by Harvind Kaur Rikhiraj

ALL over the world there are people fighting for what they believe in. Each individual group has a cause, right or wrong is not the issue; The people are fighting because they feel oppressed, underprivileged, or because they are treated as second rate citizens in their own homeland. Several examples of such people are the Jews of Russia, the Palestinians, the Contras in Nicaragua, and the most recent being the Sikhs in India.

There has been much unrest in India in the past few years because of the governments undemocratic behavior. It began with the raid on the Golden Temple, Amritsar, the most sacred temple for the Sikhs, like the wailing wall for the Jews, the Vatican for Catholics, Mecca for Moslems. The problems did not all begin here or end here, this Taid was just an icing on the cake.

It must be noted that Sikhs comprise about two percent of the population in India, a relative minority in such a populous country, yet they made many sacrifices for the country in the past.

During the time of British occupation in In a the Sikhs fought fervently to restore the country’s freedom from the British.

Although Sikhs comprised only two percent of the entire Indian population, they however made up 60% of the National Indian Army fighting against the British. Not only did Sikhs sacrifice their lives during that time, but also in tragedies like Jhalianwala BAgh those brutally shot down were mostly Sikhs.

Sikhs sacrificed personal liberties to preserve the unity of India and to help create a great new “democracy”. The British offered Sikhs a secular state with 10 years of protection by the British. Sikhs declined this offer and accepted an offer from Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi instead. They offered Sikhs equal opportunity and recognition as a minority community, but when the time came to reorganize India on the basis of language and to create a new form of government, Nehru just categorized Sikhs as Hindus and refused to recognize Punjabi. The promises were broken.

June 4, 1984, the Indian government stormed the Golden Temple and killed many innocent men, women and children. Not to mention the countless historical artifacts which were also destroyed. The entire raid was carefully planned by the government was scheduled on a religious holiday when more than the average number of worshippers were present. The raid was called Operation Blue Star by the government. “The whole of Punjab was virtually cut off from the rest of the country by a rigid press censorship”, as stated by Justice V.M. Tarkunde in a Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab (banned publication in India).

This incident caused much unrest in the Sikh community in India as well as abroad. Things increasingly became worse after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Many months have passed since the mass killings of Sikhs yet justice has not prevailed. A major problem today is the lack of independent press reporting due to the censorship and ban on entry of foreign reporters, visitors, and scholars inside the Sikh state, Punjab. The New York Times (October 23, 1984, p.30) lamented in an editorial, “Truth is on trial in India, if reporting accurately is a crime, democratic India and its free press will have lost more than lives in the Punjab”.

Since the mass killings not a single person has been arrested or charged for the crimes. There have been nearly 370 secret trials of Sikhs under newly amended laws. The army continues to storm the Golden Temple like they did recently on January 17. It has become a general practice.

Oppression still continues in a country considered to be a democracy. With the upcoming celebration of the bicentennial of the American Constitution let’s hope to live freely with the assurance to “establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity”.

Article extracted from this publication >>  March 27, 1987