If you haven’t already seen the recent red-washing of Twitter icons, then you must be new to the issue in Kashmir. Indian PM Narendra Modi has revoked the autonomy of Kashmir and Jammu, leaving the inhabitants in grave anxiety and panic. This abrupt change comes as no surprise, as Modi has expressed before his Hindu nationalist beliefs, as a devotee of Hindutva. Hindutva is the ideology that India is the homeland of Hindus, and has fuelled many anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh attacks since the election of Modi. But, it is ignorant to believe that this is a new revelation, as Indian patriots and nationalists have often overlooked the atrocities within their own countries. Hindu nationalists like Modi, and such as Anupam Kher and Priyanka Chopra, bask in their Hindu privilege whilst completely ignoring the underlying inhumanity of their beliefs. These beliefs have seen the lynching of Muslims in India, and the strengthening of Hindu-driven laws such as the banning of beef consumption. But these ideologies have been behind many other atrocities such as the 1984 Sikh Genocide. As a Punjabi woman in solidarity with the Kashmiris, who feels that Hindu Nationalism is not pronounced on, I will give you a brief rundown on the atrocities, against Sikhs in particular, that you may not have known before, and give a background on Hindutva influences within India.
The influence of Khalistan
If you speak to a Punjabi person like myself, you may find that they don’t like to define themselves as Indian. This is because India has never been a safe home for Punjabis, unless they define themselves as Hindu Punjabis. Punjab is a Sikh-majority state within Northern India, and most may find that our culture is quite different to other Indian states. Being made up of predominantly Sikhs, it means the values of Punjabis may differ from Hindus. The ‘Khalistan’ movement encouraged the separation of Punjab from India, and to be classed as an autonomous state. Khalistan means ‘Land of the Khalsa’, and Khalsa meaning the beliefs of Sikhism. This movement gained popularity amongst the inhabitants of Punjab, but was not necessarily favoured by the Indian government. The leaders of the Khalistan movement found disputes with some laws regarding Hindu religion, and the often overlooking of Sikhism as a separate religion. For this reason, they wanted to be able to control their own region. The rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the leader of the movement, and his occupation of The Golden Temple in Amritsar, was not favoured by PM Indira Gandhi. This led to her forcing Operation Blue Star in 1984, which saw an attack on the holy gurdwara in order to remove Bhindranwale and his supporters. This Operation saw the death of almost 500 militants and civilians, and led to the assassination of the PM by her two Sikh bodyguards in vengeance. And from here, we saw the horrific anti-Sikh riots where Sikhs were brutally murdered, beaten, raped and humiliated publicly. These acts were a clear declaration of loyalty of the population to the government, and serves to show why so many people are blindly following Modi now. In fact, I can’t stand to correct myself because they aren’t doing this blindly. They know exactly what is being done to others and believe it is just — and that’s what’s so inhumane about it.
The anti-sikh riots saw shops owned by Sikhs destroyed, property burned and families slaughtered, with one shop-owner recalling that “they carried rods and kerosene”. Perpetrators would enter Sikh neighbourhoods and kill all inhabitants. Though the official number casualties amounted to 3,000 deaths, many say that the number exceeded this significantly. And it may be true that they did, and that the official number was lowered in order to mask the reality of the attempted genocide. Sikhs continue to live with the trauma of the events of 1984, and rightfully have not made peace with the events as little justice was achieved in response. Due to the extremity of the attacks, many cases were left unsolved. Just one death penalty, and one life imprisonment was carried out. Otherwise, anti-Sikhism is still prevalent within India.
The anti-Sikhism in India is known by little, especially due to the influence of the British army in previous relations with anti-Sikhism. In 1919, the British Indian Army carried out a massacre in Amritsar, where a peaceful protest was to be held. If it was excused then, and excused in 1984, then it will continue to be excused now. Whilst videos circulate on social media now of Sikhs still being abused by Indian police, it is not necessarily a well-known fact that religious minorities in India are actively oppressed by other Indians. But it’s important to know that it is an issue, and that Hindu-nationalists actively use their patriotism against religious minorities.
The situation in Kashmir is fuelled by anti-Islamic beliefs, and again, the beliefs of Hindutva that India is the homeland of Hindus. The Kashmir takeover has served to silence Kashmiri inhabitants, as the media has been blocked within. In the wake of Eid, Kashmiri Muslims are unable to live freely. The takeover is a direct refusal of human rights and is fuelled by age-old beliefs and anti-integration.
Don’t be fooled that this is simply a political attempt to strengthen the Indian empire. India is riddled with inhumane beliefs and more of us need to understand this. Hindutva, with no disrespect to Hindus, is masked by patriotism but serves to wash out non-Hindu influences within India, and frankly, it’s not okay. I am a Punjabi Sikh woman who stands with Kashmir and spits on the Indian government, and I encourage you to do the same.
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