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Cultural Trauma of 1984 and S. Ajmer Singh’s book ‘Ideological Encirclement of Sikhs”

October 1, 2015 | By

Ajmer Singh’s recently published book ‘Ideological Encirclement of Sikhs” (i.e. Sikhan Di Sidhantik Gherabandi) is structured around the concepts of cultural trauma, collective memory and narrative.

Alexander and others wrote in their most important book ‘Cultural Trauma Theory and Applications’:

As opposed to psychological or physical trauma which involves a wound and the experience of great emotional anguish by an individual, cultural trauma refers to a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people who have achieved some degree of cohesion.

Teeje Ghallughara Ton Baad Sikhan Di Sithandak Gherabandi [Title page of Book]

Teeje Ghallughara Ton Baad Sikhan Di Sithandak Gherabandi [Title page of Book]

Alexander and others further explained that any trauma event need not necessarily be felt by everyone in a group or have been directly experienced by all; it is established as an event or occurrence of significant cause by all members of the group. This is known as ‘a trauma process’, or ‘a meaning struggle’ through which a traumatic meaning must be established and accepted by mediation and representation. The meaning of cultural trauma must be understood, explained and made coherent through public reflection and discourse. It is argued that the process of cultural trauma resulted in the collective experience of massive disruption and social crisis of meaning and identity. At this point the links between collective memory and collective identity not only become important but also bring both memory and identity close to ideology.

This elaboration helps us to understand what happened to the Sikh nation during, and in the aftermath of, the 1984 Indian unitary State’s attack on Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib. The ensuing ten year-long ‘Kharku Movement’, a militant revolt against the Indian unitary state, was a direct result of the collective experience of massive disruption and social crisis of meaning and identity among the young members of the Sikh nation. It resulted in the fully fledged military conflict between Sikh militants and the Indian unitary State.


It is a mind boggling fact that the Sikh intelligentsia or elite class of Sikhs remained silent or collaborated with the Indian State during these turbulent years. Those Sikh scholars who openly colluded with the Indian State became the academic tools manipulated as part of the project that was the cultural genocide of the Sikh nation. This project was initiated after Indian independence through which Sikh history, cultural identity, Scriptures, language, grammar, the Gurmukhi script, rituals, festivals etc. have all been destroyed. In the pre-1984 era, the proponents of this project were mostly non-Sikhs and particularly Hindu academic and political elites. M.K. Gandhi, Rabindernath Tagore, and Arya Samaji intellectuals like Gokul Chand Narang etc. were prominent.

In contrast, after 1984 the Indian State used Sikh scholars to eliminate the psychological collective sense of ‘national’ identity that Sikhs had. In his book, Ajmer Singh analyzes this process of psychological warfare initiated by the Indian unitary State after 1984. It is important to note that he covered the pre-1984 intellectual impotency of Sikhs in a previous book “Kis Bidh Ruli Patshahi.” Ajmer Singh declared in his speeches that that “book is only the beginning.” This statement per se revealed that he touched only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ because this phenomena has spread throughout the world wherever Sikhs live, and has impacted these respective societies.

Scholars of the Indian State continue to attack every sign and symbol of Sikh identity which establishes Sikh ‘nationhood’ in the modern sense e.g. ‘Singh’ or ‘Sikh’ name, ‘Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s authority’, ‘Guru Granth Sahib’s supremacy’, ‘Sikh religion’ as an independent religion, Sikh Scriptures, Gurmukhi script and language, institutions like Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht etc. Ajmer Singh’s latest book provides information about the modus operandi of these stooges.

Theoretically this book empowers Sikhs who are conscious about their collective future, by informing them about the strategy of constructing discourse and narrative to control the thoughts of general people of a particular group or nation. The concepts of narrative and discourse are also related with memory and the collective identity. From this perspective, the collectively shaped past not only serves individuals within the collective but also becomes present through symbolic interactions i.e. narrative and discourse. Although towns, cities, buildings and museums reflect the past, they recount, understand, interpret and transmit through language and dialogue. Such dialogues in the form of ‘narrative’ i.e. stories, myths etc. are passed through traditions, rituals, ceremonies and public performances which reconnect a group where membership is confirmed. The groups remembered ‘we’ and exclude ‘they’ as other in this process. This process, when related with nations and nation-states, is further reflected in the dominant and oppressed or subjugated power relations among different human communities and groups. Here the political power is involved because the dominant political elites try to control the selection of what will be represented, that which is forgotten as well as remembered. In extreme cases of powerful occurrences, the process of the control on ‘interpretations’ took a full swing.

Ajmer Singh’s book provides the introductory information about the process to control interpretation initiated by Indian power elites, influencing the Sikh nation’s selection of representations regarding the 1984 Darbar Sahib attack. Large numbers of Sikh academic elites became conscious tools in the hands of the Indian state which initiated a powerful psychological warfare against the Sikh nation.

The importance of this book also lies in the hidden meaning of its narrative i.e. the initiation of the process of cyclical generational memory among Sikhs. This process is also related with cultural trauma, collective memory and identity politics. It is argued that the interpreting events may take time and distance. In the context of cultural trauma, there are winner and losers; the losers, sometimes, may never have their side of the story told. They may wait sometimes even for generations to gain control of the “interpretation of extremely powerful occurrences.” With this book Ajmer Singh has started the process of the generational cycle of memory about 1984 amongst conscious sections of Sikhs contemplating their destiny.

This book has also made Ajmer Singh a partisan of the idea of the “Sikh centric interpretation of the Sikh knowledge system.” He transformed the Indo-Sikh conflict into the ‘clash of knowledge systems’ which further revolutionized the study of Religions in South Asia. He set a stage for the conscious next generations of Sikhs to renegotiate their relationship with dominant Hindu society, with ‘self-determination of the Panth’ as a backdrop. This process should not occur in the ‘fields of sugarcanes’ but through educated Sikh centric organizations and social movements. With this book, Ajmer Singh has cast himself as an ‘avant-garde’ of the Sikh cultural conflict with the dominant Indian community and state, which has occurred through struggles for representation and recognition. He has made certain that the ‘Sikh past will always remain present in every area and arena of this cultural conflict.”

* Author, Jasvir Singh, Dr., may be reached via email at jasvir21(at)gmail(dot)com


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