It’s been exactly 36 years to the day since the Indian state declared war on Sikhs by occupying the Panjab and invading the Darbar Sahib with tanks, guns and grenades. This led to terrible bloodshed and many innocent people dying. Despite the media blackout, very quickly news about the attack spread like wildfire across the global Sikh diaspora.
In the UK within days, Sikhs decided to converge on Central London for what was and remains the largest demonstration of Sikhs in the UK. An estimated 100,000 men, women and children gathered in Hyde Park before marching towards the Indian Embassy. Effigies of the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi were set ablaze on on route and the slogans “Khalistan Zindabad!” and “Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale Amar rehay!” reverberated in the thoroughfares of Central London.
I was 24 years old at the time and quite active. Indeed I had managed to spend some time at the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar with many of those who fought in the battle just two months before the attack. Here is a picture of me in the shadow of a huge poster of Shaheed Baba Jarnail Singh, who inspired a whole new generation of Sikhs to engage in our liberation struggle, which continues to this day.
The actions of the Indian State triggered an armed insurgency leading to much bloodshed, most of it state sponsored. For us the struggle was always defensive in nature and our preference was for it to be peaceful and democratic. But as the Indian state chose violence we felt justified in fighting back.
Today a whole new generation of committed and educated Sikhs is engaged in the struggle and my hope is that a peaceful, democratic outcome can be found. I think this can only happen if the Indian State allows the people of Panjab to have a referendum to decide if they want to stay in the Indian Union or establish their own independent nation. The Indians claim that the demand for independence for Panjab is from a ‘lunatic extremist fringe’. I say, if you are confident in this assertion, then what have to fear from a referendum?
Alongside a referendum, I think it is important that an independent Supreme Court judge-led peace and reconciliation commission, along the lines of the one in South Africa, is established. Only when the whole truth about 1984 is out and proper compensation and justice is given to the victims, we will have closure.
Though the wounds have mostly healed, the scars, both physical and mental, are very visible and for this reason we can never forget 1984, but for sure we all need to begin a process of forgiveness.
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Time to flip some prevailing ideas (Asia Samachar, 24 April 2020)
Sohan Singh Bhakna: Founder of revolutionary Ghadr Party (Asia Samachar, 21 Jan 2019)