(The genocide of a Vibrant Minority)
The information presented in this paper will explain:
- A) Who the Sikhs are?
- B) What is happening to them in India?
- c) Why all of a sudden, the Sikhs along with other powerless people of India such as Moslems, Christians, Jews and “untouchables” are undergoing an “identity crisis’ and are feeling very uncomfortable in their own country.
Rudyard Kipling, writing for his famous book, A Sahib’s War (1901), has this to say about the Sikhs: “He was a Sikh at heart, Sahib. He was rich, openhanded, just, a friend of the poor troopers, keen-eyed and restful. I could tell tales about him.”
Some 16 million of the world’s people follow the religion of Sikhism. The vast majority of Sikhs live in the Punjab state of Northwestern India although there are many Sikhs living throughout the world, including almost a quarter of a million in Canada and US.A.
The Sikhs derive their ancestry from the Aryans who migrated to Northwestern India from the Caucasian Mountains some three thousand years ago. In the late 15th Century, one of their descendants a holy man and teacher named Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion. It is a religion that, in addition to its own original precepts, combines aspects of Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak’s teachings rejected the caste system of Hinduism and the worship of idols and multiple gods. He taught that all people were created equal and that all religions lead to the same high truth. According to historian Arnold Toynbee: “The Sikh Religion and its Scripture, the Aid Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world. This religion is itself a monument of creative intercourse between two traditional religions. Sikhs believe in one God, and the equality of all men and women. They fervently practice the work ethic. They are committed to protection of the weak and the oppressed. Their social beliefs are structured around human rights and the basic dignity of the human spirit.”
Sikhs are the people who value human rights. They contribute, in all respects, to the independent nation of India. The Sikhs have been victimized by the Government of India in the following ways.
- a) Attack on their Religious Shrines leading to indiscriminate killing of thousands of innocent people.
- b) Arresting and detaining them for an indefinite period without trial.
- c) Not providing police protection when the mob goes on a burning and lynching spree in Delhi and 80 other cities of India.
- d) Not accepting just demands which include:
1) Eliminating the unfair taxation system which did not return benefits to the Panjab state.
2) Halting the diversion of river waters which is basic to the agricultural needs of Panjab.
8) Recognition of their religion by amending the Indian Constitution.
4) Vatican like status for Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs.
5) Adjustments of Punjab’s borders to include Chandigarh as its capital city.
6) Giving an autonomous status to Panjab so that central government’s monopolistic control is rationalized in matters of developing and retaining their religion cultural identity. The above mentioned simple, human rights
Oriented demands for reforms and equity were ignored by Indira Gandhi’s government. Moderate voices of the Akali Dal, a political party, were joined by increasingly incensed voices including those of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers. And still the demands fell on deaf ears.
Part of the reason was the tenuous state of Indira Gandhi’s government. Given Gandhi’s ear and sympathies to the more militant and vast Hindu segment of the Indian population, Gandhi viewed the Sikh’s desire to maintain a distinct social, cultural and religious identity as a threat to her control. Reacting to Bhindranwale’s determined stand and understandable accusations, she condemned Sikhs as a whole as “separatist,” “terrorist” and “antinational.”’ It is estimated that more than 200,000 Sikhs were jailed by the government over a period of three years during the course of a prolonged nonviolent campaign. Punjabi Sikhs have reported widespread torture and execution of the innocent by branding them as “extremists” by the government.
To manipulate the predominantly Hindu populace, she embarked upon the disastrous course of eliminating proud Sikh majority in the Punjab, and took her first fateful step on June 2, 1984 by sealing off the Punjab territory. For five days Punjab was cut off from the rest of the world. All telephone and telex lines were cut off. No foreigner was permitted entry.
A few days later, on June 6th, India’s army supported by tanks, artillery and helicopters attacked the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Even the most conservative estimates indicate that more than four thousand Sikhs, including women and children, were killed in the raid upon the holy temple. Simultaneously, the Indian Army assaulted and shut down 40 more Sikh Temples in Punjab.
The Amritsar deputy police superintendent, who helped remove bodies from the temple grounds, said at least 13 of the victims were shot with their hands bound. ‘It was a virtual massacre,’ said the Jalandhar doctor. ‘A large number of women, children and pilgrims were gunned down.’ Because the Indian government has placed a tight lid on information about the Temple massacre, actual Sikh casualties in the assault on Amritsar can only be approximated. A few Canadian Sikhs have been successful in contacting relatives in the region. Eyewitnesses placed the number of casualties at several thousand. They have also described in detail the “indiscriminate” murder of Sikh civilians by Indian troops in the bazaars around the temple complex. Mopping up after the death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the volatile leader of the Sikhs, the government arrested more than 6,000 of his political and religious followers. The government turned on its propaganda machine, irrationally suggesting that both Pakistan and the CIA were supporting the Sikh separatist movement in an effort to destabilize India. Eight days after the massacre, a team of only six western reporters accompanied by Indian reporters were allowed into Punjab for a carefully guided tour of the Golden Temple. No photographs were allowed. Yet fairly disquieting reports were written. New York Times of June 17, 1984 reported that all around were signs of killing and destruction bullet pocked walls and parapets, minarets with their tops sheared away, marble esplanades still wet from hosing to remove the blood.
Grief-stricken Indian Sikhs who lived outside Punjab protested the military action and expressed their indignation. The response? Further repressive measures from Indira’s government. Sikhs were forbidden to visit their temples even to hold condolence meetings. Immediately following the massacre, thousands of Sikh soldiers in the Indian Army left their posts and traveled to their ruined shrine.
Time Magazine (62584) reported that at least 55 of these ‘‘deserters” have been killed and 3,097 arrested. Sikh members of the Indian Parliament from Indira Gandhi’s own party resigned their seats in protest.
Khushwant Singh, Pulitzer Prizewinning Sikh historian and Member of Parliament, told Time Magazine (61884): “What happened inside the Darbar Sahib is a turning point in India’s modern history. I don’t understand why Mrs. Gandhi gave the order. We had been given assurances that there would never be an armed intervention. But they have gone back on their word. No serious Sikh can entertain thoughts of talking to Mrs. Gandhi now.”
“The violence in the wake of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination has been attributed to vengeance for a beloved leader. It is part of the image that Indira Gandhi managed to create — that she lived, and died, for secularism, for an Indian state where no religious group dominated another. But the events following her death in fact reveal that in the last few years she had been pursuing ruthlessly communalist policies exploiting the difference between Hindus and other religious communities, to the advantage of the Hindus. Anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh sentiments have swept the country for many months. They have grown not out of religious fervor but as a result of deliberate state intervention and propaganda. In April, 1984, for example, the Congress (I) (I stands for Indira) government in Maharashtra state connived at the anti-Muslim riots led by a Hindu fascist group called the Shiv Sena. Mrs. Gandhi’s comments about these events are still ringing with ominous connotations, ‘The majority community also has feelings which must be respected.’ Hindus were being encouraged to feel ‘rather swamped’ by other groups.”
If the world’s largest democracy is allowed to slaughter religious minorities without international protest, then our own democratic and religious freedoms stand in danger. Sikhs throughout the world ask your support to endorse the following:
- Attack on the religious shrines of the Sikhs leading to the indiscriminate killing of thousands, should be condemned.
- Arresting and detaining of innocent Sikhs for a period of two years without
trial and then trial by special courts in “camera” where the defendant has no chance of defending himself ‘should stop.
- Police and military protection be provided to all minorities of India. All communal riots be judicially investigated and the guilty be given severe punishment.
- The under mentioned just demands of the Sikhs be accepted immediately so as to give a sense of security to this vibrant community.
- a) Eliminating the unfair taxation system which did not return benefits to the Panjab state.
- b) Halting the diversion of river waters which is essential to the agricultural needs of Panjab.
- c) Recognition of their religion by amending the Indian Constitution.
- d) Vatican like status for Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs.
- e) Adjustments of Panjab’s borders to include Chandigarh as its capital city.
- f) Giving an autonomous status to Panjab so that the Sikhs would be less controlled by the central government in matters of developing and retaining their religiocultural identity.