Presented by Sardar Gaanga Singh Dhillon

The words Punjab and Sikh burst on the global scene in 1984 and have commanded considerable attention since then. The popular perception is that a “handful of terrorists” are committing acts of violence and the government of the so-called “largest democracy” in the world is trying to fight this campaign. Recently, the Western world itself has faced considerable violence and terrorism in one form or another. An ignorance of the Sikh/Punjab issues and a general anger towards terrorism as such has created a tendency in most circles to simplify matters.

What are the issues? Did the violence begin as a last resort weapon towards deliberate neglect of Sikhs by the Government of India? And, is the Government of India (and India’s Hindu majority) indulging in a calculated campaign of wiping out a religious minority?

The Sikh nation maintains that the current repressive attitude of Indian Government is nothing new. The Hindu community and its leadership are determined not only to exterminate the Sikhs but also other potent minorities.

Historic Background Currently, Sikhs constitute about 2 percent of Indian population. In the undivided British India, an independent Sikh State was finally annexed in 1848. In 1877, Sikhs launched a movement for a “Punjabi Suba” a separate province where all persons who spoke Punjabi language could enjoy the freedom of preserving and promoting their cultural heritage. Sikhs also declared their support for Indian Freedom Movement.

As early as 192930, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had declared that Sikhs would be treated as a distinct separate entity and no Indian constitution would be approved without the participation and endorsement of Sikhs.

In 1946, both the British and the Muslim leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah tried to persuade the Sikhs not to join the Hindus. But Gandhi and Nehru repeated their unqualified assurances on Sikhs’ rights and these assurances were accepted in good faith.

However, the 1950 Indian constitution came as a shock to the Sikh nation. It declared Sikhs as part of the Hindu majority religion. The Sikh leader in Indian constituent assembly, Hukam Singh, rejected this clause but the constitution was adopted since Hindu Congress had a majority.

Why would a “secular state” try to define the religion of any segment of its population?

This question is at the heart of Sikh Hindu confrontation.

The scope of this pamphlet does not permit the luxury of further historical detail. However, it is a verifiable fact that Sikhs in Punjab and elsewhere in India are victims of terrorism by a ruthless majority and its equally ruthless political leadership.

This pamphlet will briefly deal with some important aspects of human rights violations in India such as 1) Indian Government has consistently attempted to suppress peaceful dissent. 2) Distorted information is used to prove that all violence in Punjab is initiated by “Sikh militants” and only non-Sikhs are the victims. 3) Indian Government and Hindu community is practicing Nazi/Fascist doctrine of Class Guilt to punish all members of a community for the alleged crimes of a few. 4) The Sikhs are not protected by laws of the country or its judicial system.

Suppression of Peaceful Dissent:

The Indian and international press and world leaders acknowledged that a recently assassinated Sikh leader Harchand Singh Longowal was a “moderate” leader. In an interview with India’s most respected biweekly magazine India Today (October 15, 1982,) Longowal said: ‘

“The promise (of Gandhi and Nehru) should be honored. In 35 years of independence Sikhs have been treated as second class citizens. . We have been subjected to gross injustice . . . (All political parties like) Congress, Janata Party, Lok Dal, the communists all has led peaceful protests. But when we wanted to go to Delhi and protest, our buses were stopped, our trucks seized and damaged. Four Sikhs were killed . . . trains were searched and Sikhs dragged out. . . Mrs. Gandhi is living in a fool’s paradise if she thinks the Sikhs can be kept as slaves.

The interview contained not threats of violence but the magazine still headlined it as “Militant Stand.” Such calculated media angles have contributed a great deal towards creating a negative image of Sikh nation as being “extremist and terrorist.

As a result of this successful campaign, innocent Sikh victims of Indian Government’s terrorism are finding that many western nations are reluctant to grant them refugee status or even allow them to come as visitors.

Longowal interview also shows that Sikhs were victims of state backed Hindu communal violence. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (assassinated during Indian army’s attack on Golden Temple) was considered as the cause of all violence in Punjab. But even before he arrived on the scene as an effective political force, Sikhs were deprived of their inalienable right to peaceful political dissent.

Another glaring example of Indian Government’s chronic intolerance for peaceful dissent came to light during Indian prime minister’s 1985 visit to United States. The National/Press Club invited the Indian Ambassador to address a meeting on June 7, 1985 and it also invited the prime minister to speak at a luncheon on June 14. However, the club invited an American Sikh leader, Sardar Ganga Singh Dhillon, to express his views on the situation in Indian Punjab. This meeting was set for June 11.

The Indian Government reacted angrily in Delhi and Washington; it called the invitation a “gross discourtesy” to Indian prime minister; demanded a cancellation and sought U.S. State Department’s help to pressure club; threatened that if Dhillon was allowed to speak then the prime minister would cancel his luncheon speech; and the entire Indian press painted the event as a US Pakistan conspiracy to embarrass the prime minister and cited it as a “proof” of a “foreign hand” in political situation in Punjab.

In the best traditions of impartiality, the National Press Club refused to withdraw the invitation.

The episode, however, raises many interesting questions: 1) Indian ambassador and Indian prime minister used the club forum to express their version of Punjab situation but in their view a Sikh should not have been allowed to present his side of the story. 2) If an American citizen’s peaceful dissent in America (on the subject of Punjab) is unacceptable to Indian Government then sits conceivable that it would allow this to happen in India? The answer may be found in the following episode.

On September 16, 1985, The New York Times reported that Indian Government had confiscated and destroyed the copies of a report on government’s brutal handling of the Punjab situation. The report was compiled by an independent civil liberties group, Citizens for Democracy. It asserted that “clearly innocent” people had been arrested and the police in Punjab had carried out “sadistic torture, ruthless killings, fake counters, calculated ill treatment of women and children, and corruption and graft on a large scale.”

The foreword of “Oppression in Punjab” was written by a respected judge V.W. Tawrkunde. The judge and others involved in the preparation and printing of the report have been charged with sedition. Chandra Shekhar, prominent opposition leader and president of Janata Party, has accused Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of “Sustained attempts to suppress the civil rights of the people.”

These points should be noted: A) Those who prepared the report were not Sikhs. B) None of them had any record of supporting the separatist movement. C) They had not attempted to incite or condone violence.

The simple fact that they considered some Sikhs to be innocent victims of state terrorism was enough to accuse them of sedition.

These are only a few examples of how the Indian Government has attempted to suppress peaceful dissent at home and abroad.

By systematically and forcefully closing all doors to peaceful dissent the Indian Government has left the Sikh Nation with two options: 1) To surrender to Hindu majority and lose their distinct cultural and religious identity, or 2) To find alternative ways of expressing their dissent. In this case, the Indian Government has the resources and the international clout to discredit the entire Sikh nation; force foreign governments to close their doors to Sikh refugees so that they cannot escape to more secure environments and can be easily slaughtered in Punjab.

The Disinformation:

The Indian Government and its state controlled radio and television have conducted a sustained campaign of disinformation.

The Indian Government claimed the violence in Punjab had reached such levels that an all-out assault on Sikh holy shrine, the Golden Temple, was the only way to deal with the situation.

Indian White Paper on this operation claims that 485 persons were killed as a result of violence between March 1981 and June 1984. Of these, 132 were Hindus; 211 were Sikhs and 114 were from other communities. When a Sikh is killed he/she is referred to as a “person.” But when a Hindu is killed he/she is referred to as “Hindu” thus creating the false impression that Sikhs were killing Hindus. The fact is that more Sikhs were killed than Hindus.

These 485 also include murders committed by criminals. Delhi has a population one third that of Punjab but 244 persons were killed there in 1983 alone. In Utter Pardesh state, 17,470 murders were committed in two years198284 (Indian Express, January 28, 1984). Compared to these, a total number of 485 murders in three years in Punjab showed that it was a much more crime free society in India. The Indian Government attributed all these murders to Sikh “militants” to justify its attack on Golden Temple.

Indian Government claimed that Golden Temple was used a sanctuary by “terrorists.”

Illustrated Weekly of India (July 22, 1984) challenged this assertion by saying: “Only once (late 1982) . . . a list of 40 criminals (was sent) to (temple administrative body) SGPC… (which found) that 18 could just not be in the Golden Temple. Some were in Pakistani jails . . . some in Canada and West Germany by government’s own ad mission in Parliament. . . the remaining 22 couldn’t be located inside (the temple) .. . Later, in (lower house) home minister P.C. Sethi admitted these facts. . .”

The Manchester Guardian (June 27, 1984) disputed Indian Government claims that Golden Temple was a sanctuary for “terrorists.” It said: “The one requirement for terrorism is secrecy. One would not advertise and plan terrorism from, say, the concourse of Waterloo Station. Similarly, the Golden Temple with its famous doors to emphasize its welcome (to all) has precluded its use by any group intent on serious terrorism. A secret telephone number is a useful asset for organizing terrorism. The phones into Golden Temple were known to, and tapped by police,

Inside, right up to the time of the attack, pilgrims, and visitors, including foreign press, were free to go into any part of the Temple complex. Outside, a heavy police presence had existed for more than a year at each entrance to the Golden Temple.”

Indian Government claimed that heavy fortification of the Golden Temple was a proof of it being used a terrorist base.

However, the government fails to point out that such heavy fortifications were the result of constant hints by the government that it would forcibly enter the temple. Most of the arms recovered from the temple were light arms used commonly for self-defense. And since the Indian Army did not allow any neutral observers during the assault or afterwards, there is no way to determine if these arms were actually found in the temple or planted by the army to make a case for its assault. Magazine India Today called the White Paper “operation whitewash.” Monthly magazine Surya (August 1984) called the coverage by government television a “flood of amateurish propaganda. . .”

(To he continued)

Article extracted from this publication >>  November 29, 1985