Sikh Political Prisoners Forgotten and Locked Away
On Monday, April 14, millions of Sikhs celebrated Vaisakhi, the marking of the start of the Khalsa. On April 14, 1699 in Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh Ji had officially started the Khalsa. Of the many in the crowd, the Guru asked for one person to offer their head for the Khalsa. One Sikh stepped forward and followed Guru Ji into the tent. Minutes later, with a sword dripping with blood, Guru Ji asked for one more person to sacrifice their life. Another stepped forward. The process repeated five times, and one it was finished, Guru Ji walked out of the tent with five well-dressed Sikhs. They had taken Amrit, the ceremony marking the initiation of a Sikh. Guru Ji called these five Sikhs the Panj Piyaare, the five beloved ones. They then initiated Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and he outlined the necessary tenants necessary to make a true Sikh. And thus, the Khalsa was born.
Every April 14, Sikhs celebrate both the willingness to sacrifice our lives for the faith as well as the start of their religion. It is a happy celebration, and many Gurdwaras around the world are filled with Kirtan, Langar, stories, and happiness. But it has been 315 years since the day Guru Ji initiated the first five Sikhs. Times have changed. No longer are Sikhs who put their lives on the line for their religion celebrated by the Indian government today.
In 1984, Sant Baba Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale was spreading his idea for a new Sikh nation. After Muslims feared religious persecution in India in 1947, they created Pakistan. Sikhs were unable to be recognized freely by the Indian constitution, and they wanted equal rights. They demanded either equal rights or their own nation called Khalistan. Sant Baba Jarnail Singh Ji expressed that he would’ve wanted to reside within Hindustan, but as long as the government’s policy towards Sikhs was unfair and unrecognizing, he wanted a Sikh state. Indira Gandhi then called for the use of the army within Harmandir Sahib, the Makkah of the Sikhs. The Indian army stormed in with boots on, uncovered heads, and weapons and destroyed much of the temple complex, as well as killed many innocent worshippers inside. In an attempt to retaliate, two of Indira Gandhi’s bodyguards assassinated her. Now, what ensued was truly inhuman and was a breach of human rights. The Indian government launched an anti-Sikh campaign and thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984. From this conflict came multiple Sikh political prisoners. On June 4, 1984, the government launched Operation Bluestar. The army started to pour bullets into the temple complex. The next day, 13 army tanks break through to the temple complex. The blind head ragi, Amrik Singh, was brutally shot and killed. On June 6, the tanks fire and destroy the Akaal Takhat and ends the lives of all of those inside.
Many of these prisoners were unfairly jailed. Their treatment was extremely poor, and they were neglected. Currently, 118 Sikhs remain unfairly held in prison on very little proof. 118 Sikhs who were willing to put their lives on the line for their faith. 118 strong warriors of the Khalsa. Now, I understand that there are faults on both the government’s side, as well as the killers of Indira Gandhi. But the main issue is that the corrupt Indian government as well as the corrupt Punjab police lashed out at innocent Sikhs who had no connection to either of the assassins. And today many remain jailed.
Karan Singh of Movement Against Atrocities and Repression (MAAR) notes that all of the Sikh prisoners who were tried were given a minimum sentence of 20 years. Their cases have not been reviewed recently, and the Indian government is truly discriminating against Sikhs. Many of them, old and ill, still remain in prisons in India. Some notable prisoners include Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Balwant Singh Rajoana. Both these men were kept and also given the death sentence. Karan Singh goes on to provide an example of actor Sanjay Dutt. Dutt was involved in a similar crime, but received a sentence of five years. His case has also been reviewed.
What really frustrates me is the Indian government’s lack of care about Sikhs. The treatment is clearly worse. The corrupt government is very much showing a lack of care for Sikhs. Even Manmohan Singh could do no more than apologize for what happened. Sikhs have been facing the worst of treatment, and at this point the best we can do is rally our ideas. When the Indian government announced the planned execution of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, people took to the streets protesting in multiple countries. This led to the abolition of his death penalty. After Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa fasted for 34 days, the government finally let out another political prisoner. As the youth of India all over the world, it is our duty to spread awareness to the topic.
Provide your thoughts in the comments.[Image Attribute: Nishad Neelakandan]