How did Religion Motivate Sikh Terrorists?

Why have religious conviction, hatred of secular society, and the demonstration of power through acts of violence--so frequently been part of Sikh activist movements?

In Terror in the Mind of God, Mark Juergensmeyer interviewed Simranjit Singh Mann and concluded that the Sikh movement which engaged in terrorism took its shape against Hindu power and the influence of secular society in general:
Bhindranwale disdained--indeed loathed--above all else was what he described as "the enemies of religion." These included "that lady born in a house of Brahmans"--the phrase he used to describe Indira Gandhi. But it also included his fellow Sikhs, especially those who had fallen from the disciplined fold and sought the comforts of modern life. Even his dislike of Indira Gandhi was grounded in a hatred of secularism as much in an opposition to Hinduism; in fact, he often regarded the two as twin enemies. He reflected an attitude held by many Sikhs that what passes for secular politics in India is a form of Hindu cultural domination. So conscious are many Sikhs of what they regard as the oppressiveness of Hindu culture that they react strongly when scholars locate the origins of their tradition in a medieval Hindu milieu.
Who was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and what role did he play in Sikh militarism?

Juergensmeyer summarizes:
The Sikh movement contained a diversity of points of view, however, and one of the most strident of its advocates--someone whom Mann admired--saw the struggle almost solely in religious terms. This leader was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a rural preacher from central Punjab who became the spokesman for Sikh militancy from its first stirrings in 1978 until his movement's nadir--and Bhindranwale's martyrdom and the tragic events of 1984. Bhindranwale was a homespun village preacher who called for repentance and action in defense of the faith. Mann regarded him as one of Sikh history's most impressive leaders because of his ability to summarize great themes in simple phrases and clearcut images. According to Mann, he "articulated the hegemony of Hindu power and the injustice suffered by Sikhs, and he did it all with a consciousness of Sikh history and tradition."
See this website for a story about B from the Sikh Times.

What were the Sikh justifications for violence?

Though not entirely spelled out, Juergensmeyer lets his subjects speak to this point:
Harjap Singh answered indirectly. "In Sikh history," he said, "young men go away in battle and do not return. They are our martyrs."

This simple justification for young men's fighting in battle--killing or being killed in sacred struggle--runs deep in India's religious traditions. Long before Sikhism developed as a separate religious tradition in the sixteenth century, in India's ancient Vedic times, warriors called on the gods to participate in their struggles and to provide a divine leverage for victory. The potency of the gods was graphically depicted in mythic stories filled with violent encounters and bloody acts of vengeance.
See this site for more about Sikh religion and culture. [If you are in a library -- mute your speakers first before clicking.]

What were some of the Hindu justifications for violence?

Complex as this may be, Juergensmeyer gives a capsule of some motives and moods that support both violence and non-violence:
As India's religious traditions developed, images of warfare persisted. The great epics--the Mahabbarata and the Ramavana--contained grand accounts of wars and battles, and the enduring sermon of Lord Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita, was recorded in the Mahabharata as being delivered on a battlefield. The Gita gave several reasons why killing in warfare is permissible, among them the argument that the soul can never really be killed: "he who slays, slays not; he who is slain, is not slain." Another reason is based on dharrna (moral obligation): the duties of a member of the ksatriya (warrior) caste by definition involve killing, so violence is justified in the very maintenance of social order. Mohandas Gandhi, like many other modern Hindus who revere the Gita, regarded its warfare as allegorical, representing the conflict between good and evil. Gandhi, who ordinarily subscribed to nonviolence, allowed for an exception to this general rule when a small, strategic act of violence would defuse a greater violence.
[repost from 10.01.2007]


Khalistani said...

biased article against sikhs,the author seems to love hindus.

Long live Sant Bhindranvale!!
Long live the Republic of Khalistan!!!

Bryce said...

Umm, doesn't something have to exist before you can say "long live" it?

Anonymous said...

Indira Gandhi was the best friend of Yasser Arafat and treated Israel as an enemy country until the day of her death. Sikhs were the first to congratulate Eretz Israel on its Declaration of Independance,the Hindus NEVER did. perhaps they were too busy worshipping their 300000 gods.