Khan Sahib was in a dark cell. The intoxication of his drinking had long since vanished. His eyes were sunk deep into his skull and his clothes hung loosely on him. His face wore a look of deep dejection and shame. But it was too late and, though he felt penitent, he knew there could be no reprieve for him.
He looked up as a palanquin was brought and placed near the cell door. He knew his wife was coming for a last meeting with him; but he was astonished when shortly a beautiful girl got out and with quick steps entered the cell. She glanced around to see that they were not being observed, and spoke quietly but firmly, "There is no time to explain anything. Quickly change into these ladies clothes and keeping your face covered, get into the palanquin. When you reach your house, take your family and find the quickest way to escape to Hindustan. You can discuss the details with your wife, but please, be quick now!" The Khan wanted to ask a number of questions, but the girl's insistence to hurry made him curb his curiosity and quietly he obeyed her.
In a short while the guards returned and, unaware of the exchange, picked up the palanquin and carried it away after locking the cell door.
The next morning all preparations for the execution were made in a open ground. A big crowd had collected and, when the time came, guards were sent to fetch the prisoner. To their astonishment they found a young girl sitting in a corner. Near her was lying a bundle of clothes. They called the jailor, who was also taken aback, and shaking with rage, shouted at the girl, "Who are you? Where is Khan Sahib?"
The girl, Satwant Kaur, looked at them with a calm demeanor and replied politely, "I am the one who came in the palanquin yesterday. Khan Sahib left instead of me. Now that I am here, you can execute me instead."
Jailor: This is outrageous! O woman, you have dared to outwit me? You should be cut into pieces and fed to the vultures.
Satwant Kaur: You are right. But I have repaid my debt and saved a life. Now you do your duty and take my life. I accept the punishment.
Jailor: What? You want me to be responsible for killing a woman? Never! I'll never do such a thing. But what shall I tell my master? A seasoned jailor like me-outwitted by a scrap of a girl! If I kill you I am branded a coward, if I release you I am not doing my duty, and if I go and tell all this to my master, I shall look such a fool.
Satwant Kaur: Don't worry. The order was for the palanquin to be brought in and taken out with all its curtains closed. How can you be blamed then? Tell the whole story as it happened. I am ready to face the consequences. I am not afraid to die. I am happy because I have saved a life. I received goodness from someone when I was helpless, and I have returned this in good measure.
The jailor was astonished to hear these words. He thought for some time, but when no other way seemed open to him, he went to the darbar and related the whole story to his ruler.
The Amir was intrigued, "Who is this young woman-so courageous and self-sacrificing? Bring her here immediately," he ordered.
The jailor left at once and soon presented the girl to the Amir, who asked her, "Who are you, and why have you risked your life in this manner?"
Satwant Kaur: I belong to Punjab and I am the daughter of a Sikh. Under your tyrannous rule, I was captured and, along with others, brought here and sold like cattle. I was taken to Khan Sahib's house-the same Khan whose execution you ordered today. I was not his servant, but served his wife Fatima from whom I received love and kindness. I am here to repay the debt I owe her, in the only way I can. Yes, I helped Khan Sahib to escape, but I am not a criminal.
Amir: You are a very brave woman. You have done something not many would have attempted. Unfortunately you are a Sikh and so must face the consequences. But justice also demands that bravery is to be rewarded. What reward should be given to you?
Satwant Kaur: I don't want anything. But I would like to ask one question.
Amir: What is that?
Satwant Kaur: Why are Sikhs treated so badly? Aren't they human beings?
Amir: Sikhs are human, but they are dacoits and they obstruct my invasions into Punjab. Also they are kafirs and so must be killed.
Satwant Kaur: Sikhs are not dacoits. Your generals are the dacoits. They loot your subject in Punjab with the help of the local governors. They are busy laying your whole kingdom to waste. The Sikhs, who are always trying to protect the common man, are unjustly blamed and killed. There is no one to listen to them, as those who are in a position to dispense justice are themselves embroiled in wrong doing. The rulers in Delhi have power but, like old lions, they are incapable of any action. It is not correct for you to have this enmity towards the Sikhs. They only attack the rulers if they are tyrants. Punjab is our homeland, our birthplace and our country. You have no right o invade it, loot it and rule over it. To protect their homeland from foreign invasion, the Sikhs rightfully fight you. I am speaking the honest truth, and I am not afraid because I do not fear death. It is in your power to take my life, and I accept that. My only wish was to get a chance to convey my feelings, and I am glad I have had that chance. Now give the order to your executioner to wield his sword.
The people were awe-struck at the boldness of this young woman, and her fearless words spoken so defiantly in the open court.
The Amir sat, his mind full of conflicting emotions-anger, pity, and even love-at the daring of this slip of a girl. Turning to her, he asked, "You have shown immense confidence and intelligence. Tell me how did you get captured?"
Satwant Kaur: Amir Sahib, it's a sorry tale but, since you have asked, I shall tell you. One of your officers was galloping through our village when his horse stumbled and the man fell into a well near our house. With the help of some people my father managed to pull him out, and looked after him for more than week. When he became well he set off for Ludhiana, which is a town not very far from our village. One day my father received a letter from this officer saying: "I am very grateful to you and your daughter for the care given to me. My wife wants to meet your daughter as she is lonely. Please send her." My father refused.
After a few days this officer came to our village with his wife and made camp there. His wife began to visit us and she and I became good friends. One day, when I went to meet her, they overpowered me and, taking me prisoner, left the very same day.
(to be continued...)