The folks at HT sliced and modified it a bit, so I'll append the original below anyway.
Any reactions welcome.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of my favourite places: welcoming, spectacular and peaceful. But tucked away up a steep staircase, in the Central Sikh Museum, are reminders of less peaceful times. On a recent visit, I take the stairs two at a time, then walk through room after room lined with paintings of gruesome incidents from Sikh history, all the way to what is, for me, the heart of the Museum.
On the walls, plenty of portraits of admired men. On my left, a handsome one of Shahid -- note, "Shahid", meaning martyr -- Bhagat Singh in prison shackles, awaiting his fate. In front, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale; this is when I get my first flutters of unease. These images, complete with explanations in English and Punjabi.
To the right of Bhindranwale, an artist's rendition of "Sri Akal Takht after Military Attack, 6 June 1984" -- at the climax of Operation Bluestar, when the Indian Army entered the heart of Sikhdom to defeat armed men holed up here. The painting shows the Akal Takht badly damaged and burned. In fading English below, 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."
There's one more sentence: "The Sikhs, however, soon had their vengeance."
The unease, again. It grows as my eyes move further right, to settle on three portraits, all the same size as Bhagat Singh's. These list only names and dates:
"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 those names and dates.
Note, "Shahid" again, all three times, exactly as it is used for Bhagat Singh.
She has plenty to answer for, Indira Gandhi. My feeling is that a vast number of this country's myriad intractable problems can be laid at her door. It's why I have minimal regard for her.
Yet even so: she was, when shot dead by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, India's Prime Minister. To see her killers accorded the same esteem as Bhagat Singh, to see them called "Shahid" like him, is to ask some serious questions about nationhood. About terrorism. About freedom and those who fight for it. About what those words really mean. About India itself.
Then the memory of the days after Indira died. To me, the slaughter of 3000 Indians because they were Sikh remains the greatest act of terrorism in our 62 years. That we have not punished the murderers is, a quarter century later, a national shame.
But this Museum underlines what so many of us find hard to swallow: one man's terrorist is another's … what? Martyr, freedom fighter, hero? On this wall is a revered martyr of our freedom struggle. On this wall too are three other men, also called martyrs. Yet how many would agree with that characterization; how many would instead find it repugnant?
And doesn't that reflect our essential dilemma about terrorism? We agree that the killers of 200 innocent Indians in Mumbai in November of 2008 were terrorists. How many of us agree that the killers of 3000 innocent Indians in Delhi in November of 1984 were terrorists?
Yet what else were they?
The Golden Temple is a favourite spot, yes, despite the unease. Yet perhaps we could all use some unease.