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Human Rights Violations

Torture and Genocide of the Sikhs

Politics of Violence and State Repression

It is axiomatic that when the Constitution is grossly violated, judiciary is throttled, justice is denied and large scale brutalities are committed on a particular community, there is bound to be retaliation against the perpetrators unless, of course, its will is broken and is no longer able to fight back. But, despite all anticipations and the all-out state onslaught for years, the Sikh morale and will to fight for their freedom have not suffered. Knowledgeable people say that no other community could have stood up so boldly against such heavy odds. Military action, deployment of hundreds of paramilitary companies, imported governors, administrators and police officers from other states who had an established track record of exceeding their mandate and call of duty, legislating dreaded black laws, preventing foreigners and human rights organizations like Amnesty International from entering Punjab and numerous other overt and covert actions have been devised to break the community. These are some of the ways ushering in the era of the politics of violence.

In addition to the Indian Congress Party and its government’s complete right-about-turn in respect of commitments made to the Sikhs before Independence, a grand design was also hatched to bring the Sikhs to heel. Its first ugly manifestation was when the government of Haryana headed by Bhajan Lal, in league with the Centre, used its police and hired goondas to assault, kill and humiliate the Sikhs who happened to be going to Delhi on the eve of the 1982 Asian Games. The excuse was the Akalis’ statement of a peaceful demonstration to bring to the notice of the international community the gross violations of human rights vis-a-vis the Sikhs. No one was spared irrespective of age and status including retired and serving senior civil and military officers, judges, lawyers, ex-ministers, women and children. In many cases their hair – held sacred by the Sikhs – was cut off. Forcible shearing means the worst humiliation for a baptized Sikh. Some saved themselves by hiding in the fields during the day and traveling at night to places of safety. A number of Gurdwaras in towns and villages of Haryana were desecrated. In keeping with the government’s tradition of partisan politics, no culprit was punished.

Some hard lessons were however learnt through this single episode. Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal earned a special approbation from the Indira Gandhi government. The police and the hired anti-social elements were rewarded for committing these crimes. They felt encouraged that violence against the Sikhs in the future would be a profitable pursuit. Consequently, the Sikhs outside Punjab felt insecure and unprotected.

Some other aspects of this very first pre-planned violence against the life and dignity of the Sikhs came into focus:

  1. there was no retaliation by the Sikhs in the Punjab where they could easily have indulged in revenge killings;
  2. in practical terms, the law of the land could be dispensed with while dealing with a minority community;
  3. willingness of the security forces to undertake utterly unlawful missions at the behest of the ruling clique and thus subverting their discipline; and
  4. anti-social elements can be pressed into service to do the dirty work.

Operations “Bluestar” and “Woodrose” were massive acts of state terrorism. That these operations were conceived as part of the grand design has already been placed on record. Evidently, their sole purpose could be to reduce Sikhs to servility. Genocide of the Sikhs on the pretext of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in November 1984 was an even bigger exercise in state brutality. An estimated 15,000 Sikhs were mowed down in Delhi and other Congress ruled states in the country. The government’s official figure of 3,000 killed in Delhi is absurdly low that seeks to reduce the gravity of the crime.

Ever since, state repression has been systematically practiced with Punjab as its primary field of operation. It has been kept out of bounds to foreigners lest the truth about the scale of atrocities and total violation of human rights gets known to the outside world. Lately, under pressure from within and outside the country this restriction has been relaxed in some parts as a “concession” under the Punjab package which is otherwise an eye wash. But that has made little difference in the government policy and police excesses. There is no letup in the killings by the security personnel and the anti-social elements hired for the purpose. People are randomly and systematically picked up and lodged in police stations, interrogation centres (which are in fact, torture chambers) and prisons. In most cases no official report is lodged or it is delayed indefinitely which gives flexibility to the police to extort money or finish off the “culprits” in faked encounters.

Glimpses of Genocide

“Sikh burnt alive” Glimpse of genocide of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination
Sikh tortured and butchered in extrajudicial killing by the Indian Paramilitary Forces

Avtar Singh, a candidate for the Punjab Assembly

brutally tortured (with hot iron and electric shock)
and mudered by the Indian Police

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