A heroic Orakzai Pashtun who saved the lives of thousands of Muslims from a genocidal maniac

In 1709, a sudden calamity fell upon Punjab, which shocked everyone in the Mughal empire. A Sikh leader by name of Banda Singh Bairagi (mentioned as “false Guru” in Mughal sources) committed barbarities which were never before heard of in India. The author of “Siar-ul-Mutakhireen” (written in 1780) writes:

” He (Guru Gobind) was succeeded by Banda, that butcher-like man. This infernal man having assembled multitudes of desperate fellows, all as enthusiasts, and all as thirsty of revenge as himself, commenced ravaging the country with such a barbarity as had never had an example in India. They spared no Mohammedan, whether man or woman or child.  Pregnant women had their bellies ripped open, and their children dashed against their faces or against the walls.” It is no wonder that the mild Bahadur Shah shuddered on hearing of such atrocious deeds.”

After destroying Sirhind city and killing every Muslim man, women and children there, the large horde of Banda Bairagi, numbering 70 to 80 thousand, crossed river Jammuna and marched upon Saharanpur (western U.P). Ali Hamid Khan Qanauji, faujdar of that part of the country, could not gather courage and in spite of offers by the Pashtuns and other leading Muslims to repair the walls and stand on defensive, that very night marched away from Saharanpur, and took road to Delhi. The Sikhs learning that the imperial officer had abandoned the town, made all haste to the spot, soon overcame the resistance of the inhabitants, and subjected it to same atrocities as in Sirhind. The whole country, far and near, was in a panic. Those people who were rich enough or lucky to obtain means of conveyance, carried of their goods and families. The rest, taking their wives and children by the hand, fled on foot. Women who had rarely been outside the court of their own house and had never gone one step out of it on foot, were forced to walk distances of thirty and forty miles. Many women threw themselves into wells to avoid outrage. In this way half of the sarkar of Saharanpur fell into the hands of the Sikhs.

About thirty miles south of Saharanpur town, a Pashtun zamindar by name of Jalal Khan Orakzai possessed certain villages in the pargana of Thana Bhawan in Saharanpur Sarkar and had built a town which he had named Jalalabad after himself. His father, Hazar Mir Orakzai of Miranzai Khel, had come to India during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan. The town of Jalalabad was surrounded by mud walls and was largely inhabited by Pashtun clansmen of Jalal Khan. 

After the conquest of Saharanpur town, the Sikhs wrote to Jalal Khan Orakzai, calling upon him to submit. When the Sikh messengers came before Jalal Khan Orakzai, he treated the message with contempt and kicked out Sikh messengers from the town. He made immediate preparations for the defense of Jalalabad town. Soon word was brought that the Sikhs had surrounded two large villages, dependent on and situated four or five miles from Jalalabad. To relieve those two villages, Jalal Khan sent out a lashkar headed by his grandson (Ghulam Muhammad Khan) and his cousin (Hizbar Khan). Encouraged by the arrival of the reinforcements, the besieged villagers, four or five hundred men, armed with matchlocks or bows, and a number of their tenantry armed in various ways, many with only slings and stones, came out boldly to disperse the Sikhs. In the fight Hizbar Khan and a number of both Pashtuns and Indian villagers lost their lives. But, in the end, pressed by repeated onslaughts from the Pashtuns, the Sikhs gave away.

Other contests followed between the Sikhs and Jalal Khan Orakzai. The latter repulsed Sikhs three times. Sikhs were baffled by the defeats so their entire force, consisting of seventy to eighty thousand men, came to attack Jalalabad town. The Sikh assailants prepared two or three hundred movable batteries, formed of planks and mounted on cartwheels. Jalalabad was closely invested. When these batteries were brought to the foot of the walls and close to the town gate, the Sikhs showered from them bullets and arrows and stones upon the Pashtuns, then four or five hundred men, carrying mattocks and other tools, rushed forward, intending to dig through the earthen wall, to affix ladders, and to set fire to the gates. At such moments, the Orakzai Pashtuns threw open the gates and, sword in hand, with their shields raised before their faces, made a rush upon the foe. At each sally they cut down two or three hundred of the Sikhs, at the same time losing many lives on their own side. At night-time other sallies were made, when the Sikh besiegers were caught unawares and put to the sword. For twenty days the besieged found no proper leisure to eat their food or to take rest. In the end, after losing some thousands of men, the Sikhs withdrew without having been able to take the town.

Disheartened by the humiliating defeats at the hands of Jalal Khan Orakzai, Sikhs returned to Punjab. The author of contemporary source Ibrat-nama (written in 1719 by Mirza Muhammad) writes:

“The Sikhs in the (Ganga-Yamuna) Doab who after the capture of Saharanpur, entertained the ambition of conquering that entire territory, suffered much punishment from the swords of the sons and relatives of Jalal Khan Ruhela, the master of Jalalabad, 7 kurohs from Deoband. Thereafter, contenting themselves with they had already obtained in the Doab, they turned back from there.” 

However, Jalal Khan Orakzai and his men did not allow Sikhs to do as they pleased. They started hunting down Sikh marauders. A Mughal court news-letter dated to August 15, 1710 – Tuesday says:

” The emperor was informed that Gobind [Banda Singh] with a horde of seven thousand horsemen and four thousand foor-soldiers marching from Dabar had reached Juhaal. The Sikhs intended to cross river Jamuna. Hearing the news Jalal Khan decided to block their passage on the ford of the said river and planned to punish them. “

For the victories over the Sikhs, Jalal Khan was rewarded by the Nazim of Delhi, on 31st August 1710 AD, with the Faujdari of Saharanpur deserted by Ali Hamid Khan Qanauji. He was raised to the rank of two thousand and five hundred in the reign of Jahandar Shah, with a further promotion during Farrukh Siyar’s time. He died in September 1718 AD.

Orakzai tribe
Drawing of a Pashtun, 1911
1- Later Mughals” by William Irvine ;
2- Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Maula translated by Dr.Bhagat Singh and published in “Punjab Past and Present”

3- Sikh History From Persian Sources – by JS Grewal and Irfan Habib


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