Ajit Singh Bains
Author’s Note — Siege of the Sikhs
– Justice Ajit Singh Bains (Ret’d) –
Last October, I travelled to North America and Britain to visit with relatives and friends. Although I was far from home, the situation in India continued to dominate my thoughts and conversations. Everywhere I went, the discussion turned to the problems in India, and it appeared people were saying the same thing: PUNJAB IS BURNING, THE SIKHS ARE UNDER SIEGE. Whether I was visiting with my brothers and sisters, cousins, friends or acquaintances, people eagerly sought my views. I received many invitations from across North America and Europe to speak on this issue.
People wanted to know what I, as a former Justice of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, and as the Chairman of the Committee established by the Punjab government to review cases of detainees arrested in the 1981-85 period, had to say. They wanted to know how I, as a member of the Jail Reform Committee established by the Punjab government (from which I resigned in protest in 1986 after the new invasion of the Golden Temple by the army), assessed the situation. They demanded that I raise my voice as Chairman of the Punjab Human Rights Organization. I was moved by their concerns and worries about the situation in India generally, and in Punjab particularly, and I gratefully accepted their invitations.
I was provided the opportunity to address students in such universities as the University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard Law School (Human Rights Programme), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University in New York, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, McGill University in Montreal, the University of Guelph, the University of Toronto, Wayne State University, the London School of Economics, Brunell University, Cardiff University and the University of Newcastle.
I spoke to the Human Rights Wing of the New York Bar Association. I also went to Geneva where I met the International Commission of Jurists, officials of SOS Torture, and officials in the office of the High Commission for Refugees and other United Nations organizations working for human rights.
I had the opportunity to address a press conference in the Press Gallery of the United Nations in Geneva. I met with legislators in Britain, Canada and the United States. While in North America, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, I also met with people hailing from different parts of India, from Uttar Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, from Punjab to Bengal and Assam.
During my trip, many people asked if I would write about what is happening in Punjab and India. These urgings were a reflection of the deep concern people have about the current situation in the Punjab. It is out of these urgings and expressions of concern that the idea for writing this book was born.
In the course of my visits, I found that Indians in general and Punjabis in particular, whether of Sikh, Hindu or other backgrounds — especially the progressive and enlightened people of all backgrounds and of all countries I visited — are extremely worried. The Punjabis living in these countries are an integral part of the nation of Punjab, even though they have acquired citizenship in Canada or some other country. They gave me a lot of information about how the Indian government pushes the same communal policy abroad as it does at home by sending secret operatives to different countries to create provocations, while the High Commissions and Embassies recruit agents and patronize newspapers which openly propagate communal poison. One of my younger brothers told me that the rulers in Delhi are masters of the ideology of distortion and that people under their influence become victims of this ideology. Many honest people working in the High Commissions and Embassies have become such victims.
Furthermore, I also learned that in all cases of violence and terrorism that have come to light among Indians resident in Canada and the United States, operatives of the espionage agencies of those countries have been involved. For example, one only has to look at the court case in Montreal where people were convicted of planning terrorist actions solely on the basis of tapped conversations with an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. This leads one to question just who it is that is inciting and planning these terrorist actions. There are other operatives, including those of the Indian government, who cloak themselves in religious garb — some appearing as Hindus, some as Sikhs. Some make inflammatory statements and try to provoke strife, while others cause mischief even as they speak in the name of harmony. But none of them deals with the question of who is responsible for the situation in India, and the question of human rights in the Punjab.
I have thought about this matter very seriously, and it leads me to question who really wants individual terrorism and violence. There might be some cases where individuals have committed terrorist actions because of the anger they feel, but the evidence of the involvement in India or elsewhere of the espionage agencies makes me wonder. And I wonder all the more since all the people I have met, without exception, have expressed abhorrence at the acts of terrorism, and some firmly believe that Indian ruling circles are involved, especially in Punjab and elsewhere in India. Everything I have seen and studied about the situation in India leads me to conclude that individual terrorism and violence does nothing to help the cause of the people; it is only of benefit to the rulers in India. This makes me all the more suspicious about who really is perpetrating and instigating both state and individual terrorism.
Many of the people I spoke with have relatives still living in Punjab, but they often have difficulties in obtaining visas from the Indian High Commissions and Embassies. Incredible as it seems, they have to obtain two visas — one for entry into India and another for entry into Punjab. Furthermore, a person of Sikh background is more likely to be refused a visa than a person of Hindu origin. It is even more difficult for a real progressive or Marxist-Leninist to obtain a visa, whether he is of Sikh, Hindu or some other background. Even individuals coming from patriotic families who suffered at the hands of the British have a difficult time. These same people now find themselves suffering at the hands of the Indian government.
What is most disturbing and deserves stern condemnation is that a Punjabi Sikh may be given a visa to visit India but will be denied a visa for Punjab, where he really wants to go. This is one example of the encroachment on the human rights of people of Indian origin, even those resident abroad. Everyone must have the right to visit the country of his birth, the home of his forefathers, the land where his sacred shrines and historical traditions are located, the nation to which he belongs. My own nieces visited India a couple of years ago and were denied visas to enter Punjab.
Moreover, many people have been denied visas on very flimsy grounds. For example, my youngest brother told me that he was deprived of his Indian passport in 1975, when Mrs. Indira Gandhi declared the state of emergency, even though the Canadian government has refused to give him citizenship because he is the leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). This is the clearest case of political persecution. The realization that members of my own family who take progressive and democratic stands are persecuted by different governments, including the Indian government, brought tears to my eyes.
The violation of human rights in Punjab itself is beyond comparison. Some of the army officials who were arrested and harassed during and after Operation Blue Star have told me about the extent to which human rights are being violated in Punjab, the length to which the rulers of Delhi have gone in creating this sad situation. Major-General Narinder Singh, who fought for the rulers of India in all the wars against Pakistan, was arrested in February 1986 and has only recently been released. S.S. Mann, former deputy inspector general of police, has been imprisoned in Bhagalpur Jail for more than three years because he wrote a letter to the President of India protesting against Operation Blue Star.
One brigadier recounted his story to me when I was chairman of the committee to review the cases of the detainees. He was arrested in Amritsar under the Arms Act on June 8, 1984, because his license had expired. Although he had applied for its renewal, the new license had not yet arrived. Following his arrest his turban was forcibly removed, an act which is considered the greatest insult and humiliation to a Sikh or anyone else who wears a turban. He was then handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to Ajmer Jail in Rajasthan, where he was confined to a small cell. He was allowed out only for ten minutes to take a bath under a tap. He was not supplied with any newspaper, the Holy Granth Sahib, radio, television or fan. Tears came to his eyes as he asked me how we can tolerate rulers in our country who can humiliate in this fashion a person of brigadier’s rank who had fought in so many wars for them.
When such high officials and decorated officers are so harshly treated, imagine the plight of the ordinary people in the villages during the days of Operation Blue Star and Operation Wood Rose, and most recently, in Operation Black Thunder. Today, too, the people are still facing this situation, as the police forces have openly become a law unto themselves, acting on the theory of “bullet for bullet.”
The brave soldiers of Sikh religion, who left the barracks for emotional reasons at the time of the invasion of their most sacred shrine, the Golden Temple, have not been reinstated, despite the promise made by the Indian government in the accord with Sant Langowal. The families which were displaced after the November 1984 campaign of genocide against innocent Sikhs in Delhi have not received any compensation or even a place to resettle.
So far, even the criminals who actively participated in the slaughter in Delhi have not been brought to justice. From Assam to Punjab, those who are responsible for killing hundreds and thousands of people in “communal violence” since 1947 have not been charged and brought to trial. The case of the massacre of innocent people of the Sikh religion in Delhi, Kanpur and elsewhere is no exception.
My overall impression after meetings with people from all walks of life and from different parts of India is that they are outraged by the way the Sikhs are being treated. The question asked everywhere is: how can we tolerate the situation where the Sikhs are treated in this way, where their honour and dignity are trampled on, where their mothers and sisters are not safe, where at every step they are humiliated? They consider the humiliation of the Sikhs as the humiliation of all justice-loving and freedom-loving people. This is the feeling of the Indian people. Looking back at the whole period since the systematic humiliation and persecution of the Sikhs began on a wide scale, they are greatly upset.
One highly educated person, an ex-army officer, cited a couplet to me:
Mudaten Guzareen Itni Ranj-o-Gam Sahte Hue Sharam Ati Hai Watan Ko Watan Kahte Hue
(Too much, too long — this sorrow at the ruler’s hand!
I feel ashamed to call it my own land.)
Another retired civil servant recited the following couplet:
Gair Mumkin Hai Ki Punjab Ki Guthi Suljhe Ahley Danish Ne Badi Aqal Se Uljhayee Hai.
(The problem in Punjab seems impossible to solve,
Hatched up by the rulers with great resolve.)
Such are the feelings of people, especially people of Punjab, who were injured and wounded first in 1947 and again today. A physical injury may heal, but the emotional ones often leave scars which never go away. The justice- and freedom-loving people see the attacks on the Sikhs as an unpardonable crime and insult to them. They also see the SIEGE OF THE SIKHS as a pretext to commit murder and crimes against any people in India and a pretext for war against Pakistan and other neighboring countries. With this pretext, they have beefed up the army and special police forces and have given them licence to commit crimes anywhere, especially in Punjab. With this pretext, the rulers of India have drawn a demarcation line for the dissolution of the nation of India. With this pretext, the rulers of India accuse anyone who opposes the attacks on the Sikhs of being a Khalistani, a separatist, a terrorist, a Pakistani agent or an infiltrator from Indians living abroad, particularly Punjabis and Sikhs. This siege has put the greatest strain on the unity of the Indian nation and all the nations, national minorities and tribal people comprising this nation. It is an actual assault on the lives and freedoms of all people in India and the neighboring states.
Most Sikhs, as Punjabis, want to live in India, but with dignity, with respect, and as equal citizens, not as second-class citizens. No justice- and freedom-loving people can tolerate having people in their own country living as slaves. What is called the “alienation of Sikhs,” which is increasing day by day, is caused by the rulers of India. It is a response of the people to defend their dignity, their respect and honour, to protect their natural resources and to build a society in which they will have peace of mind, prosperity and a secure future. They do not see the situation through communal eyes, as the rulers of India would have everyone believe. Their wish for Punjab, as one poet said, is MERA HASDA RAHE PUNJAB. (“May my Punjab always be full of smiles.”) They do not want a Punjab of mourning, division, tragedy and unhappiness. But is this possible when no effort is being made by the Indian government to heal the wounds?
In such a situation, how can one hope that the Indian government will offer a healing touch to the injured feelings of the Indian people — especially to the people of Sikh religion, whose most sacred shrines have been defiled just because they want Punjab to remain HASDA ATE BASDA (smiling and prosperous) forever and have demanded that Punjabis have full economic and political control over their own natural resources? Some of the Sikhs have even started feeling that they must have the right of self-determination, including secession, the right to govern themselves, even though they belong to the nation of Punjab and are proud to be Punjabis. The progressive and patriotic forces of Punjab, many of whom were of Sikh origin, were second to none in the anti-colonial struggle, and today they are not going to bend their knee to the rulers of India either!
Whenever anything happens in Punjab, retribution is taken against Sikhs in other parts of the country, especially in Hindi-speaking areas. There were two incidents of bus killings in July 1987. No one knows who the killers were, but the media reported that the innocent victims had been killed by unidentified Sikh extremists. Consequently, Sikhs were humiliated in Hissar as well as in some other parts of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Their places of worship were burned and their houses were looted.
Every Sikh has become a suspect in the eyes of the Indian government and the Congress(I) men. They are humiliated at the bus stops. They are humiliated at the airports. They are humiliated at every opportunity by the party in power and the men in authority. All justice- and freedom-loving people must pause and consider why this is the case.
The genocidal campaign following the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi did not advance the cause of unity, which Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi claims he is fighting for. Rather, it contributed to its further disintegration. The genocide of the Sikhs was engineered by prominent members of the Congress party, as was pointed out by the Citizen’s Committee headed by Justice S.M. Sikri, Retired Chief Justice of India, as well as other eminent people. Some people in the Congress(I) said at the time that the Sikhs had to be taught a lesson. What lesson did they want to teach Sikhs?
Historically, whoever tried to teach the Sikhs a lesson ended up learning a lesson himself. The Mogul emperors wanted to teach the Sikhs a lesson, but the Mogul empire vanished. Its decline started from Punjab in the beginning of the 18th century. Similarly, the British government wanted to teach the Sikhs a lesson by maintaining control over the gurdwaras (Sikh temples). The Sikhs fought the British for seven years on this issue, and ultimately the British had to yield.
The Sikhs have learned their lessons from the Gurus. And they have been following these same lessons for the last 500 years in the fight against social tyranny and state terror. They have fought not for themselves, but for Punjab and for India.
To be a proud Punjabi is no crime. To be a proud Indian is no crime either. But the rulers of India are trying to obliterate this glorious history and the pride in Punjab and India. They are not builders of unity, but its destroyers. Their actions will have far-reaching destructive consequences if they are not stopped from carrying out this anti-people campaign.
In this situation, the question arises as to what the Sikhs and all the people should do. In my view, all freedom- and justice-loving people, irrespective of their caste and religion, should unite to fight the social tyranny and state terrorism, to oppose the violation of human rights in Punjab, to combat the black laws such as the Terrorist Act, the National Security Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, etc. All Punjabis should unite to oppose the violation of human rights in Punjab and fight to establish democracy, and so should all Indians. All justice- and freedom-loving forces in India should stand together. We should defend the people of Sikh religion as we should with all other people. We should oppose social tyranny and state terrorism wherever it exists, whether in Punjab or in Assam or in Gujrat or elsewhere. We should also oppose the state aggression against neighboring countries, such as the armed intervention in Sri Lanka.
All Punjabis must stand together. Otherwise, the rulers of Delhi will create further tragedies for us. All Punjabis have the same blood, irrespective of caste, ideology or religion. We have the same background. We have suffered together throughout the ages, and we must join together to face the present challenge. The responsibility belongs especially to the leaders of various political parties. There is no such thing as Sikhs having grievances against the Hindus, or vice versa. The grievance is against the government which has created a division along communal lines. The struggle of the Punjabis has been much maligned, but their image can never be tarnished. All political parties which have the best interests of Punjab and of India, and of the neighbouring states at heart, must transcend the narrow political aims of capturing power. They must, in the larger interest, join together and persuade everyone to understand the problem. Both Hindus and Sikhs must pause and think about the problem. They should identify themselves with the Punjabi demands, with the Punjabi language, with the Punjabi economic and social problems. We should be true patriots of Punjab and of India, in the tradition of the Ghadri Babas and others. In this hour, we all must act swiftly. We know very well what consequences will follow if the social tyranny, state terrorism and individual terrorism continue. People cannot forget the lessons learned by shedding their own blood for independence, freedom and justice.
Similarly, the other oppressed groups throughout India also must join together. The Dalits (untouchables), the minorities, the oppressed tribal people, the peasants, the intelligentsia, the youth and students, women, professionals, civil servants and the working class — in other words, all of us who are discontented with the present tragic and dangerous situation — must join together and fight the undemocratic, anti-people policies and the violation of human rights by the government. Time is working for us. It is running out for the rulers. We should have confidence and optimism, an unshakeable faith in our just cause, and we shall win, thereby ending all violations of human rights.
The experience of 40 years under these rulers of India is before us, and we do not expect any miracles from them now. Their main purpose is to rule by hook or by crook. Their aim is to serve their own vested interests. Therefore, all those who are being exploited and who are discontented with the current state of affairs should not allow themselves to be divided along communal lines.
Today all the exploited must unite just as they did in the days of Guru Gobind Singh when the people formed a united front irrespective of their religion, creed and caste. In the Guru’s army, Sikhs and Muslims fought shoulder to shoulder against the tyranny of the Moguls and the social oppression of the Brahmins. Similarly, during the 18th century resistance movement by the Jathedars of the Misls and in the army of the Banda Bahadur, all forces — Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims — fought together. That is why they were victorious and defeated the tyranny. This was also the case during the First War of Independence in 1857, when the British rule was shaken to its very foundations by the unity and heroism of the insurgent forces. We have many valuable lessons to learn from our history.
The Sikhs follow the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh and other Gurus in their lives. But these teachings should be applied to modern times by remaining true to the struggle against tyranny, and at the same time charting out our economic and political program according to modern social science. We are fighting against the situation which is described by the modern version of the popular saying ANNI NOO BOLA GHARISA PHIRDA!, which means that the rulers are deaf to the demands of the people and blind to the tragic situation prevailing in India. The aim to end tyranny and injustice belongs to us all. We must remain vigilant against the secret or open intervention of foreign powers, especially the superpowers. The teachings of the Gurus stand for universal brotherhood. They stand for communal amity. They stand for social good and social justice. They oppose social oppression and state tyranny. This is why Sikhs also continue to fight against the Brahminization of Sikhism and oppose the view which refuses to draw lessons from the struggles in the twentieth century for human dignity, independence, progress and freedom.
The Indians living outside the country, in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and other countries, must also unite to expose the anti-people, anti-democratic, anti-Sikh policies of the Indian government. They must also unite with the justice- and freedom-loving people of these countries. They must oppose all distortions of our struggle which the rulers of India disseminate abroad. They must present the justness of our cause to all who are fighting for the same cause in their own countries. They must defeat the fallacious propaganda of the Indian missions abroad. The Indian government has no concern for the plight of the people in India, or for the problems of the people living abroad who face racial discrimination and the violation of their human rights, and who are humiliated and treated as second-class citizens in many countries. Its missions abroad never defend people of Indian origin when they are attacked. The government carries out anti-people policies without paying heed to the needs of the people in India and abroad. Its stance can be best summed up in the Persian proverb:
Na Zumbad Gul Muhammad
(The earth can move, but Gul Muhammad will not change.)
Punjabis and Indians living abroad must peacefully demonstrate, hold seminars, etc., to expose the state terrorism of the Indian government and its imposition of draconian laws. They should unite with all the forces who defend democratic rights and have the same cause. They should not indulge in individual violence. It never succeeds in the end, and only provides the governments with an excuse to pass more repressive laws and to terrorize the people in the name of ending violence. Such violence is counter-productive and is generally encouraged by the rulers of India and the vested foreign interests.
I have tried to speak plainly in assessing the origin of the Punjab problem, without distorting the facts in any way. As a jurist and civil rights activist, I have concentrated on analyzing the anti-democratic elements in the Indian constitution, the draconian laws of the Indian state and the violation of human rights in Punjab. I have also included a brief history of Sikhism, its rise and its struggle against social and state tyranny. As well, I have included a section which shows that the nature of the struggle drastically changed from the time of the First War of Independence of 1857, after which modern political parties began to emerge. Their role is described in summary form, as a detailed description was beyond the scope of this volume. Of course, their present role is fully discussed. I have paid special attention to refuting the theory of “dual responsibility” — that is, the idea that the victimizers and victims are equally to blame.
Ajit Singh Bains
July 15, 1988
1. Operation Blue Star — the military codename for the attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984.
2. Operation Wood Rose — the military codename for the “mopping-up” operation following the attack on the Golden Temple.
3. Julio Ribeiro, former director general of Punjab police, now Secretary of Internal Security, Punjab, and Adviser to the Governor of Punjab.
(Siege of the Sikhs, New Magazine Publishing Company, Toronto, 1988. Copies can be obtained for $10.00 by writing: National Publications Centre, P.O. Box 264, Adelaide Station, Toronto, ON M5C 2J8. Write check or money order to “NPC.” Includes shipping and handling.)