Kids Corner


This Needs Research - VI:
How Did Ranjit Singh Die?





It was a pure coincidence that I was introduced to both Napoleon Bonaparte and Ranjit Singh as a young boy and each became a life-long obsession.

Napoleon’s story was introduced to me in my pre-teen years by my grand-uncle, S. Avtar Singh, a senior official in the Indian Railway system, through tales he regaled me with during an inspection tour I accompanied him on, in his grand old ’residence-on-wheels’ for several days one winter.

Around the same period, during a family motoring trip one summer, we made a day-stop at Chunar Fort where Rani Jindan had been imprisoned by the British after their usurpation of the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab, and from which she made a dramatic escape to Nepal. That seminal story triggered a hunger in me to learn more about Ranjit Singh’s 19th century version of Camelot.

It therefore did not take me very long, as I ventured deeper into the lives of the two giants of history, to realize that there was a distinct similarity in which the two had spent -- separately, of course, and continents apart from each other -- their final months and years before death finally caught up with them. 

Each had languished in ailments that brought new waves of aches and pains; each gradually deteriorated, steadily sliding in health, until the final outcome.

Napoleon’s death intrigued scientists and scholars around the globe, egged on by detailed accounts of his daily trials and tribulations (subsequently obtained from meticulously kept diaries and journals) during his 5 ½ years in British captivity on St Helena, one of the most remote and isolated islands in the world.

Not too long ago, a team of scientists around the world carried out an independent and professional examination -- to pre-empt any ‘conspiracy theory’ critics and dismissals -- of samples of Napoleon’s hair (obtained from different and unconnected sources located in different countries) and came to the conclusion that the Emperor had been poisoned while in captivity and died as a result of poisoning.

His murder was ultimately achieved on May 5, 1821. Despite the evidence, the Brits and their apologists continue to concoct and weave other possible explanations, but carry little credibility.

I’m no medical practitioner, nor do I have any medical expertise. But I have found some alarming similarities in the circumstances around Ranjit Singh’s death, compared with Napoleon’s.

Remember, as I proceed, that Ranjit Singh died a mere 18 years after Napoleon. Ranjit Singh’s symptoms and ailments, however, had started several years earlier … at a time when the British would have been newly flushed by the glow of self-satisfaction from having had success in ridding themselves of another inconvenient monarch through less than honourable ways. If anything, the British are certainly not known to live by the Marquess of Queensbery Rules; they only cite them when they find themselves on the losing end of things.

No one has dared to date to study Ranjit Singh’s symptoms which led to his untimely death simply because, I believe, the issue has been swept under the proverbial rug by summarily ascribing his death to excessive drinking, drugs and, yes, ‘womanizing‘. No doubt, there is evidence of each of his addictions and his abuse of them, but mere anecdotes will not serve us well if we want to get to the truth.

I have no evidence to reject one theory or support another. But I do take exception to the fact that, especially after the revelations over Napoleon’s death during the last couple of decades, no attention has been similarly given to all the details we do have on Ranjit Singh’s final days, months and years.

Here are some facts:

The British had access to the ’technology’.

The Brits had easy access to the Maharaja at all times, in one or the other.

Ranjit Singh, like Napoleon, died a slow, prolonged death; the symptoms that ultimately killed both slowly built up over the course of a few years.

The Brits had the motive.

They certainly had the desire, given that the Sikh Kingdom stood in the way of their total domination of the subcontinent. They simply couldn’t get past Ranjit Singh, and he was still young and getting more powerful by the day.

They have a long, recorded history of such criminal mischief.

Time was of the essence: the Brits did not want to wait until a viable successor to Ranjit Singh would emerge to ably succeed him once he did die in the natural course.

The Brits had no scruples whatsoever over using such criminal practices vis-à-vis Punjab: all you have to do is go through the correspondence flitting back and forth between the senior Brits in India, and across from Britain as well. They were always ready, willing and able to ‘hold their noses‘ --  I use their own words here! -- as long as the desired end was achieved, no matter how unethical the means.

The Brits had easy access to the Maharaja; in fact British affiliated doctors often attended on him during the crucial years.

The British Resident in Lahore -- their ‘ambassador‘, that is -- closely monitored Ranjit Singh’s health as well as all the comings and goings vis-à-vis Ranjit Singh’s court, palace and royal apartments.

The British Resident was also in close touch with the Hindu Dogra brothers who had entered into a formal agreement with the Brits to help secure the Sikh Kingdom for the latter through betrayal and treason, in return for their being appointed rulers of the Kashmir region of the Sikh Empire. The Dogra brothers had total access to Ranjit Singh 24/7.

Ranjit Singh often complained about his distrust of British doctors or those sent by the Brits, having been attended by several of them. He is also on record of complaining about possibly being poisoned by them.

The revelation about Napoleon’s true cause of death was triggered by an observation by a Canadian medical doctor a few decades ago that the symptoms indicated a possibility of arsenic poisoning. The rest is history.

All I am asking is that Sikh scholars seek the involvement of medical doctors and scientists -- renowned, independent, and miles free of any influence from British interests or their allies -- and draw their professional conclusions from the evidence available today.

Again, the final determination could possibly rule out a Napoleon-type murder -- or not -- but we won’t know, will we, as exactly how the great Emperor of Punjab died unless proper research has been carried out. Or, it may not be final, but could point us in a certain direction.

Some of you may ask, 'Why do we need to know?' Do I need to point to the adage that 'those who don't know their history are bound to repeat it', etc? Knowing one's history incompletely or incorrectly only leads to incorrect decisions in the future.

Finally, a caveat: the investigation, if and when carried out, should be free of any involvement of India as well as Britain, directly or indirectly. There’s no point tainting the process from the very start.

There are a lot of reputable, retired Sikh doctors and scientists across the diaspora. Any takers?

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January 3, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Tony Singh (Canada), January 03, 2017, 3:00 PM.

T Sher Singh has raised a number of topics that are worthy of in-depth study and research. It is quite sad that the neglected areas have not been studied by professional historians at any of of the many institutions of higher learning in Punjab or India. What are they researching and studying at those institutions regarding Sikh history?

2: Harinder Singh (Punjab), January 04, 2017, 7:32 AM.

See the TV serial "Game of Thrones" to understand the fate of rulers.

3: J S Sidhu (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), January 04, 2017, 1:42 PM.

I read somewhere that whenever the British Resident went to see the Maharaja, he would bring two bottles of whiskey. One they shared and one he would leave behind. You don't have to make a big leap to see what was in the bottle.

4: Amarjit Singh Gill (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), January 09, 2017, 12:18 PM.

A new study recently carried out at University of Pavia (Italy) rules out any arsenic poisoning of Bonaparte Nepolean -- Nepolean shared the same food with his staff and British Officers. The only exception was his wine which was exclusively kept for him and Major General Montholon managed under his supervision. Arsenic level in his hair from his childhood till his death had the same level of arsenic, although high compared to acceptable levels of today. a new study has concluded that Napoleon died of stomach cancer. In case of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, no post-mortem was carried out. He regularly drank local brewed alcohol which was probably very high in alcohol volume.

5: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), January 09, 2017, 12:45 PM.

If Napoleon was indeed murdered, it would've been with the consent of a long list of other nations: for vested reasons, they all wanted him out of the way. The fact that an autopsy was conducted on Napoleon and not on Ranjit Singh means nothing. We can't automatically expect Napoleon's autopsy report to have been an honest one. It is for that reason some independent professionals - independent of national interests, but working with unconnected professionals from across the globe with samples of hair and details of symptoms which had remained in separate hands and on different continents right after the Emperor's death -- carried out extraordinary research and came to alarming conclusions. That is what research involves - something that has never been done vis-a-vis the Sikh Emperor's death. A good researcher does not accept available literature on face value, but follows an independent route to arrive at an objective conclusion, free of any influence or interference, and unafraid of whatever result is ultimately arrived at. Finally, even if we believe that Napoleon died a 'natural' death, it is worth noting how widely his death has been researched. Why then should we not do similar research on Ranjit Singh's death?

6: Balkar Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), January 09, 2017, 12:55 PM.

Amarjit ji (abov # 4) says: "He (Ranjit Singh) regularly drank local brewed alcohol which was probably very high in alcohol volume." This is a perfect example of how we have traditionally dismissed the need to dig further for the truth by relying on anecdotal 'evidence'. "Probably"? The work being suggested by the author of this article is in the bailiwick of scholars and scientists. The fact that this issue has never been approached seriously does not say much for the academia on the sub-continent.

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How Did Ranjit Singh Die?"

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