Bajnama — A Review by Tharam Singh
by Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna
Published by Sikh University Centre, Belgium;
Pages: 88; Price: Unknown
This short but detailed account of the formation and growth of the Sikh Students Federation is well written, and gives us many intimate details of the Federation’s activities, which only an insider can provide.
It explains how in early 1943, a protest demonstration by some Khalsa College students against the Raja of Kapurthala, presiding over a college function, led to the arrest and detention of Amar Singh Ambalvi. This student later convened a students’ meeting at the Law College, Lahore, at which an executive committee of 13 members was elected, and thus the Students Federation was born. The broad aims of the Federation were specified at a later meeting. The central aims were the study of Sikh history and the promotion of Sikh culture, Sikh Rahit, and the Sikh way of life.
During 1945/46, the Federation held special sessions to pass two resolutions asking for (a) the recognition of a separate identity for the Sikhs and (b) a separate self-governing state within the Indian Union.
During the negotiations with the British Cabinet Team, Mr. Jinnah met the Federation leaders on 22nd March 1946, and made a specific offer of 33% reserved Punjab Assembly seats for Sikhs, and 20% reservations in the legislature of the whole of Pakistan, provided Punjab opted for a merger with Pakistan. But Master Tara Singh refused to meet Jinnah. Giani Kartar Singh was more receptive to these overtures, and we are told that he even sent a note to Jinnah asking for more details. But this note was sent through Dr Gopal Singh Dardi, who promptly handed it to Pandit Nehru. For this act of duplicity, Gopal Singh was rewarded with various lucrative posts by the ruling Congress Governments.
A very cogent analysis is given by a student leader Harjinder Singh Dilgir of the factors that contributed to the failure of the Sikhs in getting a just award in 1947.
The role of the Sikh Students Federation during the exodus from Pakistan is stressed, with many acts of bravery and selfless service. We hear about the proposal by Nehru in the first Constituent Assembly in December, 1946 to allow all member states full control over all matters except a few like Defence, Foreign Affair, Communications and Currency. Punjab is also promised a special place in the Indian Union on account of its past history of bravery and sacrifices (July, 1946 at the Calcutta Congress meeting). All these promises were forgotten when the actual Partition took place in August, 1947.
The years 1948 to 1951 witness the growth of a sense of community and of nationalism in the Federation. Outstanding speeches were delivered at their conferences at Ludhiana (1948), and Jalandhar (1949), by Master Tara Singh and by Jaswant Singh Neki, respectively. The main ideals of Sikh nationalism were outlined here, and we see the Akali Party adopting these principles 24 years later in the Anandpur Sahib Charter. These years also mark the beginnings of a long chain of arrests of the student leaders and the savage onslaught of State persecution of all suspected students. In spite of all this persecution, the students continued holding their annual conferences interspersed with mid-year training camps.
These tumultuous events are faithfully chronicled by the author in a few pages under the heading id’ ifjd dk t/bk or Times of Stress and Struggle. Like the Akali Party, the Students Federation was also plagued with factionalism, and in 1959 it was split into two groups. Its Presidents spent more time inside jails than outside. But we are not told anything about the causes of such splits.
1972 to 1975 is a period of lull in the activities of the Federation, probably because of a void created by the imprisonment of most of their leaders.
From 1978 onwards, as the Federation’s participation in Sikh politics intensified, so did the tempo of police in resorting to indiscriminate firings and tortures under detention. The Sant Bhindranwale episodes and their impact on the Federation are well detailed. The National Security Act was invoked in most of the arrests of their office-bearers. False cases were registered against them by the dozen. Here we learn about the famous “Cows’ Heads” case being registered in April 1982 against Rajinder Singh Mehta. (It was later proved to have been executed by Chief Minister Darbara Singh’s agents). State repression was further stepped up with the confiscation of lands and properties of absconding office-bearers.
The active participation of the Federation continued in the Akali Dharam Yudh Front and again in the Rasta Roko Agitation.
In January, 1984 began the wholesale arrests of all student members of the Federation. The events leading up to the Blue Star attack and the actual action of 4th and 5th June, 1984 are graphically described. The details of this action are most finite and convincing. The burning of the library building on 6th June (after all resistance is over) and the “statement” obtained from the librarian under threat make revelatory reading. The cruelty with which the Army dealt with all and sundry, caught in the complex, surpassed the deeds of the police and the C.R.P.F. If one remembers that the attack was simultaneously executed on 42 other gurdwaras in Punjab, one can appreciate the venomous planning that took place to give the Sikhs a good and lasting lesson on obedience to the will of the majority community. The whole of June was spent in rounding up Sikh youths aged 13 to 35 from all the villages and locking them up in jails or police stations.
The account ends with a very brief chapter on the kar seva of the Temple Complex. Then the mopping up operations of a whole generation of Sikh youth by the C.R.P.F. and the Punjab Police backed by the military forces are described. By 1985, the police are further armed with the T.A.D.A. law to do away with all formalities of a legal trial and conviction. Human greed was given full play in the game of catching Sikh youths, dead or alive, to claim generous rewards.
This chapter is rather brief considering its ramifications on the poor defenseless peasantry. One expects more details here of the activities of the resistance groups and of their slow elimination by the full might of the police and Para Military Forces.