1984 happened 30 years ago, but it keeps visiting the social, judicial, and political circles of India even today. It’s a tragic time stamp in Indian history and should be condemned at the strongest level. Not only did India lose a strong and an able Prime Minister, but also started another chapter of communal distrust and agony in the long list of inter-community tensions within the subcontinent.
Today, a large number of politically motivated and ill-informed Sikhs believe that they are a separate nation in the state of India. Once the most involved community in building the Indian story, they are now leaning towards a dangerously disruptive direction.
A religion founded on the common principles of Islam and Hinduism, Sikhism flourished in the presence of and with the support of other communities. Sikhism derives its inspiration from rationale and compassion. Following these ideals, Sikhs assumed the role of protectors, guardians, and providers for the people. The gurus sacrificed themselves for the rights of others and for their conviction for logic and reasoning. Throughout the struggle against British imperialism, Sikhs had a pivotal role to play. Out of 106 hangings issued by the English rulers before 1947, 95 were Sikhs who sacrificed themselves for this great country. Their contribution in building a modern India is as incredible as any other community’s.
However, major differences were created among Sikhs and other communities by Bhindranwala, cult leader of a terrorist outfit in the late seventies. His dictatorial ideology threw the prosperous region of Punjab into a reign of terror and unlawfulness. Arms smuggling, kidnapping, mass killings of thousands of Punjabis and takeover of the religious institutions were the kind of activities Bhindranwala fashioned. His biggest disgrace to the community was converting the most important shrine of Sikhs, the Golden Temple, into a terror headquarter. This eventually led to the infamous operation Blue Star. Therefore, Mrs. Gandhi is not to be blamed for anything, rather it is Bhindranwala who left no option but to use military force to free the temple from his control and the misguided population from his ideology. Mrs. Gandhi’s attempt to maintain the integrity of our beautiful country was rewarded with her death, and this in turn led to carnage of Sikhs in the national capital by some irresponsible politicians. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 are a deep scar in our history. The entire country mourns the loss of people and India on a whole is sympathetic to the Sikh community. The Sikhs are still fighting a battle for justice within the bounds of the Indian judicial system and there is a consensus in the country to identify and punish the guilty as soon as possible.
But it is extremely disappointing to see the double standard adopted by the Sikh community in India. On one side, it is fighting for justice against an inhumane act of violence, and on the other, it forgets about the suffering of numerous Punjabis at the hand of Bhindranwala and similar terrorists. On one side it is working within the Indian judicial and civil system, and on the other hand its leaders are endorsing ideas of a separate Sikh nation in the secular Indian state. On one hand it is proud of itself for its forward thinkers and patriots such as Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, and Tarlok Singh, and on the other hand, it is classifying Bhindranwala as a saint.
I strongly believe that the majority of this comes from political propaganda run by several communal interest groups and political parties, especially the ones in power in Punjab. It is not new that Shiromani Akal Dal would use such ill tactics to divert the attention of people from the pressing issues such as of lack of development, degradation of the entire bureaucratic and law system, and unimaginable levels of corruption. Changing the identity of a peaceful and selfless community to a violent and selfish ideology could cause political character assassination of Sikhs.
My grandfather, who was a strict and enthusiastic practitioner of Sikhism, taught me that the ideals guarding Sikhism are based on compassion for others and self-improvement. Somewhere through our journey, the leaders of the Sikh community have forgotten the essence of this religion. They have misguided the Sikh youth and have not let the vibrant community move on from the ghost of eighty-four. It is about time that Sikhs legitimize their struggle for justice further by giving up the wrong ideals, by stopping idolization of villains like Bhindranwala, and by working towards making India one nation under one state.
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