Ranbir Singh Sandhu
In June 1984, the Indian Government sent nearly a quarter million troops to Punjab, sealed the state from the rest of the world, and launched an attack, code-named 'Operation Bluestar', on the Darbar Sahib complex in Amritsar and over forty other gurdwaras in Punjab. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, head of the Damdami Taksaal, and many students and teachers belonging to the Taksaal, perished in the conflict. Several thousand men, women and children, mostly innocent pilgrims, also lost their lives in that attack. In this essay, we describe Sant Bhindranwale's life, mission and the growth of opposition to him. We also look at specific allegations levelled by the Indian Government against the Sant in the light of his public pronouncements and of contemporary reports. We specially note the campaign of misrepresentation and vilification carried on by the Government as well as the role played by the news media in propagating certain myths.
Sant Bhindranwale - Life And Mission
1. Early Life And Success As A Sikh Preacher
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was born in village Rode located in Faridkot District of Punjab, in 1947. From his childhood, he had a religious bent of mind. Sant Gurbachan Singh Khalsa, head of the Damdami Taksaal, the premier Sikh religious school, visited the child's village and suggested to Joginder Singh, Jarnail Singh's father, that his son join the Taksaal as a student. Coming to the Taksaal in 1965, Jarnail Singh received instruction in Sikh theology and history under Sant Gurbachan Singh's tutelage and later Sant Kartar Singh Bhindranwale's. He grew up to be an effective preacher of the faith. On August 25, 1977, upon the death of Sant Kartar Singh, he became head of the Taksaal.
From July 1977 to July 1982, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale extensively toured cities and villages of Punjab to preach the Sikh faith. He also visited other states and cities in India. Wherever he went, he carried Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's message to every home exhorting Sikhs to take Amrit, observe the Sikh appearance, and live according to the teachings of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. As Tavleen Singh tells us : 'His philosophy in six words was Nashey chaddo, Amrit chhako, Gursikh bano (Give up addictions, Take Amrit, Become good Sikhs)'. Explaining his mission, he said : 'My mission is to administer Amrit, to explain the meanings of Gurbani and to teach Gurbani to those around me; and (to tell people) that a Hindu should be a firm Hindu, a Muslim should be a firm Muslim, and a Sikh should be a firm Sikh'. His preaching was based on love. He said : 'If we speak to someone with hatred and try to assert our superiority, it will create hatred in the minds of everyone. So long as we have the spirit of love, so long as we have the support of Satguru Hargobind Sahib, the Master of Miri and Piri, is there any power on earth that can subdue us?' He wanted the Sikhs to 'come back to Anandpur, their home' by taking Amrit, and become his brothers and sons of Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib.
Sant Bhindranwale had a charismatic personality and spoke in simple village idiom. Those who listened to him, were impressed by his simple living, personal charm, and clear thinking. Joyce Pettigrew, who met him in 1980, writes:
'There was a very close association between the Sant and the people, as I myself witnessed on a visit to meet Sant Bhindranwale in Guru Nanak Niwas.'
According to Shiva, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 'gained his popularity with the Punjab peasantry by launching an ideological crusade against the cultural corruption of Punjab. The most ardent followers of Bhindranwale in his first phase of rising popularity were children and women, both because they were relatively free of the new culture of degenerative consumption, and they were worst hit by the violence it generated. In the second phase of Bhindranwale's popularity, men also joined his following, replacing vulgar movies with visits to gurdwaras, and reading the 'gurbani' in place of pornographic literature. The Sant's following grew as he successfully regenerated the 'good' life of purity, dedication and hard work by reviving these fundamental values of the Sikh religion's way of life.
The popularity of Bhindranwale in the countryside was based on this positive sense of fundamentalism as revitalizing the basic moral values of life that had been the first casualty of commercial capitalism. During the entire early phase of Bhindranwale's preaching, he made no anti-government or anti-Hindu statement, but focused on the positive values of the Sikh religion. His role was largely that of a social and religious reformer. 'According to Khushwant Singh: 'Within a short period of becoming head of the Taksaal, Jarnail Singh came to be recognized as the most effective instrument of renaissance of Sikh fundamentalism. He toured villages exhorting Sikh youth to return to the Spartan ways of the Khalsa started by Guru Gobind Singh: not to clip their beards, to abstain from smoking, drinking and taking drugs. Wherever he went, he baptized young men and women by the hundreds. An integral part of his preaching was that all Sikhs should, as had been required by their warrior Guru Gobind Singh, be shastradharis - weapon-bearers.' Tully and Jacob state that:
'In spite of the Government's propaganda, to many people Bhindranwale remained a sant, or holy man, not a terrorist.'
The religious revival lead by Sant Bhindranwale resulted in a large number of Sikhs, especially the youth, receiving initiation into the Sikh faith. According to Khushwant Singh: 'Bhindranwale's amrit parchar was a resounding success. Adults in their thousands took oaths in public to abjure liquor, tobacco and drugs and were baptized. Video cassettes showing blue films and cinema houses lost out to the village gurdwara. Men not only saved money they had earlier squandered in self-indulgence, but now worked longer hours on their lands and raised better crops. They had much to be grateful for to Jarnail Singh who came to be revered by them as Baba Sant Jarnail Singh ji Khalsa Bhindranwale.' When Sant Bhindranwale was staying in the Darbar Sahib complex during 1982 and 1983, four to five hundred persons were administered Amrit each Wednesday and Sunday. On April 13, 1983 over ten thousand were initiated and during the month ending on April 13, 1984, forty-five thousand Sikhs received Amrit.
This revival was extremely significant and Sant Bhindranwale was emerging as the leading figure in the Sikh faith and a role-model for the youth. I was once told by a relative that his two sons had stopped taking tea. I asked him why, and if they had been to see Sant Bhindranwale. The reply was: 'No, it is just the way things are in Punjab. The young people love and admire him so much that if they come to know what the Sant does or doesn't do, they like to follow his example.' People sought his advice and intercession for personal problems and conflict resolution. Khushwant Singh reports: 'On a later visit to Amritsar I got an inkling into the reasons of Bhindranwale's popularity. I will narrate two incidents to illustrate this. One day a young girl came to see Bhindranwale. She clutched his feet and sobbed out her story of how she was maltreated by her husband's family for failing to extract more money from her parents and of her husband's unwillingness to take her side. Bhindranwale asked her name and where she lived. "So you are a daughter of the Hindus," he said. "Are you willing to become the daughter of a Sikh?" She nodded. Bhindranwale sent a couple of his armed guards to fetch the girl's family. An hour later a very frightened trio consisting of the girl's husband and his parents were brought to his presence. "Is this girl a daughter of your household?", he demanded. They admitted she was. "She tells me that you want money from her father. I am her father." He placed a tray full of currency notes before them and told them: "take whatever you want". The three fell at his feet and craved forgiveness.' Khushwant Singh tells us that he was so respected that, after his election to be head of the Damdami Taksaal in preference to Amrik Singh, son of Sant Kartar Singh, 'instead of resenting the choice, Amrik Singh became a confidante and collaborator of Jarnail Singh.'
2. Conflict With Sant Nirankaris
Sant Bhindranwale first gained prominence in public life when he organized a protest to stop the Sant Nirankari assembly in Amritsar on April 13, 1978 after he was unsuccessful in persuading the administration to stop it. A group of one hundred persons, including 25 from Sant Bhindranwale's group and 75 from the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, participated in this peaceful protest. These unarmed people were fired upon by Nirankari gunmen leaving 13 dead and 78 wounded. The police, instead of stopping the massacre, hurled tear-gas at the protestors converting them into sitting ducks. A police officer who was present at the scene told this writer that the Sikh protestors had agreed to stop some distance away from the Nirankari assembly and to wait for the police to negotiate with the Nirankaris to end their public meeting. However, while they were waiting, Nirankari gunmen moved behind a row of busses, parked on one side of the road, to come to the rear of the protestors and opened fire. The leader of the protestors was shot dead by one of the police officials as he tried to persuade the police to intervene and stop the killing. Every attempt was made to avoid punishing the guilty. Instead of apprehending those who had committed the heinous crime, the local authorities escorted them safely out of the state. Sant Bhindranwale felt specially let down by Parkash Singh Badal, then Chief Minister of Punjab, and by Jiwan Singh Umranangal, a cabinet minister, who was present in Amritsar at the time of the April 1978 massacre. Badal felt constrained by the desires of the Hindu members of his coalition government and Jiwan Singh Umranangal never saw any merit in the protest organized by the Sikhs. These events caused extreme bitterness in the minds of the Sikhs. They felt that the Government was deliberately siding with the murderers and treating Sikhs as second-class citizens whose life had no value. An order was issued from Siri Akal Takhat Sahib calling upon all Sikhs to boycott the Nirankaris. Immediately after the massacre, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale personally cared for the dead and the wounded . This endeared him even more to the Sikh masses. After prolonged agitation by the Sikhs, a case was registered against the perpetrators. However, the judge, reportedly upon receiving a bribe , acquitted all of them stating that they had acted in self-defence.
The state government, controlled by Indira Gandhi's party, elected not to appeal this judgment. As Sikhs in various places in India continued to protest the Nirankari practice of openly denigrating their faith, each protest was met by firing by the police and the Nirankaris with the death toll of Sikhs gradually mounting to 28. In April 1980, the Nirankari leader, Baba Gurbachan Singh, was assassinated. His followers named Sant Bhindranwale as a suspect even though he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Several of his associates and relatives were arrested. For his part, the Sant continued to openly oppose the Nirankaris and expressed satisfaction that such a wicked person had been eliminated. He declared that if he met Ranjit Singh, the suspected killer, he would weigh him in gold. However, it is said that when Bhai Ranjit Singh did show up clandestinely at Darbar Sahib in 1983, he was not honoured by Sant Bhindranwale. Also, when Singh Sahib Gurdial Singh Ajnoha, Jathedar, Siri Akal Takhat Sahib, was considering a rapprochement with the Sant Nirankaris, Sant Bhindranwale declared that he would abide by the decision taken by the Akal Takhat.
3. Growth Of Opposition To Sant Bhindranwale
Sant Bhindranwale's phenomenal success in reviving the Sikh faith among rural masses of Punjab was viewed with concern by the established leadership of the country. The secularists viewed the revival of the faith as a reversal of the process of weakening of religious bonds. They were afraid that under Sant Bhindranwale's leadership, the Sikh religion might strengthen, spread and eventually result in the emergence of a cohesive Sikh nation which might possibly demand separation of Punjab from the Indian state. Even though many Hindus join Sikhs prayers, attend gurdwaras, and regularly participate in Sikh religious ceremonies, the extremists among them misrepresented the daily Sikh prayer as a call for Sikh domination. Whether by design to undermine the Sikh religion or due to paranoia against possible balkanization of India they confused Sant Bhindranwale's emphasis upon the distinct identity of the Sikh religion with political separatism. Akalis were worried that even though Sant Bhindranwale insisted that he had no personal political ambitions , he could emerge as a king-maker and jeopardize their hegemony over the Sikh community. The Indian news media, by and large, joined in the witch hunt along with several well known 'intellectuals'. Even Khushwant Singh, who had earlier discussed the survival of the Sikhs as a separate community in a rational manner, described this revival as 'Sikh fundamentalism raising its ugly head'. Each of these groups, anxious about defending its territory, policies, and/or beliefs, had a role in promoting misrepresentations and misunderstandings about Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and/or the Sikh religion. All of them, with different perspectives and interests, focused on a common target; Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who spearheaded the Sikh revival.
Misrepresentation And Vilification Of Sant Bhindranwale
1. Exaggeration And False Apportionment Of Blame
In order to mislead the Indian public and to facilitate the passage of draconian laws restricting Sikh right to life and liberty, the Indian Government blamed Sant Bhindranwale for every crime that was committed in Punjab. At the same time, the level of crime in the state was grossly exaggerated to justify government oppression as necessary for control of separatism and the preservation of national unity and integrity. Punjab was a state with a crime rate significantly below the Indian national figures. According to government reports , 172 persons were killed in the period from August 5, 1982, to December 31, 1983, and 453 (including 118 killed by the police and paramilitary organizations and some killed in the neighbouring state of Haryana), over the period August 5, 1981, to June 2, 1984. Sinha et al. tell us : 'In Delhi alone in the year 1983, 244 persons were murdered (Statesman, July 1, 1984). Clubbing together every kind of crime under the heading and blaming the Akali agitation for all of them is but an attempt to mislead the people.' Nayar confirms that 'Punjab Government circulated a secret document. This document said that there were 5,422 murders in 1980 and 5,068 in 1981 in U.P, while in Punjab there were 620 murders in 1980 and 544 in 1981.' It is noteworthy that of all the cases listed in the White Paper it was only in eleven cases that the attackers are even alleged to be Sikh. In all other cases the assailants were unknown. Responding to this propaganda, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'If someone's dog or cat dies, they say Bhindranwala gets it done.' Also : 'At whatever place, whatever untoward incident occurs, whether any other place is named in that connection or not, the names of Harmandar Sahib and Nanak Niwas are always included. This is for anything happening anywhere, not only in a couple of cases. Madhya Pradesh is thousands of kilometers from here. Something happened at Bhilai a long time back. Even that case has been linked to this place. After that, at various other places, many incidents occurred. The Government and the Mahashas, communal newspapers, have not hesitated in linking Harmandar Sahib to these.
These conspiracies are being hatched and stories concocted with the sole purpose of vilifying the Akali Dal and to make this struggle unsuccessful. 'Extremist Hindus described Sikh religious practices as commitment to violence and initiation of people into Sikh religion as provocative action. They described the Sant's trips to Punjab villages as : 'Sant Bhindranwale himself used to go about with about 50 of his armed men in a bus and a lot of tension was generated in the State as a result.' Noting this, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'One who takes Amrit and helps others take it; who reads the Gurbani and teaches others to do the same; who gives up intoxicants and helps others to do likewise; who urges all to get together and work in cooperation; who preaches Hindu-Sikh unity and asks for peaceful coexistence; who says: "If you are a Muslim be a devout Muslim, if you are a Sikh be a devout Sikh, respect your Isht, unite under the saffron Nishaan Sahib stoutly support the Panth, and be attached to Satguru's Throne and Guru's Darbar"; persons who preach like this are now all being called extremists by this Government and by the Mahasha press. In particular, I have been given a big title. They call me the "leader of the extremists". I am a firm extremist, but of the type which has the characteristics I have described to you.' He also said : 'Who is an extremist in this Government's eyes? It is one who has a turban on his head; wears the kachhera; supports unity and follows the Guru; is desirous of progress of the country; is desirous of justice for the blood of the martyrs, for the insult of Satguru Granth Sahib; and promotes good of all mankind. In Punjab today, anyone who believes in and follows the path of Nanak Naam Chardi Kala Tere Bane Sarbat Da Balla. "Nanak says: God's Name is glorious; there is good for all in accepting Your (God's) will", is an extremist.'
2. Staged Crimes
To brand devout Sikhs as criminals, the Government stage-managed numerous crimes. The modus operandi was that the police would orchestrate a crime, the Government would ascribe the crime to Sant Bhindranwale. Following this, the law-enforcement agencies would round up a few devout Sikhs and harass, torture, rape, and even 'eliminate' them through torture. A cows' heads thrown in a Hindu temple According to a report : 'Surinder Kapoor M.L.A. created sensation, when in a meeting of the Congress (Indira) Legislative Party, Punjab, held on March 6, 1983, he accused the then Punjab Government of hatching a conspiracy at Mohali of cutting a few heads of dead cows and of actually conveying them to Amritsar for being stealthily thrown in some Hindu temple there and thus lit the first communal fire in the state'. Sant Bhindranwale and the AISSF had nothing to do with this, were ignorant about the conspiracy, but were blamed by the Government whereas it showed no interest in prosecuting a person caught red-handed throwing tobacco in the Darbar Sahib premises. Sant Bhindranwale said : 'A person associated with a Hindu Vairagi brought and dropped some tobacco in the Parkarma. Sikhs caught him right there and handed him over to the police. He admitted that he been sent by Romesh and that they were four men who had come. For throwing tobacco at a religious place of the Sikhs, for the desecration, the police would not even take him to the Police Station. He was released on the road outside the Station.
On the other hand, someone brought a head of a dead cow from the slaughterhouse and dropped it in a Hindu religious place. Neither any Hindu nor any Sikh witnessed any Sikh boy doing it. Simply based on suspicion, a price of fifty thousand rupees has been placed on the head of Jaswant Singh Thekedar of Gurdaspur and of twenty-five thousand on the head of Rajinder Singh of Mehta. A price was placed on his head because he grew up in the village where Bhindranwala lives, because he is a student in the Federation, because he is an employee of the Shromani Parbandhak Committee, and he has the complete appearance (of a Sikh).' He further explained : 'No Sikh is in favour of placing cows' heads in temples. We are also not in favour of killing the cow. We do not consider the cow a guru, it is a good animal.'
Bombs Thrown at the Chief Minister of Punjab According to Sinha et al. : 'Dubious attacks on Chief Minister Darbara Singh and such other activists were stage-managed in order to malign the Akali movement and to find a pretext to unleash repression. On August 20, 1982, two hand-grenades were thrown at him at Rahon. A few policemen and onlookers were injured but the grenade thrown at Darbara Singh did not blast instead it was securely tied in a handkerchief. One man was claimed to have been arrested at the place of the incident. The following night one man in custody was later set free. It was proved that he was a police person who managed the show, and hence had to be set free.' Using this stage-managed crime as a pretext, an innocent Amritdhari Sikh was arrested and tortured to death. Sant Bhindranwale told his listeners : 'Bhai Gurmeet Singh of Dhulkot, the only son of his parents ... was caught. His nails were pulled out and salt was poured (over the wounds); his hands were burnt by placing candles under the palms of his hands. Then Bhullar sent a wireless message to the Chief Minister of Punjab, stating that his hands had been burnt, his nails pulled out and salt poured over them but he would not say anything except Sat Siri Akal and Vaheguru. Then, the words came out of this proud man's mouth that this man should be shot to death. That is how he was martyred.'
Extortion Some persons received letters demanding money. These letters were purportedly written on behalf of Sant Bhindranwale. Upon this being brought to his attention, he said : 'I like to make an appeal to the congregation and I like to inform the newspapermen too so that they can definitely publish it. I have this letter in my hand. Seven such letters have been received in the Qadian area. One has reached Pritam Singh Bhatia. In that letter too it is written about a Hindu that he should reach such and such place near the railway tracks, where Bhatia Sahib's shelter is located, on August 12, 1983 with 50,000 rupees. The person to whom that letter is addressed has been asked to reach there at such and such time with 50,000 rupees and if he does not reach there, he should make preparations because he would be finished off in a few days. On the top is written: "There is one God, Eternal: Long live Khalistan." At the end, at the bottom, is written: "Long live Bhindranwala." So, I appeal to the congregation that this is the product of the Government's black deeds. This is because in the cases that they had registered against Singh's, the Singh's are being acquitted and released. To hide this, to hide their own black deeds, and to tarnish the brightening image of the Jatha, to malign it, the Government has started these activities. There are some names mentioned in this letter. There is one Jag Mohan Lal, another is Tilak Raj, there are Om Parkash, Subhash Chander, Mohinder Lal, and Brij Mohan. So, Khalsa Ji, letters have been sent addressed to these names. There is one for a person with "Singh" in his name too. This has been done because if all the letters were addressed to Hindus, it might have aroused suspicion. The manager of the Punjab & Sind Bank in Qadian is, I learn, a Sikh. In the letter to him is written: "You should come to such and such place on August 11, 1983 with 300,000 rupees and you will be safe. Otherwise, I have Bhindranwala's permission to put you on the train (of death) on such and such date.
You have the Sikh appearance; you should stoutly support us; bring a liberal amount." This is what is written in this letter. We have to guard ourselves against such people. To give a bad name, to place obstructions in the conduct of this ongoing agitation, the Government is going to use every possible trick. We ought to be fully alert to these. This Taksaal has never believed in robberies, thefts, using intoxicants, nor does it believe now nor it ever will.' Speaking about the police and their 'dirty tricks', the Sant said : 'Police is set up for protection of the public. But today's police have taken on the form of robbers to loot the public. There are innumerable examples of this, not one, two or four. When there was an investigation into a bank (robbery) case, during investigation of police officials, their names came up; if the culprits were caught red-handed placing bombs in a city, they proved that they were employees of the police. When dogs were used (to track criminals), they got into the car of the SDM., they went into the home of a Narkdhari (Nirankari) and they entered a police station.'
3. Oppression Directed Against Devout Sikhs
Murder of Devout Sikhs in 'Faked Encounters' For officially orchestrated as well as fictitious crimes, devout Sikhs were rounded up, labelled as terrorists, tortured and often killed. Tully and Jacob report a conversation with Darbara Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab : 'He did order the police to take action against those terrorists they could not get hold of and there was a series of what the Indian police call 'encounters' - a euphemism for cold-blooded murder by the police. Darbara Singh admitted as much to me. On another occasion, when Satish Jacob and I both met him, the former Chief Minister said, 'Encounters did take place, and they were killed. I told my senior police officers, "You kill the killers and I will take the responsibility." ' And again : 'Bhinder told me that ten people he described as 'Bhindranwale's do or die men' had been shot by the police and that more than 1600 people had been arrested.' It is noteworthy that the appellations 'terrorist', 'suspected terrorist', 'do or die men' were being used, by Tully and Jacob, synonymously with Amritdhari, a formally initiated Sikh. Nayar reports : 'The police retaliated by raiding the houses of suspects, beating up the inmates and even killing a few of them in faked 'encounters'. Twenty four 'wanted' people were killed thus. This infuriated Bhindranwale the most; he would say that the Hindu police were killing 'innocent Sikhs'.' Also that : 'Since the police had no way to distinguish between a Sikh who is a terrorist and one who is not, every Sikh travelling to Delhi was searched. Trains were stopped at wayside stations at midnight in cold December and the Sikh passengers, travelling even in first class AC coaches, were made to get down to appear before a police official on the platform. Buses were detained to get Sikh passengers down and at some places the rustic policemen said: "All Sikhs should come down." Khushwant Singh tells us : 'The police were rarely able to identify or arrest the culprits. Its only method of dealing with the menace was to organize fake encounters and kill anyone they supported.' Often, young Sikhs, fearing torture by the police, would run away from their homes.
In such cases their families were victimized by the police. Nayar confirms that: 'Relatives of the absconders were harassed and even detained. Even many days after the excesses committed by the police, we could see how fear-stricken the people were. Villagers gave us the names of some of the police sub-inspectors and deputy superintendents involved; some of them, they said, had a reputation of taking the law into their hands.' Zail Singh, who was President of India at the time, himself confirmed cases of police shooting dead 23 Sikhs in 1982 for the simple reason that, as part of a state wide protest, they tried to peacefully stop traffic on a road, and of killing another six for shouting slogans. b. The Chando-Kalan Looting by the Police and the Chowk-Mehta Massacre On 9th September 1981, Lala Jagat Narain was assassinated and, immediately, without any supporting evidence, Sant Bhindranwale was presumed to be associated with the crime. Warrants for the Sant's arrest were issued on 11th September. The Police tried to arrest him in village Chando-Kalan in Haryana on the 13th but by the time they reached there, the Sant had left the place. The Police ransacked the village, killed 20 persons in indiscriminate firing , and set fire to two busses belonging to the Taksaal. The busses contained religious texts. The Sant frequently referred to this wanton act of arson by the police as sacrilege committed by Darbara Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab at that time.
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale announced that he would surrender to the police in Chowk-Mehta, his headquarters, on 20th September. The mayhem following his arrest, resulting in death of 18 innocent Sikhs in police firing, is said to have been stage-managed by the government intelligence agencies. When Sant Bhindranwale was being taken away, in spite of his personal advice and entreaties by his staff for everybody to stay calm and peaceful, some people became emotional. According to one account , someone tried to grapple with the Senior Superintendent of Police on duty. There are reports that this too was orchestrated to give the police an excuse to open fire. Birbal Nath, the then Director General of Police, is said to have regarded Lala Jagat Narain's murder as his personal loss and along with the other members of the Punjab bureaucracy, wanted a 'good slaughter' of Sikhs at Chowk Mehta. He made plans to storm Chowk Mehta and had a commando unit trained for the purpose of capturing Sant Bhindranwale. Joginder Singh Anand, Deputy Inspector General, later committed suicide presumably because of his remorse at having been associated with this massacre. The Sant's arrest and the massacre of Sikhs that accompanied it led to violent reaction in several places in Punjab followed by still more government oppression. It was much later, after continued demands by the Sikh leadership, that an inquiry into the incident was instituted. According to Sant Bhindranwale : 'There was an inquiry into the Mehta affair. Amrik Singh and others were working in connection with that. They were arrested and put in jail. The inquiry was completed but now they are not making it public. This is because according to its findings many big leaders will have to be punished. They are sitting on it.' c. Murder of Hardev Singh and his associates On 16th March 1983, the police reported an 'encounter' in which 19-year old Hardev Singh, from Sant Bhindranwale's organization, was killed along with some of his associates. Mr. Pandey, Superintendent of Police, claimed that when the jeep was signalled to stop, the miscreants opened fire and managed to escape towards the Beas river. He said that he presumed some persons in the jeep were killed in the police firing.
The Tribune reported its sources as saying that the jeep had been 'earlier followed by police vehicles on its emerging from a religious place in the city.' The next day, The Tribune reported that police sources did not rule out the possibility of the police having lobbed more than one grenade. It was surmised that Mr. Pandey received pellet wounds in one of these grenade explosions. According to The Tribune , the Central Bureau of Investigation did not agree with the Punjab Government's version of the encounter and decided to shift Mr. Pandey to Delhi to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to Sikh leaders, it was a clear case of murder of innocent unsuspecting Sikhs travelling in the jeep. Tavleen Singh reported : 'All the factions that inhabited the Gurdwara at that point were ... convinced that the murder was a government plot devised to find an excuse to enter the Temple complex.' Paradoxically, instead of inquiring into the affair and punishing the guilty officials, the Indian Government used this murder by ambush as the basis for canceling the arms licenses of the victims and their associates.
The Union Home Ministry 'directed the State Government to deal firmly with the extremists and ensure that its orders cancelling the arms licenses of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's followers are faithfully and expeditiously carried out.' While Sikh leaders were crying 'murder' and praying for the departed souls, extremist Hindu groups were quick to blame the victims and to protest the prayer meetings. Innocent persons had been killed but instead of seeking justice and noting the absence of due process, leaders of he Bhartiya Janata Party charged the Center and the State Government with 'failure' to deal with 'terrorists' and called for punishment to the mourners. d. Charges against Amrik Singh Amrik Singh and Thara Singh had been detained since July 19, 1982. They were acquitted by a court on July 21, 1983 but were kept in judicial custody for another two weeks or so while the police tried to cook up some other charges against them.
Referring to this, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'Today they have initiated a new case against him. They had arrested Amrik Singh. They could not find any proof for the accusation they levelled against him. It was apparent that he would be acquitted. Now they have written up charges against him under the date 16th. I have got a copy of the F.I.R. on this case. In it, it is said that Amrik Singh shouted Khalistan slogans. The case has been registered but the arrest under this case is not being made. They say that they will arrest him when he is released.' Amrik Singh was released and these charges were never pursued. However, this false report, drafted before the victims could have had any opportunity to commit the crime listed, was later presented as evidence before a judge of the High Court and accepted by him as fact. In violation of the court's decision, the police planned to rearrest him as he came out of the gate of the jail. The news media, instead of protesting government high-handedness, issued a de facto endorsement of the government policy of arbitrary arrest and detention, by calling the release a lapse on the part of the police. The police official concerned was placed under suspension and relieved of his duties even though he had a history of faithfully torturing and killing Sikh youth and having his own son join the All India Sikh Students Federation in order to collect information for the Government .
Cremation of Sikhs murdered by Police The Police routinely refused to hand over the bodies of Sikhs killed in police firings and faked encounters to the families of the victims. Sant Bhindranwale repeatedly mentioned in his speeches that the bodies of the victims of the 20 September 1981 police firing at Chowk- Mehta were not returned to the families nor were there any post-mortem examination reports made public. Even after his death, the Police continued this policy of disposing off the bodies as unclaimed . This was presumably done to prevent the families from conducting funeral ceremonies which could serve as gathering points for Sikhs to pay homage to the departed souls. This practice later on took the form of Sikh young men being simply kidnapped and 'disappeared'. f Encouragement to Hindu Mobs Mobs, led by extremist Hindu organizations, repeatedly set upon and massacred innocent Sikhs in various cities in Punjab and neighbouring states. No protection or support was given by the law-enforcement agencies to the victims of this violence. Often, it was the victims of violence who were arrested . The attackers' actions were justified as 'understandable' reaction to Sant Bhindranwale's 'inflammatory' speeches. Any demonstration or other protest organized by the Sikhs against these atrocities was met with extreme violence. Sant Bhindranwale emphasized that at no time in history had any Sikh set fire to Hindu scriptures or a Sikh mob set upon any Hindus.
4. Role Of The News Media And 'Intellectuals'
In a democratic and free society, one would expect the press and the intelligentsia to be watchful of activities of the administration, to expose excesses against the innocent, and to be on the side of life and liberty. However, in the case of Sikhs, the Indian news media failed to look for facts and enthusiastically participated with the Government in its deliberate campaign of vilification of a dearly loved and deeply respected religious leader, criminalization of an entire faith through stage-managed criminal acts, and oppression of a religious community based on false accusations of illegal activities. Well-known writers, on the one hand, noted that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was an honest religious man without political ambition against whom no criminal charges could be substantiated and, on the other, went on to blame him for everything echoing government propaganda. As typical of this attitude, we quote Sanghvi : 'The rise and death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale must be one of the most amazing sagas in the history of Indian politics.
In 1978, he was an obscure 31-year-old village preacher who toured the Punjab warning youths against shaving their beards or cutting their hair. By 1984, when he was only 37, he had come to represent the single greatest threat to the unity and stability of India since Independence. And nearly two years after the battle in which he lost his life, taking the Akal Takht with him, he remains a martyr in the eyes of many Sikhs. Even today, rare is the Sikh politician who will dare to call him what he was: a fanatic and a murderer.' It is amazing that Sanghvi should paint the Sant as a fanatic and a murderer without any supporting data. He is surprised at Sikhs, directly affected by government oppression and knowing Sant Bhindranwale more closely, honouring their extremely popular leader. Most journalists concede that the Sant was easily accessible and that whenever they met him he would describe details of police brutalities against Sikhs. Instead of following up on these complaints and looking for facts, the news-media ignored them as wild accusations. Nayar reports : 'Bhindranwale's speech would contain venom; he would pick up some instance of police excess or of 'discrimination' against the Sikhs and say that the Sikhs were not getting their due in India and that they must unite to fight for justice.' One wonders how a call for unity against discrimination could be construed as 'venom'? Sant Bhindranwale noted the hostility of the news media in his speeches. For example : 'The newspapers do not publish or rarely publish the information I provide. I do not know what pressure is there. But I shall humbly request you, who are assembled here in large numbers, go to your villages and convey the message'. Also: 'The newspapers do what they will. May Satguru have mercy and give them wisdom. I should not say much about anybody in anger. Sitting there, in order to run their newspaper, they delete any news that is in the interests of the Panth. Whatever is in the interest of making money, in the interest of the press or the Government, is published.' During the agitation that started on August 4, 1982, thousands of Sikhs peacefully courted arrest.
The Government's consistent response was continued beatings and torture of Sikh youth. Instead of raising their voice against such oppression, most intellectuals justified government brutality against innocent people and accused Sant Bhindranwale of encouraging violence when he spoke out against state terrorism. Nayar, typical of the news media, while conceding that the police killed Sikh youth in faked 'encounters', noted : '...we could not but condemn the extremist elements who were out to defy law and glorify violence. Those who were accused of heinous crimes were honoured in their absence in the villages of their birth and in recognition of their 'heroism' their kin were given saropas. We were shown in Jalandhar, where we ended our trip, photographs of people who had been charged with murder, rioting and the like being 'honoured'. And we were pained to note that even the leftist among the moderate Sikhs were reluctant or afraid to condemn what the extremists had done.' This renowned columnist apparently equated false accusations by an oppressive government with the actual commitment of a crime. Here was a journalist willing to condone widespread inhuman torture and condemning the relatives of innocent victims for 'honouring' their dead'.
Khushwant Singh, trying to ridicule Sant Bhindranwale, states : 'There was very little learning or piety to this man. Also: 'To Bhindranwale modernity was evil: the Sikhs must return to the simple ways of their warrior forefathers. They must look like them: wear their beards lose and not rolled up and tied under their chins; they must wear long shirts, below knee-length breeches (kuchhas) covering their shins. Likewise, Sikh women should not drape themselves in sarees which were Hindu, but in salwar-kameez (baggy trousers and long shirts) which are Punjabi, nor wear bindis (dots) on their foreheads. His newborn Khalsa were to be god-like (saabat soorat gur Sikh), while the rest of the world was ungodly-and woe to the ungodly. The newborn Khalsa were the Gurus' storm troopers who would trample their foes under their bare feet like so much vermin. It was a heady brew that Bhindranwale served to simple-minded Sikh peasants.' The fact is that Sant Bhindranwale actually employed the tools of modern science in his missionary work.
Khushwant Singh concedes that Sant Bhindranwale wanted Sikhs to carry modern firearms in addition to the traditional kirpaan; and, instead of the traditional horses, ride motorcycles. Sant Bhindranwale did advise people to return to simple ways, shun intoxicants, remember God, follow the Gurus' teachings, and reminded Sikhs of their role as saint-soldiers. However, contrary to Khushwant Singh's conjectures, he never implied that people of other faiths were ungodly and 'woe to them'. There was no question of 'reborn Khalsa'. The Khalsa, created by Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, have always been Gurus' storm troopers in defence of the helpless and in fighting oppression. Sant Bhindranwale did not initiate this concept. Like many other journalists, following the government line in blaming Sant Bhindranwale for all the violence, Khushwant Singh states , without any supporting evidence, that Sant Bhindranwale's 'services could be bought by the highest bidder; the Sant became a big time brigand'. He also reviles the Sant as 'the Hindu-baiter', 'a martyred hero of lumpen sections of Sikh society' and blithely refers to 'lads of the A.I.S.S.F. and nominees of the Damdami Taksal reared in the Bhindranwale school of terrorism'. He chastises 'gangsters who haul innocent, unarmed people from busses and kill them, lob grenades in crowded market places and cinemas', presuming that these gangsters were acting in Sant Bhindranwale's behalf or upon his instructions, ignoring the fact that Sant Bhindranwale consistently condemned such senseless acts, and clear evidence that the Government stage-managed several of these to promote hatred against devout Sikhs. Khushwant Singh further alleges that Sant Bhindranwale 'well understood that hate was a stronger passion than love: his list of hates was even more clearly and boldly spelt out. On top of the hate-list were apostates (patits) who dishonoured emblems of the Khalsa by cutting their long hair and beards, smoked, drank liquor or took drugs. However, these patits could be redeemed if they agreed to mend their ways and accept baptism.
Next on the list were Sant Nirankaris who had gained a sizable following among the Sikhs. They had committed the cardinal sin of recognizing a living human being as their guru when it was an article of Sikh faith that only the holy book, the Granth Sahib, was the 'living' embodiment of the ten gurus. The Sant Nirankaris had also fabricated their own sacred texts, Yug Purush and Avtar Bani. They were therefore beyond redemption and had to be liquidated. Finally, there were the Hindus-uncomfortably close to the Sikhs, and far too many to be liquidated. The only way of dealing with them was to treat them with contempt as an effeminate, non-martial race and a lesser breed without the law. Had not the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, proclaimed that one Sikh was equal to a sava lakh (one and a quarter million) and a fauj-a one man army? So spoke Bhindranwale: one Sikh could easily reckon with thirty-five Hindus.' About one occasion when he met Sant Bhindranwale, Khushwant Singh reports: 'Bhindranwale's short speech was largely addressed to me as I had been hauled out of the congregation to sit on the dais. He towered above me; a steel arrow in one hand, the microphone in the other. Pointing to me he said: "This Sardar Sahib here writes that I spread hatred between Hindus and Sikhs. This is wrong. What I do is to preach the gospel of the Gurus; I do amrit parchar and persuade young Sikhs to stop clipping their beards, stop smoking and drinking. If I had my way, I would get hold of all these Sardars who drink bhisky-shisky in the evening, pour kerosene oil on them, and set the bloody lot ablaze." This statement was greeted with loud acclamations of boley so nihal! Sat Sri Akal.
It was ironic that more than half the Sardars sitting on the dais with me, and a sizable proportion of the peasant audience, were hard-drinking men.' We have not been able to locate these comments in any of Sant Bhindranwale's speeches available to us. Sant Bhindranwale's speeches indicate that he hardly knew Khushwant Singh. In any case, the following statements by Sant Bhindranwale regarding consumption of alcohol appear to completely contradict Khushwant Singh's report: 'I have declared that if there is someone who drinks while wearing a kirpaan, and you catch him drunk, the punishment I have announced is that you should get him examined by a doctor (to make sure he has been drinking) and then pour kerosene over him and burn him alive. I shall fight your court case. This is regardless of the party affiliation of the person in such a garb doing such a thing. My appeal to all is that no one should drink but this does not apply to the others, it is only for those with the kirpaan.
If any raagi, sant, mahatma, granthi even if he is from Bhindranwale (group), who wears a kirpaan and drinks, wherever you find him, blacken his face, put a garland of old shoes around his neck, put him on a donkey and parade him throughout the village or the district.' Contrary to Khushwant Singh's diatribe, Sant Bhindranwale never held out any punishment for persons like him. His appeal was only for those with the kirpaan. It did not apply to the others. His disapproval was limited to hypocritical Sikh preachers who themselves violated the Sikh Rehit Maryada. Quoting the following line from Siri Guru Granth Sahib, "First the noose was placed around the teacher's (neck) and later around the (necks) of the disciples", he explained: 'The noose will be put around the necks of the jathedars, the sants, the leaders, and people in responsible positions; around the necks of such of them as use intoxicants.' Sant Bhindranwale's use of the words 'pouring kerosene and setting the on fire' is merely a common Punjabi idiom equivalent to 'chewing somebody up' in colloquial English. In Punjab villages, mothers would often use this phrase while scolding their children. Khushwant Singh's reference to Bhindranwale's discovering 'that fomenting hatred between the two communities was the easier method of preserving the Sikhs' separate identity from the Hindus than amrit parchar' and Sant Bhindranwale's 'adding Hindu-baiting to his other activities' is contrary to his own observations regarding Bhindranwale's success with amrit parchar.
The Sant was a Sikh preacher and, of course, he appealed to those born in Sikh families to respect their faith and live by it. His appeal was based on love, not hatred, and was indeed very successful. He did not advocate hatred, punishment, or any form of violence against the so-called patits and others. Sant Bhindranwale's opposition of the Sant Nirankaris was limited to their public show of disrespect towards Siri Guru Granth Sahib; their making parodies on the Sikh scriptures; the Nirankari Guru styling himself as Bajaanwala in imitation of Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib; and their use of the names of the Gurus for their servants merely to insult and provoke the Sikhs. Neither prior to April 13, 1978 nor after that did Sant Bhindranwale 'pronounce damnation' on them. As Khushwant Singh, the Government , and other journalists (e.g. Tavleen Singh ), have noted, the Babbar Khalsa, always opposed to Sant Bhindranwale, claimed responsibility for the killing of Nirankaris.
Certainly, Sant Bhindranwale deplored the fact that the Government was not interested in prosecuting the Nirankaris who had murdered 13 Sikhs in cold blood on April 13, 1978 in Amritsar, and at other places later on, and urged upon the Sikhs to unite in resisting such attacks upon their faith and their persons. Khushwant Singh's reference to thirty-five Hindus to each Sikh is picked out of context and distorts its implication. It was not at all an exhortation for every Sikh to tackle thirty-five Hindus. Sant Bhindranwale consistently maintained that Hindu-Sikh unity was an article of faith with him. In the quote mentioned by Khushwant Singh, he was simply telling the Sikhs not to be afraid merely because they were only two percent of the population and that there were thirty-five Hindus to every Sikh. He reminded them that at the Tenth Guru's time each Sikh had been asked to be ready to fight sava lakh.
A similar expression was used on another occasion in response to a threat by the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, that the Sikhs of Punjab should think about what might happen to Sikhs living in other states. Sant Bhindranwale responded : 'Bibi, if this is what you think and this is your attitude towards the turban and the beard, we also have counted that they are only twenty to each one of us.' He emphasized that this exchange between him and Mrs. Gandhi was entirely rhetorical by adding: 'She did not send someone out with a sword, nor did Jarnail Singh send anybody out with a sword.' Nayar writes: 'The state grew tense; 115 major cases of violence had taken place in two areas since Jagat Narain's murder in September 1981 and 24 innocent people had been killed by the extremists, who came to be known as Bhindranwale's men.' Also : 'There were regular reports of someone being killed here and another there and often Bhindranwale's men claimed responsibility for the killings.' This is incorrect. It was men of Dal Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa, groups openly opposing Sant Bhindranwale, who took responsibility most of the time. Again : 'Until 6 October, the target of Bhindranwale's men were Hindus who were known to be hostile, Nirankaris, police officials or Sikhs who had been 'informers', or who had sided with the Government.
But from then on the killings became indiscriminate; six Hindus passengers in a bus were killed near Dhilwan, Ludhiana. They were innocent people who had nothing to do with politics, and this marked a watershed in relations between the Hindus and the Sikhs.' Even Tavleen Singh who filed some objective reports, joined in the general chorus of condemnation. She wrote: 'Slowly the venom that was being spewed out every day from the Golden Temple started to get into the very blood of the Punjab and this culminated inevitably and horribly in the killing of six Hindu bus passengers in Dhilwan village, near Jullundur on 5 October 1983. The men were singled out by Sikh terrorists and shot dead for the simple reason that they were Hindu.' It is important to note Sant Bhindranwale's reaction to this killing of bus passengers. He condemned the senseless act and noted that Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had lost no time in dismissing the inept and repressive State Government upon seven Hindus having been killed whereas she had held out for sixteen months against demands by various organizations and opposition parties. Ten days after the killings which were immediately followed by the dismissal of the State Government, Sant Bhindranwale explained : 'By installing a proud man with a Dastar (turban) as the leader, she was desirous of having the turbans of all the other Sikhs taken off. So long as he kept taking them off, so long as the Sikh turbans were coming off, the daughters and sisters of the Sikhs continued to be dishonoured in the streets and villages; sometimes on pretext of foreign visits, at other times giving various other types of ultimatums; she kept on making all sorts of excuses. However, it so happened that someone killed six or seven persons belonging to the Hindu Brotherhood. All Sikh leaders condemned this.
In spite of this condemnation, she was deeply hurt by the death of these seven while she was not impressed by the blood of one hundred and fifty persons with turbans having been spilt. This agitation has gone on for sixteen months. She did not feel the need to move one person but when the blood of those seven was spilt, then, Khalsa Ji, she could not wait even 24 hours.' Again, a few days later, he said : 'Someone killed seven Hindus in a bus. No Sikh has said this was good, everyone deplored it. But because seven Hindus had died, even twenty-four hours didn't pass. The Ministry was dissolved. President's rule was imposed. The region has been declared as disturbed. However, one hundred and fifty Sikhs died and one man was not changed. Now all of you Sikhs should sit down and figure out as to what the thoughts of this Government of the Hindus are about the turban and the beard.' Sant Bhindranwale's call to Sikhs to keep weapons as required by their faith was also misrepresented by the press as preparations for killing Hindus. Sant Bhindranwale, commenting on this, said: 'For a Sikh, his conduct has to be: "He (God's devotee) does not frighten anyone nor does he have any fear." I had given a statement that in every village there should be a motorcycle and three young men with three revolvers of high quality.
Opposition newspapers, the Mahasha (Arya Samajist Hindu) Press, have published this news: "Bhindranwala says, get these and kill Hindus." Have you ever heard me say that?' Referring to incidents of hijacking of airplanes, attacks on the Chief Minister, bank robberies, and murders, Khushwant Singh implicitly and incorrectly assumes that Sant Bhindranwale was responsible for them. The Sant's connection with any of them has never been established. For instance, the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane on August 4, 1982, belonged to Dal Khalsa which, according to Khushwant Singh himself, was a creation of Zail Singh. It has been reported that Talwinder Singh Parmar, a leader of the Babbar Khalsa, paid for five of the tickets purchased by the hijackers. It has been reported that when the hijacker of August 20, 1982 landed in Amritsar, he demanded to see Sant Longowal and Sant Bhindranwale. Sant Longowal sent his representative but Sant Bhindranwale, upon being assured that the man did not belong to his organization, refused to oblige.
Sant Bhindranwale protested the Government's barbaric treatment of the hijackers because they happened to be Sikh but himself had nothing to do with the crimes. Even instances of oppression against Sant Bhindranwale's men have been described by some reputed columnists as wily schemes by the Sant to get his own men killed and tortured in order to assist the Government against the Akali leadership. Nayar regarded Bhai Amrik Singh and Baba Thara Singh's arrest in 1982 to be a cunning device concocted between the Government and Sant Bhindranwale. According to him: 'Darbara Singh...sent a message to Bhindranwale to start a morcha earlier so as to take the wind out of their sails. To give him reason enough, the Punjab Government arrested two of Bhindranwale's workers on 17th July 1982. And two days later, Amrik Singh, the AISSF President whose father had made Bhindranwale his successor, was taken into custody on the charge of murdering a Nirankari. Yet another close associate of Bhindranwale, Thara Singh, was arrested on July 20.
All this provoked Bhindranwale who went from Chowk-Mehta to Guru Nanak Niwas and launched a morcha from the Golden Temple, pre-empting the Akalis.' Apparently, in suggesting that the arrests were merely an agreed upon device, Nayar accepts that Amrik Singh was innocent of the crimes attributed to him. Tully and Jacob, without citing any evidence, write about Amrik Singh that: 'As President of the All-India Sikh Students Federation he was responsible for organizing many of the murders, robberies and attacks on government property.' The assumption is that the Federation was a group of criminals. The fact is that the Government arrested Amrik Singh and kept him in detention for a year despite massive Sikh protest; and his release was protested by the Arya-Samajist press simply because the Federation he led was engaged in a program for revival of faith among the Sikh youth.
The news media propagated the myth that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was associated with or in a position to direct and control the activities of groups which claimed credit for violent acts. Tully and Jacob concede : 'Bhindranwale never openly associated with the Dal Khalsa. Until his death he maintained that he was a man of religion, not a politician.' However, they make a quick turnaround and, following the Indian Government's White Paper, say that 'Bhindranwale used to preach hatred against India and against Hindus.' They also state that 'the Dal Khalsa was always known as 'Bhindranwale's party'. Contrary to this, Jeffrey , among others, tells us that the founding of the Dal Khalsa in 1978 was 'with the alleged backing of Zail Singh' of Indira Gandhi's Congress Party. Again, they refer to 'the Sikh fundamentalist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had been spreading violence, hatred and communal poison in Punjab'; that 'Bhindranwale went on to appeal to Sikh villagers to organize and support terrorism'. Tully and Jacob state: 'Badal and Longowal lacked the courage to stand out against a force they knew was evil. Tohra tried to use it for his own ends.' The 'evil' force was, presumably, Sant Bhindranwale. The fact is that in one of his speeches , Sant Bhindranwale complains that Longowal had terminated his speaking to the public at the Manji Sahib Diwan Hall and that Tohra did not have the courage to correct Longowal when he denounced and misrepresented Sant Bhindranwale.
Again, after Sodhi's murder in April 1984, Sant Bhindranwale asserted that this was done with the connivance of some Akali leaders and wanted Gurcharan Singh, Secretary, Shromani Akali Dal removed from his office. He did not succeed in getting Longowal and others to comply. The 'evil' force depicted as so dominant in Punjab could not or would not enforce its will even within the confines of Darbar Sahib complex. Nayar states that 'the reign of terror that began with the Jagat Narain murder did! ! not stop. Innocent people were killed. The targets were mostly Hindus and Nirankaris but many Sikhs who had the courage to speak out against the extremists were also killed.' In fact most of those killed were Sikhs and the killers were the police. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had nothing to do with these murders. The news media was eager to blame the Sant but not the persons who claimed responsibility for the crimes. According to India Today : 'Whereas Bhindranwale has publicly disowned each act of the extremists, the Babbar Khalsa openly claim credit for most of these, barring the killing of Hindu bus passengers and that of Atwal.' Regarding the Babbar Khalsa, we have Tavleen Singh's report: 'Jathedar Sukhdev Singh, a youth of about 28, who dressed like a Nihang, started requesting journalists to come up and meet him in a small, sunless room in the Akal Rest House. He would talk about how it was really the Babbars who had killed most of the Nirankaris so far and how they would continue to kill them (the toll was already around 40) because they followed the dictate of the Akal Takht and they were only abiding by an edict (hukumnama) issued by them.' Babbars are known to have opposed Sant Bhindranwale throughout.
According to India Today , their leader, Sukhdev Singh said: 'We have nothing to do with Bhindranwale who is basically a coward.' Sukhdev Singh was instrumental in making false accusations against the Sant. In one of his speeches, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'Day before yesterday, a farce was enacted here at Akal Takhat. After getting some tape-recording done by someone, he was called to the Akali stage and made to say that Bhindranwala was conspiring to get him killed. His name is Sukhdev Singh; people often call him Sukha. They say that I have hatched a conspiracy to kill him.' Even American correspondents, fed erroneous information, went along. Reasoner , apparently following Khushwant Singh's logic, said of Sant Bhindranwale: 'He hated the successful urban Sikhs who trim their beards and wear two-piece suits. The poor and the illiterate loved him and brought him what rupees they could spare. He spoke openly of the deaths and violence his followers had caused. These were not murders, he said, but justice; and, if necessary, the Sikhs would set up their own state and, the Government feared, start the disintegration of India as a federal nation.' Sant Bhindranwale's admirers included numerous Sikhs who wear 'two-piece suits' and he did not advocate disintegration of India. It is extremely unfortunate that, instead of investigating Sant Bhindranwale's complaints that innocent Sikhs were being tortured and killed, newsmen regarded him and the victims he referred to as convicted criminals.
Overwhelmed by the propaganda carried on by extremist Hindus and the Government, even well-meaning Indian leaders assumed that Sant Bhindranwale indeed preached a cult of lawlessness and violence. They did not take the Sant's complaints of violation of human rights in Punjab seriously. Typical of this attitude was a statement by Gujral who said, in the course of an eloquent speech, that the Sikh agitation had been peaceful but was taken over by violent elements. This writer asked him if he was referring to Sant Bhindranwale as the 'violent elements'. He agreed. Reminding him that Sant Bhindranwale, in one of his speeches, had mentioned that over 140 persons had been killed and another one thousand crippled in police torture up to that date; that the Sikhs had tried persuasion with the police, legal action in courts and appeals to the national leaders and the press but that nobody had made any effort to stop the torture and the killings in custody; and then had gone on to ask the public as to how long the Sikhs should continue to quietly suffer without hitting back, this writer asked Gujral as to whether, in his opinion or according to his information, Sant Bhindranwale was lying and if not, what did leaders like him do about the killings and torture by the police and what should the Sant have done in the face of this oppression? Gujral replied that he had never thought about the problem from that point of view.
Allegations By The Government Of India
In justifying its attack on Sikh places of worship, the Indian Government declared : 'Bhindranwale and others operating directly from the Golden Temple complex began to extol and instigate violence'; that 'extremists were attacking conscientious police officers who were doing their duty of enforcing the law'; and that 'Bhindranwale had advocated the killing of Hindus in Punjab so as to set in motion a general exodus'. The army action was described as 'operations taken to remove terrorists, criminals and their weapons from sacred places of worship.' Indira Gandhi, in her broadcast to the nation on June 2, 1984, described the leadership of the Sikh agitation as 'a group of fanatics and terrorists whose instruments for achieving whatsoever they may have in view are murder, arson and loot'.
The Indian Government's 'White Paper' charged that 'the tactics employed by the secessionist and terrorist groups were: systematic campaign to create bitterness and hatred between Sikhs and Hindus; indoctrination in the ideology of separatism in militant terms behind the facade of gurmat camps; training in the use of modern weaponry; use of terrorism against specific targets in the police and the administration of Punjab; preparation of 'hit lists' of those who disagreed and organizing their murder; random killing of persons of a particular community aimed at creating terror and instigating communal violence; stockpiling of arms and ammunition in places of worship; utilization of smugglers and anti-social elements for procuring supplies of arms, ammunition and for looting banks, jewellery shops and individual homes; and obtain covert and overt support from external sources?' Was this indeed true. Let us examine the various allegations.
1. Initiation Of Violence
Tavleen Singh reports: 'Contrary to the popular belief that he took the offensive, senior police sources in the Punjab admit that the provocation came in fact from a Nirankari official who started harassing Bhindranwale and his men. There were two or three Nirankaris in key positions in the Punjab in those days and they were powerful enough to be able to create quite a lot of trouble. The Nirankaris also received patronage from Delhi that made Sikh organizations like Bhindranwale's and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, headed then by Bibi Amarjit Kaur's husband, Fauja Singh, hate them even more.' Khushwant Singh tells us: 'Terrorist activity preceded the morcha by more than six months and was born out of encounters faked by the Punjab police and the armed conflict between the Nirankaris and Sant Bhindranwale beginning April 13, 1978.' Sant Jarnail Singh Bindranwale repeatedly declared that he would never initiate a dispute or a confrontation. However, he also asserted that if someone attacks a Sikh, he should get a proper response. In his view : 'When is a Sikh wrong? It is when he poses a question. When is a Sikh's sin washed away? It is when he responds. A Sikh will never be the first to attack, to ask the question. Asking the question means being the first to attack. That is what we call asking a question. Later, seeking justice is called the answer. If we are sons of Sikhs, we shall never be the first to attack in the form of a question. Also, if we are sons of Sikhs, we shall never hesitate in responding. If we hesitate then we are artificial Sikhs, spoilt Sikhs, not real Sikhs. If we attack first then too we are spoilt Sikhs.'
Attacks On 'Conscientious' Police Officials
As oppression against devout Sikhs escalated during 1982 and 1983, Sikhs from villages flocked to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale seeking redress. At first he felt that there were some unscrupulous police officials who were responsible for the spate of arbitrary arrests followed generally by brutal torture and often resulting in death in police custody. He sought redress from higher authorities in the administration and from courts. Higher police officials listened to him, assured him of fairness but took no action. For example, referring to the assurances given by the Inspector General of Police in the case of Harbhajan Singh and Harpreet Singh, Sant Bhindranwale commented: 'Deviously, they keep telling the President (of the Shromani Akali Dal) on the phone that the boys have not committed any offences. If they are innocent then why are they kept there, for fun? How long are we going to suffer this oppression?'
The news media and the political leadership would not believe his charges of police brutality. The administration, instead of punishing the guilty policemen, rewarded them with promotions. He found that the courts were powerless in enforcing their decisions. For example : 'At the time of Amrik Singh's arrest, Puran Singh Hundal, his lawyer, went to the judge. He petitioned the judge and after submitting the petition came and met the (police) officers. He said to the officers: "Here is his (Amrik Singh's) petition to the judge and the judge's signature. The lawyer can stay (with the accused)." The officers at that place told him: "We do not know the judge. Here, we are the judges." The lawyer went back to the judge and told him: "Sir, here is your signature. These are your orders and the officers say they do not know the judge and that they are the judges." The judge folded his hands and said that this was not in his power. Where will you go? When there is no respect for the judge and the (police) officer says he is everything, then there is the instruction: "With your own hands, take care of your business".' He publicly identified some of the most notorious culprits in the police force. Some of these officials were eventually killed, possibly by surviving relatives of their victims. The Government and the news media immediately held Sant Bhindranwale responsible for 'death of conscientious police officers' without any evidence that he was connected with these incidents in any direct manner. For example, he protested that he had nothing to do with Atwal's murder in April 1983. However, most writers continue to blame him for it.
There is a feeling that the Government had got Atwal killed to silence him forever. He was a Sikh police officer who knew too much about the murder of Sikhs in Chowk-Mehta in 1981 where he was on duty at the scene, and the murder of the 19-year old Hardev Singh and his associates by the police in March 1983 for which he was supervising the investigation. However, later on, faced with continuing torture and brutality of his adherents, Sant Bhindranwale did declare that he would provide shelter to any one who would punish the culprits. This was after the Sikhs had been driven to the wall. Frustrated in his attempts to get the Government to inquire into incidents of police excesses and to punish the guilty officials, he told his audiences in March 1983: 'Khalsa Ji: one gets justice out of inquiries when there is room for (vcIl, dlIl, apIl) legal representation, argument, and appeal. Here (under Indian Government) it is outright injustice. They have decided to annihilate the Sikhs, to insult their turban, to destroy their Faith. Under this situation, why do you need to use a lawyer and appeal?' Again, in July 1983, he said: 'Khalsa Ji: what assurance, what justice, what fairness can you expect from a Government, from courts, which no longer trust people, which have lost all faith in men and trust only dogs? How can you expect justice from them? Those who have no faith in men, those who have no faith in the legal process, in reasoning, and in appeal to conscience of the perpetrators; those who only trust dogs, but if the dogs point to their own house as the source of crime, they don't trust the dogs either.'
The Indian Government and its supporters have said that Sant Bhindranwale kept 'hit lists of those who disagreed with him and organize their murder'? Amarjit Kaur refers to 'the barbaric acts, duly sanctioned by the author of the 'hit-lists' living in the safety of Akal Takht'. Noting this propaganda, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'If, from this stage, I say something naming someone they say: "Bhindranwala has given out the name of such person, now this name has come on the list." This kind of gossip goes on.' Also : 'It is said that I have already made a list. I haven't made any so far but the way these people are forcing us, it is quite possible that the youth may have to start such a list. I have not made any.' He got quite upset upon learning that Indira Gandhi had accused him of keeping 'hit lists' and said : 'She has said that Bhindranwale has prepared a hit list. You might even have read this in the newspapers today. I have challenged her and given a warning. Upon my life and upon my breath, let her prove where did I get the paper for that hit list, where did I get the pen, and the ink and the inkpot. She should get the CBI to check this out. If she proves that I have signed any paper; that I have signed for the purpose of any body's being killed; standing here in the presence of Hazoor, I declare that I shall cut off my head and place it before the Congregation. I shall leave Guru Nanak Niwas and go away. But she should tell, she should provide proof. If she does not have any proof but has some honor, dignity and some little decency, she should resign the office of Prime Minister and come before the public in the streets. A person should be occupying an office of such responsibility, be the Prime Minister; and listening to news from favourites like Romesh, news from the likes of Virendra and Yash should start saying "He is very dangerous. He has made up a hit list!" Where is that list? It is only in the newspapers. If she has said that a list has been made, who has told her about it? She should apprehend those people who have found it. She should interrogate them the way others, Singhs, are treated. They should tell her where that piece of paper is. She should get that paper and show it to me.' There never was such a list though many journalists bought the official line and kept harping on it. Khushwant Singh claims : 'I was on Bhindranwale's hit list for the many unkind things I had written about him in my columns and said over the BBC.' The fact is that Sant Bhindranwale hardly knew him. Addressing a Sikh gathering, he said : 'There is one Khushwant Singh. I have only seen him barely once. He is from Delhi and is close to Indira.' Apparently, Khushwant Singh was claiming to be on a fictitious 'hit list' merely as a quixotic target of a non-existent threat.
Hating And Killing Hindus And Others
The Government blamed Sant Bhindranwale for 'advocating the killing of Hindus in Punjab so as to set in motion a general exodus', 'random killing of persons belonging to a particular community aimed at creating terror' and for 'carrying on a systematic campaign to create bitterness and hatred between Sikhs and Hindus'. As noted earlier, prominent intellectuals and the news media went along with the official line of thinking. Sant Bhindranwale emphasized the uniqueness of the Sikh faith being founded upon its set of beliefs and practices, not upon hatred of any religion. He advised everyone to be true in their own faith. The Sant did not consider Hindus to be 'close' to the Sikhs in their beliefs and practices. However, emphasizing the catholicity of the Sikh faith, he pointed out that Siri Guru Granth Sahib includes verses composed by some Hindu saints. Addressing the Hindus, he said : 'Who was Jaidev? Wasn't he a Hindu from amongst you? He was a Brahmin. Jaidev is sitting here in Guru Granth Sahib. If a son of a Sikh has made obeisance here he has done so at the feet of Jaidev, the Brahmin.' Sant Bhindranwale did note that even though Sikhs had defended the Hindus' right to free worship, Hindus were ungrateful. He said : 'The one who got the Fifth King tortured on the hot plate was from among them; the one who administered poison to the Sixth King was from among them; the one responsible for the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas was from among them.
For the sake of all of them, for the sake of their janeoo and tilak the Ninth Kinggave his head and now these people have had books published claiming that Guru Tegh Bahaadar Sahib Ji gave his head for some personal feuds and he did no service to the Hindus. What can we expect from the nation, the people, into whom such ingratitude has crept in.' Nayar, informs us that : 'Bhindranwale asked Longowal to give a call to the Sikh masses to purchase motorcycles and revolvers to kill Hindus in Punjab.' This accusation was based upon a public statement by Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, President of the Shromani Akali Dal. Sant Bhindranwale took Longowal to task for attributing to him something that he could never even dream of, namely, killing members of a certain community. During one of his speeches attended by many Hindus, he said : 'You have learnt from the newspapers, and from propaganda by ignorant people, that Bhindranwala is an extremist; that he is a dangerous man, a communalist; that he kills Hindus. There are many Hindus sitting here. You should carefully note how many I injure and how many I kill before leaving. You will be with me. Keep listening attentively. Having listened, do think over who are the communalists; whether they are the turban-wearers or your newspaper owners, the Mahasha Press.' Addressing this issue in some detail, he said : 'I have no enmity with the Hindus as such. If I were their enemy, why would I rescue the daughter of a Hindu from Jalalabad. Kailash Chander owns a retail shop here. His shop was burnt down. The Retail Merchants Union asked him: "Name Bhindranwale." He did not do so. The Hindu along with two Sikhs, the three of them, came to see me in my room. He came and started to cry. I asked him: "What is the matter? Why are you crying?" He said: "My shop has been burnt down." ... I gave him the five hundred rupees. In Kapurthala, a copy of the Ramayana was burnt. The leaders of that place know about this.
The Jatha spent 5,000 rupees in litigation over that. On the 4th (April 1983), two Hindus were martyred in connection with the 'rasta roko' agitation. Shromani Akali Dal and the Shromani Committee paid (their families) 10,000 rupees each and the Jatha gave another 5,000 to each family. If I was an enemy of all the Hindus, where is the need for me to pay all this money?' He did not at any time preach initiation of conflict or confrontation although he did advise resistance to oppression and to wanton killing of innocent people. In response to Indira Gandhi's accusation, he declared : 'She says that Bhindranwala destroys temples, that he does not like temples and wishes to destroy them, that he kills Hindus. Responsible persons who are associated with the Jatha go there and build temples. You can figure out yourselves whether I am in favour of destroying temples or of keeping them. Our Father sacrificed his entire family for the sake of (Hindu) temples and she gives help to people who destroy gurdwaras; to the followers of human gurus and of hypocrites. On top of it she blames Sikhs that they make trouble.' Emphasizing the need to stay peaceful and to avoid confrontation as far as possible, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'The Government is trying very hard to start Hindu-Sikh riots. Avoid this as along as you can. However, if the Hindus also get into the Government's boat and start to dishonour the daughters and sisters of the Sikhs and to take off the Sikhs' turbans, then, in order to save our turban, we shall take what steps the Khalsa, following the path shown by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, has always taken in the past. We might have to adopt those methods but we shall do so only when we are forced to. We shall not resort to those methods on our own. We have to be peaceful.'
Hiding From The Law
Was Sant Bhindranwale a criminal wanted by the law? India Today reported in December 1983 that a senior officer in Chandigarh confessed: 'It's really shocking that we have so little against him while we keep blaming him for all sorts of things.' The fact is that when the Government was in the process of training army units in the planned invasion of Darbar Sahib, the only charges against Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale were that his speeches were 'objectionable'. Sanghvi reports : 'In April 1980, after the Congress had returned to power, murderers believed to be linked to Bhindranwale, assassinated Baba Gurbachan Singh, the leader of the Nirankari sect. At the time, there was an outcry and demands were raised for the arrest of Bhindranwale. As Home Minister, Zail Singh told Parliament that Bhindranwale had nothing to do with the murder: a statement for which he has been criticized by every writer on the Punjab. His supporters do not dispute that he made the statement (it is on record) but argue that it was a reply to a Parliamentary question and had been written for him by his civil servants. In fact, they say, whatever Bhindranwale's involvement, the Government had no concrete evidence and the ministry thought it inadvisable to arrest him on a flimsy case only to have him acquitted and transformed into a hero.' Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had, apparently, not committed any violation of the law and, accordingly, had no need to 'hide' anywhere. But, speculates Khushwant Singh : 'When Bhindranwale sensed that the Government had at long last decided to arrest him, he first took shelter in the Golden Temple, then occupied and fortified portions of the Akal Takht.' Why, one might ask this famous columnist, would Sant Bhindranwale present himself, along with over 50 of his supporters, at the Deputy Commissioner's residence on the day he moved to the Darbar Sahib complex, if his purpose in moving there was to hide from the law? Gurdev Singh, District Magistrate at Amritsar till shortly before the invasion is on record as having assured the Governor of the state that he could arrest anyone in Darbar Sahib at any time. There were people who felt offended by Sant Bhindranwale's views and wanted him silenced.
They noted his innocence but stubbornly refused to accept it. Commenting on Sant Bhindranwale, Shourie conceded : 'For all I know, he is completely innocent and is genuinely and exclusively dedicated to the teachings of the Gurus'. However, he went on to state in the same paragraph: 'It is not Bhindranwale who triggers reflex actions in the tension that precedes a riot, it is this apprehension and fear that he has invoked.' Amarjit Kaur, while accepting that the Government had to release Sant Bhindranwale after his arrest in 1981 'for the lack of any legal proof', goes on to state : 'Everybody was frightened because they felt that if they did give any evidence against Bhindranwale or against any of his men, they and their entire families would be killed. Bhindranwale had put fear into the people because innocent people were being killed and any officer who went against his wishes was killed.' Why were these people frightened and so apprehensive if he had committed no crime? It was a self-imposed dread of the revival of the Sikh faith and the popularity of the Sant. Why would he hide from the law? No court had asked for his personal appearance for any crime. Was he wanted by the 'lawless' police and an oppressive government so that he could be killed, as many other Sikhs had been, in order to silence the voice of protest and to check the revival of the Sikh faith which he led?
Advocating Political Separatism
The Government blamed Sant Bhindranwale for 'indoctrinating an ideology of separatism in militant terms behind the facade of gurmat camps'? A government note alleged : 'The obvious direction and thrust of the movement was towards an independent Khalistan-fully supported by neighbouring and foreign powers. The terrorists led by Bhindranwale were perhaps only cogs in the wheel. If the army action had not been resolute and determined, the movement would have moved towards full scale insurgency which would have crippled the armed forces in any future confrontation across the borders.' These were wild and baseless accusations but many Hindu writers joined in this chorus.
According to Surendra Chopra : 'it is argued that all this would end when shackles of slavery are broken. Bhindranwale never elaborated what he meant by this. An obvious connotation is the achievement of sovereign state.' Nayar claims that Sant Bhindranwale said 'the next stage was to have a separate homeland, and for that the Sikhs must be ready to fight'. There is no corroboration available for this view. In fact, the Sant repeatedly declared that he had no interest in political matters and had not raised the slogan of Khalistan . Firstly, the gurmat camps were not organized by Sant Bhindranwale and the only ones he spoke to were those held within the Darbar Sahib complex.
Secondly, claiming his assertion, that Sikh religion had an identity of its own and was not a sect within Hinduism, to imply political separatism and demand for an independent state is illogical and perhaps mischievous propaganda by the Government and extremist Hindus. Sant Bhindranwale was repeatedly questioned by reporters regarding the demand for an independent state for Sikhs. He explained : 'I don't oppose it nor do I support it. We are silent. However, one thing is definite that if this time the Queen of India does give it to us, we shall certainly take it. We won't reject it. We shall not repeat the mistake of 1947. As yet, we do not ask for it. It is Indira Gandhi's business and not mine, nor Longowal's, nor of any other of our leaders. It is Indira's business. Indira should tell us whether she wants to keep us in Hindostan or not. We like to live together, we like to live in India.' Also :, 'How can a nation which has sacrificed so much for the freedom of the country want it fragmented but I shall definitely say that we are not in favour of Khalistan nor are we against it.' He declared : 'I have given my opinion that we do not oppose Khalistan nor do we support it. We are quiet on the subject. This is our decision. We wish to live in Hindostan but as equal citizens, not as slaves. We are not going to live stuck under the chappals (Mrs. Gandhi's shoes). We have to live in freedom and with the support of Kalghidhar. We wish to live in Hindostan itself. It is the Central Government's business to decide whether it wants to keep the turbaned people with it or not. We want to stay.' There were persons, some of them even close to Sant Bhindranwale , who supported an independent state but he himself was not one of them. Sant Longowal is said to have confirmed that, as late as June 5, 1984, Sant Bhindranwale refused to declare his support for an independent state. He did, however, declare that if the Indian Government invaded the Darbar Sahib complex, foundation for an independent Sikh state will have been laid. This was to emphasize that the invasion would unalterably confirm the Government as an enemy of the Sikhs. The Khalistan bogey was apparently a creation of the Indian Government responding to the clamour of the extremist factions among the Punjabi Hindus.
Getting Support From External Sources
Did Sant Bhindranwale 'receive covert support from external sources'? Raising the spectre of 'the foreign hand' was Indira Gandhi's favourite ploy and it was eagerly accepted by the Indian public which is always suspicious of 'colonial powers'. The accusation was obviously added to other innuendoes against Sant Bhindranwale in order to mobilize public opinion. Responding to an accusation by Indira Gandhi, Sant Bhindranwale challenged her saying : 'If you know that persons from Pakistan come here to see me, you have so large a C.I.D. why are those persons not arrested on their way? Then, they return from here. Why are they not apprehended at that time? If you know that they come to see me then you must be in league with them and they must be coming, getting out and returning with your permission' He further said: 'It has been said from this stage that Indira should resign her office but, perhaps, I am right when I say that only such persons do this who have some sense of dignity. What is the use of saying anything to those who have no sense of shame at all? Occupying such high office, having become the Prime Minister of Hindostan, without thinking, she has herself started to accuse leading personalities. Which court will you turn to for justice?'
Regarding receiving funds from Sikhs living outside India, he told the prospective donors : 'The foremost way of helping the martyrs is that if the congregations in foreign countries collect some money, bring it yourselves. From here I shall give you a car and my driver. He shall take you to the homes of the martyrs. You can give them yourselves whatever you consider appropriate. The second alternative, if you cannot adopt the first, is that I can give you the addresses of all the martyrs. You can take these and directly send help to the martyrs, not through intermediaries. The third alternative is that if you can trust the Jatha and you voluntarily wish to send the moneys to the Jatha - I do not ask you for any money - you may send it. I do not ask for it.' There was nothing underhanded or secretive about this at all. Sant Bhindranwale was a preacher and there was no support for this activity from any foreign government. To Sikhs settled abroad, his advice was to help the families of victims of torture and extra-judicial killings by the police. His enemies interpreted, and continue to do so, this assistance to the victims of government brutality as support of terrorism.
Procuring Weapons For Looting Banks, Jewellery Shops And Individual Homes
Keeping weapons is part of the Sikh faith in which the ideal person is a 'saint-soldier'. Sant Bhindranwale often reminded the Sikhs that, in line with the principles of their faith, they should possess and carry arms and quoted Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's instructions: 'Without weapons and hair a man is but a sheep. Held by the ear, he can be taken anywhere. Listen, my beloved Sikh, this is my command: Without weapons and hair, do not come to my presence.' Sant Bhindranwale explained that a Sikh does not keep weapons for offence or for hurting people: they are only for defence against oppression. He compared the Sikh concept of keeping weapons with a nation's maintaining its defence forces in a state of preparedness. He quoted from Siri Guru Granth Sahib: "When the house is on fire, he (one who did not use his time to prepare for the possibility) goes to dig a well to get water." Following Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's teachings, Sikhs were not to be looking for conflict. However, Sant Bhindranwale reminded Sikhs of Guru Sahib's statement that when all other means of redress fail, it is right to use weapons to fight oppression. Explaining the Sikh attitude towards possession of arms, Sant Bhindranwale expressly reminded his listeners : 'I am strongly opposed to having weapons and then engaging in looting shops, looting someone's home, dishonouring anyone's sister or daughter. With reference to weapons I shall only say that you should bear arms. Being armed, there is no greater sin for a Sikh than attacking an unarmed person, killing an innocent person, looting a shop, harming the innocent, or wishing to insult anyone's daughter or sister. Also, being armed, there is no sin greater than not seeking justice.' This teaching, basic to the Sikh faith, was described by many Hindus as 'cult of violence'. Sinha et al. wrote : 'Bhindranwale wanted to revive an older tradition of armed fight which went several centuries back, and originated in some of the Gurus themselves. This went very well with the archaic outfit of the revivalist movement. It also filled its adherents with the irrational zeal.' After the British occupied Punjab, Sikhs were completely disarmed.
In 1914, the Government agreed that any Sikh could keep a kirpaan as part of his faith. However, for firearms, one had to obtain a license from the local authorities. This practice has continued after India's freedom from British rule. The Indian Government as well as the press have harped on the circumstance that Sant Bhindranwale, on his travels in the country, was often accompanied by an armed retinue. It is not at all uncommon for important persons in India to have armed escorts. All the weapons carried by Sant Bhindranwale and his men were, at one time, duly licensed and he was not breaking any laws. There have been no reports of any of Sant Bhindranwale's escort hurting anyone. On the other hand, the press never protested the fact that the Nirankari Baba travelled with enough armed men with him, that in Amritsar on April 13, 1978, they fired upon an unarmed group of about 100 protesting Sikhs killing 13 and injuring another 78. The 'White Paper' referred to the subsequent Sikh protest as 'dogmatism and extremism'. The Indian Government's solution to the problem was to disarm the victims, instead of protecting them. In 1981, responding to the clamour of the extremist Hindu Press in Punjab, the licenses issued to Sant Bhindranwale and his men were ordered cancelled. In March 1983, after Hardev Singh's murder by the police, the Home Ministry asked the State Government to seize all firearms in the possession of the Sant and his men. When the Sikhs launched an agitation in August 1982, government response to peaceful protest consisted of beatings, brutal torture, and killing in fake encounters of Sikh youth, in particular of those belonging to Sant Bhindranwale's group. Sant Bhindranwale placed the number of persons so killed at 113 in February 1983, about 140 in July 1983 and about 200 later that year. Over 2,000 are said to have returned from police stations as cripples. It was under these circumstances that Sant Bhindranwale asked his men to defy the order to deposit their weapons so that, if need arose, they could defend themselves against the Nirankaris and others who might be bent upon mischief. Much has been made of the Darbar Sahib complex having been turned into an arsenal and a fort by Sant Bhindranwale. Since 1982, extremist Hindu factions had demanded that the Government forces should enter the Darbar Sahib complex and arrest Sant Bhindranwale.
All the Sikh leaders, including Sant Bhindranwale, had made it clear that if the Government invaded this center of the Sikh faith, they would resist with whatever means they could muster. The Government is alleged to have arranged for weapons being smuggled into Darbar Sahib. This influx of weapons was apparently planned to heighten the scale of the conflict in order to justify the killing of as large a number of Sikhs as possible without arousing a national protest against the genocide and also to ensure that after the invasion was complete, these could be shown as having been recovered from the so-called 'rebels'. Noorani states : 'Prem Kumar reported in The Statesman of July 4: "The arrival of light machine-guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles had been taken notice of by various agencies. The information received was so detailed that even the make and the country of origin of the weapons was known...The authorities had some idea of the source of these weapons, mainly smuggled from Pakistan and obtained through thefts and robberies and leakage from Indian Ordnance units... Many may be surprised over the fact that the Central and the State Governments used to receive almost hourly reports of monthly meetings of Akali leaders even when only five or six of the top leaders attended these meetings in the Temple complex. When Sant Bhindranwale discussed his plans with only one or two close confidantes, the information reached the authorities. It is understood that the Government got information about Sant Bhindranwale even when he was confined to the Akal Takht and till as late as June 6." As P.S. Bhinder, former IGP, told Neerja Chowdhury and Shahnaz Anklesaria of that paper, shortly before he quit, "Intelligence information reached the places it should have. It was a political failure." A.S. Pooni, Home Secretary of Punjab, also confirmed that "the Government had a fair idea of the kind of weapons inside the Golden Temple". How did they reach there? In Kar-seva (voluntary labour) trucks carrying food and construction material. "They were not intercepted because there were oral instructions "from the top" until two months ago not to check any of the Kar-Seva trucks", Bhinder told the two correspondents.'
In the history of mankind, whenever a corrupt and degenerate society has felt threatened by moral and social revival, the powers of the day have branded the leaders of such revival as traitors and criminals and so justified their elimination and brutal subjugation of their associates and disciples. These messengers of peace and brotherhood were killed not because they had committed any crime but because they did not toe the line of the rulers of the time. These people were 'inconvenient' because of their popularity and influence with the people. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's martyrdom represents yet another addition to this illustrious list. Sant Bhindranwale was a religious preacher without interest in politics. His mission was to propagate the basic principles of Sikh religion. He emphasized a life of prayer and saintliness and himself set an example for the other Sikhs. He advised Sikhs to possess weapons and to be ready to lay down their lives, if necessary, in the interest of ensuring justice and protection of the defenceless and the weak, in line with the teachings of the Gurus. He insisted that a Sikh should never initiate a confrontation. A Sikh's way is one of love and mercy and not of violence. Sikh response to oppression and injustice had to consist of persuasion, legal action, appeal to higher authorities in the Government, and that a Sikh should follow the tradition of recourse to weapons only as the last resort when all other means had been exhausted. This is the path he followed when faced with escalating state oppression. After the confrontation with the Sant Nirankaris on April 13, 1978, when 13 Sikhs lost their lives to firing by gunmen in the Nirankari camp, all he wanted was that the Government arrest and prosecute the murderers.
After the incident at Chowk-Mehta, on September 20, 1981, in which the police fired upon Sikhs and killed 18 of them, all he asked for was a judicial inquiry into the matter and for punishment of those who were guilty. Upon Amrik Singh's arrest, convinced that this was arbitrary and that Amrik Singh had committed no crime, he sought the intervention of the District Magistrate, Amritsar, through peaceful demonstration. He sought legal redress and found the courts to be powerless in enforcing their judgments; their orders were not obeyed or the victims were re-arrested on trumped-up charges immediately after being released. The news media and the national leadership, instead of checking police brutality, lauded such arbitrary re-arrests and indeed called for them in order to keep the 'terrorists' behind bars. The Government cancelled the arms licenses of the victims and not those of the perpetrators. He would narrate stories of police brutality to news reporters but they, instead of pursuing the matter to bring these to public attention, dismissed them as his 'favourite yarn'. Till the very end of his life, the Sant claimed that he had never used his weapons to hurt any one and complained about police high-handedness. Arbitrary arrest, torture and elimination of young Sikhs was carried on till the Sant felt pushed to the wall and, not getting redress from the higher authorities, the courts, the news media, and the national leadership, told his men to resist because arrest, in most cases, meant elimination in police custody and a faked report of an 'encounter'. The revival of the Sikh religion that Sant Bhindranwale led worried the extremists among the Hindus because it stemmed the tide of apostasy among Sikh youth and reinforced the Sikh sense of religious identity.
The so-called 'moderates' among the Sikhs at first wished to use this immensely popular religious leader to advance their own purposes but later, as his popularity among the Punjab peasantry grew, considered him to be a threat to their hegemony over Sikh affairs. He had to be killed not because he had committed any crime but because too many people loved him and looked up to him for guidance in their misery. Laura Lopez wrote in June 1984 : 'By early this year, it was apparent to her that Bhindranwale had become so popular he had usurped the Akalis' authority, leaving the party impotent in negotiations and fearful of his violent fanaticism. No matter how long she talked to the Akalis, Mrs. Gandhi concluded, they could never deliver on an agreement that would hold while Bhindranwale was alive.' In order to eliminate him, he had to be depicted as a criminal, as the symbol of all that was evil and dangerous for the country. Indira Gandhi's Government, influenced and assisted by extremist Hindu politicians whose support she needed for the next elections, and the polarized news media, carried on a continuous disinformation campaign to vilify Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the institutions he represented and symbolized. He was blamed for everything that went wrong and for every crime that was committed in Punjab.
Government agencies routinely fed the news-media with such 'information'. The Hindu-dominated press and the Indian Government found it convenient to interpret the centuries old Sikh prayer as a call for Sikh supremacy and secession and, therefore, an act of sedition. Sikh possession and carrying of weapons - the Indian Constitution accepts the possession and carrying of a kirpaan by a Sikh as part of practice of his religion - was described as creating tension and terror. Peaceful Sikh protest against public ridicule of their religion was met with bullets. The tradition of peaceful civil disobedience, successfully used against the British by M. K. Gandhi, was regarded as treason when it was used by the Sikhs to press their economic and religious grievances, and met with mass killings to 'teach them a lesson'. At the same time, attacks on Sikhs and Sikh institutions were dismissed as 'natural reaction.' The propaganda was eminently successful. Even though there was no evidence of the Sant having committed any crime, many well-meaning people were misled into believing that he was leading a revolt against the country, that he was a secessionist, that he hated Hindus and encouraged their being massacred, etc., and that Government action against him and other Sikhs was justified. The sensitivities of the Indian people were dulled to the point that they accepted without protest, and even endorsed, the gruesome torture and unlawful elimination of tens of thousands of devout Sikh men, women, and children.
Many Hindus felt the Sikhs had brought upon themselves the misfortunes that visited upon them. If Sant Bhindranwale was indeed the fountainhead of all trouble, Indian Government's success in killing him should have marked the end of the campaign. But it was not so. Sant Bhindranwale was merely a symbol. What needed to be destroyed was the Sikh faith as taught by Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib because it was viewed as a threat to the concept of Indian nationhood that had to be fostered. According to Pettigrew : 'The army went into Darbar Sahib not to eliminate a political figure or a political movement but to suppress the culture of a people, to attack their heart, to strike a blow at their spirit and self-confidence.'