June? Cue the erroneous articles of the invasion of Darbar Sahib, the umpteen social media conversations between people who once read an article that makes them an expert, and the vilification of some of the greatest Sikhs of the 21st century – and that’s all just by Sikhs themselves. Now somewhat confined to history, the invasion of Darbar Sahib Amritsar by the Indian State is anything but historical in nature, and remains the apex of a continued campaign to curtail the freedom of Sikhs, minority groups and in essence the populace of India. So when will Sikhs begin to understand what really took place in June of 1984?
I have spent considerable time writing and speaking to explain why the invasion of the Darbar Sahib Amritsar was more than an attack on a place of importance to Sikhs, why it was no mere incursion to “flush out” militants, and why it continues to set the agenda for Sikhs worldwide. It has often felt like time wasted (even though it wasn’t), but I am growing less frustrated by the response I’m met with which makes me think that. I get through to a few Sikhs who are able to follow the logic I present and read for themselves the sources I make reference to. There are then others (in the majority) who go through the motions as they read or listen but don’t want to dip their toes in more than necessary because they are unable to connect why it is of relevance to their (relatively comfortable) lives today. And then there are those (a sizable proportion) who oppose my reasoning, pigeon-hole me as an extremist of some variety and continue to deliver the State-line on what took place. Of course there are all manner of individuals in-between those groupings, not to mention a range of cohorts within each too, but largely that covers the thinking of the Sikh Diaspora when it comes to the invasion of the Darbar Sahib in 1984.
And that’s probably how it’s going to stay. It is humbling to think that when Guru Gobind Singh invited Sikhs to rebuke the now corrupt masands in 1698 and gather at Anandpur en masse the following Vaisakhi, there were tens of thousands in attendance. But it is pertinent to remember that from these bustling many, only five were prepared to step forward and do as their Guru asked. If the Tenth Guru Nanak in all his glory could not inspire all of those who deemed themselves his Sikhs to follow his command, there is little chance of a writer like me convincing fellow Sikhs to understand what really took place in 1984. We can also learn similarly from a century and a half ago, at the height of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign when the population of Sikhs in the Punjab territories grew to some 10 million; but just ten years later as the Punjab was being annexed by the British, dropping to a mere million-plus. No longer the winning side, the Sikh way of life lost its allure for the vast majority. But those who were left, rallied and under the stewardship of Bhai Maharaj Singh took a stand on the basis of which we exist today. Thus we can conclude that quantitative support or comprehension by the many has little value when it comes to the Sikh masses.
It can be particularly trying for Sikh activists when we face a counter-narrative about 1984 and the movement since from within our own number, promoting the State’s version of events to some degree, but it is important to understand that there we are witnessing a weakness of the Sikh spirit that has become disillusioned by the path of the Guru. It is not completely their own fault that some of our fellow Sikhs ask what the Sant was doing there, or opining that he should have held off taking on the establishment just yet, or justifying the invasion because the number of innocents allegedly “killed” by militants was criminally high. They are the victims produced from five centuries of combat that has been fought without a single weapon wielded (before 1984) stemming from the moment that Guru Nanak rejected the sacred thread and in doing so initiated a challenge to the dominance of the Brahmins that controlled South Asian society. Sikhs who believe that Sikhi is a peaceful path (whatever that means) or is a solely spiritual movement (because those exist apparently) have fallen into the trap set for them by those who lost out when Guru Nanak’s revolution took hold. They are at fault for not seeking deeper within themselves to draw their own conclusions, but when considered in the light of the propaganda machine that has brainwashed them into thinking so, it can be taken with less acrimony.
The same goes for Sikhs who try to deflect our attention on the task at hand, looking at events beyond 1984, talking about the futility of creating a land-locked nation, or scurrying from pillar to post in a fruitless search for unity (that has never existed), or most abhorrently going kirpan in hand (literally) to beseech others to secure justice. More often than not, they have been corrupted away from the Shabad of Guru Nanak – usually by a dera, “scholar” or wider society that seeks comfort over all else – but in a small number of cases they are willing voices of the State. Again, it is something I have grown less frustrated by: this is a war; some people dress in the same uniform as me, but they don’t need to be on a battlefield pointing a gun in my direction for me to work out whose side they are really on. Why would I then expect those individuals to say or do any less than the instructions given to them by their superiors? And more importantly, why break ranks and deviate from ones own stratagem to challenge them?
History we are told is written by the victorious – if so, one day I am sure the truth of why the Indian State invaded the Darbar Sahib will be accepted without question by all Sikhs, but that day will not come until there is some semblance of Sikh power, not just in the political sense or economically, but that which exudes from within our leadership. The fact that I and others exist today making statements that contradict the State narrative, despite the unfathomable resources for propaganda that are employed against us, is because in 1984 we did have real power in the body of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, General Shabegh Singh and others. Theirs is an example that proves it is possible for us to succeed without mass support and that our endeavours might have far-reaching consequences in ways that we might not yet imagine; but it all comes from having faith in the principles espoused by the House of Guru Nanak and doing the right thing, no matter how unpopular.