The recent vandalizing of a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in Leicester, although an isolated incident, may be seen as a reflection of the growing discontent amongst British Sikhs who have been pressing democratic governments for justice regarding the 1984 Sikh massacre for 30 years, only to discover that British military advice was given to India before the systematic Blue Star attack on Darbar Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple).
The statue was vandalized on the lead up to the annual London rally in commemoration of the 1984 massacre, marking the passing of 30 years since the systematic attack, and 30 years without justice for the killing and torture of thousands of innocent Sikhs.
While the Sikh community have openly condemned the act of vandalism and discouraged youth from expressing their discontent through such channels, some Indian sources have prioritized and inflated the story, inferring that Sikh sentiments are hurt over the vandalism of the statue of ‘Bapu’ (father) Mohandas Gandhi.
It must, therefore, be clarified that the sentiments of many mainstream Sikhs regarding Gandhi do not coincide with those of patriotic Indians who sentimentally consider Gandhi their ‘Bapu’.
Sikh discontent with the Indian government is not wholly separate from their discontent with Gandhi. Throughout his lifetime, Gandhi expressed an array of anti-Sikh views which deeply hurt Sikh sentiments. Attacking Sikh articles of faith and mocking those who wore them, he openly branded them unnecessary and implied that Sikhs should give up the Khalsa Panth. This, coupled with his encouragement of the abandonment of Gurmukhi and other parts of the Sikh religion, were seen as attempts to get Sikhs to ‘reabsorb’ themselves into Hinduism.
While Sikhs insisted that Sikhism is to be considered a distinct faith in its own right, it was clear that Gandhi saw Sikhs as Hindus, and he insisted that they be referred to as such. This failure to recognize Sikhs as a distinct people is also pertinent in India’s treatment of the religious minority and in the Indian constitution, and Singh’s (2005) ‘Hindu Bias in India’s ‘Secular’ Constitution: probing flaws in the instruments of governance‘ further elaborates on the failure of a ‘democratic’ country in recognizing the distinctive independence of non-Hindus.
One should also consider that the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi by a Hindu did not incur the vengeful wrath of fellow Hindus, and did not lead to a series of reprisal massacres against Hindus in India. On the other hand, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards following Blue Star saw mobs of Hindus adamant on killing Sikhs, prominent public figures declaring ‘blood for blood,’ governmental figures taking part in the atrocities and interventionist authorities remaining silent.
Understandably, then, Sikhs do not feel a sense of patriotism towards a country whose open persecution of religious minorities leads not to convictions but to impunity. The feeling of betrayal of the Sikhs is perhaps further deepened by memories of Gandhi’s unfulfilled promises, which were methods to appease the Sikhs and persuade them to join the side of Hindu India. Such promises included that of Khalistan, a promise quickly broken after independence. Further, Gandhi made a promise which was shattered by the barbarianism of the Indian government during and after the 1984 massacres,
I venture to suggest that the non-violence creed of the Congress is the surest guarantee of its good faith and our Sikhs friends have no reason to fear betrayal at its hands.
I don’t attempt to justify the vandalism of a statue, and Sikhs such as Lord Indarjit Singh have openly and firmly declared such vandalism as wrong. I do, however, hope to clarify Sikh views in relation to Gandhi and the Indian state; the two are, to an extent, interconnected.