Saturday, June 21, 2014

Our activists on feet of clay

[Towards the end of May 2014, Sardar Gurpreet Singh, in consultation with others, decided to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 army attack on Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. It was decided to hold a representative meeting of all sections of the Sikh people and to support the quest for an open enquiry by international bodies to probe the events leading to the attack and subsequent atrocities. A part of the commemorative process was the organisation of a compact permanent body to pursue the matter at all levels. A meeting of about ten concerned citizens was held on May 23, 2014. It accepted the above suggestion and asked three people to draft a resolution, one of which would be finalised for use. One group of two persons was asked to send invitations immediately so that an appreciable number of people may be able to attend at a respectable notice. A preliminary list of invitees was prepared. May 28, was adopted as the date for the next of meeting to discuss the draft resolution.
      On the next meeting day it became known that the list of invitees prepared in the last meeting had not been collected from the venue of the last meeting. The advantage of sufficient notice sought by immediate action was thus lost. A respectable gathering was thus a remote possibility. No permanent body could be hammered out of a casual meeting attended by people invited at random.
      One person did not prepare the draft resolution and also did not attend the meeting on the 28th of May. What transpired at the meeting to discuss two available drafts was stranger still. One very enlightened member who came for the first time was of the opinion that nobody should be blamed for the attack on the Darbar in the resolution. He described how his positive suggestion had resulted in an institution coming up in Faridkot. On reading the draft presented by me, another member had serious misgivings. He was the same member who had earlier not collected the list to send out invitations. His objections were as follows: 1) social system depicted in the shastras and Vedas must not be criticised: “Chare ved hoe sachiar” was quoted out of context. 2) The ‘Hindus’ must not be indicated as one cause of Sikh suffering. It was pointed out that the term “Hindu” has not been used in the resolution. Then it was said that it must also not be implied. Nobody would hold all Hindus responsible. Everybody would like to blame aliens from Mars or Saturn, but that defies all established facts pointing to a clash of cherished ideals. 3) The ruling Badal family clique in the Punjab, must not be mentioned, the truth notwithstanding, as that would tantamount to opening “another front.” Should the despicable role of collaborators be glossed over just to avoid notionally opening a new front? Is it a new front? 4) The press must not be castigated for neglecting to reflect the truth as a certain section of it had been objective. When another important member supported these parts of the resolution, the person objecting to them, then said that no representative gathering must be held but just a press conference by some ten people or so must constitute the entire commemoration. The permanent body that was expected to be the main achievement of exercise, stood aborted again.
      Another objecting person found the above mentioned portions to be quite in order but felt that mention of the Sant and to the Akali Dal must be briefed into one paragraph instead of the first five paragraphs. Yet another person recommended that all that is negative must be taken out as the impact of positive thinking is great, I could not figure out how that was relevant to the present situation which is steeped neck deep in negativity in human affairs. There were one or two more observations by the same person aimed at avoiding a conflict and so on. Someone was angry that there was no mention of Khalistan.
      If all that was recommended for exclusion was excluded, no case for an open enquiry could be made. There would also be no justification for a permanent organisation to cooperate with the Diaspora bodies to pursue the matter.
      I found that none of the objectives planned to be achieved, was being achieved. Discretion was the better part of valour and I accordingly withdrew the resolution that I had drafted. I will not hide what I felt. I was shocked that even our best informed people lacked clarity although there has been a flood of information on the subject in the last three decades. We are the victims who should be shouting from rooftops, but we were treading so cautiously. When such know-alls interfere, the genuine Sikhs get confused and find safety in keeping quiet. A resolution of this nature is primarily for the people adopting it. Some of us were afraid to admit the truth even to ourselves. I am reproducing the drafted resolution below for the discerning reader to make an objective assessment of what hinders the people’s work. Why our intellectuals develop feet of clay at the crucial moment? Of course! Reproducing the resolution is merely an academic exercise now.]


      We, representing almost all the noted religious and social institutions of the Sikh people in the Punjab, gathered in a convention at Chandigarh to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Indian army’s attack on the Guru’s Darbar at Amritsar, resolve to propagate the authentic Sikh views about the wanton attack in order to draw world public opinion against the atrocities committed upon the Sikh people (mere 2% of India population), to invite the justice loving people all over the world, the relevant institutions to help in undoing the consequences of the Fascist, arbitrary rule of the brute hegemonic permanent cultural majority (PCM) in India that ever increasingly threatens the very existence of rival cultures, other nations and minorities.
      We are aware that the Sikh people, believing in universal ethical values, are upholders of the egalitarian, democratic, non-sectarian, universal social order based on equality and justice and that these beliefs are an integral part of the faith of Nanak to which the Sikhs have proudly contributed to for the last five hundred and fifty years. The Sikhs pray daily for the welfare of all beings and recognise that all human beings are equally entitled to unlimited spiritual and worldly progress. This faith alone makes us viable as a people who have every right to exist in the Akalpurakh’s kingdom.
         After careful serious deliberations on the circumstances leading to the events of June 1984, we come to the following conclusions:
      1). The ultimate purpose of the attack was to wipe out the Sikh culture which totally rejected the hereditary caste system, system of beliefs created to exploit the toiling millions by a handful of ‘high born.’  The Sikh Reference Library containing priceless manuscripts pertaining to the Sikh culture was burnt down in the fashion of medieval barbarian invading hordes on June 7 1984. We are aware that the Sikh faith constitutes the antithesis of the culture of the permanent cultural majority. It has created a society outside the varnashramdharm prescribed by the Manusmriti (Manavdharamshastra), around which the culture of the PCM has evolved since times of the Rigveda, propagated as the ‘oldest book of mankind’.  
      2). The perpetrators of the diabolical crime in June 1984 were equally keen to arrest the quickly decreasing support to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, that had ruled India since 1947, and needed to enthuse the PCM by acting in its behalf for destroying an antagonistic culture.
      3). There is ample evidence to suggest that the June attack was planned even before the Akali agitation had commenced in the Darbar Sahib complex at Amritsar on July 21, 1982. It is also factually correct that the agitating Akali Dal at least four times accepted the peaceful solution to the agitation that they had worked out in consultation with the accredited representatives of the Indian government. The government abjured its own proposals every single time. It clearly had violent solution in mind.
      4). Except in the self serving political assertions of opponents, no unlawful activity was attributed to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale, there was no First Information Report (except one for delivering an intemperate speech) registered against him. In the only one criminal case in which he was detained as conspirator before the actual perpetrators were known, he was released after questioning indicating that he had been falsely implicated. His name was not included in the list of the wanted people supplied to the shrine management (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) in 1984 by the government. Yet he was the person to kill whom the army invaded one of the holiest spots of humankind.
      5). Support to the political concept of Khalistan was falsely attributed to Sant Jarnail Singh, by the Indian government. The Sant was a preacher of the Sikh faith and headed an old seminary dedicated to training preachers. He was not a member of any political party that furthered the cause of Khalistan. The concept itself is amorphous and remains so to this day, propagating which has been held to be perfectly legal. Three credible accounts of those who met the Sant in his last days affirm that he did not prescribe to any political concept but longed to return to his preaching and teaching. His only demand was that the government concludes an honourable agreement with the Akali Dal and release all political prisoners.
      6). By a certain government sponsored machination, the Sant in January 1984, was pushed into taking shelter in the Akal Takhat though he had been hitherto residing in the traveller’s inn (Guru Nanak Niwas) attached to the shrine which was at a considerable distance from the Akal Takhat. This job was accomplished with help from the Babbar Khalsa outfit which was then controlled by Harchand Singh Longowal, through the agency of Bibi Amarjit Kaur, the widow of the martyr Fauja Singh.
      7). At least forty-two other important shrines were simultaneously attacked by the military without even the fig leaf of an excuse. As late as in February 1984, Harchand Singh Longowal, the president of the Akali Dal and his associate Bibi Amarjit Kaur had claimed in an interview to the press that their ‘followers’ were responsible for all the killings that had taken place in the Punjab for which ‘credit’ was being given to Sant Bhinderanwale by the press. A number of times Harchand Singh Longowal asserted that killings in the Punjab in that period were being done by the underground policemen who issued forth and returned to the sanctuary of police stations.
      8). Aim of the invading forces was to cause a spectacular bloody massacre with a view to terrorising the Sikhs (‘so that every Sikh is afraid of his own shadow’ confirmed the chief secretary to the Punjab government). The para-military forces had been in virtual occupation of the Darbar Sahib complex since July 1982 and had outposts within a seeing and shooting distance of the usual places from which Sant Jarnail Singh functioned normally and could have gunned him down anytime. They chose not to do so because the aim was to make the killing of the Sant a crippling blow to the Sikh people as a whole and to put an end to the preaching of the seminary he headed. For effect the event in which the entire Indian armed forces attacked less than a hundred armed volunteers, was described as the ‘third Sikh battle’ by some writers, alluding to the two battles against the British. It was this situation that the authorities were working to bring about.
      8). The Indian media, never known for conforming to the highest standards of objectivity has often been found wanting in fearlessly defending the rights of a people pitted against the highhandedness of authority. In the case of the Sikhs and the Punjab, it capitulated willingly to the whims of the PCM and became an accomplice in the brutal suppression of a legitimately proud nation by not exposing frequent police brutalities. Over the years cogent evidence has emerged to show that the government of India made full use of the media to defame the Sikhs in India and at least in Russia, England, USA, Canada and Australia. Through its agencies in India and abroad, it carried out a regular, coordinated campaign to dub the Sikhs as terrorists.
      9). All through history there have been social and political groups that have defied the hegemonic, oppressive caste society in the hope of preserving their independence, culture and human dignity. The PCM, always red in tooth and claw, has invariably found violent suppression to be the only solution to deal with such groups. The followers of Buddha flourished everywhere, bringing peace, learning and spiritual elevation to the rest of Asia but were dubbed as anarchists, atheists and disturbers of social order and were wiped out from India by fire, sword and brimstone. There have been others in modern times; Sikhs are the latest group to fall into the category of those slated for elimination.
      10). Further complicating the situation today is the fact that the century old Sikh political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, has been usurped by the self seeking collaborators’ family with cooperation from the state. The Badal family has converted the entire Punjab into a fiefdom. Its stranglehold extends to the governance of Sikh shrines where the family has been implementing the diktat of the rival culture to dilute the Sikh identity, to destroy Sikh values and to dissolve the sovereign nature of the Sikh faith. Our youth is being hooked to drugs pedalled by the government of the family. The jails of the Punjab have become veritable supermarkets for drugs sold by them. Seventy-five percent of the jail population of the Punjab is consequently on drugs today. This is part of the total elimination plan that the family has been tasked to perform in return for subordinate political power and an opportunity to amass untold wealth illegally. All these issues are in public domain and have been widely discussed in the media.
      11). The Sikhs have been seeking justice for the innocent myriads killed in the army attack and subsequently. Several times election manifestos of the important political parties in the Punjab have promised to redress the grievance by ascertaining facts through an independent inquiry. Some of us assembled here, have presented our concern on the issue to at least four previous prime minister. Another prime minister has publicly shed tears in the parliament while mentioning an event of the Sikh massacre. Political leaders in abundance have shed crocodile tears over our plight. Countless have paid respects at the assaulted shrine to express mute sympathy and veiled, unproductive regret. A few have been vocal. The impunity continues, grievances remain un-redressed and injustice marches on triumphantly. In the prevailing circumstances we await the repeat of the event of indiscriminate massacre when and if the political fortunes of the party in power demands human sacrifices again.
      12). Institutions of democracy have totally failed us. The biggest failure is that of the Supreme Court which while knowing full well about the extent of prevalent impunity has not only failed to tear the thick veil, but has considerably contributed to its thickening. Stance of the judiciary has come as a deep disappointment to those who seek justice as an end in itself and as the chief regulator of amicable human relations particularly in pluralistic societies. In the year 1998, after an agonising wait, some concerned citizens, including a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India, retired generals, civilians, writers and human rights activists, organised a People’s Commission to probe the violence in the Punjab. Three retired judges of high courts of Punjab, Delhi and Maharashtra, one Sikh and two non-Sikhs, were appointed on the penal. Only the inaugural sitting could be held on August 8, 9 and 10, 1998 as the state raised hue and cry and judicially thwarted the process.
      13). Thus surrounded on all sides by enemies keen to see our back in history, we want once again to spring up from the ashes as we have done four times in our short history. It is because we feel that our scripture and the values it preaches have, like other faith groups, something very vital to contribute to human welfare, to the spiritual health of all nations and the vision of an eternal peace that must prevail amongst all.
      14). Army attack on the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar was launched on the martyrdom anniversary Guru Arjan, the founder of the city when the crowd at the shrine was expected to be the thickest. The curfew earlier in force in the city was relaxed for two hours to entrap the pilgrims inside the shrine before starting the onslaught without a warning.
      15). The matter has acquired certain urgency since the political party (Bhartiya Janata Party) wedded to wiping out the minorities and other nations has gained absolute majority in India at the May 2014 elections. It is controlled by the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, whose ideology regarding the Sikhs has been outlined by their ideologue Nana Deshmukh in a document dated November 10, 1984. He justifies the massacre of the Sikhs on the ground that they claim not to be Hindus. 
      Therefore, as our survival is in peril, we appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council and all human rights bodies the world over, to liberal regimes concerned with the preservation of human dignity for its own sake and above all to the enlightened citizens of the world who deem justice to be the most prominent attribute of Akalpurakh (God) to ignore which is to lay the foundations of perpetual bloody strife among humans, to help the Sikh people of the Punjab in making the world aware of their plight by supporting the call for an international inquiry to establish the disabilities imposed upon the Sikh people and to seek to avert the intended genocide of one of the most productive of nations by causing an independent inquiry to be held in the matter of invasion of the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar in June 1984.
            Eventually, the convention was held on 1st June, 2014 and the following resolution was adopted:


Sikhs all over the world this week are observing the 30th anniversary of the Army attack on “Darbar Sahib” (Golden Temple) in June, 1984. A misleading notion persists that the Indian State accomplished its brief military aim in Punjab of getting rid the Golden Temple at Amritsar of its armed occupants led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in less than a week’s time. The reality is that the army remained very much in Punjab thereafter for more than a decade, but less visible to the naked eye, until a total victory over the ‘Sikh rebels’, and this secret operation was credited to the account of the Punjab police. This clever stratagem was aimed at circumventing the Geneva covenants, of which the Indian State is a signatory.

While the havoc wrought at the Amritsar complex by the Indian armed forces found some mention initially the world over, what transpired elsewhere in Punjab was totally overlooked. A plethora of substantial human rights violations, backed in most cases by locally available evidences, spoke of killings, disappearances, tortures of Sikh population and rapes of Sikh women as well as of mass cremations and mutilations. Reports poured in even from the adjoining states, as also from Pakistan of human bodies floating across rivers and canals passing through their jurisdictions. Handsome rewards by the Indian State to thousands of armed forces personnel broadly corroborated whatever was happening on the ground.

There is no knowing of what really happened even after 30 years of the original operation. Very little, information was revealed about the initial action at Amritsar, spanning such a limited geographic area. Questions remain unanswered as to why 42 Gurdwaras were attacked when only one at Amritsar was allegedly in occupation by hostiles. Why was only that particular day, Guru Arjun Dev Ji’s martyrdom day chosen to bomb the area when non-combatant, peaceful Sikh presence peaks there every year? Who authored the white paper giving such patently false information? Why has no one squared up all the contradictory facts and figures revealed over the years and decades later? Why no credible public enquiries ordered to arrive at the truth as to what exactly happened, why such a situation arose in the first instance and what were the roles played by different players? And why no relief and rehabilitation measures undertaken all these decades? When, finally, the Sikhs raise this million dollar question and themselves offer an answer, that the Indian State’s armed initiative was aimed at teaching the Sikhs a lesson to resolve certain long term historical questions and social contradictions as well as to achieve certain short term political gains, these observations are wrapped around a barrage of allegations and state framed excuses for consumption of the world public opinion, which not being substantiated, fall on the wrong side of logic.

No wonder this evidently ‘old’ issue rises time and again and inevitably finds a ring of freshness because there is a certain moral force behind it that needs to be addressed and resolved. Failure of the Indian State to hold credible enquiry into the 1984-96 episode for three decades and to bring all the guilty to book speaks volumes of its bona fides. Even so, when the Indian establishment is not tired of lecturing Sri Lanka of its obligation to the global public opinion regarding the excesses committed on the Tamil minority by that country’s armed forces.

This convention feels entirely justified in calling upon the world public opinion to devise ways to ensure that credible international investigation is carried out into the entire gamut of issues in Punjab. There can be no closure of the Punjab issue without truth and justice.