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Adventure, the Primary Motivation for Terrorism in Punjab
A review of Terrorism in Punjab: Understanding Grassroots Reality by Harish K. Puri, Paramjit Singh Judge, and Jagrup Singh Sekhon (Har-Anand Publications; 1999; pp. 200).


Press Trust of India (P.T.I.), Amritsar, Nov. 9, 1999

Photo: Harish K. Puri

Terrorism in Punjab was not a secessionist force or a religious movement for Khalistan as propounded by its leaders. A majority of those who took to arms did so for some 'fun and adventure,' says a new book.

Ground realities greatly differed from the perceptions existing earlier about the motivations, traits and activities of the terrorists, say three academics who have carried out a detailed survey of rural Punjab.

The access to arms only provided the powerless young men an 'entitlement to power,' say three professors of Guru Nanak Dev University (G.N.D.U.), Prof. Harish K. Puri, Prof. Paramjit Singh Judge and Prof. Jagrup Singh Sekhon, authors of Terrorism in Punjab: Understanding Grassroots Reality.

Shaukia (for fun) was surprisingly a prominent expression used by the respondents as a reason or motivation for boys taking to the gun, says Dr. Puri noting that young boys were fascinated with modern weapons as bearing arms provided a sense of being someone to reckon with.

The book studies a total of 323 participants in terrorist violence, identified by respondents spread over 28 terrorism-affected villages in four police districts.

The study is based on public interactions between the authors and residents of these villages. According to the study, 38 per cent of the terrorists from these areas said they joined for adventure and thrill. Another 21 per cent said they joined due to the influence of other terrorists.

For 12 per cent, the motivation was smuggling, looting, or making money. Khalistan was identified as the primary motivation by only five per cent of the respondents. Three per cent cited the influence of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Four per cent took up arms in an emotional response to Operation Bluestar and anti-Sikh riots [centered in Delhi, 1984].

The data also negates another prevalent notion that most of those who took to the gun joined as a consequence of the police atrocities on them or their kin. It seems most of the terrorists were motivated by reasons of inter-family enmity or revenge.

Open discussions with the participants and their families also indicated that terrorist groups were not well organised units and generally suffered from factionalism. There was no strong uni-linear structure in the party rank and file and there was no trust even between members of the same sect.

More than 700 villages of Punjab had close encounters with terrorist violence although the number of villagers seriously affected by it constituted a small proportion - just about 268 out of the total 12,000 villages. A majority of the affected villages were from the four police districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Batala and Majitha, according to a police assessment cited by the academics.

Dr. Puri observes that contrary to popular perception, 24 per cent of those who took to arms were illiterate, another 26 per cent had been to school only upto the middle level, and just two per cent were graduates.

While a lot of religious fervour was accorded to the movement, the book points out that 90 per cent of the boys, including the baptised ones, had little familiarity with religious scriptures although they conferred on themselves honorifics such as 'Baba' or 'Bhai.'

'It was opportunistic escapism that provided the boys an escape from the rotten world they were living in and also gave them religious legitimacy. In no way can they be called religious fanatics.' says the book.

They were rather interested in weapons, property and women, says Dr. Puri.

'Practically no 'fighter' came to the notice of the villages for articulation of political or religious issues except in terms of symbolic reference to the dominating presence of Singhs . . . The terror and violence related largely to matters of personal or family disputes, vendetta, mercenary interests, sexual gratification and general assertion of power and dominance in their villages,' note the authors.

However, atrocities committed by the police and the killing of suspects in fake encounters disturbed the masses. Dr. Puri affirmed that repeated references were made to terrorists becoming an industry for policemen.

There was an underlying sense of relief among the villages when the terrorists were killed by the police.

Following the end of terrorist violence what struck the people most was not only the collapse of the Khalistan movement but also the virtual disappearance of the logic of the struggle.

Terrorism made little impact on the agricultural production in the state. And despite some incidents of mass killings of migrant labourers their regular influx to Punjab remained uninterrupted. And surprisingly, there has been little evidence of the cultural sympathy that failed insurgencies often evoke in the form of literature on battles, idealism, heroism or the vision of the fighters.

The book states that the movement failed because it was removed from the ground realities of the masses and its grievances and, moreover, points out that hasty conclusions were drawn, not neccesarily supported by facts.

'The ruling elite is blind to the ground realities. Scholars and mediapersons should also wake up and do good research on a particular subject before reaching any conclusion,' warns the book.