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Communal Violence and Assertion of Identity - Indian Social Institute

Communal Violence and Assertion of Identity - Indian Social Institute


COMMUNAL VIOLENCE AND ASSERTION OF IDENTITY 19 In Independent India, Sikhs felt they were of little political consequence, but as a distinct minority group they would get recognition. Separatism from Hindus became a political platform on which to establish a distinct Sikh identity and consciousness. This was the demand of the Akali Dal, the political wing of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), formed as a result of the Sikh Gurudwara Act, 1925. The demand for Sikh nationalism can be traced back to the latter part of the nineteenth century, when Punjab was annexed by the British in 1849 (Kapur,1986:xii-xv; Majumdar,1963:235). During the struggle for Independence, the Akali Dal persistently demanded separate electoral representation for the Sikhs. After Independence they demanded the formation of a separate Sikh State, which was granted in 1966 by the State Reorganization Committee, where Sikh Punjabis were in a majority with about 54 per cent of the population of the State, the Hindu Punjabis forming only 44 per cent of the population (Kapur,1986:216). The call for a separate Sikh nation had been voiced from the 1920s, but by 1981 Harchand Singh Longowal, President of the working committee of the Akali Dal, reiterated the call for the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973, which called for the formation of a Sikh nation (ibid:219-220). The continued fears of being absorbed by Brahmanical traditions and the emergence of fundamentalist, extremist forces led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, arose to make forceful demands for a Sikh nation – Sikhistan or Khalistan. By 1983, the extremists began indiscriminate killings of Hindus in the State to create fear among the Hindu population, which would lead to an exodus of Punjabi Hindus from the State (ibid:226-227). In 1984, Operation Bluestar by the Army at the Golden Temple to flush out Bhindranwale and other extremists holed up in the Akal Takht and other areas of the Golden Temple, was seen as a desecration of the Temple and a deliberate attempt to humiliate the community, rather than as a necessary step to curb violence. The retaliatory murder of Indira Gandhi in October 1984 by her own Sikh bodyguards and the brutal anti-Sikh riots that followed, allegedly at the instigation of some Congress leaders, led to a sense of deep alienation of the Sikh community. Today, the extremist elements in the Sikh leadership have been silenced and with both the SGPC and the Akali Dal enjoying electoral control in the State, the Sikhs have begun to recognize themselves as an integral part of India. But beneath the surface, separatist demands by the Sikh community and the Sikh diaspora remains a serious possibility (ibid:236;).

20 SOCIAL ACTION VOL. 60 JANUARY – MARCH 2010 c. Communal violence in the North East The national spirit in India was formed as a result of the struggle for Independence against the colonial powers. Diverse communities came together for this single purpose. Once India gained freedom and emerged as a nation, the “fault-lines” on which the nation was formed began manifesting themselves. The term “fault-lines” was first used by Samuel Huntington, (1997:207-208). These new tensions in India need to be seen in the context of the political maturity of India as a democracy. The proposals of the Mandal Commission that was constituted in 1978, but implemented only in 1990 by the Government led by Mr. V.P. Singh, gave power to the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and middle level castes. The Congress had managed to retain power based on an upper caste/untouchable/minority vote (Brahmin/Dalit/Muslim). “Mandalization” encouraged the OBCs to fight for a separate identity and a share in governance resulting in the creation of new ethnic and caste groups, forming political parties to contest elections in States, as happened in U.P., Bihar, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and other States. New majority-minority conflicts have arisen with the tendency of the newly formed political parties to politicize issues on the basis of religion, ethnicity, caste and language, causing new bases of communal violence in India. In the North East also, local parties have emerged with the tendency to politicize identities on a single ethnic basis. At Independence, the political boundaries of the North East were arbitrarily constructed, leaving uncertain grey zones, disputed territories and discontented peoples, demanding various degrees of autonomy or independence. In 1946, the Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Hydari, entered into an accord with the Naga National Council, giving them the right “to develop themselves according to their freely expressed wishes” in all judicial, fiscal and cultural matters, adding that after ten years, the Naga National Council would be given the option to extend the accord if they so wished or re-negotiate it. Not unexpectedly, the Government of Independent India did not take any notice of this agreement. Insurgency and counter-insurgency operations have followed in the succeeding years (Pandey,2007:56). Majumdar mentions that after the Anglo-Burmese war in 1826, Burma was forced to remove its supremacy over all the north-eastern states, after which the British took over the administration of these territories (Majumdar,1963:129,131; 732; 1026). A similar view is expressed by M.S. Prabhakara who states that in the

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