Hon. Wally Herger Of California In The House of Representatives Wednesday, April 13, 1988

MR HERGER; Mr. Speaker, during the past year I have spent a great deal of time exploring the political turmoil in India’s Punjab state. I have discussed the problems with representatives from the Sikh community, officials from the U.S. Department of State, and the Indian Ambassador. On a number of occasions, I have spoken on the House floor to urge that the parties involved work toward a peaceful and reasonable solution to their differences. I have urged India’s Prime Minister, Rajiy Gandhi to ensure that the human rights violations taking place be brought to an immediate halt, and allow democratic elections as soon as possible. Unfortunately, no progress has been made. In fact, the Indian Government’s actions have only served to increase the levels of tensions and hostility between the people of the Punjab and the Government. Recently the Parliament imposed a stringent state of emergency on the Punjab. The decree, which suspends nearly all civil rights, demonstrates that India is simply unwilling to address the legitimate concerns of the Sikhs in ‘a peaceful fashion, and is instead intent upon crushing the democratic aspirations of India’s most productive minority group. The state of emergency extends the powers of the military and police to continue to disregard internationally accepted human rights standards. Combined with news that the Government recently arrested nearly 23,000 citizens who. Participated in a general strike, news of the emergency decree lends little hope to those of us who had hoped fora peaceful end to the dispute.

In addition, the Indian Government is now directing precious ‘water resources, that have for centuries been used by the Sikhs, to other provinces that have been more willing to cooperate with India’s policies of water redistribution. Punjab, which literally means “five rivers,” depends on the waters from the Indus River and its tributaries to employ its Citizens and produce the crops that account for 73 percent of India’s wheat reserves and nearly 48 percent of its rice reserve. The Indian government’s actions have infuriated the Sikh agricultural community and have only served to damage the economic wellbeing of hard working Sikh men, women and children in the region.

Given these developments, it is clear that a new approach is needed. Many of us in this body believe that it is time for India to move forward with a more rational policy in the region, one which recognizes a legitimate right of self-determination.

My colleague, Congressman Bernard Dwyer, has proposed that India allow the Punjab to organize itself along the lines of the relationship between Italy and the Vatican. He suggests that allowing Punjab to become a state within a state could lead to a more productive and peaceful relationship between the Central government and those who reside in the Punjab.

By allowing the Sikhs to control their own destiny, the Indian government could also extricate itself from what has become an extremely tragic episode in Indian history. The challenge of peacefully governing the Punjab would fall to the Sikhs; a challenge that I am certain they would meet successfully.

Mr. Dwyer’s proposal deserves the support of this Congress and the consideration of Rajiv Gandhi’s government. The Sikhs have repeatedly demonstrated their aptitude for economic progress; it is past time for India to fulfill her commitment to democracy for this hard working Indian minority. I am hopeful that these suggestions will be worthwhile and will be taken as such by all parties. The path to a peaceful solution in the Punjab will certainly not be without its share of obstacles. It is our responsibility, however, to do our best to encourage continued progress toward this goal. I strongly encourage the Indian government to recognize that a new peaceful policy is needed and that constructive and innovative steps are required.



Wednesday, April 13, 1988

  1. TORRICELLI, Mr. Speaker,

I would like to bring my colleagues’ attention to an event that occurred on this day almost three centuries ago. On April 13, 1699, Guru Gobind Singh began baptizing people in the name of the Sikh faith. Subsequently, Sikhs around the world have celebrated April 13, as the birthday of the Sikh religion and nation.

Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th master, transformed Sikhs into saint soldiers by baptizing them with Amrit; the Sikhs were to subscribe to the five “Ke” of the five physical attributes: Kes or uncut hair usually worn in a turban, Kanga or 4 small wooden comb to signify cleanliness, Kirpan or a small, symbolic sword, Kara or a steel bracelet, and Kachha or a special type of underpants to symbolize a chaste and pure life.

The religion of the Sikhs is a monotheistic religion in which God is taken to be the absolute reality. Sikhism lays great stress 0p equality and the fraternity of man, self-respect for the human personality, service to humanity in the form of sharing and protection of others less fortunate, the virtues of hard work and honesty, democratic values such as freedom of speech, the equality of women in all spheres of spiritual and secular life, and the nobility of fighting oppression and injustice.

These admirable qualities have attracted 16 million Sikh adherents in India and over 300,000 here in the United States. The Sikh community in India primarily reside in Punjab state, where favorable conditions and hard work have made that state the richest and the most agriculturally productive in India, Sikhs also remain ‘an important element in the Indian military.

In recent years, however, celebration of the birth of Sikhism has come amid heightened anxiety among the Sikh community in India and among relatives and friends living in other countries. An escalation of violence in Punjab and other areas of India has resulted in several tens of thousands of deaths. This violence has greatly complicated hopes for a political resolution to the crisis in Punjab.

Commemoration of the birth of Sikh religion requires a recognition that the citizens of Punjab cannot enjoy full democracy so long as violence prevails, the central government imposes direct control over local government and free press is denied in the region. As the Sikh community looks forward to celebrating a full 300 years of Sikhism in 1999, I hope that complete democracy can return to Punjab.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 13, 1988