RETROSPECTIVE: “Sikhs Tortured for Religious Beliefs” by Ajit Mann (1986)

Sikhs Tortured for Religious Beliefs

By Ajit Maan

(Originally published on July 17, 1986)

Ajit Mann.

Ajit Mann.

Cultural theorist Ajit Maan was an undergraduate student when she wrote her article for the Kansas State University newspaper, The Collegian. Nearly 30 years later, as we recognize the 30th anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogrom in India in which thousands of Sikhs were massacred in India in a matter of days, she shares that article with American Turban and reflects upon how the violence of 1984 affected her.

“Looking back over one’s writing of thirty years ago is a perspective-providing experience for anyone, particularly when the written words are as emotionally laden as mine were in this article.1984 was a tumultuous time for anyone who identifies themselves as Indian. Operation Blue Star and the events following Indira Gandhi’s assassination went largely unreported in Western media. What was in the news were reports of the assassination itself and the physical damage to the Golden Temple. The thousands of murdered civilians in the temple and on the streets of New Delhi were not part of the story. I felt that they were the story; they were not simply collateral damage.”

Ajit Maan, October 29, 2014


The Indian government, which calls itself a democracy, is stifling religious freedom and is attempting to wipe out an entire race of people. The government of India has purposely misrepresented the conflict with people of the Sikh religion to justify the genocide which is being perpetrated.

Sikh patriotism and national contribution have been unmatched by any other group of people in India. Despite the fact that Sikhs comprise only two percent of India’s population, the predominately Sikh state of Punjab produces more than 50 percent of the nation’s food supply.

The most important stride that the nation has made since freedom from the British has been the “Green Revolution” which has been a Sikh contribution from the state of Punjab in which government contribution has been less than one percent of the national budget. Despite the productivity of Punjab (a predominately Sikh state), it receives less of the river-water supply than any other state in India.

Government violence has been increasing systematically, leading up to the invasion of the Golden Temple and the massacre of innocent tourists and thousands of Sikhs including women and children. The imprisonment and torture of thousands of people and the denial of civil liberties have been the result of military occupation in the state of Punjab since the assault on the Golden Temple.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination gave the rulers of India and the unruly mobs working on the government’s behalf an excuse to kill and burn everything and everyone connected with the Sikh faith. Governmental propaganda has designated all confirmed Sikhs as terrorists, including women and children of all ages. After Gandhi’s assassination, government sponsored mobs brutally burned alive thousands of Sikhs by pouring gasoline over their heads and setting them on fire as police watched.

Sikhs have historically been considered protectors of the weak and fighters for freedom of religion, but have now been labeled “terrorists by faith.”

There are a small number of extremists who, as a result of government corruption, subscribe to the idea of a separate Sikh state. These people had not been taken seriously by anyone but the government which used the existence of a small group of extremists as an opportunity to label all Sikhs as terrorists. Since Operation Blue Star (the invasion of the Golden Temple) and the subsequent military occupation of Punjab, larger numbers of people are subscribing to the goal of a separate Sikh state for no other reason than to allow their children to live and worship freely. The threat of national disunity is a result of governmental terrorism against Sikhs, not the other way around.

The Indian army destroyed most of the structure of the Golden Temple, set fire to the reference library, destroyed sacred artifacts and killed thousands of innocent people. The day that was chosen for the attack was a holy day during which tourism is at its highest.

The Golden Temple is a symbol of three centuries of sacrifices, martyrdoms, blood, sweat, hopes and labor for the love of God. It is to the Sikhs what the Vatican is to Catholics, what Mecca is to Muslims and the Wailing Wall is to Jews.

Since the attack, thousands have been killed in “encounters” with police. Amnesty International has declared these encounters to be fake. One report cited that more than 1,000 men have been tortured to death at the hands of the police. The government has done its best to keep this information from reaching the rest of the world. Photographers and cameramen in India during the time of Operation Blue Star had their film confiscated. Reporters from outside were not allowed in the country and humanitarian organizations were denied access. The government also denied visas to concerned U.S. congressmen and members of the British Parliament.

The Christian Science Monitor published an article by Anne Weaver on Oct. 15, 1984, which described the situation in Punjab: “The army moves in during the early evening, cordons a village, and announces over loudspeakers everyone must come out. All males between the ages of 15 and 35 are trussed and blindfolded, then taken away. Thousands have disappeared in Punjab since the army operation began.”

Children as young as two years old have been held and subjected to torture under the guise of being “militant terrorists.” According to the magazine, India Today, “the lofty laws protecting and respecting the child have all been violated.”

I fail to see how Sikhs are harming anyone except a corrupt government which is attempting to eliminate opposition, in the name of democracy. Sikhs have historically been defenders of the weak, nonbelievers in the caste system, protectors of freedom of faith, fighters of oppression, and bearers of the highest standards of courage and morality.

The same people who have been the suppliers of food and the strength of the country are now being destroyed on the basis of religious preference. Sikhs may never again know civil liberties or even basic human rights.

To learn more about Ajit Maan and her work, visit her website at

One comment

  1. Pingback: Deconstructing terrorism by understanding the construction of self | American Turban


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