Search the Community
Showing results for tags 'Sovereignty'.
Found 1 result
Well done analysis of the beginnings of the Sikh/Punjabi struggle under the Indian state. Taken From: http://sikhwithit.bl...discontent.html Seeds of Discontent Originally published in "Dedicated to the Sikh Struggle" Despite attempts to do so, the events before and after the 1984 Sikh genocide cannot be examined in isolation of their broader political context. Broken promises, the demand for greater Sikh sovereignty, covert intelligence operations, the state of emergency, and human rights abuses must all be accounted for in order to create an accurate reconstruction of the time period. The seeds of discontent in the Punjab region were sown decades before the explosion of violence in Punjab, in the streets of Delhi and other cities across India in the 1980s. The calls for communal sovereignty and provincial autonomy did not arise spontaneously. They were the manifestation of discontent with a post-independence reality unreflective of its roots. The imposition of emergency rule in the 1970s inflamed tensions and the crackdown in Punjab would lead to the creation of an untenable political circumstance. Broken Promises: The roots of discontent amongst the Sikh community, although plentiful and diverse, can be to a large extent traced back to pre-1947 commitments made by the Congress party. Two main points of displeasure amongst the Sikh community following India’s independence were that the Congress party had abandoned its pre-independence commitment to the reorganization of states based on linguistic homogeneity with regards to Punjab and the broader concept of provincial autonomy. The following excerpt helps to provide context into the position of the Congress party leadership with regards to provincial autonomy and linguistic homogeneity: “On 10 August 1928, the Nehru committee submitted its report on the future of the Constitution of India. Apart from reiterating the principles of provincial autonomy and reorganization of the states on the basis of linguistic homogeneity, the report also confirmed the reservation of seats in the Legislative Assemblies in the Provinces as well as at the Centre for Muslims of India in proportion to their population in the provinces. However, the report denied similar reservation to other religious minorities and went on to state categorically that there should be no reservation of seats for any community in the Punjab and Bengal. Following the publication of the Nehru report, Sikh leaders expressed anxiety over their future in India under a nationalist government which provided no statutory protection for them as a minority. To allay their fears the Congress Party organized its annual session of 1929 at Lahore and passed a resolution saying that on achieving independence no Constitution would be framed unless it was acceptable to Sikhs.” (Kumar: 120). The Congress report of 1928 is a pivotal document as it formed the basis of what the future state of India’s framework would consist of. It provided a blueprint from which those involved in the independence discussions could base their decisions with regards to accession and secession. As the Congress party moved further and further away from this declaration with regards to Punjab, the angst amongst India’s Sikh community would continue to grow. This is not to say that every Sikh in every corner of India was enraged, no community is so homogenous that it acts and thinks in perfect unison. However, the protests, political movements, and resistance prevalent amongst the Sikhs of Punjab in the decades following independence are telling. The population was not asking for the Central government to kneel, rather that the Congress party uphold its commitments. The excerpt discussed above is not unique in nature and Congress leaders would on multiple occasions re-affirm the party’s commitment to guaranteeing that no constitution would be passed if unacceptable to the Sikhs of India. In response to a question from Madhusudan Singh on what guarantees Gandhi could give with regards to the resolution passed by his party at Lahore in 1929, he responded “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. Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress with you” (Kumar: 122). As he was further pressed on this issue “Gandhi said that the Sikhs would be justified in drawing their swords out of the scabbards as Guru Gobind Singh had asked them to, if it would recoil from its commitments” (Kumar:122). In 1950, when the Constitution Act of India was enacted (devoid of special protection for the Sikhs), representatives from the Akali Dal party declared in the constituent assembly “the Sikhs do not accept this Constitution: the Sikhs reject this Constitution Act” (Singh: 245). Yet, in direct opposition to their previous commitments, the Congress party would indeed pass a constitution not accepted by the Sikhs. Broken commitments such as the ones discussed above would help form the foundation of the Punjabi Suba movement, which rose to prominence post-1947. The Sikh community and its leadership would advocate for the greater autonomy and freedom that the Congress party had promised to it. The creation of a state of Punjab based on linguistic homogeny and the control of waterways (which were of particular importance given the agrarian nature of Punjab) were of particularly heated contestation. Rise of the Punjabi Suba movement Historically the Sikh community has viewed the Punjab region as its homeland due to its status as the birthplace of Sikhism and the fact that it is home to a majority of the Sikh community and many of the faith’s most revered sites; as such one cannot simply separate the reorganization of Punjab and Sikh discontent into two mutually exclusive entities. The Akali Dal and its leader Master Tara Singh would continue to advocate for a Punjabi speaking state (Lal: 55). The composition of this state would have been in line with the commitment to linguistic reorganization as per the Congress’ pre-independence doctrine. However, this commitment to linguistic reorganization was abandoned shortly after Indian independence upon the recommendations of the Linguistics Provinces Commission. In the eyes of the commission: “It (i.e. the formation of linguistic states) would unmistakingly retard the process of consolidation of our gains, dislocate our administrative economic and financial structure, let loose, while we are still in a formative states, forces of disruption and disintegration and seriously interfere with the progressive solution of our political and economic difficulties.” (Kumar: 177). In essence, the promise of linguistic reorganization in the case of Punjab had become a source of inconvenience for the Congress party and their new partitioned India. In the words of Nehru as he spoke to Master Tara Singh in 1954 who reminded him of the Congress’ commitments to the Sikhs, “the circumstances have now changed”. (Singh: 245) As the Akali Dal continued their campaign for a Punjabi speaking state, Hindu organizations had begun advocating that the community formally disown the Punjabi language in favour of Hindi (Kumar: 177). This act of collusion would further inflame the political unrest caused by the Congress’ unwillingness to abide by its 1928 resolution. As constitutional autonomy continued to elude the Sikh community, Sardar Kapur Singh would have this to say on September 5th, 1966 as he stood up to vote against the bill for the reorganization of the state of Punjab: “Madam Chairman, I have gone through this draft Bill most carefully and I have heard the Honourable Home Minister with the diligence and respect which his speeches and utterances always deserve. Madam Chairman, as it is, I have no option but to oppose this Bill. Like the curate’s egg, though it might be good in parts, it is a rotten egg. It might be edible, but only as a measure of courtesy, as it is devoid of nutritional qualities and since its putrefaction is far gone, it is really unfit for human consumption” (Singh: 239). The bill for the reorganization of the state of the Punjab would fail the test for the Akali Dal party as well. On July 20th 1966 Resolution 2 of the Working Committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal was passed: “SIKHS RESOLVE AND PROCLAIM their determination to resist, through all legitimate means, all such attempts to devalue and liquidate the Sikh people in a free India, and consequently, DEMAND that the following steps should be taken forthwith by the rulers of India to assure and enable the Sikhs to live as respectable and equal citizens of the Union of India, namely, FIRST the Sikh areas deliberately and intentionally cut off and not included in the new Punjab to be set up namely, the area of Gurdaspur District including Dalhousie, Ambala District including Chandigarh, Pinjore, Kalka, and Ambala Saddar, the entire Una Tehsil of Hoshiarpur District, the areas of Nalagarh, called Desh, the Tehsil of Sirsa, the sub-Tehsils of Tohana and Guhla, and Rattia Block, of contiguous portion of the Ganganagar District of Rajasthan must now be immediately included in the new proposed Punjab so as to bring all contiguous Sikh areas into an administrative unit, to be the Sikh Homeland, within the Union of India. And SECOND, such a new Punjab should be granted an autonomous constitutional status on the analogy of the status of Jammu and Kashmir as was envisaged in the Constitution Act of India in the year 1950” (Singh:1948). The resolution does not call for unique wide ranging powers, rather it points to the “autonomous constitutional status” of Jammu and Kashmir as encapsulated in the Constitution Act of India. As this set-up was achievable to the north of Punjab, why could it not be feasible for Punjab itself? The powers requested would have been relatively analogous to that which already existed for other states in India. The resolution was focused on creating a place for Sikhs in India, who had decades prior chose accession over secession. Additionally, this Sikh homeland was to be an administrative unit within the “Union of India”. The focus here was to create an autonomous Sikh land of freedom in the north of India, a notion Nehru had decades prior accepted. In July 1946 Nehru would be quoted as saying “The brave Sikhs of the Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set-up in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom” (Singh: 242). Yet, when the time had come for these commitments to be put into action, they had been forgotten; as resistance to this autonomous state was evident even before Resolution 2 of the Akali Dal working committee and the 1966 statements of Sardar Kapur Singh. Jawaharlal Nehru would go so far as to “tell a correspondent of the Times of London that he would not concede a Punjabi speaking state even if he had to face a civil war” (Kumar: 182). This statement was made following the release of Master Tara Singh who had been jailed preemptively following his vow to fast until death in demand of a Punjabi Suba (state). In 1960, “newspapers were prohibited from publishing news regarding the Sikh agitation. Raising slogans for a Punjabi Suba were made illegal” (Kumar: 182). The repression of discontent and freedom of speech in response to the Punjabi Suba movement would become a reoccurring theme in the Central governments dealings with the Sikh community. As opposed to reaffirming their pre-independence assurances, the Indian government would instead meet peaceful assembly with repression, calls for justice with an iron fist, and freedom movements with oppression. An interesting line for the descendents of a movement whose chief figure head (Mahatma Gandhi) would be defined in the Indian history books by his approach of non violent protests, calls for universal justice, and slogans for a free and independent India. State of Emergency: When Indira Gandhi instituted a State of Emergency, all corners of the nation were covered by the cloud of undemocratic rule. This State of Emergency was born not out of a deep concern for the nation, but out of personal survival: “ The declaration of the state of emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the night of June 25-26, 1975, to save herself from the aftereffects of Allahabad High Court Judgement unseating her for corrupt practices, as laid down by herself, shook the very foundations of the democratic spirit underlying the Constitution. Armed with the draconian powers including rigorous press censorship, it ushered an era of arbitrariness and arrogance for personal survival and family aggrandizement, with new upstart Sanjay Gandhi and his goons creating terror and wreaking havoc with the system” (Singh 2: 311). The Shiromani Akali Dal would be the only party to take up the cause of opposing Gandhi and her emergency rule. Figures from Amnesty International state that 140,000 people would be detained during emergency, 60,000 of them Sikh. Emergency may not have been declared against the Sikhs, but the resistance to it had a strong Sikh component (Singh 2: 311). As Sikh resistance to Emergency rule grew, in the words of Sangat Singh “Indira got into her head that it were only the Sikhs who constituted a threat to her imperious and dynastic rule, and decided to inflict blows from which they will take long, if at all, to recover” (Singh 2: 312). In 1976, using section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization act Indira Gandhi would allocate the hydel power and waters of the Punjab rivers to Rajhastan, Haryana, Delhi, and Punjab. The Gandhi government would now “award over 75 percent of waters to neighboring non-riparian states and create in them vested interest to the detriment of legal rights in Punjab” (Singh 2: 312). This diversion of water would have devastating effects on the Sikh peasantry, a segment of the population who formed the Akali Dal’s mainstay. Sikhs would also be targeted in the military ranks, as the Defence Ministry would for the first time issue recruitment quotas based on population. The institution of this move would curtail the intake to and composition of Sikh soldiers in the Indian army to just two percent, in line with their proportion of the Indian population as a whole. (Singh 2: 312). The treatment of Sikhs during the 1982 Asian games provides a piercing example of the degree to which Sikhs had been targeted during the emergency period. Haryana’s Chief Minister had instructed the police to cut off all Akali’s entering the state. The following is the account of prominent Indian journalist and author Kuldeep Nayar: “Since the police had no way to differentiated a Sikh who is a terrorist and one who is not, every Sikh travelling to Delhi was searched. Trains were stopped at wayside stations at midnight in cold December and the Sikh passengers were made to get down to appear before a police official on the platform. Buses were detained to get Sikh passengers down and at some places the rustic policemen said ‘All Sikhs should come down’. People travelling in cars were no exception. Many senior retired military officers were stopped and among them were Air Chief Minister Marshal Arjun Singh and Lt. General Jagjit Singh Arora; their disclosure of identity did no matter; luggage in every car was thoroughly searched. Maj. General Shabeg Singh, who later joined hands with Bhindranwale, had gone on record as saying that after the humiliation meted him in Haryana, he decided to join Bhindranwale. Even Swaran Singh (a cabinet colleague of J.L.Nehru who had served India well for many tenures as its Foreign Minister) was stopped and searched despite telling the police who he was. Congress(I) Sikh MPs were no spared and Amarjit Kaur Congress MP, was in tear when she narrated in the Central Hall of Parliament how she and her husband were treated by the Haryana police…. The Sikhs felt humiliated because the Hindus crossing into Delhi from Haryana were not touched, even for the sake of form. The government expressed no regrets and no statement came from any ruling party members that what had happened was reprehensible. Very few Hindus spoke against his. Newspapers also did not report any incident lest it should add to communal tension. The Sikhs felt the government was now against them as a community” (Kumar: 260). The relationship between the Sikh community and India’s governmental bodies had degraded considerably by the 1982 Asian games incident, and yet the worst backlash against the Sikh community was yet to come. As mentioned at the onset of this piece, the events before and after the 1984 Sikh genocide cannot be examined in isolation of their broader political context. The examples and chronology of events above are testaments to this. The untenable situation of the 1980s was not an overnight development. Rather, it had built up over decades and decades, slowly reaching the human rights atrocities of 1984. As the streets of Delhi were filled with burning Sikh corpses and dismembered youth, historical context disappeared from the political discourse. Sikhs were terrorists and a threat to India, no shades of grey existed. The decades of peaceful demonstration and political movements were forgotten, for there was no place for these trivial memories. The here and now was all that mattered, an enemy had been constructed and how its existence was constructed was not up for debate. As we delve into the atrocities of 1984, it is pivotal that we realize that this genocide was the apex of a devilish journey seeped with mistruth, mistrust, and misinformation. Sources Gill, Tarlochan S. (1989). History of the Sikhs. Toronto: Asia Publications. Grover, Verinder; ed. (1995). Master Tara Singh. Delhi: Deep & Deep publications. Kapur, Rajiv A. (1987). Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. Kumar, Ram Narayan; Sieberer, Georg. (1991) The Sikh Struggle. Delhi: Chanakya Publications. Lal, Mohan. (1984). Disintegration of Punjab. Chandigarh: Sameer Prakashan. Singh, Kapur. (1979). Sachi Sakhi. Singh (2), Sangat. (1995). The Sikhs in History. New York: Sangat Singh.