The State of Punjab - Part IGUNISHA KAUR
Punjab has been a hotspot of human rights violations and activism since the birth of the Indian nation in 1947. The history of human rights abuses in the state has contributed significantly to the present economic, environmental and medical crisis in Punjab.
In this multi-part series, we explore the emergent issues in the state, with a focus on farmer suicides, female feticide and infanticide, ecological damage, river water rights, rising rates of diseases, mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse.
My family left Punjab in the 1980s.
During the government-sponsored pogroms in November of 1984, my father had been beaten by a mob on a train and left for dead. We barely escaped the violence of India, but others were not so lucky. This is their story.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Sikh community spearheaded public opposition to a hyper-centralized federal government. The Sikhs demanded that the government cease the decade-long suppression of human rights and insisted on the equality of all citizens, including women, Hindu untouchable castes, and minority communities.
In 1978, these demands were presented in a document entitled “The Anandpur Sahib Resolution.”
Although the Resolution sought justice at a national level, their public demands and peaceful protesting positioned the Sikh community as the target of government persecution. This included government-supported attacks against the Sikhs in Operation Bluestar and the pogroms of 1984, followed by human rights violations throughout Punjab that continued for over a decade.
The tumultuous period reached its pinnacle in 1995 with the abduction, torture and elimination of human rights activists such as Jaswant Singh Khalra.
Though the scale has decreased significantly, human rights continue to be violated in Punjab.
Moreover, the aftershock of the violence in the 1980s and 1990s continues to shake the soil of the state. In the wake of government-ordained torture, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances, Punjab's Sikhs have been left with irreversible physical and psychological damage, including Major Depressive Disorder (present in over 50% of survivors) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (present in approximately 75% of survivors).
Partially as a result of these disorders, substance abuse has ravaged Punjab - studies report that over 70% of Punjab’s youth are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
In addition to violating the human rights of Sikhs, the federal government has unconstitutionally stripped Punjab of its river waters. The redistribution of water and implementation of the Green Revolution in Punjab have contributed to an ominous economic and environmental decline in the state; these problems link directly to the prevalent issues of female infanticide, farmer suicide, and ecological collapse.
Our history, present and future are tied together. The current turmoil in Punjab is directly related to the violation of human rights. The echoes of the violence continue to affect our world, and they will continue to do so until we address these issues.
In this series of articles, we will delve into the major environmental, economic and health concerns prevalent in the state of Punjab.
Gunisha Kaur is a human rights activist and a physician at Cornell University in New York City, U.S.A.. Her research focuses on chronic pain management in survivors of torture, and she has written extensively on human rights violations in India. Her first book entitled "Lost in History: 1984 Reconstructed" - [http://www.panjabmall.com/storeproduct508.aspx] - documents the violence in Punjab that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. The articles in this series draw from her forthcoming book, which discusses the current economic, environmental, and health crisis in Punjab.
May 7, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Izhaarbir Singh (Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.), May 07, 2012, 4:31 PM.
Great article. Looking forward to the follow-up articles. Will your articles present possible solutions that your diasporic readers may help with or will they only be presenting the various issues facing Punjab today? Even as just issues, I think it would be important to know what in reality are the problems facing us. But it would be of immense benefit to all if there are also some suggestions towards solutions.
2: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachusetts, U.S.A.), May 08, 2012, 10:46 AM.
I was a victim of mob-violence in India on two occasions. I was dragged by my hair and shirt and beaten real hard on the back. There are scars on my body that remind me of the horror. I am always very sensitive and fearful towards a group of young people laughing loudly or yelling. I tend to shy away and keep my family away from them. In 1994, when Tim McVeigh blew up the Govt. buildings and on 9/11, my first reaction was to be cowardly and hide away from the crowd so that no one could associate me with a certain group, even though I had nothing to do what-so-ever with it. I have to remind myself that this is a un-Sikhlike behavior and I have to be brave to face people. This is my personal legacy from 1984 that I carry with me even after living in the U.S. 20 years.
3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 08, 2012, 11:07 AM.
I second Izhaarbir Singh's suggestion.
4: N. Singh (Canada), May 08, 2012, 1:50 PM.
Sarvjit Singh ji: Thank you for sharing your story. I only wish more people were willing and able to talk about these horrific events so that we as a community see the full extent of the trauma - physical, emotional and mental. Also, this is a way for us to heal ourselves and our people. May Waheguru bless you and keep you and your family safe!
5: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, U.S.A.), May 09, 2012, 6:36 PM.
I can sympathise with personal stories and encourage such conversations within our community. But, I cringe at the sheer victimization of the entire Punjab or the Sikh community in this article. I am not sure if I can or want to read the next article. There was large scale drug abuse, female infanticide and crime before 1980's in Punjab and the Sikh community. And, yes, some Sikh politicians in India did ask for caste quotas for certain sub-groups in the community, only to be reminded that Sikhism has no caste. More importantly, when I read articles by some Sikh-Americans about Sikh issues, there is something very foreign about them. I have a very hard time understanding or even agreeing to their viewpoint. They can relay the injustices factually, but how they interpret the effects are, in my view, questionable. Are we imposing the African-American experience on Punjab? I may be wrong but, to me, this does not sound like the Punjab I know. We don't play victims, never have and I pray we never do.
6: N .Singh (Canada), May 09, 2012, 8:19 PM.
Ajay Singh ji: I am not sure what you mean in your comments? Are you indirectly implying that we should ignore what happened or not give voice to our pain because we don't want to appear as victims? Is your expectation that those who suffered not be given a voice and that we just move on? You state that there is something foreign about 'some articles by Sikh Americans' but you don't elaborate on what? Perhaps you are not familiar with the style because most Sikh-Indianss are unable to express what happened for a number of reasons: a) they are unable to articulate their experiences; b) they live in fear of further retaliation; c) some lack basic literary skills, so are unable to speak for themselves; d) others are still trying to eek out a basic living, so don't have time for these things. I have the greatest respect for those Sikh-Americans and others in the diaspora who have given a voice to those without a voice. This is not about being a victim but about getting justice, about writing our own history, about learning old lessons and coming together as One Panth!
7: Amandeep Singh Sandhu (India), June 04, 2012, 11:52 PM.
Normally society brushes under the carpet instances which show up the society in 'not so good light' and it needs a writer with strength and conviction to focus our attention on those issues. Why does it fall upon the writer to provide solutions to the problems they highlight? While solutions would be nice to have, we have the combined societal intellectual and financial power to find solutions. Kudos to Gunisha for highlighting the issues. I look forward to further articles.