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Religio-political Discrimination of Sikhs in India: An Approach Paper presented to Ms Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rap
Submitted by dsgill on Thu, 2008-03-06 05:16.

An Approach Paper presented to Ms Asma Jahangir, the visiting UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on Freedom of Religion or Belief, at Circuit House, Amritsar, on March 3, 2008

Sikhs surfaced predominately on the international scene in the wake of Indian army's invasion of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, in June 1984. The invasion was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev's martyrdom in Lahore in 1605. The milling crowd of thousands of Sikh pilgrims was fired upon indiscriminately. According to the Indian government's figures, 3,374 were killed in the military action. Sikh estimates vary between 5,000 and 15,000. It's a measure of India's inhumanity towards its ethnic minorities that no commission or human rights agency has investigated these licensed killings that included a large number of old men, women and children. In living memory, this is the first time that state authorities have, as a matter of deliberate policy, assailed and demolished the holiest shrine of a religious minority, the Sikhs. Not even tyrants like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Ceaucescu did that.

For the first time it dawned on right thinking Sikhs that they can never live in dignity and honour in India. The rise of Bhartiya Janata Party, Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Sawyam Sangh, Bajrang Dal and others of their ilk are sounding the death-knell of Indian secularism, unity and integrity. Ethnic nationalism, amongst India's minorities, is a by-product of the degradation, frustration and humiliation in life suffered by their members. Such is the paranoia let loose that a simple demand for protection of the fundamental human rights and freedom of a minority is dubbed as anti-national. Little wonder that the minorities feel and are treated as second class citizens.

On October 31, 1984, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi. In the aftermath of her death, state-organised Hindu mobs murdered thousands of Sikhs in Delhi, Lucknow, Bombay and other Indian cities. Several hundred Sikh girls were raped and there was pillage of Sikh properties running into billions of Rupees. Compare this with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a Maratha Brahmin, and of Rajiv Gandhi by a group of Tamil Tigers, another Hindu group. Not a single Hindu civilian was killed in the aftermath of these assassinations. Little wonder, therefore, that the Indian minorities think that there is one law for the Hindus and a separate for the minorities.

Indian Army's attack on the Golden Temple in 1984 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid (Moslem mosque) by Hindu fanatics are evidence of neo-Fascism and a shift towards a theocratic Indian state.

Punjab and the Sikhs
The history of Punjab during the last 500 years is primarily the history of the Sikhs. The culture of Punjab is the Sikh culture. It's the seat of Sikh religion (with its spiritual home at Amritsar) and the land of the Sikh Gurus and Sikh martyrs. Sikh Gurus and Sikhs generally have made the largest contribution in its economic, social and cultural development. They made disproportionate sacrifice in men and material in the cause of Indian independence. According to figures given by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who became the Education Minister in India's first cabinet after independence, these were as follows:
  • Out of 2125 Indians killed in atrocities by the British, 1550 (75%) were Sikhs.
  • Out of 2646 Indian deported for life to Andaman islands (the place where the British exiled political prisoners and hardened criminals), 2147 (80%) were Sikhs.
  • Out of 127 Indians sent to gallows, 92 (80%) were Sikhs.
  • In the Indian National Army founded by Subhash Chandra Bose in Japan, out of 20,000 ranks and officers, 12,000 (60%) were Sikhs.
The transfer of power in India from the British took place in 1947. The leading Moslem party, the Moslem League, contended that since India had been seized from the Moslems, they were the natural heirs to the political power after British withdrawal. The Indian National Congress claimed India on behalf of all the communities. The British, as the colonial power, recognised three political groups- the Indian National Congress, the Moslem League and the Sikhs, as having the locus standi to negotiate Indian independence. This reduced the status of the Congress as a party representing the Hindus only. In order to induce the Sikhs to side with the Hindus, Hindu leaders made all sorts of promises and thereby persuaded to allocate to India a larger portion of the Indian sub-continent than would have been the case if it was to be a tripartite division. Seduced by Hindu assurances, Sikhs decided to throw in their lot with the Hindus (Sohan Singh Sihota: Future of the Sikhs in India, Amritsar, 1970, pp 6-7).

In the month of July, 1946, the All India Congress Working Committee met at Calcutta, which reaffirmed the assurances already given to the Sikhs, and in his Press Conference held on the 6th July, there, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spelt out the concrete content of these solemn undertakings in the following flowery words:

"The brave Sikhs of the Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and set up in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom" (Statesman: Calcutta, July 7, 1946).

In these words, an autonomous State to the Sikhs, within India, was promised.

While the gullible Sikh leaders, placing complete reliance in this solemn undertaking given to them by the majority community, resisted and refused all offers and proposals made to them by the British and the Moslems- whom we now prefer to call, the Moslem League- proposing to accord the Sikhs a sovereign or autonomous status in the areas constituting their ancestral home-land between the river Ghaggar and the river Chenab.

Soon after the partition in 1947, the Indian authorities decided to come down heavily on the Sikhs and to curb their political power. In October 1947, secret instructions were issued to all the Deputy Commissioners in Punjab in the following terms:\

"Sikhs as a community are a lawless people and are a menace to the law abiding Hindus of the Province. Deputy Commissioners should take special measures against them."

Sirdar Kapur Singh was a Deputy Commissioner at the time. He refused to comply with the illegal instructions and was eventually expelled from the Indian Civi service (Kapur Singh: Sachi Sakhi (True Story), Delhi, 1979, pp 4-5).

Sirdar Kapur Singh MP (Member Parliament) said in his Lok Sabha speech:

"I will, for want of time, skip over the story of the Sikhs' suffering during the last 18 years in an Independent India under the political control of political and Anglicised Hindus. I will merely refer to the reply which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave to Master Tara Singh when the latter reminded him, in 1954, of the solemn undertaking previously given to the Sikhs on behalf of the majority community.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru calmly replied: 'The circumstances have now changed.'
 
 
 
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