JHAṬKĀ, the Sikh mode of killing an animal for food, also stands for the meat of an animal or bird so killed. Derived, etymologically, from jhaṭ, an adverb meaning instantly, immediately or at once, jhaṭkā signifies a jerk, snap, jolt or a swift blow. For Sikhs jhaṭkā karnā or jhaṭkāuṇā means to slaughter the animal instantaneously, severing the head with a single stroke of any weapon or killing with gunshot or electrocution. The underlying idea is to kill the animal with the minimum of torture to it. Jhaṭkā is opposed to kuṭṭhā, that is meat of an animal slaughtered by a slow process in the Muslim way known as halāl (lit. legal, legitimate, lawful). Kuṭṭhā is a participle derived from the Punjabi verb kohṇā (lit. to torture). While slaughtering for food, a Muslim must incise the throat of the animal to the accompaniment of the exclamation of the kalimā, the Islamic formula meaning "By the name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate." For jhaṭkā, a Sikh while delivering the blow may utter Sat Srī Akāl (lit. True is the Timeless Lord), which is both a Sikh war slogan and a salutation, but there is no idea of sacrifice or ritual involved in such utterance, and it is not mandatory either. Sikhism does not sanction sacrificial or ritual killing.
Historically, there is no positive injunction enforcing jhaṭkā mode of slaughter laid down by the Gurūs. However, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, when manifesting the order of the Khālsā in 1699, enjoined upon Sikhs to abstain from kuṭṭhā or halāl meat introduced by the Muslim ruling class. That many high-ranking Hindus had succumbed to the practice of eating kuṭṭhā is evidenced from a verse of Gurū Nānak's in Āsā kī Vār: "They eat kuṭṭhā of goats killed with the pronouncement of alien words, i.e. kalimā, but do not allow anyone to enter their cooking square (to guard against pollution by touch…" Instructions regarding jhaṭkā mode of slaughter are contained in various Rahitnāmās or codes of conduct for the Sikhs, and the Sikh chronicles written during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They all affirm that Gurū Gobind Siṅgh made the taking of kuṭṭhā one of the four major kurahits, or violations of the Sikh code of conduct. However, two of these sources say positively : "Kill the male goat in the jhaṭkā way if you want to eat, but do not ever look at any other type of meat" (Rahitnāmā of Bhāī Desā Siṅgh), and "Slaughter male goats through jhaṭkā and eat; do not go near carrion or kuṭṭhā" (Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh). Rahitnāmā of Bhāī Desā Siṅgh also enjoins the slaughtering to be carried out away from the kitchen. Traditionally, it is also to be away from a holy spot. The mention of male goat in the chronicles is only illustrative and does not exclude other animals or birds the flesh of which the Sikhs usually eat.
Not many Sikhs are habitually meat-eaters. Their staple diet mainly consists of cereals, pulses, vegetables and milk products. Some of their sects even practise strict vegetarianism. The Sikh religion however neither recommends nor prohibits the eating of flesh. During their own rule in Punjab, the Sikhs practised tolerance and never tried to enforce jhaṭkā on their Muslim subjects. But during the British rule, the predominating Muslim community in western Punjab opposed jhaṭkā. Even at government level, jhaṭkā was not allowed in jails and Sikh detenues during the Akālī movement and after had to resort to protests and agitations to secure this right. One of the terms in the settlement between the Akālīs and the Muslim-dominated Unionist government in the Punjab in 1942 was that the use of jhaṭkā meat would be permissible in public institutions.
Piārā Siṅgh Sāmbhī