India celebrates its Independence Day on 15th August each year, while a good number of Sikhs around the world mark it as a black day.
On the midnight of 14th and 15th August 1947 the British imperial representatives transferred the power to both Hindu and Muslim leaders in the Indian subcontinent.
Muslims attained Pakistan, Hindus secured India but the Sikhs got nothing on the eve of the transfer of the power in 1947.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Hindus and Sikhs each embarked upon competing for religious resumptions. This resulted in communal lines becoming more distinct and antagonistic. The Hindus started the Arya Samaj movement, and, in retaliation, the Sikhs started the Singh Sabha movement. The Arya Samaj did spread anti-Sikh propagandas. The Singh Sabha, on its part, focused on clearing out fragments of Hinduism from Sikhism. The main thrust of the Singh Sabha was about the clear demarcation of Sikh communal identity and the defence of the Sikh religion from attacks by other religions.
In 1929, Sikhs held a huge independence rally in Lahore. As reported in the Times, ‘the 500,000 strong procession led by the veteran Sikh leader Baba Kharak Singh, ‘put the Congress show into shame and shadow’. Gandhi, Nehru and other Congress leadership then met Baba Kharak Singh and gave the Sikhs their solemn assurance that: After India has achieved political freedom, no constitution will be framed by the majority unless it is freely acceptable to the Sikhs. Indian National Congress also assured Sikhs through Ravi Pledge of 1929 that no constitutional package would be conceded by the Congress until the Sikhs approved it. But practically congress never committed itself to this pledge. Congress leadership negotiated with Muslim leaders and the British without consulting the Sikhs.
In 1931, M K Gandhi reiterated this assurance at Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Delhi, saying: ‘I ask you to accept my word and the resolution of the Congress that it will not betray a single individual much less a community. If it ever thinks of doing so, it will not only hasten its own doom but that of the country too.’
During the decisive phase, the Sikhs inaccurately relied on the British Governor of Punjab and the Viceroy. Sikhs were repeatedly advised to negotiate with either Congress or Muslim League to bargain on their strength. No party, whether the League or the Congress, could have neglected them in the political sphere. But they kept on approaching the Governor and Viceroy with requests to ‘do something for the Sikhs.’ They ignored the real political stakeholders and continual pursuance of the British could not produce any useful results for the Sikhs and ultimately they had to bear the calamity.
Formation of an independent Sikh state or joining India or Pakistan were the three options available to the Sikhs. But as the transfer of power in India was coming closer the Sikhs confined their option to just joining the Congress. Sikh leadership was not keen to take advantage of their bargaining position.
They were pleasing the congress leadership by posturing themselves as the defenders of united India.Such was the blind faith of the Sikh leadership in the sincerity or the congress that they stated:‘Sikhs have no demands to make. They will satisfy their political rights and aspirations through the goodwill of the congress and the majority community. Only a few months before the transfer of power on 9th December 1946, Nehru stated in the constituent assembly, ‘The various territories of the Union of India will be autonomous units with residuary powers.’
The 1947 partition also meant the division of Punjab. From Pakistani Punjab, about 4 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India. Sikhs were staunch nationalists at that time, but later on, they agitated. A secret circular was sent out to all Deputy Commissioners in Punjab by the Home Minister V. B. Patel with the instructions that Sikhs, particularly those migrating from Pakistan, should be treated like a ‘criminal tribe’.
In 1950, when the Indian constitution was drafted. The clause 2 subsection B of article 25 of Indian constitution curtailed the religious identity of Sikhs by not recognizing them as a separate religious entity and treating them as Hindus.
Immediately after independence, Sikh princely states were merged with the Indian Punjab province and the privileges enjoyed by them during the British period were withdrawn. Special representation of Sikhs withdrawn and the joint electorate was introduced in place of separate electorate.
Punjab had 56% Sikh population even after the creation of Haryana and Himachal Pardesh provinces carved out of it. But the prosperity of Punjab attracted a large number of Hindus to the province thereby reducing Sikh majority to 52%. Grievances grew during the 1960s as Sikhs began to feel that their religion and their social structure faced the subtle threat of absorption into Hinduism. Before the partition of India, Congress had always exploited and supported that demand for the creation of linguistic states.
After the upheaval of independence, Congress dissociated itself from this demand. The government bowed down in 1953 and Andhra Pradesh was the first state to be created on the basis of language. But Punjab had to wait for 10 years for a Punjabi Suba.
Sikhs were further aggrieved when, during the census of 1951 and 1961, Punjabi Hindus declared Hindi as their mother-language even when they could not speak it. This communal tension initially marked Sikhism as distinct from Hinduism. Thus it was left to the Sikhs to preserve their ethnicity through the preservation of Punjabi language written in Gurmukhi script. Another grievance of Punjab against the Government of India was about the distribution of waters between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Punjab alleged the excess was allowed to flow into the states of Haryana and Rajasthan at the cost of Punjab. The Punjab Reorganization Act resulted in Punjab losing close to 75% of its riverine waters to the Hindu-dominated states of Haryana and Rajasthan.
In June 1984, Indian Army attacked the holy Sikh Shrine Sri Darbar Sahib in Amritsar and various other Sikh shrines in Punjab. The attack which is commonly known as ‘Operation Blue Star’ is the worst example of the state terrorism, used by the authoritarian and totalitarian government of India against its own citizens, to make any form of political opposition impossible. About 150,000 Indian army troops sent to the state of Punjab, with helicopter gunships, tanks and modern weaponry. The state was sealed off from the external world. Journalists were removed.
Telephone lines were cut, preventing internal and external communication. All news and information was controlled by the Indian government. All independent newspapers and radio stations were closed down. An indefinite curfew was imposed across the whole of Punjab, with 20 million residents placed in a state of siege and imprisonment. In an effort to destroy a crucial part of the Sikh heritage, Indian army deliberately set fire to the Sikh Reference Library within the complex, after it had been secured. Irreplaceable copies of the Sikhs’ holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikhs’ archives of documents from every period of Sikh history and even artefacts from the lives of the Sikh Gurus were burnt to ashes.
In November 1984; Sikhs were burnt alive, Sikh women got raped, Sikh business and properties flared to cinders in the towns and streets of world’s so-called largest democracy (India). Hindu vigilantly groups, assembled in various parts of Northern India to carry out the holocaust of the Sikhs with the encouragement of the Indian government’s ministers and Members of Parliament and with the support of the police.It is estimated that around 30000 Sikhs lost their lives in 3 days planned genocide.
The Sikhs initially demanded a separate Sikh state to protect their economic, religious, and cultural identity. This demand was made in the context of the partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan on religious basis.
However, the Sikhs finally gave up their demand for a separate state after Congress leaders promised that Sikhs would have a special status in independent India.
It is very unfortunate that the land of five rivers could not produce visionary political leadership at the critical juncture of history. The decision of joining India by the Akali leadership enslaved Sikh community to a mammoth majority – a community which once had a Sikh kingdom comprising of 1.45 lakh square miles.