October 06, 2009

Martyrs

"Welcome dears," says the sign opposite where I hand in my shoes. "For more knowledge about the Sikh religion, please visit Central Sikh Museum at the main entrence [sic] of clock tower side."

I went to that Museum on my last visit here, three years ago. Not much could have changed -- not the gory paintings, not the memories of a bloody history, not the martyr's gallery. Yet I went again now, drawn there again now, only to see again now what I could scarcely believe then. What left me conflicted and disturbed then.

This time I walked past most of the gory paintings. Walked straight through three halls filled with them and dozens of other portraits. Walked right up to the spot. Not much has changed. Just as I remember.

On my left, a handsome portrait of Shahid -- note, Shahid, meaning martyr -- Bhagat Singh, in shackles in his British prison, awaiting his fate. Below him, photographs of the mangled and bloodied faces of thirteen men who "sacrificed themselves to up keep the dignity of the Holy Book" on April 13, 1978. On the wall in front of me, a reverential portait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Immediately in front of me, an artist's rendition of "Sri Akal Takht after Military Attack, 6 June 1984".

That is, at the climax of Operation Bluestar, when the Indian Army assaulted this ground holy to Sikhs to defeat armed men who had holed up here.

Below it, in tiny fading English letters, are these lines:

"Under the calculated move of Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, Military troops stormed Golden Temple with tanks. Thousands of Sikhs were massacred. Sri Akal Takht suffered the worst damages. Sikhs rose up in a united protest. Many returned their honours. Sikh soldiers left their barracks.

The Sikhs, however, soon had their vengeance.
"

I feel the same frisson of unease I felt three years ago, as I absorb that last sentence and as my eyes now move right. There are three portraits there, all the same size as Bhagat Singh's. These list only names and dates, no short explanation in English as most other portraits have warranted. For these, the explanation is only in Punjabi.

These are those names and dates, copied verbatim off those portraits:

Shahid S Beant Singh Ji, 1949 to 31 Oct 1984
Shahid S Satwant Singh Ji, 1967 to 6 Jan 1989
Shahid S Kehar Singh Ji, 1940 to 6 Jan 1989

You know these three men. Note, again, Shahid. All three times.

She has plenty to answer for, Indira Gandhi. I mean, my feeling is that a great number of our myriad seemingly intractable problems can be laid at her door.

Yet she was, when assassinated, India's Prime Minister. To look up at her killers accorded the same reverence as Bhagat Singh, mentioned and portrayed in exactly the same way, is to ask some serious questions about martyrs. About terrorism. About freedom and those who fight for it. About nationhood. About what all those so easily-used words mean. About India.

The questions leave me, all over again, profoundly disturbed.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sad...

People seem to lose logical reasoning when it comes to religious matters.

Please keep writing.

Kshitij

km said...

Great post. Thanks for blogging this.

(Not one mention of this museum in any major/mainstream Indian publication? Shame on them for ignoring such a fascinating news item.)

Chandru K said...

Any freedom movement in the 20th and 21st centuries has to be progressive and inclusive, to be legitimate. The Khalistan movement, as well as the Kashmir and Assam have to rank as some of the most brutal, sadistic, criminally minded excuses for a 'freedom struggle' that took place in the last 5o years. No reference to democracy, pluralism, tolerance of internal dissent; no vision of a more democratic and secular society than the one they were struggling to free themselves from. The Indian independence movement and the anti-apartheid struggle, as well as most anti-colonial, anti-authoritarian movements in the last century did have such a progressive basis. Even if a few of the anti-colonial causes degenerated, at least on paper they were progressive. They were premised on more, not less, freedom and democracy than the entity from which they were freeing themselves.

Kavi said...

As i read this i thought you must be kidding !

This is unbelievable. I am sure sentiments were hurt. And find the massacre in Delhi appalling.

And i find this appalling too.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to get Sidhusaaheb's opinion on this.
Thx,
Jai

Mai said...

Indira Gandhi was found guilty of crimes against humanity in the form of crimes against the Sikh people/nation.

She was executed by the Three Kings, Shaheed Beant Singh, Shaheed Satwant Singh, and Shaheed Kehar Singh (who did not actually shoot her, of course.) The shaheeds saw that avenging the attack on Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) where hundreds or thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered was a religious duty. They were killed for doing their duty as Sikhs, hence they earned the honoured title of "Shaheed."

Note: Not all Sikhs agree with the above analysis, but many do.

HyperActiveX said...

As I've observed before (and will continue to point out at each such instance) - faith corrupts and absolute faith corrupts absolutely. The line between martyrs and terrorists is as thin as the line between patriots and chauvinists. This is where (and why) the ideal of 'commitment to a cause' shows its weak underbelly. We've had enough of people who act out of conviction. We need people who can reason, and who question themselves often enough.

Anamika said...

This is indeed upsetting. Thanks for letting us know.

Anonymous said...

I was disturbed by your post as well. Made me think "what a fragile union of people this country is". Also took my mind back to 1984 banality and how then as I child, I thought of it as a distant happening, that operation bluestar was only for killing terrorists within the temple, that innocents were protected by army. Information from postings on net(one of which is Mai's) make me think differently now. That a state presided over a pogrom to terrorize and tyrannize just the same as what happened in Gujrat 2002. Even if this head of the state were not culpable in what actually happened I understand that the guilty have not been punished, that justice is a far cry.
In such a situation I believe that a people can choose to write a history that is different from that of the state that terrorized them and then chose to ignore cry of justice. That they can choose their martyrs very differently from us! If we cannot accept their outrage in every sense, we cannot understand the hurt and the sense of justice that must have been delivered by the men who killed IG. For if at all, IG and the country cared, justice for them would not be so far from coming and then perhaps so many sikh would not look to IG's killers as martyrs

Anonymous said...

Dilip, the best answer to this dilemma of your's is provided by Humphrey Appleby ( to quote him once again)...

"They (public) have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity."

globalbabble said...

What I am curious to know is exactly how many civilian Sikhs were killed during the Operation Bluestar? Figures always vary vastly - from hundreds to thousands? What is the best source for such figures that you can trust?

Sidhusaaheb said...

Look at the contrast.

1. Three men shot dead one person i.e. the Prime Minister of India and they were tried and hanged to death for that.

2. Some men got 4000 innocent people killed in the most brutal manner possible (hacked to death, burnt alive, among other methods).

These men have not only never been punished, but they have been rewarded by being elected to venerable institutions like the parliament of India. Some of them have been rewarded even more by being made ministers in the Union Government.

So, which of the two do you find more disturbing, Mr. D'Souza?

@Jai: I hope the above serves to satisfy your curiousity.

@globalbabble: I suggest that you take a look at Brahma Chellaney's reports.

To quote from the New York Times:

"A warrant is out for the arrest of an Indian journalist who provoked displeasure by doing his job too well. Brahma Chellaney of The Associated Press was in the Punjab last June when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the attack..."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/23/opinion/truth-on-trial-in-india.html

Please also see:

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/11/24/world/indian-police-question-reporter-on-amritsar.html?n=Top%2FReference%2FTimes%20Topics%2FSubjects%2FN%2FNews%20and%20News%20Media

and

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/12/01/world/around-the-world-editors-group-bids-india-drop-reporter-case.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/M/Media

Sidhusaaheb said...

@globalbabble:

Please also see http://www.nytimes.com/1985/09/19/opinion/topics-on-shaky-ground-case-closed-in-india.html .

Sidhusaaheb said...

The article at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?208496 should also be of interest.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Glad to see what I hoped to see: some discussion about this exhibit.

From probably about 200 yards away from the exhibit still, let me attempt some responses.

Sidhusaaheb, I hoped you -- of all people -- would understand what I'm getting at here. You know my thoughts on 1984 well.

It's not about what I find "more disturbing". To me the massacre of a few thousand innocent Indians in Delhi in 1984 is a crime, an attack on India, no less than the assassination of a Prime Minister is a crime and an attack on India. That nobody has been punished for that massacre, 25 years on, is exactly what disturbs me. That we instead let the accused in that massacre become MPs and ministers and so on is exactly what disturbs me.

Because as I stand in front of that exhibit, I wonder what happens to a country that must live with these contradictions. What is the difference between calling the killers of Indira martyrs, and calling the killers of Indians in Bombay in 1992-93 patriots and defenders of a faith? I can see none. Yet if the first makes some of us gasp, plenty of us will nod their head in approval at the second. Why?

What disturbs me is the thought that indeed and truly, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. That's the lesson of that exhibit. I don't know that I can articulate it more clearly than that.

HyperActiveX (good to see you here!): I don't know that I'd go so far. I think we will always need people with conviction. But they must couple conviction with the second point you make: the willingness to reason and question.

Anonymous said...

What disturbs me is the thought that indeed and truly, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
The tragedy of this is that this need'nt have been true in India and yet it is and will remain so.

Chandru K said...

"What disturbs me is the thought that indeed and truly, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."
'The tragedy of this is that this need'nt have been true in India and yet it is and will remain so.'

Why should the issue be framed in this manner at all? Who said the rioters in '84 or '93 were freedom fighters. Bitter, angry, resentful, suspicious, retaliatory.. but not real freedom fighters. The Khalistanis and Kashmiri separatists claim they are freedom fighters, so their movements are going to be, or should be, judged ideologically, for what they set out to accomplish and establish. If the methods and ideology are not gearing toward more democracy, secularism and pluralism than what currently exists, and if they do not permit internal dissent and criticism, it's not a freedom movement, much less a progressive freedom movement.

Anonymous said...

Dcubed

I love words like "assassinate"

An acquaintance of mine once told me emphatically, "Nathuram Godse ne Gandhi la marla nahi. Tyana tyacha vadh kela"

I fail to see the difference. Do you?

-Baby V.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Baby V: At least in my mind, words like "murder" and "massacre" carry the weight of the messy, horrible thing that is killing another human being. Somehow "assassinate" aspires to a gravitas and dignity, free of that messiness. Because we use it to refer to the murders of important people, so we can pretend to ourselves that those are more important murders than, for example, the massacre in 1984.

There is no difference. Your acquaintance, you don't need me to tell you, was simply an apologist for that murder. Not too different, for example, from other apologists who will try to explain away a massacre by saying it was "a reaction".

Anonymous said...

>> Who said the rioters in '84 or '93 were freedom fighters.

you, mr ck. ok, not "freedom fighteres", but even in this sentence you wont' call them what they were - which is terrorists and killers.

so lets' modify what dcubed said to "one mans terrorist is another mans rioter". now it fits you perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above wrote :- "one mans terrorist is another mans rioter". now it fits you perfectly.

Its right. I never thot of it like tht. Chandru, why dont u call them terrorists?? And how r u diffrt from Osama who wont call his killers terrorists?

Chandru K said...

ts right. I never thot of it like tht. Chandru, why dont u call them terrorists?? And how r u diffrt from Osama who wont call his killers terrorists?

And why don't you stop bringing up 1984 and 1993? In the last 2 days, India has experienced 3 terrorist attacks: a cop beheaded in Bihar, 16 policemen killed in Gadirocholi today, and a blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, again today. Let's focus on these terrorist attacks and not say "What about 1984". If the rioters of 1984 are rioting again or threatening to, by all means.

Anonymous said...

>>why don't you stop bringing up 1984 and 1993?

What n interesting comment.

On Oct 6 734pm, u put up a comment on this page talking about Khalistan movemnt, with full detailed remarks abt it. Oct 8 1253am, u mention the "rioters in '84 or '93" calling them "Bitter, angry, resentful, suspicious, retaliatory."

but when I ask u why u call them rioters and not terrorists, u suddenly are asking why I dont stop bringing up '84 and '93!!

Why wont u call them terrorists, chandru??

It is because one mans terrorist is another mans rioter. I call them terrorists, u call them rioter. Point proved, qed.

Anonymous said...

also, why did u bring up '84 and '93 urself? If u dont want others to bring them up??

(same anon as above).

Chandru K said...

Well I brought it up because it seems to be a repetitive topic on this blog, even when there are terrorist attacks going on practically as we post messages! In the last few days, India lost 17 people in Bihar, another 17 today in Gadirocholi, and almost suffered a major disaster in Kabul, at the Indian embassy. Let's focus on these incidents, and not on the terrorist-rioter dichotomy.

Anonymous said...

>> In the last few days, India
>> lost 17 people in Bihar, another
>> 17 today in Gadirocholi, and
>> almost suffered a major disaster
>> in Kabul, at the Indian embassy.
>> Let's focus on these incidents,
>> and not on the terrorist-rioter
>> dichotomy.

but In 1984 Novembr, India lost 3000 ppl in Delhi. Did u evr focus on that incident?? u wont even call those killers terrorists, u insist on saying "rioter"!! n when u r asked, u say "why r u bringing up that incident"??

Pls answer this only one question: why wont u call them terrorists??

Mai said...

As 31 October approaches, I have changed my profile picture to honour Shaheed Beant Singh. I am posting it here just to annoy some of you, if Dilip D'Souza doesn't moderate this comment out of existence.

BTW, IG was not assassinated; she was executed.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Speaking of the approach of 31 December: I think all of us Indians should remember that day as the beginning of the worst act of terrorism in Indian history, one that we remain unwilling to deliver justice for.

3000 of our fellow Indians slaughtered, a quarter century ago.

Personally, I'm dismayed at myself for not completing what I began here (and in fact the rest of that blog).

Maybe I'll use the 25th anniversary to spur myself on.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Pls answer this only one question ...

I see we have one more valiant and persistent soul trying to extract answers from the Master Wiggler.

Good luck, sir.

Mai said...

3000 Indians and 2 Canadians. I would be honoured if you would add Mani Singh and Sandeep Singh to your list. As I said they were not Indians, but they do deserve to be remembered, if only as guests treated inhospitably on a visit.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Incidentally Mai, it doesn't annoy me.

Or, more correctly, it doesn't annoy me any more or less than our propensity to hail other killers as patriots, or turn them into Ministers, or confer exalted titles on them for their deeds.

Dilip D'Souza said...

And sorry for the flood of comments, but of course a couple of comments above, that "December" should be "October".

Suhas Ashtekar said...

Chandru -- "today in Gadirocholi ..."

If youre so outraged by this, do us a favor and at least get the spelling right, okay? I have family roots there. It's annoying that you wont even care to get the name correct.

Its "GADCHIROLI". I'll even spell it for you -- "ga-adha-chi-ro-li". Thanks.

Chandru K said...

Okay, I will spell it correctly-Gadchiroli. There was a particularly heinous attack that killed 17 policemen and one civilian 'informer' who was beheaded. It happened yesterday, not 25 years ago. If you take all the Naxalite killings over the years, they certainly add up to over 2700. And they are going on now. The rioters of 1984 are not killing anyone now, although we can always speculate about the next riot. But the Naxalite violence, and the Indian embassy bombing are not a matter of speculation. They did occur-yesterday. And to answer someone's question, yes I was aghast at the killing of 2700 people- back in 1984.

Harpreet said...

>> not a matter of speculation. They did occur-yesterday.

So is the killings of Sikhs in 1984 not a matter of speculation! They did occur, in 1984! Is the crime any less serios because happened 25 years ago? I have relations and friends who were killed at that time, so I really want to know from you if you think the crime is any less serious because it happened 25 years ago. Is that why you keep saying "why bring it up now"?

You try every possible trick in the library to evade answering the simple question, which is - why are the killers of those Sikhs, including my friends and relations, not terrorists? why wont you call them terrorists? Your evasions make me want to throw up.

One man's terrorist is another man's rioter - in your case, there are no more correct words.

Harpreet

Chandru K said...

The context was very different; the democratically elected prime minister of a country was killed by her own bodyguards, people who have taken an oath to defend the PM. There were repugnant scenes of Sikhs celebrating ad distributing sweets at the murder. And there was terrorism going on in Punjab, with bus massacres, shootings and hit squads of Bhindranwale. So a bunch of people, some affiliated with the ruling party, took it on themselves and decided to teach a certain community a 'lesson'. Something to be praised? No. But neither is it an ongoing or imminent threat to India in 2009. The Naxals are. And there's nothing remotely democratic, tolerant or self questioning about them. Nor is there any 'provocation' apart from the usual poverty ad illiteracy.

Mai said...

Chandru K ji,

You say:

There were repugnant scenes of Sikhs celebrating ad distributing sweets at the murder.

I have heard that this was said to stir up antiSikh feeling. I have never spoken to anyone who actually saw it. I doubt it ever happened. Some of us might have been glad to be rid of her, but I doubt any of us were stupid enough to do this publicly.

And no true Sikh would celebrate the death of another human being, no matter what we may have thought of her.

Harpreet said...

ChandruK -

>>there was terrorism going on in Punjab, with bus massacres, shootings and hit squads

And after Indira Ghandi was killed? there was train and at-home and shop massacres, shootings and stabbings and burnings and hit squads, all of that going on in Delhi. 3000 people murdered.

But you call that "rioting".

Not terorism, which is the word you apply to Punjab.

why?

You only continue to evade this question.

Harpreet

Chandru K said...

It's 'terrorism' in the sense that some people were obviously terrorised. One could call war, dowry deaths, mafia killings, even road rage and reckless driving 'terrorism'; in the latter, people are not infrequently killed or badly injured.
But there's a distinction that should be made between violence that is purely reactive, localised, contained and isolated( and bearing in mind the *massive* provocations- assassinations, train firings such as Godhra,Moslem mobs pelting policemen in Mumbai etc), with ideological terrorism, which has as its motive the overthrow of the existing ideology, system and country, using extreme, relentless, trans-state and trans-national violence. That's the kind of terrorism that will not rest until a caliphate is established, Sharia laws are enforced or the Khalsa will rule at the point of a gun.

Chandru K said...

And while on the subject of terrorism and justice for the victims, can we say with certainty that the perpetrators of the huge number of mass killings have been punished? During that whole Khalistan insurgency, there were several bus massacres, two of which killed 35 and 38 people respectively; two train massacres which killed 125 and 55; a massacre of Indian engineers, all from South India, working for Dupont; a massive bomb blast in the heart of Amritsar, killing 47. And many more. Thanks to the efforts of KPS Gill and his men, plus the people's rejection of the militants and the holding of democratic elections, the insurgency ended. But it's not at all certain that the perpetrators of those horrific outrages are dead or behind bars.

Harpreet said...

Chandru K -

>>there's a distinction that should be made

You are using the exactly the language of Osama and others like him.

He also says it (9/11 terrorism that killed 3000 people for e.g.) is reactive violence in response to provocation. You also say the same about the massacre of 3000 Sikhs.

Try to be true to yourself and call it terrorism, without qualification. It is not rioting it is terrorism.

Harpreet

Suresh said...

Try to be true to yourself and call it terrorism, without qualification. It is not rioting it is terrorism.

Chandru is being true to himself. He is what he is, an apologist for Hindu and Indian nationalism. (The two are not necessarily the same but from what I see, they are the same so far as Chandru is concerned.) As with all apologists, it is taken as given that his own side is always right and can do no harm. If you show evidence that his side has caused harm, then he will either deflect attention by pointing fingers at others or argue that the harm his own side has caused is an "understandable" reaction to what others have done.

You are welcome, Harpreet, to argue with Chandru. Others, including Dilip and myself, have tried and given up because it is futile. If you don't believe me, check the comments on some of Dilip's previous posts. Good luck.

Chandru K said...

Suresh, there are 62 training camps in Pakistan operating now, ready to push in terrorists into India. Are there 62 communal riots being planned, and if so, where and when? Communal riots, bad as they are, are not relentless, ongoing, imminent or ideological. Yes, I don't equate, because no equation can really be made, between the value systems of Islamic Jihadis, Khalistani terrorists and Naxalites on the one hand, and Indian( largely, though not exclusively, Hindu) middle class and upper middle class , on the other. India is basically a severe victim of hyper-aggressive value systems( Islamic, Khalistani, Naxal and Chinese), and is doing what it can to counter them.

Sandeep Bali said...

Looking at the last comment by Chandru here..

Suresh, you were rite :)

Chandru K said...

" Looking at the last comment by Chandru here..

Suresh, you were rite :)"

The major concerns in India at the moment with respect to terrorism are the Naxals( who beheaded two people, killed dozens of police officers, many villagers, and hijacked the Rajdhani train yesterday) and with Islamic terrorists who according to intelligence reports are planning more attacks. There appears to be little or no concern, certainly nothing equivalent as far as severity goes, with 'Hindu terrorists'. Fake Hindu liberals like to show off their concern about such alleged terrorists, so they can be praised for being truly secular,and also avoid having to deal with the far greater menace of Islamic and Naxal terror.