The Indian government tries to attribute
terrorism in Punjab to a mysterious “foreign hand” that tirelessly conspires to
The government wants us to believe that the main reason for Sikh terrorism is
instigation by the governments of Pakistan,
USA, Canada and Britain. Clearly, this is done to
cover up the government’s own mischievous role in generating and fomenting the
conflict in Punjab.
Certainly, terrorists have been receiving
moral and material support from outside the country. But the support is, in all
likelihood, coming not so much from foreign governments as from elements in the
Sikh community settled abroad, especially in North America and England. These
elements can mobilise enormous reserves of money, weapons and people to enable
the terrorists to continue and even deepen the conflict for an indefinitely
long period, even without the active support of foreign governments--just as
the Irish community in the US has been able to provide support to the terror of
the Provisional IRA for decades without let up.
However, all Sikhs settled abroad do not
support terrorist killings. There are also strong voices in favour of resolving
the crisis through dialogue and consensus. These voices seldom reach us in India because
the media oversimplifies and sensationalises the situation, focusing
exclusively on those who support terrorist politics.
year, I had the opportunity to interact very widely with many people in the
Sikh community living in North America where I
had initially gone to attend a National Womens Studies Association conference.
While there, I was invited to speak in about 20 cities by groups of Indians
living in North America. Many of these
invitations came from various gurudwara based Sikh organisations. Since my
visit, the situation in Punjab, other parts of India
and North America has worsened even further.
Therefore, this report, based on dialogues with various overseas Sikh groups
and individuals, seems to me to be even more relevant today than when it was
in North America constitute a very prosperous
and upwardly mobile migrant community. Sikhs constitute a large proportion of
Indians living in North America. According to
one estimate, there are about 125,000 Sikhs living in the US alone.
speaking, there were three major waves of Indian immigration to North America. The first small wave were agriculturists,
most of them Sikhs from Punjab, who went to Canada
and the west coast of the US
in the early twentieth century. Slowly, some of them became prosperous farmers.
Even today, many illegal immigrants from Punjab
go to work as farm labourers on fairly low wages.
second wave of immigrants were professionals, going to the US after the
mid-60s. At this time, immigration laws were relaxed to encourage large numbers
of doctors, scientists and engineers from India
and other underdeveloped countries to fill the deficit of skilled labour power
in the US.
This group too seems to have done remarkably well and is considered one of the
most successful recent migrant groups, along with the Koreans and the Chinese.
third wave in the late 1970s were small sector businessmen and shopkeepers.
This group too seems to have been fairly successful. Many of them are importers
of handicrafts, carpets and garments or wholesalers in goods like electronics.
in North America are now not principally
farmers or farm workers but more frequently shopkeepers, tradesmen and
professionals. Not all the migrant Sikhs are from Punjab.
Many have migrated from other states of India where their families are
though a large majority of overseas Indians have opted for or are seeking US or
Canadian citizenship, most of them retain active links with their families in India. It is
fairly common for Sikhs in North America to come to India to finds spouses for their
children. They also constantly help relatives to migrate. Many frequently visit
their families in India.
Some even invest in property or business in India. Their connection with Punjab
and the rest of India
is a real and live one, not just defined through religion.
the fact that a certain amount of moral and financial support for the various
forms of Sikh resistance in India,
including the Khalistani factions, probably comes from some sections of the
overseas community, it is important to understand their reactions, grievances
and modes of expression.
have not realised that the responses of the Sikh community abroad are varied
and complex. We have tended to swallow the stereotype of all Sikhs abroad as
doubt, terrorist groups are trying to establish hegemony, but there are strong
voices in favour of more responsible politics. They desire:
honourable settlement of the Punjab dispute;
right of states to more autonomy;
end of repression and false encounter killings in Punjab;
of those guilty of the November 1984 massacre.
detenus and others against whom no charges have been framed.
makes them even more unhappy than government policies is the fact that the
official opposition parties have not been sufficiently impartial, and that
Sikhs in general have been condemned and isolated. Many told me that the
Longowal accord was possible because groups of concerned citizens like People’s
Union for Civil Liberties, People’s Union for
Democratic Rights, and Citizens for Democracy, had protested against anti Sikh
violence, and had brought it to public attention. They feel that if more people
intervene impartially, a settlement can be reached.
Indian government does not realise that it can ill afford to treat the overseas
Sikhs with contempt. It is foolish and unnecessary to alienate this influential
and well knit community. If we do not make an attempt at this critical juncture
to establish a dialogue and reach an amicable settlement, the situation has the
potential to get worse and worse in years to come.
the absence of a dialogue, and with the growth of the anti minority wave in
India, exemplified in the rise of organizations who stand by such slogans as
“Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan”, the more responsible Sikh leadership gets
demoralised, and the small section that is not open to dialogue gains
ascendancy in the community. Every time an Arwal, Meerut or Ahmedabad massacre takes place,
fear and uneasiness amongst Sikhs grow.
as Hindus are often blinded by the rhetoric of national unity into justifying
such massacres, so also Sikhs get carried away by the rhetoric of Khalistan as
an ideally just state, and end up legitimising the murders of Sikhs and Hindus
that are committed in its name.
Breakdown of Communication
breakdown of communication between Hindus and Sikhs abroad is far more complete
than it is anywhere in India.
Sikhs there told me how, when they went to attend condolence meetings for Mrs
Gandhi, Hindus forced them to leave, saying: “How dare you come here after
having murdered her?” Thus, while news of some Sikhs having celebrated Mrs
Gandhi’s death was splashed prominently in the Indian media, other more
responsible reactions were not acknowledged but were snubbed.
if controlled by one computer, most overseas Hindus stopped talking to Sikhs.
Most of them unilaterally and suddenly snapped all links with Sikhs, behaving
as if each Sikh was personally responsible for the assassination of Indira
Gandhi. Many Sikhs narrated with anguish how Hindus with whom they had decades
old, extremely close family friendships had altogether stopped associating with
them. This was carried to absurd lengths-even a Hindu family whose child had
been “adopted” by a Sikh friend, the latter having performed the naming
ceremony, stopped talking to her and her family. Several Sikhs were in tears
while recounting such experiences.
were deeply hurt that their close friends who happened to be Hindus did not
even ring up to ask if their families in India were safe during army rule in
Punjab and the massacre that took place in North India following Indira
one old woman put it: “Our Indian culture teaches us to bury all anger and
enmity when there is a death. Somehow, even this little courtesy was not
extended when the Sikhs were in mourning.” Another said: “My biggest complaint
is that most Hindus want us to stop feeling altogether. They want us not to
feel hurt when innocent Sikhs are massacred, when the Golden temple is attacked
by the army or when all Sikhs are treated as criminals for the actions of a
some Sikhs also behaved as irrationally, it is significant that no Hindu
complained that Sikhs have shunned Hindus. It seems that the initiative for a
virtual boycott came from the Hindus. This was evident even during my visit.
Several times, Sikhs went out of their way to invite local Hindus to meetings.
A few Hindus did attend some of the public meetings. But if the meeting was
held in a Sikh home, Hindus would not come.
have been a few exceptions to this rule, but they faced hostility from other
Hindus. For instance, in New York, a couple of young Hindus suggested at the
condolence meeting for Mrs Gandhi that a resolution also be passed condemning
the massacre of innocent Sikhs. They faced such extreme hostility from fellow
Hindus that they had to leave the meeting.
one place, a South Indian Hindu who informed Sikhs about a condolence meeting
for Indira Gandhi was subsequently boycotted by other Hindus who threatened to
stop their business dealings with him if he continued associating with the
Indian Hindus do not seem as involved in the hate-Sikh campaign. But, since
interaction between Sikhs and South Indian Hindus has always been minimal,
their lack of hostility has not acted as a bridge. As a result, when overseas
North Indian Hindus stopped interacting with the Sikhs, the Sikhs felt that the
entire Hindu community had turned against them.
attitude of the Hindus seems to spring from their feeling that India belongs
to them, and the minorities are somehow less Indian than Hindus are. Thus, if
some Hindus criticise the Indian government, they see themselves as being anti
a particular government or party, but if some Sikhs do the same they are dubbed
antinational. Most nonresident Indians usually are full of stories about how their
talent went unrewarded in India
but is now recognised abroad. I found that many overseas Hindus talked about
how they were compelled to leave India
because the callousness and corruption of the government make it impossible for
any decent person to survive with dignity in India. But these same people
furiously oppose any criticism of government policies by the Sikhs. Thus, many
Hindus who condemn Sikhs for being antinational do not realise that by
considering the country and the government as the exclusive property of the
majority community, they contribute to making minorities feel unwanted and
began accepting invitations to gurudwara meetings with some trepidation
because I felt the Sikh leaders might be inviting me to speak with a limited
agenda in mind. In North America, as in India, different political factions
are trying to wrest control over gurudwaras. Some of these factions are
committed to terrorist politics. I was not sure a dialogue woud be possible
under such circumstances.
said they wanted to honour Manushi for what they considered an impartial
report on the November 1984 massacre. They knew I would stand with the Sikh
community in its protest against the vioation of its human rights and the
government’s failure to bring any of the November 1984 massacre murderers to
book. However, I was not sure whether they were prepared for the fact that I
firmly oppose the terrorist politics being pursued by some Sikh groups.
in fact, wherever I went, I was treated with typical Punjabi hospitality and
made to feel completely at home, no matter how serious my political differences
with my hosts. The openness and generosity with which the community argued and
discussed these volatile issues was really impressive. Normally, when even
minor political differences surface between groups, the dialogue freezes into
hostility. In this respect, this was a unique political experience.
I openly voiced fundamental differences with the poitics of many of the local
leaders, they took pains to make space for open discussion, even when they
could have easily avoided doing so. For instance, when I reached Vancouver, there was a
preliminary meeting with about 30 active members of the local Sikh
organisation. Expecting this city to be a hotbed of separatist politics, I
clarified my stand at this initial meeting so that the leaders could, if they
so desired, cancel my public speech to the congregation at the gurudwara,
scheduled for the next day. I did not want to speak on their platform under
false pretences. When a group of them hinted that it might be better for me to
avoid “controversial” topics, I explained that I did not think it right to
censor my opinions for fear of offending some people. They did not seem unduly
perturbed at this.
next day, a Sunday, there were thousands in the gurudwara. Far from
wanting to cut short my speech, the leaders asked me to speak for at least 45
minutes. After I spoke, I was honoured with a plaque, and then the secretary of
the gurudwara took over the mike.
had been absolute silence while I spoke, but the gentleman who spoke next was
interrupted by a young man who said aggressively: we don’t want too much talk.
We want to know whether or not you are for khalistan.” The speaker clarified that
he was, and also tried to interpret my stands as favourable to Khalistan. At
this point, a few persons in the audience suggested that I had better speak for
reiterated my opposition to the politics of creating a Khalistan by killing
innocent people and forcing the Hindus to leave Punjab.
Afterwards, many Sikhs came and congratulated me, saying: “Just as well you
said what you did. If any one of us had said what you said, we would have been
intimidated into silence.”
kept expecting the leaders to clamp down at any moment, because they might see
me as spreading confusion among the followers. But, on the contrary, after the langar,
they arranged an open forum at which anyone could ask me questions. This turned
into an excited exchange spread over nearly three hours. A couple of people
from the audience gave fiery speeches defending terrorist politics, but others
continued, undaunted, with their questions to me in the spirit of a genuine
dialogue rather than confrontation.
day, the organisers arranged another big public meeting open to everybody -
Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and non-Indians. Again the speech was followed by a two
hour question and answer session. It was followed by another discussion at
someone’s house, where people continued to talk and argue in good faith and
without cynicism. They arranged for press conferences even though I had told
them I would speak against terrorist politics.
experience, which was fairly typical indicated the hunger for communication
that the community feels. Often, discussions went on late into the night. Many
people came from long distances to attend these meetings. The intensity with
which they participated showed that many of them were seeking answers, rather
than taking rigidly fixed positions. They are eager for information.
matter how forcefully I spoke against the terrorist politics of certain
Khalistani elements, I continued getting more and more invitations to speak at gurudwaras.
When I asked some organisers why they allowed me to question their politics
from their own platforms, they invariaby replied: “You spoke the truth at a
time when few non-Sikhs were willing to do so. Therefore, we honour your right
to speak the truth as you see it today, even if it differs from our view.”
our discussions I found many more Sikhs willing to acknowledge the need for
efforts on their part to end their isolation. Some realise that ever since
Operation Bluestar, the Sikhs themselves have contributed in some measure to
building walls of mistrust and hostility. This has prevented them from reaching
out to more responsible and responsive sections of the Hindu community, both in
repeatedly asked me to inform them when any civil liberties activists from India should be visiting America so that
the dialogue could continue. However, they seemed diffident about extending
direct invitations, fearing that invitees might consider it unsafe and that the
government might obstruct them from accepting.
groups among Sikhs are beginning to take more interest in international
struggles for human rights such as that against apartheid in South Africa.
They are trying to raise the question of atrocities on Sikhs as part of a
larger human rights platform. They realise that if terrorism continues, they
will not be able to convince anyone of their human rights credentials. If this
trend of supporting human rights struggles in India — not just human rights of
the Sikhs but of all other minorities and disadvantaged groups (including the
Hindus in Punjab) can gather strength, it will be a positive advance.
good example was the meeting organised by a New York based Sikh women’s organisation.
They worked hard to ensure that representatives of different Indian community
associations in New York,
such as Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Dalits, Muslims and many others, attended
the meeting. The meeting was remarkably free from hostility between people of
different communities. The Sikh women organisers spoke openly against terrorism
as well as State violence.
a few places, after November 1984, certain US based Sikh organisations had come
together with organisations of Dalits and other disadvantaged minorities in India on a common platform to discuss issues
relating to the status of minorities in India. Some pro Congress(I) Hindus
went in a delegation to the Indian Embassy to request that such “ganging up” of
“antinational elements” be stopped. It is unfortunate that this positive
development of the Sikhs getting sensitised to issues of discrimination against
disadvantaged sections of Indian society should be viewed by Hindus as a
Indian government has been discriminating against overseas Sikhs in many ways.
The introduction of stringent visa regulations to prevent Sikhs from freely
seems to have had disastrous results. Even in normal times, the Indian
bureaucracy is notorious for its high handed functioning. With the new pretext
of controlling terrorism, some bureaucrats seem to have found it easy to throw
overboard even the minimal restraints that operated earlier. I was told by
several people that they were not allowed to visit India to attend the funerals of
close relatives such as parents.
few who managed to get visas by pleading and string pulling were harassed no
end when they reached India.
For the Indian police and bureaucracy, “curbing terrorism” seems to have become
a lucrative business. People told me they had to pay bribes to avoid being
arrested on trumped up charges. One person narrated how, while he was going to
Punjab from Palam airport in Delhi
in a taxi, he was stopped every 20 minutes by the police, ostensibly to check
his baggage for weapons, but actually to extort bribes. During the four-hour
journey through Haryana, he had to pay bribes more than 20 times.
was told that there were a few instances of Hindus and Sikhs getting together
to collect relief for the victims of the November 1984 riots. But the Indian
Embassy officials insisted that it be channelled through the prime minister’s
relief fund. None of the donors, Hindu or Sikh, wanted this as they did not
feel confident that the money would reach the victims.
officials have been shunning Sikhs. Many Sikhs complained that while the
Embassy officials are often present at and involved with the functions
organised by the Hindu community, they now refuse to attend functions organised
by the Sikhs. Thus, there is considerable substance in the allegation that by
treating every Sikh as a real or potential terrorist, the government has
further alienated the community.
many North American Hindus have fallen prey to the politics of mistrusting
minoriries, and feel that Sikhs are getting what they deserve when the Indian
government unleashes anti Sikh propaganda in North America.
They do not realise that in an atmosphere already vitiated by racism and anti
Asian sentiment, any hatred stirred up against Sikhs will soon spill over into
suspicion of all Indians.
Terrorising Their Own Community
Sikhs that I met in North America spoke openly
against terrorism. This is because the chief target of terrorists in North America are Sikhs themselves. The Hindus there
cannot be targeted so easily. Both Hindus and Sikhs believe the myth that
terrorism is directed against Hindus alone. But many Sikhs confessed to me that
in several places the sangat (congregation) is a hostage to the self
fits in with the logic of terrorist politics. The first aim of terrorists is
always to force their own community into silence. Then they can claim to speak
on behalf of the community. Terrorism is the politics of a brutal minority
within a community imposing its will on the silent majority.
as, in India, Akalis and other Sikh leaders who refuse to succumb to terrorist
politics are the primary targets of violence, so also, in America, the Sikh
community is in a state of siege at the hands of terrorists. It needs to be
known that as many Sikhs as Hindus have been killed in Punjab
Sikhs see terrorism as a Congress inspired conspiracy to defame the Sikh
community. They recount instances of certain terrorists in India who were
liquidated in police custody after they confessed to being Congress(I) agents. They give
examples of certain Sikh groups and gurudwaras in North
America which are known to be recieving funds from the Indian
government, which wants to control and instigate gurudwara politics by
these means. These Sikhs were very critical of Congress(I)’s role in gurudwara
elections and politics, particularly since the party pretends to decry mixing
of religion with politics.
I found that they had no satisfactory answer to my question: “Why it is that
even some of those who think terrorism is a Congress inspired game to defame
and destroy the Sikhs, end up apologising for it as the response of aggrieved
Sikhs to the misdoings of the Congress government?”
cannot simultaneously be a legitimate response of certain Sikhs as well as a
Congress inspired game. Those Sikhs who are convinced it is the latter should
be the most determined in its condemnation. If some of them justify and support
it as the response of aggrieved members of a community then they have to assume
full responsibility for the mad and self destructive actions of the terrorists
who under the guise of acting as defenders of Sikhism have been killing not
just Hindus but also as many Sikhs, not sparing even little children.
the militants in North America, there are many
factions fighting for control over gurudwaras. Some Sikhs alleged that millions
of dollars had been extorted and no one dared demand any accounting, even
though they suspected mismanagement.
complication is the widespread infiltration of Congress (I) agent provocateurs
into gurudwaras. Everyone suspects everyone else of being a government
agent. In order to prove that they are not agents but are committed to the
cause of the community, leaders try to outdo one another in militant rhetoric.
People mistrust this rhetoric because they know the agents induldge in it to
provoke trouble. However, they dare not stop using it, for fear of being called
traitors to the community or worse still, congress agents.
prominent leader explained the dilemma. In a pubic meeting he presented himself
as a staunch Khalistani. But when I met him informally later, he admitted that
Khalistan was not a viable proposition. He said the demand for it was just a way
of expressing anger against the Central government. His reason for using a
language in which he does not believe was:
“If I don’t use this language, the militants will snatch the leadership
from people like me. So we have to use
this language to keep the militants at bay.
Internally, we are trying to restrain them from doing crazy things.”
is important to realise that for many Sikhs abroad, Khalistan is a tactical
position,a slogan raised in the hope that pressure of this kind will make the
Centre concede the genuine demands of Punjab.
is also a distinction between being a Khalistan and supporting terrorism or
violence. Some combine the two positions. But there are also many pious Sikhs
who oppose the killing of unarmed people, but support Khalistan because they
sincerely envision it as a place where a peaceful, self reliant and dignified
human life will be possible. This trend
is also visible in some sections of the World Sikh Organisation which, in its
constitution, commits itself to fighting for Khalistan by nonviolent means.
Within this organisation, different people speak in different voices, and the
character of local chapters is decided by the inclinations of local leaders.
are trying to organise a lobby to put pressure on the Indian government by
mobilising support from the Canadian and US governments. This seems to be a foolish strategy unlikely
to yield the results they desire. Also,
none of the WSO leaders is able to explain how Khalistan can be created without
forcing Hindus out of Punjab and Sikhs out of the rest of India and
without resorting to violence.
Sikhs harbour the illusion that by presenting their support for terrorism as
being a simple consequence of the violation of their community’s human rights
they will be able to mobilise support in North America.
However, this is not happening. On the contrary, given the already existing
atmosphere of racial prejudice against Asian immigrants, their political
activity is further strengthening
prejudice against Indians in general and Sikhs in particular.
is imposssible for the Sikh community to appear as defenders of human rights
while important segments of the community continue to be involved in supporting
the politics of blowing up planes, massacring innocent people and creating an
atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the gurudwaras. For instance, the
blowing up of the Air India plane provoked as strong a reaction in Canada
against the Sikh community as it did in India.
Canadians are extremely resentful of the violence resulting from the activities
of certain Sikh groups, not out of a concern for India
but because they are genuinely afraid that the politics of violence will have
an inevitable spillover in Canada. The fear is not misplaced. There have been instances of intergroup
rivalries taking on a violent form as various Sikh groups compete with each
other for hegemony. The forcible take
over of certain gurudwaras by terrorist groups has created an atmosphere of
fear and tension with threats of violence constantly hanging in the air.
fear and resentment of Canadians against terrorist politics is reflected in the
tightening of immigration laws in Canada and repeated demands that
they be made even more stringent for Asians.
Indians were never particularly welcome in Western counties but now
there is a definite hostility to allowing Sikhs into these countries, whether
as refugees or as immigrants, legal or illegal.
Recently, when 174 Sikhs landed on Canadian shores illegally, a massive
furore began, demanding that they be denied refugee status.
far, Sikhs have been very successful immigrants wherever they went. But now, because of the indiscriminate
violence terrorist groups have unleashed, they seem to be jeopardising the
economic and political future of Sikhs
in Europe and America.
North America Sikhs are more prone to exaggerated militant rhetoric than the
Indian Sikhs. One reason is inadequate information. Because the Indian press
succumbed to censorship with regard to army rule in Punjab,
and slavishly justified certain government actions such as the Operation
Bluestar, its credibility has been badly shaken in the eyes of the North
of them believe that what they read in Indian newspapers is censored
information. So they rely more on rumour and have a distorted picture of what
is happening in India. Many of them believed that the issues of
Manushi which carried the report on the November 1984 massacre, and the
PUCL-PUDR report on the same event had been banned in India, whereas
this was not the case. Similarly, many were convinced that anyone who spoke
against the goverment would invariably end up in jail.
also believe that no community in India has been persecuted the way
the Sikhs have and that the Sikhs did not receive any sympathy from other
Indians. This belief also results from lack of information. The fact is that
several communities and regions of India have suffered more brutal
oppression for many years, and received much less sympathy from other Indians,
including Sikhs. Large parts of the
Northeast have been subjected to military rule, suffered massacres, desecration
of places of worship and mass arrests, but have received far less of a
sympathetic hearing than the Sikhs in Punjab. The role of the Congress
goverment in organising the massacre of Sikhs in November 1984 was condemned
openly by many more people than are willing to condemn the much more regular
violence inflicted on the Muslims in different parts of India. Many more non Sikhs also actively organised
relief for the victims of the 1984 massacre than non Muslims usually have done
for Muslim victims of similar violence.
it is much easier to give moral and other support to terrorist politics if one
is sitting at a comfortable distance of 12,000 miles from the battleground than
it is to pick up a gun oneself when one knows that the consequences of being
caught are brutal torture and death.
Anyone who espouses terrorist politics in India does so at some personal risk
but the risk element is much reduced for supporters abroad.
few people expressed open recognition of this fact. The wife of a committed Khalistani told me :
“I ask all these people (including my husband) who are talking of
Khalistan: ‘Are even your own sons willing
to go and live in that Khalistan? All of you want comfortable lives in America. Then
why do you jeopardise the safety of millions of people in Punjab and other
parts of India?’”
woman, a doctor, was even more outspoken. She said: “I will believe in the
sincereity of those demanding Khalistan if they are willing to send one son
each to go and fight for it or, better still, if they go themselves and spend
one year implementing their militant politics in Punjab. It is all very well to talk so militantly,
sitting comfortably here, and make others, most of them from poor families,
shed their blood. Sikhs have always prided themselves on their bravery. Where
is the bravery in applauding the murders of innocent people, encouraging others
to take to violence, and risking the lives of millions of people of your own
community, while you sit safe and comfortable so far away?”
Sikhs remarked that usually Sikh young men from poorer families are the ones
who actually execute the terrorist politics in India
even though the money bags are those who have have made their fortunes in America.
is ironical that even though most North American Sikhs keep asserting that they
have little or no faith in the Central government, they keep waiting for the
same government to provide a solution and keep reproaching it for failing to do
so. They are making no attempt to work out more people oriented solutions. I
found them resistant to openly acknowledging that though the militants claim
they are fighting the Central government, their politics and rhetoric are
actually leading their community not only into a deadly conflict with non Sikh
Punjabis but also into a bitter internal war within the Sikh community.
Desire For Peace
sentiment for peace is not lacking. In Baltimore, a Sikh
gentleman tried hard to persuade me to help organise a peace march of Sikh and
Hindu women to the Indian embassy to appeal for an end to terrorist killings
and State repression. Many others were
keen that I address meetings in every gurudwara of North
America and help initiate a dialogue between the Hindus and the
assessment is that even many of those who talk of Khalistan would in fact be
satisfied with other honourable solutions. Many stated that the Congress party
had deliberately destroyed the goodwill between the Sikhs and the Hindus, and
that replacement of the Congress at the centre by a more reasonable goverment
would automatically ease the situation.
the devout worshippers of Bhindranwale acknowledge that he was originally a
puppet set up by Mrs Gandhi to divide the Akali Dal. The main reason they
revere him is that they see him as a martyr who died defending the Golden Temple.
change at the Centre and decentralisation of decision making are two major
issues. Many said what they really want
is the kind of federal structure that exists in the USA.
Sikhs do realise the dangers and pitfalls of Khalistani politics. I heard many
saying: “How can we be desirous of massacring Hindus? So many of our relatives
are Hindus.” One leader who uses
Khalistani rhetoric commented: “If this
bloodshed does not stop now, it will never stop — not even if Khalistan comes
into existence. Sikhs will give birth to not just one Khomeini but many
Khomeinis — because they won’t put up with any one dictator.”
they feel reassured that it is possible for Sikhs to live in India as equal
citizens, with honour and dignity, many would reconsider their stand on
Khalistan. At present, they feel deeply hurt at being completely boycotted by
the Hindus. The attack on the Golden Temple, the massacre of thousands of
innocents in November 1984 for which not a single person has been brought to
book, and the hostility almost every individual has suffered at the hands of
the Indian government machinery simply because of being Sikh, have become
symbols to them of injustice meted out to them as a community.
What Can Be Done?
Sikhs have the ability and the means to turn the Punjab conflict into a
prolonged bloody civil war by lending moral and material support to terrorist
groups in Punjab, just as some of the descendants of Irish immigrants in America have done in northern Ireland. All those who wish to avoid further advances
toward a civil war type situation in Punjab
need to make the effort to understand the mood, the viewpoints and the
grievances of the Sikh community overseas.
Hindus living in India
and abroad need urgently to rebuild the numerous earlier bridges of
communication, to end the isolation of the overseas Sikh community. We need to
demonstrate to them that we in India
are capable of resolving the conflict by sensible negotiation within a democratic
framework and that in this country, minorities can live with dignity. To demonstrate this, we need to:
- unconditionally support Sikhs when their human rights are violated and fight to
end government participation in such violations;
- vigorously demand punishment of those guilty of the November 1984 massacre of
- ensure that no person is detained without legal and Constitutional procedures,
and end torture in police detention and killings in staged police
encounters. Every detained person should
be entitled to a speedy, fair and open trial, following due legal processes;
- take the issue of regional autonomy seriously, instead of just assuming that
all those who ask for decentralisation of power are out to weaken the nation.
We need to realise the dangers of the myth created by the Congress (I) that any
opposition to its authoritarian rule at the Centre is automatically
- demand the abrogation of all legislation which places vast arbitrary powers in
the hands of the government, for example, the National Security Act, Anti
Terrorist and the Disturbed Areas Acts;
- bring together all Punjabis — Hindus, Sikhs and others — to negotiate among
themselves, through their own chosen leaders, a mutually acceptable solution to
the present crisis. They could then
jointly press this solution upon the Central government with the support of all
those searching for a peaceful and just resolution; and
- demand an end to President’s rule in Punjab because Central rule is the biggest
obstacle in the way of solving the Punjab
- Sikhs need to stop acting as the owners of Punjab; Hindus need to stop acting
as the owners of India.
Only then can a peaceful settlement be reached. Instead of waiting for the
Central government to come up with a “national” solution, an initiative should
first be taken in Punjab to reach a regional solution acceptable both to Sikh
and Hindu Punjabis living in Punjab.
the same time, it is crucial that overseas Sikhs should take an uncompromising
stand against terrorist torture and killing of innocent people. Since a large
part of the funds, weapons and support for terrorist activities is allegedly
coming from the overseas community, a decisive shift of their support away from
the terrorists would help a more credible Sikh leadership to emerge in India as well
as overseas. This new leadership would
then be in a better position to press for an honourable solution. The
terrorists are only providing legitimacy to the Congress (I) government’s
policy of indiscriminate repression and further authoritarian centralisation.
though many of the Sikh grievances against the Central government are perfectly
genuine, killing innocent Hindus and Sikhs and trying to create Khalistan by a
new murderous partition type terror in India is no solution. This has, in
fact, only helped the Congress (I) carry on its divide and rule politics. Terrorism must be stopped unilaterally to
make any negotiations feasible.
overseas Sikhs have a special responsibility in ensuring that they do not, by
their ill informed actions, jeopardise the well being of Sikhs living in India. It is
easier for them to confront terrorist poltics in North America, because even
terrorists are aware that they cannot as easily go on a rampage in America as in Punjab. Therefore, it is relatively easier to isolate
them there and deny them legitimacy.
If they can
at least neutralise them there, they will more credibly be able to mobilise
general opinion abroad against the violation of human rights of Sikhs in India. This
will also help bring into focus the real issues in Punjab,
such as the need for decentralisation of power. Finally, they need to inform
themselves better of the situation in India, and to base their political
thinking on facts instead of mythology.