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India Relaxes Ban on Militant Memorabilia


B.B.C., Mar. 31, 2002

Photo: Bhindranwale posters at Hola Mohalla

Militant memorabilia, banned by the government in the northern Indian state of Punjab since the mid-1980s, is once again on sale in rural fairs. Calendars and posters bearing pictures of slain militant leaders sold briskly at the recently concluded Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla. Over three million devotees visited the historic birthplace of the Khalsa or modern Sikhism at Anandpur during the recent three-day Hola Mohalla festival. The festival is best known for the colourful display of martial arts by the Nihangs, who pride themselves as direct descendants of the Sikh Army raised by a Sikh saint, Guru Gobind Singh.

Hola Mohalla coincides with the Hindu festival of colours, Holi, and is an occasion for religious discussions and devotional music. But this year's festival was different from its predecessors. Dozens of little stalls were openly selling printed calendars and posters bearing pictures of Sikh militants killed by Indian security forces during the 1980s and 1990s. As part of its efforts to combat an armed separatist movement in the mid-1980's, the Punjab Government had imposed a blanket ban on the sale of such merchandise. Other militant memorabilia including audio cassette recordings of speeches made by separatist leaders too were banned. The most popular among these were recorded speeches and calendars bearing pictures of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale - a leader of the Sikh separatist movement.

Bhindranwale died fighting Indian Army soldiers at the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. Dharmender Singh, who purchased a set of calendars from one of the shops at the Hola Mohalla fair said he intended to display these in his village home. He said these carried memories of great Sikh warriors. State officials at Anandpur told the B.B.C. the official ban was still in place and that the calendars and posters were being sold despite this. They said a decision had been taken not to enforce the ban too strictly.