Sikh Intelligentsia needs to understand real history to know today's placing of Sikhs in India
The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
– George Orwell
A former Defense Minister of Japan aptly said: 'History is too important to be left to newspaper editors'. The media, invariably, glosses over what actually happened on the ground and help the rulers in gradual blunting of the horrible edges of colossal human tragedy and atrocities into something 'banal'—means a trivial and uninterested matter for the common man. Should the victims be made to forget 'how they were demonized to justify the state repression on them'?
And, a sociologist commenting on 'Politics from November 1984 to Gujarat 2002 pogroms of Sikh and Muslims' says: "Evil becomes banal when it acquires an unthinking and systematic character, when ordinary people participate in it and justify it in countless ways. There are no moral conundrums or revulsion. Evil does not even look like evil, it becomes faceless".
For a better understanding of such process of banalisation, the Sikhs should know the recently past history to enable them to assess their present placing and future probabilities in India. Historical studies, however, could also be a part of disinformation project for its being a sponsored one or an outpouring of a jaundiced mind (Left historians' nationalistic perspective tend to overlook repression on the Sikhs)'. The suggestion of eminent historiographer E. H .Carr is worth remembering that one must know the credentials and background of the author before reading his/her book. In this context, late Ram Narayan Kumar stands apart and so is his book "Terror in Punjab – Narrative, Knowledge and Truth".1
What Kumar, an outsider to Punjab had understood about the machinations of New Delhi and leaders of the Indian freedom movement, the Sikh intellectuals rarely comprehended that. Right from his adolescent years, Kumar had plunged in grass-roots work, public campaigns and defiance of the authority which saw him jailed and tortured during Emergency and put him on the path of life-long struggle for human rights. He was found dead at the age of 53 at his Kathmandu flat in 2009. Kumar got interested in the Sikh affairs when he was helping the Sikh victims of November Sikh pogrom in Delhi. Later, he devoted 19 years in Punjab for getting justice for the victimized Sikhs and in documenting the state atrocities on the Sikh minority. During that period, he studied the Sikh history, culture, and religion and produced four books of an academic excellence.
The Sikh intellectuals should ponder over the points raised by Kumar in his analysis of 'the Sikh affairs vis-a-vis Indian state' how the Sikhs were reduced to the status of 'second-rate citizens' deserving to be subjected to the pogrom of November 1984 and denial of justice thereafter. Unearthing the real history (not to be glossed over by official narratives) could help the Sikhs understand the exact root causes behind the army attack on the Golden Temple and foisting of the Center's proxy governments headed by its loyal Akali leaders in Punjab thereafter. They should fathom the political designs of the Indian Establishment which got manifested in its feverish playing up of the alternate Akali and Congress governments as 'restoration of democracy' in Punjab during the mid 1980s. In fact, both the Akali and Congress leaders of the Sikhs have proved themselves as lackeys of New Delhi and they surreptitiously implemented the Indian State's writ and political agenda in Punjab. That is why, the rule of so-called Sikh leaders during the post-Operation Blue Star period in Punjab saw the deterioration of education and health services, an alarming increase in farmers' suicides, the rampant spread of intoxicants among the Sikh youth and replacing of Punjabi language and culture by the Hindi dispensation. We should analyse properly the developments of the near past to know that for retaining the security network stringently repressive in Punjab, the word ' terrorism' was deliberately tagged on to the Sikhs. At the same time, use of word 'terrorism' for Hindus indulging in terrorist activities in some other parts of India is abhorrent for the Indian Establishment. The roots of all the above-listed ailments afflicting the Sikhs lie in the Indian Establishment's project of building the Indian subcontinent as a 'Nation-State' on the Hindu religio-cultural ethos leaving a little space for the proliferation of the Sikh culture in Punjab and way of life in India. And, whenever the Sikhs resisted hegemonical moves of New Delhi, they were branded as 'separatists, terrorists and anti-national' – a 'legitimate excuse' for unleashing a reign of State terror in Punjab.
Ironically, what Kumar, a non-Sikh, vividly exposes the New Delhi's 'machinations' in Punjab, the Sikh intellectuals have rarely been able to visualize that.
Explaining 'What is Sikh Dissent?', Kumar says: "The Sikh dissent is essentially grounded in an emotive rejection of India's historical blunders that have reduced the promise of 'swaraj' (self-rule) and struggles of the people in the Indian sub-continent against the British imperialism to the deception and the negation of the promise in the post-colonial period. The Sikh dissent is the negation of this negation and it has, as a project of recovering the denied, failed."2
Who is a Sikh and what constitutes the uniqueness of a Sikh IDENTITY? The Sikh a disciple and learner, of what ten Gurus, as enshrined in by the Guru Granth, (scripture) as recited and revered by the community of initiated Sikhs or 'Khalsa', who is neither a HINDU nor a MUSALMAN. The answer is primordial to the Sikh religious traditions. In 1499, Guru Nanak had disappeared and reemerged from the river in Punjab and believed to have pronounced — "There is no Hindu, there is no Musalman". Guru Nanak called for abandoning of denominational identifications of Hindu and Muslims as they spring delusions. His God, as the ultimate truth of existence both in creative and transcendental aspects, was free from anthropomorphic attributes. Religious practice Nanak reduced to three simple commandments –Kirt karo, nam japo, vand chhako – work hard, remember God through the Name, and practice sharing.
Discarding of the Hindus rituals such as wearing 'jenaeu' (sacred thread) by Guru Nanak and later, incorporating of 'Guru ka Langar' (common community kitchen) to the Sikh centers of worship (Gurdwaras) and incorporating of hymns of Muslim and Indian mystics born as untouchables in the scripture, being worshiped as 'living Guru', were the main reasons why the orthodox Hindus became prejudiced against the new religion from the very beginning. And, there had been strong attempts by the Hindu elements in Punjab to obfuscate the Sikhs' uniqueness and distinctiveness.
The British interests in resurrecting "the glory that was Hindu India" was connected with their requirement to justify the destruction of the Moghal India. The British government commissioned a study of Guru Granth Sahib by German Indologist Ernest Trumpp. He suggested "Sikhism was a kind of pantheism and degenerated Hinduism" which became the basis of the Arya Samaj' campaign of 'vilification against the Sikh religion in Punjab'. The Singh Sabha movement in 1920s awoke to the challenge of the Arya Samaj, particularly to the latter's shuddhi (purification) campaign aimed at reconverting the poor untouchable Sikhs back to the Hindu fold.
As consequent to tensions in Hindu-Sikh relations, after exactly 400 years after Guru Nanak's first statement Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, a scholar of Sikh religious resurgence considered it necessary in 1899 to write out a long tract to categorically clarify that ' Hum Hindu Nahin' — we (Sikhs) are not Hindus.
The rise of Hindu nationalism in the first quarter of the 20th century saw worsening of the Hindu-Sikh tensions. The Sikh reformers prevailed upon the manager of the Golden Temple to remove all Hindu idols from temple precincts in 1905. Udasi abbots (Udasi is Hindu sect) who were siding with new masters, the British, had also restricted the entry of untouchables in the Golden Temple during their decades' long control. The 'gurdwara reform movement became visibly strong in 1919 got freed the Sikh shrines from Udasi abbots and formed SGPC in November 1920.
The Sikh leaders were shocked when the Congress leaders, including Gandhi, became hostile as soon as they were able to obtain official recognition of their distinct Religious Status. Nehru wrote to a friend in April 1924 "Their (the Sikhs) movement is largely a Separatist Movement, as far as religion is concerned, and this has naturally reacted in the social and political sphere".
Soon Gandhi began writing letters to the Sikh leaders, questioning their claim of distinction, " I personally do not see any difference between the Sikhism and Hinduism….. It is wrong to make difference between the Hindus and the Sikhs….. The Guru Granth Sahib is full of the teachings of the Vedas. Hinduism is like a mighty ocean, which receives and absorbs all religious truths"4 (A century later – present RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat makes a similar statement towards the end of August 2014)
Urban Hindus in Punjab organized on the platform of Hindu Mahasabha in 1926 and opposed the 'Relief of Indebtedness Bill' of 1940 which was introduced to free the farmers (rural peasants) from swelling indebtedness which had made them lose away their cultivable lands.
The Hindu Mahasabha which was having Lala Lajpat Rai as its top leader, merged in Congress in December 1936 to oppose communal award giving weight-age to Muslim and Sikh minorities in the shape of 'separate electorates'. Thus, the Congress party in Punjab adopted the same Hindu parochialism and communal stringency, which had previously energized to the Arya Samaj.
Devolution of political power from the Center to the provincial governments was the guiding principles of India's democratic progress under the British Empire and Cabinet Mission of 1946 had brought a 'confederation sort of vision' for free India. The Congress leaders led by Nehru and Patel had enamoured the Sikh politicians with their glib talks and tall promises. They instructed the Sikh politicians in rejecting the Mission to emasculate the Muslim Federation as suggested by the Mission. Congress leaders also made the top most Akali leaders to raise the demand of 'Sikh Home Land' (a version of present day slogan of 'Khalistan') to counter Jinnah's Muslim League's demand for Pakistan. Congress leaders offered Defense Ministry to one of the Akalis which was an elevation for him from his being a minister in Punjab in the Interim Government in 1946 "on the condition that he would keep the Sikhs rolling on the tacks of Hindu India". The heavyweight British officers — Pendral Moon and Major Short — known as 'friends of Punjab'- attempted to persuade the Sikh leaders to break out from the Congress stranglehold and explore keeping the unity of Punjab by negotiating terms with the Muslim League. They secretly arranged talks with the Muslim League leaders. But Congress leaders found out and got this Akali protégé to sabotage the negotiations.
The Sikhs were the biggest losers of the Partition as they suffered huge casualties besides losing large tracts of fertile land in canal colonies and got in lieu of these fertile lands an undeveloped and lesser acreage of land in East Punjab as compared to what they had left in the West Punjab. The Sikhs also lost forever Guru Nanak's birthplace, Nanakana Sahib and other historical Sikh shrines located across the border in Pakistan.
The Sikh leaders were coaxed to accept the Partition (by Congress leaders) on the basis of the promise that the "Congress will help them to arrange east Punjab that it may become the Culture Home to the Sikhs…. as one Sikh leader informed Pendral Moon in June 1947".
After one year, the same Sikh leaders approached Mountbatten (first Governor General of free India) in 1948 to beseech him to prevail upon Nehru and Patel to keep their pledges with the Sikhs. Mountbatten himself was full of foreboding about the future of the Sikhs and penned down in February 1948: "The Sikhs as part of Pakistan would have retained a measure of political identity. But as part of Hindustan, they feared economic absorption by the Hindus; also religious absorption. In short, they feared, probably correctly, virtual extinction as a political force and survival only a rapidly dwindling religious sect of Hinduism".
Master Tara Singh, spearheading the Akali agitation for Punjabi speaking state was the first politician to be arrested under a preventive law in free India. During the 19-year- long period of the Sikh agitation for a Punjabi Suba saw the denial of mother tongue by a section of Hindu Punjabis and main opposition came from the Congress party and leaders of Arya Samaj 'Maha Punjab Samiti'. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri conceded Punjabi Suba after he had reached an unofficial deal with the Akali leaders that their demand would be granted if they help India (on the brink of a war with Pakistan in 1965) in crushing the threat from across the border. But the new Punjab state created in 1966 was denied the legitimate share in river waters, Chandigarh capital and a large expanse of Punjabi speaking areas.
Over the period, the Center concentrated economic and political powers in New Delhi. Between 1970-1974, nineteen state governments were subverted (toppled), Emergency was clamped in 1975 and Tamil Nadu government was toppled for not implementing the central directive of censuring the press and to jail the anti-Emergency activists.
The critical thinking against such centralization of powers in New Delhi was necessitated the Anandpur Sahib Resolution drafted by the Akalis which sought constitutional re-look on center-state relations. Later, the Resolution became the basis of the Akali Dal agitation which began in August 1982. Around three lakh Akali workers courted arrest as part of their peaceful 'satyagrah' which Gandhi was used to undertake during the freedom struggle. Since the Sikhs have been harboring an anxiety for maintaining their identity, the Akalis also included in its 45- point charter some religious demands like granting of holy status to Amritsar on the pattern of Hardwar, Kashi and Kurukshetra, relaying of kirtan from Golden Temple on AIR and permission to the Sikhs to wear 'kirpan on domestic and international flights and enactment of All India Gurdwara Act.
It was the year, 1984, when "the Big Brother (New Delhi establishment) threw away the shibboleth of constitutional democracy and embarked on the path of transformation from the secular democratic state into majoritarian tyranny with strong fascist tendencies to deal with the smallest religious minority (the Sikhs). I am referring to politics behind the military attack on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Sikh Vatican, in June 1984 and again the organized massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984."
Indian Establishment portrayed the Sikh struggle as "Pakistan inspired crusade for Khalistan, an independent Sikh State aiming primarily to hurt and enfeeble India". And it "let loose the reign of terror on the Sikhs and denied them even negotiated settlement what New Delhi has been having while dealing with the open champion of secession like the armed Naga groups in the northeast".7
"Not a single demand of the Akali Dal charter has been met. The state repression has not only cost several thousand Sikh lives but has also successfully eclipsed perceptions of the vanquished (the Sikhs) and the truth what really happened under the hegemonic narratives of the Punjab turmoil. Post-colonial history of India has ended with successful decimation of the Sikh dissent. The Akalis, back in business of politics with all the regular fluctuations of fortune within majoritarian framework of democracy in India, have become (sensibly) silent on the issues of Sikh dissent that precipitated one of the most brutal and sustained repressions of a numerically insignificant minority by any government in the world."8
"The slogan of Khalistan which has never been raised by the Sikhs of Punjab and has never done well to anyone other than their enemies is again in the air." But this slogan has come handy for nationalistic political formations — Congress, BJP and Akalis — to instill fear in the minds of the Punjabi Hindus who vote en-block for these parties making a fake promise of "keeping the ghost of Khalistan under control". Consequently, the Sikh candidates take a beating in elections and this process amounts to a denial of due political space to the Sikhs in Punjab. Such political calculations are, evidently, behind present-day rant in the media pertaining to 'pending threat of Sikh terrorists', ISI activities from across the border which is now creating hurdles in the opening of Kartarpur Sahib corridor at the Punjab border with Pakistan.
To conclude the present crop of Sikh intelligentsia must enlighten themselves as well as the Sikh masses about the genesis and past history of the present day political religious and institutional crisis in the Sikh society. They must highlight the highly centralized character of the Central Government as a result of the several calculated amendments made in the originally somewhat Federal Structure and spirit of the Indian Constitution. Despite the Justice Sarkaria Commission's recommendations to revise the Centre State relations, the Central Indian polity and governance remains unitary to the determent of minorities and their elected State Governments. It is incumbent upon Sikh intellectuals to educate the Sikh political leadership to work in cooperation with other minorities to safeguard minority interests and their religio-cultural ethos, more so when the presently ruling political dispensation at the centre is displaying ominous signs of converting India into a theocratic Hindu rashtra. They must make concerted efforts to make the Sikh leadership accountable to the Sikhs and compel them to curb their unbridled craving for power at the cost of erosion of distinct identity of Sikh religious heritage and culture. Increased public awareness and moral pressure alone can checkmate the present down slide.
1. Ram Narain, Terror in Punjab – Narrative, Knowledge and Truth, published in 2009 by Shipra Publications, Delhi.
ਵਖਤੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੇ ਸੁ ਬੰਦਾ ਹੋਇ ॥
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All