January 31, 2012 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
January 26 is a day of paradox for many Sikhs. On one hand, some proudly celebrate the day as ‘Indian Republic Day’, while on the other hand many of us contemplate the resolution’s passed during the Sarbat Khalsa of 1986.
It was in the aftermath of British conquest that the myth of the Indian nation was engendered. In reality, this newly established country was nothing more than a conglomerate of sovereign nations and territories joined together for the sake of expedience. The people of this newly formed state awoke to a new reality on January 26, 1950 when India’s Constituent Assembly finalized and passed it’s constitution – wholeheartedly imbibing a legacy of colonialism. With this, India maintained a significant portion of British Indian legislation while at the same time codified the imperialistic hegemony of the Brahmin over the oppressed masses of India. Those who celebrate this day, in essence celebrate the slavery of India’s oppressed masses. It concentrated power in the hands of a few bourgeois, Brahmin elite who would ruthlessly wield that power to stoke the fires of communalism1, flirt with fascism, and – when necessary – massacre their own people to serve their own political interests.
The constitution maintained colonial policy which emphasized centralization to simplify the administration of their subjects by the British. These are the same policies which allowed Indira Gandhi to rule the country by decree during the Emergency period, allowed the central government to violate it’s own constitution to divert Punjab’s water resources to neighboring states and – when it suited them – empowered the central government to override Punjab’s popularly elected governments and impose direct President’s Rule.
Despite the resolution passed by the Congress party that “no future constitution would be acceptable to the Congress that did not give full satisfaction to the Sikhs,”2 no heed was paid to the protest of the Sikh representatives who refused to sign the document and staged a walk out of the Constituent Assembly. With Article 25 legally assimilating the Sikh Nation, along with Buddhists and Jains, into the ‘broader Hindu fold,’ all doubt was shattered with regards to India’s dubious claims to secularism. It wasn’t long after that the Anand Marriage Act of 1909, recognizing the separate Sikh marriage ceremony, was abolished and replaced with the Hindu Marriage Act once again confirming the fears that minorities in India would be forcibly assimilated into a unitary Hindu Indian identity.
It was this Hindu chauvinist doctrine that would become the heart of the modern Indian state and would push the Sikhs of Punjab to the edge. After the shameless attempts to deconstruct a distinct Sikh identity; after violating riparian laws by diverting Punjab’s water resources to other states thus crippling Punjab’s agriculture-based economy; and after an all-out offensive attack on the Sikh Nation directly in 1984 and years of brutal genocide in its aftermath – the government gave the Sikh Nation no other choice but to establish an autonomous homeland where the basic rights of the people would be honored and protected.
Recognizing this reality, the Sikh’s resurrected a traditional form of collective decision-making – a Sarbat Khalsa was summoned on January 26, 1986. This monumental gathering regrouped the Sikhs as a nation to weigh recent political developments and to chart their own political future – separate from India’s. As a result, three major decisions were taken at this gathering:
This event was just one example of the overwhelming desire of the Sikhs to secure freedom from India. Over the next few years, Punjab utilized democratic methods to express it’s will and was met with brute force from the Centre. After overriding popularly elected governments and the on-and-off imposition of President’s Rule and Military Rule, Sikh leaders declared an electoral boycott which was overwhelmingly heeded by the people. Less than 20% of the electorate went to the polls in 1992 making the voice of Punjab resoundingly clear – the so-called democratic process of India is broken and is not sufficient to redress the grievances of minorities and the exploited.
Upon his ascension to power because of the boycott of the polls in 1992, Congress Chief Minister Beant Singh and his newly appointed Director General of police, KP Gill sought to destroy Sikh calls for secession. In “Reduced to Ashes,” authors Ram Narayan Kumar and Amrik Singh elaborate how the Beant-Gill tag team decimated the Sikh liberation movement through a simultaneous three pronged approach: silencing human rights groups through killing or imprisoning human rights group leaders; hunting and killing militants by establishing a bounty system; and thirdly by “cleansing the countryside of militant sympathizers” (page 53). Describing how thousands of Punjabis were killed and quietly dumped in canals, the report quotes a formal complaint made by Rajasthan’s government that “the canals were carrying large number of dead bodies into the state… many bodies, their hands and feet tied together, were being fished out when water-in-flow in canals was stopped for repair works (page 53).”
After a generation of Sikh youth was wiped out, after suffering unrelenting state terror and being victimized by the government’s ‘Black Cat’ counter-insurgents, the voice of the people eventually became quiet. The movement and support for Khalistan did not die or end, it has only been suppressed by a fascist government.
This paradox of January 26 absolutely remains relevant today as Punjabi’s go to the polls on the 30th. Not only do they have to deal with the history and reality of a governmental and constitutional set up that has denied them every right and repressed their every protest, but they now look to yet another electoral farce which ignores every issue important to their existence. With no faith in the existing ‘democratic’ system, the people of Punjab are looking for a meaningful way to express their political will and to genuinely take control of their political destiny thereby ending their exploitation at the hands of both the Indian state and the Imperial powers that exploit it’s people.
The Sikh Nation and the people of Punjab have the undeniable right to sovereignty and true liberation, and every attempt of the Indian state and it’s Imperial masters to inhibit the manifestation of this right will only serve to further strengthen our resolve on the path to freedom.
1 ethnicity-based sectarianism promoting communal violence.
2 Minutes of the All India Congress Committee, Calcutta, 1946.
Originally published by: Canadian Sikh Coalition
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