NEW DELHI: Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is generally referred to as South Block, is worried at the increasing concern of U.S. Senators and Congressmen for the plight of the Sikhs in India. The Ministry was particularly shocked by the fiery speech in the House of Representatives by Dan Burton who declared, “Rajiv Gandhi should wake up and grant the Sikhs freedom.”

Indian Foreign Office is reportedly unhappy over the inability of the Indian Embassy in Washington to counter the influence of the “Sikh separatist groups based abroad.” The success of the Sikh groups in getting the United States Senate and the House of Representatives to pay attention to Sikh persecution in the Punjab is reflected in the Congressional resolution demanding that “Sikhs be guarded against persecution from the Indian government.”

The support for the Sikh cause has developed as a result of the concerted efforts by various Sikh groups in informing the U.S. Senators and Congressmen about the reality of the situation in Punjab. Sikhs were shocked when the world watched as silent spectator to the grim events of 1984 in which thousands of Sikhs were brutally massacred and their holiest shrine was diabolically destroyed. Instead of victims, they were perceived as “terrorists” and “extremists”. The massive propaganda blitz by the Indian government had succeeded in totally obliterating the truth,

The Sikhs in U.S.A. Canada and U.K. realized the necessity of improving their public relations. Their task was by no means simple. They were not just to inform the world about their problem but also to remove the thick pall of misunderstanding created by vicious propaganda, They were required to make the world aware of the truth, to tear apart the veil of falsehood that had been assiduously and cunningly spread over the tragic ‘goings-on in Punjab. The task required an elaborate exercise in collecting fully documented facts and their interpretation in the historical perspective. This task was first undertaken by World Sikh Organization which established its office in Washington, D.C., and appointed an ex-Congressman as its lobbyist. Instructions were sent to all its chapters to contact their local Senators Congressmen, Church leaders and other public figures and acquaint them with the reality. Copies of authentic investigative reports into tragic and ghoulish events were extensively distributed. In the course of this campaign, WSO leaders discovered that Americans respond with greater concern, when approached at the local level than at the political level. Consequently, they decided to shift their focus from Washington to the constituencies.

Meanwhile Council of Khalistan headed by Dr. Gurmeet Singh Aulakh established its office in Washington and became active in the lobbying work. The Indian government is intrigued at the influence that Council of Khalistan has come to wield in the U.S. Congress vis-a-vis the Indian Embassy which has enormous resources at its command,

Reacting to India Today’s description of it as “fringe group” the Khalistan Council in a press release said that the Council of Khalistan was nominated in 1987 by the Panthic Committee in Amritsar, Punjab and has the blessings of the High Priests of the Golden Temple, the support of leading intellectual and professional figures, and represents the whole nation, The Press release further states that the Indian Government is engaged in a massive cover-up of the true situation in Punjab, worthy of Stalin’s in the U.S.S.R. during the Great Terror in the 1930’s.

“But the oppression of the Sikh nation is now too well known in the free world, Many of the facts about Indian Government actions -the formation of government death squads, fake “encounters” and the use of torture are now well-documented by Amnesty International and some facts, like the formation of government death squads, have been documented by Indian Today itself. (“The Underground Army” Indian Today Sept 15, 1988.) Amnesty International, for example, issued a report in August 1988 on the torture of Balkar Singh, a Canadian Citizen, in Amritsar. Balkar Singh’s case has been raised in the Canadian Parliament and Amnesty International is currently investigating the case, although no representatives of Amnesty, for obvious reasons, are allowed inside India Hundreds of Sikhs, like Balkar Singh, have been tortured. Many have not survived. Indian police have attempted to account for these by saying they died trying to escape “after interrogation.” History teaches us, however, that when the deaths of prisoner’s are so described, that means they usually died during interrogation.

“The issue of the repression of the Sikhs has also been raised in the British Parliament. On November 11, Terry Dicks, M.P. accused Rajiv Gandhi in the House of Commons, of being “responsible for the murder, torture and imprisonment without trial of thousands of his countrymen and he has left a great many others fearing for their lives.”

“In September 1988, news of the Bidar incident seeped through to the outside world. Six Sikh students were slaughtered in the southern Indian town of Bidar. A 150 others were injured and about another thousand fled for their lives. Four Sikh colleges were burned to the ground, 95 Sikh homes were burned down and Sikh banks and shops were looted, while the Indian police encouraged and even participated in this program. The Indian government tried to hide the news for ten days, and then minimized the count of causalities by claiming only six had died.

“To all these facts, as they emerge, the Indian Embassy in Washington, indeed, has no answer, despite “all the resources at its command.” The Indian Embassy cannot go on hiding the truth forever. And this is why the Council of Khalistan with its tiny resources in Washington has “succeeded in getting the United States Senate and the House of Representatives to pay attention to Sikh grievances in Punjab.”

“Under such circumstances the attention being paid to Sikh grievances is perfectly justified and Congressman Dan Burton’s voice is by no means the only one in Congress demanding that India should stop its persecution of the Sikhs. There are many others.

“This year 52 Congressman and three Senators have co-sponsored legislation calling on India to stop. Its human rights abuses in Punjab.

“Events have outgrown Amnesty International’s noble attempts to “investigate” the human rights abuses in the Punjab. The time has come for the United Nations to send an international peace-keeping force to stop the massacre of the Sikh nation.

“The Indian government should learn the lessons of history; that the Sikhs have never submitted ‘in the past, that they are not submitting now, and that they shall never submit in the future. Therefore, the Indian government should sit down with representatives of the Sikh nation and resolve the problem peacefully by negotiating the withdrawal of their occupation forces and the delineation of Khalistan boundaries.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 30, 1988