Khalistan Commando Force
Cynthia Mahmood. Fighting For Faith And Nation - Dialogue With Sikh Militants
Well I didn’t have any interest in politics prior to 1988. But when I went
to college I saw some victims of the brutality of the state, and this shook
my conscience. One girl, Harjinder Kaur Khalsa, had come from Australia to
get married in Punjab, and on the way back she was arrested at the airport
in Delhi and was martyred. Then there was a boy, Gurmukh Singh, who was the
captain of the hockey team at my college. He was tortured so badly by police
that he was admitted to the hospital and died on the fifth day there due to
profuse bleeding. It occurred to me then that I should try to make some
changes, some social reform, and change the face of my religion on which
there are many black spots at this time.
“After our college mate Gurmukh Singh died, some of us went to his house to
express our sympathy to his family. We found out that he was the only son.
There were four sisters and Gurmukh Singh was the eldest. ‘When I saw those
little girls crying. I couldn’t understand why can’t the police be held
answerable for these atrocities? My mind was in a state of excitement. Why
shouldn’t it be me who should ask these police why this innocent boy was
“But asking for answers from the police would mean two things. Either I
would be killed like Gurmukh Singh in an encounter, or else they would put
ammunition on me and I would languish in jail for years. So I didn’t do
“I was the best athlete of my college for four years, and I became captain
of our team of girls hockey. I was considered to be a brilliant sportswoman
and an intelligent girl, and I came from a good family, but it was paining
my heart that Sikh boys and girls who were really deserving couldn’t reach
the positions in life they deserved. I saw discrimination everywhere.
“Then by the grace of Waheguru I met one Singh, Gurdev Singh, who was
related to me distantly. He knew that I belonged to a devout family and that
I could do anything I was told to do very responsibly. One day he told he
told me bluntly that there was ammunition that had to be taken to some
particular place. Could I do that?
“I said, ‘Yes, I will do it,’ and Gurdev Singh handed over all the
ammunition. Why did I do this? I did it because I wanted to know as to why
Gurmukh Singh was martyred. I wanted to hold the police answerable for their
crimes and there was no way to do it other then this way. I couldn’t stand
the torturing and killing of innocent boys.
“I decided not to tell my family about this decision to take action, because
I feared they might obstruct my path. I had made up mind to do it, come what
may. And with my fellow friends I wasn’t sure they were as serious as I was,
and I thought they might make fun of me or something. I told nobody what I
was going to do.
“There happened to be two police check posts on the way to where that
ammunition had to be deposited. I was wearing my track suit and I took the
ammunition and hid it under my clothes. When I came to the stand I saw the
brother of a close friend of mine, and he had a scooter. I asked him if I
could borrow that scooter as I had house guests at my place and needed to go
into the village. He said that would be fine, and I took his scooter and
“I was stopped at the first police check post. It’s not a very common sight
in Punjab for girls to be driving scooters, so if somebody does it people
notice it and question it. A policeman said, ‘Where are you going? Where are
you coming from?’ It turned out that they were looking for two young men,
and one of them was in fact Gurdev Singh, who had assigned me this
responsibility. I didn’t tell them anything. just mentioned the name of my
father, who was a respected man in the area. They let me go on.
“At the second police check post the police on duty also knew my father well
and respected his name. So I was not detained there either. With God’s grace
I was successful in getting the ammunition to its destination where it was
received by the Singh's. When I returned back home I felt satisfied that I
had done my work well. I was contented and actually jubilant.
“In this moment of jubilation it occurred to me that if I could be
successful in this, why couldn’t I join my Sikh brothers in direct combat
action? After all, Sikh girls are as brave as Sikh men, and I knew they
always stood by their brothers and husbands in times of need. I knew I was
capable of taking any risk, that nothing could scare or deter a Sikh woman.
I didn’t know of any women, though, who were actually involved in combat.
But I requested brother Gurdev Singh to let me join him in the movement. ‘I
will be with you through thick and thin,’ I said. ‘I am capable of taking as
many risks as you are.’
“Gurdev Singh said, ‘You are a girl, you can’t join us.’
“I realized that to be a girl is really a big sin in India. But through my
repetitive and persistent requests and my bold assertions he finally said,
‘OK, you can be a member of Khalistan Commando Force, but we can’t take you
on any combat actions. I settled for that, but in my mind I knew what I
wanted to do.
They first had me sign up as a member of the Sikh Students Federation, on
November 12, 1988. That was not a banned organization at the time. It became
my routine task to take ammunition from one place to another, and I swear by
God I never had a grain of fear in my mind. I always felt satisfied and
contented after I had carried out my duties.
During all this time, I didn’t mention a word to my family and especially
not my mother. It is a well-known fact that women can’t keep secrets. I
thought that out of fear my mother might mention to somebody that her
daughter has gone on this path. As far as I was concerned, I had taken a
stern vow that I would not allow any police person to touch my body. I would
martyr before I would let anybody come close to me. I was not scared of
death in any way, but I feared that my secrets should come out.
There was also such a climate of terror that sometimes even parents of boys
or girls killed in police actions refused to identify or claim the bodies.
If they did claim the bodies the police would compel them to issue a
statement that their Son or daughter was a terrorist. If the parents made
that statement, even then they didn’t escape the wrath of the police. They
always humiliated and tortured them. That’s why! refused to involve my
family. I was not afraid for myself but I didn’t want to disturb the
peaceful life of my little brothers and my parents.
I began preaching with a missionary zeal to my fellow college stunt. I
started telling them to abide by the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib. My
particular focus was those who had been led astray by the materialistic life
and were not living as devout Sikhs. I preached to them peacefully for some
time, but then I noticed some spoiled boys who were continually giving a
hard time to the college girls. They used to tease them, standing by the
roadside. I decided to teach them a lesson.
“One day, a girl complained to me that two boys stopped her on the path,
chased her, and made her life miserable. I summoned those boys to meet me at
the library, and I gave them a warning. I asked them to desist from what
they were doing, plaguing the college girls. They were adamant, though, and
they said they would do whatever they wanted, and I could do whatever I
wanted to do about it.
“Within the college campus there was a lot of security, so I couldn’t put
any plan into action there. There was a local bus stand nearby, where the
girl who had been teased used to catch a motor rickshaw to get home. I went
there, and saw one of those boys approach that girl and start making rude
comments to her. The girl looked at me in a very piteous manner, so I
decided I had to take some bold action. I walked up to that and Waheguru
gave me the strength to hold him by the collar and give him a big punch on
“That boy fell at my feet immediately. I was wearing sports shoes, and in
the full presence of all those people at the bus stand I went ahead and
kicked him. I beat him so badly that one of his front teeth got broken. He
didn’t even fight back, as I suppose he couldn’t imagine in his wildest
dreams that some girl could hit him and teach him a lesson. It was a usual
practice that girls used to take everything silently. I say firmly now not
only boys but girls, too, were to be blamed for the sad state of affairs.
They took everything too quietly.
“As for the other boy, his companion, he left the area and was never seen
“There was a professor of my college at that time who was a witness to that
whole episode. He came up to me and, patting my back, he said, ‘You are a
brave girl. If you can teach these boys a lesson in front I these people,
you might accomplish a lot if you had proper training.’ It turned out that
that professor was not only the well-wisher of the Singh's but one of them.
He did everything stealthily, and no one knew of his involvement.
“As I was always looking for the right man to guide me, I said to this
professor, ‘Sir, I want to do something. I want to ask for some answers from
the police. I want to know why they are killing so many innocent people.
Please guide me on the right path.’
“That professor said, ‘Well, if you want to just ask that question in an
honest way, in a peaceful way, that simply means that you will be dead,’
“I said, ‘If the police can martyr all these young boys who are a match for
them, I would be just a small prey before them. I am just a helpless girl.’
“Professor knew what I wanted to do, and he told me. ‘On the path that you
are choosing, there is no place for sentimentalism. Even if your near and
dear may be killed. Women are of a more sentimental nature, and it may be
hard to tread this very difficult path.’
“There was a portrait of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, hanging on the
wall of the office where we were talking. I prayed before the tenth Guru and
I said earnestly, ‘Oh, you rider of the blue steed, give me the strength
that I can fight against tyranny alongside my brother Singh's. If I can’t,
then tell me why you gave me so much courage and strength, if you made me a
girl? Why didn’t you make me a boy?’
That professor was very much impressed by my sincerity as a I prayed before
the tenth Guru, and he decided that I was fit to join the ranks of freedom
fighters. He asked me to vow before the picture of Guru Gobind Singh that I
would never be captured alive, that if at any time this somehow happened
would stand all the torture and agony I might suffer but I would never leak
any secrets, I took this vow.
So a simple, naive girl born from a rural spot became a terrorist in the
eyes of the Punjab police!
I became really sick of the way some of these professors who tie big turbans
on their heads, behave in anti-Sikh fashion. Why don’t they have the courage
to stand by the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib? I challenged them on this
sort of thing. What’s the point of all these sacrifices if the consciousness
of the people is not raised?
One day some time later, I was on my usual routine of taking ammunition from
one place to another. I was stopped by a notorious police person who had
earned the nickname Ghotna (‘Pestle’) (Swaran Singh Ghotna) since he was fond of a particular
torture in which a wooden roller crushed the legs of his victims. He caught
me right outside the college complex and said he wanted to frisk me.
“It occurred to me me that if I showed any fear in my reaction then ‘Pestle’
and his companions would frisk me and the whole secret would be out. So I
made up my mind to deal with this situation with boldness. I said, ‘If you
want to frisk me, you have to first show the warrants of my arrest.’ The
police said they didn’t have any warrants but they would frisk me
anyway. Then I asked, ‘Haven’t you read in your police training that if a
girl is to be frisked it can only be done with a woman police present.
Without a warrant and without a woman officer around, you can’t frisk me.
“Hearing this bold response, the police seemed to be shaken. I guess it
occurred to them that if a young girl like me was not afraid in a situation
like this she must have nothing to hide. At that time, I was twenty-one, but
I looked only sixteen or seventeen, as I used to knit my hair in two plaits
like children do, and I always wore track suits and not women’s clothing.
Anyway, they let me go and with God’s grace I reached my destination.
“One of the Singhs there was disturbed when I told him about this encounter.
He said that it could happen again and that I might not be so lucky the next
time. It turned out that it was a Hindu shopkeeper who alerted the police to
watch out for me. The Singhs told me that if I wanted to take revenge on him
it would be OK.
“I thought about this carefully. I thought that I had escaped from ‘Pestle’
with God’s grace, but I might not be safe in the future. So I decided that
some action was warranted.
“When night came two boys, two other girls, and me went out to find the
house of that Hindu informant. I used to tell my parents that times we had
to practice at the hockey field until late at night, so nobody worried about
where I was. But the five of us finally got to Lala’s [shop keeper’s] house.
His family had gone out to attend a marriage ceremony nearby, and Lala was
alone in the house. My four companions went ahead but when I joined them
this Lala looked at me with his mouth wide open in surprise. ‘Oh, it’s you?’
“Why did you complain against me to the police?’ I demanded. ‘The police
were not able to get anything out of me, but now I will tell you who I am.’
“Lala started begging for pardon and crying that I was like his daughter.
‘Forgive me, forgive me,’ he was saying. But I shot him down with my
revolver, with my own hands. That was my first experience in direct assault.
“After that I used to go to a village where the Singh brothers got weapons
training. At first we girls cooked meals for our Singh brothers, but after
some time I felt more free with them and I asked them to give me training in
the use of weapons. At first they refused, but eventually they said, ‘OK,
you are so brave, we are ready to teach you.’ Gurdev Singh, that boy who had
originally involved me in the carrying of ammunition vouched for me and told
about all the risks I had already taken and the difficult situations I had
already been in.
“I was thinking about that shooting of Lala, too. I thought that if only
every Sikh girl punished people who were responsible for other crimes, then
our objective of an independent nation would come sooner. I also saw that
the boys who were with us reacted to my bold action with appreciation. I
thought that it must have given them a boost in confidence. If girls could
be so brave, then they could they could even be more brave, they probably
“In our religion there is equality for women. But if the woman is not
courageous, then why should she blame the man for not giving her equality?
It should be that if the man takes a step ahead, the woman should be
courageous enough to take two steps ahead. With baptized Sikhs, I am
confident that women don’t face any real hindrances. If they believe in Guru
they get the respect and dignity they deserve. And those Sikhs sitting
behind and not joining in the struggle, they may get inspired by the
participation of the women to come forward and fight for liberation of
“One of those boys with us during the killing of the informant Lala was
Manpreet Singh, who attended Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. He was
killed by the police two or three months later after severe torture. They
threw his body in front of Lyallpur Khalsa College in Jallandhar. Since he
was our comrade, we wanted to hold a continuous recitation of Guru Granth
Sahib after seeking the permission of the college administrators. But the
Jallandhar police didn’t permit us to hold this recitation for the peace of
“We were determined to hold this function in our comrade’s memory, so we
started the ceremony right on the roadside. A big traffic jam developed as
we recited the Guru Granth Sahib. There were long lines of traffic on both
sides of the road. Finally a police official came by and agreed to let us
have the recitation inside the college complex. I realized then that there
were two sets of laws in this country, one for Hindus who can hold their
ceremonies anyplace they like, and another for us, who can’t even
commemorate the death of one of our young boys. The clear message is that
this country doesn’t belong to us.
"During all this time my name became known in various districts. We used to
hold meetings of the Sikh Students Federation in our home under the guise of
celebrating the birthday of one of my relatives or friends. My parents
thought that since I was in college it must have become a fashionable ritual
for us to celebrate so many birthdays in this way. No one knew what the
meetings were really about.
The same notorious police officer, 'Pestle,' used to patrol that area and he
stopped me again one time. I can only say that with the grace
of Waheguru I had nothing on my person that time. There were two lady police
officers with him, though, and I thought they were perhaps
jealous of me because my reputation had spread and they themselves had
rather missed that opportunity. Those two lady constables used to be
assigned to stay at the bus stands so that girls should not be harassed, but
nobody ever listened to them. Rather, girls who felt
afraid would call my name, and the boys who were bothering them would run
My brother Singhs found out that it was again a Hindu informer who was
responsible for 'Pestle' picking me up. After I was released on the word of
one MLA who knew that I was the leading student of my college, I made up my
mind that this kind of informing had to be stopped. This rich Hindu would
have to pay the price of being an informant against me.
"We reached this Lala's home at about midnight. The whole family had gone to
sleep. Again there were five of us, three girls and two boys.
We huddled all the family into one room and warned them to keep quiet, and
we brought that Lala into another room. We made him sit in a chair
in the front veranda. Actually it was the four of them who did all this, as
I was standing somewhat behind. Then my companions called me
loudly and I appeared on the scene. I looked at this Lala and I said, 'Look
at this lady. You want me to be arrested by the police?' He
promptly said, 'Oh. I have not reported against you to the police.' I said,
'Well, you told the police that I was a dangerous girl, and now you are
about to find out for yourself just how dangerous I really am. ' My
companions tied him to this chair with a rope, and I shot him down.
"The next day at home, my mother mentioned to me that freedom fights had
killed that rich Lala from Tarn Taran. I kept quiet, but in my
heart I was happy that I had accomplished this mission and nobody had caught
wind of it.
"On Monday I went back to college, and I got the impression that the boys
and girls were looking at me in a different way. In my dreams I started
getting a vision of unidentified bodies at a crossroads, and I saw my own
body among them. I was haunted by all this. I thought about how it is a
known fact of history that brutal governments try to destroy the youth of a
nation so that nobody can challenge them. And I thought about how sad it is
for us girls, too. No matter what righteous path a girl might follow in full
sincerity, she is always looked upon with suspicion or contempt. Today
people hail that Tamil girl who killed Rajiv Gandhi, but tomorrow if I
should accomplish such a thing people might scold my parents for not
bringing me up properly. In the case of women you can never tell what the
reaction might be. I was disturbed by these thoughts.
"Eventually, I slipped out of the country and went to the Middle East. It
was my commitment to my family that made me feel restricted as to what I
could do for the Sikh nation. They never knew what I was involved in, and I
didn't want to bring any harm or shame to them. Other members of families of
freedom fighters have been tortured and killed by police, even their distant
relatives. I was constrained by this thought, and eventually I left.
I know that whenever my Sikh nation will really need my help, however, I am
capable of breaking all these shackles that bind me. If need be I will break
them. I will be back there in a second with a gun in my hand, and no one
still stop me."