The building of a memorial commemorating the Indian State’s assault on the aspirations of the Sikhs highlights many questions for which answers are still elusive.
The 61 x 61 square feet structure of the memorial hides in itself the deep wounds of the Sikh identity. Responsibility for the memorial was taken over with the help of our present day rulers, by one faction of the sikh seminary – the Dam Dami Taksal – headed today by Bhai Harnam Singh Ji who is building the structure in memory of the slain Sikh leader Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale, the same Sant Ji who is known for saying that once the Indian State and its army entered the Golden Temple complex, the foundation of Sikh sovereignty will be laid. Now the question being asked is whether this memorial will symbolise that sovereignty, or the demise of such an aspiration.
Since the struggle for Indian independance, Sikhs were led to believe that no matter how much suffering they underwent, they would be rewarded with a sense of pride, identity and respect that was long overdue, in the form of liberty. But once the goal of independance was fulfilled, Sikhs were led into one struggle after another on one pretext or the other, be it for language, regional boundaries, the state capital, or even for a separate higher law court and control over natural resources. All of these struggles, one by one took us nowhere, but ultimately resulted in the Indian state and the army’s bloody assault on the Golden Temple complex to crush once and for all the ‘troublesome’ Sikh nation. It remains to be seen if the memorial will uphold that history or indeed the sufferings that sikhs have undergone in which a whole generation of youth from that time have perished and those remaining who suffered great pain are left out in the wilderness.
Comparisons being drawn on this issue with the building of a memorial for the Jewish holocaust is yet another false analysis by ou leadership. The Jewish people overcame tremendous sufferings step by step, and with each step rebuilt their lost dignity, pride and ultimately their own state. It was only then that they built a memorial to show the World how to grow despite the pain and suffering. As a community, they never let down the very people who suffered, unlike the Sikh leadership which continues to reward those who witnessed the journey, but not those who have undertaken it at a great loss.
The memorial should inspire a debate about the foresightedness of the leaders of that time in whose memory this structure is being raised and that of those who have been entrusted with its building. The present administration which has approved this memorial has a lot to answer for about its own role during that period. The political ruling party of Punjab under whose command we Sikhs still exist, played a huge role in 1984 and should answer the questions of those Sikhs whose scars are in a way being cemented by the building of this memorial.
Is the building of this memorial any different to the building of a new Gurudwara? It would not be out of line with many which have come up from time to time, in reality shadowing the real political issues concerning the well-being of the Sikhs in particular and the state of Punjab in general. The building of this memorial will not answer or heal the lingering wounds inflicted on the Sikhs.