Kids Corner


1984, India's Kristallnacht - The Night of Broken Glass




Except, in India's capital city, New Delhi, it was done in broad daylight, over the course of four days, by mobs led by government and ruling-party leaders, while the police literally looked on!



The prevalence of human rights violations undermines the very essence of democracy. Democratic implications reveal a social and political system which requires for the endorsement of basic rights and freedoms to which all of humanity is entitled.

However, how must one react when the world's largest democracy denies - in the face of unequivocal and overwhelming evidence - any involvement or participation in such atrocious crimes; crimes which disregard the very universal benchmarks of human rights? How must one react when these state-sponsored massacres are further concealed behind smokescreens of nationalism; nationalism, which until today, has stripped citizens of their right to justice?

One is reminded of those who safeguard world peace, such as Kofi Annan, who once said:

"A just society cannot be built on tolerance for the most egregious acts of violence that occurred in the past, and ... a society cannot heal and achieve new levels of unity and solidarity by turning away from the plight of those who suffered, and are still suffering."1

Today, the international community bears witness to such a case, as this "world's largest democracy" fails to remember the brutish and murderous tyranny it once advocated, in an attempt to exterminate its own people. Twenty-five years after the Indian government participated in a state-wide pogrom against the Sikhs; those living in India, as well as the Diaspora, await justice for their untold accounts of political subjugation, economic suppression, and physical annihilation.

In June 1984, the Indian state orchestrated two cataclysmic blows on the Sikh population in India. With the purported goal to eradicate "terrorism," the state army unleashed an unprecedented terror on the holiest of Sikh shrines (Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar) on the day when a high holiday would result in a mass pilgrimage of Sikhs from all over the world.2

Dubbed Operation Bluestar, this carnage resulted in the deaths of at least two thousand devotees, two hundred of which were labeled "militants," as well as the detainment of more than 1,500 civilians suspected of terrorism, twenty-two of which were children under the age of sixteen.3

In October 1984, the Sikh community, aggrieved and agitated from the passing of such sacrilegious events, prepared for what would go down in history as the most barbaric form of torture inflicted by the modern Indian state. The second part of this ordeal
resulted from the assassination of Indira Gandhi (then prime minister of India) who was shot down by her Sikh bodyguards, purportedly avenging her leadership role in Operation Bluestar.

What followed begged belief, as more than three thousand Sikhs were lynched by central government ministers accompanied by mobs with voter lists (to designate Sikh houses and businesses) and the connivance of the police.

As one scholar put it, "Mobs were assembled to carry out a four day orgy of mass killing and plunder."4 One can agree, that such an organized mobilization of bloodthirsty people can only suggest the support of an institution with access to vast resources.

The 1984 genocidal campaign against the Sikhs precipitated an ongoing struggle between this group and the Indian government to seek justice and international recognition for their loss. A part of this struggle is manifested in a religiocentric ideology, a loss of faith and trust in government, as well as an international façade by the Indian state to cover its history of human rights violations and atrocities.

Repercussions of a Religiocentric Ideology
A major impediment to one's struggle for justice is manifested in the religiocentric ideology of the Indian state. In order to better comprehend the influence of this ideology on Indian political culture, one must acquire its basic framework, and what it stipulates. Religiocentrism is defined as a type of ethnocentrism which results in a distorted perception caused by the influence of religious doctrines. It serves as a filter for reality derived from belief, which allows the religiocentrist to disregard the essential
frame of equality among the different religions.5

In other words, religiocentrism demarcates one religion as superior which can potentially result in dehumanization, whereby the subordinate group is debased and reduced to inferiority. Despite its claim to secularism, the Indian state openly demonstrates a degree of hostility against smaller communities who subscribe to other beliefs, rather than conforming to its demands of

A popular slogan associated with this notion is ‘one language, one religion, and one country' - "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan."6

This form of ideology played an instrumental role in the victimization of the Sikh people in 1984. Guerrilla violence against this group was justified by political agendas to uphold Hindu fundamentalism in the country, while reducing Sikhs to insurgent status.

A clear expression of this thought can be found in government documents, such as the Indian army publication of the time:
"Any knowledge of the Amritdharis' (baptized Sikhs) who are dangerous people and pledged to commit murders, arson and acts of terrorism should immediately be brought to the notice of the authorities. These people may appear harmless from outside but they are basically committed to terrorism. In the interest of all of us their identity and whereabouts must always be disclosed." 

Today one bears witness to a different form of religiocentrism, as the Sikh victim of 1984 is not reduced to insurgent status, but rather to poverty and financial hardship. In a system of Hindu dominance, the Sikh widow and orphan remain uncompensated for the death of their breadwinners, mainly Sikh men. This works to the state's advantage, as victims are denied access to resources which can provide them with legal aid in their struggle for justice, as well as international recognition of their plight.

The echoes of anti-Sikh slogans propagated by Hindu religiocentrists are heard today, "Kanga, kachh, karrha, kirpan, enu bhejo Pakistan."8 (Those donning the Sikh symbols - comb, underwear, steel bracelet, and sword, send them to Pakistan).

Consequently, a loss of faith and trust in government has led to a mass exodus of Sikhs outside India, where they appeal to foreign governments for recognition of the adversity they face back home.

Loss of Faith and Trust in Government
The anti-Sikh riots of 1984-India attacked the core of the Sikh people and shook the community from within. One can agree that Rajiv Gandhi's speech at the funeral of his mother (Indira Gandhi) implied just that: "When a mighty tree falls, it is only natural
that the earth around it does shake a little."9

Undermining statements as such, as well as the lack of justice served to the victim community, has resulted in a loss of faith and trust in government. Twenty-five years later, thousands of innocent Sikhs remain in police custody for crimes they have never committed.10 Their appeals for fair trials are left unheard, while their families find difficulty in sustaining a livelihood, let alone fighting injustice for their loved ones. However, there are rare occasions when the Indian government feels empathy for these victims, launching a new inquiry into the violent ordeals of 1984.

Today, the international community has come to realize that these countless committees and judicial inquiries are simply a farce; unsuccessful in bringing to trial the political perpetrators of this campaign. Inquiries such as the Misra Commission
fail to employ judges who act in a bona fide manner, let alone administer a fair public trial.11

A common sight at human rights tribunals is the secrecy with which government officials and the police are called to the witness box. Proceedings involving victims groups are held in an open court, whereas victim groups are kept in the dark about the
disposition and hearings of government officials who participated in the mobilization of mobs.12

For the average widow whose husband's death has not been accounted for, who else must she appeal to if her own government not only denies the orchestration of such events, but makes a mockery of the judiciary by delegating false inquiries into its causes and consequences. Her loss of trust and faith in government is a product of the continuous revival and murder of democratic principles by the Indian state every time a new inquiry is launched.

The victims are left no choice but to escape the unlawfulness of those who create law, and seek justice elsewhere. Such in the case of Wassan Singh Zaffarwal who sought political asylum in countries like Germany, where they petition to the United Nations Human Rights office (Zurich) to recognize the Sikh's need for an independent state, free from the corruption and falsehood of the Indian government.13

However, Zaffarwal is one example of many who immigrate to other countries in hopes of the liberty to live life to its fullest capacity. They must serve as a substitute for the NGO which is barred from entering the state of Punjab; taking on the responsibility of creating international awareness for those whose stories are left untold.

Behind International Façade lies State Denial
The international community is deceived by the largest democracy in the world, scarred by human rights infringements and atrocities. Behind India's reputation as an icon of democracy lies a resumé of extra-judicial executions, as well as other violations condemned by the International Criminal Court.

Yet on February 15th, 2000, the United Nations declared in their Position Paper on India that: "India totally adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights both in letter and spirit. India has in place an active National Commission for Human Rights and its judicial system too is sensitive to this issue. India allows access to various International Human Rights Organizations ... India believes that torture and terrorism, especially if undertaken by those responsible for protecting the people, are a gross violation of human rights and treats them as such."14

The utter inaccuracy of this statement fails to remember all that took place during the years of turmoil which pursued Operation Bluestar. It fails to remember that human rights agencies such as Amnesty International remain barred from entry into the state of Punjab.

Consequently, Amnesty released a report in 2003 in which it concluded that torture and human rights violations were still widespread in the state for which they are denied access for further observance.15 In an unprecedented move by the international community, the U.S. State Department publicized that the Indian government rewarded sixty thousand police officers in the 1990s for killing both ‘listed' and ‘unlisted' militants.16

The question remains whether a state which promoted bounty killing can be acknowledged in the General Assembly of the United Nations as a country which "totally adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights both in letter and spirit."

During the years following 1984, India's law enforcement donned the Sikh attire, and carried out clandestine operations such as sensational acts of terrorism17, in order to manipulate public opinion so as to justify authoritarian measures implemented by the state. Furthermore, international attention on reports of human rights abuses were expelled as India portrayed itself as a nation under threat of insurgency.

This serves as a clear demonstration of India's "rally ‘round the flag" effect, as the government adopted a detrimental course of action which was influential on public opinion towards the Sikh people; an opinion which transcended state borders resulting in the manipulation of foreign policy in relation to Indian human rights.

However, one can witness a recent shift in foreign public opinion towards the Indian government, as those in the Diaspora begin to create awareness about the government's misconduct. An example of this can be found in recent Canadian news
articles which discuss the possibility of Indian government agents being responsible for the Air India bombings of 1985. The report claims that the objective of this bombing was to discredit the separatist movement, reducing it to terrorism, in order to eliminate any sympathy for the Sikhs, as well as criticism of the government's actions in the past.18

The Indian government's reputation in the international community is one of mixed opinions. Although some believe that this country constitutionally upholds the value of human rights and freedoms, the global community must also understand India's hypocrisy in practicing such values. Unfortunately, until the international community does not recognize the draconian history of this country, the voices of those pleading for justice will remain silenced.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1984 Sikh pogroms, those of the victim community remember the pain and suffering inflicted by the state, which lead to the countless murders of their loved ones. However, these deaths remain unaccounted for as
charges are yet to be laid, fair trials are yet to be administered, and victims are yet to be served the justice they deserve. The victims appeal for justice and petition for international recognition of their untold accounts of political subjugation, economic
suppression, and physical annihilation.

Furthermore, the state-sponsored criminals of 1984 freely roam the streets of New Delhi, and hold authoritative positions in
government today.

One must note that justice can not be served in an environment dominated by one religious ideology; an ideology which if not conformed to, can become a social barrier to justice and recognition. As a result, victims lose faith and trust in the very government which primarily rendered them to such conditions. In doing so, victims allow the state to put on a façade of democracy on the international stage, while denying allegations of human rights violations. The international community must stop the occurrence of injustice by a country such as India. However, stopping this injustice means recognizing the history from which it took root.

Today, the Sikh people worldwide appeal to the United Nations to identify the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984 as a genocide under the UN Convention on Genocide (Article 2), which defines genocide as:

"Any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group - Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the
group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."19

As outlined in the Convention, the events of 1984 would thus be considered a crime under international law, requiring all perpetrators to be charged with crimes against humanity.

However, today these criminals are invited to countries like Canada, which boast international reputations as upholders of human rights. Kamal Nath, a prominent Hindu politician, organized a violent mob which burnt down a Sikh temple in New Delhi. He was charged with human rights violations, but like countless others, was released because of a purported lack of evidence.

In March 2010, he accepted an invitation to lecture a group of South Asian business leaders in Toronto, and was without hesitance, granted a visitors visa by Canada.20

Countries with records of promoting peace and human rights must stand against such criminals and deny their entry onto their territory. In other words, international recognition is only possible, when the countries which lead the international community set an example of these criminals. Till then, the Sikh people must refrain from following in the footsteps of the Indian government in forgetting a history of religious intolerance, state brutality, and murderous carnage.


June 15, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: N. Singh (Canada), June 15, 2010, 10:34 AM.

The following quote appeared in an article entitled "Operation Bluestar - Justice Awaited" by Bassam Javed in the Pakistan Daily ... "The present Indian government led by Mr. Manmohan Singh who himself is a Sikh, must take on as a moral obligation to redress the campaign for justice, in order to assuage the sense of mass grief that is abundantly prevalent in the Sikh community over Golden Temple decades later". It would appear that even the Pakistanis have the clarity of thought to point out that it is PM Manmohan Singh's DUTY to ensure that justice is granted to the Sikhs, and not just a decision that he chooses not to make as certain Manmohan Singh apologists would have us believe.

2: Dr..Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 16, 2010, 6:11 AM.

Respectfully, I must emphasize, Dr.Manmohan Singh is a leader of a secular, pluralistic nation and not of one faith (Sikhs/ Sikhism). His responsibility and calling as such is to lay down a foundation to end all human rights violations in India. Sikhs will automatically benefit from such rule of law that applies across the spectrum, protecting everyone - irrespective of one's background, color, religious belief etc. It is my understanding that human rights violations in India have occurred against Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Dalits, women - sparing no one who's in minority or in a position of disadvantage. Let us empower Dr. Manmohan Singh to accomplish this significant task and show India how it can be done for everyone's benefit. Being in the Diaspora, we have this unique advantage to participate constructively in guiding and building other nations.

3: N. Singh (Canada), June 16, 2010, 6:07 PM.

Dr. Birinder Singh ji: I think you have made some very valid points but I would like to comment in my defence that each mother feels the loss of her own child more acutely ... although this does not negate the pain felt by other mothers in a similar situation. I believe it might be a genetical or biological phenomena, and therefore it is only natural that I and other Sikhs like myself feel and express our sorrow and anguish in greater measure with regards to the events of 1984 and beyond! However I understand and appreciate your viewpoint.

4: H. Singh (Union City, California, U.S.A.), June 16, 2010, 9:12 PM.

I mostly agree with the author's views. However, one thing I disagree with is the implication that a "system of Hindu dominance" prevents the deliverance of justice to aggrieved Sikhs. It's important to realize that justice is generally denied to the common man/ woman in India, whether they be Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, etc. Our fight should be against this type of repressive system rather than against a religious group.

5: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), June 17, 2010, 5:35 AM.

Dr. Manmohan Singh was quick to seek a report from his group of ministers on the Bhopal Tragedy. Perhaps its because accusations were plenty for the Congress Party. I wonder whether he even had a fleeting thought to act in the same manner for the 25-year old crimes against the Sikhs. That is the ministerial way in India and that is the way democracy is practiced here. For inflicting the wounds of 1984, the whole government and defense establishment was put in motion. It was the goons of the Congress then and they still enjoy the umbrella safety of the ruling party as they did in carrying out the crimes during 1984. Sadly, India's 'Justice' machinery is also upstaged by the same party. We may never see these criminals convicted. Alas, the whole world had a different standard for punishing the guilty of WWII, and it now seems to adhere to a different one. Dr. Manmohan Singh definitely made it happen, else why should America and its allies look the other way, with economics to the fore.

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