History has bestowed upon you a unique opportunity to influence the destiny of India, indeed the whole of South Asia — from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan.
However, history does not wait in silence if leaders and statesmen do not seize upon such opportunities and face the real problems with courage and honesty and to find peaceful and equitable solutions. Speaking at Fudan University in Shanghai, President Ronald Reagan observed:
“My young friend, history is a river that may take us as it will. But we have the power to navigate, to choose direction and make our passage together.” (May 1, 1984).
We, the Sikhs from Punjab, now residing in the United States, find it difficult to reach you, because we have been locked out of our native homeland. However, we dare not remain silent about the tragic situation in the Punjab and the rest of India for the oppressed Sikh minority.
The Sikhs’ struggle for retrieving their distinct status as a national minority, which was lost during the partition fiasco of 1947, is almost four decades old. However, two recent tragic events: “Operation Blue Star’ (the bloody army assault on the Golden Temple Complex in June, 1984) and “Operation Genocide” (the savage wave of mass murder, looting and arson directed at the Sikhs after the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi in November, 1984, by her own security guards) have inflicted a deep wound in the psyche of the Sikh people. As observed by an eminent Indian journalist, “it was really like being a Jew in Czarist Russia or Nazi Germany.”
The bleeding Sikh nation is in agony. The violation of human rights of the Sikhs has reached a dangerous proportion. These violations include arbitrary arrest and detention; torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; political killings termed fake encounters by Amnesty International disappearances; denial of a fair public trial; denial of free speech and press; denial of freedom of religion; and denial of freedom of movement within and outside the country disregarding the Constitution of India, the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Thousands of the innocent Sikh orphans, widows and older parents whose loved ones have been lynched to death or burnt alive in front of their eyes are crying for justice.
While the civilized nations are feeling the shame of Nazi holocaust they are slowly but painfully becoming aware of the genocide of the Sikhs, right in their own homeland. President Ronald Reagan’s following words at Bitsburg were inspiring “never again will the world stand silent before man’s inhumanity to man.”
In this time of grief, we, the Sikh people with tears in our eyes and prayers on our lips are being sustained by our deep faith in the ultimate triumph of justice and truth. In this context, Anthony Lewis’ observation about the Jewish plight in Nazi Germany are particularly noteworthy: “They were sustained by the faith that one day the human spirit would prevail, that mankind see the evil for what it was and condemn it forever.” (New York Times, April 21, 1985)
Recent bombing incidents in New Delhi and elsewhere obviously engineered by the notorious “Third Agency” of the Indian Government are being used as a pretext for mass arrests, torture and murder of innocent Sikhs.
On the contrary, not a single case has been registered against hundreds of criminals, who terrorized and massacred thousands of Sikhs in November, 1984. Mr. V.M. Tarkunde, an advocate of the Supreme Court of India mentioned in a report (Truth About Delhi Violence, January, 1985), “not a single case against any offender appears to have been filed before any Delhi Magistrate.”
How can the minorities have any faith in this system of justice? If this is the way to keep the country united, one wonders what could be the prescription for a disaster?
The military occupation of the Sikh Homeland continues and it remains sealed off from the rest of the world like an occupied foreign country. Thousands of the Sikhs, including the soldiers of conscience who refused to participate in this carnage against their own people are suffering in jails under appalling conditions, reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps.
Mary Ann Weaver writing in the Christian Science Monitor, about the massive cordon and search operations in the Punjab reports.
“The pattern in each village appears to be the same. The Army moves in during the early evening, cordons a village, and announces over loudspeakers that everyone must come out. All males between the ages of 15 and 35 are trussed and blindfolded, and then taken away.”
“Thousands have disappeared in the Punjab since the Army operation began. The government has provided no lists of names; families don’t know if sons and husbands are arrested, underground or dead.” (October 15, 1984)
Since you often complain against foreign media for their reporting on “Operation Genocide” we would like to invite your attention to the fact-finding reports by many Indian human rights groups and civil liberties unions.
Rajni Kothari and Gobinda Mukhoty (two eminent Hindu scholars and human rights advocates) have compiled a report Who Are the Guilty? (November, 1984), based on eyewitness accounts of a team jointly organized by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (New Delhi) provides a long list of high government officials and Congress (I) leaders, who were directly or indirectly responsible for the massacre of the Sikhs. The report came to some very disturbing conclusions: “the attacks on members of the Sikh Community in Delhi and its suburbs .far from being a spontaneous expression of ‘“‘madness” and or popular “grief and anger” at Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination as made out to be by the authorities, were the outcome of a well-organized plan marked by acts of both deliberate commission and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by authorities in the administration.”
“The targets were primarily young Sikhs. They were dragged out, beaten up and then burnt alive.” “In some areas . . . even children were not spared. We also came across reports of gang rape of women. The orgy of destruction embraced the gurudwaras and schools belonging to the Sikhs. In all the affected spots, a calculated attempt to terrorize the people was evident in the common tendency among the assailants to burn alive the Sikhs on public roads.”
“Policemen were reading newspapers and drinking tea inside the car while the arson was going on all around.”
The fact-finding team demanded “a public high level inquiry into the role of the government and the ruling party in planning, instigating and executing” this massacre.
In another report prepared by the Citizens for Democracy (Truth About Delhi Violence, January, 1985), Mr. V.M. Tarkunde, an advocate of the Supreme Court of India, makes the following disturbing observations.
“Instead of trying to protect innocent victims, the police, except in a solitary instance, were either utterly indifferent or positively hostile to the Sikhs.”
“There was one lone police officer in Pandav Nagar called Vinod Sharma whose name was mentioned with deep gratitude by the relatives of victims; and because he had behaved as a police officer is expected to, he was summarily removed.”
“The fact that 20 percent of Delhi police who happened to be Sikh was removed and locked up during the entire period of the violence, was a clear indication to the police of Delhi
How to deal with the Sikhs.” The Citizens’ Commission, headed by S.M. Sikri, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, expressed the following concerns (January, 1985).
“If the Sikhs, the valiant guardians of our Western marches who have fully contributed to the independence of our country and to its progress and prosperity, feel injured or alienated, it weakens the fabric of our society and the vitality of our nation.”
“The sense of culpability projected against all Sikhs for the senseless aberrations of a few, has resulted in a grievous fracture of the secular ideal and has grave implications for the unity and integrity of our country. This distorted concept of attributing guilt by association is illogical, negates the rule of law and undermines the foundations of an orderly society.”
“It has been alleged before us, and the all-around circumstances stated before us suggest that there was a. plan and conspiracy to teach the Sikhs a lesson “This for any civilized society would be reprehensible and intolerable. What steps are being contemplated to go to the root of the problem and ascertain the truth in order to ensure that such a paralysis of the administrative machinery does not recur and the life and property of all peace loving citizens are fully protected, irrespective of caste, creed, and religion or political beliefs?”
In a writ petition filed under public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India by the three highly respected professors of Delhi University (Madhu Kishwar, Ruth Wanita and Rakesh Bharadwaj) against the State of India, charged that the Sikh Community has suffered serious “violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.” The petition cited many cases of Sikh widows and orphans who have suffered grievous injuries and violation of personal dignity. The following is a typical case of hundreds of Sikh women who have been subjected to inhuman, degrading and atrocious treatment. Gurdip Kaur, a 45 year old Sikh woman, gave the following testimony.
“They tore my clothes and stripped me naked,” and raped me right in front of my son.”
“She said even nine to ten’ years old girls were raped. The attackers first emptied the houses of men who were burnt alive. After’ that, they dragged the women… and gang raped them.” “The police officers “stood by and watched violence, arson, rape, looting and murder, without making any attempt to intervene to protect citizens belonging to the Sikh minority.” (Excerpts from Manushi: A Journal About Women and Society, December, 1984). Despite these disturbing fact-finding reports by the human rights groups and civil liberties organizations, the government tried to cover up “Operation Blue Star” and “Operation Genocide” and continued to project the criminals and terrorists gangs. The recent announcement of a judicial inquiry, more than six months after the occurrence, raises more disturbing questions about this murky state of affairs.
All attempts by the International Committee for Red Cross, International Human Rights groups and Relief Agencies to go to India have been rebuffed.
Similar requests by five U.S. Congressmen and ten Members of the British Parliament to go to India on a fact-finding mission were not granted by the government.
Why is your government afraid of fact-finding missions and judicial inquiry? They cannot find anything which did not happen while your government is pursuing the cases on behalf of the victims of Bhopal tragedy, the way it should, all relief funds from the Sikh congregations abroad have been withheld, while thousands of Sikh widows and orphans are crying for help.
Your trip to Bangladesh to express your sympathies with the victims of this tragic natural disaster is praise worthy. But, why this inhumanity and insensitivity towards the Sikh victims of human brutality?
We often hear about cosmetic gestures and the so-called healing touch, but in reality your government has been pouring salt on the Sikh wounds.
The grant of highest military awards to those who led the bloody army assault on the Golden Temple Complex adds further insult to injury to the entire Sikh nation. It is like a father praising the heroism of one son who has murdered the second son in a family dispute.
The release of a few Sikh leaders was dramatized as a big concession. May we ask, what about those criminals who are freely roaming in the streets of New Delhi after murdering thousands of the Sikhs and plundering and burning their property worth millions of dollars?
Mr. Prime Minister, why do you feel so sour when the Sikhs abroad express their concern about the plight of the Sikhs ‘in India? Don’t you and our fellow brethren in Tamil Nadu raise similar cries about the plight of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. In USA the Irish Americans and the Jewish Americans do the same in reference to the situation in Northern Ireland and Soviet Jewry respectively.
Why would anybody expect us to keep silent, while the military occupation of the Sikh Homeland continues and it remains sealed off from the rest of the world like an occupied country?
Mr. Prime Minister, you are aware of the fact that not a single Sikh demand has been satisfied so far, while thousands have been sent to concentration camps, tortured and executed without due process of law. How much more bloodbaths is required to quench the thirst of India’s “state terrorism’ against the Sikhs? Instead of resolving any problem, the ruling Congress (I) regime has resorted to a billion dollar media blitz to cover up the genocide of the Sikhs, to blackmail them all over the world, to distort the real issues and to misinform the world.
Hundreds of India’s intelligence agents (like the SAWAK of Iran) are roaming through the capitals of the world provoking incidents and blaming them on the Sikhs; thus wasting India’s scarce economic resources abroad.
If only a fraction of these human and financial resources were utilized in the right direction most of the problems could be solved peacefully and equitably and thousands of innocent victims of India’s “state terrorism” could be saved.
While this misinformation media blitz is causing a great deal of dismay and agony to the Sikhs, it is not helping India and Indians abroad. It is destroying India’s image abroad and fracturing its social fabric at home.
How long can your guns and tanks keep the wounded lion of Punjab silent? Remember, Mr. Prime Minister, Hitler’s gas chambers could not crush the Jewish dream. Bengali nationalism could not be destroyed by the brutality of Pakistani army. Tamil minority’s aspirations cannot be wished away by Sri Lanka’s brute force. Thousands of the Sikhs have become the victims of state terrorism, but the Sikh ideals of freedom and dignity for all cannot be crushed.
We urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, not to rely on brute force. The time demands recognition of the dignity and integrity of historical facts. Any policy, based on falsehood and distortion is not likely to succeed. Otherwise, Lord Krishna’s dialogue with Arjun and the whole story of Mahabharata, would fail to teach us any lesson.
History stands witness to the fact that the Sikhs have always stood at the front of the firing lines as the citadel of freedom and security of India. Nobody should expect them to do otherwise in their quest for distinct status in their little cultural homeland of Punjab, where the Sikh heritage could be preserved and promoted with dignity and respect worthy of the Khalsa Panth.
Mr. Prime Minister, we are not asking for any concession or charity. All we are asking is that our basic human rights and fundamental freedoms including the freedom to determine our own destiny be restored.
Mr. Prime Minister, human rights cannot depend upon the generosity of a preponderant majority or a ruling regime. It is not a charity that the minorities have to seek like a beggar with a tin cup in hand.
True, democracy is based on the principle of majority rule, but it does not give the majority a license to impose its will and trample upon the elementary human rights of the minorities.
As it were, without operative constitutional and institutional safeguards, the minorities are naked before the arbitrary power of the majority and the freedom of expression is reduced to the “right to cry in the wilderness.”
A large country like India, which is the land of cultural diversity and a panorama of national minorities, cannot afford to live in the fear of the past. It has to face the future with courage and fortitude. It is both a challenge as well as an opportunity. A young Prime Minister like you can provide the much needed new direction. It is not beyond the prudence and wisdom of India to evolve a modus vivendi where the Sikhs’ quest for a distinct national status in their cultural homeland of Punjab could be realized.
Mr. Prime Minister, despite this bloodbath, not a single Sikh demand has been satisfied so far. With the passage of time the cost of resolution is likely to increase and the ugly monster of violence would take heavy tolls from all sides.
To be sure, the succeeding generations would not like to inherit this problem and might find it hard to excuse us for shirking our responsibility like the bleeding children of Lebanon and Northern Ireland.
Finally, Mr. Prime Minister, even though the intellect is reluctant to believe, the heart wants to hope that a young Prime Minister like you would rise above political expediency and seek a peaceful and equitable settlement of this problem. If you choose this positive course, we assure you of our active cooperation and best wishes.
N.B. The source documents referred above can be obtained from World Sikh Organization upon request. These are not priced publications. However, any donation to cover the cost of printing and mailing will be appreciated.
Article extracted from this publication >> June 14, 1985