By Darleen R. Dhillon
It was a day which in years past called for the joyful participation by young and old in pageants and programs, bhangra and giddha. It was a day set aside for speeches extolling the virtues of a free society, freed from centuries of foreign domination won by the blood and sacrifice of courageous men and women. But on this day, this January 26, 1985, it was also a day to turn away. To turn away from the pretense of a democratic India; a secular India; to turn away from a Mother India who has revealed herself to be Kali, festooned with the skulls of martyred Sikhs as a garland. There can be no going back.
As rallies go, it was not a large one; a policeman estimated that there were 150 people present. But what they may have lacked in numbers, they certainly made up in spirit. In Rossi Recreation Center Park on Arguello, the crowd assembled and listened to speakers who set the tone for a nonviolent and disciplined protest. By 12:30 the marchers had reassembled behind police barricades in front of the Indian Consulate at 540 Arguello Blvd. Behind hastily drawn blinds, the shadowy figures of several consular officials could be seen.
A spontaneous chant of “Khalistan Zindabad!” broke out, and was repeated over and over, along with other chants, such as ‘‘we want Khalistan!’”’, “Hindustan murdabad!’’, ‘“‘Hindu government killer of Sikhs!’’, “Hindu government killer of Press!’’, and the classic “‘Dhoti, topi, Jamuna par.”
One of the first speakers to address the crowd was Balbir Singh Ragi. Harking back to the birth of Free India in 1947, he recalled that our forefathers were promised freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom to bear arms. He said,’’ as they were raising the flag of India with its three colors, for bravery, justice and peace (how could they know that) the true three colors had a totally different meaning. The justice would be for the majority, peace only if you toed the Congress line, and the brave would be called ‘antinational’; and the cowards who burn people alive would be called the brave protectors of democracy. Little did our trusting forefathers know that the promises made to them would be as hollow as the flagpole upon which they were hoisting the flag of their dreams. Little did these brave men know that the very rope that they were hoisting the flag with would become the rope around their children’s necks?’ He went on to remind those assembled that Sikhs have a rendezvous with destiny; that if it had not been for the many sacrifices of those early freedom fighters so many of whom were Sikhs “this day for the rest of India may not have arrived.’ He went on to say that the slogan “NEVER AGAIN!”’ that was uttered by people of conscience when they beheld the full horror of the Nazi holocaust had again become relevant. Only this time the horrors are not happening to the Jews in Germany, but to the Sikhs in Punjab. Out of the experience of the Jews, the state of Israel was created; and out of the atrocities suffered by the Sikhs at the hands of Indira Gandhi and her Congress (I) party, will raise the sovereign state of Khalistan. He exhorted all fellow Americans and free citizens of the world to lift their voices and join hands with the Sikhs to fight for true democracy and freedom. It may be dismissed by some as a visionary dream, this idea of a free Punjab a Khalistan but he closed by saying that this was the same kind of dream held by U.S. forefathers Washington, Jefferson and Adams.
Another speaker, Mrs. Gurbax Kaur Kahlon, reminded those assembled of the historical background of the fight for India’s freedom. She cited statistics which showed that over 80% of the martyrs who perished in the struggle against the British were Sikhs. She also read from a copy of Mahatma Gandhi’s newspaper, the March 19, 1931 issue of Young India, in which Gandhi said, “‘Our Sikh friends have no reason to fear that Congress would betray them” that if such an unimaginable thing were to occur, it would undo the very foundations of the Congress, and the nation itself. But then in 1948, Gandhi was assassinated; his influence on the constitution of the newly created nation was lost forever, and with damaging consequences for the Sikhs. It was the betrayal he had said could never come to be. The constitution of India made no mention of the Sikhs; it was as if they did not even exist. Outraged, the
Sikhs refused to ratify it. (They have not done so to this day.) Though the Sikhs were betrayed by the writers of the Indian constitution, their leaders pledged them to suffer and to endure; to be loyal to the Republic of India, and get on with the business of nation building. She went on to say that now, after having given so much far beyond what their percentage of the population might call for the Sikhs are being sacrificed by petty politicians for the purpose of winning elections. Their goals and dreams are trampled into the dust, and they are labeled “terrorists’”’ by those who have waged the real terror against them. Speaking of the current situation in Punjab, another speaker, Prof. Sulakhan S. Dhillon, reminded those assembled of the futility of negotiation. Sikhs have suffered such great losses that the time for moderation has passed. He warned that the central government was now talking of undoing the present boundaries of Punjab and taking in Himachal and Haryana again, with the aim of creating a Punjab in which the Sikhs are a definite minority. Even though it is painful to see the once huge Punjab reduced to its present size (after Punjabi Suba) this neutralizing move on the part of the government must not be allowed. There can be no giving in on the just demands of the Sikhs for autonomy. Punjab has given away too much under the name of “‘secularism’’, and now the center has consolidated so much power and has engineered the voting along communal lines, that there is no protection for Sikh interests.
Other speakers who came forward to address the crowd were Didar Singh Bains, Pandit Sucha Singh (both of Yuba City), Hardev Singh Grewal (Fremont), Hardyal Singh Dhatt (Stockton), Prof. Shamsher Singh (San Francisco), as well as several others. All the speeches were punctuated with frequent and hearty Jakaras (‘‘BOLEYYYYYYYY SO NIHAL! SAT SRI AKAAAAAAAAAAAL!”’’) Which demonstrated a unity of will and purpose.
Although spirited, the assembled protesters were at all times peaceful and orderly. There were
no untoward incidents of any kind, even when an Indian flag suddenly was produced from the crowd and set ablaze. Much credit belongs to organizers Piara Singh and Karnail Singh Kahlon, both of El Sobrante, who kept things moving smoothly and orderly, and made sure that the speakers took only their allotted time. The placards prepared for the occasion were by and large well done, and some (‘‘Bhindranwale the 20th century Thomas a Becket’) showed a higher level than on previous occasions. A lone TV cameraman showed up from Channel 4 but departed without interviewing anyone on camera. The rally broke up promptly at 3:00 p.m., the time its permit expired. The sun came out once again, and a slight breeze finally blew away the last remaining blackened pieces of something that had been three colored, for bravery, justice and peace.