An Abstract by Gurcharan Singh
Author: P. S. Sandhawalia
Publishers: Singh Brothers, Amritsar
Pages 336; Price: Rs 450/-
Foreword by Justice Mota Singh, Q.C.
When I finished this book, I thought every well-intending Sikh who wants to understand collective psyche of the panth must read this. Actually, it is a novel on the life of a young Sikh and the story is interwoven with thoughts which reflect our concerns and possible solutions to various questions in future. The characters in the narration have the back-drop of the political turmoil in the Punjab in Nineteen Eighties.
Ranjit Singh, elder of the two sons in a close knit Sikh land-owning family was an intellectual, a student of a Sikh college in Banga town. He planned for a carreer in IAS. He had a girl friend Amrita, a vivacious young girl studying economics in the same college. His younger brother Nihal of athletic built and a good hockey player was a hearty guy in contrast to his serious and intelligent elder brother. He also came in contact with an elderly Master Kashmira Singh, librarian-cum-granthi of the college, but by nature, a philosopher-guide to all. This was the close circle apart from his loving parents in which he lived.
Once a Sant of charismatic personality visited wanting all young men to come closer to Guru’s ideal and fight oppression. His talk gave Ranjit some food for thought, but Nihal immediately got drawn to Sant ji. He went to Amritsar to get baptized but stayed away without informing anybody. When efforts were made to contact him it became known that he was drawn into vortex of militancy and police was after him and his associates. Those were the days (1982) when protests against SYL canal, burning of constitution Art 25 hijacking of IA plane from Delhi to Srinagar and then to Pakistan were taking place. It was reported that Nihal was involved in some acts of militancy; his parents and Ranjit were worried for him.
One day, for no reason Ranjit was taken to police station and was asked about his brother .Finding no clue he was let go. Second time he was taken to Nawanshehar, interrogated, beaten up, tortured till he fainted. His parents were horrified to see his condition. Then his father went to find about Nihal. It was 1984, Operation Blue Star had taken place, police and army were everywhere, every official was indifferent to him; he returned dejected. After some time, Nihal’s corpse was displayed for identification. His body was brought and cremated. The whole family was shattered. Then Ranjit learnt that his girl-friend Amrita was going to Canada He went incognito to see her off. On return what Master ji told him at bus stand, shattered him. Police had come after him and harassed his parents. In anger, his father took up his gun. In retaliation they fired and killed both his parents. Master ji advised him to collect a few essential things and leave for Delhi as police would again come for him. He should hide till things became normal. He was hiding in Trilokpuri with Master ji and some other friends. Then the worst happened.
Indria Gandhi was killed by her body guards; everywhere mobs were let loose. The Sikhs, their homes, their Gurdwaras were identified, looted and set on fire. Sikhs were killed using kerosene and burning vehicle tyres while the police looked away. Ranjit cut his hair, joined hooligans shouting anti-Sikh slogans, escaped, but his guide, elderly Master ji was set on fire and died in his presence. He shifted to another place of a friend, took up a job of a proof reader and constantly phoned his Chacha, Charan Singh in UK to get him out of India. His dear ones were wiped out, his community was detested, his identity a millstone around his neck; he had no future in India.
His uncle made arrangements for him to travel to London on a British passport under a different name Ravinder Dhaliwal. A friend of his uncle, Gurdial took him away, trained him to behave like Ravinder in Kenyian style turban forgetting his original identity. Along with his studies in the University of Brandon, he worked with his uncle as a proof-reader. His uncle was owner of New Times and thus very influential in society and Sikh circles. Gurdial continued to be a friend like a brother.
In 1987, he had a chance meeting with a Jewish girl Ruth doing cinematography. They came closer and often exchanged ideas about their peoples, religion and history. With his uncle, he discussed Sikhs in Diaspora. He found that Sikhs’ tendency to stand apart and to be recognized as unique stood in the way of their assimilation with people of host countries. Also the skin of their colour came in the way.
The Chacha had a confidential group of chosen persons who periodically discussed concerns and future of the Sikhs. Gurdial was one of them. Chacha wanted Ravinder to be one man secretariat of this think-tank.
At the college, a colleague, a Kurd who was conscious that as a people they had not achieved much as there was not a good leader among them. That was similar to the position of the Sikhs who were good individuals but not organised as a community.
1989: After Rajiv-Longowal accord failed, President Rule was imposed on Punjab. Many criminals were enrolled in the Army and Police to malign the militants. Charan Singh’s think-tank continued their debates on the Sikh issues. Members had different views on different matters. Nirmal Singh an ex-militant wanted a separate state; Mohinder Singh a clean shaven British M.P.s’ concern was the campaign by Indian Government against Sikhs. Using words ‘terrorists against democracy’ won it sympathy of many nations against the Sikhs. Balwant Singh an economist worried that trade would be adversely affected against the Sikhs as they would be considered hostile and trouble-makers. Under these circumstances Charan Singh wanted to counter disinformation and project correct image of Sikhs as sincere and law abiding people. Gurdial and Ravinder were asked to work on this as they were for peaceful means to achieve their aim.
While this was going on, Ravinder and Ruth were sorting out religious and cultural differences to get married. Chacha’s blessings were obtained and he performed their marriage. They had a short Jewish ceremony too. After the honeymoon and a tour of Israel, they settled down in their flat and back to work.
1992: Debates were carried on. In Punjab elections were boycotted by militants although the mood was in their favour. In this move, the hand of government agencies was suspected and the Congress won. Another chance was lost by not using power of negotiation at the critical moment.
There were two incidents in news, one the blow-up of a Sikh family in UK, the other the death of parents of a Sikh Canadian girl by her angry divorced husband. The girl turned out to be Ravinder’s old girl-friend, Amrita; this brought back many old memories making him sad.
1997: There was an attempt in London to kidnap Ruth but somehow she escaped. In the process, Ravinder met a person of an Israeli company, who was overseeing Ruth. Ravinder found he knew his past in Punjab, but was friendly and harmless since Ravinder loved Ruth. Ruth’s organisation was given the project of knowing Sikhs and projecting them as nice people.
Detailed dialogue brought out many features about Sikhs; that they started with distinct entity which graduated into nationhood. Miri-Piri and Khalsa brotherhood and ardas provided as expression of sovereignty. They had their own kingdom under Banda and later under Ranjit Singh. Dreams of having their own state were very much in their minds. Sikhs highlighted equality, sincerity, dignity, working honestly and sharing. Turban was a mark of respect, piety and divine. It was a sacred item given to them by their Guru as a token of His blessings, sanctity and identity. They were, therefore, passionate about it. They loved to work hard, contribute to charity, to defend everybody’s right to be free to worship. They were not in favour of passive tolerance and opposed oppression forcefully. An associate suggested the core idea to project Sikhism as a new religion, universal, for the present age. The other option was “The Sikh Commonwealth – a sharing, caring people, dedicated to justice for all” It was decided to adopt the latter. The use of TV as a medium, a Sikh website, event-promotion were also considered. .The entire campaign was to be subtle. One cannot always claim to be the best and also act to antagonize others. Do not generate strong reactions. The long term goal should be to produce excellent Sikhs – academicians, sportsmen, politicians, entrepreneurs as role – models in pursuit of excellence.
2002: Militancy in Punjab was long over, but in spite of the apparent peace, mistrust and fear of repetition of 82-84 happenings was still there. In group discussions it would frequently come up. The conclusions were that peaceful negotiations would give Sikhs a better solution than hostile attitude. Ravinder and Ruth got busy in buying their home and decorating it.
Afterwards, Ravinder, on the strength of his newspaper got a chance of sitting next to British PM. That projected Sikhs as a peaceful and hardworking people ready to adapt to UK’s way of life and contributing towards its economy and multicultural image. The case of death of Amrita’s parents by Harwant Gill, Amrita’s ex-husband brought back once again sad and painful memories, and Ravinder was afraid of getting exposed if he took too much interest in the affair that would ruin his love life with Ruth.
2004: Two issues of Sikh ‘image’ and ‘Sikh homeland’ continued to exercise the minds of intelligentsia. Ravinder was to handle image aspect and Gurdial the ‘homeland’ question. Ruth brought out that Jews though 3% of US population produced 20% professors, 40% partners in Industries and 23% Nobel prize winners. Children from very young age were allowed to ask questions even about scriptures, and be innovative. For Sikhs also, Education, superior occupation, money and power were the routes for development as against traditional farming and army, by and large. Among the image-generating professions viz professors, editors, directors of prestigious institutes, had to be sought.
Contributions to election funds intelligently was another field in democracy if your numbers are not helping. Children needed contemporary models of excellence. More NGOs, more fund collection, better leaders in Gurdwaras for efficient use were required. Such debates were held now and then, Ruth took part in these deliberations.
Ruth had her first pregnancy and went to Tel Aviv where she planned to deliver her baby under her parents care. Hardly a week had passed when Ravinder got an early morning call: Ruth and her mother died in a bomb blast outside her parent’s restaurant. That was most shocking! Ravinder went for her last rites but returned in a state of shock.
2007: He wanted to move away from old environments to forget the painful past. He moved to New York and joined the UNO. He rose to a position of Undersecretary, Communications. While going to Vancouver on a WTO meeting he met Gurdial and was happy to see an old friend, In the meeting hall he was introduced to Amrita, now as a part of the Canadian delegation. He was not sure if she had recognized him. She was a different person, a mature, sleek, confident woman professor, an economist, a specialist in World Trade. During conversation, he blurted out his true identity; Amrita was upset at that.
Later Ravinder and Gurdial had a meeting in a Gurdwara complex along with intellectual friends on how to achieve their dream of a homeland. Ravinder and Gurdial were not in favour of armed conflict. At this, a hot headed member stabbed him. He was moved to Amrita’s home and not a hospital to keep the matter confidential. When fully recovered, he moved to New York. His relations with Amrita were uncertain, though they exchanged information about the period when they were away from each other.
Once Amrita visited New York and they met and spent a night together, but Amrita was far from being affectionate. And she turned down Ravinder’s proposal of marriage. Next time they met at London along with uncle Charan. There was a debate on multiculturism vs assimilation; Amrita was for the latter as a policy.
2010: Two incidents happened. Ravinder was told by Amrita that she had HIV because of he promiscuous life. Second, Charan Singh died of a heart attack. By will Gurdial and Ravinder had more say in the intellectual’s forum. SIF, (Sikh Intellectuals Forum) was reconstituted. Somebody informed that the situation in Punjab was worsening; old problems resurfaced. On top of that, efforts were afoot to absorb Sikhs into Hindutva and give Punjabi language an indifferent status, thus forcing immigration of Sikhs out of Punjab. The only solution lay in the pursuit of excellence—a slow process.
In another field of economic zone there were a number of meetings in which pull and push between vested interests were involved ;interests of Israel were affected Ravinder a UN official was informally drawn in.. His identity was divulged by Israelis and he was sacked from his job. Status of his uncle’s will, with his changed identity was also altered. After a lot of debate 80% of his uncle’s interests went to SIF and only 20% to him.
Cases against him in Punjab no longer found sustainable, he was exonerated. All that meant, he could go to Banga and continue as a small farmer. In all this, Gurdial helped him as a friend.
2013: Ranjit (not Ravinder) was now quietly settled in Banga, working as a librarian in the same college where he was a student. He was working on Charan’s wish on identifying how Sikh identity overcomes all challenges and continues to prevail world over. Amrita who suddenly came wanted him to accompany her to a sadhu in an ashram near Hyderabad for a miraculous cure, but was dismayed at the negative hint she received from the saint. There were discussions with Ranjit on return to the Sikh Identity, but she had a definite NO to revival of her faith or change to Sikh Identity or miraculous faith cure.
2015: This chapter is entirely devoted to an e-mail by Rajinder to Gurdial and Amrita on the concept of a Sikh Virtual State (SVS)
This State will be, without a territory or boundaries. In the present day advanced communication and transportation it will make globally dispersed Sikhs as one people. The Focus will not be on marketing or trade but on humanity. They will be responsible, think and act for the common good. It will exist in a world for collective freedom of culture, will respect diversity, leading to mutual enrichment. It is this autonomous vision of a state which our Gurus had envisioned. Sikhs will be living in a political system of ‘circles’. The outer one will be UN, next will be regional union of states, of which the nation-states will be members, in which Sikhs will live. The innermost circle will be SVS domain. Concentric circles do not intersect; therefore there will be neither frictions nor conflicts.
SVS will promote and protect cultural identity of Sikh Quom, seek maximum welfare, ensure all Sikhs being law-abiding, model citizens of nation-states. They will co-ordinate with other groups for better education, career, entrepreneurship and improve Sikhs’ image internationally.
The SVS core circles will be globally interlinked for reference of all Sikh issues.
SVS should be able to overcome all challenges to survival of identity question. Emphasis will be on meritocracy. Executives of SVS will be selected on merit and not popularity. Networking and diplomacy can help securing recognition from world’s major nation-states who can thus spearhead its acceptance by the United Nations.
The concept is equally applicable to other minorities, seeking self determination. When major powers accept this concept, geographic homeland and campaigns by various ethnic groups to achieve it will cease. One day suddenly Gurdial came and brought news of Amrita’s death in the hospital where she was getting treatment. It was a quiet affair. She was cremated according to Sikh rites.
Ranjit was very sad and went back to old memories.
One day he asked Gurdial about comments on his e-mail. He was told SIF agreed to identity part, but what about power to this SVS and recognition by UN? Ranjit said even non-territorial entities, NGOs such as Care & Amnesty International have recognition and influence. That was the last of Gurdial that he saw.
2032: This chapter is placed as Chapter one in the book. Here Gurdial as Custodian of SVS is seen receiving Nobel Prize for Peace. He explained to the audience details of the concept, gave power-point presentation of identity and homeland of globally displaced people.