Remembrance of Sikh Genocide by Hegemonic Secular State
This year the ‘World War I Remembrance day’ coincide with the 30th commemoration of the ‘Sikh Genocide’ in India. Thirty years ago,amid the month of November, Sikhs were blazed alive, Sikh ladies got raped, Sikh business and properties flared to cindersin the towns and streets of world’s so-called largest democracy (India). Hindu extremists, assembledin 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.
Indira Gandhi after reassuming the office of Indian Prime Minister in 1980 was so determined to teach Sikhs a lesson. She wanted to win the support of majority Hindu population for her successive victory in elections of 1984. Like her father she firmly believed in the notorious theory of German Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, which suggests that ‘violence is continuation of politics by other means’. Under her premiership, Hindu extremist organizations such as RSS became more active and new militias such as Hindu SurakshaSamiti, Bajrang Brigade and Shiv Sena were pro-active in east-Punjab. In the beginning of 1984, situation in Punjab was dangerous and had reached the point of no-return, Sikhs being pushed almost to the wall.
Indira Gandhi decided to first create hatred in the mind of the Hindus in order to get their full-fledged support for herself and for her actions as well as disdain for the Sikhs; hence she had to present the Sikhs as criminals, killers of the Hindus and fanatics. She also adopted a strategy that the Sikhs should not be able to get international support or sympathy and they should rather be presented as ‘Sikh terrorists’ and not as freedom fighters, or victims of state terrorism.
During the summer of 1983, Indira Gandhi asked Lt General SrinivasKumar Sinha, then vice-chief of the Indian Army to prepare a position paper for an assault on Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) the holiest Sikh shrine. Gen. Sinha was willing to carry out the order but sought permission from the then Defense Minister to convey his views to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi before ordering his soldiers. He strongly advised her against taking such a step as he knew that an attack on Golden Temple would estrange the Sikhs and jeopardize the unity of Indian Army which was so reliant on Sikh soldiers. He sought premature retirement from the Army in 1983 on being denied the appointment of Army Chief. General ArunShridhar Vaidya was appointed the Chief of Army with Lt. General Krishna SwamySunderji (General Officer Commander in chief of the Western Command) as vice Chief. In September 1983, Indira Gandhi asked Vaidya and Sunderji to prepare a position paper for an attack on Darbar sahib and both agreed.
On 2 June, 1984, Indian army surrounded Darbar Sahib. 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 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.
On 4 June 1984, Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to invade the Darbar Sahibcomplex in Amritsar. As it was the anniversary of the martyrdom of the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjun Dev, it was full of thousands of pilgrims. Thirty six other Sikh shrines were simultaneously attacked using massive fire power. On the excuse of apprehending ‘a handful of armed men’ lodged inside the Darbar Sahib, the Indian Army unleashed a terror unprecedented in post-independence India. Indian army used the Vijayanta tanks to win the fight. These let loose a barrage of highly explosive shells, which tore off the entire front of the Akal Takht, (the temporal seat of the Sikhs), setting off fires in many of its internal rooms (some of which housed precious historical Sikh relics), and badly damaged its dome.
With dead bodies lying all around, the vast lake of the Golden temple Complex was transformed into a thick red of profuse blood. No attempts were made to provide assistance to the injured or dying. In an effort to destroy a crucial part of 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 and even artifacts from the lives of the Sikh Gurus were burnt to ashes. Amritsar experienced second massacre of the century, first one being in JallianwalaBagh. I have given the details of June 1984 Indian Army’s attack on Darbar Sahib in my piece entitled, ‘Commemoration of Indian State Terrorism against the Sikhs’ published by ARY News on 09/06/2014.
As the Sikhs were badly hurt, two of them avenged the humiliation by shooting dead Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984. On 1st November 1984, crowds of Hindu extremists from the outskirts of Delhi were transported to various densely populated Sikh areas. This mobilisation was backed by the India’s Centre government resources. The criminalHindu gangs carried crude weapons like ironrods, knives, bludgeons and combustible material, includingkerosene, for arson. They were also supplied with governmentissued voter and ration lists of houses and businessestablishments belonging to the Sikhs in various localities.
The government controlled television station Doordarshan, and All India Radio began broadcasting provocative slogans seeking bloody vengeance, ‘khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ (we will take blood for blood!).Murderous gangs led by the leaders, withsome policemen participating, began to swarm into Sikhhouses, hacking the occupants to pieces, chopping off theheads of children, raping women, tying Sikh men to tires setaflame with kerosene, burning down the houses and shopsafter ransacking them. Mobs stopped buses and trains, in andout of Delhi, pulling out Sikh passengers to be lynched to deathor doused with kerosene and burnt alive.
But the violence wasn’t just confined to Delhi, but unleashed throughout India. Sikhs were killed in Uttar Pradesh, mostly in cities like Kanpur, where the administration there let things take their course for a day or so before imposing curfew. The steel town of Bokaro bore the brunt of the violence in Bihar. In Madhya Pradesh, the violence was spread over nearly 40 towns including Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Raipur, Gwalior, Raigharh, Mahendergarh and Bina. Similar attacks of violence occurred in Haryana, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat.It is estimated that around 5000 Sikhs were killed.
Renowned author Khushwant Singh wrote in his book my bleeding Punjab, ‘I realised what Jews must have felt like in Nazi Germany. The killing assumed the proportion of a genocide of the Sikhcommunity. For the first time I understood what words like massacre, holocaust and genocide really meant. Sikh houses and shops were marked for destruction in much the same way as those of Jews in Tsarist Russia or Nazi Germany.’
The Indian government still describes this Genocideof the Sikh as a ‘communal riot’. However UN Convention on Genocide section 2 clearly states:
‘Genocide is ‘any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group – Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’.
It is very clear from the Sikh Genocide that India, despite its pledge to be secular could never free herself of the scourge of Hindu Brahamanism.