India: Mistreatment of Religious Minorities

India’s Mistreatment of Religious Minorities: Widening Gaps between Hindus and Sikhs
By Sajjad Shaukat

India which apparently, claims to be the largest democracy, acting upon the principles of liberalism and secularism has broken all the records of mistreatment of religious minorities by acceleration of violence, genocide and massacre, perpetrated on various ethnic and religious groups, while, gaps are rapidly widening between Hindu and Sikh communities.

In this regard, in its annual report of 2017, Human Rights Watch which conducted investigative work in 2016 said that India is witnessing an increase in violence against women, and pointed out Indian government’s failure to control growing attacks on Dalits and religious minorities-Sikh community.

Besides indicating high-profile rapes, sexual assaults and even murders of women and girls, the report elaborated, “Limits on free speech and attacks on religious minorities, often led by vigilante groups that claim to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are an increasing concern in India. In 2016, students were accused of sedition for expressing their views; people who raised concerns over challenges to civil liberties were deemed anti-Indian; Dalits and Muslims were attacked on suspicion they had killed, stolen, or sold cows for beef; and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) came under pressure due to India’s restrictive foreign funding regulations. A crackdown on violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir beginning in July killed over 90 people and injured hundreds, fueling further discontent against government forces. Impunity for police and security forces largely continued amid new allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, including reports of sexual assault and other abuses by security forces.”

The report described, “The government’s continuing failure to rein in militant groups, combined with inflammatory remarks made by some BJP leaders, has contributed to the impression that leaders are indifferent to growing intolerance.

The report added, “Authorities continue to use sedition and criminal defamation laws to prosecute citizens who criticize government officials or oppose state policies. In rare cases in 2016, police were held accountable for abuses. In April, 47 policemen were sentenced to life in prison for involvement in the killing of 11 Sikhs in 1991 in the Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh state. Despite calls for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, soldiers continue to have immunity from prosecution when deployed in areas of internal conflict.”

Taking cognizance of the growing intolerance and plight of minorities in India on June 7, 2016, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress examined the state of human rights in India.

The report disclosed, “Despite Constitutional provisions…abolishing the legal existence of untouchable or Dalit castes, the caste system remains deeply ingrained within Indian society, leading to ongoing discrimination. Dalit communities, which make up a quarter of India’s population, are disproportionately at risk of suffering from major human rights concern in India.”

It further wrote, “Religious minorities also face growing challenges. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s most recent report, “In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups…these actions, coupled with perceived crackdowns on groups or individuals critical of the Indian government, have many concerned that the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association are being increasingly curtailed.”

In fact, since the leader of the ruling party BJP Modi became Prime Minister of India, various developments like unprecedented rise of Hindu extremism, persecution of minorities even of lower cast-Hindus, forced conversions of other religious minorities into Hindus, ban on beef and cow slaughter, inclusion of Hindu religious books in curriculum, creation of war-like situation with Pakistan etc. clearly show that encouraged by the Hindu fundamentalist outfits such as BJP, RSS VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena including other similar parties have been promoting religious and ethnic chauvinism in India by propagating ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism).”

It is notable that under the mask of democracy and secularism, Indian subsequent regimes dominated by politicians from the Hindi heartland—Hindutva have been using brutal force ruthlessly against any move to free Assam, Kashmir, Khalistan, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu and Tripura where wars of liberation continue in one or the other form.

In the recent years, Maoist accelerated their struggle by attacking official installments. In this context, Indian media admitted that Maoists have entered the cities, expanding their activities against the Indian union.

Although war of liberation has also been intensified in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, where Kashmiris are struggling for their legitimate right of self-determination in wake of continuous state terrorism, unleashed by the Indian security forces, yet case of Khalistan and widening of gaps between the Hindu and Sikh communities are mentionable.

As regards the discrimination against the Sikhs, Indian Army led by General Kuldip Singh Brar, supported by troops and armoured vehicles had broken all records of the state terrorism and extra-judicial killings through the barbaric Operation Blue Star which occurred between 3–8 June 1984, ordered by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to control over the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, Punjab.

In this context, in their book, “The Sikh Struggle”, Ramnarain Kumar and George Sieberer writes, “The army killed every Sikh who could be found inside the temple-complex. They were hauled out of rooms, brought to corridors on the circumference of the temple and with their hands tied behind their back, were shot in cold blood. Among the victims were many old men, women and children.” However, all visitors were locked up in rooms for two days without any food, water, or electricity and were starved to death. Besides, the Harmandir Sahib remained under the army control for many months.”

The brutality of the ‘Operation Blue Star’ was not confined to the Harmandir Sahib. Indian armed forces simultaneously attacked 40 other historical gurdwaras all over East Punjab. When Sikhs in other states came to know about the desecration of the Harmandir Sahib and massacre of their brethren, they quickly left for Punjab. New Delhi tried to stop them before they could reach Punjab. Many Sikhs were assassinated on the way and many others were arrested.

According to an estimate, about 50,000 Sikhs were killed within a few days. The whole Amritsar city was sealed and was burnt. Shops belonging to Sikhs were looted and their houses were set ablaze by Hindu mobs. In most of the cases, Sikh women were molested and some persons of their community were also burnt.

Another tragic dimension of the operation is that historical Sikh artifacts—all the literature written by the gurus was also set ablaze by the Indian army.

In the same year of November, two dedicated Sikhs named Beant Singh and Satwant Singh who were posted at Premier Indira Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi, assassinated her. Then Hindu riots erupted in the capital and other cities in which more then 15,000 Sikhs were murdered in broad daylight by the supporters of Indira Gandhi while police watched silently so as to provide the Hindus with free hand to massacre Sikhs.

Nevertheless, the attack on the Harmandir Sahib and genocide of Sikhs accelerated the liberation movement for Khalistan, as Bhindrenwale became a folk hero.

Meanwhile, after ‘Operation Blue Star’ and the Sikh genocide, Sikhs’ struggle for independence continued, but the Indian government made every effort to crush the same with the state machinery. To maintain its control over the Harmandir Sahib, another attack was launched on the Temple in 1987, called ‘Operation Black Thunder’. This time only Sikh resistance which was natural outcome of the tragedy was the main target.

According to a report, many trucks were loaded with dead bodies and all were burned with kerosene oil. Afterwards, ‘Operation Woodrose’ and ‘Operation Black Thunder-II’ were conducted against the Sikh community, which also assassinated them extra-judicially.

After these barbaric operations, Sikhs organised themselves into an armed power in order to fight the Indian state terrorism. Many Sikhs left India to escape religious persecution. Sikhs have spread out all over the world to keep the movement of Khalistan alive. In this connection, their struggle is still going on.

A renowned scholar, Dr. Sangat Singh in his book, “The Sikhs in History”, remarks that since 1947, “The Indian government has killed over 1 million to 1.2 million Sikhs. The only way to stop this state terrorism is to create a Khalistan state, where Sikhs and other religious people can enjoy their freedom.”

It is of particular attention that New Delhi and Indian intelligence agency RAW is trying to create division between the Sikh community-platforms in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and Pakistan etc. In this regard, a deliberate campaign has been launched to ban or disallow Indian diplomats or officials’ entry to gurdawaras for misusing them for their ulterior motives so as to divide the Sikh community.

In order to create rift in the Sikh communities, some RAW-arranged websites are also playing negative role. In this respect, under the caption, “How many Sikhs support the Khalistan 2020 referendum?”, Rajbir Singh Shienh, Part of this nation wrote in wrote on July 1, 2017, “I think I had answered this question before but then I left Quora. Now same question has been asked to me, for the fact that someone want to know number of Sikhs supporting Khalistan. There aren’t many Sikhs to start with so, how can we judge the numbers. Being a Punjabi and an Analyst I can assure you, Khalistan would never see light of day. At least not till whole of India remain united…I even think that Sikhs would not be majority in Punjab by 2020 considering that Sikh population is decreasing at the rate of 8% per decade…There are also many Sikhs who are secular and do not believe in division but in unions like me. There is no way Khalistan could be a real nation. I had a lot of thought on it and every time it had failed.”

Another bloggers wrote, “So, it’s completely foolish to assume that Khalistan will be separated from India. Sikhism has been integral part of India and innumerable Sikhs have made supreme sacrifices for country.”

Similarly, under the title, “Why Khalistan” Bijla Singh wrote on a website on October 23, 2017, “Khalistan is the Sikh homeland. By definition it means land of pure people. Currently it is under Indian government’s control. Some people support it, some don’t. Many people have different opinions about how to free Khalistan. Some people are just totally confused.”

Nonetheless, it is part of propaganda campaign to create differences among the Sikhs so as to weaken their struggle for Khalistan.

Notably, the one of the important causes of the disintegration of the former Soviet Union was that its greater defence expenditure exceeded to the maximum, resulting into economic crises inside the country. However, militarization of the Soviet Union failed in controlling the movements of liberation, launched by various ethnic nationalities. Learning, no lesson from India’s previous close friend, Indian fundamentalist Prime Minister Modi is acting upon the similar policies.

Undoubtedly, we can conclude that India’s mistreatment of religious minorities have accelerated the separatist movements which pose a serious threat to the Indian federation. Like the former Soviet Union, these movements will culminate into disintegration of the Indian union.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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