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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Daljit Singh Bittu, currently serving a life sentence, is a former president of the Shiromani Dal Khalsa and the All India Sikh Students Federation (A.I.S.S.F.). The following English translation was posted by Manish Bhatia on

Shahaadat (Ludhiana), Nabha, Punjab, Oct. 6, 2004

Photo: Daljit Singh Bittu

We congratulate you for achieving a new pinnacle in your already distinguished career. With immense optimism we welcome the news of your appointment as prime minister of India. We are sanguine foremost because of your competence and integrity, and only secondarily because you are a Sikh.

With your remarkable appointment as the prime minister of India, we are hopeful that India will be more faithful to the rule of law. We noted with optimism that one of your first public statements was that you will not allow grisly events such as 1984 and Gujarat to happen again. It was heartening to hear you acknowledge that the judicial process in Gujarat had been subverted, and that you would ensure that justice prevails.

Your decision (assuming it was yours), however, to induct Jagdish Tytler into the cabinet did give us pause. We are particularly surprised since you had implied parallels between the violence in Delhi in 1984 and in Gujarat in 2002. In both cases minorities were targeted. In both cases the government was complicit. In both cases local politicians encouraged violence. And in both cases the politicians managed to subvert the judicial process. You promise that in Gujarat this subversion will not be permitted. Isn't it possible that similar subversion happened in Delhi?

Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and all others have successfully beaten the rap using the same tools that were used by politicians in Gujarat. Intimidation and coercion of witnesses, political pressure on the judiciary and the prosecutors, and most importantly friends in high places led to the same travesty of justice in Delhi as it did in Gujarat.

We realize that unfortunately political expediency can often coerce compromise even from the most ethical person. Perhaps you would at least consider personally visiting the widows of the Delhi pogroms. Since you are a sensitive person, you can imagine the humiliation of those ladies who know that the men responsible for the rapes and murders of their family members now roam the streets of their neighborhoods with impunity.

In our view playing the role of victims does not reconcile with Sikh ethos, and we certainly don't plan to exploit the suffering of Sikhs for ignoble political gains. We don't seek rhetorical apologies for what the Indian state did in June and November of 1984. Prime Ministers Dev Gowda, Inder Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have all expressed regret in various tones about what happened in 1984. These statements of regret mean little to us. We trust you are too sincere a person to oblige the self-serving politicians of Punjab with another condescending apology.

Instead of rhetoric we suggest that you consider actions, which would be far more meaningful. Punjab has been bankrupted by corrupt politicians, a dishonest and oversized bureaucracy, a dysfunctional educational system, an agricultural economy that has seen limited growth in many years, and an extraordinarily high debt burden on the farmers. We ask you to form and fund a task force staffed not by bureaucrats or politicians, but forward-thinking academics, intellectuals, industrialists, farmers and businessmen from Punjab and around the world, to present concrete proposals within six months for economic reform in Punjab. We would expect that such a task force would leverage existing credible work, such as the Johl Committee report. If our additional input is sought, we can offer both concrete suggestions and potential participants for such an effort.

We ask you to seriously consider opening the border with Pakistan. This one act may not be a panacea for Punjab's ills, but it may have the favorable consequence of opening up new trade routes and providing Punjabi farmers (on both sides of the border) new markets for their produce. An economist of your stature does not need us to enumerate the potential benefits of such a bold move.

Thirdly, we suggest that you consider a radical solution to the intractable political problems of the sub-continent. The sub-continent was a diverse mosaic of many nations, tribes, cultures, languages, religions, and peoples. Colonial powers methodically leveraged and manipulated this diversity for their own commercial ends. When these diverse groups banded together to resist colonialism, the British carelessly abandoned the sub-continent. A territory that had taken some 150 years to unite into British India was disbanded in a matter of a few years.

As British India crumbled, the English executed short-sighted and hasty policies that not only caused cataclysmic violence in 1947, but also have continued to cause turmoil in the sub-continent. Aside from conflict between the nations of the sub-continent, much of the conflict within these nations - the Mohajirs in Pakistan, the Sikhs in India, the Chakmas in Bangladesh, the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka, the Brahmins in Bhutan, the Hindus in Bangladesh, the Gorkhas in India, the Maosts in Nepal, to name only a few of the 'thousand mutinies' as V.S. Naipaul might call them, can be fairly attributed as a legacy of colonialism.

We submit that a radical re-think that involves all the diverse people of the sub-continent is required because their fates are interconnected. It is premature to suggest what the outcome of such a dialogue would be, but what might emerge is a Sub-Continental Union (S.U.).

The S.U. would be similar to the European Union (E.U.) in some ways, but also different in that the S.U. would not merely transplant European and Western ideas without ensuring their relevance to the unique historicity and culture of the sub-continent. Should such a Sub-Continental Union preserve the rights of self-determination for the many nations and peoples of the sub-continent, we are confident that such a political structure would truly allow the people of the sub-continent to finally bask in the 'glow of freedom,' economic, religious, social and political.

In conclusion, since the Shiromani Khalsa Dal was only recently constituted, allow us to introduce ourselves. We represent that segment of Sikhs and Punjabis that was disillusioned with India, and after 1984 turned decidedly unfriendly towards her. We respect your intellect too much to reiterate India's sordid history of Hindisation and Hinduisation, apropos neologisms for the homogenization of the once splendid diversity of cultures, languages, tribes and faith traditions extant on the sub-continent before 1947. Nor will we dwell on the crescendo of violence visited upon the Sikhs that reached a gruesome climax in 1984, followed by a decade of extra-judicial killings that even the Supreme Court of India was compelled to deem 'genocide.'

Suffice it to say that we speak for those who were forced to resist state violence by all means necessary after the Indian state granted impunity to those who kill Sikhs. No doubt many rogues and thugs exploited this conflict to add to Punjab's horror, but that is the nature of violence. Unbridled violence, especially by the state, always has macabre consequences.

An enduring legacy of that violence is not only scores of devastated homes in Punjab, but also many young Sikhs in jails, and some even awaiting death in Indian prisons. India remains one of the few countries in the world that chooses to kill an incarcerated human being. In this regard perhaps you will consider Maharaja Ranjit Singh as a role model for he is reputed to have abolished the death penalty in his kingdom.

As Sikhs committed to our gurus' traditions we genuinely seek harmony and are committed to the Sikh principle of persevering to resolve issues peacefully. After twenty years of resistance, during which we have lost many brothers and sisters to fake and real encounters with the Indian state, we once again endeavor to pursue our objectives through peaceful means, as the Sikhs did in the three decades before 1978.

We look forward to hearing from you, and continuing a thoughtful and courageous dialogue. We also beseech the Tenth Nanak, the Rider of the Blue Steed, to grant you courage, wisdom and compassion as you provide leadership to India, Punjab and we hope to the entire sub-continent.