Wednesday, June 4, 2014

THE SIKH TRAUMA OF 1984 - PART ONE


Note: I have slightly revised this article that I wrote a couple years ago to make it more understandable to non-Sikhs, especially to my Irish and Palestinian friends.  I believe I have defined words that would probably be unfamiliar and I have kept Sikh philosophy and religious teachings to a minimum.  This is merely my description of what happened in 1984.  

I have tried to write this as factually as possible.  This is difficult for a couple of reasons.  The first is that many of the facts, especially casualty figures, are in dispute.  I have included the whole range of these figures. Certainly, the low figures are magnitudes too low and it is almost certain that even the high figures given are lower than the death tolls actually were. India is not a country that keeps meticulous records of anything, except, it seems, the addresses of Sikh families and businesses and probably addresses of Muslim families and businesses.  The Muslims have also felt the wrath of the government of India, although not to the genocidal extremes that the Sikhs have.  India is not kind to its various minority groups.

The second is that I am biased myself.   I am a Sikh.  How could I not be biased? These events impacted me as much as they would any Sikh.  In addition I support the establishment of the Sikh homeland of Khalistan.   This is known;  I have been quite public in my support.

To understand anything about the Sikh Kaum (Nation) today, it is necessary to understand the events of 1984. Here, as briefly as I can tell it, is a narrative of those events. I do not pretend to be unbiased, but I do believe it is accurate.
The Golden Temple  - Darbar  Sahib (Amritsar)



I personally believe that, since the Creator pervades the creation, every place is equally holy. Even so, some places have a special spiritual significance to us. To Sikhs, Darbar Sahib, called the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Punjab, India is such a place. In June 1984, during a major Sikh holiday when there were tens of thousands of people in the Darbar Sahib, the Indian Army launched a major military offensive, called Operation Blue Star against the Sikh nation centering on Darbar Sahib and other gurudwaras, Sikh houses of worship, in Punjab. The number of Sikh civilians can never be known, but certainly numbers in the thousands.

To understand why, you will need to understand a bit of Indian history. 

In 1947, when what had been the Raj ruled by Great Britain was partitioned into India and Pakistan, although the Sikhs were offered a portion of the partition, they foolishly threw in their lot with India’s Congress Party, even though Partition ripped the Sikh homeland of Punjab down the middle, leaving half in Pakistan and half in India and later causing untold misery to the entire Sikh Nation.

TheSikh Lionz website explains why the Sikh “leadership” chose this path.
The following solemn assurances were given:

"Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress to you. Our Sikhs friends have no reason to fear that it would betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. Moreover, the Sikhs are brave people. They know how to safeguard their rights, by the exercise of arms, with perfect justification before God and man, if it should ever come to that" (Young India 19 March 1931, M.K. Gandhi)

"No Constitution would be acceptable to the Congress which did not satisfy the Sikhs." (Collected works of M K Gandhi Vol.58. p. 1931)

The brave Sikhs of Panjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom. (Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress meeting: Calcutta - July, 1944)

However, when independence was achieved, the Sikhs’ hopes were dashed by a cavalier, “The situation has changed. We’re in charge now” from Nehru. Not only were Sikhs not granted freedom in their part of the ripped apart Punjab, but the Indian Constitution gave Sikhs the ultimate insult by being legally classified as Hindus in the Indian Constitution, which, by the way, has never been ratified by the Sikhs.

The Sikh homeland Panjab was divided and the Sikhs suffered great loss. Sikh shrines such as Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and many more along with the capital city of Lahore were given to Pakistan, over 70% of the most fertile land owned by Sikhs was taken by Pakistan and over 500,000 Sikh men, women and children lost their lives during the partition.  




Between the horrors of Partition, caused primarily by the premature departure of the British Army, and the betrayal by the now ruling Congress Party of India, the Sikh Kaum was left in a weakened state, not defeated but definitely beaten down. I will not chronicle here all the indignities heaped on the Sikhs by the Indian rulers, but they were many and often violent.

Years passed and the dream of an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan in Punjab caught fire amongst the Sikhs. A charismatic young preacher named Jarnail Singh whose seminary, the Damdami Taksal was headquartered in the village of Bhindran, who became known as Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale rose up and began preaching to young Sikhs to take Amrit, the Sikh initiation, and follow the dictates of the Sikh religion, including refraining from tobacco and all intoxicants, saying daily prayers and keeping kesh (unshorn hair). 

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale  with his wife and children


He caught the attention of Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, who by this time was Prime Minister of India. She tried to corrupt him into being her puppet amongst the Sikhs. Lions are not so easily tamed. Sant ji, as he came to be known, was not at first a supporter of Khalistan, but in time he came to realize that the Sikhs could not survive under the oppression of the Indian Brahmins and that a separate homeland was necessary. During this time, an armed struggle ensued with Sant ji and Amritdhari Sikhs, the Khalsa (the Pure) on one side and the Indian ruling class on the other.

The Sikhs have always been known as great warriors, fighting for the oppressed against any aggressor, according to the very strict rules of conduct of the Sikh faith. Originally, the Sikhs had fought to free the Hindus first from the Mughuls, a group of cruel Muslim rulers, then from the British(1); now the Sikhs were called upon to free themselves from those who had become their Hindu masters. During this period known as the Militancy, starting in the 1970s and lasting through much of the 1990s, the first wave of Sikh struggle for autonomy was fought.

note:

(1) It is a myth that Indian independence from Britain was achieved non-violently. Non-violence was used only in the very last phase. Here are some of the relevant fact again from the Sikh Lionz website:

The Sikhs played a pioneering role in India's struggle for independence from the British. They made sacrifices wholly out of proportion to their demographic strength (the Sikhs make up less than 2% of the Indian population).
(Figures below provided by Maulana Abdul Azad, President of the Congress Party at the time of Independence.)


Out of 2125 Indians killed in the atrocities by the British, 1550 (73%) were Sikhs.

Out of 2646 Indians deported for life to the Andaman Islands (where the British exiled political and hardened criminals) 2147 (80%) were Sikhs.

Out of 127 Indians sent to the gallows, 92 (80%) were Sikhs.

At Jalliawalla Bagh out of the 1302 men, women and children slaughtered, 799 (61%) were Sikhs.
In the Indian Liberation Army, out of the 20,000 ranks and officers, 12,000 (60%) were Sikhs.

Out of 121 persons executed during the freedom struggle, 73 (60%) were Sikhs.


The Sikhs, who had thrown themselves, heart and soul, into the Indian independence struggle, were the third party with whom the British negotiated for the transfer of power. However, due to inadequacy of Sikh leadership, misplaced trust and false promises made by Gandhi and Nehru, the Sikhs lost their claim to power.




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