Given below is the text of a statement made by Lt. Gen. Harbakash Singh in defense of Sikh Army men facing Court Martial.
With the permission of the Honorable Court, I should like my statement to be recorded in full.
I stand here today, in front of the Honorable Court Martial, not as a Sikh defending Sikh soldiers, but as a pioneer of the Indianized Corps of officers of the Indian Army as one of the builders of the tradition and customs of service of the Indian Army since Independence.
A veteran speaks
I was commissioned in the Indian Army in September 1934, more than 50 years ago and retired as G.O.C.in-C, Western Command, in Sept., 1969 after 35 years’ service in the Army. All these years I spent with the Sikh troops, having been posted to the Sikh Ragi as 2nd Lt., and during that period commanded Sikh troops at all levels of command from a platoon to a battalion both in peace and war and subsequently remained Colonel of the Sikh Regiment for a long period of 20 years from 1952 to 1971 up to two years after my retirement. Therefore, I can claim to know the mind of the Sikh soldier better than anyone else in the Indian Army past or present.
I have expressed my views on the incident that occurred in the Sikh Regimental Centre at Ramgarh on the 10th of June 1984, the incident which is under adjudication by the Honorable Court Martial, in the form of a letter addressed to the Press in September, 1984. I present to the court photostat copies of the version of the letter published in The Tribune of September 10, 1984, for perusal and attachment to my statement.
Now, I would read to the Honorable Court this letter. I may point out that in column 2 of the published letter, in the Hindi version of the ‘Vow’ there is an omission of one line after “Ar Sikh hen apua he man ke” which may be inserted as following “Eh lalsh hen gun teun Uchron.”
I, now, read the letter under reference…
My contention is that the reaction of the Sikh troops to the Army action in Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar, and particularly to the killing of pilgrims, including women and children and destruction of Akal Takht, the highest religious seat of the Sikh religion, was instantaneous, spontaneous and emotionally surcharged to the extent of being beyond the control of human mind, as would be witnessed by the simultaneous and universal emotional upsurge on the part of Sikh troops throughout the length and breadth of India, wherever they might have been stationed, Kashmir to Nagaland to Pune. There is no evidence of its being preplanned, nor was incitement or coaxing necessary.
At most places, competent Commanding Officers were able to anticipate the reaction of their troops and took measures to talk to them at customary “durbars” held on such occasions and assuage the “‘feelings” of their men.
However, at the Sikh Regimental Centre, Ramgarh I am told, having failed to anticipate the reaction and holding “Darbar” to assuage their feeling and restrain them from violent action, nearly 20 out of 23 officers in the Regimental Centre ‘deserted” troops on the morning of the 10th June, the day of the incident, abandoned the Regimental lines and took their families with them. What is more, except for two of them, the rest of the officers, including the Commanding Officer, failed to attend, with their families, the regular and customary Sunday Kirtan and ‘jormela’ at the Regimental Gurdwara, knowing full well that the religious sentiments of their troops were grievously hurt as a result of Army action in Harimandir Sahib and other gurdwaras in their home State.
The men were thus left in the lurch without any guidance from their officers to whom they always traditionally looked up to as their ‘mai bap’. This is a tradition peculiar to the Indian Army. The dereliction of duty on the part of the officers of the Regimental Centre is compounded by the fact that their lawful Commanders had failed to take their men into confidence either before or immediately after the Army operation ‘“‘Bluestar” as was their duty.
If what I stated above is true, then it is the officers concerned, more than the men, who are to be blamed for the happenings at the Sikh Regimental Centre on the 10th of June, 1984. The men who are traditionally so utterly dependent on their officers as their “mai bap” were left by their officers like abandoned herd of sheep, rudderless and guideless each to himself, and acted as such.
From my experience in the Indian Army, I should like to draw the attention of the honorable Court to the large scale desertion by the Indian Army troops from the battlefield, and in the face of the enemy both in 1962, against Chinese and in 1965 against Pakistan, the latter from under my own command. There were instances of battalions and a field Regiment deserting en mass. Yet no disciplinary action was taken even in a single case, for reasons best known to the Army High Command at the time. Comparatively the acts of omission and commission on the part of the Sikh soldiers at Ramgarh Regimental Centre, under the circumstances already mentioned, fail to qualify as desertion, mutiny or insurrection for the following reasons:
(a) There was complete absence of command and control over them due to their officers having abandoned them without any warning.
(b) The acts were instantaneous, spontaneous and emotionally surcharged caused by unprecedented and extreme religious provocation.
(c) No willful attempt was made to harm their officers or their families, nor was any public property destroyed.
(d) There was no disloyalty and disobedience of lawful command involved or intended.
Bigger guilt excused
Therefore, by punishing the accused for a lesser offense, do not let it be said that the Indian Army exercised double standards, or discriminated against.
My last plea is that constitutionally the Army Court Martial is a peculiar institution in India, in that, opposed to civil courts; it is both Jury and Court of Justice. As a Jury it must have human compassion and sympathy for the accused, and as a Court of Justice administer justice which is fair to the accused, and safeguard human rights.