history of the Sikhs.

Courtesy:With thanks from www.sikhpoint.com

Mughal rule in 'Hindustan'

During the 17th Century, when Hindustan was ruled by Mughals, many Hindus and Sikhs were humiliated and often treated like animals. Many Mughals treated Hindu women as if they were their own property (this was often the way that those same Muslims treated even their own wives and daughters) like just another thing they owned and controlled. Several of the Great Moghuls had been tolerant of others' religions and even believed in the the doctrine of wahdat-al wujud or the 'unity of all being'— seeing the light of God in every particle of God's creation. This primarily Sufi belief led to the downfall of Dara Shikoh (the first to translate the Upanishads to Persian) for his brother Aurangzeb labeled him a Hindu and wrested the Mughal Gaddi from him. Later Aurangzeb and his sucessors began an effort to force all the Hindus of their kingdom to accept Islam and even putting them to the sword if they refused to submit.

At that time, our ninth Guru, Sri Guru Teg Bahadur ji came forward, in response to a request of the Pandits of Kashmir, to help them as they had been threatened with torture and death if they did not abandon their own religion.

The brave Guru actually sent a challenge to the Emperor telling him that if he could convince him to convert him to Islam, all of the Pandits of Kashmir would convert as well. But, if he failed, he should stop his efforts to convert Hindus and end his harassment of them. The Mughal emperor happily agreed to the challenge, but even after being tortured, Guruji and his fellow companions refused to convert to Islam. Guruji's four companions, were tortured to death before his eyes. Then the Guru tortured as well was beheaded in Chandni Chowk. Since the Mughals were unable to convert them to Islam they were assassinated, sacrificing their lives for the rights of others of the Hindu religion to practise their own religion in their own way in their own country.

Had anyone layed down his own life for the protection of another religion? This is the reason he is still remembered as the "Hind Ki Chaddar", the shield of India. Both the Guru's severed head, returned to his family by a man of the lowest caste, and his body which was sneaked out from under the eyes of the Mughals before Aurangzeb could put the Guru's body on public display. Apparently a violent sand storm helped in the effort, but some very brave men burned down their own home to cover the cremation of Guru Tegh Bahadur's remains. Learning of this incident, the very young son of the Guru, Guru Gobind Singh made a resolution that he would convert his followers to such human beings who would not be able to hide themselves and could be easily located by the thousands.

At the start, the Sikhs were very few in numbers as they were fighting against the Mughal emperors. After the death of Aurangzeb and Farrukh Siyar the Mughals had grown weak, Banda Bahadur had wiped out their zimidar system from the Punjab, then Nadir Shah raided Delhi in the year 1739, looted Hindustan and carried not only a lot of Hindustan's treasures, but also nearly 2200 Hindu women along with him. The news of this spread like a wildfire falling into the ears of Sardar Jassa Singh who was, at the time, the Commander of the Sikh. He decided to attack Nadir Shah's Kafila on the same midnight.

He did so and rescued all the Hindu women who were safely sent to their homes. This didn't happen only once but thereafter whenever any Abdaalis or Iranis attacked and looted Hindustan and were carrying the treasures and Hindu women along with destined to be sold as slave in the Abdali markets, the Sikh army although far fewer in numbers than those they attacked, made up the differance in numbers by the ferocity and daring of their attacks. they would always attack in the middle of the night, at midnight or 12 O'clock and rescue the women and liberate whatever weapons and treasures they could.

After that time when there occurred a similar incidence, people started to contact the Sikh army for their help. This continued for some time and soon the word or legend spread that at midnight it became very difficult to fight against Sikhs as the Sikhs got some boost of extra power which they used to save Religion, Nation and Humanity. So soon people were saying nobody can fight and win against Sikhs at midnight; this continues till now. Nowadays, jokesters and some folks who just don't like Sikhs, are afraid of them, ect., have spread the phrase, 'that at 12 O'clock, the Sikhs go out of their senses.

Life would be boring without jokes. We all like to crack jokes. In India, most of the jokes, for some years now, are being cracked on the Sikhs. There are 12 o'clock jokes, Banta Singh-Santa Singh jokes, Giani Zail Singh jokes, Baldev Singh jokes, Khalistan jokes, the list is endless.

I ask you to picture yourself as a Sikh and look for an honest response from within yourself. Would you be able to handle these day in and day out jokes lobbed at you by colleagues, friends, the stranger standing next to you or almost anyone and everyone taking such liberties.

I know your immediate reaction, "Sure man, it's only a joke." You are absolutely right, it is only a joke. However when a joke enters the bloodstream as a cancerous virus and you get targeted daily, right from your childhood, let me tell you, as much as you believe you can, the fact is you will not be able to handle them. The odd thing is that to do this several things come into play. A person must first feel that he almost knows you, very familiar and safe, as one feels with a friend. For he knows that you are not going to attack him as the very creation of the Khalsa, the as Guru Gobind Singh said he was creating someone—men/amd women who people could trust, people who would stand out (marked by their beard, turban, kirpan and karas) as someone could depend on in a time of crisis.

In this world one usually goes to his friends when in need of aid. We feel comfortable with them, let down or walls and even feel so familiar with them that we crack jokes on them. So I guess that familiarity, as is said, breeds contempt. Sikhs are human too, so just realize that just as you might trust a uniformed policeman, their are plenty of jokes aimed at policemen, there are some who might not be so friendly or just plain be tired of being the butt of jokes every day.

During the Sikh Gurus Times

✝ On the other hand, look at the Sikhs. Have you ever seen anyone of them getting irritated with these digs & cracks on them. You wouldn't have. Ever thought why they don't get effected? Well the answer lies in a couplet by Saint Kabeer:

  • Kaho Kabir chucha ghat bole. Bhariya hoe so kabahu na dole.
  • Says Kabeer, an empty pitcher makes noise. But that which is full, makes no sound.

✝ Sikhs by nature are self-respecting, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Look into their short span of history and you will find their pitcher is full of sacrifices and hard work which has contributed so much towards building this nation. If not for Sikhs, the course of Indian History would have been very different. That's what makes them the SPIRIT BORN PEOPLE and gives the ability to simply ignore the digs targeted at them. Volumes could be written on the contributions made by the Sikhs, who constitute less than 2% of Indian population. I am listing below just a few, which should give my friends food for thought.

✝ Sikhs have always believed in the right of an individual to practice the religion of his own choice and have always fought against tyranny. Jahangir, the 4th Mughal ruler wrote in his memoirs, Tuzak-i-Jahangiri about Arjan Dev, the 5th Sikh Guru, ".for a long time the thought had been presenting itself to me that he should be brought into the fold of Islam.". In 1606, when the Guru refused to pay a fine he thought unjust and bend to the Mughals demands to join Islam, he was made to sit on a hot iron plate while hot sand poured over his body.

✝ Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal ruler who was raised by the conservative Ulema who had long resented being ignored by his ancestors who had blended into India's coulture, married Hindu women and ended the hated jizia tax on any who were not of Islam, came to a decision that everyone in his kingdom must embrace Islam. Tyrannized by his forceful conversions, a delegation of Kashmiri Brahmins in 1675, approached Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru of the Sikhs. He offered to confront Aurangzeb on their behalf even though he knew the confrontation would surely end in his sacrifycing his life.

This was a unique and unparalleled sacrifice in the annals of human history. He laid down his life in defense of religious tolerance, of freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience. He gave his life so that the Hindu's right to practise their own rituals and worship their own Gods was not violated even though his Sikhs did not believe in these rituals. This was a martyrdom for the defense of basic human values.

✝ For about 7 centuries, since the invasion of Mahmud Ghazni in the 10th century, many ruthless invaders played havoc with the life of Indians. Recurring defeats had sapped the psychic energy of the Indians so much that they had resigned themselves to their fate. It was Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs who imbued fearlessness amongst the Sikhs to fight against all odds. He wrote to Aurangzeb saying "when all means have failed, it is right to pick up the sword". In the year 1699 he proclaimed, "call me by the name of Gobind Singh, only if i succeed in making the sparrows (Indians) fight against the Hawks (mighty foreign rulers) and am able to make one Sikh fight against an army of one Lakh".

He set himself against oppression and intolerance. He did not fight against any territory or worldly power, or against any religion or sect. He made nationalism the religion of Sikhs. Apart from the thousands of Sikhs who lost their life in defense of the country, his 2 sons were martyred on the battleground, while the other 2 preferred to be bricked alive rather than give up their religion. In 1709 he left this world leaving behind a record of heroic events which changed the history of India.

✝ Bulle Shah, a celebrated Sufi Muslim Saint has said, "I neither say of the past, nor of the future, but i talk of the time of Guru Gobind Singh and declare openly, that but for him, all the Indians would have been circumsized and converted to a foreign culture and religion".

In 1710, Banda Singh Bahadur was the first Indian to re-establish Indian rule after 7 centuries of foreign rule in India and post a fierce battle with the forces of Aurangzeb destroying the tax system upon which the Mughals had finance their oppression in India.

After Banda Bahadur

✝ Between 1713 and 1801 the Sikhs were homeless and living as Guerillas, demonstrating heroic acts of courage at every possible instance. The tyrant rulers had put a reward of Rs. 25/ for every Sikh head and Rs. 100/ for every Sikh caught alive. Those caught alive would be cut to pieces. Many new vocabulary (of which many jokes against Sikhs are made nowadays) were given currency among the Sikh guerillas which showed with what brave face and heart they had accepted the challenge of their persecutors.

✝ In 1738 Nadir Shah, the Persian ruler invaded India from Kabul and went on a rampage upto Delhi. He returned to Persia in summer of 1739 and carried back a huge booty of looted wealth, the Koh-i-noor diamond, women, artisans and slaves. To avoid the summer heat, the convoy would rest during the day and travel in the night. At the peak of the day heat at 12 noon, the Sikh guerillas started attacking his convoy right from Punjab up to the Indus. They freed many women, artisans, slaves and deprived him of large amount of wealth. The women were escorted back to Delhi by the Sikhs. It was for this heroic act, which no one else dared, of fighting against the might of Nadir Shah by a handful of Sikhs and freeing the women, that the Sikhs started getting seen as people who go mad at 12 Noon and therefore the 12 o' clock jokes of nowadays. When Nadir Shah asked Zakhariya Khan " who these barbarians where and where they lived", Zakhariya replied " they are the followers of Nanak & live on saddles of their horses".

✝ Post the return of Nadir Shah to Persia, Zakhariya Khan went on a rampage against the Sikh movement and killed 10,000 of them in a few days.

✝ Between 1748 & 1765, Ahmad Shah Abdali the ruler from Afghanistan rampaged India 9 times. Again the Sikhs attacked his returning convoys during the peak summer heat and freed 2200 women and escorted them back to their homes. Yet again a heroic act at 12 noon, which unfortunately the others perceived as a maddening act and therefore further strengthened the 12 noon syndrome. These acts of Sikhs aggravated Ahmed shah Abdali, who swore to take revenge at an appropriate time. During his 6th invasion he caught the Sikhs unaware and 25,000 of them were killed in a few days. But the spirit of the Sikhs remained high as one Nihang Sikh of that time commented "only the soft and unbaked ones of us have fallen off".

✝ Finally, Sikhs under Ranjit Singh, in 1798 bought to an end the 800 years of foreign invasions into India through Khyber pass, by bringing it under their control. This was the best gift the Sikhs gave to the nation which finally allowed the rest of India to breathe in peace. Hari Singh Nalwa, who manned the Khyber pass for years became a household name in Afghanistan. Even today, the Afghani mothers put their children to sleep with the threat of Hari Singh Nalwas name.

✝ It was Ranjit Singh who bought back to India, the world famous Kohinoor diamond, which was looted by Nadir Shah earlier.

✝ If not for the Sikhs, who captured Kashmir in 1819, today it would have been a part of Afghanistan.

✝ Ladakh, which earlier was a part of Tibet, owes its existence on the map of India to Zorawar Singh, who captured it in 1836.

Under British rule

The Khalsa Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the last to surrender to the British in the sub-continent.

✝ Only after 2 bloody Anglo-Sikh wars did Britain manage to annex Punjab as the last kingdom on the map of British-India Empire. It is an irony of fate that the Sikhs fought against their own countrymen as part of the British forces in saving Punjab from British annexation. It was not due to any lack of courage or conviction that the wars against the British were lost, but a treachery by Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu under Ranjit Singh, who joined hands with the British in exchange for the Vale of Kashmir on winning the war. British records say about the Sikhs "…such a mass of men, fierce and untamed in their dying struggle, who fought like Lions and ran right on the bayonets and struck on their assailants as if they were transfixed".

✝ Inspite of the loss of the Khalsa Empire to the British, the spirit of freedom amongst Sikhs continued to soar high. Whereas the British would daily fire a canon at 12 noon by the East India Co. time, which was the Calcutta time, the Sikhs on the other hand refused to recognize the British time. There is a one and a half hour time difference between Calcutta and Lahore time and therefore the Sikhs maintained their firing of the Canon at 12 noon Lahore time. (A half hour time difference remains today). Amongst the general public there was confusion as to which canon denoted noon and therefore at the fire of the first canon the public would say "12 o clock of British" and on the second firing, an hour and a half later, they would say "12 o clock of Sikhs." Soon the spirit of defiance and freedom was forgotten by fellow Indians and they started linking the wild abandoned ferocity demonstrated by them during Nadir Shah and Abdalis invasions at 12 noon to the act of defiance during British period and there took place the 12 o clock jokes.

✝ Long before 1919, when Mahatma Gandhi issued the call for satyagraha (boycotting English goods), the Sikhs under Baba Ram Singh had started the boycott movement in the year 1863. Eighty two Sikhs were tied to canons and blown apart by British.

✝ Sikhs were the only Indian community to be internationally acclaimed as early as 1897, for their heroism and valour. Where in the history of warfare can you find the instance of heroism as demonstrated by 22 Sikh soldiers manning the signal post of Saragahi in Nort-West province with no ammunition back up. All the 22 fought beyond their last bullet was fired against an Afghan army of 7000 warriors when they charged the enemy with their kirpans, only to be eventually cut to pieces. The easier way out would have been to surrender but the spirit of Sikhs has always made them do what Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru had said, "Grant me this boon, O Lord, at last when the end of life is near, I may die fighting in the battlefield for the sake of righteousness".

✝ The first battle for freedom from the British was won by Sikhs, when after a loss of many lives in 1929 they were able to take regain the control of their shrines from British backed Masands. On this victory Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram saying " THE FIRST DECISIVE BATTLE OF INDEPENDENCE OF INDIA WON - CONGRATULATIONS".

✝ Where in the world can you find an act of sacrifice like that of Sikhs in 1922, willing to offer the lives of their wives, children and themselves by lying on the rails to stop a train of freedom fighters who only had to be fed because they were hungry. The train finally stopped after killing a few Sikhs.

✝ Not many can claim the valor with which Shaheedi Bhagat Singh offered himself on the altar of India's bid for freedom in 1931.

✝ There is not another instance of bravery as shown by Udham Singh in 1940, who traveled to to London and shot dead Sir Michael O' Dwyer at a public meeting, in revenge, as he said, for the Jallianwala massacre. He had singled out Sir Michael O' Dwyer for assasination as a second choice, as the Officer who had barked the commands to fire on the peaceful crowd (who was sacked and disgraced, loosing his pension) had already passed away. Michael O' Dwyer had been the British Govenor of the Punjab.

It is a sad comment on people supporting their 'own' that many citizens of England viewed Brigadier-General Dyer as a hero and raised a small fortune to support the man who had lost his pension - as he said of the massacre, "I decided to teach them a lesson". Any remorse, on his part for the carnage, was never voiced. Jawaharlal Nehru overheard the General bragging about his deed to some fellow Officers on a midnight train to Delhi. It is also noteworthy that he was also called by many Britains—The Butcher of Amritsar.

General Dyer who had been born in Punjab and spoke Urdu and Panjabi fluently had these comments the day after the Massacre the tone of which seems, to me, to be very condecinding, more like a father scolding, not his own, but his neighbor's children:

"You people know well that I am a Sepoy and soldier. Do you want war or peace? If you wish for a war, the Government is prepared for it, and if you want peace, then obey my orders and open all your shops; else I will shoot. For me the battle-field of France or Amritsar is the same. I am a military man and I will go straight. Neither shall I move to the right nor to the left. Speak up, if you want war? In case there is to be peace, my order is to open all shops at once. You people talk against the Government and persons educated in Germany and Bengal talk sedition. I shall report all these. Obey my orders. I do not wish to have anything else. I have served in the military for over 30 years. I understand the Indian Sepoy and Sikh people very well. You will have to obey my orders and observe peace. Otherwise the shops will be opened by force and Rifles. You will have to report to me of the Badmash. I will shoot them. Obey my orders and open shops. Speak up if you want war? You have committed a bad act in killing the English. The revenge will be taken upon you and upon your children."[1]

✝ Out of 42,000 recruits in the Japanese backed ,'Indian National Army', under the command of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, 28,000 soldiers contributing 67% of its strength, were onetime Sikhs of the British Army who the Japanese had released from captivity.

✝ Contributions of Sikhs, who are less than 2% of the Indian population, in the freedom struggle of India against the British.


TOTAL / SIKHS / % OF SIKHS Hanged 121 / 93 / 77%

TOTAL / SIKHS / Life Imprisonment

2646 / 2147 / 81%

TOTAL / SIKHS / Jallianwala Bagh massacre

1300 / 799 / 62%

Book source : "History of Indian National Congress".


1. A Saga of Freedom Movement and Jallianwala Bagh, Udham Singh, 2002, p 149, Prof (Dr) Sikander Singh; Report of Commissioners, Vol I, II, Bombay, 1920, Reprint New Delhi, 1976, p 11.

2.History of Indian National Congress

After Partition

✝ Partition of India in 1947 brought innumerable death to Sikhs and was the greatest disaster known in the Indian history. Surely the Sikhs paid the heaviest price for the freedom of the country.

✝ Punjab lost its most fertile part to Pakistan during the partition. However, today due to hard labor of Sikh farmers, the Punjab in India produces much higher quantities of food grain than the fertile Punjab in Pakistan. Punjab contributes 40% of rice and 51% of wheat into the central pool of food grains in India.

✝ Post partition, many of the landless Sikhs who settled in the jungles of Terai in Uttar Pradesh have today made the area as fertile as Punjab.

✝ Contribution of Sikhs towards the Indian Defense Services is the highest with respect to their 2% population size. This community has also won the maximum number of gallantry awards since independence - 5 Param Vir Chakras (PVCs), 40 Maha Vir Chakras (MVCs), 209 Vir Chakras (VrCs).

✝ During the emergency of 1975 imposed by Indira Gandhi, no organized protest was made across the country by any section of community, except for the Sikhs who conducted daily morchas, involving 40,000 arrests.

You will never find a Sikh ever begging on the roads, in spite of being uprooted & made homeless many a times, they have demonstrated the ability to rise back from the scratch. Each one of them actively contributes towards the nation building. Almost 30 years ago, Professor Milton Friedman (Noble Prize Winner) an American Economist, on his visit to India had humorously remarked, "Lease out India to the Sikhs for a while and there will be no problem of development". Could there be any greater compliment to the Sikh spirit and enterprise. In spite of endless contributions made by Sikhs towards the nation building, our friends find them to be a laughing stock. Well, it makes no difference to the Sikhs as their pitchers are filled with unparalleled acts. As a nation we may lack the sense of humor but Sikhs are a rare species, with a great sense of humor. This is the community which has learnt to fight, succeed and laugh.

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