Thursday, June 9, 2016
Business Recorder editorial June 7, 2016
Lingering conundrum The 32nd anniversary of the massacre of militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bindranwale and thousands of his supporters in the Sikh holiest of holies Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 6, 1984 evoked a demand by thousands of marching British Sikhs in London for a UN-led probe into the bloody event that still rankles in the Sikh consciousness even after all these years. The events of that fateful day in 1984 had a background of partisan political manoeuvring and a fallout that went far and deep. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi was persuaded to weaken the ruling Akali Dal mainstream Sikh party in Indian Punjab by surreptitiously supporting a militant Sikh tendency under the leadership of Bindranwale. But as many such manipulators have found (very often to their cost), 'proxies' tend to be a double-edged weapon. All too soon, Bindranwale slipped the leash and started acting with autonomy and even impunity, based on the 'muscle' (and weapons) his followers sported. The culmination of this process was the takeover of the Golden Temple by Bindranwale and company. After a prolonged standoff between the police and security forces surrounding the Golden Temple complex and Bindranwale's supporters inside, Indira Gandhi gave the order to the army for an all-out assault. In the bloody encounter that followed, and given the overwhelming force used against the rebels, Bindranwale and thousands perished, thousands more Sikh youths were put on suspect lists, arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed for supporting an independent Sikh state dubbed Khalistan. According to the protestors in London, many thousands of Sikh youths were also placed on black lists circulated to foreign governments, particularly the UK. What followed the assault on the Golden Temple and the persecution of Sikhs was even worse. Mrs Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards gunned her down, sparking retaliation by incensed Congress crowds on any Sikh they could lay their hands on. The gathering bitterness between the Sikh community and the Indian state and society thus acquired the characteristics of a deep, unhealed wound that festers beneath the surface to this day. Matters have not been helped by the fact that no justice or redress has been made available as balm for the Sikhs' scars. The marchers in London probably gave voice to the silent majority of Sikhs back home in India who may have retreated into a sullen and resentful quietitude. Such catastrophic bloody events cannot just be wished away, no matter how much water has flowed down the rivers of Indian Punjab since. India owes it to its aggrieved Sikh community as much as its widely admired democratic and secular ethos to close this painful chapter through adequately addressing the Sikhs' sense of being wronged. We in Pakistan should in the same spirit revisit some of the gorier events of our own chequered history, first among them the genocide in then East Pakistan in 1971 and the continuing series of military crackdowns in Balochistan. States, especially post-colonial ones, cannot be built, consolidated and prosper if the use of force against dissenting communities is the automatic, knee jerk response. Certainly in the case of the Sikhs in India, our estranged Bengali brothers in Bangladesh and our 'permanent' rebellions amongst the Baloch, there is room for learning the correct lessons from these tumultuous events and arriving at a wiser course for dealing with dissidence and even its militant manifestations. Sometimes wisdom lies more in the use of persuasion rather than overwhelming force (which states of course command). The latter provides the illusion of final victory but obscures the deep fissures it leaves at the heart of states and societies unable to chart a different path of reconciliation, dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflict.