“Army Action in Punjab, Prelude and Aftermath”’ is a timely publication describing the background to recent events in the Punjab. The World Sikh Organization lauds the efforts made by the authors to bring the truth to the attention of the free world. Though the booklet effectively lists the misdeeds of the Indian government, it is unfair to the martyrs of the Golden Temple especially to late Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Apparently the authors did not have access to any adequate record of Sant Bhindranwale’s speeches and actions. Also, not being Sikhs themselves, they have failed to appreciate or understand the concept of Sikh as a “saint-soldier.”’ It is necessary, therefore, to comment on some of the statements made by them.
On pages 28 and 29 the authors give the impression that Sant Bhindranwale as acting in collusion with the government. Whatever the motivation and the machinations of the government, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was never a party to them. If, as the authors state, the Sant was allowed “‘to get arrested in a heroic fashion,’’ how was it that the police at the same time fired upon and killed eleven of his followers? The bodies of these men were never returned to their families. The results of an inquiry into the murders were never made public. Sant Bhindranwale kept on protesting against this highhanded action of the government, along with a long list of other atrocities, till his death. It is also a fact that Bhindranwale’s followers were, and after his death still are, the special target of police brutality. By July 1983, over 140 had been tortured to death and another one thousand crippled through beatings and torture. Although there were no criminal charges against Sant Bhindranwale, it is well known that the government wanted to eliminate him. In September 1983, over 275 of his followers were facing trials for hundreds of trumped-up charges. In view of these facts which may not be well-known in India due to restrictions on the press, it is totally wrong to accuse Sant Bhindranwale of complicity with the government’s brutal repression of the Sikhs.
On page 34 the authors allege: ‘‘Bhindranwale wanted to revive an older tradition of armed fight which. Originated with some of the gurus themselves.”” Actually, there are no variations in the teachings of the Sikh gurus. The concept of Sikh as a ‘‘saint-soldier”’ is not an “older tradition” but a living principle of the Sikh religion. It requires a Sikh to follow the path of nonviolence and prayer (saint). However, when an authoritarian government resorts to acts of sacrilege (e.g. burning of scriptures, wanton destruction of places of worship) and suppression of a religion, and after all appeals, persuasion and peaceful protest have failed, it is right for a Sikh, indeed it is his duty, to take up arms and resist oppression with all his might as a soldier of faith. This is why the Sikh religion requires its adherents to bear arms and why the Sikhs have developed a proud tradition as disciplined soldiers. As explained by Sant Bhindranwale, it is a sin for a Sikh to use weapons to hurt any innocent person. The weapons are meant for defense and protection of the weak and the oppressed. However, it is an even greater sin, regardless of the religious beliefs of the victim, not to act against wanton and ruthless repression, which includes disrespect to scriptures, violation of defenseless women and children, and torture of innocent persons by a tyrannical government. The Sikhs have a history extending over four centuries of supreme sacrifices in the practice of these principles as protectors of freedom of religion. It is important to note that Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of nonviolence is not part of the Sikh religion. It is a gross violation of freedom of religion to expect that the Sikh religion be modified to conform to the ideas of members of another religion.
On page 78 it is stated: “A large number of these Sikhs are nonbelievers.”’ The authors apparently mean there is a large number of persons who wear the symbols of the Sikh religion and call themselves Sikhs but do not really believe in the Sikh religion. These persons wear their hair unshorn as a matter of style and not faith. They are no problem to the government and are the ‘‘secular’ or ‘“‘moderate’’ Sikhs often referred to in government propaganda. These persons do not believe in any religion and have only to declare this publicly to be accepted in the government’s good books. Every religious and national group has always had such hypocrites and quislings. The victims of the Indian government’s barbarity are the “amritdhari’”’ Sikhs who have taken “‘khande da amrit” as lay down by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib and are committed to the ideal way of life as “saint-soldiers.” These people believe in and practice the Sikh religion. These are the people that the government has classed as ‘‘terrorists.”’ It is their children, some as young as two years of” age, who are being held in prisons as ‘‘would-be terrorists.” These are the people who hold the freedom of religion for all men to be an article of faith. They are willing to live by their principles and die for their beliefs. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was their illustrious leader and his life as a devoted saint-soldier will, like those of the great martyrs who preceded him, forever are a source of inspiration to all Sikhs.
Ever since India’s freedom from British rules, there have been planned, repeated, flagrant and widespread violations of human rights of the Sikhs by the Indian government. The Sikhs protested this step-motherly treatment. A nonviolent movement resulted in hundreds of thousands of Sikhs courting arrest. Instead of heeding to their protest and providing redress, Mrs. Gandhi’s government decided to suppress the movement with torture and murder. This culminated in the Indian army’s invasion of the Golden Temple in June 1984. Thousands of Sikhs including a large number of women and children were put to death in over forty Sikh places of worship that were invaded simultaneously. Since then, abuse of the Sikh people including denial of the due process of law, beating and torture of minors, indiscriminate arrests and harassment has been escalated. According to Mary Anne Weaver of the Christian Science Monitor: ‘‘Thousands have disappeared in the Punjab since the army operation began. The government has provided no lists of names, families don’t know if sons and husbands are arrested, underground, or dead.”’ The Indian government has shown utter disregard for basic human dignity. People have been taken from their homes, tied up and shot. Others have been brutally beaten. Thousands, including children as young as two years of age, have been held without trial and subjected to inhuman torture. The law has been changed to hold anyone accused by the government, of any crime or intention to commit any crime, guilty till he proves his innocence. Every Sikh is suspect. The only way a Sikh can save himself is to renounce the symbols of his religion. Foreign press is not allowed into the Punjab. An Associated Press reporter has been charged with sedition for telling the truth about the magnitude of the Golden Temple massacre. Humanitarian organizations have been denied access. The Indian people are fed government propaganda and white lies as news. The Indian government has denied visas to concern U.S. Congressmen, members of the British Parliament and even U.S. Hindus who wished to see for themselves the misdeeds of Mrs. Gandhi’s government. Mischievous and totally unfounded accusations like ‘‘the CIA had a hand in the Sikh agitation’’ are made to create mistrust and hatred against the Sikhs in the minds of the Indian people. More recently, after Mrs. Gandhi’s death, the government forces “looked on’’ and in many instances actively collaborated with rampaging mobs of Roane one went around killing any Sikh they could find and setting fire to Sikh homes and businesses. The Indian government has failed to punish these criminals.
The Sikhs never demanded an independent state. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale said “How can a community which has contributed so much for the freedom of the country want it fragmented?” Branding him a separatist was a wicked misrepresentation used to justify the attack on the Golden Temple. Now the Golden Temple and numerous other Sikh places of worship have been desecrated. Thousands of innocent persons have been murdered by the Indian army and mobs of Hindu hoodlums encouraged and abetted by the ruling party and the police. The Sikhs are completely alienated. This community which prided itself on its patriotism has been literally thrown out by the majority Hindus. No Sikh extremist could have accomplished in years what has suddenly been forced upon the Sikhs by some militant Hindus in four days. Emotionally, the independent Sikh state has already been created by our murdering and marauding Hindu brethren. It is only a matter of time before it becomes a physical reality. If the Hindu majority and the Indian government have any intention of healing the wounds they have inflicted, they should adequately punish the perpetrators of heinous crimes against the Sikhs, and recognize a separate Sikh state where the Sikhs can feel safe and at home. There is no way a Sikh could again trust the government of India to protect him, his religion, and his hearth and home. All fair-minded people, all who hold religious freedom to be a fundamental right, all who believe in justice and in peace would see the enormity of the Indian government’s barbaric crimes against a section of its own people. The Sikhs are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival. God-fearing people the world over must raise their voice in defense of truth and liberty.
Maj. Gen. J. S. Bhullar
World Sikh Organization
Article extracted from this publication >> January 4, 1985