SIKLIGAR: The Weapon Makers of the Khalsa Army

As a community, we have an incredibly rich history and yet we often know so little about it.  The first time I learned about the Sikligar community was after watching Mandeep Sethi’s documentary at a local film festival, about this community of Sikhs known to be the weapon makers of the Khalsa army. Unfortunately, very little is known about the Sikligars by those living both within and outside of India and Mandeep’s film will be a first glimpse into the community for many. The Sikligars are found across India – displaced through years of colonization and government oppression.  It is known that the community was given the name Sikligar by the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji and yet even this honor has not prevented the community from struggling – Sikligars now live in extreme poverty in the slums of Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra.  There are also encampments in Punjab.  Although this community has been largely illiterate for the last 300 years (focusing on their trade and thus livelihood), the Sikligars are beginning to empower themselves through different means such as education. For the first time, the full length documentary is available online!  Over the past few months, I’ve joined Mandeep at several film screenings of his documentary and I’ve asked him some questions about SIKLIGAR which you can find after the jump.

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The Langar HallHow did you first learn about the Sikligar community?

Mandeep Sethi: I had heard about the Sikligar community through a few online sources, but my first real introduction to the Sikligars was through Sami Brar, who I met through the Sikh Activist Network. She was volunteering in India with A Little Happiness Foundation, and reached out to me to collaborate with her on this documentary.

TLHWhat surprised you most about the community after making the film?

MS: The most surprising thing to me was how dedicated this community was to the original trade Guru Gobind Singh Ji named them after, and how they continue to preserve that tradition even through their work in the modern context.

TLHWhat is the relationship between the Sikligar community and the mainstream Sikh community in India?

MS: Many Sikhs in India, and around the world, are unfamiliar with the history and present context of the Sikligars. Through my travels in India, it seems that those who are connected to the Sikligar community have been introduced to them in person, seeing them in their communities and cities, but nothing much deeper than that. I think on a general level, the mainstream Sikh community in India, and globally, is disconnected from much of our tradition and history.

TLHDo you think the honor in this rich history is being confounded by the socioeconomic issues the community is facing?

MS: The socioeconomic issues the community is facing are due to a number of factors, including discrimination by the census of the Indian government, lack of resource allocation, and apathy by surrounding Sikh communities to engage and act.

TLHWhat is one message you hope viewers will take away from this film?

MS:I hope viewers will learn about the Sikligar community, and open their eyes to the fact that the Sikh community is much more diverse than we think. There is so much depth to Sikhi that has been lost in the modernities of the “religion” and tradition, with an eerie sense that the faith is being commercialized into a cookie cutter formula of praying to God and keeping our hair. Sikhi’s original message, the message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, was always to question the norms around us, and to build intellectual and spirituall relationships with all those beings around us. I hope this documentary will push both Sikhs and non-Sikhs to take a deeper look at the grand world around us and realize their position, power, and privilege within that context. I also hope that people will donate to A Little Happiness Foundation by visiting this link and providing some assistance for this amazing organization. Knowledge + Action = Change

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11 Responses to “SIKLIGAR: The Weapon Makers of the Khalsa Army”

  1. […] More information about the film — and the charitable foundation taking up their cause — is below, and a recent interview with Mandeep Sethi about this project is on The Langar Hall. […]

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