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[Op-ED] An Explicit Sikh Defiance Pervaded At ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ Gathering

November 13, 2015 | By

The 10th November (2015) assemblage (congregation)–hailed as ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ (entire Sikh community’s representative gathering) by its organizers– in the vicinity of the [Darbar Sahib], Amritsar was an explicit defiance of the Sikhs to the state authority in its tone and tenor. Kesri turbans (cultural symbol of sacrifice) seemed to overshadow the traditional blue turbans at the sprawling venue at an interior village, Chabba ,two kilometers away from the main road where more than one lakh Sikhs, mainly youths, assembled, excelling the official estimates, pegged at maximum twenty thousands only. And, It was the spontaneous outpouring which marked the continuous momentum of last month’s Sikh protests against the Akal Takht Jathedar’s move of exonerating the Sirsa Dera head, the incidences of sacrilege thereof to be followed by police firing resulting in the killing of two young men. The participants looked ferocious and restive with a large number of rebellious youths were seen carrying traditional arms like lathi, sword, spear and ‘gondasa’. And, the budding Sikh youth seemed to have discarded the ‘dread and fear’ which stalked the earlier generation subjected to a mind-boggling bout of state-terrorism in the name of curbing the Sikh terrorism in 1990s.

A view of gathering at Chabba village during Sarbat Khalsa 2015 samagam on November 10, 2015

A view of gathering at Chabba village during Sarbat Khalsa 2015 samagam on November 10, 2015

And Sarbat Khalsa’s declaring Jagtar Singh Hawara, the killer of Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, as the Jathedar of Akal Takht (Supreme temporal seat of the Sikhs) in place of the government appointee and incumbent Gurbachan Singh, was an indication of emerging a fresh challenge to the state authority. That announcement generated a long thunderous applause from the audience signaling rejection of the ruling Badals-led Akali party’s claims of being the ‘real representatives’ of the Sikhs in religious and political affairs. The naming of convict Hawara, presently lodged in Tihar jail, Delhi as the Jathedar, in a way, amounted to a derisive mockery of the New Delhi authority’s claims of having crushed the ‘Sikh terrorism’ by restoring the democratic polity in Punjab with Beant Singh as the chief minister in early 1990s. But, a ‘shadow Indian military state’ that operated unrestrictedly under KPS Gill’s command behind the façade of ‘the democracy’ had left an indelible print on the Sikh psyche which seemed to have found a vent in projection of a rebel Hawara to a supreme Sikh stature. As an act of retribution, the gathering declared General KS Brar, in-charge of the military attack on [Darbar Sahib] in June 1984, former Punjab Police chief KPS Gill as ‘tankhahya’ (guilty of religious misconduct). Though it meant nothing for both the former state functionaries ,presently living under heavy state security protection, but this symbolic act shows that their ‘treacherous roles’ is still not acceptable to the Sikhs.

Pertinently, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale memorabilia was a hit there with a number of youths seen wearing T-shirts with slain leader’s face along with pictures of General Subheg Singh, a celebrated Indian military general who had, later, felt disgraced by the authorities and joined the Bhinderanwale ranks and fought against the Indian army during Operation Blue Star. Hoarding with larger-than-life picture of Bhindranwale stood at the entry gates and also along the two-km route to the venue. And the brisk sale of Bhinderanwale’s posters, calendars and literature depicted the presence of his ‘Derridian spectre’ (spirit) everywhere and it has become the part of the Sikh religious lore. Hoardings depicting November 1984 anti-pogrom, on the display also presented a terse reminder to the Sikhs that ‘since they are belonging to a beleaguered minority need not to be complacent’. The present successor of Bhinderanwale and heading ‘Damdami Taksal’ was, however, equally jeered at in hoardings for his siding with the ruling Badals.

The ruling Badals were the target of ‘vitriolic hate’ presently stalking the Sikhs in Punjab and the speaker after speaker lambasted the rulers for capturing the SGPC, an elected body that manages the historical Sikh shrines and controlling the institution of the Akal Takht . The speakers equated the Badals with ‘Massa Rangar’ a Lahore Durbar nominee whose name has assumed ‘devilish distain’ among the Sikhs for his seizure of the [Darbar Sahib] and staging of debauchery there during 1750s. Shrill cries came from the gathering that the [Darbar Sahib] should be liberated from the Badals as much respected Sikh hero, Baba Deep Singh did in 1757 by leading a march from the area of that venue (village Chabba) and laid his life fighting against the Afghan regime.

But the seamy side of this spectacle was that it did not convey a requisite political message to the Sikhs on how to advance for ending the corrupt and inefficient regime of the Badals. The Akalis rose to power with a promise of offering a solace to the sullen Sikh community, groaning under reign of ‘state-terror’ at the turn of last century. But once Akalis entrenched, they too slipped into the previous regime’s mold. The self-serving Badals’ party aligned with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) also ran a New Delhi’s copy-cat rule having an agenda of building a strong centralized nation-state system which smothers distinct identities and cultures into a homogenized citizenry. Naturally, a threat to the Sikh identity remained as potent as ever. And in due process the Akali party also lost its regional edge paving way for the return of the old governor rule- like bitter feeling among the Sikhs when a New Delhi sponsored police-bureaucrat nexus ruled the roost.

Punjab’s de-facto chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also president of the ruling Akali Dal prefers to act as a CEO and has retained– rather protected and strengthened– the same police network which had gone to enact whole-sale repression in Punjab and resorted to extra-judicious killings with impunity.

Some unpleasant developments are continuing to roam around. Keen observers feel that some fringe political Sikh actors aligning with redundant political leader Simranjit Singh Mann have exhibited a tearing hurry in calling ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ to secure immediate political gains . And they ignored genuine Sikh preachers like Panthpreet Singh and Ranjit Singh and other opinion leaders who had mobilized the Sikhs on the sacrilege issue and had brought the Badals rule to a grinding halt .Observers also argue that the congregation should have been held at the Akal Takht within the [Darbar Sahib] complex as per the Sikh traditions. The organizers’ choice of staying away from that central Sikh stage amounted to giving some sort of ‘concessions’ to the Badals. Many of them view the organizers’ move as an outcome of the latter’s tactic understanding with the Badals, presently facing boycott from the community.

Anyway, the perturbed and agitated Sikh community with their accumulated rage against the Badals ‘misrule’ did not bother about the credibility of the organizers and other nitty-gritty offshoots. For them the march to the Sarbat Khalsa was irresistible.

The Sikh community is in turmoil with floating rumblings in the air that the organizers do not match the expectations of the Sikhs and may fail to lead them. On the other hand, while the Sikhs are continuing with their protests and observed “black Dewali’ on November 11 in Punjab and outside there are attempts to replace the Akal Takht Jathedar and other government’s religious nominees. As usual, the ruling Akalis are asserting their authority by retaining the incumbent Jathedars and SGPC chief in position and using state police machinery to turn the situation to their favor. Ruling Akali leaders are still afraid of facing the Sikhs, ironically in their base area of the villages.

With Prime Minister Nerendra Modi and their alliance partner NDA regime is weakening , the Akalis will find difficult to use force and resist the pressure of the Sikh community.

The Sikh community on the other hand, is too undergoing a churning process and searching for the genuine leadership in their intertwined religious and political sphere. End

About Author: Jaspal Singh Sidhu, a journalist and author and could be reached at e-mail: [email protected]


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