Vocals and Freedoms (Part 1 of 2)
Author/Source: Amrit Kaur Khalsa
The young woman shivered in the blackness of the night. With a cup of hot milk warming her hands, she looked toward the rising sun. She knew something was going to happen. Everybody knew. Her eyes skimmed over the silent sarovar, the Pool of Nectar surrounding the golden Harmandir Sahib, and rested on the shadows of the rising Singhs in the distance. She could see the still figures of the Indian Police Regiment patrolling the entry gates of the Harmandir Sahib complex. These days the Indian police force even had the blind courage to enter the complex and walk around aiming their guns at innocent pilgrims. The atmosphere had changed. No longer it was a harmonious journey to find eternal peace. Tensions were high and the air papery thin.
The Singhs [Sikh men and boys] were ready, waiting for a signal to defend their holiest place. All the older women walked inside the complex calling for the young girl to follow. She did so reluctantly wishing she were out with the Singhs, fighting for her freedom and integrity.
There was no electricity in the house, no water, barely any food. There was a blockade outside. No one could leave or enter the village. Police was everywhere searching the houses, questioning the locals. The beautiful Harmandir Sahib, Akal Takht Sahib and so many other Guru Ghars were destroyed, honor was stolen, glory broken. Hundreds of lives were lost; the sarovar was blood red. The Singhs gave their lives, they were the martyrs of time. Questions were running through the young woman's mind; how could the Indian government do this? What did the Sikhs do to them? How could they massacre hundreds of innocent people? None were answered. She thought of the leader, the brave Sant Jarnail Singh ji Khalsa Bhindrawale who said, be strong, physical death do not fear, but the death of the conscience is a sure death. A shiver of jubilance runs through her spine. The young woman looked to her brothers. She was ready. She was nervous. She knew dark times were ahead.
This is my mother's story. Her story, not like many in the world has been my motivation and my inspiration to always strive for everything I want. I have realized through listening to her stories of the struggles she went through that freedom is the most crucial aspect of life a human being needs. It is a necessity. To have freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful protest, freedom of expression and many more freedoms are a privilege. America was created based on these ideas. People fought for their rights, they were willing to take it to battle and many nations have gained that sovereignty. My mother's stories greatly impact on who I am and what my responsibilities are. I know what my freedoms are and I know I will use them wisely and effectively in my life. Her stories also motivate me to learn about my history and my past. As the saying goes, "If you don't know your past, you don't have a future"and it definitely holds true here. All those horrifying stories I heard from my mother and read about were revelations that lead me to investigate human rights in Punjab, India and other parts of the world. I knew my path was clear so I urged my mother to tell me more and she did.
The attack was not yet finished, after destroying the beautiful Harmandir Sahib [Golden Temple] the Indian army took tanks and completely bombarded it with bombs. Other temples surrounding the Harmandir were destroyed leaving debris and ashes onto the marble ground. The people were horrified, shocked and confused. Jas [my mother], the young woman, could not leave her house. She was afraid for her older brothers.
The police took any Sikh boy and man to the station and interrogated him. What could the families do? The boys were sent to hiding in different villages until times would go back to normal. So many young and helpless boys and men were torn from their own loving homes.
When will I see my brothers again, Jas thought. Again, her questions were not answered.
It was October 31, 1984. It was front page news. "Prime Ministress Indira Gandhi Assassinated." It was in retaliation. Jas knew it was the two Sikh bodyguards. They saw the horrors, they felt the pain and they took initiative. Life was never the same again for her.
The next three days, November 1st, November 2nd, and November 3rd were worse than anyone could ever imagine. Three days, thousands of mobs all over Punjab killing, murdering, massacring Sikh women, children, elderly, and most of all, the men. Sikh houses, shops, businesses burned to ash. Burning tires, kerosene, fire, gunshots, bombs, blasts, knives, torches, and swords. It was like war, but one side could not fight back. Three days and over a billion dollars in destruction. Did the Indian army put a stop to it? No. Did the Council of India put a stop to it? No. No one did. The Sikhs were alone in their dark world. It was revenge after revenge after revenge. Attack after attack after attack. Nothing could stop this now.
Her brothers were in hiding and that is where they would stay. Time went on and things SEEMED to get back to normal. No one could protest against the government, there was no freedom of speech or expression. If a person spoke in favor of the Sikhs held in detention, he/she too was put in detention, only for speaking out the truth. Was this a democracy? Countless Sikhs were taken from homes just "to be talked to" in the stations. But those people never returned home to their families. They were murdered in "police encounters". Jas worried for her older brothers who were trying to help other Sikhs in trouble. Police had already came to their humble abode to check to see if any young boys came by. Twice her father was taken into custody and twice her older sister. They had returned with gaunt faces and would not speak for days.
It was 1986, only two years since Operation Bluestar and the Delhi Pogroms. Jas's older brother had returned to tell the family something. Jas was shocked. Her mother was quiet and her father already knew. Her brother might not return, ever, so this was goodbye. Jas was horrified. She had realized this day would come, but was not ready for it. He was out to help all those Sikhs he could, and if he was killed during his mission, it was a sacrifice to humanity, justice and for the future Sikh generations. Everyone silently cried with their waterless eyes. Jas could not leave her brother do all the work; she wanted go with him to help. Her mother would not allow it, but her father supported her. In the end, Jas was with her brother and other Singhs and their wives helping Sikhs in trouble, getting them out of the so-called detention prisons. Alas, her journey began.
Traveling was extremely difficult, people recognized them and would report them to the police or army. Jas knew that the only way to regain justice was to disobey the law. Police had blockades in every city and village. They checked everyone leaving and everyone entering. There had been many incidents where their identities were revealed which caused their whole group to abandon everything and start over in another city or village. Thousands of Sikh women were raped; thousands of Sikh men and boys [Singhs] were killed in police encounters. They helped all they could, taking young Sikh women safely back to their families. Helping families locate their Sikh boys and men. All this they did in hiding, secretly, away from prying eyes so they would not get caught by the wretched Indian or Punjab police. So many covert operations. And yet the questions again aroused in her head. Why can't we come out in the open and let others help us with our mission? Why were the Sikhs getting killed? What did we do to the government? Why aren't we allowed certain freedoms while others are? And again, they were not answered.
To be continued, next week...