Kids Corner


The Lost Generation:
1984 & The Decade Thereafter





My parents had to take my sisters and I to the Indian Punjab for extended periods during the volatile 1980s, and one visitor in particular to family events remains in my memory from that time.

With a flowing brown beard, and green eyes, he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was one of those figures in our family life we'd often forget which of my uncles he had befriended because he was treated like one of the family's own sons.

And for good reason: he'd run errands for any of us dutifully, or fix an old appliance with mysteriously competent electrical skills. He possessed a legendary voice for reciting Sikh hymns and every woman, I'm sure, was trying to get him married to her sister.

And then enigmatically as he came into our family's orbit, he disappeared.


The Disappeared.

This is the name for so many young men in insurgencies around the world picked up by the police and never heard of again. I have no idea what happened to that young man; I have no idea what he was mixed up in and what he was innocent of.

But I think of him often, and the tortured and maimed bodies of the tens of thousands of young Sikh men who were ‘disappeared’ at the hands of Indian police and armed forces during the Sikh Resistance that raged for a decade.

Less do we know about their wives, their mothers, their sisters who still waited for them to walk up to the doors of their homes and enter their lives again.

In a new multimedia project, young Sikh creative Rattanamol Singh takes us through the personal journey of Devinder Kaur, from her wedding to her eventual immigration to the United States. The most interesting part of Rattanamol's efforts is not the multiple stories and forms he interweaves through the eight-act piece.

Nor is it the historic photographs he's able to display. Rattanamol's great coup is that Devinder Kaur's husband wasn't just any minor player in the field of the insurgency, but a Robin Hood of the Punjab, bearing the nom de guerre, General Labh Singh.

The project is part of a larger endeavor called ‘Light House‘, which describes itself as "a journalism collective using writing, art, tech, and film to pursue global narratives."

“We've been experimenting for a while with new forms of engaging with the world, and each month we'll present these through a theme. We'll explore tales of war & peace, love & hate, struggle & strife. Some of these narratives are deemed insignificant by the historical record and others used to incite revolution, craft borders and decree laws. Some deal with fashion, some sport and some art. Others are the simple depictions of beauty in seemingly mundane life ...

“The allure of understanding these realities formulates what this collective is fated to do. The darkness, the light, the candles dormant & the candles blazing, the carriers of each, the houses where they are lit and the houses where they have been vanquished - all are fair game.”

Rattanamol's efforts aren't shots in the dark. Rattanamol is part of a generation of Sikhs that are trying to find answers: what happened in the 1980s and 90s? Why was 1984 such a landmark year in the history of the Sikh religion? What happened in the 1960s and 1970s that led up to the these inauspicious events?

These young Sikhs are shackled by the past and seek to liberate themselves by following the light of the past to liberation.

Sikhs, and others, ignore them at the peril of losing a more peaceful future.

Tomorrow ... Rattanamol Singh's "LABH",  in 8 Acts


[Courtesy: The Huffington Post. Edited for]
July 22, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), July 22, 2015, 11:26 AM.

According to conservative estimates there are at least 20000 cases of missing or disappeared persons or whatever you may like to call them, in Punjab. This number excludes fake 'encounter' killings and also a very popular police explanation of the 1990's: "killed while trying to escape police custody". One can make out the extent of genocide in Punjab post 1984. According to human rights activists and lawyers fighting for the families of victims, less than 45 people including some policemen have so far been convicted and many of them have already walked free after posting bail. KPS Gill, to whom a foreign journalist covering Punjab once referred as the Reinhard Heydrich of Punjab, has gone scot free despite overseeing the worst possible crimes against its citizens in Indian history. But then, this is all expected. I doubt that we can ever find a closure or justice in these cases since the fight is against the system and not individuals.

2: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 22, 2015, 12:02 PM.

Looking at this picture, I feel the pain and helplessness that every Sikh felt in those days. But we should know that this will happen to those who give up the ability to defend themselves. If this had happened to the Buddhists, a pacifist faith, one can understand -- but how can this happen to Sikhs who have a glorious martial tradition? In my opinion, those who led us during the eventful years of the 1980s not only compromised our interests but also went against the spirit of Sikhism. It is like throwing yourself in the river and then blaming the crocodile for killing you.

3: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 22, 2015, 1:45 PM.

I remember when I saw this picture for the first time. It reminded me of a man holding his dog by the leash. The picture says quite a bit about the events immediately after Operation Bluestar. They are clearly in a residential area which is quite some ways away from the Harmandar Sahib and their clothing shows that they are civilians and not militants. Their only mistake was being Sikhs. Also compare the soldiers to their captives -- the former are no more than malnutrioned Bhaiyyas who can barely hold their weapons.

4: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 22, 2015, 1:53 PM.

I would recommend everyone to read the following report published by Ensaaf. The information is presented clearly and articulately and it is a very easy read. "This report uses quantitative methods to scientifically demonstrate the implausibility that these lethal human rights violations are random or minor aberrations as suggested by Indian officials." I used to personally doubt the numbers thrown out regarding the number of Sikhs killed by the Indian authorities. Technically I was right, the numbers were even higher than what was being stated.

5: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 22, 2015, 1:55 PM.

The Indian government may torture, rape and murder innocents in an effort to stamp out the Sikh Resistance ... but at least they are respectful enough to mass-cremate the dead bodies of Sikhs and bury Muslims in mass graves.

6: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 22, 2015, 2:36 PM.

The Sikh struggle in the decade that followed the attack on the Golden Temple is a very subjective topic depending on the person who looks at it from his own perspective and many misnomers have been used to describe it -- militancy, insurgency, terrorism, etc. Basically, this was the Sikh response to the State-sponsored massacres of June and November 1984. This struggle was successful to the point that it made the Indian State realize that Sikhs could not be crushed with military force and it would have to find a political solution and address their grievances. But as with all armed resistance which lacks a political face and a coherent strategy, it ultimately deteriorated without achieving any tangible results.

7: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 22, 2015, 11:44 PM.

There is no doubt that the Sikh resistance fighters with limited resources fought bravely against a much superior adversary and were able to achieve total control over Punjab at some point of time. They could not have sustained the fighting over a prolonged period of time due to limited resources. This was the point when the Indian State budged and this was possibly the time to secure an agreement. But the disunity among various groups, the failure to agree to common objectives, lack of political legitimacy, all led to the the downfall of the movement. In my opinion, this was more like Iraq vs the USA. Due to the limitations imposed by location, terrain, political, economic and other conditions, it could never have been like Vietnam vs USA. It was therefore pertinent to use the advantage secured during the height of the struggle to secure a comprehensive agreement protecting our legitimate interests to give international legitimacy to that agreement. As I have pointed out earlier, lack of documented agreements is an impediment in the modern world. While there may be more to this that one may not know, I would think of this as a squandered opportunity.

8: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 23, 2015, 1:49 AM.

Elaborating on the political "face" I have mentioned in the post above: As we live in an inter-connected world, a political face is necessary to communicate with the outside world and make them explain your position and secure their support and achieve legitimacy for your actions. The political vacuum created and imposed by the Sikh resistance, made people like Beant Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab in those times, fill the political space un-opposed. Such people mid-wifed State terrorism in Punjab for personal gains. A mature political process would not have allowed such people to seize power. A true Sikh political leader would have been one who would have acted in the interests of all Sikhs -- those living in Punjab and outside. Not to miss the "super-cop" KPS Gill, who is hailed as a hero by politico-criminal interests, for bringing "peace" to Punjab: Does this super-cop-criminal have the ability to punish terrorists like Sajjan Kumar and Tytler in his style?

9: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 24, 2015, 5:15 AM.

KPS Gill was no super-cop, he was just a "fiend in a fiefdom". Punjab in those days having been reduced to the personal fiefdom of Beant Singh, this fiend was let loose to terrorize the hapless population. The moment he comes out of the fiefdom, he is nothing. The kind of extra-judicial tactics that he used with the blessing of the Indian State, will those tactics be employed in other problems that India faces? -- why not use those tactics to punish the looters who have sucked India dry?

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1984 & The Decade Thereafter"

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