Last week’s violence in Patiala made headlines. However, some key points are overlooked. This article attempts to provide a perspective.
First, about Kali Devi Temple.
According to the official temple website, “Shri Kali Devi Temple was built by the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1936. The Maharaja was inspired to build the temple and bring the six-foot-tall statues of Maa Kali and Paawan Jyot from Bengal to Patiala. This large complex attracts devotees from distant places. A much older temple of Shri Raj Rajeshwari ji is also situated in the center of this complex. Because of Temple’s beautiful infrastructure, it has been declared a national monument. Devotees offer Mustard Oil, daal (lentils), sweets, coconuts, bangles, chunnis, goats, hens and liquor to the Divine Mother here.”
Besides Hindus, the temple attracts a large number of Sikh devotees esp. during Navaratras, just like the Naina Devi Temple in Himachal does during Hola Mohala at Anandpur Sahib. It probably has to do with the Guru Govind Singhji’s love for Ma Durga. In the Chandi Charitra, the tenth Guru says that in the past, god had deputed Goddess Durga to destroy evildoers. That duty was now assigned to him; hence he wanted her blessings.
So notwithstanding claims by Sikh hardliners that Sikhs do not believe in idol worship, the common Sikh thinks differently. Problems arise when you try to straightjacket Indic ways of living into watertight silos, as some do. Indic India believes that all forms can co-exist. One can be Sikh yet worship MAA or be Hindu and atheist.
The violence took place on April 29. It was on this day in 1986 that the declaration of Khalistan was made. I discovered this during a 2015 visit to Freemont Gurudwara in California (locally known as Khalistan Gurudwara). The picture below shows a banner that proclaims April 29 as Khalistan Ailan Diwas (Declaration Day).
So some form of violence or protest on April 29 was to be expected by votaries of Khalistan. Also, was Harish Singla wrong in organising an anti-Khalistan march? His march was to protect India’s sovereignty. Or was Singla paying the price for campaigning for a Congress candidate in Patiala urban? Source
Also, according to a January 25, 2022 report in the Tribune, one Rajinder Singh attempted a sacrilege inside the temple sanctum!
According to local sources, about 15-20 days before April 29, there were reports of pro-Khalistan posters in various parts of Punjab. This caused disquiet amongst Punjab’s Hindu minority. According to this report in The Print, “The seeds of this violence which took place Friday were sown almost a month ago in March this year when certain groups protested a call by Gurpatwant Pannu, convener of banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) – to hoist its flag in Himachal Pradesh on April 29, which it recognises as ‘Khalistan Declaration Day’. The group had planned to conduct a similar event on April 15 in Haryana too.”
This April 30 Indian Express report says, “Singla had announced the march around 15 days ago after the banned outfit, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), gave a call to observe “Khalistan sthapna diwas (Khalistan foundation day) in April across district police offices in Haryana.”
Harish Singla, leader of Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray), is known for his anti-Khalistan views, decided to organise a protest march on April 29, known as Khalistan Declaration Day. Another view is that Singla organised a protest march to attract attention because his security cover was recently withdrawn by the Punjab government. It is for the police to tell people the truth.
The same Express report state, “Police officers in Patiala said that a group of Nihangs gathered at Dukh Niwaran Sahib gurdwara to counter the Sena unit’s call and marched towards the temple raising slogans. They were joined by other Sikh activists, they said. The police team, including Patiala SSP Nanak Singh, fired several rounds in the air to disperse the Sikh group which had reached outside the temple.”
The moot point is – why did Nihangs and Sikh activists oppose an anti-Khalistan march?
We must accept that the demand for Khalistan has support among a section of the Sikh community. Recall we had seen similar support during the Red Fort protests /violence by Sikh groups.
Violence in Patiala happened when both the groups clashed outside the Kali Mata Temple. Local sources state that Singla took shelter inside the temple. Sikh activists and Nihangs, brandishing swords, entered the temple courtyard. Fortunately, somebody closed the entrance to the temple sanctum.
Wish Punjab Police come out with a public statement on what actually transpired. Can they also explain why a protest march against pro-Khalistanis is wrong?
My humble request to Punjabi brothers and sisters is to focus on making Punjab prosperous once again. If Punjab’s economy is in the doldrums, vested interests will pay lip service to your feelings and then dump you after their purpose is served. Punjab risks becoming a desert in 25 years because of the over-exploitation of groundwater. Work towards reducing the number of cancer cases in Punjab.
This time around, there exists a Central Government that relates to Sikhism differently and inclusively. The people of Haryana and Himachal are not interested in becoming part of Khalistan. U.S., Canada and UK will not support the Khalistani cause, and they have fault lines within and China to counter. Pakistan might provide support, but the very existence of that nation is in doubt. Also, no Central government will allow the formation of Khalistan. Learn from the experience of Kashmiris. Lastly, realise that modern-day Sikhism is a colonial construct.
Recently the US State of Connecticut recognised Sikh Independence Day. Congress Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Singhvi on Sunday suggested, as a counter, that Rajasthan should recognise Texas as part of Mexico. Source
I worked for three years in Punjab when terrorism was at its peak. It set back Punjab by decades. Any recurrence would mean writing off Punjab forever. NRI’s will not come to help then.
Those who are unwilling to work for Punjab’s progress but yearn for Khalistan may read What happened during the Khalistani movement.
Every effort has been made to be as factual as possible by referring to numerous media reports. Errors, if any, are unintended and without malafide intent.
(The writer is a Punjabi by birth and author of a Mini-Book ‘How the British sowed the seeds for the Khalistani Movement before the Indians took over’)