Part II - The Conclusion
‘Hind ki Chaadar’- Glorious Years.
15 April 1469- the day seed of Sikhism was sown in India with the birth of Guru Nanak. Those were turbulent days of power struggle between Lodhi Dynasty and invading Mughals from Afghanistan. The foundation stone of religion was laid by embracing best of Hinduism and Islam. It evolved for next 140 years by encompassing ‘Bhakti’ and ‘Humanity’ as basic principles, with ‘Naam Japo (Sat Sangat)’, ‘Vaand Chako (Langar)’ and ‘Kirat Karo (Grihasta or homly responsibilities)’ as core values. Concepts of ‘Miri Piri’ and ‘Shamshir Dast’ were added much later when two of their Gurus — Arjun Dev (death 1606) and Tegh Bahadur (death 1675) were tortured and killed by Mughal Emperors Jahangir and Aurangzeb. The religion was accepted by masses in the plains of Punjab because of its simplicity, practicality and abolition of caste system. Till 1699, most of the disciples comprised of Hindus with few Muslims from Sufi Sect.
An important event took place in 1675, when a group of Kashmiri Pandits approached ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur for help to raise voice against Aurangzeb’s tyrannical rule of converting Hindus to Islam. Only few knew that its outcome will change the tide of Sikhism forever. The Guru with devotees started from Anandpur Sahib and marched towards Delhi where he was arrested by Aurangzeb on charges of revolting against ‘Sultanate’. During the period of being held captive and public beheading at Chandni Chowk in Delhi, none of the followers among the crowd, for the fear of persecution could muster courage to identify themselves with the Guru. The tenth Guru- then Gobind Rai, took up the dual challenge. First to baptize the followers and give them a unique identity. The second was to raise a fearless army to counter unjust Mughal Empire of the time. The ‘Khalsa’ was born on 13 April 1699 and Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh.
The movement with new found courage received active support from Hindus who were facing an onslaught of Islam. Due to its huge popularity among peasant class, the rulers of small estates in Punjab and Himachal felt threatened. In order to maintain hold on their small Jaagirs and areas, boycotting of Sikhs was resorted to. When it didn’t had the desired effect, they approached Emperor Aurangzeb to rout Khalsa Army. Fourty two nascent soldiers fought bravely and resisted Wazir Khan led Mughal army of many thousands before falling in the battlefield of Chamkaur in 1704. Guru Gobind Singh lost all of his four sons, with youngest two- Zorawar Singh (9 years) and Fateh Singh (6 years) bricked alive. Major setback came on 08 Oct 1708 when the gallant warrior Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last. He was assassinated by two Pathans who had come in the disguise of devotees and attacked him when he was unarmed and asleep.
The subsequent uprising till 1839 produced many legendary personalities full of grit, valor and determination. The prophecy of ‘Savaa lakh se ek ladaun, tabhay Gobind Singh naam kahaun’ came true in his lifetime as well as beyond with the birth of many illustrious fighters. Due to paucity of time and space all cannot be described here but some unmissable names are- Sahibzadas Ajit Singh, Jujhar Singh, Zorawar Singh, Fateh Singh (all four martyred sons of tenth Guru), Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Deep Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Hari Singh Nalwa.
It took centuries of hard work, unity, apt leadership and numerous sacrifices by ‘Dal Khalsa- a confederation of 11 Sikh Misls’ to wrest control of a major portion of India from Mughals. With persistent efforts the movement grew from pillar to post till 1839 and successfully established mighty Sikh Empire- whose boundaries extended up till Kabul, Tibet and included whole of Pakistan, Punjab, Himachal, Haryana and Jammu Kashmir . For a brief period the flag was even hoisted at Red Fort, Delhi symbolizing defeat of the Mughals. Lahore became the capital of sovereign Sikh state from where Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Sukerchakia Misl ruled the vast territories. Principles of Sikhism remained intact and were guiding factor till then. However, dilution phase was about to begin.
‘Rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’- Beginning of downfall.
The Sikh leadership crumbled post demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (death 1839) and within a decade British East India Company annexed the kingdom, culminating with Anglo Sikh war of 1849, thus bringing an end to independent Sikh Monarchy. The drunkard prince Duleep Singh- son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, converted to Christianity and expired in exile at France in 1893. Unconfirmed reports say that he reconverted to Sikhism and tried to return to Punjab, prior to his death. But it was too little too late.
The absence of any effective leadership in the religion proved costly when with the independence of India and division of Punjab in 1947, lakhs of ardent followers were massacred by Muslims of carved out Pakistan. The humiliation suffered at the hands of British and political masters of independent India kept simmering within the orthodox rural Sikh community. As a result, fiery speeches were regularly delivered by ill informed preachers in the villages of new found Punjab. One such preacher which caught the imagination of masses was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He was given the title of ‘Sant’ by his staunch supporters. On 1st Nov 1966, Punjab was further divided into Himachal, Haryana and Punjab on linguistic lines and cultural denominations. Punjabi speaking areas like Ambala and Chandigarh were conspicuously not given to ‘Punjabi Suba’. This was seen as deliberate attempt to deny what was legitimately theirs. Weak Akali leadership remained a mute spectator and it gave rise to major dissent among common people. Fearing a backlash, Anandpur Sahib Resolution was passed in 1973 by Akalis which stopped just short of declaring independent Khalistan. The Punjabis were jubilant with the announcement and Akali Dal was successful in swaying the sentiments back to their side. To counter the euphoria, Indira Gandhi and Zail Singh connived and provided indirect support to Bhindranwale who on the other hand was projecting an extreme, orthodox, staunch form of independent Sikh state. Propping up of secessionist agenda was under political glare who chose not to react, unaware that toying with dangerous idea will have serious ramifications. Local administration was influenced to turn a blind eye towards the activities of Sant. Within few years, unchecked Bhindranwale gathered large number of supporters and had the audacity to undermine both Akali and Congress leadership.
Inter-Services Intelligence or more commonly known as ISI of Pakistan was keeping a close watch on turn of events happening across the border. Pakistan was dismembered in 1971 with East Pakistan cut out as Bangladesh. The neighbor was fuming to take revenge and ceased the opportunity. ISI pumped in enough money, arms and ammunition in Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran for utilization of brainwashed teenagers. The small groups reorganized into much larger coordinated structure and soon more than half of Punjab resembled like a liberated zone. The armed militants under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale were ready to take on The State and The Indian Government.
A series of targeted killings started. Hindus and sane Sikhs who dared to question the Sant were picked up and shot in cold blood. A ‘hit list’ used to be generated which had the names of people to be eliminated. Anybody disagreeing to the demands of terrorists was put on the list. The demands ranged from ridiculous- like shutting down of all barber and tobacco shops, to autocratic- like closing of all liquor vends, to humane- like ban on dowry, to socialist- like presence of not more than 10 persons in a wedding. Bhindranwale had strong, extremist opinion and ways to get it executed. But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The uprising, during later part, lost goodwill of Punjabis due to it’s barbaric means. In the garb of spreading ‘Panthic’ philosophy many atrocities were committed by gun wielding lower rung militants in the villages. Although the Sant himself and his inner coterie refrained from diverting from self proclaimed righteous path.
A Frankenstein monster was created who not only diverted the attention away from Anandpur Sahib Resolution but also turned the tables on Central Government.
‘When a tree shook the nation’- 1984.
Part I of this article narrates true incidents of Nov 1984 . Link given below.
With morale of Punjab Police at all time low and militant headquarter established at Akal Takht, Indira decided to act. Her decision was guided by two factors. First- out of control Khalistan movement was gaining popularity and immediate political mileage could be driven by stemming it before upcoming Lok Sabha elections of Dec 1984. Second- Intelligence inputs indicated towards something big being planned by ISI. The state machinery had collapsed and virtually a parallel government was being run from the pinnacles of Akal Takht. Army was tasked to clear Akal Takht and it had to act fast as there was credible information that on 03rd June 1984, martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev, independence of Khalistan would be declared.
The Pakistani ISI plan was accessed by British MI6 and passed on to Indian RAW. Personal relations between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and British Premier Margaret Thatcher averted ‘perceived’ coup in offing. Plot was that after Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale declared independent Khalistan in the presence of huge gathering assembled at Sri Harmandir Sahib complex on the occasion of Gurpurab, Pakistan will formally recognize the new country. Pak army would step in immediately and will take control of maximum area as possible and would act as protectorate of Khalistan till it could sustain on it’s own. Few Middle East Islamic nations will support Pakistani move and with pressure from CIA, others will also follow the suit. To preserve sanctity in cold war era and to contain conflict, UN will be forced to push cease-fire down the Indian throat. It was believed that rural population of Punjab will revolt and state forces would be mutinying against the central government. Therefore, Indian Army’s mobility would be seriously impeded, initially because of surprise and later due to opposition by ‘Khalistani’ citizens.
Indian government preempted the situation and gave go ahead to Operation Blue Star. Army launched offensive on the night of 1st June 1984. Only tactical mistake it made was to physically move into the Golden Temple Complex with tanks, para commandos and Mechanised Infantry. Lying cordon around the shrine for couple of weeks along with sniper action was good enough to make the holed up militants surrender and eliminate key leaders like Bhindranwale and Major General Shabeg Singh. Fortifications, training and positioning of militants was undertaken by latter who was a decorated (PVSM, AVSM) retired General Officer of Army. What made him turn his experience against his alma mater is altogether a different topic and beyond the scope of this article. Cordon policy was successfully adopted in the subsequent Operation Black Thunder I & II in 1986 and 1988 respectively.
What resulted had a deep impact on the psyche of Sikhs. After initial setback of huge casualties, Akal Takht was pounded with heavy Armour and was destroyed beyond recognition. All militants including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale were killed alongwith scores of innocent devotees. The photographs of burnt down Akal Takt- highest temporal seat of Sikhs turned sentiments against the incumbent central government. It sent shivers down the spine of Congress leadership as they have had a historical blunder in their face. Even most strong Punjab Congress supporters resented. As the news spread, there was widespread anger and discontent among Sikhs to the point that even mutiny was reported in few Sikh Battalions of Army. Indira Gandhi paid the price of her miscalculation with her life. She was assassinated on 31 Oct 1984. Chief of Army Staff General AS Vaidya was shot dead after retirement in 1986. Major General KS Brar who took active part in the Operation, was attacked in London as recent as September 2012. Many other Army Officers like Lieutenant General K Sundarji, Lieutenant General RS Dyal, Colonel Israr Khan involved in the Operation led a low profile, undisclosed, unknown life post retirement.
After infamous June of 1984, there was a spat in revenge killings all across Punjab with Hindus being prime targets. It was retaliated with anti Sikh riots of November of 1984. Thousands were slaughtered on the streets of Delhi and across India (for details read Part I). Had Bhindranwale survived the June of 1984, it would have led to the Talibanisation of Punjab. His death also created circumstances which resulted in downfall of Sikhs. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale ensured one thing with certainty- Destruction of Punjab, with him or without him.
‘Supercop KPS Gill’- Completion of annihilation.
Post Bhindranwale period led to emergence of many militant groups like Khalistan Commando Force, Babbar Khalsa, Bhindranwale Tiger Force who were a law in themselves. Indian government failed to consolidate public sympathy gained due to the terrorist atrocities in pre Blue Star era. Pursuing petty politics, both Congress at Center and Akali Dal at State had deeply wounded the pride of Sikhs in the run down of events till 1984. Rajiv Gandhi was accused of instigating the anti Sikh riots that ensued after killing of his mother. He almost justified the mass massacre by saying- “When a big tree falls, Earth shakes”. After a huge victory in Lok Sabha elections under his belt, courtesy overriding sympathies, he now looked for an image makeover.
The Rajiv-Longowal accord was signed in 1985, which addressed major issues of Punjab. However, much similar to Indira he failed to implement the promises as Haryana State elections were near. He didn’t wanted to antagonize Haryanvi voters because sharing of river waters and making Chandigarh as capital of Punjab was part of the accord. To his dismay, Congress was still routed in Haryana. With it hopes of Punjabi community got extinguished. Longowal’s magnanimity resulted in his assassination. Khalistan movement again picked up pace and targeted killings by extremists became a daily affair. Two more Cordon and Search Operations- Black Thunder I & II, had to be launched in 1986 & 1988 in order to clear Golden Temple complex. Concrete results were still elusive.
To crush militancy, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill was appointed DGP of Punjab Police in 1988. Gill- himself a Sikh, was infamous as ruthless and harsh officer. His moral standards were questionable, quite evident from Rupan Kaur Deol bottom pinching incident much later in his life. An officer with moral turpitude was put at the helm of police force. Result was soon out. Extra judicial killings were alleged where an entire generation was wiped out in false encounters. Some youngsters ran away to far flung places and remained in hiding. Modus Operandi was simple- pickup male population between 16–30 years of age on a slight suspicion, torture them and in case anything goes against shoot them. Rapes and atrocities became common. Hardly any home in rural Punjab is devoid of such tragic stories. Many years later it got portrait in movies like ‘Maachis’ and ‘1984’. With majority of young male population gone, whatever remained found solace in practices forbidden in Sikhism.
KPS Gill is credited for crushing of militancy with iron hand. Lesser known is that he in the process, collapsed the hardworking culture of Punjabis and the generation gap which he created got filled with cheap drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Relics which pious Sikhs regarded as sacred began to crumble. Unshorn hair got replaced with trimmed beard, Amrit was replaced with liquor, flourishing Green Punjab got replaced with Udta Punjab. As on date, Sikh gentlemen have become synonymous to liquor and non-veg diet- both of which are prohibited by the Gurus. “Kaisa Sardar hai tu jo Daaru nahi peeta aur murga nahi khaata?” is heard commonly.
The multidimensional political problem without any visionary leader brought disgrace to whole community. Within a decade after Bhindranwale, the Sikh youth was consumed by politics and brute police guided by KPS Gill. What emerged from it was a weak, drug dependent, unfocused generation who neither had leaning towards the teachings of Guru Nanak nor followed the strong principles of Guru Gobind Singh.
Destruction of Sikhs was completed.
‘9 year old kid got renamed as Aatankwadi’- Impact on me.
On personal account, I too faced the brunt as school going kid in Delhi. Discrimination and indifferent attitude by some fellow students and even by few teachers was evident, but being too young I was not able to comprehend the reasons behind it. Today when I analysis, root cause of most incidents become clear. It was their hatred for Sikhs.
My family escaped anti Sikh riots of 1984 due to kind neighbors, nonetheless they could not shield me from what followed. Constant discussions on happenings in Punjab whether true or untrue, among Hindu families in Delhi had bearing on their children. It started reflecting in the school.
As a 9 year old, it was very stressful to be called ‘Aatankwadi’ by classmates. I got labelled with numerous insinuations in bus, class or school ground. Hardly anyone called me by my name and unmentionable derogatory words were common to address me. I used to get singled out and beaten up mercilessly for minor things by a particular lady teacher who taught us English. For spelling mistakes, while others were spared with a warning, she used to hold me by my hair and gave thrashings. Once back home, regularly disheveled ‘Patka’ revealed what I was undergoing at school. Pleading by my father for not touching the hair or ‘Patka’ went unheeded.
The constant abuse till 6th standard scarred the mindset and converted me from an innocent kid to a bully in later part of school life. Being frightened of verbal insinuations, I adopted the strategy of ‘Attack is the best defense’. In the process I rubbed many friends on the wrong side and now deeply regret it. But there were not many options left with me as a kid who suffered regular humiliation from 6–11 years of age at the hands of very friends whom I revered. Traumatized, I was not strong enough to counter them.
Those scary days took a heavy toll. Somewhere deep inside the incidents still haunt me.
‘Aftermath’- Is it the end?
Any free thinker with open mind and analysis of religious history can foresee what future holds for Indian Sikhs. With rampant corruption in Gurudwara Management Committees and absence of charismatic leader in the community, the end is as near as 2200 A.D.
The followers have not learnt from the mistakes. The past misgivings turned common perception of Sikhs from hardworking, confidant, patriot people to traitors in 1980s. Hardly anybody in the community was left unscathed. Likewise, there were many who faced much worst and buckled. Some opted out to easier but fallacious path by becoming devotees of imposter and fraud ‘Babas’ hoodwinking Punjabi diaspora these days. Sadly, politics had converted erstwhile proud tigers of a vibrant community into present day arrogant rats. Sikh religion in it’s orthodox form is on fast decline.
The tormentors are unaware of the implications. Till pre-independence, in many Punjabi Hindu families a tradition of making the elder son a Sikh was followed. Ex CM of Delhi Madan Lal Khurana’s brother is an example. This practice of sharing common heritage stopped leading to further isolation of community. As a result, current generation of Sikhs identify themselves in isolation. It is ironic that few misled Hindus became responsible for annihilation of a religion which rose as their protectors in 1699.
Blows of 1947 and 1984 proved fatal for Sikhs. With uncertain future, watered down Sikhs have descended on the path of self destruction. There is strong possibility that in next 200 years they will cease to exist in the current form. Without any urgent course correction or charismatic leader, in all probability they will get restricted to small hamlets across India. Overseas population offers silver lining and may flourish in case unfortunate politics don’t reverse the growth. Sehajdharis- those who pray in Gurudwara but does not have orthodox appearance, will be in prominence for next century until they also fades into oblivion.
Within 750 years of inception in 1469, history of glorious Sikhs will sadly come to an end. The death of this religion will be loss to humanity in general and India in particular.