For the benefit of our readers we have decided to publish extracts from “THE PUNJAB CRISIS AND HUMAN RIGHTS,” by S. Iqbal Singh of University of Chicago. Mr. Singh’s work stands out distinct as an objective and analytical study of a subject that has been distorted out of all proportions especially by those who have been laboriously endeavoring to justify the Army action as inevitable.

Mr. Singh’s approach is non-emotional and solely motivated by his anxiety to sift the truth from out of the smoke and dust screen of confusing hues. This Extract is Sixth in the Series


When the possibility of an independent India began to present itself in the 1920’s Sikh leadership was most concerned about their future status and role in the new political entity. Demographic realities, fear of cultural assimilation by the Hindu majority, and uncertainties arising out of not too distant a conflictual history with the Mughal rulers, lent a sense of urgency for a secure and honorable status in any future arrangement. To this end it sought an unambiguous assurance from the majority community and in exchange gave its support to the Congress.

Sikh leadership felt from the beginning that the majority community politically interacted with the Sikhs in a manner as to discourage them the Muslim option while treating them as part of Hindus. In the Min to Morley Scheme (1909) the Sikhs like Muslims had claimed, unsuccessfully, separate representation for their community. The Congress leader ship in the beginning was opposed to the demand of separate representation for Sikhs. Despite all efforts of the Sikhs to emphasize their separate identity from the Hindus, the latter persistently claimed that Sikhs formed a part of Hindus this was one of the reasons that Hindus and Muslims completely ignored the Sikhs in the Luck now Pact of 1916.

In the same vein, the Nehru Report, authored by Moti Lal Nehru in response to the Simon Commission (1927), essentially perceived the future of India in terms of Hindu and Muslim communities and considered Sikhs to be part of the former. Consequently the Sikh demands and interests in relation to their representation in Punjab were put aside on various grounds despite the fact that the Sikhs in Punjab had 19.1 percent of seats in the Punjab Legislature in the 1920s. The Nehru Report evoked a strong condemnation from the Sikh leaders, Gandhi while approving the Report said, “Personally I think we have not done full justice to the Sikhs. Hence it is necessary for all to put your heads together and make suggestions and evolve order out of chaos. . . ”

With the introduction of the freedom legislative reforms in 1935, which guaranteed majority for Muslims in Punjab, the attitude of Hindus towards the Sikh demand changed for reasons of political expedience. In order to reduce the Muslim majority in Punjab Legislative Council, the Hindus not only recognized the Sikhs as a separate community but also supported their demand for adequate weightage in representation.

Mahatma Gandhi and Motilal Nehru assured the Sikh leaders Master Tara Singh and Baba Kharak Singh (December), that no future solution would be acceptable to the Congress which did not give satisfaction to the Sikhs. Accordingly, a resolution was passed by the Congress at its Lahore session” . . . as the Sikhs in Particular, and Muslims and other minorities in general have expressed dissatisfaction over the solution of communal questions proposed in the Nehru Report, this Congress assures the Sikhs, the Muslims and other minorities that no solution thereof in any future constitution will be acceptable to the Congress that does not give full satisfaction to the parties concerned.” This resolution, according to Gandhi, was adopted primarily to satisfy the Sikh minority.

Mahatma Gandhi, while addressing a meeting at Gurudwara Sis Ganj, Delhi, (the site where the Ninth Sikh Guru was beheaded) said.

l ask you to accept my word. And the resolution of the Congress that it will not betray a single individual, much less a community ….our Sikh friends have no fear that it (Congress) would betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would not only thereby seal its doom but that of the country too. Moreover, Sikhs are a brave people. They know how to safeguard their rights by exercise of arms if it should ever come to that.”

The Young India, March 19, 1931

Jawaharlal Nehru, at the All India Congress Committee, Calcutta reaffirmed the assurance already given to Sikhs by these words:

“The brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a setup in the North wherein the Sikhs can experience the glow of The Statesman, Calcutta July 7, 1946 Another of Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurances to Sikhs was “Redistribution of provincial boundaries was essential and inevitable. I stand for semiautonomous units… if the Sikhs desire to function as such a unit, I would like them to have a semiautonomous unit within the province so that they may have a sense of freedom.”

Congress Records, Reproduced in Punjabi Suba, National Book Club, p. 147

Jawahar Lal Nehru moved a resolution regarding minorities on Dec 9, 1946 in the Constituent Assembly. Relevant portion reads:

“Adequate safeguards would be provided for minorities in India . . . It was a declaration, pledge and an undertaking before the world, a contract with millions of Indians and, therefore, in the nature of an oath we must keep.”

  1. Shiva Rao: Framing of the Indian Constitution A Study, p 181.

The Hindu and Sikh members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly met in Delhi in July 1947 and passed a unanimous resolution favoring partition of the country. Part of the resolution declared that: “In the divided Punjab special constitutional measures are imperative to meet just aspirations and rights of the Sikhs.”

While the British were still in power the Constituent Assembly on August 8, 1947 passed certain safeguards. limited in scope though, relating to Sikhs regarding their representation in the future legislatures. Soon after the British left, this provision was negated by Minority Subcommittee of the Constituent Assembly on May 11, 1949 that “no special provision should be provided for the Sikhs other than the general provisions already approved by the Assembly for certain other minorities.” The logic for negation of the Constituent Assembly’s provision was “Conditions have, however, vastly changed since August 1947 and the Committee (is) satisfied that minorities themselves feel in their own interest, no less than the interest of the country as a whole, that the statutory reservations for religious minorities should be abo lished.” At the time of 1951 Census, vital information relating to the number of Punjabi speaking people in Punjab was deleted from the Official report. Consequently, at the time of creation of the linguistic states in India in the mid1950’s Punjab was made an exception. Master Tara Singh, the Sikh leader, protested that “While Hindus and Muslims have got their countries, we have lost even our language.” Nearly 75 percent of the Hindus of Punjab switched their mother tongue from Punjabi to Hindi in the 1961 census. The Sikhs of Punjab consider this as a cultural betrayal. After 15 years of intense protest by Sikhs a linguistic State was indeed created. However, issues like the status of Chandigarh, river waters dispute, transfer of Punjabi speaking areas to Punjab, restrictions on the Sikh enrolment in the armed forces, food grain procurement prices, religious rights and the like remained unresolved. This and the alleged nonfulfillment of the numerous promises given by the national leaders created a disquieting realization that the Sikh community had been democratically marginalized and reduced to a mere shadow of its past. Years of peaceful protests in support of their demands since the late 1960’s failed to deliver a solution. This alienated the Sikh community beyond reasonable limits. The events of 1984 only strengthened their sense of persecution. The Sikh community in Punjab considers itself, rightly or wrongly, as the focus of injustice today.

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 25, 1985