In June 1984, the Indian Government sent nearly a quarter million troops to Punjab, sealed the state from the rest of the world, and launched an attack, code-named 'Operation Bluestar', on the Darbar Sahib complex in Amritsar and over forty other gurdwaras in Punjab. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, head of the Damdami Taksaal, and many students and teachers belonging to the Taksaal, perished in the conflict. Several thousand men, women and children, mostly innocent pilgrims, also lost their lives in that attack. In this essay, we describe Sant Bhindranwale's life, mission and the growth of opposition to him. We also look at specific allegations leveled by the Indian Government against the Sant in the light of his public pronouncements and of contemporary reports. We specially note the campaign of misrepresentation and vilification carried on by the Government as well as the role played by the news media in propagating certain myths.
SANT BHINDRANWALE - LIFE AND MISSION
1. Early Life and Success as a Sikh Preacher
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was born in village Rode located in Faridkot District of Punjab, in 1947. From his childhood, he had a religious bent of mind. Sant Gurbachan Singh Khalsa, head of the Damdami Taksaal, the premier Sikh religious school, visited the child's village and suggested to Joginder Singh, Jarnail Singh's father, that his son join the Taksaal as a student. Coming to the Taksaal in 1965, Jarnail Singh received instruction in Sikh theology and history under Sant Gurbachan Singh's tutelage and later Sant Kartar Singh Bhindranwale's. He grew up to be an effective preacher of the faith. On August 25, 1977, upon the death of Sant Kartar Singh, he became head of the Taksaal.
From July 1977 to July 1982, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale extensively toured cities and villages of Punjab to preach the Sikh faith. He also visited other states and cities in India. Wherever he went, he carried Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's message to every home exhorting Sikhs to take Amrit, observe the Sikh appearance, and live according to the teachings of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. As Tavleen Singh tells us : 'His philosophy in six words was Nashey chaddo, Amrit chhako, Gursikh bano (Give up addictions, Take Amrit, Become good Sikhs)'. Explaining his mission, he said : 'My mission is to administer Amrit, to explain the meanings of Gurbani and to teach Gurbani to those around me; ... and (to tell people) that a Hindu should be a firm Hindu, a Muslim should be a firm Muslim, and a Sikh should be a firm Sikh'. His preaching was based on love. He said : 'If we speak to someone with hatred and try to assert our superiority, it will create hatred in the minds of everyone. So long as we have the spirit of love, so long as we have the support of Satguru Hargobind Sahib, the Master of Miri and Piri, is there any power on earth that can subdue us?' He wanted the Sikhs to 'come back to Anandpur, their home' by taking Amrit, and become his brothers and sons of Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib.
Sant Bhindranwale had a charismatic personality and spoke in simple village idiom. Those who listened to him, were impressed by his simple living, personal charm, and clear thinking. Joyce Pettigrew, who met him in 1980, writes : 'There was a very close association between the Sant and the people, as I myself witnessed on a visit to meet Sant Bhindranwale in Guru Nanak Niwas.' According to Shiva, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 'gained his popularity with the Punjab peasantry by launching an ideological crusade against the cultural corruption of Punjab. The most ardent followers of Bhindranwale in his first phase of rising popularity were children and women, both because they were relatively free of the new culture of degenerative consumption, and they were worst hit by the violence it generated. In the second phase of Bhindranwale's popularity, men also joined his following, replacing vulgar movies with visits to gurdwaras, and reading the 'gurbani' in place of pornographic literature. The Sant's following grew as he successfully regenerated the 'good' life of purity, dedication and hard work by reviving these fundamental values of the Sikh religion's way of life.
The popularity of Bhindranwale in the countryside was based on this positive sense of fundamentalism as revitalizing the basic moral values of life that had been the first casualty of commercial capitalism. During the entire early phase of Bhindranwale's preaching, he made no anti-government or anti-Hindu statement, but focused on the positive values of the Sikh religion. His role was largely that of a social and religious reformer.' According to Khushwant Singh : 'Within a short period of becoming head of the Taksaal, Jarnail Singh came to be recognized as the most effective instrument of renaissance of Sikh fundamentalism. He toured villages exhorting Sikh youth to return to the spartan ways of the Khalsa started by Guru Gobind Singh: not to clip their beards, to abstain from smoking, drinking and taking drugs. Wherever he went, he baptized young men and women by the hundreds. An integral part of his preaching was that all Sikhs should, as had been required by their warrior Guru Gobind Singh, be shastradharis - weapon-bearers.' Tully and Jacob state that: 'In spite of the Government's propaganda, to many people Bhindranwale remained a sant, or holy man, not a terrorist.'
The religious revival lead by Sant Bhindranwale resulted in a large number of Sikhs, especially the youth, receiving initiation into the Sikh faith. According to Khushwant Singh : 'Bhindranwale's amrit prachar was a resounding success. Adults in their thousands took oaths in public to abjure liquor, tobacco and drugs and were baptized. Video cassettes showing blue films and cinema houses lost out to the village gurdwara. Men not only saved money they had earlier squandered in self-indulgence, but now worked longer hours on their lands and raised better crops. They had much to be grateful for to Jarnail Singh who came to be revered by them as Baba Sant Jarnail Singhji Khalsa Bhindranwale.' When Sant Bhindranwale was staying in the Darbar Sahib complex during 1982 and 1983, four to five hundred persons were administered Amrit each Wednesday and Sunday. On April 13, 1983 over ten thousand were initiated and during the month ending on April 13, 1984, forty-five thousand Sikhs received Amrit .
This revival was extremely significant and Sant Bhindranwale was emerging as the leading figure in the Sikh faith and a role-model for the youth. I was once told by a relative that his two sons had stopped taking tea. I asked him why, and if they had been to see Sant Bhindranwale. The reply was: 'No, it is just the way things are in Punjab. The young people love and admire him so much that if they come to know what the Sant does or doesn't do, they like to follow his example.' People sought his advice and intercession for personal problems and conflict resolution. Khushwant Singh reports : 'On a later visit to Amritsar I got an inkling into the reasons of Bhindranwale's popularity. I will narrate two incidents to illustrate this. One day a young girl came to see Bhindranwale. ..... She clutched his feet and sobbed out her story of how she was maltreated by her husband's family for failing to extract more money from her parents and of her husband's unwillingness to take her side. Bhindranwale asked her name and where she lived. "So you are a daughter of the Hindus," he said. "Are you willing to become the daughter of a Sikh?" She nodded. Bhindranwale sent a couple of his armed guards to fetch the girl's family. An hour later a very frightened trio consisting of the girl's husband and his parents were brought to his presence. "Is this girl a daughter of your household?", he demanded. They admitted she was. "She tells me that you want money from her father. I am her father." He placed a tray full of currency notes before them and told them: "take whatever you want". The three fell at his feet and craved forgiveness.' Khushwant Singh tells us that he was so respected that, after his election to be head of the Damdami Taksaal in preference to Amrik Singh, son of Sant Kartar Singh, 'instead of resenting the choice, Amrik Singh became a confidante and collaborator of Jarnail Singh.'
2. Conflict with Sant Nirankaris
Sant Bhindranwale first gained prominence in public life when he organized a protest to stop the Sant Nirankari assembly in Amritsar on April 13, 1978 after he was unsuccessful in persuading the administration to stop it. A group of one hundred persons, including 25 from Sant Bhindranwale's group and 75 from the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, participated in this peaceful protest. These unarmed people were fired upon by Nirankari gunmen leaving 13 dead and 78 wounded. The police, instead of stopping the massacre, hurled tear-gas at the protestors converting them into sitting ducks. A police officer who was present at the scene told this writer that the Sikh protestors had agreed to stop some distance away from the Nirankari assembly and to wait for the police to negotiate with the Nirankaris to end their public meeting. However, while they were waiting, Nirankari gunmen moved behind a row of busses, parked on one side of the road, to come to the rear of the protestors and opened fire. The leader of the protestors was shot dead by one of the police officials as he tried to persuade the police to intervene and stop the killing. Every attempt was made to avoid punishing the guilty. Instead of apprehending those who had committed the heinous crime, the local authorities escorted them safely out of the state. Sant Bhindranwale felt specially let down by Parkash Singh Badal, then Chief Minister of Punjab, and by Jiwan Singh Umranangal, a cabinet minister, who was present in Amritsar at the time of the April 1978 massacre. Badal felt constrained by the desires of the Hindu members of his coalition government and Jiwan Singh Umranangal never saw any merit in the protest organized by the Sikhs. These events caused extreme bitterness in the minds of the Sikhs. They felt that the Government was deliberately siding with the murderers and treating Sikhs as second-class citizens whose life had no value. An order was issued from Siri Akal Takhat Sahib calling upon all Sikhs to boycott the Nirankaris. Immiediately after the massacre, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale personally cared for the dead and the wounded . This endeared him even more to the Sikh masses. After prolonged agitation by the Sikhs, a case was registered against the perpetrators. However, the judge, reportedly upon receiving a bribe , acquitted all of them stating that they had acted in self-defense .
The state government, controlled by Indira Gandhi's party, elected not to appeal this judgment. As Sikhs in various places in India continued to protest the Nirankari practice of openly denigrating their faith, each protest was met by firing by the police and the Nirankaris with the death toll of Sikhs gradually mounting to 28. In April 1980, the Nirankari leader, Baba Gurbachan Singh, was assassinated. His followers named Sant Bhindranwale as a suspect even though he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Several of his associates and relatives were arrested. For his part, the Sant continued to openly oppose the Nirankaris and expressed satisfaction that such a wicked person had been eliminated. He declared that if he met Ranjit Singh, the suspected killer, he would weigh him in gold. However, it is said that when Bhai Ranjit Singh did show up clandestinely at Darbar Sahib in 1983, he was not honored by Sant Bhindranwale. Also, when Singh Sahib Gurdial Singh Ajnoha, Jathedar, Siri Akal Takhat Sahib, was considering a rapprochement with the Sant Nirankaris, Sant Bhindranwale declared that he would abide by the decision taken by the Akal Takhat .
3. Growth of opposition to Sant Bhindranwale
Sant Bhindranwale's phenomenal success in reviving the Sikh faith among rural masses of Punjab was viewed with concern by the established leadership of the country. The secularists viewed the revival of the faith as a reversal of the process of weakening of religious bonds. They were afraid that under Sant Bhindranwale's leadership, the Sikh religion might strengthen, spread and eventually result in the emergence of a cohesive Sikh nation which might possibly demand separation of Punjab from the Indian state. Even though many Hindus join Sikhs prayers, attend gurdwaras, and regularly participate in Sikh religious ceremonies, the extremists among them misrepresented the daily Sikh prayer as a call for Sikh domination. Whether by design to undermine the Sikh religion or due to paranoia against possible balkanization of India they confused Sant Bhindranwale's emphasis upon the distinct identity of the Sikh religion with political separatism. Akalis were worried that even though Sant Bhindranwale insisted that he had no personal political ambitions , he could emerge as a king-maker and jeopardize their hegemony over the Sikh community. The Indian news media, by and large, joined in the witchhunt along with several well known 'intellectuals'. Even Khushwant Singh, who had earlier discussed the survival of the Sikhs as a separate community in a rational manner, described this revival as 'Sikh fundamentalism raising its ugly head'. Each of these groups, anxious about defending its territory, policies, and/or beliefs, had a role in promoting misrepresentations and misunderstandings about Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and/or the Sikh religion. All of them, with different perspectives and interests, focused on a common target; Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who spearheaded the Sikh revival.
MISREPRESENTATION AND VILIFICATION OF SANT BHINDRANWALE
1. Exaggeration and False Apportionment of Blame
In order to mislead the Indian public and to facilitate the passage of draconian laws restricting Sikh right to life and liberty, the Indian Government blamed Sant Bhindranwale for every crime that was committed in Punjab. At the same time, the level of crime in the state was grossly exaggerated to justify government oppression as necessary for control of separatism and the preservation of national unity and integrity. Punjab was a state with a crime rate significantly below the Indian national figures. According to government reports , 172 persons were killed in the period from August 5, 1982, to December 31, 1983, and 453 (including 118 killed by the police and paramilitary organizations and some killed in the neighboring state of Haryana), over the period August 5, 1981, to June 2, 1984. Sinha et al. tell us : 'In Delhi alone in the year 1983, 244 persons were murdered (Statesman, July 1, 1984). .... Clubbing together every kind of crime under the heading and blaming the Akali agitation for all of them is but an attempt to mislead the people.' Nayar confirms that 'Punjab Government circulated a secret document. This document said that there were 5,422 murders in 1980 and 5,068 in 1981 in U.P. while in Punjab there were 620 murders in 1980 and 544 in 1981.' It is noteworthy that of all the cases listed in the White Paper it was only in eleven cases that the attackers are even alleged to be Sikh. In all other cases the assailants were unknown. Responding to this propaganda, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'If someone's dog or cat dies, they say Bhindranwala gets it done.' Also : 'At whatever place, whatever untoward incident occurs, whether any other place is named in that connection or not, the names of Harmandar Sahib and Nanak Niwas are always included. This is for anything happening anywhere, not only in a couple of cases. Madhya Pradesh is thousands of kilometers from here. Something happened at Bhilai a long time back. Even that case has been linked to this place. After that, at various other places, many incidents occurred. The Government and the Mahashas, communal newspapers, have not hesitated in linking Harmandar Sahib to these. These conspiracies are being hatched and stories concocted with the sole purpose of vilifying the Akali Dal and to make this struggle unsuccessful.' Extremist Hindus described Sikh religious practices as commitment to violence and initiation of people into Sikh religion as provocative action. They described the Sant's trips to Punjab villages as : 'Sant Bhindranwale himself used to go about with about 50 of his armed men in a bus and a lot of tension was generated in the State as a result.' Noting this, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'One who takes Amrit and helps others take it; who reads the Gurbani and teaches others to do the same; who gives up intoxicants and helps others to do likewise; who urges all to get together and work in cooperation; who preaches Hindu-Sikh unity and asks for peaceful coexistence; who says: "If you are a Muslim be a devout Muslim, if you are a Sikh be a devout Sikh, respect your Isht, unite under the saffron Nishaan Sahib stoutly support the Panth, and be attached to Satguru's Throne and Guru's Darbar"; persons who preach like this are now all being called extremists by this Government and by the Mahasha press. In particular, I have been given a big title. They call me the "leader of the extremists". I am a firm extremist, but of the type which has the characteristics I have described to you.' He also said : 'Who is an extremist in this Government's eyes? It is one who has a turban on his head; wears the kachhera; supports unity and follows the Guru; is desirous of progress of the country; is desirous of justice for the blood of the martyrs, for the insult of Satguru Granth Sahib; and promotes good of all mankind. In Punjab today, anyone who believes in and follows the path of ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਚੜਦੀ ਕਲਾ ਤੇਰੇ ਭਾਣੇ ਸਰਬਤ ਕਾ ਭਲਾ Nanak says: God's Name is glorious; there is good for all in accepting Your (God's) will", is an extremist.'
2. Staged Crimes
To brand devout Sikhs as criminals, the Government stage-managed numerous crimes. The modus operandi was that the police would orchestrate a crime, the Government would ascribe the crime to Sant Bhindranwale. Following this, the law-enforcement agencies would round up a few devout Sikhs and harass, torture, rape, and even 'eliminate' them through torture.
a.Cows' heads thrown in a Hindu temple According to a report : 'Surinder Kapoor M.L.A. created sensation, when in a meeting of the Congress (Indira) Legislative Party, Punjab, held on March 6, 1983, he accused the then Punjab Government of hatching a conspiracy at Mohali of cutting a few heads of dead cows and of actually conveying them to Amritsar for being stealthily thrown in some Hindu temple there and thus lit the first communal fire in the state'. Sant Bhindranwale and the AISSF had nothing to do with this, were ignorant about the conspiracy, but were blamed by the Government whereas it showed no interest in prosecuting a person caught red-handed throwing tobacco in the Darbar Sahib premises. Sant Bhindranwale said : 'A person associated with a Hindu Vairagi brought and dropped some tobacco in the Parkarma. Sikhs caught him right there and handed him over to the police. He admitted that he been sent by Romesh and that they were four men who had come. For throwing tobacco at a religious place of the Sikhs, for the desecration, the police would not even take him to the Police Station. He was released on the road outside the Station. On the other hand, someone brought a head of a dead cow from the slaughterhouse and dropped it in a Hindu religious place. Neither any Hindu nor any Sikh witnessed any Sikh boy doing it. Simply based on suspicion, a price of fifty thousand rupees has been placed on the head of Jaswant Singh Thekedar of Gurdaspur and of twenty-five thousand on the head of Rajinder Singh of Mehta .... A price was placed on his head because he grew up in the village where Bhindranwala lives, because he is a student in the Federation, because he is an employee of the Shromani Parbandhak Committee, and he has the complete appearance (of a Sikh).' He further explained : 'No Sikh is in favor of placing cows' heads in temples. We are also not in favor of killing the cow. We do not consider the cow a guru, it is a good animal.'
b. Bombs Thrown at the Chief Minister of Punjab According to Sinha et al. : 'Dubious attacks on Chief Minister Darbara Singh and such other activists were stage-managed in order to malign the Akali movement and to find a pretext to unleash repression..... On August 20, 1982, two hand-grenades were thrown at him at Rahon. A few policemen and onlookers were injured but the grenade thrown at Darbara Singh did not blast instead it was securely tied in a handkerchief. One man was claimed to have been arrested at the place of the incident. The following night one man in custody was later set free. It was proved that he was a police person who managed the show, and hence had to be set free.' Using this stage-managed crime as a pretext, an innocent Amritdhari Sikh was arrested and tortured to death. Sant Bhindranwale told his listeners : 'Bhai Gurmeet Singh of Dhulkot, the only son of his parents ... was caught. His nails were pulled out and salt was poured (over the wounds); his hands were burnt by placing candles under the palms of his hands. Then Bhullar sent a wireless message to the Chief Minister of Punjab, stating that his hands had been burnt, his nails pulled out and salt poured over them but he would not say anything except Sat Siri Akal and Vaheguru. Then, the words came out of this proud man's mouth that this man should be shot to death. That is how he was martyred.'
c. Extortion Some persons received letters demanding money. These letters were purportedly written on behalf of Sant Bhindranwale. Upon this being brought to his attention, he said : 'I like to make an appeal to the congregation and I like to inform the newspapermen too so that they can definitely publish it. I have this letter in my hand. Seven such letters have been received in the Qadian area. One has reached Pritam Singh Bhatia. In that letter too it is written about a Hindu that he should reach such and such place near the railway tracks, where Bhatia Sahib's sheller is located, on August 12, 1983 with 50,000 rupees. The person to whom that letter is addressed has been asked to reach there at such and such time with 50,000 rupees and if he does not reach there, he should make preparations because he would be finished off in a few days. On the top is written: "There is one God, Eternal: Long live Khalistan." At the end, at the bottom, is written: "Long live Bhindranwala." So, I appeal to the congregation that this is the product of the Government's black deeds. This is because in the cases that they had registered against Singhs ... the Singhs are being acquitted and released. To hide this, to hide their own black deeds, and to tarnish the brightening image of the Jatha, to malign it, the Government has started these activities. .... There are some names mentioned in this letter. There is one Jag Mohan Lal, another is Tilak Raj, there are Om Parkash, Subhash Chander, Mohinder Lal, and Brij Mohan. ... So, Khalsa Ji, letters have been sent addressed to these names. ... There is one for a person with "Singh" in his name too. This has been done because if all the letters were addressed to Hindus, it might have aroused suspicion. The manager of the Punjab & Sind Bank in Qadian is, I learn, a Sikh. In the letter to him is written: "You should come to such and such place on August 11, 1983 with 300,000 rupees and you will be safe. Otherwise, I have Bhindranwala's permission to put you on the train (of death) on such and such date. You have the Sikh appearance; you should stoutly support us; bring a liberal amount." This is what is written in this letter. We have to guard ourselves against such people. To give a bad name, to place obstructions in the conduct of this ongoing agitation, the Government is going to use every possible trick. We ought to be fully alert to these. This Taksaal has never believed in robberies, thefts, using intoxicants, nor does it believe now nor it ever will.' Speaking about the police and their 'dirty tricks', the Sant said : 'Police is set up for protection of the public. But today's police have taken on the form of robbers to loot the public. There are innumerable examples of this, not one, two or four. When there was an investigation into a bank (robbery) case, during investigation of police officials, their names came up; if the culprits were caught red-handed placing bombs in a city, they proved that they were employees of the police. When dogs were used (to track criminals), they got into the car of the SDM., they went into the home of a Narkdhari (Nirankari) and they entered a police station.'
3. Oppression Directed against Devout Sikhs
a. Murder of Devout Sikhs in 'Faked Encounters' For officially orchestrated as well as fictitious crimes, devout Sikhs were rounded up, labelled as terrorists, tortured and often killed. Tully and Jacob report a conversation with Darbara Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab : 'He did order the police to take action against those terrorists they could not get hold of and there was a series of what the Indian police call 'encounters' - a euphemism for cold-blooded murder by the police. Darbara Singh admitted as much to me. On another occasion, when Satish Jacob and I both met him, the former Chief Minister said, 'Encounters did take place, and they were killed. I told my senior police officers, "You kill the killers and I will take the responsibility." ' And again : 'Bhinder told me that ten people he described as 'Bhindranwale's do or die men' had been shot by the police and that more than 1600 people had been arrested.' It is noteworthy that the appellations 'terrorist', 'suspected terrorist', 'do or die men' were being used, by Tully and Jacob, synonymously with Amritdhari, a formally initiated Sikh. Nayar reports : 'The police retaliated by raiding the houses of suspects, beating up the inmates and even killing a few of them in faked 'encounters'. Twenty four 'wanted' people were killed thus. This infuriated Bhindranwale the most; he would say that the Hindu police were killing 'innocent Sikhs'.' Also that : 'Since the police had no way to distinguish between a Sikh who is a terrorist and one who is not, every Sikh travelling to Delhi was searched. Trains were stopped at wayside stations at midnight in cold December and the Sikh passengers, travelling even in first class AC coaches, were made to get down to appear before a police official on the platform. Buses were detained to get Sikh passengers down and at some places the rustic policemen said: "All Sikhs should come down." Khushwant Singh tells us : 'The police were rarely able to identify or arrest the culprits. Its only method of dealing with the menace was to organize fake encounters and kill anyone they supported.' Often, young Sikhs, fearing torture by the police, would run away from their homes. In such cases their families were victimized by the police. Nayar confirms that: 'Relatives of the absconders were harassed and even detained. Even many days after the excesses committed by the police, we could see how fear-stricken the people were. Villagers gave us the names of some of the police sub-inspectors and deputy superintendents involved; some of them, they said, had a reputation of taking the law into their hands.' Zail Singh, who was President of India at the time, himself confirmed cases of police shooting dead 23 Sikhs in 1982 for the simple reason that, as part of a statewide protest, they tried to peacefully stop traffic on a road, and of killing another six for shouting slogans.
b. The Chando-Kalan Looting by the Police and the Chowk-Mehta Massacre On 9th September 1981, Lala Jagat Narain was assassinated and, immediately, without any supporting evidence, Sant Bhindranwale was presumed to be associated with the crime. Warrants for the Sant's arrest were issued on 11th September. The Police tried to arrest him in village Chando-Kalan in Haryana on the 13th but by the time they reached there, the Sant had left the place. The Police ransacked the village, killed 20 persons in indiscriminate firing , and set fire to two busses belonging to the Taksaal. The busses contained religious texts. The Sant frequently referred to this wanton act of arson by the police as sacrilege committed by Darbara Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab at that time.
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale announced that he would surrender to the police in Chowk-Mehta, his headquarters, on 20th September. The mayhem following his arrest, resulting in death of 18 innocent Sikhs in police firing, is said to have been stage-managed by the government intelligence agencies. When Sant Bhindranwale was being taken away, in spite of his personal advice and entreaties by his staff for everybody to stay calm and peaceful, some people became emotional. According to one account , someone tried to grapple with the Senior Superintendent of Police on duty. There are reports that this too was orchestrated to give the police an excuse to open fire. Birbal Nath, the then Director General of Police, is said to have regarded Lala Jagat Narain's murder as his personal loss and along with the other members of the Punjab bureaucracy, wanted a 'good slaughter' of Sikhs at Chowk Mehta. He made plans to storm Chowk Mehta and had a commando unit trained for the purpose of capturing Sant Bhindranwale. Joginder Singh Anand, Deputy Inspector General, later committed suicide presumably because of his remorse at having been associated with this massacre. The Sant's arrest and the massacre of Sikhs that accompanied it led to violent reaction in several places in Punjab followed by still more government oppression. It was much later, after continued demands by the Sikh leadership, that an inquiry into the incident was instituted. According to Sant Bhindranwale : 'There was an inquiry into the Mehta affair. Amrik Singh and others were working in connection with that. They were arrested and put in jail. The inquiry was completed but now they are not making it public. This is because according to its findings many big leaders will have to be punished. They are sitting on it.'
c. Murder of Hardev Singh and his associates On 16th March 1983, the police reported an 'encounter' in which 19-year old Hardev Singh, from Sant Bhindranwale's organization, was killed along with some of his associates. Mr. Pandey, Superintendent of Police, claimed that when the jeep was signaled to stop, the miscreants opened fire and managed to escape towards the Beas river. He said that he presumed some persons in the jeep were killed in the police firing. The Tribune reported its sources as saying that the jeep had been 'earlier followed by police vehicles on its emerging from a religious place in the city.' The next day, The Tribune reported that police sources did not rule out the possibility of the police having lobbed more than one grenade. It was surmised that Mr. Pandey received pellet wounds in one of these grenade explosions. According to The Tribune , the Central Bureau of Investigation did not agree with the Punjab Government's version of the encounter and decided to shift Mr. Pandey to Delhi to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to Sikh leaders, it was a clear case of murder of innocent unsuspecting Sikhs travelling in the jeep. Tavleen Singh reported : 'All the factions that inhabited the Gurdwara at that point were ... convinced that the murder was a government plot devised to find an excuse to enter the Temple complex.' Paradoxically, instead of inquiring into the affair and punishing the guilty officials, the Indian Government used this murder by ambush as the basis for canceling the arms licenses of the victims and their associates. The Union Home Ministry 'directed the State Government to deal firmly with the extremists and ensure that its orders canceling the arms licenses of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's followers are faithfully and expeditiously carried out.' While Sikh leaders were crying 'murder' and praying for the departed souls, extremist Hindu groups were quick to blame the victims and to protest the prayer meetings. Innocent persons had been killed but instead of seeking justice and noting the absence of due process, leaders of he Bhartiya Janata Party charged the Center and the State Government with 'failure' to deal with 'terrorists' and called for punishment to the mourners.
d. Charges against Amrik Singh Amrik Singh and Thara Singh had been detained since July 19, 1982. They were acquitted by a court on July 21, 1983 but were kept in judicial custody for another two weeks or so while the police tried to cook up some other charges against them. Referring to this, Sant Bhindranwale said : 'Today they have initiated a new case against him. They had arrested Amrik Singh. They could not find any proof for the accusation they levelled against him. It was apparent that he would be acquitted. Now they have written up charges against him under the date 16th. I have got a copy of the F.I.R. on this case. In it, it is said that Amrik Singh shouted Khalistan slogans. The case has been registered but the arrest under this case is not being made. They say that they will arrest him when he is released.' Amrik Singh was released and these charges were never pursued. However, this false report, drafted before the victims could have had any opportunity to commit the crime listed, was later presented as evidence before a judge of the High Court and accepted by him as fact. In violation of the court's decision, the police planned to rearrest him as he came out of the gate of the jail. The news media, instead of protesting government high-handedness, issued a de facto endorsement of the government policy of arbitrary arrest and detention, by calling the release a lapse on the part of the police. The police official concerned was placed under suspension and relieved of his duties even though he had a history of faithfully torturing and killing Sikh youth and having his own son join the All India Sikh Students Federation in order to collect information for the Government .
e. Cremation of Sikhs murdered by Police The Police routinely refused to hand over the bodies of Sikhs killed in police firings and faked encounters to the families of the victims. Sant Bhindranwale repeatedly mentioned in his speeches that the bodies of the victims of the 20 September 1981 police firing at Chowk- Mehta were not returned to the families nor were there any post-mortem examination reports made public. Even after his death, the Police continued this policy of disposing off the bodies as unclaimed . This was presumably done to prevent the families from conducting funeral ceremonies which could serve as gathering points for Sikhs to pay homage to the departed souls. This practice later on took the form of Sikh young men being simply kidnapped and 'disappeared'. f Encouragement to Hindu Mobs Mobs, led by extremist Hindu organizations, repeatedly set upon and massacred innocent Sikhs in various cities in Punjab and neighboring states. No protection or support was given by the law-enforcement agencies to the victims of this violence. Often, it was the victims of violence who were arrested . The attackers' actions were justified as 'understandable' reaction to Sant Bhindranwale's 'inflammatory' speeches. Any demonstration or other protest organized by the Sikhs against these atrocities was met with extreme violence. Sant Bhindranwale emphasized that at no time inhistory had any Sikh set fire to Hindu scriptures or a Sikh mob set upon any Hindus.
4. Role of the News media and 'Intellectuals'
In a democratic and free society, one would expect the press and the intelligentsia to be watchful of activities of the administration, to expose excesses against the innocent, and to be on the side of life and liberty. However, in the case of Sikhs, the Indian news media failed to look for facts and enthusiastically participated with the Government in its deliberate campaign of vilification of a dearly loved and deeply respected religious leader, criminalization of an entire faith through stage-managed criminal acts, and oppression of a religious community based on false accusations of illegal activities. Well-known writers, on the one hand, noted that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was an honest religious man without political ambition against whom no criminal charges could be substantiated and, on the other, went on to blame him for everything echoing government propaganda. As typical of this attitude, we quote Sanghvi : 'The rise and death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale must be one of the most amazing sagas in the history of Indian politics. In 1978, he was an obscure 31-year-old village preacher who toured the Punjab warning youths against shaving their beards or cutting their hair. By 1984, when he was only 37, he had come to represent the single greatest threat to the unity and stability of India since Independence. And nearly two years after the battle in which he lost his life, taking the Akal Takht with him, he remains a martyr in the eyes of many Sikhs. Even today, rare is the Sikh politician who will dare to call him what he was: a fanatic and a murderer.' It is amazing that Sanghvi should paint the Sant as a fanatic and a murderer without any supporting data. He is surprised at Sikhs, directly affected by government oppression and knowing Sant Bhindranwale more closely, honoring their extremely popular leader. Most journalists concede that the Sant was easily accessible and that whenever they met him he would describe details of police brutalities against Sikhs. Instead of following up on these complaints and looking for facts, the news-media ignored them as wild accusations. Nayar reports : 'Bhindranwale's speech would contain venom; he would pick up some instance of police excess or of 'discrimination' against the Sikhs and say that the Sikhs were not getting their due in India and that they must unite to fight for justice.' One wonders how a call for unity against discrimination could be construed as 'venom'? Sant Bhindranwale noted the hostility of the news media in his speeches.
For example : 'The newspapers do not publish or rarely publish the information I provide. I do not know what pressure is there. But I shall humbly request you, who are assembled here in large numbers, go to your villages and convey the message'. Also: 'The newspapers do what they will. May Satguru have mercy and give them wisdom. I should not say much about anybody in anger. Sitting there, in order to run their newspaper, they delete any news that is in the interests of the Panth. Whatever is in the interest of making money, in the interest of the press or the Government, is published.' During the agitation that started on August 4, 1982, thousands of Sikhs peacefully courted arrest. The Government's consistent response was continued beatings and torture of Sikh youth. Instead of raising their voice against such oppression, most intellectuals justified government brutality against innocent people and accused Sant Bhindranwale of encouraging violence when he spoke out against state terrorism. Nayar, typical of the news media, while conceding that the police killed Sikh youth in faked 'encounters', noted : '...we could not but condemn the extremist elements who were out to defy law and glorify violence. Those who were accused of heinous crimes were honored in their absence in the villages of their birth and in recognition of their 'heroism' their kin were given saropas. We were shown in Jalandhar, where we ended our trip, photographs of people who had been charged with murder, rioting and the like being 'honored'. And we were pained to note that even the leftist among the moderate Sikhs were reluctant or afraid to condemn what the extremists had done.' This renowned columnist apparently equated false accusations by an oppressive government with the actual commitment of a crime. Here was a journalist willing to condone widespread inhuman torture and condemning the relatives of innocent victims for 'honoring' their dead'. Khushwant Singh, trying to ridicule Sant Bhindranwale, states : 'There was very little learning or piety to this man. Also : 'To Bhindranwale modernity was evil: the Sikhs must return to the simple ways of their warrior forefathers. They must look like them: wear their beards lose and not rolled up and tied under their chins; they must wear long shirts, below knee-length breeches (kuchhas) covering their shins. Likewise, Sikh women should not drape themselves in sarees which were Hindu, but in salwar-kameez (baggy trousers and long shirts) which are Punjabi, nor wear bindis (dots) on their foreheads. His newborn Khalsa were to be god-like (saabat soorat gur Sikh), while the rest of the world was ungodly-and woe to the ungodly. The newborn Khalsa were the Gurus' storm troopers who would trample their foes under their bare feet like so much vermin. It was a heady brew that Bhindranwale served to simple-minded Sikh peasants.' The fact is that Sant Bhindranwale actually employed the tools of modern science in his missionary work.
Khushwant Singh concedes that Sant Bhindranwale wanted Sikhs to carry modern firearms in addition to the traditional kirpaan; and, instead of the traditional horses, ride motorcycles. Sant Bhindranwale did advise people to return to simple ways, shun intoxicants, remember God, follow the Gurus' teachings, and reminded Sikhs of their role as saint-soldiers. However, contrary to Khushwant Singh's conjectures, he never implied that people of other faiths were ungodly and 'woe to them'. There was no question of 'reborn Khalsa'. The Khalsa, created by Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, have always been Gurus' storm troopers in defense of the helpless and in fighting oppression. Sant Bhindranwale did not initiate this concept. Like many other journalists, following the government line in blaming Sant Bhindranwale for all the violence, Khushwant Singh states , without any supporting evidence, that Sant Bhindranwale's 'services could be bought by the highest bidder; the Sant became a big time brigand'. He also reviles the Sant as 'the Hindu-baiter', 'a martyred hero of lumpen sections of Sikh society' and blithely refers to 'lads of the A.I.S.S.F. and nominees of the Damdami Taksal reared in the Bhindranwale school of terrorism'. He chastises 'gangsters who haul innocent, unarmed people from busses and kill them, lob grenades in crowded market places and cinemas', presuming that these gangsters were acting in Sant Bhindranwale's behalf or upon his instructions, ignoring the fact that Sant Bhindranwale consistently condemned such senseless acts, and clear evidence that the Government stage-managed several of these to promote hatred against devout Sikhs. Khushwant Singh further alleges that Sant Bhindranwale 'well understood that hate was a stronger passion than love: his list of hates was even more clearly and boldly spelt out. On top of the hate-list were apostates (patits) who dishonored emblems of the Khalsa by cutting their long hair and beards, smoked, drank liquor or took drugs. However, these patits could be redeemed if they agreed to mend their ways and accept baptism.
Next on the list were Sant Nirankaris who had gained a sizable following among the Sikhs. They had committed the cardinal sin of recognizing a living human being as their guru when it was an article of Sikh faith that only the holy book, the Granth Sahib, was the 'living' embodiment of the ten gurus. The Sant Nirankaris had also fabricated their own sacred texts, Yug Purush and Avtar Bani. They were therefore beyond redemption and had to be liquidated. Finally, there were the Hindus-uncomfortably close to the Sikhs, and far too many to be liquidated. The only way of dealing with them was to treat them with contempt as an effeminate, non-martial race and a lesser breed without the law. Had not the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, proclaimed that one Sikh was equal to a sava lakh (one and a quarter million) and a fauj-a one man army? So spoke Bhindranwale: one Sikh could easily reckon with thirty-five Hindus.' About one occasion when he met Sant Bhindranwale, Khushwant Singh reports : 'Bhindranwale's short speech was largely addressed to me as I had been hauled out of the congregation to sit on the dais. He towered above me; a steel arrow in one hand, the microphone in the other. Pointing to me he said: "This Sardar Sahib here writes that I spread hatred between Hindus and Sikhs. This is wrong. What I do is to preach the gospel of the Gurus; I do amrit parchar and persuade young Sikhs to stop clipping their beards, stop smoking and drinking. If I had my way, I would get hold of all these Sardars who drink bhisky-shisky in the evening, pour kerosene oil on them, and set the bloody lot ablaze." This statement was greeted with loud acclamations of boley so nihal! Sat Sri Akal.
It was ironic that more than half the Sardars sitting on the dais with me, and a sizable proportion of the peasant audience, were hard-drinking men.' We have not been able to locate these comments in any of Sant Bhindranwale's speeches available to us. Sant Bhindranwale's speeches indicate that he hardly knew Khushwant Singh. In any case, the following statements by Sant Bhindranwale regarding consumption of alcohol appear to completely contradict Khushwant Singh's report: 'I have declared that if there is someone who drinks while wearing a kirpaan, and you catch him drunk, the punishment I have announced is that you should get him examined by a doctor (to make sure he has been drinking) and then pour kerosene over him and burn him alive. I shall fight your court case. This is regardless of the party affiliation of the person in such a garb doing such a thing. My appeal to all is that no one should drink but this does not apply to the others, it is only for those with the kirpaan.
If any raagi, sant, mahatma, granthi even if he is from Bhindranwale (group), who wears a kirpaan and drinks, wherever you find him, blacken his face, put a garland of old shoes around his neck, put him on a donkey and parade him throughout the village or the district.' Contrary to Khushwant Singh's diatribe, Sant Bhindranwale never held out any punishment for persons like him. His appeal was only for those with the kirpaan. It did not apply to the others. His disapproval was limited to hypocritical Sikh preachers who themselves violated the Sikh Rehit Maryada. Quoting the following line from Siri Guru Granth Sahib, "First the noose was placed around the teacher's (neck) and later around the (necks) of the disciples", he explained: 'The noose will be put around the necks of the jathedars, the sants, the leaders, and people in responsible positions; around the necks of such of them as use intoxicants.' Sant Bhindranwale's use of the words 'pouring kerosene and setting the on fire' is merely a common Punjabi idiom equivalent to 'chewing somebody up' in colloquial English. In Punjab villages, mothers would often use this phrase while scolding their children. Khushwant Singh's reference to Bhindranwale's discovering 'that fomenting hatred between the two communities was the easier method of preserving the Sikhs' separate identity from the Hindus than amrit prachar' and Sant Bhindranwale's 'adding Hindu-baiting to his other activities' is contrary to his own observations regarding Bhindranwale's success with amrit prachar.
The Sant was a Sikh preacher and, of course, he appealed to those born in Sikh families to respect their faith and live by it. His appeal was based on love, not hatred, and was indeed very successful. He did not advocate hatred, punishment, or any form of violence against the so-called patits and others. Sant Bhindranwale's opposition of the Sant Nirankaris was limited to their public show of disrespect towards Siri Guru Granth Sahib; their making parodies on the Sikh scriptures; the Nirankari Guru styling himself as Bajaanwala in imitation of Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib; and their use of the names of the Gurus for their servants merely to insult and provoke the Sikhs. Neither prior to April 13, 1978 nor after that did Sant Bhindranwale 'pronounce damnation' on them. As Khushwant Singh, the Government , and other journalists (e.g. Tavleen Singh ), have noted, the Babbar Khalsa, always opposed to Sant Bhindranwale, claimed responsibility for the killing of Nirankaris. Certainly, Sant Bhindranwale deplored the fact that the Government was not interested in prosecuting the Nirankaris who had murdered 13 Sikhs in cold blood on April 13, 1978 in Amritsar, and at other places later on, and urged upon the Sikhs to unite in resisting such attacks upon their faith and their persons. Khushwant Singh's reference to thirty-five Hindus to each Sikh is picked out of context and distorts its implication. It was not at all an exhortation for every Sikh to tackle thirty-five Hindus.
Sant Bhidranwale consistently maintained that Hindu-Sikh unity was an article of faith with him . In the quote mentioned by Khushwant Singh, he was simply telling the Sikhs not to be afraid merely because they were only two percent of the population and that there were thirty-five Hindus to every Sikh. He reminded them that at the Tenth Guru's time each Sikh had been asked to be ready to fight sava lakh. A similar expression was used on another occasion in response to a threat by the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, that the Sikhs of Punjab should think about what might happen to Sikhs living in other states. Sant Bhindranwale responded : 'Bibi, if this is what you think and this is your attitude towards the turban and the beard, we also have counted that they are only twenty to each one of us.' He emphasized that this exchange between him and Mrs. Gandhi was entirely rhetorical by adding: 'She did not send someone out with a sword, nor did Jarnail Singh send anybody out with a sword.' Nayar writes : 'The state grew tense; 115 major cases of violence had taken place in two areas since Jagat Narain's murder in September 1981 and 24 innocent people had been killed by the extremists, who came to be known as Bhindranwale's men.' Also : 'There were regular reports of someone being killed here and another there and often Bhindranwale's men claimed responsibility for the killings.' This is incorrect. It was men of Dal Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa, groups openly opposing Sant Bhindranwale, who took responsibility most of the time. Again : 'Until 6 October, the target of Bhindranwale's men were Hindus who were known to be hostile, Nirankaris, police officials or Sikhs who had been 'informers', or who had sided with the Government. But from then on the killings became indiscriminate; six Hindus passengers in a bus were killed near Dhilwan, Ludhiana. They were innocent people who had nothing to do with politics, and this marked a watershed in relations between the Hindus and the Sikhs.' Even Tavleen Singh who filed some objective reports, joined in the general chorus of condemnation. She wrote : 'Slowly the venom that was being spewed out every day from the Golden Temple started to get into the very blood of the Punjab and this culminated inevitably and horribly in the killing of six Hindu bus passengers in Dhilwan village, near Jullundur on 5 October 1983. The men were singled out by Sikh terrorists and shot dead for the simple reason that they were Hindu.' It is important to note Sant Bhindranwale's reaction to this killing of bus passengers. He condemned the senseless act and noted that Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had lost no time in dismissing the inept and repressive State Government upon seven Hindus having been killed whereas she had held out for sixteen months against demands by various organizations and opposition parties. Ten days after the killings which were immediately followed by the dismissal of the State Government, Sant Bhindranwale explained : 'By installing a proud man with a Dastar (turban) as the leader, she was desirous of having the turbans of all the other Sikhs taken off. So long as he kept taking them off, so long as the Sikh turbans were coming off, the daughters and sisters of the Sikhs continued to be dishonored in the streets and villages; sometimes on pretext of foreign visits, at other times giving various other types of ultimatums; she kept on making all sorts of excuses. However, it so happened that someone killed six or seven persons belonging to the Hindu Brotherhood.
All Sikh leaders condemned this. In spite of this condemnation, she was deeply hurt by the death of these seven while she was not impressed by the blood of one hundred and fifty persons with turbans having been spilt. This agitation has gone on for sixteen months. She did not feel the need to move one person but when the blood of those seven was spilt, then, Khalsa Ji, she could not wait even 24 hours.' Again, a few days later, he said : 'Someone killed seven Hindus in a bus. No Sikh has said this was good, everyone deplored it. But because seven Hindus had died, even twenty-four hours didn't pass. The Ministry was dissolved. President's rule was imposed. The region has been declared as disturbed. However, one hundred and fifty Sikhs died and one man was not changed. Now all of you Sikhs should sit down and figure out as to what the thoughts of this Government of the Hindus are about the turban and the beard.' Sant Bhindranwale's call to Sikhs to keep weapons as required by their faith was also misrepresented by the press as preparations for killing Hindus. Sant Bhindranwale, commenting on this, said: 'For a Sikh, his conduct has to be: "He (God's devotee) does not frighten anyone nor does he have any fear." ... I had given a statement that in every village there should be a motorcycle and three young men with three revolvers of high quality. Opposition newspapers, the Mahasha (Arya Samajist Hindu) Press, have published this news: "Bhindranwala says, get these and kill Hindus." Have you ever heard me say that?' Referring to incidents of hijacking of airplanes, attacks on the Chief Minister, bank robberies, and murders, Khushwant Singh implicitly and incorrectly assumes that Sant Bhindranwale was responsible for them. The Sant's connection with any of them has never been established. For instance, the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane on August 4, 1982, belonged to Dal Khalsa which, according to Khushwant Singh himself, was a creation of Zail Singh. It has been reported that Talwinder Singh Parmar, a leader of the Babbar Khalsa, paid for five of the tickets purchased by the hijackers. It has been reported that when the hijacker of August 20, 1982 landed in Amritsar, he demanded to see Sant Longowal and Sant Bhindranwale. Sant Longowal sent his representative but Sant Bhindranwale, upon being assured that the man did not belong to his organization, refused to oblige.
Sant Bhindranwale protested the Government's barbaric treatment of the hijackers because they happened to be Sikh but himself had nothing to do with the crimes. Even instances of oppression against Sant Bhindranwale's men have been described by some reputed columnists as wily schemes by the Sant to get his own men killed and tortured in order to assist the Government against the Akali leadership! Nayar regarded Bhai Amrik Singh and Baba Thara Singh's arrest in 1982 to be a cunning device concocted between the Government and Sant Bhindranwale. According to him: 'Darbara Singh...sent a message to Bhindranwale to start a morcha earlier so as to take the wind out of their sails... To give him reason enough, the Punjab Government arrested two of Bhindranwale's workers on 17th July 1982. And two days later, Amrik Singh, the AISSF President whose father had made Bhindranwale his successor, was taken into custody on the charge of murdering a Nirankari. Yet another close associate of Bhindranwale, Thara Singh, was arrested on July 20. All this provoked Bhindranwale who went from Chowk-Mehta to Guru Nanak Niwas and launched a morcha from the Golden Temple, pre-empting the Akalis.' Apparently, in suggesting that the arrests were merely an agreed upon device, Nayar accepts that Amrik Singh was innocent of the crimes attributed to him. Tully and Jacob, without citing any evidence, write about Amrik Singh that: 'As President of the All-India Sikh Students Federation he was responsible for organizing many of the murders, robberies and attacks on government property.' The assumption is that the Federation was a group of criminals. The fact is that the Government arrested Amrik Singh and kept him in detention for a year despite massive Sikh protest; and his release was protested by the Arya-Samajist press simply because the Federation he led was engaged in a program for revival of faith among the Sikh youth.
The news media propagated the myth that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was associated with or in a position to direct and control the activities of groups which claimed credit for violent acts. Tully and Jacob concede : 'Bhindranwale never openly associated with the Dal Khalsa. Until his death he maintained that he was a man of religion, not a politician.' However, they make a quick turnaround and, following the Indian Government's White Paper, say that 'Bhindranwale used to preach hatred against India and against Hindus.'
They also state that 'the Dal Khalsa was always known as 'Bhindranwale's party'. Contrary to this, Jeffrey , among others, tells us that the founding of the Dal Khalsa in 1978 was 'with the alleged backing of Zail Singh' of Indira Gandhi's Congress Party. Again, they refer to 'the Sikh fundamentalist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had been spreading violence, hatred and communal poison in Punjab'; that 'Bhindranwale went on to appeal to Sikh villagers to organize and support terrorism'. Tully and Jacob state: 'Badal and Longowal lacked the courage to stand out against a force they knew was evil. Tohra tried to use it for his own ends.' The 'evil' force was, presumably, Sant Bhindranwale. The fact is that in one of his speeches , Sant Bhindranwale complains that Longowal had terminated his speaking to the public at the Manji Sahib Diwan Hall and that Tohra did not have the courage to correct Longowal when he denounced and misrepresented Sant Bhindranwale. Again, after Sodhi's murder in April 1984, Sant Bhindranwale asserted that this was done with the connivance of some Akali leaders and wanted Gurcharan Singh, Secretary, Shromani Akali Dal removed from his office. He did not succeed in getting Longowal and others to comply.
The 'evil' force depicted as so dominant in Punjab could not or would not enforce its will even within the confines of Darbar Sahib complex. Nayar states that 'the reign of terror that began with the Jagat Narain murder did not stop. Innocent people were killed. The targets were mostly Hindus and Nirankaris but many Sikhs who had the courage to speak out against the extremists were also killed.' In fact most of those killed were Sikhs and the killers were the police. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had nothing to do with these murders. The news media was eager to blame the Sant but not the persons who claimed responsibility for the crimes.
According to India Today : 'Whereas Bhindranwale has publicly disowned each act of the extremists, the Babbar Khalsa openly claim credit for most of these, barring the killing of Hindu bus passengers and that of Atwal.' Regarding the Babbar Khalsa, we have Tavleen Singh's report: 'Jathedar Sukhdev Singh, a youth of about 28, who dressed like a Nihang, started requesting journalists to come up and meet him in a small, sunless room in the Akal Rest House. He would talk about how it was really the Babbars who had killed most of the Nirankaris so far and how they would continue to kill them (the toll was already around 40) because they followed the dictate of the Akal Takht and they were only abiding by an edict (hukumnama) issued by them.'
Even American correspondents, fed erroneous information, went along. Reasoner, apparently following Khushwant Singh's logic, said of Sant Bhindranwale: 'He hated the successful urban Sikhs who trim their beards and wear two-piece suits. The poor and the illiterate loved him and brought him what rupees they could spare. He spoke openly of the deaths and violence his followers had caused. These were not murders, he said, but justice; and, if necessary, the Sikhs would set up their own state and, the Government feared, start the disintegration of India as a federal nation.' Sant Bhindranwale's admirers included numerous Sikhs who wear 'two-piece suits' and he did not advocate disintegration of India. It is extremely unfortunate that, instead of investigating Sant Bhindranwale's complaints that innocent Sikhs were being tortured and killed, newsmen regarded him and the victims he referred to as convicted criminals. Overwhelmed by the propaganda carried on by extremist Hindus and the Government, even well-meaning Indian leaders assumed that Sant Bhindranwale indeed preached a cult of lawlessness and violence. They did not take the Sant's complaints of violation of human rights in Punjab seriously. Typical of this attitude was a statement by Gujral who said, in the course of an eloquent speech, that the Sikh agitation had been peaceful but was taken over by violent elements. This writer asked him if he was referring to Sant Bhindranwale as the 'violent elements'.
He agreed. Reminding him that Sant Bhindranwale, in one of his speeches, had mentioned that over 140 persons had been killed and another one thousand crippled in police torture up to that date; that the Sikhs had tried persuasion with the police, legal action in courts and appeals to the national leaders and the press but that nobody had made any effort to stop the torture and the killings in custody; and then had gone on to ask the public as to how long the Sikhs should continue to quietly suffer without hitting back, this writer asked Gujral as to whether, in his opinion or according to his information, Sant Bhindranwale was lying and if not, what did leaders like him do about the killings and torture by the police and what should the Sant have done in the face of this oppression? Gujral replied that he had never thought about the problem from that point of view.