In terms of the ratio on the odds faced, only a few battles come close to those faced by 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikhs in Saragarhi, North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) in present day Pakistan. On September 12, 1897 these 21 Sikh soldiers were up against approximately 10,000 – 14,000 Afridi and Orakzai tribes of the Pashtun. The battle occurred in the North-West Frontier Province, which formed part of British India.
Reason behind Battle:
Saragarhi, itself, was little more than a small block house and a signaling tower. It was constructed to enable communications between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, two more significant British posts situated on either side of Saragarhi, albeit several miles apart.
In order to cut-off any contact between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, the Pashtuns attacked the communications post in Saragarhi quite sure that a handful of soldiers could not do anything to stop the siege in any significant way.
The leader of the pack Ishwar Singh knew that holding off the army of Pashtuns was neither practical nor logical but one thing that Sikhs are widely known for is their bravery.
He ordered his men to prepare for battle & sent out the message to Lt. Col. John Haughton, Commanding Officer of the 36th Sikhs, saying “ENEMY APPROACHING THE MAIN GATE…NEED REINFORCEMENT”.
The main strategy of the Sikh Regiment was to force the Pashtuns to engage in a battle and hold them off till help arrived even if it meant sacrificing their lives to defend the post.
The first man to get injured was Bhagwan Singh and the last man to fall was Gurmukh Singh, the heliograph operator, whose battle cry, “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal,” was heard until the end.
The staggering ratio of 1:500 stacked against the Sikhs is both unmatched and unprecedented, ensuring their “last stand” will never be forgotten in Indian history.
Sikh military personnel and Sikh civilians commemorate the battle every year on 12 September, as Saragarhi Day as the battle was given the honour of a regimental holiday. The soldiers were awarded the Indian order of merit and the battle is still remembered today as one of the most epic last stands by an Indian regiment in its history.