Stamps on Sikhs in Defense Forces by Rupinder Kaur
The creation of the Khalsa in 1699, by Guru Gobind Singh gave birth to an unprecedented class of ‘warrior saints’ in India. These initiates were never belly soldiers or mercenaries. The convention of soldier became a part of their spiritual make-up establishing them as defenders of religious freedom. The tradition was continued by Banda Singh Bahadur, Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Baba Deep Singh, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and other Sikh warriors. The most daring of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army was the Khalsa Army, which enabled him to expand his dominions far and wide. The British respected the Sikhs as worthy opponents and after the Anglo Sikh wars they eagerly incorporated them into their army as their finest soldiers.
The Indian National Army or the Azad Hind Fauz, first raised by General Mohan Singh and later on controlled by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had 12,000 Sikh soldiers out of 20,000. In 1943 the German Postal Services in collaboration with Netaji issued a set of ten stamps in six different designs honoring the Azad Hind movement. These Indian Legion Stamps or Cinderella Stampsprinted at Reichsdruckerrei, Berlin represent the first pictorial depiction of Sikh soldiers in postal history. One of the stamps in monochromatic brown colour depicts a close up of a Sikh soldier firing a German MG34 machine gun and was printed in both perforated as well as non-perforated form.
The other stamp in black and white shows a Sikh holding an Azad Hind flag with the words Azadon the saffron band, Hindon the green band and in the centre white band a springing tigerin lieu of Gandhi’s charkhasymbolising INA’s strength and their indomitable will to fight. The other two versions show the flag in only orange and complete white. The plus values presumably were intended to raise funds for the Government. They were designed by the team of two German artists Warner and Maria Von Axter-Heudtlass, whose ‘AXHEU’ signature appears unobtrusively in each design.
The presence of Sikhs in the Indian National Army can also be seen in a post-independence stamp of India. It was a set of two special stamps in the denomination of 15np and 55np each issued on the 67th Birth Anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1967. Of these, the latter shows a black and white picture of the leader with the national flag in the foreground and some Sikh soldiers in the background. The symbol of INA is shown on the right. Two covers were released, one with the picture of INA Martyrs Memorial in Singapore and another with the INA symbol above the marching soldiers.
After India’s independence Sikhs soldiers continued serving in the various regiments and battalions and took part in all the major wars and operations with which the Indian defense forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) have been associated. They have performed their assignments in the inclement weather and odd climatic conditions and faced new challenges from the enemies at the threshold of the borders with utmost courage. The Indian government through its Department of Posts and Telegraphs, has over the past decades, commemorated its brave soldiers by issuing special stamps. These stamps and first day covers provide a visual recollection of the history of the regiments and also depict the awards and medals received by the soldiers for their valor and determination.
In 1979, the India Post released a stamp on the Fourth Reunion of Punjab Regiment, one of the oldest battalions since British rule. Before coming into existence this regiment has gone through many changes in its organization and composition. It faced aggression during the pre-independenc period and won several gallantry awards including a Victoria Cross. In the post-independence India, the heroic deeds of its soldiers have been honoured with gallantry awards like Mahavir Chakra and Paramvir Chakra. This multicoloured stamp of 25 Paisa denomination shows three soldiers standing in different profiles from the years 1799, 1901 and 1979. A vast change can be seen in their uniforms, headgears and foot wears which has come over in this period spanning two centuries. The cover shows five medals in golden colour against a dull green background. This regiment has the distinction of fighting on the land and in sea as well. This is exemplified by the regimental crest which shows a ‘Galley’ (warship using sails and oars) on the stamp and the cancellation.
Before independence the Regiment of Artillery served the British Indian Army with distinction in the Afghan Wars and the First World War. In 1935, ‘A’ Field Brigade, comprising four batteries of horse drawn guns, was raised at Bangalore. Though the history of artillery goes back even much before this period, the regiment opted to adopt this as its birthday as it was the first wholly Indian Artillery Unit. On the occasion of its Golden Jubilee in 1985, the Postal Department issued a Rs. 1 stamp showing a gunner from a 19th C mountain battery and a 3.7 inch mountain howitzer of the 20th C. The cover shows a 130 mm medium gun firing a shell while the cancellation shows the numeral ‘50’ written in the centre of the circle indicting the number of years.
The heroic and valiant battles fought by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s ‘Khalsa Army’ led to the formation of the Sikh Regiment in 1846. It is the most decorated regiment of Indian Army and is the proud recipient of the Victoria Cross, Param Vir Chakra, Ashoka Chakra and number of other prestigious medals. To commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Sikh Regiment in 1996, the India Post issued a Rs. 5 stamp which shows a Sikh soldier holding a rifle standing in front of a monument representing the khanda. The cover shows a long list of awards received by the Regiment along with their numbers and on the left is written, ‘Valour: Our Tradition’.
On the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the Indian Republic in 2000, the Postal Department of India released a set of five stamps to commemorate the war heroes honored by Param Vir Chakra (PVC) – the highest gallantry award in Armed forces. The first day cover shows an overview of Republic Day Parade with five stamps of Rs. 3 each depicting Abdul Hamid, M.N. Mulla, Albert Ekka and two Sikhs- Karam Singh and Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon. Karam Singh laid down his life while fighting against Pakistanis in 1948 in Jammu and Kashmir and thus forced the intruders to retreat from the Indian territory. Nirmal Jit Singh shot down two Pakistani planes in 1971 and during this combat his aircraft finally crashed and he lost his life. These stamps show the portraits of these patriots behind the background of Indian tri-colour.
Another old battalion of the Indian Army, 15 Punjab (Patiala) was raised in 1705 by Baba Ala Singh. Serving in different geographical locations, the battalion has displayed gallantry in different parts of the globe as well as in the country. In 1951 the unit was integrated into the Indian Army and was redesignated as 15 Punjab (Patiala). In the 1971 war against Pakistan, the battalion fought heroically at Hussainawala. It also showed exemplary performance during counter insurgency operation in Jammu and Kashmir and was awarded Kirti and Shaurya Chakras. During Operation Vijay in 1999 they were awarded Vishisht Sewa Medal. On completion of 300 years of the 15 Punjab (Patiala) India Post issued a multicoloured stamp of Rs. 5 in 2005 which shows three soldiers standing in various profiles and postures. Their uniforms also show significant changes in the past and present times. The cover shows a pencil sketch of a mountain landscape with a line of soldiers passing through the hills.
The Third Battalion of the Sikh Regiment was formed at Lahore in 1856. In the pre-independence history it participated in both the World Wars and earned various battle honours. Apart from battles it excels in the field of sports also. The regiment celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2006 and a commemorative multicoloured stamp of Rs. 5 was released depicting a Sikh soldier standing on the left side and in the background a group of soldiers marching through an open plain. The first day cover has the detail from a painting in which some soldiers are playing musical instruments.
In 1708 the ruler of Nabha formed some irregular forces and sent them to help Guru Gobind Singh in fighting against the Mughals at Muktsar and Sirhind. Later in 1757 a regular brigade was formed out of these forces and in 1759 it was named Nabha Akal Infantry. In 1951 the unit was finally integrated in the Indian Army and in 1954 designated as 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal). This unit was also a part of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Angola in 1995-96. On completion of its 250 years a special stamp of Rs. 5 was released in 2008 showing two soldiers standing in attention on the right and on the left side three badges are shown one below the other. The cover shows similar multiple soldiers standing on the left. Above them the same badges appear once again. The cancellation shows one of the badges representing the ‘khanda’.
On the tercentenary of 16 Punjab (2nd Patiala) India Post released a special stamp of Rs. 5 denomination in 2010. This battalion was raised in 1710 by Baba Ala Singh and later reorganized and renamed many times. It has actively participated in most of the major operations and wars during pre and post independence period. During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the battalion captured Barki in Lahore and was awarded the battle honour ‘Barki’ for its outstanding achievements. The stamp shows two soldiers standing within an oval frame against a back drop of a ship at sea symbolizing the numerous sea travels made by the Punjab Regiment. The cover shows the portrait of Baba Ala, sitting on the ground. The cancellation again shows the regimental crest of the Punjab Regiment.
This article is a tribute to the Sikh soldiers who have fought with their traditional determination and have been instrumental in numerous victories in all the major wars and operations undertaken by the India Army.
Material Courtsey: Surinder Singh & Rupinder Kaur
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