“As the 30th anniversary of the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar approaches, official documents made public in Britain revealed that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government aided the Indian military in planning the attack in the Sikh holy city. The documents that were declassified in January include a personal letter from Thatcher expressing support for Indira Gandhi’s policy on the Punjab. Support for the 1984 atrocity against the Sikhs is hardly shocking, coming from the former colonial power that was directly responsible for the first Amritsar massacre. In 1919, under the command of General Reginald Dyer, troops gunned down and killed somewhere between 400 and 1,000 civilians who were gathered in a park. Many had come to celebrate a religious holiday; others came out in defiance of a British ban on political protests against colonial rule. Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron paid a high profile visit to Jallianwala Bagh, the scene of the 1919 Amritsar massacre. Cameron’s hypocritical expression of ‘regret’ was a cheap ploy to garner votes from among Britain’s 500,000 Sikhs.
“The 1984 assault on the Golden Temple ordered by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government in Delhi was an atrocity against all Sikhs. Ostensibly intended to overpower armed Sikh fundamentalists, followers of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had taken up positions in the temple complex, the attack slaughtered as many as 2,000 people, many of them pilgrims, including women and children. The attack made a martyr out of Bhindranwale and dramatically boosted support for religious fundamentalism among Sikhs. In India and abroad, angry protests erupted, often led by reactionaries demanding Khalistan, a theocratic Sikh state. Some 4,000 Sikh soldiers deserted their regiments as the unrest spread to India’s armed forces, over ten per cent of which were Sikh. Throughout Punjab and in cities such as Delhi, Sikhs were arrested and tortured by the thousands. At the time we wrote, ‘the vicious crackdown by the Hindu-chauvinist Gandhi regime was an attack on the entire Sikh community and a bloody lesson to all opponents of the regime. And the repercussions are likely to be immense, and even bloodier, as the reactionary legacy of British imperialist rule continues to wreak havoc upon the Indian masses’ (Spartacist Britain No. 60, August 1984). That legacy was again played out in a communalist frenzy, directed overwhelmingly against the Sikhs, that recalled the horrors of Partition [that divided the subcontinent between majority-Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan in 1947].”
"Nearly 3,000 members of India's Sikh community were massacred after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. Rahul Bedi, one of the first journalists to reach the affected areas in the capital, Delhi, recalls events.
"Soon after news of Mrs Gandhi's killing by her Sikh bodyguards spread, Hindu mobs swung into action—like they did elsewhere in the city armed with voters' lists—in Trilokpuri against the low-caste Sikhs inhabiting one-roomed tenements on either side of two narrow alleyways barely 150 yards long.
"With local police connivance they blocked entry to the neighbourhood with massive concrete water pipes and stationed guards armed with sticks atop them.
"For the next three days marauding groups armed with cleavers, scythes, kitchen knives and scissors took breaks to eat and regroup in between executing their bloodthirsty mission.
"When as a reporter then with the Indian Express newspaper I along with two other colleagues visited the area on the eve of Mrs Gandhi' funeral, both lanes were littered with bodies, body parts and hair brutally hacked off, forcing us to walk precariously on tip-toe.
"It was impossible to place one's foot flat on the ground for fear of stepping on either a severed limb or a body."
"'Via Vienna, Sikh caste war returns, sets Punjab aflame' ran the headline of the Hindustan Times.
"The preacher, Guru Sant Rama Nand, 57, was killed in a gurdwara in the Austrian capital in an attack by six men armed with knives and a gun.
"He was from the Dera Sach Khand, a religious sect separate from mainstream Sikhism that has a large support base of Indian Dalits, or “untouchables”, and other lower castes.
"The leader of Dera Sach Khand, Guru Sant Niranjan Das, 68, was wounded in the attack.
"The thousands who went on the rampage in Punjab on Monday were mainly Dalits. Authorities have imposed a curfew in parts of the state, in which three protesters died on Monday in clashes with security forces.
"The Dera Sach Khand sect was inspired by the 15th century spiritual leader Ravidas, himself from a lower caste. It differs from mainstream Sikhism, for example, in that it reveres living gurus such as Sant Niranjan Das. Some pious Sikhs find this concept offensive.
"Sikhism does not recognise caste, but 'the clash in a Vienna gurdwara and the mob fury are yet another manifestation of simmering discontent that Dalits in Punjab feel due to increasing social inequality and oppression in a society that was supposed to be free of it,' writes the Times of India."
"The recent attack on the head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan in one of their gurudwaras in Vienna and the ensuing shoot-out between Dalit and non-Dalit Sikhs, spilling over in India into angry street demonstrations in Jalandhar by followers of Dera Sachkhand and other Dalit bodies, forces us to confront the question of caste in contemporary Punjab. We asked SURINDER S. JODHKA, sociologist and Director, Institute of Dalit Studies, who works in this area, to give us a background note."
"In the June 1928 issue of the Kirti, published from Amritsar, Bhagat Singh wrote two articles titled Achoot ka Sawaal (On Untouchability) and Sampradayik Dange aur unka Ilaj (Communal riots and their solutions). What Bhagat Singh wrote in 1928 appears to be contemporaneous even in 2008, which unfortunately proves how precious little has been done to resolve these questions. In the first piece, Bhagat Singh starts by saying that
our country is unique where six crore citizens are called untouchables and their mere touch defiles the upper castes. Gods get enraged if they enter the temples. It is shameful that such things are being practised in the twentieth century. We claim to be a spiritual country but hesitate to accept equality of all human beings while materialist Europe is talking of revolution since centuries. They had proclaimed equality during the American and French revolutions. However, we are still debating whether the untouchable is entitled for the sacred thread or can he read the Vedas or not. We are chagrined about discrimination against Indians in foreign lands, and whine that the English do not give us equal rights in India.
"'Given our conduct,' Bhagat Singh wondered, 'do we really have any right to complain about such matters?'"
"Jarnail Singh, a veteran Delhi reporter, tossed his shoe—a solid Reebok trainer—at Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. Jarnail works for the Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran (The Daily Awakening). For the Home Minister, it was a rude awakening. Jarnail Singh was miffed with the Congress Party for fielding two tainted candidates from parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in our ongoing national elections.
"The two, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, are tainted by allegations of having participated in the anti-Sikh violence that followed the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984. That violence remains one of the ugliest chapters in independent India’s history. As many as 3,000 people were slaughtered in a few days, with some being burnt alive by mobs who also looted Sikh properties and homes of billions of rupees."
"Parliament - meeting under the shadow of the November 26-29 attacks on India’s commercial hub resulting in close to 200 deaths - approved the legislations on Thursday with no considered debate and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushing them past amendments tabled by several parliamentarians.
"One law, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, seeks to establish a new police organisation to investigate acts of terrorism and other statutory offences.
"The other, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, radically changes procedures for trying those accused of terrorism, extends the periods of police custody and of detention without charges, denies bail to foreigners, and the reverses the burden of proof in many instances.
"'The UAPA Act is particularly vile, and will have the effect of turning India into a virtual police state,' says Colin Gonsalves, executive director of the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network. 'It basically brings back a discredited law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA), except for admitting confessions made to a police officer as legal evidence.'
"POTA was an extremely unpopular law, which the UPA government abrogated upon coming to power in 2004 in response to innumerable complaints of its selective and discriminatory use against India's Muslim minority, and its cavalier and irresponsible application to offences not even remotely connected with terrorism.
"In its desperation to be seen to be taking a tough stand against terrorism, the Manmohan Singh government also tabled the NIA Bill earlier this week. The new agency will specifically investigate offences related to atomic energy, aviation and maritime transport, weapons of mass destruction, and Left-wing extremism, besides terrorism.
"Significantly, it excludes Right-wing terrorism, which has become a greater menace in India.
"POTA and its predecessor, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), were extensively abused. They typically targeted the religious minorities, specifically Muslims, and allowed for their harassment and persecution.
"The TADA story is especially horrifying. Some 67,000 people were arrested under it, but only 8,000 put on trial, and a mere 725 convicted.
"Official TADA Review Committees themselves found the law’s application untenable in all but 5,000 cases. In 1993, Gujarat witnessed no terrorism, but more than 19,000 people were still arrested under TADA.
"Religious minorities were selectively targeted under both Acts. For instance, in Rajasthan, of 115 TADA detainees, 112 were Muslims and three Sikhs.
"Gujarat had a worse pattern under POTA, when all but one of the 200-plus detainees were Muslims, the remaining one a Sikh.
"The passing of the two new laws is certain to increase the alienation of India's Muslims from the state. They have been the principal victims of India's anti-terrorism strategy and activities in recent years.
"Muslims are first to be arrested and interrogated after any terrorist incident, even when the victims are Muslims, and although strong evidence has recently emerged of a well-ramified pro-Hindu terrorist network, in which serving and retired army officers were found to be key players."
"A survey of TADA cases reveals many instances of false arrests, police excesses, and extortion. People were imprisoned under the act for matters entirely unconnected with violent political acts. In 1987, six workers of Reliance Industries Limited in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, were arrested under TADA for legitimate trade union activity."