Home Global Village Why RSS members are being killed in Indian Punjab?

Why RSS members are being killed in Indian Punjab?

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Jawad Falak |

Four men on motorcycles shot a leader of a Hindu outfit in a busy Amritsar market on Monday, the police said. The unidentified men shot at Vipan Sharma 12 times, the police said, citing the CCTV footage that captured the murder. The latest killing is an addition to the prevalent murder spree of religiopolitical leaders in the Indian northwest and points to the worsening relations between Sikhs and Hindus.

The 45-year-old, the district chief of Hindu Sangharsh Sena, was rushed to the city’s Escorts Hospital but had died by the time he reached. According to Amritsar police chief SS Srivastava, the CCTV cameras installed at various locations had captured the murder and they were scanning the footage for clues. The police are also trying to build a portrait of the suspects on the basis of the witness accounts, according to news agency Press Trust of India.

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Vipan Sharm was killed exactly 13 days after the killing of a local leader, Rajesh Mishra, of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in Ludhiana. This is the fifth such murder of Hindu outfit leaders, and the ninth overall of any religious leader, in the last two years in Punjab. The RSS and its cohorts, collectively called the Sangh Parivar, have been embroiled in wars and feuds with other political and social groups throughout India. In Kerala, for example, fighting between the RSS and the ruling communist CPI (M) has led to the loss of life spanning decades.

Several Hindutva groups have engaged in violent actions and hate speech against the Sikh community often earning responses in kind.

There has been a tumultuous relationship between the Sikh community and Hindutva groups in the Indian Punjabi belt. India is faced with a hardened struggle for independence in its Punjabi fringe with the Sikhs at the forefront. The Sikhs have a variety of grievances against the Indian government since the country’s creation in 1947.

In the 1940s, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stated that a resolution was adopted by the Congress to satisfy the Sikh community. Jawaharlal Nehru reiterated Gandhi’s assurance to the Sikhs at the All India Congress Committee meeting in Calcutta in 1946 and gave a guarantee to the Sikhs that they would be allowed to function as a semi-autonomous unit within the newly formed India. However, during a press conference on 10th July 1946 in Bombay, Nehru declared that the Congress may “change or modify” the federal arrangement agreed upon for independent India for “”the betterment towards a united India”. This assertion caused massive outrage, particularly among the Sikhs. On 21st November 1949, during the review of the draft of the Indian constitution, Hukam Singh – a Sikh representative, declared to the Constituent Assembly that the “Sikhs could not agree to the constitution of India”

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In 1947, a dismissed Sikh civil officer Kapur Singh asserted that Nehru had issued directives to treat the Sikhs as a “criminal tribe”. This claim was supported by Sikh factions, preeminently the Akali Dal – a political party. Another grievance was the splitting of the Sikh majority Punjab in order to form a Punjabi Hindu dominated Hariyana. There is also the question of water sharing in which Sikh farmers are worse off than their Hindu counterparts.

Sikh groups resisted through an armed insurgency, which carried on for decades; the last militant incident happened with the death of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995.

These grievances led to a struggle for a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan which was consolidated by the atrocity of the Indian army attack on the Golden Temple. The assault on Darbar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple (the holiest of Sikh temples) by the Indian military forces using tanks and artillery – known as Operation Blue Star was conducted in order to evict a group of armed pro-Khalistan activists from the temple – a claim that remains controversial to this day with prominent politicians like Subramanian Swamy asserting that this was a disinformation campaign to legitimize the attack. According to the Indian Army, 136 army personnel were killed and 249 injured. In all, 493 people in the complex were killed including Bhindranwale and 86 injured; the government report also mentions that 1600 people were unaccounted for, though it does not state what fraction were killed or injured. Unofficial figures go well into the thousands. Massive human right violations by Indian Army personnel took place like gunning down of prisoners and burning & looting of the Sikh Reference Library.

The army occupation of Punjab which followed Operation Blue Star was highly detrimental to the Sikhs. Mass human rights violations like torture, extrajudicial murders, rapes, illegal detentions, forced disappearances were inflicted upon the Sikh community by the Indian authorities to subdue resistance. Sikh groups resisted through an armed insurgency, which carried on for decades; the last militant incident happened with the death of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995.

India is faced with a hardened struggle for independence in its Punjabi fringe with the Sikhs at the forefront.

Sikh-Hindu relations have worsened recently due to the rise of Hindutva. Several Hindutva groups have engaged in violent actions and hate speech against the Sikh community, often earning responses in kind. The ‘Dashmesh Regiment’ with its letterhead titled ‘Shri Akal Takhat Sahib Amritsar (Khalistan)’ claim responsibility of killing RSS Punjab leader Brigadier Jagdish Gagneja (retd) went viral among the media fraternity. The outfit took responsibility of killing Brig Gagneja and the attack on Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta in Ludhiana.

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The ongoing campaign of hatred and killing may as well be the cause of a renewed Khalistani insurgency inside India which is already experiencing a wave of religious terror inspired by Hindutva groups.

Jawad Falak is a research-analyst at global village space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.