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Violent Means Attract Violent Types

A letter to the editor of East Bay Express written in response to the November 19, 2003 piece Singh v. Singh at Fremont Gurdwara by Malcolm Gay.

East Bay Express, Dec. 10, 2003

Malcolm Gay deserves applause for a meticulously researched and balanced piece on a sensitive subject. However, a pair of errors managed to get past his eagle eye.

First, Guru Arjan, whose martyrdom day coincided with June 1984's Operation Blue Star, concluded (rather than launched) the construction of the Golden Temple (or Darbar Sahib), Sikhism's holiest shrine located in Amritsar, Punjab. Guru Arjan's predecessor, Guru Amar Das, was responsible for commencing its construction.

Second, according to veteran B.B.C. correspondent Mark Tully's book Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle, the Babbar Khalsa was formed not 'in the wake of Operation Blue Star' but during the years leading up to it. They 'took their name from the Babbar Akalis, the group of terrorists who rejected the Akali Dal's nonviolent policy during the Gurdwara Reform Movement (G.R.M.) in the 1920s.'

I was particularly rankled by Bhajan Singh Bhinder's statement about not wanting to hold elections at the Fremont Gurdwara (since 1996) 'because elections have been known to be abused.' Sidestepping democratic institutions is an ineffective way to go about refining them. In Winston Churchill's famous words, 'democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.'

A strong precedence for the democratic governance of gurdwaras exists in the form of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.), an elected body, established per the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925, responsible for the management of all major gurdwaras in and around the Punjab region.

Organizations that sanction the use of illegal violence as a means to achieve an end tend to attract criminal elements with little loyalty to the organization's political goals. According to Tully (p. 147), 'Most of the young men who escaped [from the Darbar Sahib during Operation Blue Star] were either criminals or those left-wing extremists known as Naxalites.' Those who escaped were seen to have betrayed their stated pledge to die fighting against what they viewed as Indian occupying forces. If the Sikh Youth of America (S.Y.A.) fails to disavow violence and crime, it too will do so at the expense of compromising its vision for Sikh self-determination.

To its credit, Sikhism's supreme authority, the Amritsar-based Akal Takht, has unequivocally condemned all gurdwara violence irrespective of its objective. The apex body's 1993 letter to the Fairfax Gurdwara in Virginia stated that anyone causing 'any bodily harm to any individual directly or indirectly through someone else' would be considered a 'sinner' (Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, edited by Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier, 2001, New Delhi: Manohar, p. 372).

Related Links:
Singh v. Singh at Fremont Gurdwara, By MALCOLM GAY, East Bay Express, Nov. 19, 2003
Court: Cheema Aided Terrorism in India, But Is Not a Threat to the U.S., By BOB EGELKO, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 3, 2003
Prominent Fremont Sikhs Arrested, By LISA FERNANDEZ, Mercury News, Oct. 16, 2003
Fremont Gurdwara Management Raise $900,000 Bond to Postpone Elections, By MELISSA EVANS, The Argus, Dec. 17, 2002
Fremont Gurdwara Prepares for Elections, By MELISSA EVANS, The Argus, Nov. 26, 2002