1. Promises Broken
When the Constitution Act of India was declared in 1950, it declared Sikhism to be “a sect of Hinduism” and offered no safeguards to the Sikh community. Both Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly refused to sign the document. They declared vehemently that: “The Sikhs do not accept this Constitution. The Sikhs reject this Constitution Act.”
Before Independence congress leaders used to promise “Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress to you. Our Sikhs friends have no reason to fear that it would betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. Moreover, the Sikhs are brave people. They know how to safeguard their rights, by the exercise of arms, with perfect justification before God and man, if it should ever come to that” (Young India 19 March 1931) “No Constitution would be acceptable to the Congress which did not satisfy the Sikhs.” (Collected works of M K Gandhi Vol.58. p. 192) “The brave Sikhs of Panjab 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. (Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress meeting: Calcutta – July, 1944) ”
In subsequent years, all the personal laws of the Sikhs were abolished and replaced by Hindu statutes, such as the “Hindu Marriage Act 1955,” the “Hindu Succession Act 1956,” etc.
When in 1954 Jawaharlal Nehru was reminded of the solemn promises made to Sikhs and other minorities by the Hindu-dominated Congress party, he replied, “The circumstances have now changed.”
2. Linguistic states and Punjabi suba
In December 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed the States Reorganisation Commission to prepare for the creation of states on linguistic lines , Maharashtra based on Marathi ,Gujarat based on Guajarati but no state of Punjabi was to be formed /reorganised based on the Punjabi as its language .This led to widespread discontentment among the Sikhs and Punjabis .During this time J L Nehru asked Hukam Singh speaker of Lok Sabha if he supports the concept of linguistic states .To this he replied that he does not support the concept of linguistic states but if you go for creating linguistic states based on other languages then I will support the creation of a state based on Punjabi .
While other linguistic states were formed in 1956 But Punjabis succeeded in getting Punjab state which is at times referred to as Lagda or lame Punjab as the one –third Punjab left after partition of 1947 was further trifurcated into Haryana , Himachal and present day Punjab on 1 novemeber 1966 .The main reason for this was threatening present day Hindus living in Haryana that they will not be treated equally in Punjabi speaking Punjab .So when plebiscite for creation of new state was conducted most of the Punjabi speaking Hindus of present day Haryana and Himachal wrote their mother tongue as Hindi and not Punjabi . After this ill-conceived campaign of threatening Punjabi Hindus which was spearheaded by Hind Samachar group of Jalandhar many Punjabi speaking districts like Ganganagar , Ambala , Karnal were kept out of Punjab and Chandigarh which was constructed on land taken from Punjabi farmers was declared as joint capital /UT.
The Akal Takht played a vital role in organizing Sikhs to campaign for the Punjabi suba. During the course of the campaign, twelve thousand Sikhs were arrested for their peaceful demonstrations in 1955 and twenty-six thousand in 1960-61.
Again on September 1, 1965 when Pakistani forces crossed the international border at Chhamb Jaurian in Jammu and Kashmir ,the akali leaders immediately declared their unconditional support to the government .Once again Sikh soldiers crossed swords with the Pakistanis and Sikh peasantry rallied to the support of their fighting forces carrying food and help to the battle front .In 22 days war, the most distinguished record of bravery was set by Sikh officer Lt General Harbakhsh Singh who had the sole credit of halting the Pakistani tanks.
At one time during 1965 war there was panic at Army Headquarters that Pakistan might break through Indian defences. Harbakhsh Singh’s finest moment came when the Army Chief, General Choudhary, ordered him “to abandon Amritsar and set-up a defence line behind the river Beas.” Rightly, General Harbakhsh Singh refused to follow such an order, and the threat to Amritsar never developed.
This makes one thing clear Sikhs were not against unity and sovereignty of India but against the denial of their just demands.
3. River waters dispute
Punjab has the exclusive right to Punjab river waters on the basis of riparian law. The other states to which these waters have been distributed are non-riparian, having no valid claim to it. The riparian law is based upon justice and equity, having international acceptance. It has been approved by United Nations. In India it has been followed in all other states and Punjab has been made the only exception
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The 1976 distribution of Punjab river waters, was award of Prime minister Indira Gandhi vide which Rajasthan was allocated 8.6 maf, Haryana 3.5 maf, Delhi 0.2 maf and Punjab 3.5 maf out of 15.8 maf which was declared as surplus, though there was no surplus water and this entire water was much less than the needs of Punjab .
The central government—against the provisions of the Indian constitution introduced sections 78 to 80 in the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, under which the central government “assumed the powers of control, maintenance, distribution and development of the waters and the hydel power of the Punjab rivers. It must be remembered here that as per Indian constitution river water distribution falls under the state list . Many Sikhs perceived this division as unfair and as an anti-Sikh measure, since the vast majority of the people of Punjab are dependent on agriculture.
4. Akali Dal’s demands
The Akali Dal led a series of peaceful mass demonstrations to present its grievances to the central government. The demands of the Akali Dal were based on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which was adopted by the party in October 1973 to raise specific political, economic and social issues. The major motivation behind the resolution was the safeguarding of the Sikh identity by securing a state structure that was decentralised, with non-interference from the central government. The Resolution outlines seven objectives.
1. The transfer of the federally administered city of Chandigarh to Punjab .
2. The transfer of Punjabi speaking and contiguous areas to Punjab .
3. Decentralisation of states under the existing constitution, limiting the central government’s role.
4. The call for land reforms and industrialisation of Punjab , along with safeguarding the rights of the weaker sections of the population.
5. The enactment of an all-India gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) act.
6. Protection for minorities residing outside Punjab , but within India.
7. Revision of government’s recruitment quota restricting the number of Sikhs in armed forces.
The Wall Street Journal noted:
“The Akali Dal is in the hands of moderate and sensible leadership…but giving anyone a fair share of power is unthinkable politics of Mrs. Gandhi [the then Prime Minister of India]…Many Hindus in Punjab privately concede that there isn’t much wrong with these demands. But every time the ball goes to the Congress court, it is kicked out one way or another because Mrs. Gandhi considers it a good electoral calculation.
5. Emergency and role of Sikhs :
Shortly after the declaration of the Emergency, the Sikh leadership convened meetings in Amritsar where they resolved to oppose the “fascist tendency of the Congress”. The first mass protest in the country, known as the “Campaign to Save Democracy” was organized by the Akali Dal and launched in Amritsar, 9 July. A statement to the press recalled the historic Sikh struggle for freedom under the Mughals, then under the British, and voiced concern that what had been fought for and achieved was being lost. The police were out in force for the demonstration and arrested all those who raised the Sikh call of “Jo Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal” (Whoever speaks, shall be fulfilled, Truth is Undying), including the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) leaders.
The Prime Minister seemed genuinely surprised at the strength of the response from the Sikhs. Fearing their defiance might inspire civil disobedience in other parts of the county, she offered to negotiate a deal with the Shiromani Akal Dal that would give it joint control of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The leader of the protests, Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal refused to meet with government representatives so long as the Emergency was in effect. In a press interview, he made clear the grounds of the Save Democracy campaign.
“The question before us is not whether Indira Gandhi should continue to be prime minister or not. The point is whether democracy in this country is to survive or not. The democratic structure stands on three pillars, namely a strong opposition, independent judiciary and free press. Emergency has destroyed all these essentials.”
While the civil disobedience campaign caught on in some parts of the country, especially at Delhi University, the government’s tactics of mass arrests, censorship and intimidation curtailed the opposition’s popularity. After January, the Sikhs remained virtually alone in their active resistance to the regime. Hailed by opposition leaders as “the last bastion of
democracy”,they continued to come out in large numbers each month on the day of the new moon, symbolizing the dark night of Indian democracy, to court arrest.
When attempts at pacifying the Akalis failed, Prime Minister Gandhi took the opportunity of the dictatorship to deal the Sikhs of her country two stunning blows. One was an award of Punjab waters which gave 75% of the river flow to neighboring non-riparian states, at great cost to the farmers of Punjab and in violation of international law on such rights. The second blow was a ruling from the Defence Ministry that future enrollment in the armed forces of Sikhs should be proportional to their percentage of the population of India. Whereas Sikhs had traditionally constituted 11% of the country’s armed forces from a population of only 2%, this was another assault on the Sikhs of India.
The prime minister’s days of dictatorship came to an unexpected end when she called elections for March 1977. With their voices returned to them, the people of India trounced Indira Gandhi at the polls. According to Amnesty International, 140,000 people had been detained without trial during the twenty months of Mrs. Gandhi’s emergency. Of them, 40,000 were Sikhs. Indira Gandhi would never forget. When she returned to power in 1980, she would come down hard on the Sikhs
According to Amnesty International, 140,000 people had been arrested without trial during the twenty months of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Of them, 40,000 had come from India’s two percent Sikh minority
6. Nirankari Kaand :
Till now we saw partition and betrayal of promises made during independence, struggle to get Punjabi suba , emergency atrocities and sustained opposition to emergency by Sikhs . As a result of opposition to the biased government policies a strong feeling of antipathy developed between central government on one side and Sikhs and Punjab on the other side .
So the central government through its various agencies tried to modulate the social opinions .For this purpose it set up and encouraged various anti Sikh sects (schools of thoughts ) this included Nakli nirankaris (sometimes referred to as just nirankaris but they are different from asli or the real nirankaris) and Radha saomi . apart from financing these two pre existing sects in their anti –Sikh activites .Central government agencies also encouraged the penetration of new saints and holymen .This encouragement of sects who openly preached against Sikh ism and /or tried to to wane away Sikhs from Guru Granth sahib gave the Sikhs an impression that government is against Sikhs .In the coming days this proved disastrous , as these sects and their heads starting taking liberty with law .
It should be noted that although Gurbachan Singh’s movement call themselves Nirankaris, they do not have anything in common with the original Nirankari movement that made enormous sacrifices and significant contributions for Gur Panth’s reform.
With increasing encouragement from government in 1978 nirankari sect head gurbachan Singh decided to imitate Guru Gobind Singh ji .The Nirankari leader is on record as saying that Guru Gobind Singh had made only Panj Pyare (Five Beloved) and that he would make ‘Saat Sitaare’ (seven stars). He had even dared to place his foot upon Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
On 13 th April 1978 Nirankaris took out a procession in Amritsar and held a big congregation ,In this procession anti Sikh slogans were shouted and in the congregation inflammatory remarks were made to protest this A group of unarmed Sikhs went to the site of the congregation .But Nirankari saint in collusion with police had armed people who attacked these unarmed Sikhs leading to death of 13 Sikhs and many more injured .
The astonishing thing is that the gathering of the Nirankaris continued for three-and-a-half hours after this bloody massacre had occurred. It has also become known that the D.C of Gurdaspur, Naranjan Singh I.A.S, and other senior officers were present in the gathering during the massacre. It is clear that the authorities of the Amritsar district allowed the Nirankaris to hold their procession in the Sikhs main city of Amritsar during Vaisakhi. The Police authorities are guilty of colluding with and allowing the Nirankaris complete freedom to kill at will, and not dealing with them properly at the right time. The Nirankaris were the creation of the ‘democratic’ Government of India.The sect was created to divide the Sikhs and produce infighting within the Panth.The Indian Express (Chandigarh Edition) featured a report by Sat Pal Baghi in late April 1978. He felt that the Indira Gandhi actively supported the Nirankaris saying: “The genesis of the real trouble between the Nirankaris and the Akalis goes back to the years when Indira Gandhi headed the Union Government. She wanted to weaken the Shiromani Akali Dal, but found that the Akalis could not be brought to heel. She thought of an elaborate plan to strengthen the Nirankari sect not only in Punjab , but throughout the country and abroad also. Official patronage was extended to the Nirankaris much to the anger of the Akalis/Sikhs who have always considered the Nirankaris as heretics.
7. Kanpur massacre :
Agitation was started against the Nirankaris. Wherever they held their meetings, Sikhs would go and strongly protest. Thus Gurbachan Singh was unable to address the meetings held at Varanasi,Azamgarh and Allahbad. On 25th September 1978, Gurbachan Singh reached Kanpur at 9.30pm flanked by police officers ordered to provide protection. The news soon leaked out and Sikhs started a protest march from Gurdwara Gobindpuri Sahib Ji, which is three kilometres away from the Nirankari Bhawan in Kanpur. Women and children were also amongst the protesters. The Nirankari chief had again made full preparations for the Sikhs. When the Sikh protesters reached the Nirankari Bhawan, the Nirankaris attacked them with brickbats and shotguns.An armed volunteer of the Nirankaris attacked Jathedar Kishan Singh with a spear, piercing his stomach.A fight ensued, and it was then that the police officers started to shoot at the Sikh protesters. As a result, thirteen Sikhs were martyred while a further seventy-four were injured.
Rise and role of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala
Bhindraale can at best be described as a religious preacher who played an important role in
1) Awakening the Sikh youth about the ill effects of drugs and bringing them back to religious fold
2) Opposing the unjust policies of central government targeted towards Punjab .
He learned principles of Sikh ism at Damdami Taksal of Bhinder Kalan village and eventually went on to become its head. There he used to tour villages to spread the teachings of ten Sikh gurus and to organise Amrit Sanchar (the Sikh baptism ceremony ) He was very strict with people who used to shun the Sikh discipline after taking baptism.
He vehemently denounced drugs, alcoholic drinks and trimming of hair. He took special notice of the Nirankari heresy which was undermining the Sikh Structure. Opposition to the Nirankaris had started during the time of his predecessor, Sant Kartar Singh Khalsa. Matters came to a head on the Baisakhi day of 1978 when Nirankaris held a convention at Amritsar. The Damdami Taksal under Sant Jarnal Singh Bhindrenwale and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, (another purely religious organization), protested against government allowing the Nirankaris to hold their convention at a time the Sikhs were celebrating the birth anniverssary of the Khalsa. Some of them who marched to the site of the convention were fired upon by Nirankari guardsmen killing 13 of them on the spot and wounding 78 others. The episode brought Sant Bhindrenwale into the political arena.
To understand bhindrawale phenomenon one has to understand two extremely important facts.The first is the position of the use of force for a righteous cause in Sikh ideology and that nothing was unusual or abnormal in the context of Sikh ism and its history . Second, a continuous attempt by government to communalise the atmosphere so as to lead to incidents of violence .
In one of the interviews Bhindrawale said “You asked me about Khalistan. I neither support it, nor am I against it .We want to stay with Hindustan , it is for central governent to decide whether they want us with them or not .Yes if they give us khalistan we will take it . We wont make the mistake of 1947.We are not asking for it but we’ll take it if they give it to us .”
Apart from the Nirankari incident mentioned in previous paragraph the other purely regional incidents were given the guise of religious demand by central government and denied this led to strong resentment not only in bhindrawale but also in Sikh and Punjabi youth .There was let loose a reign of terror and exploitation of Sikhs in Punjab and verbal war was fought by press against Sikhs with Lala Jagat Narain the owner of hind samachar leading the fight against Sikhs .He used to publish inflammatory articles instigating Hindus against Sikhs .Lala Jagat Narain had appeared as witness in case of Nirankaris and had ensured release of culprits .
Meanwhile., the Shiromai Akali Dal had been conducting a morcha since April 1982 against the digging of Satluj-Yamuna Link (S.Y.L.) canal which would divert part of Punjab ‘s river waters to Haryana. The agitation inspite of immense support from the Sikh peasantry was not bearing any tangible fruit because the site (Kapori village on the Haryana-Punjab border where the Indian Prime minister had inaugurated the digging of the canal on 6 April 1982 was in a remote corner away from the Dal’s headquarters. The Dal now decided to transfer the agitation, now designated Dharam Yuddh or religious war, to Amritsar from 4 August 1982. Sant Jarnail Singh merged his own morcha with it, and thus became in a way the joint dictator of the entire Panth though he still swore loyalty to the former dictator of the Akali morcha, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.
A further provocation to the Sikhs came from the behaviour of the Haryana government and police during the Asian Games held at Delhi in November 1982. Sikhs travelling from Punjab to Delhi or back were indiscriminately stopped, searched and humiliated. Violence in the Punjab was on the increase. It was becoming more and more clear that the government would seek a military Solution of the situation in Punjab rather than a political one. Sant Bhindranwale exhorted the people to be prepared for a showdown. On 15 December 1983, he with his men entered the Akal Takht and With the help of a former major general of the Indian
Army, Shahbeg Singh, prepared a network of defensive fortifications inside the complex collecting in the meanwhile a large stock of arms, ammunition and rations anticipating the possibility of a prolonged siege. The government on its part made elaborate plans for all army action while pretending all along its readiness for negotiations and denying any intention of sending armed forces inside the Darbar Sahib complex. The Punjab was placed Under the President’s rule on 6 October 1983. A ordinance declaring parts of the state a disturbed area was promulgated, and the police was given power to search, arrest or even shoot whom they will with immunity from legal action. Six additional divisions of the army including especially trained para commandos were inducted into Punjab by the end of May 1984. On 1 June, while the Sikhs had started preparations in the Golden Temple for the observation of the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru ,which fell on the 3rd of June, strict curfew was clamped on Amritsar and surrounding districts. The actual assault of the army’s operation nicknamed Blue Star took place on the night of 5-6 June 1984. A pitched battle ensued in which the army also used tanks and artillery. On the 7 Of June the dead body of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was located in the basement of the Akal Takht.
Operation Blue star
Real Aim : A human rights activist Ram Narayan Kumar notes, “Operation Blue Star was not only envisioned and rehearsed in advance, meticulously and in total secrecy, it also aimed at obtaining the maximum number of Sikh victims, largely devout pilgrims unconnected with the political agitation.”
Stated aim : “checking and controlling extermist, terrorist and communal vioulence in Punjab , providing security to the people and restore normalcy.” Advertised targets: Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale living in akal Takhat and his disciples numbering 100-150 Actual target/victims: Sangat /visitors gathered to celebrate the martyrdom day of fifth Sikh guru , Guru Arjan Dev ji numbering more than 10,000 in number Forces employed: All three wings of the defence : army , navy and airforce were employed in this operation.