1984: The Sequel To Mahabharata

Bhupinder Singh Mahal

Things "Rotten In The Kingdom" Of The Hindus

"There is no crueller tyranny than which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." Montesquieu (1742)

Whatever else George Orwell may have had on his mind, his ominous nightmare scenario, of a sort, did woefully translate itself onto the Indian landscape. 1984 did turn the world of each and every Sikh topsy-turvy. Now who would have thought that a year beginning with the promising hope of an accommodation by Mrs Gandhi of Akali Dal's Anandpur Sahib Resolution would in a twinkling melt into a cataclysmic outrage, in early June, at Amritsar, Sikhism's holiest city. As if driving a stake through the heart of Sikhism was not enough, the Hindu citizenry was whipped into a catatonic stupor by the Congress (I) leadership in November and let loose to hunt down Sikhs in the streets and by-lanes of Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, and other towns and cities of India.

Gandhis Tempt The Fates

The Bluestar attack on the Golden Temple, though an unforgivable sacrilege, was mission-specific in that it was directed solely at the Sikh-militants. The plot was the child of communal politics conceived by a vain leader, what the ancient Greeks would have called hubris, i.e. wanton insolence or arrogance. Mrs Gandhi's cannot-do-anything-wrong attitude came to be reflected in her government's excessive ethnocentric overbearance. The playing of the 'communal card' for political gains became the hallmark of her governance. It is, in the words of Ken Ringle, a Washingtonian writer, "the classical temptation of mortals who, finding themselves garbed in the unaccustomed robes of leadership, start imaging themselves invulnerable and so tempt the fates." Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin (Uganda), 'Papa Doc' Duvalier (Haiti), Efraim Rios Montt (Guatemala), Pinochet (Chile), Jorge Videla (Argentina), and in recent times Slobodan Milosevic, and one finds that the Gandhis (Indira and Rajiv) were not far behind in succumbing to hubris by believing that they were uniquely blessed by God and destiny.

More was to come. In circumstances unparalleled, the so-called Indian democracy gave life to a dynastic rule. Power was thrust upon Rajiv Gandhi. He did not gain it by his own merits. Within minutes of being proclaimed Prime Minister, the signs of self-destructiveness in him became apparent when he sat idly by as Delhi burned. As has happened so often in the past, lessons of history are lost on those who try to challenge the gods. History will remember Rajiv Gandhi for his callousness in declaring an open season resulting in the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands upon thousands of innocent Sikhs. 'Ethnic cleansing' may have been introduced by the Serbs to our lexicon, but it was first attempted here in India, in full daylight, with the pay-no-fee-license-to-kill issued by the authorities.

Pathological Narcissism

In her psychological history of tyrants Betty Glad, Professor of government and international studies at the University of South Carolina, says that self-destructive leaders "gain power in part because they are smart or clever, and then start believing they are smarter and cleverer than anyone. Finally, they start to underestimate others." In addition, she says, the more power they gain the "more they lose the sense of limits of that power. And nobody reminds them of those limits." Finally, she says, their record of successes and accumulation of power results in a 'pathological narcissism' - an indulgence in fantasies of omnipotence and vulnerability that leads them to "lose all touch with reality." Whoever else she may be talking about, her words surely ring true for the mother-son team of Gandhis.

Professor Betty Glad goes on to say that leaders "drunk on their illusions wander into situational cul-de-sacs" courting disaster. Whether it is Mrs Gandhi scheming her way into the Golden Temple or Rajiv Gandhi giving the green light to hunt down Sikhs, the self-destructive leaders become a captive of events and will lash out in all directions, seeking scapegoats. Who will ever forget Rajiv Gandhi's penchant for blame-anyone-but-us (i.e. Congress - I), over the 1984 riots, which undoubtedly got reflected in the in-camera findings of the Mishra Commission, which he had himself set up in the first place. According to psychoanalyst Larry Staples, who practices in Washington and Annapolis, there are "three ingredients in the classic cases of hubristic self-destruction : a weak or failed father, a strong and ambitious mother and a gifted son." A psychological profile made to measure for Rajiv Gandhi!

Who's On Whose Watch?

In June 1984 while my brethren lamented the ungodly desecration of the Golden Temple, I remember my outrage to be a bit subdued. I kept on playing cards 'puloo' with my friends. Being all Hindus, they oftentimes made an oblique comment about the Bluestar, the Sikh militants and Bhindranwala in particular. I used to brush off their wise-cracks by saying something like: "are we here to play cards or talk politics." Now do not get me wrong. I was not indifferent to the enormity of the profanity at Amritsar. Rather, I was besieged by contradictory emotions.

A part of me questioned the propriety of the Sikh militants to appoint themselves as guardians of the Sikh quom. Call me na´ve, but I do not recall these militants to have been affirmed, formally or otherwise, to go on a crusade. Apparently, only a minority of Sikhs was openly in favour of the militants turning the Golden Temple into a sanctuary and a launching pad for their campaigns. And, some among these were simply sucked up in the vortex of the storm willy-nilly. A great many Sikhs simply sat on the fence for one reason or another: some by their silence hoped to give the appearance of unity in the face of the Centre's highhandedness; several agreed with the end (greater autonomy) but not the means (terrorism); some did not wish to invite retaliatory physical harm for openly questioning the tactics of the militants; a few did not relish being branded a traitor; and many more continued to live their customary life. These are ones the media and pollsters usually refer to as the silent majority.

Another part of me felt that someone ought to make a stand against the Indian sarkar for its duplicity and repeated breaches of promise. But I was not quite sure of the nature of the stand, nor who should throw down the gauntlet. Nevertheless, I let myself be persuaded, by my then sketchy understanding of Sikh history, to view the Bluestar attack, on the Golden Temple by Indian authorities, to be much the same as the ones carried out by marauders such as Abdali. Yet somehow I knew this episode to be much worse, simply because unlike Abdali, who was a foreigner, Mrs Gandhi claimed to be one of us. It is this, her collateral relationship, which makes the Bluestar assault such a diabolic act, no less heinous a crime than that of fratricide. And, as it has come to pass so often in the past, history was no different this time, proving that the consequences of pillaging or sacking the Golden Temple are equally predictable: Sikh renaissance.

Brotherhood Be Damned

The self-doubts raging within me came to be resolved a few months later. For me, on November 1, 1984 came the dawn. The jarring ringing of the phone in the early morn woke me up from deep slumber. The long distance caller, my brother-in-law, in a voice breaking down, was the first to break the news. He prompted me to switch on the TV at once. And as I walked over to the TV set, dragging the phone, he filled my ear with the gory details of that which he was watching. I switched to CNN for the news. As we have come to know, TV can take viewers live to the hot spots of the world anytime, anywhere, to watch the action as it happens.

Footage of the butchery was beamed into our living rooms from most Indian cities. The graphic images of rape, looting, and torching of homes of innocent Sikhs were seen repeated district after district. Echoes of "teach the Sikhs a lesson" and "khoon ka badla khoon se" (a battle cry for vengeance) reverberated from every alley and lane. A confluence of two accursed events - slaying of Mrs Gandhi and the massacre of thousands of Sikhs - each a tragic circumstance, were to engulf the nation in an unprecedented Hindu backlash against the Sikhs, giving lie to the much repeated slogan : Hindu Sikh, bhai bhai (Hindu - Sikh are brothers).

No one questioned applying the full measure of the law to the assassins of Mrs Gandhi. But this was not uppermost in anyone's mind. Instead, the obsession of the moment of the Congress (I) leaders and their followers was the urgency of setting in motion their murdering machine to punish the community to which the assassins belonged, namely the Sikhs. Such a cold-blooded, premeditated racist scheme did let the cat out of the bag, indicating that Hindu - Sikh amity was after all shallow indeed. Even taking the worst scenario, how can one by any stretch of the imagination dare equate the two events to be a measure for a measure of retribution.

Watching the unfolding exuberance of madness half a world away was nauseating. The American news reporters captured TV images of Hindus indulging in an orgy of schadenfreude, a German word meaning malicious enjoyment of others' misfortunes. Moments earlier the Sikhs had been rejoicing the assassination, doing precisely that which they had accused the Hindus of doing earlier on, in June, during the Bluestar assault. They, too, distributed sweets and uncorked bottles to celebrate the slaying of Mrs Gandhi, brief such as it was. The only difference was that the Sikhs did it in the sight of the cameras, the Hindus did it covertly within their communal precincts. Such polarised behaviour is a further indication of the extent of the erosion of mutual esteem and respect between the two communities.

Sikhs Mourn, Hindus Whitewash

Another caller, a close Punjabi-Hindu friend, asked me not to read too much into the goings-on, which he assured me were the work of the likes of the tangaywallahs. Somehow by pinning the blame on the lower castes, as if they, and only they, are capable of committing these horrid acts, was not only a racist slur but an absurd attempt to shift the guilt. I realise that he was trying to placate my riled up feelings. But surely, I said to myself, for how long can he get away with his outrageous comments since the images of the dastardly acts of bestiality were on the screens of all major networks.

I spoke at length with the only two Sikh yars of mine (close, intimate pals). I also reached out to other Sikhs, mostly acquaintances. Many burst out in tears, wondering about the fate of their beloved ones. They sounded desperate, seeing that they could not get in touch with their families in Delhi, Kanpur, or Bombay because of the jamming of the phone lines. Despairingly, they took shelter in prayers, praying that their loved ones were safe and sound. Still, their grief was tinged with disbelief.

Disbelief at the nature and fury of the savagery and that, too, by friends turning against friends, neighbours; prominent Congress (I) politicians leading a frenzied crowd pointing out homes of their Sikh constituents for unbridled carnage; police laying aside their shield of protection and giving free rein to the cutthroats; and, above all, the self-induced paralysis of the authorities allowing the genocide to go on for days. We tried and tried to make some sense of the nauseating wickedness afoot in the streets of India. We could find no ready-made answers. The tragic irony, which haunts us to this day, is the one of the Sikhs in mourning, while the Hindus go on fishing for alibis.

On that day of infamy the phone did not stop ringing. And it did not take long for me to grasp the polarisation of views along communal lines. It just so happened that my circle of friends, which included a couple of Sikh families, was largely made up of Punjabi-Hindus. Without exception, my Hindu pals put their own spin on the rioting and looting. As if rehearsed, they all recited the same mantra. That is to say, the slaying of Mrs Gandhi by her trusted Sikh bodyguards triggered a spontaneous outpouring of grief which, compounded with rage, became a veritable combustible mixture.

According to Nayantara Sehgal, daughter of Vijay Lakshami Pandit, and a first cousin of Indira Gandhi, "this was no spontaneous or any other kind of grief? It was instigated and blessed by politicians and workers of the ruling party and carried out by squads of their own loyal constituents from the resettlement colonies." When reminded of the slaying of Mahatma Gandhi, which did not provoke any similar retaliation against Godse's people, my Hindu friends had little to say. What troubled me the most were their flimsy but bold-faced attempts to whitewash the villainy, a total absence of any remorse and a surprising lack of empathy.

Friendship : I Hate Thy Flattering Smile

A few days later, as the bloodshed continued unabated, my brother-in-law called me again. Recalling my brief stint as a reporter with a local daily following my high school, he pleaded that I take my moth-eaten pen and raise hell. Immediately, I dispatched to The Gazette (Montreal) my first letter-to-the-editor denouncing the Congress (I) government for being an accessory to the mass murder. Little did I know the chain of events, which that letter and subsequent writings of mine were to unleash.

My wife was the first to notice the change. Our phone suddenly became silent. The usual round of daily calls from her friends, retailing gossip, exchanging recipes, recounting the latest exploits of one's children or making plans to go shopping ceased abruptly. Her calls to her friends ended up as a message on their answering machines and remained unanswered, or the chitchat was all too brief, or their talk was devoid of the usual warmth.

I, too, was beginning to notice a change in the demeanour of my pals but I did not quite put two and two together until one night my wife came out with her suspicions. Only then it dawned on me, that by my dismissing the reticence of my friends to their having an off day, I had missed the writing on the wall. However, I was not alone in experiencing the Hindu backlash. Any Sikh, and there were certainly a lot of them, who dared accuse Indian authorities of being accomplices to crimes of genocide, became unworthy of the friendship of his or her Hindu friends.

I began to find that the parties we were invited to were no longer fun evenings. Be it the people I knew or the ones I had just met, I found myself cornered by them, to be vilified for my writings. Often two or more of them would be talking simultaneously : one may be taking a poke at something I had written recently, while another worked himself into a lather over the latest incidence of Sikh brutality. Almost always the dialogue boiled over.

Here was a bunch of highly educated, middle -aged, middle-income, and middlebrow people, one and all turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to a tragedy in their own courtyard. A tragedy so full of pathos, to make anyone melt in tears. Yet, these upper crust Hindus betrayed no emotions. Rather, they acted in concert to defend the indefensible. Defence they had none. The best they could do was to wander from the subject and try to turn the tables by blaming the Sikh community for all the upheaval in Punjab. They would question the converting of a religious place into an armed fortress, the takeover of gurdwaras by Sikh militants, siphoning of gurdwara funds for the buying of arms for the insurgents, or they would steer the talk toward their pet peeve, the downing of an Air India aeroplane by a bunch of Canadian Sikhs. Compassion for the victims of rioting and looting, if they had any, they kept to themselves. I was, therefore, puzzled by the impenitence and lack of empathy from friends whom I had known for donkey's years.

Sikhs On The Stumps

Meanwhile Sikhs of the Diaspora were coming together for a united effort to persuade the governments of their adopted lands to censure India for 1) gross violations of civil and human rights of the Sikhs, 2) 'fake encounters', aimed at killing of the Sikh youth, 3) promulgating the blackest of 'black laws', 4) refusing to punish those guilty of engineering the carnage; and so on. Sikh activism was on the rise and extended to making their presence felt in the various Indian forums such as NACOI (National Association of Canadians of Origins in India). Because of their activism and Hindu apathy, the Sikhs became a majority in some of the governing committees. Although I mention the Canadian experience, this phenomenon was fairly widespread throughout the Western world.

These forums gave the Sikhs a much-needed voice against the excess of the Indian government. Such criticisms did not sit right with the Indian diplomats, particularly the ex-Governor of Punjab, then Ambassador Sidharta Shankar Ray (USA) and High Commissioner S J S Chhatwal (Canada), who openly scolded the Hindu community for not mounting a counter offensive. Consequently, Hindus tried to muscle their way back into these forums, failing which they created parallel bodies, such as the Association of Indo-Canadians. At the same time, at the prodding and with the help of the various embassies, designated hitters were commissioned from among the Hindu intelligentsia, for the sole purpose of neutralizing any and all Sikh propaganda gleaned from the newspapers and other periodicals. It is amusing and at the same time distressing to witness such an on going civil war among the Indians of the Diaspora.

The Hushed Campuses

"To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men." Ella Wheeler Wilcox

History shows that you can count on the student-body to be first to pour into the streets to demonstrate against any violations of civil and human rights or to protest against any wrongful and unconstitutional actions of their government, wherever and whenever they occur. I clearly remember my marching with fellow students to Trafalgar Square to raise our voices against what has come to be known as the 1956 Suez Crisis. And, who can ever forget the images of the countrywide student protests in the USA of the late 60s and early 70s, which dogged Nixon for most of his Presidency, reaching a critical point after the 1970 killing of US student protesters at the Kent State University of Ohio. At other times students have marched for one cause or another in France, Germany, and Hungary.

Lest it be viewed that student protests are unique to the West, let me cite the Asian experience. No single moment captured on film, at Tiananmen Square, in 1989, when "a courageous young student single-handedly stopped the advance of a tank by standing in its way". The bloodshed in Tiananmen Square did eventually succeed in softening the Chinese communists, symbolizing "the triumph of the spirit over brute force". The Indonesian student protests, which brought about the resignation of Suharto in May 1998, continue to this day to the chants of "reformasi". Student power has manifested itself at other times in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.

Why yes, the Indian students have marched against the authorities. But these protests have never ever been for political reforms or redressing of civil and human rights. It is no secret that their personal agenda has little or nothing to do with the well being of the community. Instead, their protests are usually geared to putting pressure on the University or College Board to change or modify their test papers and the like. It is a crying shame that the students in whose youngness are embodied tenderness, altruism, and humanity should stay put in their campuses while their neighbours are being butchered and their towns and cities are ablaze.

Peddlers Of Falsehoods

"It is a clear truth that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own." James Otis

Whereas the students stayed holed up in their campuses, the media like the proverbial ostrich had their heads buried in the sand. The media were blind to the undisguised violations of civil and human rights embodied in unjust laws (e.g. the infamous TADA) tailored specifically to demoralise the Sikh populace. Enforcers, be they the police or the military, applied vigorously and with relish the full measure of the law. Again and again, the Indian constitution was amended to add series of draconian laws to augment the 'black laws'. Absurdity was quite transparent in some of the stipulations of the law. For example, the word Khalistan was made illegal and any oral or written mention of the word was subject to on-the-spot arrest. Within a span of forty years of the life of the Republic, the Indian Constitution has come to incorporate nearly sixty amendments, a feat worthy of inclusion in 'The Guinness Book of Records'. By using the Constitution as a tool to impose their will on the political scene, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi displayed their utter contempt for the constitution and a mocking disregard for the rule of law.

Except for a handful of concerned literati - Kuldip Nayar, A G Noorani, Arun Shouri, Romesh Thapper, Harji Malik, and the like - who aired their disgust of the tyranny of the majority in their esteemed columns, the media as a whole did not raise a hue and cry. Instead prominent national dailies, like The Hindustan Times, reduced the Punjab problem to one of law and order, defining it by the pernicious labels such as 'us' (good guys) and 'they' (Sikh militants, the bad guys). Never once did the media make an issue of the abuse of power by the Congress (I) leadership for manipulating the Constitution for petty and questionable ends. Instead, they regularly castigated the government on their front-pages for not taking sterner measures in putting down the insurgency in Punjab; and, in some cases even suggesting on-the-spot lynching of rounded-up militants.

Such faulty political perspectives or point of views are problematic, causing valid questions such as : On whose perspectives do the reporters focus ? Is the so-called perspective of choice influenced by media nabobs who happen to be Hindus? Are the points of view a consequence of personal biases of the reporters? Who decides what critical information gets left out? So much for the print media. By comparison the government owned electronic media, the TV network 'Doordarshan', fares the worst simply because it has been turned into a propaganda tool for the government. Post - 1984, Doordarshan's unrestrained flag waving, betraying ethnocentric overtones is, to say the least patently provocative. The media behaviour was just as Sir Thomas Browne predicted : "things evidently false are not only printed but many things of truth most falsely set forth" (To the Reader, Religio Medici). No one tried to copy the example set by Bertrand Russell and Linus Pauling, in the 60s when they inaugurated their newspaper 'The Minority of One' for the sole purpose of disclosing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the Vietnam war to counterbalance the propaganda carried by the general media. Instead, in all the Indian national dailies, false rumours, such as "poisoning of the Delhi water supply", were banner headlines meant expressly to madden the already crazed mob. The truth about the 1984 rioting in particular, and the uprising in Punjab in general, lie buried in the minds of the Congress (I) architects such as Narasimha Rao (Home Minister in 1984), H K L Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Shasrti, Sukhan Lal Sood, Mangat Ram Singal and the like, while the late Rajiv Gandhi and Lalit Makan, of course, took their blueprints to the grave.

Onset Of The Communal Rot

I am mindful of the admonition that no group or community should be tarred with the same brush but the en bloc metamorphosis on the part of the Hindu community, with very few exceptions, did go against the grain. The Hindu community did not "weep with them that weep" nor express any qualms for the wholesale slaughter of innocent Sikhs. Except for a few God-fearing people, no one yelled bloody murder.

Be it the students whose agenda is largely driven by self-interest or the insensitive media with their ask-not-reveal-not policy or the Hindu populace simulating the three monkeys by not seeing-hearing-speaking-no-evil of what took place in November 1984, all of these are an indication of, to paraphrase the Bard, that something has gone rotten in the kingdom of the Hindus. The pathology of this strange discrepancy between reality (suffering no pangs of conscience by collective amnesia of the heinous acts of savagery) and the public image (portrayal of savoir-faire and being all too savvy) requires to be explored. Now I am no psychiatrist nor am I a social scientist but I believe that common sense may guide us to make some sense of this discrepancy.

Build-up Of Hindu Resentment

Hindu indignation at the slaying of Mrs Gandhi is understandable, considering that at that moment in history she had been elevated to a Hindu icon. Many Hindus saw in her the incarnation of the goddess Durga. Her autocratic rule also appealed to the Hindus in general, and the Hindus of the Diaspora in particular, who felt that in order for India to stay in economic step with China the nation required an iron fist. Above all, Mrs Gandhi is a Nehru, a name that conjures up images of an Indian Camelot. Naturally, her assassination came to be seen as a national tragedy, which was bound to plunge the nation in deep sorrow.

That the emotions of some people alternated between grief and rage is also understandable. Rage not only in the manner of her death but also at the betrayal of those who were charged to protect her. The circumstances, which called for voices to be raised for the upholding of the rule of law - arrest, indictment, trial and sentence - a vital prerequisite of a bona fide democracy, went out the window. Instead the national sorrow, filled with rage, was to mutate into an absolute resentment towards an entire community of Sikhs, something unwarranted and without justification or precedence.

Hindu dichotomy did not stop at the socio-political level. Soon it was to spill over into the religious arena. Until recent times Punjabi-Hindus have generally held the Sikh faith in reverence. It was a common practice among Punjabi-Hindu families to have their first-born son initiated as a Sikh; some recited Japuji regularly in their homes; and many went to the gurdwaras as a matter of course.

But all of this was to change after 1984, at least for the Hindus of the Diaspora. Abruptly, the Hindus stopped their voluntary visits to the gurdwara. Now they came only by invitation of a Sikh friend who happened to hold kirtan for some special purpose. Their involuntary presence, so to speak, is obvious in the manner of their humility at the door by not bowing to the Guru Granth Sahib; some wear caps of one kind or another as head cover; some of the women refrain from covering their heads; some refuse to take the customary prasad. Such an ungracious and irreverent attitude by a growing number of the Punjabi-Hindus is perplexing and distressing.

Strangers In Their Own Home

The ideology and attitudes of the present-day Punjabi-Hindu towards the Sikhs will be understood only in the context to their past shared history. The 18th century witnessed the rise of Sikh power in Punjab. Beginning with the campaigns of Banda Bahadur, the coming into being of the twelve misls and the eventual consolidation of these misls into a Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikhs rid themselves systematically of the Mughul lordship to become the de facto rulers of Punjab. A feat untried and unachieved by any other Indians in any other part of India. Incidents of Sikh valour, and their growing suzerainty over Punjab, did not go unnoticed by the Punjabi-Hindus, particularly of the Kshatriya persuasion whom tradition has identified as the warrior class. Cognizant of the sacrifice of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur, in defence of the Hindu dharma, and the burgeoning Sikh power, the Kshatriya Punjabi-Hindu families jumped on the bandwagon to be a part of the historic change that was sweeping Punjab. Thus, it came to pass that the Kshatriya families began the practice of bringing up one of their sons as a Sikh.

The crumbling of the Sikh empire, brought about by a coterie of Hindu Dogras, resulted in the annexation of Punjab, in 1849, by the British. Not long after the British were faced with their first indigenous revolt, known as the 1857 Mutiny. Complaints of 'tainted' ammunition were the chief cause of the mutineers and their partisans made a volte-face by choosing instead to overthrow the British and restore the Mughul, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to the Delhi throne. Much is being made today, by the Hindus, of the use of the Sikh soldiers in quelling of the mutiny. Hindu revisionists are wrongfully equating the mutiny with the Quit India movement - the genesis of which lie in the following century - and, thereby, accusing the Sikhs of treason. By peddling such-like lies, the Hindu revisionists hope to discount history by their specious reasoning.

A little more than a decade later two parallel movements, the Singh Sabha (to wrest the ownership and control of Sikhism's religious places from the Hindu mahants) and the Arya Samaj (a call to Hindus for a return to a Vedic way of life), were to collide to create an even wider schism between the Sikhs and Hindus which continues to this day. The net effect of these rifts has been the constant decline in the initiation of the Punjabi-Hindus into the Sikh faith. By independence day (1947) the conversions had reduced to a trickle; and, post-1984 they have come to a full stop. And worse, were the attempts by the Hindus for taking another swipe at the Sikhs by disavowing Punjabi as their mother tongue. This absurd gesture has backfired on them. Simply because by denying their mother tongue, which forms a big chunk of any culture, they are depriving themselves of their history and heritage.

Though ensconced in Punjab, the love of Sikhs for India is unparalleled. Time and time again the Sikhs have proven their loyalty to their native land by answering the call to arms. Even though their campaigns and sacrifices - from the ouster of the Mughuls, to the British and the containment of Pakistan - by far overshadow those of any other group, and are well documented, yet these are only grudgingly acknowledge, if at all. To understand the import of such obscurantism let us read the mind of a Hindu icon, Pundit Nehru, and what he has to say about the Sikhs in his renowned opus 'The Discovery of India'.

Nehru dismisses Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, in one short sentence : "In the north there was Guru Nanak, who is considered the founder of Sikhism" - as if there is any doubt ! He skips the fateful save-the-Hindu-dharma meeting of his fellow Kashmiri Brahmins with Guru Tegh Bahadur with its tragic consequences : the beheading of the beloved Guru. There is no mention of Guru Gobind Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh earns a mere two paras versus five for Jai Singh (Jai-who ?) of Jaipur (Chapter VI - section XV). Go and look at the Index and one will come across the topic on 'Sikhs' (referenced on five different pages) and the topic on 'Sikh Wars' (with a mention on two separate pages). But if one were to open any of these so-called referenced pages, hoping for some nuggets of material information, one will find nothing whatever. These topics got listed in the Index not because of any context, of which there is none, but simply because of their mention.

If a personage such as the scholarly, Cambridge-educated Pundit Nehru can give short shrift to the Sikh quom, during his journey of discovery, just imagine the thinking and perceptions lesser souls ! As I write this article my thoughts are invaded by the words of a ghazal which are so tellingly applicable to the plight of the Sikhs of today:

Jub gulshan ko khoon ki zarorat parti
Sabh se pahle hamari he gardhan qati
Phir bhi hum se kahate hein ye ahhlay chaman
Ye chaman haramra hai, tumhara nahin

When called upon, we were the first to make the sacrifices. Now that all is well, they say we do not belong with them.

Roots Of Hindu Beliefs

"According to Manu, it is better to do one's duty badly than another's well." A L Basham (Wonder That was India).

Views and beliefs are generally harvested from mythology and philosophy. In his study of the development of modern belief Francis Schaeffer explains how pivotal ideas percolate through the disciplines : first to art and music, then to general culture (e.g. the novel, poetry, drama), and finally to theology. One's beliefs, therefore, are truly the most powerful forces that influence one's existence. They determine "what we perceive and how we perceive it; they even affect the outcome of our actions and the way others perceive us and respond to us." Many of the beliefs are instilled in us as children by parents, teachers, and social upbringing before we are aware of their impact or able to have a choice about them.

Most of the beliefs of the Hindus are derived from the epic Mahabharata and its central theme, the Gita, Hindus proclaim of the Mahabharata : "What is not in it, is nowhere." Editor K M Munshi of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan claims that the epic contains a "code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations." In his preface to Ramayana, C Rajagopalachari writes that "Mythology and holy figures are necessary for any great culture to rest on its stable spiritual foundation and function as a life-giving inspiration and guide." Enshrined in the Mahabharata are heroic characters, tales of chivalry, courage against adversity, loyalty, and honour.

Cult Of Egocentricity

From early childhood we have been taught or had narrated to us selected tales from the Mahabharata and we have been bewitched by its "heroic characters and stately diction." Its ample canvas portrays, as Rajagopalachari puts it : "Bhishma, the perfect knight; the venerable Drona; the vain but chivalrous Karna; Duryodhana, whose perverse pride is redeemed by great courage in adversity; the high-souled Pandavas." Then there are Arjun, the indomitable and Krishna, the divine. But the unmistakable object behind their endeavours, enshrined in their heroic deeds, is the preservation of vested interests or promotion of self-glory or the advancement of the agenda of those whom they love or to whom they are beholden. These are the heroes who project the cult of egocentricity.

In an overview, C Rajagopalachari (affectionately known as "Rajaji"), an incisive thinker, proclaims that the gospel of dharma "like a golden thread runs through all the complex movements in the epic" moulding the character and civilization of India. The cult of egocentricity has thus become imbued in the Indian heritage. And statistics bear this out, showing, that as individuals Indians are prone to make little or no charitable donations for worthy causes. Because of such a lack of volunteerism, a deficit has come to exist in the community-based assets, such as health clinics, food banks, homes for the aged, facilities for the handicapped, shelters for the homeless, and so on. This I-am-alright-Jack attitude may also partly explain their reluctance to take up the fight for a just cause or a just society. Except for a handful of concerned do-gooders, no one is willing to campaign against the ills of society, such as 1) rooting out dowry, 2) abolishing child labour, or 3) weeding out corruption.

Thus, the triumph of the self, rather than the well being of the community, is an underlying characteristic of many an Indian. In a country, such as India, where two-thirds of its peoples live in abject poverty, humanitarianism ought to be the creed. Sadly, such is not the case. Maybe, insensitivity is a consequence of latent casteism. Or maybe, since poverty is a visible component of life in India, a constant and pervasive exposure to it is bound to benumb anyone. Such impassivity is part of the emotional architecture of the Hindus, which may under a given circumstance transform itself into envy and hatred, as happened in November 1984. As Rajaji puts it : "hatred breeds hatred, that covetousness and violence lead inevitably to ruin, that the real conquest is in the battle against one's lower nature."

Vengeance Unlimited

The epic is littered with tales of vengeance, rewards, and punishments. It affirms that whosoever performs tapasiya and / or practices rigorous austerities will persuade one god or another to grant them a boon, a carte blanche to be redeemed for whatever end, good or evil. Several characters at various stages of the epic use their earned boon to punish those who did them wrong. For example : Amba seeks revenge against Bhishma for being spurned; Devayani solicits revenge against Yayati for infidelity; the sage Mandevya by means of a curse turns Lord Dharma into a mortal; Drupada's reprisal against Drona for his wounded pride; Parasurama's curse stripping Karna of his immortality; Lord Krishna's vow to Draupadi to punish her tormentors; Dhanushaksha's settling of accounts with Medhavi for his arrogance and disrespect; Urvashi's curse to strip Arjun of his manhood for a year; and, the tales of vengefulness go on and on.

Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, summed up the epic succinctly when he writes, "it is the folly of revenge that appears to me to be the essence of the gripping yet tragic story? when a warrior's honour is foolishly equated with revenge, and the revenge has to be avenged, and the avenge revenged, triggering a spiral of killings and counter-killings, and no sense of forgiveness breaks the chain, the result is national suicide." Fearing the influence of the epics vengefulness upon the Hindu psyche, the scholarly Rajaji surmises: "the Mahabharata is an ancient story but human nature remains the same. Even at the present-day, anger and hatred afflict and threaten with ruin poor human beings without regard to age or sex or condition." Pondering over the segment on 'Dhritarashtra's Anxiety', he opines that this chapter is "inclined to (make us) angry, it may make us wise and save us from foolishness and crime."

Take It Or Leave It Ultimatum

One particular episode, full of point for us today, occurs on the battlefront at Upaplavya, where the Pandavas were camping. Krishna seeks a peaceful resolution, declaring : "If I could obtain peace from the Kauravas on terms which do not conflict with the welfare of the Pandavas, nothing would make me happier. If I succeed in doing so, the Kauravas will have been rescued from the jaws of death." Three very conspicuous points arise from this intended overture : 1) Krishna is not a neutral emissary but an active participant on the side of the Pandavas, 2) the paramountcy of the welfare of the Pandavas is a precondition to any settlement, and 3) the fate of the Kauravas is preordained, peace-pact or death. Mrs Gandhi may well have leased this page of the epic during her 1983-84 negotiations with the Akali Dal. She, too, was determined that any settlement with the Akali Dal was on terms, which did not conflict with the welfare of the Hindus of Haryana and Rajastan. And, likewise, in the case of the failure of the talks, she had pre-contrived the Bluestar operation.

Moreover, that which 'Rajaji' feared the most - the triumph of one's lower nature - came to pass in November 1984. In that fateful month, the darker myths of the epic, I believe, somehow got filtered through to overwhelm the Hindu psyche by getting translated into : 1) a Hindu leadership that lost its head, 2) the vengefulness of the Hindu mobs to rape, burn, and kill innocent Sikhs, 3) the see-hear-speak-no-evil proneness of a majority of Hindus, 4) the muted silence of the self-absorbed students, and 5) the purveyance of lies by the media.

Reviewing B R Chopra's Mahabharata, serialised Sunday after Sunday on Indian TV, and its impact on the modern day Hindu psyche, Rajmohan Gandhi writes "Unaware of the destruction that revenge wreaks, we are today fighting a dozen Mahabharatas, taking disputes and disagreements to conventional or unconventional battlefields in different parts of India. Rejecting the negotiating table as a dishonourable arena, we kill and counter-kill." Coincidentally, another Mahabharata, with Babri Masjid as its central theme, was in the making to be staged at Ayodhya, Rama's birthplace and seat of power. In his book titled 'The Demolition : India at Cross Roads', Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay of 'The Economic Times', muses "What is the shape of things to come? How long can the majority of this country be made to feast on a staple diet of religious fervour and hatred to the minorities?" In her piece 'India : The Seed of Destruction', Anita Desai warns "To live in India today is to live in a constant state of tension, conscious of the explosive forces building up under a surface no longer calm and likely to erupt at any moment."

Epilogue: Communal Fascism

In his Nehru Lecture at Cambridge titled 'The Threats to Secular India', Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in discussing 'communal fascism' warns that "specific political characteristics that are generally associated with fascist movements (are) certainly present among some of those identified with Hindu extremist politics in India today : the use of violence and threat to achieve sectarian objectives, the victimizing of members of a particular community, mass mobilisation based on frenzied and deeply divisive appeals, and the use of unconstitutional and strong-arm methods against particular groups." In discussing 'militant obscurantism', he states that "Hindu extremist groups have been recently busy reconstructing Indian history; they have made repeated attempts to revise school textbooks to include doctored accounts of what happened in India's past? Hindu political activists have been trying to recreate a mythical past, mixing fact with fantasy."

In reviewing the way Indian politics are, Amartya Sen believes that "the deepest weakness of contemporary Hindu politics lies, however, in its reliance on ignorance at different levels - from exploiting credulity in order to promote militant obscurantism to misrepresenting India's past in order to foster factional nationalism and communal fascism". He goes on to infer that "this basic dependence on both simple and sophisticated ignorance" - in other words gullibility - is a consequence of "the level of elementary education" particularly in the "Hindi belt". The population in the "Hindi belt" of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajastan, according to the 1991 Census, amounted to 336 million out of total population of 838 million (i.e. 40%+). This population will have ballooned to nearly 50% in today's terms. These same "Hindi belt" states elect 204 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Lok Sabha (House of Commons), out of a total of 545 MPs (i.e. 37%+). Thus, Hindi belt's stranglehold over India's body politics is stark staring. Factoring Amartya Sen's anguish of "manipulative reliance on ignorance" of Hindu politics into this telling power-packed demographics is one element which is transforming India into what he fears as a "country of unquestioning idolaters, delirious fanatics, belligerent devotees, and religious murders."


The Price of Power - an Op-ed piece by Ken Wringle of Washington Post
- Quotes from Dr Betty Glad - Professor at the University of South Carolina
- Excerpts from 'Psychoanalytical Theory' by Dr Larry Staples
- 'The Bitter Survival' by Nayantara Sehgil (Express Magazine)
- 'Heritage of Sikh Culture' by Pritem Singh Gill
- 'The Sikh Misals and The Punjab' by Sohan Singh Seetal
- Discovery of India (4th edition) by Jawaharlal Nehru
- Oppression in Punjab by Justice V M Tarkunde
- Frances Schaeffer quote from 'Thoughts, Belief and Action' an essay by Alan Hardy
- Mahabharata (18th ed.) by C Rajagopalachari
- 'Mahabharatas, Old And New' by Rajmohan Gandhi (The Indian Express, July 15, 1990)
- 'Who are the Guilty ?' 1984 report of the People's Union for Democratic Rights and Civil liberties.
- 'The Demolition : India at Cross Roads' by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
- 'India : The Seed of Destruction' by Anita Desai (The New York Review; June 27, 1991)
- 'Threats to Secular India' by Amartya Sen (The New York Review; April 8, 1993)

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