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Above: the original Lord Haw-Haw - William Joyce.


Nitpicking on 1984: The Topsy-Turvy World of Lord Haw-Haw



The following article constitutes the topic for this week's Roundtable Open Forum # 64.



Lord Haw-Haw was the nickname given to several announcers on the English language propaganda radio programme, Germany Calling, broadcast by Nazi German radio to audiences in Great Britain on the medium wave station Reichssender Hamburg and by shortwave to the United States, during the entire duration of the Second World War. [Wikipedia] 


In the past week I received a few personally-addressed e-mail messages, one atop the other, that have been bothering me.

Both correspondents live in India and, from their writing and references that they cite, appear to be dedicated and well-placed Sikhs - well educated, too. The topic was 1984; what the Indian government did or continues to do, as well as how the Sikhs have reacted or continue to react.

But all the missives were under the rubric that somehow Sikhs outside of India are making irresponsible statements, telling lies in fact, acting intemperately, and these hurt, harm and undermine the Sikhs living in India, who are quite satisfied and very pleased with things in India today.

Some e-mails challenged the right of Sikhs abroad to question India's policies as "interference" in India's internal affairs.

Not unexpectedly and with my eyes wide open, I stepped into the minefield. My position is simple: If, as an American citizen, I am expected to form opinions about Vietnam; racial issues, gay rights, and now the Catholic sex scandals all over the world; or apartheid, killings in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, AfPak, Tibetan and Israeli-Palestinian issues, why must I hold my tongue on human rights and the state of justice in India?

And this is not interference in the internal affairs of India! Any citizen of any democratic and reasonably free nation should have the right and the obligation to form an opinion and express it. There is no guarantee that mine or anyone else's opinions would be correct or popular.

The discussion then zigged to Khalistan: that, as these two readers from India charged, it is primarily a production of diaspora Sikhs and must be stopped forthwith. They went on to say that it brings all Sikhs, particularly those in India, into disrepute and they could be targeted.

I responded by suggesting that Sikhs living anywhere have the right to raise such an issue if they so desired. And why should this bring into disrepute any Sikh citizens of India just because some of their co-religionists raise "foolish" demands and slogans? (In my personal opinion, loyalty to or rejection of the idea of Khalistan is not pertinent here.) Does the burning of churches in India bring into disrepute Hindus in America?

I reminded my correspondents that in the past many American immigrants have raised their voices and funds for what they termed liberating their homeland; for example, Cubans, Jews, East Europeans, people from many African nations, Chinese ... and, of course, the much celebrated Ghadarites who were immigrants from India.

Expatriates from India, largely Sikh, played a defining part in India's struggle for independence ... or have Indians forgotten that? If speaking out is interference in another nation's internal affairs, what do you say to Indian 'diplomats' in North America whose activities include infiltrating Indian immigrant groups and reporting their activities? At times, even acting as agents provocateur, or worse. Denial that it happened - and continues to happen - just won't do.

Click on this very site through its many well-documented reports and enjoy some choice morsels.

I also have to add that soon after 1984, during the BJP reign, I received similar e-mails from a very senior Sikh serving-officer of the Indian government. I gave him the same arguments that I present today. But the best part is that when I met him a couple of years later on one of his visits abroad, he sought me out very cordially and his words were reassuring: "Keep writing on this as you do; we can't do it and we need it."

I also understand that India is changing, in many ways for the better. But, to name one issue, don't forget the harassment and denial of visas to Sikhs trying to visit India in the years after 1984. I know this personally for I, too, have experienced it.

Believe me, I understand the pressure on citizens when a country and its government feel cornered by political realities. India's reaction to the events of 1984 is indicative of such a mindset; the problem is that it continues now 27 years later.

I pointed out to my correspondents that this is what freedom of speech is all about.

Quick as a whip, one responded that such freedom should not be extended to Cubans because they are under Communism, even though I was talking about Cubans in Miami, and that the case of the Ghadarites was different because India was under the British then.

The other fellow sent me a link in which apparently one Sikh speaker from the diaspora alleged that 20,000 Sikhs had died in 1984 during the orchestrated killings in Delhi and elsewhere. He insisted that it was a lie and rubbished the whole speech as proof that diaspora Sikhs were liars. He reminded me forcefully that this is misusing freedom of speech and Sikhs abroad speaking against India were mixing lies and unsubstantiated charges about India where Sikhs have no problem and that freedom of speech of diasporan Sikhs should
be strongly curbed.

I reminded him that freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater. And I asked how and who should do the curbing of the diaspora Sikhs who continue to speak for Khalistan or of 1984 - the Indian government?

One writer demanded from me official proof that Brahma Chellany was arrested when he attempted to send reports of the Indian army attack on Harmandar Sahib in 1984. Some reports of that arrest filtered out in the free world press in the mid-1980's. Whether it was at all pursued in the judicial system, dismissed or forgotten in that infamous bureaucracy, I really do not know.

I tried to bridge the gap by suggesting that if an honest investigation of 1984 and related events was held, neither the Indian government nor the Sikh leadership in India would come out smelling like a rose. One respondent agreed but repeated his charge that diaspora Sikhs are liars and are making life difficult for Sikhs in India, when everything for Sikhs is hunky-dory there; hence their voices should be curbed.

I have juxtaposed the messages from these two aggressive correspondents because their e-mails came at the heels of each other. I don't understand which planet they are coming from or what exactly their agenda is? I am really at a loss here.

You know and I know that the management required to kill whatever number anyone concedes were killed in Delhi (according to the Delhi Government, about 2700) within 48 hours and this happened in India where weapons are not easy to procure, kerosene used to burn people and property not freely available, trucks hard to get, property lists with addresses and ownership not possible to download (these were preGoogle days, remember?) To put together such a killing spree within hours of Indira Gandhi’s death and to have the army and police stand by twiddling its thumbs, or not be deployed at all, requires a level of sophisticated management and organization - and an evil heart.

Therefore, the killings were clearly not spontaneous and random acts. And then to have over 10 Inquiry Commissions but little, if any, progress, documentation or justice?

Is this a measure of a hunky-dory existence that my correspondents are talking about?

First, they challenge our right to speak because they claim it is India’s internal matter. Then they pick on numbers of exactly how many were killed? I think the 10 Inquiry Commissions can do it better, if you let them. Whether the number of Sikhs killed in 48 hours is 2700 as the Delhi government admits, or it is over 10,000, as some others might allege, how does it matter if the actual number is a tad smaller or larger? Even the smallest number here is large enough to mandate a serious inquiry and quick action.

And then one of these friends challenges me to document my statement about Brahma Chellaney and cites other factors that might diminish the charge that I made about the lack of freedom of speech in India at a particular time. Will that somehow alter what I have said about the 10+ investigations? Does it diminish the fact that free speech was repressed? Will it somehow erase the fact the killings appeared to any honest observer or reader of the reports as organized and not spontaneous mayhem?

This kind of an exchange I have to label as a serious attempt at nitpicking 1984 to death. I have to club such efforts with those who nitpick at the number of Jews killed in the holocaust. Was it six million or one, or only six thousand? Or did the holocaust even happen? (Try asking President Ahmedenijad of Iran!) Similarly, for the deniers of the Armenian massacre; the Turkish government denies it ever happened. The French government makes it a crime not to accept it.

Ask them where is your evidence when they assert that the numbers of Sikhs killed was so small that they can be safely ignored?

Please! My diatribe today absolutely does not mean that every Sikh living in India is a quisling, a la the Norwegian Major who was a Nazi collaborator during the Second World War. Not all belong to the ilk of Uriah Heep, the iconic sycophant made immortal by Charles Dickens. Or the multiple Lord Haw-Haws of the Second World War. But the handful that are there are hyper-active, with all the resources of the government at their disposal; relentlessly, they manage to serve their masters well. 

But I also wish to acknowledge that, being subject to the vagaries of the Indian press and its roller-coaster rides between courage and cowardice, there are limits to what facts those who live in India know and for what they are willing to publicly take ownership.

True, human courage exists in abundance but its supply is not endless and sometimes its exercise may even be foolish or suicidal.

And forget not that I am not anti-India.

There is another way to look at the relationship between Sikhs in India and Sikhs living abroad. Sikhs in the diaspora live in societies that are relatively open and free speech is largely, if not entirely, possible and welcome. The Indian citizen is not responsible for what the diasporan Sikh says or does. This should allow the existence of considerable deniability that can be used to push the Indian government towards greater reform, accountability and transparency in the matter of 1984.

But no government should hold its own citizens hostage for what their co-religionists say or do in another country. If it does so, then that is another large and not easily forgivable blot on the government.

Sikhs outside India did not start the cascade of events in 1984. There was no major move for Khalistan outside India before 1984. Before 1984, the lone Sikh activist for Khalistan was perhaps the London-based Jagjit Chauhan and his was a voice in the wilderness. To blame Sikhs in the diaspora and a demand for Khalistan raised abroad for the troubles in India is disingenuous at best.

Who benefits from trying to connect these two issues which are transparently unrelated, but the Indian government? Why should it do so but to find ways to silence the diasporan Sikhs?

Indian Sikhs are easier to control and mold; Sikhs abroad are a problem for them for they turn a spot-light on the shenanigans of the Indian bureaucrats, their masters and their minions.

Having lived through the times I can say that before 1984 I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of Sikhs who supported Khalistan, and have room to spare; after 1984, though, I could count on the fingers of one hand the Sikhs that did NOT support Khalistan, with room to spare. You can't blame Sikhs for that sea-change.

My own opinion is more nuanced and those interested in it can peruse my essay on it on

Remember that urbanized, educated Sikhs in or outside India were not that fond of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale until 1984. The attack on Harmandar Sahib and the aftermath made him into a martyr. Before you charge Bhindranwale with inciting violence, look at his actual record and report it accurately. Many of his speeches have been translated verbatim into English by Ranbir Singh Sandhu. Read them first, keeping an open mind, and then form your opinion.

I would personally have no problem letting go of Bhindranwale's memory if a credible and honest inquiry convicted him of the charges against him. But I have one condition: I would like a similarly honest and credible investigation on the conduct of and charges against Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and many other senior politicians and officials of the Indian government.

Let the memory of all of them - from Bhindranwale to Indira, Rajiv and others - hang on the same or nearest tree, if so warranted.

Alternatively, try a "Truth & Reconciliation Commission". Many nations have, so should India, for once, with the emphasis on "Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but." Reconciliation will surely follow.


We welcome your comments on the issues raised hereinabove, as part of this week's Roundtable Open Furum (# 64). Please post your thoughts below.

April 18, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 18, 2011, 9:06 AM.

In western countries, you can live an honest life, work hard, obey the rules and you will be successful. In India, you have to know which person to bribe to get things done. Sadly, people in India have become complacent about corruption. They see it as part of everyday life, and they get annoyed when someone tries to rattle the cage. This reminds me of Socrates' "Allegory of the Cave". Socrates describes a group of prisoners that have been chained in a cave their whole lives, facing a blank wall. Behind them is a fire, and as people carry objects up a ramp, they cast shadows on the wall. The prisoners' entire concept of reality is based on these shadows and the echoes they hear. They think the shadows are real things. Socrates takes one of these prisoners and drags him out of the cave. The prisoner kicks and screams. His sense of reality is being shattered and he resents Socrates. The prisoner is dragged into the sunlight and he struggles to adjust his eyes. Eventually, his eyes open and he realizes that his perception of life was based on a lie. He is then returned to the cave, and he tries to explain to the other prisoners that they are living in a false reality. They hate him and threaten to kill him. This same mentality is exhibited by some people in India. They will hate you for opening their eyes to the truth. Ignorance is bliss, and they would rather not have their quiet lives disturbed.

2: Achint Kaur (New Delhi, India), April 18, 2011, 9:59 AM.

A line has been drawn in India - a choice has to be made between being a gaddar (rebel) or a gaddaar (traitor). And yes, there is a third category, to which most belong - those who do nothing, and merely wait for things to happen. The first, a very small group, and the latter - a majority - we can live with. The second category - the gaddaars, the Lord Haw-Haws, the Uriah Heeps, the Quislings - has no place in a civilized society and must be weeded out. The sooner the better. We need to begin by exposing them to the world, each and every one of them.

3: Karanvir Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), April 18, 2011, 10:09 AM.

Contrary to what the Lord Haw-Haws would want us to believe, it is possible to work for the government, even during its evil phases, and not sell your soul. Sirdar Kapur Singh was an ICS officer when he came across mischief by his superiors. He stood up for what was right, at great personal price. Sardar Saran Singh - now the Editor of The Sikh Review - was one of the most senior bureaucrats in the India government, particularly during Indira Gandhi's evil regime. He walked tall and proud and fearless when he saw the government delving in criminal actions. I know of numerous other brave men and women who stood firm in their beliefs and true to their conscience through the most challenging of times. There's got to be more to life than one's career or pay-cheque - especially if you are a Sikh, for heaven's sake!

4: H.Singh (United States), April 18, 2011, 12:58 PM.

The wrongs committed against the Sikhs in India during the '80s-'90s need to be addressed - including the ongoing wrongs today of denial of justice. As far as diaspora Sikhs go, it is right for them to raise their voices and concerns regarding India's human rights violations against its Sikh citizens. If we stop calling out India's government for its wrongs, it will only grow more belligerent and neglectful of the secular and democratic principles to which it claims allegiance.

5: M.K.S. (New York, U.S.A.), April 18, 2011, 2:31 PM.

Dr. I.J. Singh ji: Well said! I would just like to tell these people that they're on the wrong side of history. It's still not too late to come over to the right side. Also, I'd like to bring to their attention some basic facts. With each passing day, the Sikh diaspora is getting more entrenched and politically powerful in their respective countries. Internet and other social media is allowing the Indian Sikhs to read and exchange ideas with the diaspora Sikhs which is also influencing the Indian Sikhs. And as more Indian Sikhs leave India, the diaspora becomes stronger. Reminds me of the Republicans in the U.S., who instead of embracing the 'brown-skinned' people are pushing them away with their racist policies, to the benefit of the Democrats. They're missing the demographic trends.

6: N. Singh (Canada), April 18, 2011, 6:49 PM.

Very interesting article! Thank you for writing this. I suppose the removal of turbans by the Punjab Police; the discovery of new mass grave sites; the economic and social oppression of Sikhs in India; all seem to indicate that "everything is smelling of roses" for those Sikhs unfortunate enough to be living there! Perhaps you should ask these two gentlemen to ease off the 'doda' in their tea ... which is courtesy of the Indian government, no doubt!

7: N. Singh (Canada), April 19, 2011, 4:16 PM.

Why am I not surprised that there are so few comments on this round-table topic! I suppose the subject of the veil of Muslim women and how the Gurus wanted us to 'protect their rights' is not as important as the violation of Sikh women that has occurred under the Indian regime (please read Operation Shuri Karan)! Perhaps those self-righteous, bleeding heart liberals might want to comment on that issue as well. Ranting aside, let's be reminded that the political push for a separatist state, whether Khalistan or any other country, is not against the laws in Canada, U.S. or the U.K. I suspect that it is probably not against the law in India either ... just against the self prescribed laws of the Indian government.

8: Loveleen Kaur (New Delhi, India), April 20, 2011, 6:08 AM.

N. Singh ji: The number of comments does not necessarily reflect the impact of an article. Sometimes, the facts or thoughts conveyed are so staggering that people need time to sit back and figure things out on their own.

9: Jodh Singh Arora (Jericho, New York, U.S.A.), April 20, 2011, 7:00 AM.

It is an interesting article, and well-written, about 1984. What we need is a well-documented, evidence-based history of our lives 1980 to date. It was a great job by Prof. Ranbir Singh Sandhu to translate Bhindranwala's speeches and if one reads it critically, it tells you about the qualities, including foresightedness, of Sant Jarnail Singh ji.

10: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 20, 2011, 11:31 AM.

To our brothers and sisters in India, I would like to say, please don't believe the hype. We are not disconnected with the goings-on in Indian politics, nor are we imprudently meddling in your affairs. We are your biggest advocates. Our purpose is to inspire you to stand against the Lord Haw-Haws and other minions of the Indian regime. Why? Because evil prevails when good men and women do nothing. The Indian regime dismisses dissidents as mad men, while concurrently arousing the propaganda machine to quell their ideas before they ripen into public opinion. What is the need for such double handedness? What do they fear? It is easy to dismiss diaspora Sikhs as extremists. If extremism is to believe in human rights and government transparency, then I proudly wear that label. I am not an exponent of Khalistan, but I believe all Sikhs should enjoy the right to self-determination. If that makes us guilty of sin, then the rest of the world is going to hell as well. It is easy to blame militancy for the government's atrocities in 1984 and later, but it is just a symptom of the disease. Militancy materializes when there is a failure of democracy. What makes peaceful people take up arms, if not desperation? It is a sign that their government has failed them. Perpetual denial of wrongdoing, in the face of mounting evidence, only adds fuel to the fire. It creates an atmosphere of resentment that allows the mold of a Bhindrawale to take form. I do not support Bhindrawale's methodology, but why is he a terrorist if Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh are heroes? Did they not resort to the same means to achieve liberty? My appeal to our siblings in India is to open your eyes and question the wrongdoings you see. Search deep for the truth and do not take anything the government or media says at face value. Remember that you are entitled to freedom of speech, and it is not a crime to speak against the government. Others may share your views, but are fearful to raise their voice. Do not become disheartened. You are not alone. Show them there is nothing to fear. Guru Raam Das says: "What can these wretched creatures do? This whole drama is Yours, O Lord and Master."

11: Devinder Singh (India), April 22, 2011, 3:32 AM.

Very few like Khushwant Singh spoke up in 1984. Like Polish Christians prior to the German invasion, they looked the other way when Jews were being picked up by their government. "Evil prevails when good men and women do nothing", Brijinder Singh reminds us. The evil that was to follow could have been prevented. I have just viewed I.J. Singh's video "Misl Amrika" on the tube and find it hard to reconcile his wonderfully liberal case made out for inclusion of the Sikh diaspora in the decision making process of the community, with his approval of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale.

12: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 22, 2011, 5:47 AM.

My plea is for an honest inquiry to judge notionly Bhindranwale but also the movers and shakers within the Indian government similarly - honestly and rigorously. I pointed out that he was not a hero to most educated Sikhs, including diaspora Sikhs before 1984. The attack made him a martyr. This is what I clearly stated many times over the years and in this essay posted here as well. So, Devinder Singh Ji, please re-read my essay before you jump to any hasty conclusions. Kindly look at the totality of of what I am trying to say. Most people, including leaders, have a lot more gray than simple white or black. Most have a mixed record. I try to approve or condemn specific actions or policy directions, not provide a blanket acceptance or rejection of a "person." I guess to me most people - leaders or followers - have feet of clay.

13: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), April 22, 2011, 6:26 AM.

It is a shame that even after so many years, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale remains misunderstood by most of the 'educated' Sikhs in India. It may be that they have swallowed hook, line and sinker the warped description of his personality provided by the Indian Government and the Indian media. S. Ranbir Singh Sandhu has translated Sant Bhindrawale's speeches into English and compiled that in a book, "Struggle for Justice: Speeches and Conversations of Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale" (ISBN-10: 0967287413 and ISBN-13: 978-0967287416). The book should still be available at However, translation of the speeches is also posted at the following website:

14: Karanpal (Manipal, India), April 22, 2011, 1:25 PM.

One point ... when there is an attempt to fund separatist activities in other countries (read India), isn't that interfering with internal affairs. I'm not saying this is happening everywhere and by many Sikhs, but you know well that some Sikhs abroad have been trying to raise funds in the name of Khalistan. Why doesn't an Indian have a right to protest against it!

15: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 22, 2011, 9:08 PM.

Karanpal ji: Everyone in a democracy should have the right to protest. However, you should realize that it is Indian policies that give Khalistanis a reason to keep up their struggle. Politicians involved with the pogroms now hold cabinet positions. Policemen who abused innocent Sikhs are now high ranking officers. Manwinder Singh Giaspur, the man who exposed the Hondh-Chillar massacre, had his house ransacked and was fired from his job - this year! Video surveillance has captured footage of H.S. Hanspal trying to bribe Nirpreet Kaur, who is a key witness in the case against Sajjan Kumar. Countless other witnesses have been harassed. What about the men abducted from their homes in Punjab, and never heard from again? These are only some grievances pertaining to 1984. What about the recent turban incident in Mohali, the beating of two granthis in Orissa, dera riots and killings, false police encounters, changing Nanakshahi calendar to fit with the Hindu/Bikrami calendar, the Hindu Marriage Act, RSS anti-Sikh campaign, and much more. Similar abuses ignited the Khalistanis in the 80's. If the Indian government addresses these grievances, then the Khalistanis will be rebels without a cause. If not, then this struggle will continue.

16: N. Singh (Canada), April 22, 2011, 11:41 PM.

Karanpal, perhaps if Indians, including you, had protested against the November 1984 pogroms, and mass disappearances and fakes encounters occurring in the Punjab as well as the economic rape of the state by the Indian government, you would not need to worry about the issue of Khalistan. Has it ever occurred to people like you that one thing might have led to the other? To be silent, Karanpal, is to be complicit. Violation of human rights is everyone's business, including the international community. It should also be your social and moral responsibility.

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