WASHINGTON, D.C: Congressman from Georgia, Hon, Swindell made an impassioned appeal to the United States government to support the Sikh freedom fighters. Speaking in the House of Representatives on the occasion of the Sikh nation’s « Birthday, Vaisakhi, he said that the Punjab was “standing on the threshold of a civil war’” ‘as killer squads of the government are indiscriminately killing Sikh men, women and children. The full text of the speech is reproduced below:
Mr. Speaker: every nation has its national day. On April 13, Sikhs in their homeland of Punjab, here in America, and throughout the world, celebrate the birthday of their nation. and their religion.
It was on April 13, 1699, almost three centuries ago, that Guru Gobind Singh began to baptize people in the name of the Sikh faith. Today, Sikhism has about 16 million followers in India, most of who live in Punjab, several million more in the rest of the world, more than 300,000 here in the United States, and several hundred in my district in Atlanta, Ga.
I am increasingly alarmed about reports reaching the outside world concerning the escalation of violence in Punjab. I have heard accounts of hundreds of people being massacred already this year, many of them innocent women and children. The crisis in Punjab has been building up for several years, and may soon have major international implications. Two weeks ago, a rocket launcher was used for the first time during an attack in Punjab, and a report from the Washington Times of April 11 indicated the Sikh separatists may have acquired some Stinger missiles. Whether this is true or merely Indian government disinformation remains to be seen. At any rate, such reports are disturbing.
Recently, the Indian Parliament amended the Constitution to enable the New Delhi government to impose a state of emergency in Punjab, which it previously had not been able tod 0, except in cases of external aggression or “armed insurrection”. The emergency powers would take away all civil rights in Punjab, and allow local police authorities to shoot suspects on sight. At the beginning of April, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered a 330mile barbed wire fence built along the border which Punjab shares with Pakistan, The accumulation of these ominous reports has given rise to fear that Punjab is standing on the threshold of civil war, and that the fenced off area may become a new “killing field”.
The current crisis in Punjab urgently requires close and careful study, lest the United States be caught off guard, once again by events. As my colleague Representative Bernard Dwyer of New Jersey pointed out on February 17. “Clearly, the State of events in Punjab is no ‘internal affair’ apart from the purely humanitarian consideration that human rights, wherever they are systematically abused, become an ‘international affair”. The Punjab crisis is already causing tensions between India and its smaller neighbors. Relations with Pakistan, which have never been good, have been particularly exacerbated. This, in turn, affects United States relations with India and Pakistan, both of which receive hundreds of millions of American tax dollars in the form of United States foreign aid.
Moreover, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, if it proceeds as expected, could unite Pakistan’s hands from its prime preoccupation with its neighbour to the north. Then, Pakistan might be able to turn its attention to its neighbours to east —— Punjab and India. The danger exists that the Punjab crisis could spill over to its borders.
Unless its policies undergo a profound and fundamental change, the Soviet Union will continue to cast a long shadow over that area of the world. Even if it affects a tactical military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Soviets cannot be expected to abandon their age old ambition of gaining access to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. It is therefore vital to the interests of the United States that the peace and independence of the countries in that region be preserved.
At the center of the Punjab crisis stand the Sikhs themselves. Today, almost three centuries after the birth of their religion and nation, they are undergoing another baptism — a baptism of life. The massive and systematic abuse of their civil rights by the central India government has been well documented by respected international, and by a 1987 Congressional Research Service study. Since then, there have been disturbing reports in the press of the use of “killer squads” by the Indian government against the Sikhs. In the past only the world’s most repressive regimes have resorted to such methods.
Meanwhile, Punjab has been virtually isolated from foreign visitors, reporters and even U.S. Congressmen, who otherwise could give objective eye witness accounts. The Indian government has waged a successful disinformation campaign, using Soviet style active measures to tarnish Sikhs as “terrorists” and “extremists” Most news accounts appearance in the foreign press emanate from Indian government sources, and are mindlessly repeated without much further examination by our media, India’s press censorship and travel ban to Punjab raised major questions about what Prime Minister Gandhi is trying to hide from the free world. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Congress to sift through the mass of information and disinformation, and get at the truth, since India seems unwilling to cooperate.
If India were the world’s “largest democracy”, as it claims to be, it would not hesitate, first to fulfill its promises of autonomy made to the Sikh nation at independence in 1947, and, second, to test the popular will through a referendum. In December, 1987, the House unanimously passed an amendment by Representative Dan Burton (RIN) to H.R. 3100, the foreign assistance authorization bill, which called for the return of home rule in the Punjab, “while guaranteeing the religious freedom and respect for the human rights of all the people of India”. That is all the Sikhs are striving to do.
The Sikhs’ struggle for freedom was galvanized by the attack on the Golden Temple, their holiest shrine on June 6, 1984; The Indian Army appeared to have timed its assault when the temple precincts were crowded with thousands of pilgrims for a religious festival. This was a turning point in history.
The power and the will of the Sikhs should not be underestimated, and their psychology must be understood. Although traditionally fearsome in battle when aroused, the Sikhs are a peaceful nation. They love to farm. Although they are only 2 percent of the population, they produce 73 percent of India’s wheat reserves and 48 percent of the rice reserves. Twenty five percent of the officer corps in India’s armed forces are Sikhs.
The Sikhs must not be confused with their neighbours, the Muslims and Hindus, with whom they have little in common religiously. The Sikhs are monotheistic, but believe that’ God is not just their God, but the God of all humanity. The caste system of the Hindus does not exist among the Sikhs. Absent also is a missionary zeal. The Sikhs never actively seek to convert, nor do they persecute others for their faiths. There is a marked absence of fanaticism.
The Sikhs’ traditions, innate conservation, strong work ethic, and their religion make them natural enemies of communism. This makes them also natural allies of the United States. In any future conflagrations, they could stand as a human bulwark against the creeping communization of the Indian subcontinent and south Asia.
For more than 8 years of the Afghan war, the United States has had only two ties in the region —— Pakistan and the Afghan freedom fighters. India has refused to condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds of ‘external interference’ — meaning American, of course, not Soviet. Now, a new nation of freedom fighters is emerging in the Punjab.
An inscription in the Capitol tells us that wherever liberty is in chains and people are fighting for it, they are fighting for America. Let us recognize that the Sikhs are freedom fighters too. Let us support their cause and just desire to be masters of their own destiny, while we have the chance, while they have the chance, and before it is too late.