The Khalistan episode cuts both ways, requires healing and reconciliation
Newspapers have carried extensive coverage of the news of the honouring of the killers of Congress MP Lalit Makhen and General AS Vaidya by the SGPC, the clergy of the apex body of the gallant Sikh community. The memories of terrorism in Punjab, a little more than a decade old, came back in a rush for readers when Lt Gen. KS Brar was attacked in an assassination attempt a few days ago in London. Most people felt that in this background, nothing could be more seditious than honouring the killers of a General who performed the bidding of the Indian State. The killers of General Vaidya - Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha - were hanged by the Indian Union in Pune after due legal process was followed. They were serial offenders and were responsible for a number of killings besides robbery.
On July 31, 1983, General Vaidya became the 13th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. He retired on January 31, 1986, as India's most decorated soldier. On August 10, 1986, he was shot dead while driving his car in Pune where he had settled. In 1989, Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda were sentenced to death for the killing. Despite admitting to the killing, they pleaded that they were not-guilty, justifying their actions by stating that Vaidya was "guilty of a serious crime, the punishment for which could only be death". The two were executed on October 9, 1992. Earlier, the same duo had gunned down the charismatic Member of Parliament Lalit Maken on July 31, 1985, when he was moving towards his car parked across the road from his house in Kirti Nagar, New Delhi. The three assailants had continued firing even as Maken ran towards his house for cover. Maken's wife Geetanjali and a visitor, Balkishan, were also caught in the firing. In the same year, Congress (I) leader Arjun Dass was assassinated on September 5, 1985, by Jinda, Sukha and another terrorist because of his 'involvement' in the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots. On February 13, 1987, Jinda and Sukha along with other members of Khalistan Commando Force, including its chief General Labh Singh, participated in the biggest bank robbery in Indian history and robbed Rs 5.70 crore from the Punjab National Bank, Miller Gunj branch, Ludhiana.
Many feel that the Indian state cannot afford to mutely witness the spectacle of honouring the assassins of General AS Vaidya. The peace and tranquility in Punjab has been achieved at great cost - with many good men laying down their lives in the service of the nation. It is contended that if the Indian State stays quiet on this frontal attack on the sensibilities of the Indian people, it not only risks the imminent danger of terrorism raising its monstrous head again but also communicates to the world at large that it has no respect for those martyred by the terrorists.
But, it transpires that both Jinda and Sukha have been feted several times earlier. Some of those instances are:
In October 1999, their death anniversary was celebrated in Jinda's village Gadli in Amritsar district where the chief of the Akal Takhat, Amritsar, Giani Puran Singh, declared Jinda a 'national martyr'. On October 9, 2000, representatives of all major Sikh bodies, including the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, the SHSAD, the SGPC, the Damdami Taksal, AISSF and the Dal Khalsa attended the eighth death anniversary of the duo - both Sukha and Jinda were declared as "great martyrs" of the Sikh nation during this event.
On October 9, 2002, the duo was honoured by Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, chief of Akal Takhat. In October 2005, the anniversary of their death was celebrated in his native village of Gadli by various Sikh organisations including Dal Khalsa, Damdami Taksal, Akal Federation and Sikh Students Federation etc. In the same year, Dashmesh Durbar Sikh Temple in Surrey, Canada, organised special prayers for both Jinda and Sukha in Canada. On October 9, 2008, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee honoured the kin of Jinda and Sukha in the Golden Temple complex, to mark the anniversaries of their death in which the SGPC announced that they were "martyrs of the Sikh nation".
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa ought to throw some light on the way forward. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences at public hearings. The perpetrators of violence also gave testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. However, a 1998 study by South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation which surveyed several hundred victims of human-rights abuse during the Apartheid era found that most felt that the TRC had failed to achieve reconciliation between the black and white communities since they believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it.
Two persons in India have displayed the magnificence of their hearts in attempting reconciliation despite being victims of outrageous crimes against their dearest ones. The first, Sonia Gandhi, by choosing Dr Manmohan Singh, a distinguished Sikh, to lead the country in 2004, exactly 20 years after her mother-in-law was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards. The senior Mrs Gandhi had over-ruled advice to oust all Sikhs from her security ring. The second is Priyanka Gandhi who flew down to commiserate with Nalini at Vellore Jail on March 19, 2008. Nalini has been incarcerated for her involvement in the killing of her father, the late Rajiv Gandhi. Nalini, her husband Sriharan and two others were sentenced to death for conspiring to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. Nalini's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after Sonia Gandhi pleaded for her since her daughter would otherwise be orphaned.
Priyanka Gandhi said that initially, she felt the need to forgive Nalini when she went to meet her in the prison. In an interview to CNN-IBN, Priyanka Gandhi said, "When I reached there, I realised I am no one to forgive because she has suffered just as I have and I think when people do things like this, they do it out of their own suffering and that is what I understood when I went." My hunch is that a similar cleansing effect will be felt by the relatives of General Vaidya's family if a suggestion came at the instance of the Indian Government to interact and understand those left behind by Mr Jinda and Mr Sukha. This is more so since the issues of denial of justice will no longer trouble them.
The Indian sub-continent is filled with contrasts. It has achieved freedom after great efforts by its founding fathers who have subsumed their differences to establish unity in diversity. It is this unity that can be cemented if a process of healing and reconciliation were to begin.
More about Brijesh KalappaBrijesh Kalappa, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the Additional Advocate General, Haryana. A former journalist, he has a wide range of interests including reading and travelling. He has worked with several legal luminaries on subjects of importance in civil, criminal, water and electoral laws and has individually represented governments, eminent individuals and major industrial houses. Gifted with the prowess for distinctive sharp-edged analysis, he has been working closely with several leaders of the Indian National Congress.
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