Most Indians have hailed the agreement between yourself and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Some Sikhs also accept it as a step in the right direction. It can become the beginning of a healing process in which all concerned especially the majority Hindus and the government, work to create a harmonious atmosphere so that minorities can feel secure.
The accord does not address the basic issues of freedom, justice, life and liberty. Sikhs have been burnt alive, raped, looted, and otherwise humiliated. Tens of thousands have been killed by government action. Innocent people have been made scapegoats and hunted down as terrorists. For thousands of Sikh families who lost their loves ones this holocaust is hard to forget. At the very least, they need guarantees it will not be repeated.
Before June 1984, few Sikhs supported the idea of an independent Sikh state. In Late Sant Bhindranwale’s words, “How can a community which has contributed so much for the country’s freedom wish it fragmented?” He also said that in case the Golden Temple was invaded, Khalistan would be inevitable. The current support for a separate state is the direct result of the Golden Temple invasion. Any healing process must treat the source of the problem rather than the symptoms.
If sects like the Nirankaris and irresponsible journalists like Lala Jagat Narain had been checked in their virulent and vulgar criticism of the Sikh religion and Sikh gurus, and Mr. Bhajan Lal, Chief Minister of Haryana, had not acted foolishly and insulted Sikhs passing through his state to visit Delhi during the Asiad, the history of Punjab over the last few years would have been very different.
Sikh economic and territorial demands were the product of insecurity regarding survival as a distinct religious community. If there was no discrimination and religious freedom was assured, it would not matter whether Chandigarh was in Punjab or Haryana. If Punjabi had a second language status in neighboring states, the border village ‘issue would also have lost significance. If the feeling that Punjab was; being given less water because Punjab farmers were mostly Sikh could be corrected, distribution of water on the basis of maximum benefit to the nation as a whole would be acceptable to all. Identification of Punjabi with the Sikh religion is another basic problem. To solve it, Punjab and Haryana Hindus should accept and own their mother tongue. Sant Bhindranawale’s chief demand ever since he joined the agitation in July 1982 was punishment of officials who tortured innocent persons, insulted Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures regarded as the Word of God and the Eternal Guru) and raped Sikh women. Much of the mayhem of the last two years could have been avoided by punishing the guilty officials. Appropriate judicial inquiries must be instituted against these miscreants. Many Sikhs perceive themselves to be under pressure to renounce their cherished ideals. The traditional freedom of expression in gurdwaras has been curtailed. The external symbols of their religion have invited harassment, abuse, and even murder. A government document declared taking “Amrit,” a ceremony of confirmation in the faith, to be “an oath in the name of religion to support extremists and actively participate in the act of terrorism.” According to the Indian press, an indication of a Sikh leader’s involvement in terrorist activity was ‘that he instructed his subordinates to read the Sikh scripture!” It is imperative that the government and the press correct this attitude of hostility towards the Sikh religion.
Relentless propaganda has resulted in massive anti-Sikh hysteria all over the country. Starting with blaming “a handful of terrorists” for the unrest in Punjab, the government and the press have treated every “Amritdhari” Sikh as a terrorist. The Sikh religion neither advocates nor condones terrorism. No Sikh, including the much maligned Sant Bhindranwale, ever condoned violence against innocent people or for personal aggrandizement. The Sikh only fights oppression and violence as a “saint soldier” on the side of truth and justice. In order to cool communal passions government and the press, must stop referring to nonexistent “Sikh terrorism.”
At the time of the Golden Temple invasion there were no criminal charges against anyone in the Temple. All the robberies and murders in Punjab prior to the invasion are said to have been solved and in none has any connection been established with Sant Bhindranwale or others in the Temple. Sant Bhindranwale said in May 1984: “They say I get Hindus killed. Does anyone here know of any occasion when I asked that such and such Hindu should be killed? Have I ever expressed delight at any Hindu’s death? Still they keep saying I kill Hindus and get them killed.” The government should stop its baseless opposition to the deceased Sant. The Sikhs respect his memory and his stand on behalf of the Sikh faith culminating in his martyrdom. Acceptance of Sikh reverence for Sant Bhindranwale would dramatically ease tensions. Fundamental changes and bold initiatives are needed to restore Sikh confidence eroded by the brutal events of the last few years. Changes in the Indian Constitution are needed to recognize the Sikh religion as distinct from the Hindu. Difference does not imply hostility. Sikhs should be free to take “Amrit,” and live as “saint soldiers” following the dictates of Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth guru of the Sikhs, 1666 A.D. in 1708 A.D.) “Amritdhari” (confirmed) Sikhs should be allowed to keep and carry weapons as dictated by their faith. Government regulations must ensure that Sikhs are not required to do things prohibited by their religion (for example, Sikhs in the army have been occasionally assigned duty as batmen or orderlies to officers who smoke and drink and expect the Sikh soldier to serve them cigarettes and drinks.
This must stop). All Sikhs arrested for political activity should be immediately released. People whose sole offense is defending their places of worship, or having possession of Sant Bhindran
Wale’s pictures, taped lectures and other such items must also be released. Members of the armed forces who refused to obey government orders to destroy their own shrines, and those who reacted emotionally to the Golden Temple invasion should be granted amnesty. Those who fled the country to escape persecution and murder should be invited to return with assured safety.
The ban on news, exclusion of foreign journalists, and the prevention of distribution of literature relating to the events of the last year created the impression that the government had something to hide. The recent removal of the ban on entry of foreign visitors to Punjab is welcome. It is necessary that free and independent investigations of. The happenings of the last several years are permitted. All bans on printing and publishing literature relating to these events must be removed. Sikhs from outside India should be allowed to participate in providing aid to the victims. Generous help will do more to pacify the countryside than thousands of arrests.
Ranbir S. Sandhu
Article extracted from this publication >> August 23, 1985