Dr. I. J. Singh, New York University Dr. G. Singh, Marymount Manhattan College New York
Is it finally the end of turmoil in Punjab or merely a ceasefire? Does the recent accord between the Sikh leaders and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signal a new era of reconciliation or is it merely an illusion?
The “Memorandum of Settlement” dated July 24, 1985, embodies the following elements:
. . . Chandigarh goes to Punjab
. . . River water dispute goes to a tribunal
. . . Territorial questions are referred to a tribunal
. . . Anandpur Sahib Resolution is referred to a Commission
. . . Inquiry into the anti-Sikh violence is to be expanded and expedited
. . . Appropriate compensation is to be paid to the victim
. . . The role of special courts is to be severely curtailed
. . . Steps are to be taken towards the formulation of an All India Gurudwara Act Steps are to be taken toward rehabilitation of Sikhs who were discharged from the army
. . . Army recruitment and selection based on merit
. . . Steps to be taken for the promotion of the Punjabi language
While the agreement is, prima facie, a positive first step towards reconciliation let us not forget the tortuous and violent process that brought us to this day. In the inevitable relief we might feel, let us not forget some lessons of history.
Promises, similar to those in the accord, were made many times by the Indian Government during the past four decades. They have never been kept. To breathe life into these pieces of paper would require an honest willingness on the part of the government to share power with the Sikhs and with other minorities as well.
Let us remember that organized violence against the Sikhs instigated by people close to the government occurred in November 1984. After repeatedly denying such a request, Rajiv Gandhi finally agreed to hold an inquiry into these events in April 1985. Even this belated inquiry is not in place yet.
The thousands of Sikhs who suffered needlessly are not likely to be console by this new agreement of an expanded inquiry. They will want results and soon!
The accord reflects many of the Sikh demands, which were labeled as “‘secessionists” and/or “antinational” both by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Now the Indian Government has finally agreed to do what could easily have been done three years ago. What did the three years of foot-dragging and intransigence of the Indian Government achieve?
. . . Thousands of Sikhs went to jail
. . . Thousands have been murdered in fake encounters and tortured to death
. . . A peaceful movement of “civil disobedience” style became the victim of “state terrorism.”
. . . Thousands of Sikhs were massacred during the army assault on the Golden Temple Complex and other Sikh shrines in June 1984
. . . Elementary human rights of the Sikhs were mercilessly trampled upon
. . . A vibrant nation of 15 million was alienated from its mother country
. . . It cost a Prime Minister her life, and her death, instead of “invigorating’” the country brought it to the brink of a civil war and fragmentation.
. . . Thousands of Sikhs were burnt alive, women were gang raped and even children were not spared
. . . The government tried to cover up this genocide through a “media blitz”
. . . Instead of facing the problem candidly, the government directed its natural and human resources on distorting the real issues and demeaning the Sikhs
. . . The economic and human loss to India was staggering and still continues
What a price to pay! What a way to run a country!
While the text of the “Memorandum of Settlement” is important, it is the spirit of its implementation which is likely to make all the difference. We would like to ask: will Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi implement the agreement in good faith despite the long history of broken promises and betrayals and try to regain the shaken trust of the Sikh nation? Only time will tell.
There is a moral: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.