By Vikram Singh Khalsa

Today we are being confronted with an experience which is a unique and difficult challenge for the entire Panth, Not only are our’ brothers and sisters being oppressed and our young men being slaughtered, but in the media of India and the western world we’re being portrayed as aggressors, 1s well as being labeled as “terrorist” or “extremists,” Those of us who lived in the U.S. and Canada in the mid 60’s remember only too well how hard it was to find any unbiased account of the war in Vietnam, until the press (both in Europe and North America) began to Realize that it was printing propaganda from the U.S. government rather than the truth. Then at first slowly but their like, a raging current, the truth about that vicious, war began to be made available to the whole world.

In the last two decades we have seen a radical turnaround in the American press, indeed in the press of the entire free world. Today, in all branches of journalism, the average reporter has developed. Skepticism about almost every subject that he or she covers, and an almost pathological desire to uncover the truth, no matter who it hurts or what the results. How surprising for us veterans of the 60’s then, when we find that because of disinformation, lack of familiarity, and just plain old fashioned apathy, our own religion is being treated as if we had no right to respect in the media.

If you are dealing with people you know nothing about, it is easy to generalize. This has always been the case in the United States (and the rest of the world) where any ethnic, social or religious group was concerned. They were given their nickname which was used by others, (usually in the established majority) in such a way as to dehumanize them. Happily, in the last 30 years, we have seen a reversal of this trend, at least in our newspapers and on television.

Now we who are proud to call ourselves Sikhs are finding that we ourselves are being dehumanized in an insidious way. By always using the world “Sikh” in conjunction with the world “Terrorist” or “Extremist” the newspapers are (by default) creating the idea that Sikhs are all terrorists or extremists.

Interestingly enough, I recently had the opportunity to talk to a very old friend who had just returned from the Punjab. While he had not been allowed to visit Amnitsar, he. Had visited many other cities and had talked to a wide cross section of people, including some senior police officials that he knew. His perspective was that there were really four kinds of “violence” in the Punjab. First there were those who sincerely believed in using violent acts to achieve an independent Sikh state. These were few in number. The second group represented those who had old family or political cores to settle. The Punjab can be their volatile place at the best of Times and a state of emergency is a good time to get even.

Thirdly there were those who were causing trouble on behalf of parties interested in seeing the political situation remain unstable,

‘The fourth group were the “dacoits” (bandits) who were just carrying on as they always had but now were known as “terrorists,” (Interestingly enough many of those arrested for “terrorist” acts had long criminal records).

It is worth noting that the last two groups were often indistinguishable, particularly in the case of the “hit squads” that were sponsored and later “disbanded” (although their existence had never been officially admitted) by the Indian’ government.

For the most part, the press of the western world has chosen to ignore any serious reporting of the facts and instead just prints the reports it receives through the wire services (Associated Press, Reuters etc.), These come from the Press Trust of India which is not exactly unbiased when it comes to anything affecting the interests of the Indian Government. Thus the true story is not being told.

In addition the Western press did not report the fact that no Western Press had been allowed into Punjab since 1984 and operation Bluster. The net result was a Wall of Silence about affairs in the Punjab and the true nature of Sikhs.

Now it appears that reporters from western newspapers are being allowed into Punjab, There is, for example an excellent article from NEW REPUBLIC magazine which, to my knowledge, is the first article written by an American reporter describing the present conflict in unbiased terms. Even then the situation (as many ‘of us well know) is in reality far worse than he describes it.

The reporter (who is a core respondent from U.S. News and World Report) also states that the Indian press rarely takes on the issue of government corruption and oppression and that American reporters almost never do. Clearly this wall of silence is no longer only the responsibility of the Indian government. Now the Western media must take its share of the blame.

But the situation is far from hopeless. The western media are not totally without ethics. Those of us who care can respectfully point ‘out the truth to our local newspapers and’ TV stations, and offer them the kind of documentary evidence that they may not normally be exposed to. This kind of action is vital as they will not change their opinions of editorial policies just on the basis of hearsay.

In addition, we do have some friends in high places. There is 4 small but determined group of U.S. Congressmen and women who are working hard to draw attention to the tremendous human rights violations being perpetrated in the Punjab, Led by Rep. Norman Shumway, (Stockton, CA) they have already entered a great deal of material into the Congressional Record concerning the abuses being done to the Sikhs.

Rep. Shumway, on a fact finding mission to India, personally met with Rajiv Gandhi who assured him he would be granted access to Punjab. Later that access was denied by the Foreign Ministry (India’s State Department) who said they could not guarantee his safety, this in spite of the U.S. embassy’s offer to provide armed bodyguards.

The latest development is a proposed Congressional’ resolution (H. Con. Res. 343) introduced by Rep. Dan Burton on August 2nd. This resolution concerns itself with “the human rights of the Sikhs in the Punjab of India” and calls for “religious freedom and respect for the human rights of all people of India.” It is the type of resolution that all Sikhs must support to make our point in the U.S. congress. There are already signs of the usual massive disinformation campaign by the Indian: government, but if we act by contacting our local congressional representatives we can get this resolution passed.

Nevertheless our main target, it we wish to change our public image and bring our Western media to break this wall of silence, must be with our local newspapers.

The Sikhs of Stockton, CA, have already won a victory with their local newspaper. After a campaign of letter writing and meetings with the editors, the newspaper changed its editorial policy towards affairs in India. They even printed a series of articles written by a leading Sikh scholar.

InSan Diego, after a letter to the editor, we found the San Diego using terms like “suspected Sikh extremists” and “according to police reports,” at least introducing a hint of impartiality into their coverage. We intend to carry on our campaign by offering to meet with the editors and introducing whatever documentary evidence becomes available,

But the most effective way to reach the media may be to create a media event. On June 5th 1988, there was a demonstration signed to draw public attention to the unfairness and apathy of the American Press, In San Francisco, Sikhs from all backgrounds united to present the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, one of this country’s leading newspapers, with their perspective of the situation in India.

A small representative group met with the editors of the newspaper to present the Sikh point of view and asked them to review their editorial polices regarding Sikhs in general and the Punjab situation in particular.

One very welcome side effect of this demonstration was a tremendous spirit of cooperation, not only between the sangats of the Bay Area, but especially between the “American” Sikhs and the “Punjabi” Sikhs. This is a trend that must continue as both communities (as with all Sikh communities) have a lot to learn from each other. It is an old cliché but none the less true that “united we stand, divided we fall.”

What can you do if you want to help change the situation? Talk to your friends and try to form a united front with all Sikh groups in your area. See if you can get endorsements and support from other human rights organizations such as AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL. Approach your local newspapers, stations and news format radio stations (especially if you have a Public Broadcasting Station in your area).

The tide is slowly turning, but those who want to see the demise of the Sikhs are well organized and well financed. Yet we have no reason to be afraid of the truth. If we simply make sure that the truth is expressed the world will come to support us in our struggle against, the forces of oppression.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 2, 1988