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Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Myths Debunked

Bijla Singh

Baba Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale was a prominent Sikh preacher and a leader during the late 70s and early 80s. He led the Sikh community during one of the most crucial times of the Sikh history when the Indian government was using every tactic in the book to disunite the Sikhs. He was a man of principles who lived his life according to the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. His bravery, fearlessness, and true character were loved by the masses in the Sikh community. His preaching and speeches illuminated a hope of freedom in the people of Punjab.

The government launched an attack on full scale to crush the same hope of freedom which resulted in martyrdom of Baba Jarnail Singh, destruction of several Gurdwaras, dishonor of women and deaths of thousands of innocent Sikhs including women and children. Subsequent to the attack, he came to be known as a true martyr. His popularity and fame was seen as a “threat” by the central government. To slander his true character and reputation the government used media, press, and television to spread misinformation about him and labeled him as a “terrorist”. Unfortunately, some ignorant people have started to believe in such misinformation one of which is Puneet Lamba who has written an article “Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Five Myths” in which he has tried very unsuccessfully to prove that Baba Jarnail Singh was a terrorist. This article is written for the purpose of responding to his misconceptions and clearing the doubts raised by him in the minds of the Sikhs.

Baba Jarnail Singh sacrificed while defending Darbar Shaib which makes him a martyr and a respected true hero in the eyes of the majority of the people in the Sikh community. So “Myth 5” and “Myth 2” are only myths and not facts. However, other three “myths” are nothing but cooked up lies and gross misinterpretation of Lamba. Let’s take a look at each of the “myths”.

Myth 4 – Religion and Politics

Mr. Lamba fails to recognize the ‘Miri Piri’ concept in Sikhi. While Darbar Sahib is the religious sovereignty of the Sikhs, Akal Takhat Sahib is the seat of Sikh polity and a powerful symbol of Sikh sovereignty which stands right in front of Darbar Sahib. Although Baba Jarnail Singh had no ambition to become a political leader he never overlooked the importance of having political power. In his speeches he clearly stated that he had no wish to become a political leader.[1] By saying the above he only represented himself not anyone else in his group or his associates.

The purpose of having his associates run for political seats was to have a representation of the Sikh community on political level. His mission was clearly stated by him in one of his speeches

to take Amrit, read Bani, give up intoxicants, preach unity and be attached to Guru Granth Sahib only and encourage others to do the same.[2]

To say that Baba Jarnail Singh had no link with politics is highly foolish. Throughout his career he demanded the government to accept Sikhi as a separate religion and the Anandpur Resolution of 1973. Both required modifications in the Indian Constitution which clearly is a political move. According to Dr. A. R. Darshi

His main aim was not simply to bull doze the Nirankari offensive but also to strive for implementation of Anandpur Sahib Resolution adopted by the Akali Dal in 1973. And if the union government refused to concede that demand then to aspire for independent state as was promised by the Indian National Congress before attainment of independence in 1947.[3]

A religious man like Baba Jarnail Singh cared for his community and had realized that the Sikh community needed political representation in the government so that legitimate decisions could be made by the government concerning the Sikhs. He had studied the Sikh philosophy according to which religion perishes without political sovereignty. He himself never wanted to become a political leader but he never discouraged other Sikhs from entering into politics.

Myth 3 – Baba Jarnail Singh and Khalistan

Baba Jarnail Singh was a saint-soldier of Guru Sahib and was fully aware of the Sikh tenets. According to the Sikh philosophy “Religion perishes without political sovereignty”. [4] Baba Jarnail Singh openly spoke against the police atrocities on innocent Sikhs and dishonor of the Sikh women. In his speeches he mentioned numerous times that Sikhs were being treated as slaves and inferior to Hindus. Witnessing the atrocities how could any moral person sit around and support the Indian government? His demands were clear and bold.

We wish to live in Hindustan. We wish to live as equal citizens. The Center should tell us whether it wants to keep us with it or not. If the Center wants to keep us with it, it should give us our full rights according to the sacrifices we have made…If it wishes, it can keep us with it or if it wishes, it can call us terrorists and extremists and separate us. It is their job. Don't put the blame on us.[5]

Hence, it is clear that Baba Jarnail Singh never opposed the demand of Khalistan. What he supported was equality, freedom and life of dignity as first class citizens.

If they keep us with them, among them, we shall not accept living as second class citizens. We shall live as first class citizens and work as equal partners.[6]

He very well knew that the government would never agree to this and would never change the Constitution in which under Article 25 Sikhs are classed as Hindus. The demand for Khalistan was neither against the Sikh philosophy nor was it opposed by the Sikh community. Guru Sahib himself established many cities, lived like a King and Sikhs called Him “The True King”. This was not any different than establishing an independent state for the Sikh community. Sikhs like Baba Banda Singh, Nawaab Kapoor Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh, Sikh Misls and many others had established the Sikh rule. Baba Jarnail Singh supported a country in which Sikhs could enjoy equal rights and have freedom be it in India or Khalistan. By not listening to the Sikh demands and attacking the Sikh Gurdwaras the Indian government sent a clear message to the Sikh community that there was no place for them in India as first class citizens.

Myth 1 – Baba Jarnail Singh and Terrorism

Baba Jarnail Singh was a true Sikh who lived his life according to Sikh beliefs. For him Physical Death I do not fear, Death of the Conscience is a Sure Death was the way to live. He opposed the brutality of the Indian government against the Sikhs and for this very reason was branded as a “terrorist”. The government considered every Amritdhari (baptized) Sikh a terrorist and threat to the Nation.

Baba Jarnail Singh preached the teachings of Guru Sahib which was to keep arms and rehat. By spreading the message of Guru Sahib he did nothing wrong. According to Dr. A. R. Darshi:

Ideology professed and advocated by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was not entirely new. It was exactly the same as enunciated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and developed by Guru Hargobind Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji…..what Sant Bhindranwale did was that he revived the true tenets of the Khalsa and gave it a new dimension.[7]

Baba Jarnail Singh started preaching the Sikh beliefs as taught by Guru Sahib. A significant increase in the number of Sikhs was seen as a threat to the “Indian unity” and the government used its entire media to malign his character in the public. Unfortunately, Mr. Lamba fell for this trap. We shall see that Lamba had purposely ignored and kept quiet about all the brutalities and tortures by the Indian officials on Sikhs. Most of his arguments are based on hearsay not reliable facts. Answers to his statements (in red) are as follows:

Violent thoughts seemed second nature to Bhindranwale. He often made extremely cruel remarks with utmost sincerity, 'If a true Sikh drinks, he should be burnt alive’.

The statement is nowhere to be found in his speeches and has no reference. Even if we assume that such statement was said by him it was directed towards people who misrepresented the Sikh identity. The Indian government had hired many criminals known as “Cats” who disguised themselves as Sikhs, got drunk, and looted the public and raped women. Their only job was to humiliate the Sikhs. Why is Lamba forgetting that the tenth Guru Ji Himself burnt alive these kind of people? Had Baba Jarnail Singh been of violent nature he would’ve ordered his associates to kill non-Sikhs and rape their women but on the contrary it was the government that engaged in such activities.

Tavleen Singh discovered that in Bhindranwale's darbar (court), 'concepts like non-violence were mocked and sneering remarks made about Gandhi.

First of all, Gandhism concept of non-violence is not according to the teachings of Guru Sahib. The Sikh Gurus taught Sikhs to arm themselves and fight for their rights. This is why keeping of Kirpan (Sword) was made mandatory for all Sikhs. Not fighting for rights, honor of women and dignity of all might have been the idealistic views of Gandhi but is not the nature of Sikhs. Baba Jarnail Singh supported the same line of thinking and rejected Gandhism.

Can those who are the sons of the valiant guru, whose symbol is the sword, ever accept a woman like Mahatma as their father? Those are the techniques of the weak, not of a race that has never bowed its head before any injustice - a race whose history is written in the blood of martyrs.[8]

Bhindranwale advised, “To kill is bad but to have weapons and not fight for justice is worse.”[9]

In fact, it was Gandhi who mocked Guru Gobind Singh Ji and used foul language by calling him a “misguided patriot”. [10] If opposing Gandhi (a mere human being) makes Baba Jarnail Singh a terrorist then by the same argument opposing Guru Gobind Singh Ji (greatest of all) makes Gandhi even a greater terrorist. Baba Jarnail Singh spoke against non-violence that would prevent a person from protecting his honor and dignity. Gandhi was a racist person and responsible for millions of deaths during the partition in 1947. He betrayed the Sikh community. To expect any respect for Gandhi from the Sikhs is insane and highly irrational.

To learn about the true version of Gandhi, I suggest everyone to visit Gandhism.

Harmit Singh Batra was in the Darbar Sahib complex on April 13, 1978 and quotes Bhindranwale, 'We will not allow this Nirankari convention to take place. We are going to march there and cut them to pieces!

The reference is highly biased and totally false. April 13th is a very auspicious day for the Sikhs. On this day ‘Nirankaris’ were carrying out anti-Sikh activities by insulting the Sikh tenets and Guru Granth Sahib. The government fully supported such campaign. Sikhs went to stop these activities in a peaceful protest but they were fired upon. 13 Sikhs were brutally killed and several other Sikhs were wounded. This peaceful march was sent by Baba Jarnail Singh. Even after the massacre of the Sikhs the matter was handled in legal ways. If he wanted to act in a violent way he would not have sent a peaceful march. According to Tavleen Singh:

Contrary to the popular belief that he (Jarnail Singh) took the offensive, senior police sources in the Punjab admit that the provocation came in fact from a Nirankari official who started harassing Bhindranwale and his men. There were two or three Nirankaris in key positions in the Punjab in those days and they were powerful enough to be able to create quite a lot of trouble. The Nirankaris also received patronage from Delhi. (Tavleen Singh: Terrorists in the Temple, in The Punjab Story, edited by Amarjit Kaur et al., Roli Books, New Delhi, 1984, page 32.)

I highly doubt Lamba ever tried to verify Batra’s sayings.

After the assassination of the Nirankari leader Gurbachan Singh on April 24, 1980, Bhindranwale is universally acknowledged to have remarked that if he ever met Ranjit Singh, the suspected killer, he would weigh him in gold (i.e. reward him with his weight in gold).

Gurbachna was not an innocent person. He was killed for insulting Sikhi and speaking blatantly against the Sikh Gurus. He killed many Sikhs and the government always took his side. He killed 13 Sikhs in 1978 on the Sikh holy day. He desecrated Guru Granth Sahib and claimed himself to be greater than the Sikh Gurus. He even wrote books against the Sikh Gurus containing fake information. The government failed to deliver justice and showed no respect for the Sikh religion. Ranjit Singh’s action was accepted and honored by the Sikh community. If the government can honor its soldiers for killing the enemy then why can’t the Sikh community honor its fellow brothers for punishing its enemies?

On August 17, 1983, Bhindranwale asked Sikh youth to buy a motorcycle and a revolver.

This is true but Lamba’s motives are to misrepresent Baba Jarnail Singh’s image so expecting him to look at the facts would be a mistake. Why exactly did Baba Jarnail Singh say these words? Because everyone had realized the fact that instead of serving the justice the government was killing innocent Sikhs and filing no cases. Disappearance of Sikh youth in Punjab had become very common. Hindus in other states were forcibly cutting Sikhs’ hair and insulting the Sikh identity. The final option left was to buy weapons to protect themselves as instructed by Guru Sahib. If the government won’t do the job then people have the complete rights do it themselves. During Mughal Empire, Guru Sahib bought horses and weapons and instructed the Sikhs to do the same. He raised an army and taught Sikhs to always fight for justice.

By following the concept of Miri Piri and asking Sikhs to follow the teachings of Guru Sahib (raising arms) he had done nothing wrong. According to Dr. A.R. Darshi:

The tradition of arming the Sikhs was introduced by Guru Hargobind Ji…He then instructed the Sikhs to offer him weapons and horses instead of money. He accepted weapons and horses at Akal Takhat Sahib from His followers…..Sant Bhindranwale simply revived this tradition in letter and spirit and gave it a new dimension by substituting revolvers and guns with swords and spears and motor cycle with horse. He therefore did not commit any offense by following the Gurus. The cynics may criticize him for revival of the age old tradition of the Khalsa.[11]

What Sant Jarnail Singh preached was totally in accordance to Sikh principles. He preached Sikhs to defend themselves and fight for justice. According to him:

A Sikh is never an oppressor but only defends himself and his people. I have never, he said, initiated any attack with my tongue or my pen or with my sword. I only answer back or retaliate to actions initiated by the enemies of the Sikhs.[12]

Baba Jarnail Singh made it clear in his speeches that by keeping and carrying weapons it is a sin to dishonor women and harm innocent people but it is a greater sin to keep weapons and not fight for rights, honor and dignity.[13]

I ask Mr. Lamba to prove how asking Sikhs to arm themselves was against Sikhi? Sikhs were armed by the Sikh Gurus themselves and asking them to follow the instructions of Guru Sahib can only be wrong in the eyes of ignorant people. If carrying weapons to defend honor and justice and to fight for truth makes one a terrorist then what does one have to do to become a patriot? Do today’s governments not arm their countrymen? Why are they not called terrorist countries?

During a speech on September 20, 1983, Bhindranwale stated clearly that he would 'embrace' Sikhs who exacted revenge upon those who were guilty of torturing, killing, or humiliating Sikhs. He said, 'Getting away from there is your job, protecting you here [in the Darbar Sahib complex] is mine.

May we ask what is wrong with such a statement? Since when did punishing the murderers, rapists and killers become an act of terrorism? It has been stated before that the government was not only not arresting the criminals but giving them the full support to rape and kill Sikhs. Under such circumstances if Sikhs won’t take the matters into their own hands and punish the criminals then who will? What exactly does Lamba expect? Should Sikhs have stayed in their homes quietly waiting for these criminals to show up at their doors to rape their women while police stood watching? Lamba is a big fool to be thinking in that manner. He should’ve studied little bit of Sikh history before writing an article misrepresenting a true Sikh hero. If justice is not served then Sikhs know how to deliver it.

It is an age old tradition of the Khalsa to fight the tyrants and not to submit themselves to tyranny. If thus the Congress government contemptuously branded them as a lawless people and oppressed them they are justified to meet arms with arms.[14]

On November 17, 1983, Bhindranwale bluntly demanded 'that all Hindus should leave Punjab.

It is very idiotic to be quoting a Hindu who is extremely against Sikhs. Baba Jarnail Singh made no such claims. In fact it was Hindu leaders and politicians who said that all Sikhs outside of Punjab will be killed. Hindu organizations like Shiv Sena raised many anti-Sikh slogans such as “We are not going to let any second or third group exist, we are not going to let a turban remain on any head”.[15] Chief Minister of Punjab, Darbara Singh, stated that he will crush all Sikhs demanding the recognition of their distinct identity. Bhajan Lal, Chief Minister of Haryana and Keval Krishan claimed to forcibly kick out all the Sikhs living outside of Punjab.[16] Lamba seems to have turned his back on that. Why?

And in one edition Lala had written in an editorial comment that Taura [Tohra, then president of the S.G.P.C.] and Ajnoha [then jathedar of the Akal Takht] are traitors. On that day in a great fury he [Bhindranwale] called upon someone to read aloud what Lala had said. There was quiet. 'Our turban has been torn from our heads,' he proclaimed. Then one of his followers asked, 'What are your orders?' Again in anger, he said 'Orders, you need orders! What orders? Are you blind?' Now you see he did not say anything. And they said it. 'O.K.' meaning thereby, we'll finish this man. So, then, 3-4 days later, Lala was coming from Ludhiana and they fired upon him.

Twisting words seems to be another talent of Lamba. The editor Lala (person who was killed) had printed anti-Sikh pictures and wrote derogatory comments about the Sikh Gurus. He openly printed insulting comments on Sikh identity for years. He also stated that all Sikhs in Haryana (neighboring state of Punjab) will be killed. He vehemently supported the anti-Sikh groups such as Nirankaris. Not only that, he even appeared as a star defense witness and gave a false statement against the Sikhs. Yet the government did nothing. Instead the government provided him with its security forces. It was his preposterous propaganda and outrageous actions against Sikhism that provoked and angered the Sikh youth to such an extent that two of them gunned him down in broad day light in 1981 while he was traveling in his car from Ludhiana to Jalandhar.[17]

Baba Jarnail Singh gave no orders to kill him. He was arrested under suspicion but later released since the government had no concrete evidence to arrest him or prove him guilty. [18]

Nachhatar Singh, arrested by the police for the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, is said to have fingered Bhindranwale for ordering the killing.

According to A.R. Darshi:

The police officers who interrogated Sant Bhindranwale in the district of Ludhiana failed to extract any evidence against him; even then he was detained in the jail for over a month.” [19]

Perhaps now Lamba should study the other side of the story and not take every word of the government and its puppets blindly.

The hijackers of an Indian Airlines plane on September 20, 1981 claimed to be members of the Dal Khalsa and demanded the release of Bhindranwale, who had been arrested in connection with the murder of Lala Jagat Narain. In a speech, Bhindranwale 'praised his young lieutenants' for the hijacking.

Sikh hijackers hijacked a plane not for Baba Jarnail Singh but in protest against violation and insults of the Sikhs and their rights. After he was arrested, the police killed 200 Sikhs and burnt copies of Sikh Holy Scriptures. In protest, the plane was hijacked. No passenger was harmed and the plane landed safely on the Indian soil but all Sikh hijackers were punished. On the other hand when Panday brothers hijacked a plane demanding the release of Indira Gandhi they were awarded with high ranking positions. Is this justice? If hijacking a plane is wrong then why weren’t Panday brothers given the same punishment? Why is it that Sikhs are punished for the same action Hindus are awarded for? This incident showed that the government had more respect for a human (Indira Gandhi) than Guru Granth Sahib.

On July 18, 1982, a police party from the Beas Thana in Amritsar district stopped a jeep. Most of the occupants were residents of Bhindranwale's gurdwara Gurdarshan Parkash at Chowk Mehta. They attacked the police and were arrested. No case was initiated.

This is a fabricated story of the police to justify the arrests. Thousands of innocent Sikhs have been tortured and killed by the police in the name of “terrorism” but no cases were registered. This doesn’t mean the innocent ones who were killed are the real culprits. The police are the real criminal here since no case was registered. Otherwise, they would’ve exposed themselves.

Whilst the formally authorized Sikh code of conduct requires unshorn beards only for amrit-dhari (baptized) Sikh men, Bhindranwale demanded unshorn and open beards for all Sikh men

Sikh code of conduct requires open and unshorn beards for all Sikhs. Cutting or trimming hair is a taboo in Sikhi. According to Rehatnamas tying of beard is prohibited.

Whereas 'nobody was ever refused an interview, he refused to surrender to anyone but sufficiently orthodox Sikh policemen.

There is big difference between an interview and an arrest. During the arrest the Hindu police greatly insulted the Sikhs by taking off their turbans. Baba Jarnail Singh asked the Sikhs to arrest him to avoid insult. This was not an illegal action because the government accepted his demand.

While he professed the highest standards of Sikhism, he practiced gender discrimination.

Baba Jarnail Singh was a true Sikh. He preached the same message to men and women equally. He supported the practice of only Sikh men administering the baptism ceremony which is widely accepted by the Sikh community.

Although he viewed modernity as evil, he had no compunctions about using modern firearms.

What exactly is “modernity” that Lamba is talking about? If going against the principles of Sikhism is called “modernity” then yes he was against it. Keeping weapons is completely in accord with the Sikh teachings and has been part of the Sikh traditions for over 350 years.

Whereas many Sikhs regard him as a 'messiah, his 1984 prophecy failed to materialize: 'In the next ten years Sikhs will get their liberation. This will definitely happen.

Neither is Baba Jarnail Singh regarded as a messiah nor did he make such prophecy. He said “The day Indian army attacks Golden Temple; the foundation of Khalistan will be laid.”[20] Lamba is only fooling himself to think that by using his invalid no proof rubbish he could convince Sikhs to start hating a true hero like Baba Jarnail Singh.

Conclusion

I close this rebuttal by appealing Mr. Lamba to study the life of Baba Jarnail Singh according to the Sikh philosophy not according to his point of view. He shouldn’t fall for Indian propaganda and for once use some rationality to confirm his hypothesis. Only then will he realize that Baba Jarnail Singh was an ideal Sikh who for the honor of Sikh Nation sacrificed his life. No terrorist has ever been praised or remembered by the Sikh Nation. If Baba Jarnail Singh was a terrorist he would not have been labeled as a “Shaheed” and given the title of “Sikh of 20th Century”. He was a man of vision and a great leader who in a very short period of time woke up the Sikh Nation to become conscious of their rights and sovereignty.

Sant Bhindranwale was a genius and a born leader compared to Harchand Longowal. He had far greater vision and foresight. He had a remarkable inquisitive insight and intuitive power. He was a symbol of indomitable courage, valor and spiritual power…..Such a leader is born once in a while.[21]

References

1) Ranbir Singh Sandhu, Struggle for Justice: Speeches and Conversations of Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale, pg. 285

2) Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Speech on 22 February 1984

3) Dr. A.R. Darshi, The Gallant Defender, pg. 27

4) Gurbilas P: 10, Bhai Sukha Singh

5) Sandhu, pg. 112

6) Sandhu, pg. 211

7) Dr. A.R. Darshi, The Gallant Defender,  pg. 52

8) Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Speech in 1983

9) Cynthia Mahmood, Fighting for Faith and Nation, pg. 46

10) Sachi Sakhi, Sardar Kapoor Singh, 74-76

11) Darshi, pg. 53

12) Harry Reasoner, CBS News 60 minutes, 10 June 1984

13) Sandhu, pg. 78

14) Darshi, pg. 67

15) Sandhu, pg. 278

16) Sandhu, pg. 77

17) Vir Sanghvi, The Giani and Bhindranwale, Imprint, February 1986.

18) Darshi, pg. 43

19) Darshi, pg. 45

20) Sandhu, pg. 77

21) Darshi, pg. 36