Guru Arjan and 1984

IJ Singh | New York, NY

You might be wondering what is the connection between the two. Guru Arjan’s time was largely in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. And the Orwellian events of 1984 are now history, a generation old. If the connection to the Guru surprises you, now imagine how astonishing it would seem a few years from now – like, say another 50 years or so. It’s been only 67 years, but despite all the available material, a new generation of Jews sometimes looks obliquely at the debate on the holocaust. Deniers of the holocaust already exist – people like President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad of Iran. Go back a step to early 20th century. If within Turkey you ever suggest that the Armenian massacre occurred, you would be tried in court. If in France you deny that it occurred, you would again face prosecution. Such are the vagaries of what goes into evidence-based history. India, too, is spawning a new generation of deniers who minimize the 1984 army attack on Harmander Sahib (Golden Temple), as well as the army occupation of 40 other gurduaras of the Sikhs throughout Punjab. They also deny the violence – which was, by all credible accounts, a genocide that occurred in the capital city of Delhi and other towns across India. Why highlight the coupling of 1984 with Guru Arjan? Because I have come across many Sikhs – young and old – who are absolutely floored by the connection. I rest my case with a simple example. In 1984, my wife was almost caught up in the murderous frenzy of the planned carnage of Sikhs over three days, from Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, in Delhi. But she was unaware of the fact that the attack on Harmander Sahib occurred on the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan, which is commemorated annually by Sikhs all over the world. Apparently, the news media and television in India glossed over the connection. Outside India, it was nothing but a trivial coincidence. The fact that the government-controlled media in India deliberately down played the connection is to be expected. But that Sikhs were, and remain, unaware of it is a bit of a shame and a puzzling matter. Let’s put matters into some perspective: Guru Arjan was the first martyr of the Sikhs – a faith that has produced more martyrs than we can count. June, in India, is the hottest month, when the summer heat is absolutely blistering. Guru Arjan was martyred mercilessly by having to sit on a hot plate over an open fire with hot sand poured on him, in the summer heat. He accepted this torture with equanimity. And he died nobly. His martyrdom is commemorated every year. On that day, gurduaras all over the world, especially in Punjab and particularly at Harmander Sahib, in Amritsar, are teeming with hundreds and thousands of pilgrims – men, women and children. When, in 1984, the Indian governments sent its army into Harmander Sahib, it selected Guru Arjan’s martyrdom day for the attack, when ordinary innocent Sikhs would be swarming the gurduaras. They then sealed the complex and let loose a reign of terror. Why did they pick that day? Were India’s political leaders unaware of the connection? That would be incompetence of a high order and would cast doubt on their right to rule a people of whom they were so ignorant. Attacking Harmander Sahib on Guru Arjan’s martyrdom day was like bombing the Vatican on Good Friday or like shelling the Wailing Wall on Yom Kippur. It’s beyond thoughtless. What did this attack reap? Perhaps more bitterness and anger in the Sikhs. What we Sikhs need to do is to cement the connection between Guru Arjan’s martyrdom and attack, not to dilute it. But that is what we seem to be doing. Why? According to the Common Era calendar, which is used worldwide, the 1984 Operation Blue Star occurred between June 3 and June 8. According to the Hindu lunar calendar, called Bikrami, Guru Arjan’s martyrdom anniversary occurred on June 4, in 1984. At that time Sikhs also used the Bikrami calendar to set Gurpurab dates. Because it is an astronomically incorrect calendar, Gurpurab dates shifted from year to year. In 2003, Sikhs adopted the solar Nanakshahi calendar, which accurately fixed Sikh historical dates, and is in sync Gurbani and with the Common Era calendar. According to the Nanakshahi calendar, Operation Blue Star still occurs between June 3 and 8, but Guru Arjan’s martyrdom day is correctly fixed to June 16. The connection between Operation Blue Star and Guru Arjan’s Shaheedee Gurpurab may seem lost because of the calendar change. But we must remember that - in 1984 - Guru Arjan’s martyrdom was observed on June 4, the same day that the Indian army chose to launch its assault. The significance and cruelty of the attack cannot be overlooked. This connection was no accident. It was planned to do maximum damage. A new generation has to labor much harder to rediscover the connection between the two. What do we have to gain by weakening our history otherwise? Absolutely nothing. Actually, we have a lot to lose. Remember the saying: “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat it.” _________________________ The author, Inder Jit Singh, is an anatomy professor at New York University. He is also on the editorial advisory board of the Calcutta-based periodical, The Sikh Review, and is the author of five books: Sikhs and Sikhism: A View With a Bias; The Sikh Way: A Pilgrim's Progress; Being and Becoming a Sikh; The World According to Sikhi; and, the latest, Sikhs Today: Ideas and Opinions. He can be reached at Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, and not necessarily that of Sikh News Network.

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