Wednesday, January 11, 2006


its over a week since we returned, and i'm still rising at 5AM. nayan wakes up at 4, and then eats his first breakfast. after feeding him, he roams the house playing with his toys. here's a post from a few days ago while back in india:

when i read things in the US, about the war in iraq, and political instability, i tend to put the information and my mental image of the place into a little box that i can open and close -- typically when starting and stopping a news article, or conversation on the topic. punjab, as most of you know, experienced quite a sustained period of insurgency and political instability. from the early 80s until the mid 90s, punjab was in essentially a state of war. sikh separatists were fighting for an independent nation to be called khalistan. it was a 'terrorist' style war that affected nearly everyone in punjab, my family included. one thing that strikes me while here, is that while society has returned to "peace and stability," the wounds of this period are still very fresh. another thing that strikes me, is that there are bizarre conspiracy theories for just about everything, including the khalistan question.

let me start by explaining my macro-view on the period of conflict. i should first say, i have a read a small amount and spoken with a number of people over the years, but i by no means have a thorough academic understanding of the subject. anyway, to distill a large complex topic into a couple lines, basically, here's my take:

1. sikhs, are a relatively prosperous people, and fierce warriors both respected and feared in pakistan and india.
2. we also have a violent history of battles to control greater punjab. (read kushwant singh's history of the punjab for more info).
3. in addition, india in general is composed of ethnically, religiously, linguistically, and culturally diverse people which have historically been segregated into independent "nations." the indian national identity is a relatively new phenomenon in the thousands of years of indian history.
4. in addition, india is a poor country with deeply entrenched corruption and an utterly innept and extensive beauracracy.
5. india and pakistan have been essentially at war since their foundings; india has never truly accepted that pakistan has a right to exist, and pakistan, feeling threatened, has struggled to break up the nation of india in an attempt to address its perceived threat by leveraging an understanding of point 3.
6. the US funded the mujahedeen in afghanistan to fight the soviet union back in the 80s. since the muj (1 of which is now the infamous osama bin laden) despised the american christian "infidels", the US had to route funding through the pakistani ISI (pak's CIA). well this was no small sum of cash, the ISI, routed a good chunk to the muj, but an even larger chunk went to itself, to essentially build a war chest, and fund what virtually amounts to an independent pak government.

ok, so what of the punjabi separatist movement? basically, a group of who i'll call separatists had legitimate grievances, harnessed a general spirit of economic malaise and tribalism to gain a modest voice, then morphed toward violent resistence. ISI saw an opportunity and started routing funds and started some training camps. the indian government mistepped a few times very signficantly (operation blue star), and popular support for the separatists rose, along with communal tension. then the government granted too much power to the police, in a society where virtually no checks and balances on the police exist. the police, not unexpectedly, ran amuck, killing lots of terrorists, but also many many innocents in their path. eventually, the police were able to drain popular support for the insurgency (mostly by making the situation so violent, that the populace just wanted it all to end), and stop it.

well i thought i would get further than that, but it turns out my couple lines grew into more. anyway, i'll come back to this topic sometime soon. my basic point was supposed to be, that a sort of intellectual analysis ending in a macro-view of a situation, is so utterly irrelevant. when you actually live through something like this, what you see means so much more.

a good friend of mine, who fit the visual profile of a terrorist (which i should mention included about 50% of all punjabi's), was brutally tortured on multiple occassions. only afer his family sold off ancestral land, raised a very large ransom, and paid off the police was he liberated. he figured out later that he was picked up, because a guy he had a conflict with in his juvenile college days was picked up, and under heavy torture, stated his name. this was a common occurrence, people took advantage of the situation to deal with their enemies. this friend went on to tell me many first hand accounts of utter brutality that were previously neatly wrapped up in my macro-view of these days as "instability." i often hear this here in punjab, that what one reads from afar, is so completely different from what those here who lived through these dark days experienced. hearing these first hand accounts from my friend really brought this point home for me.


Manisha Sandhu said...

I read a great book about this topic called
Amritsar Mrs. Gandhi's Last battle
, by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob. Worth checking out.

metalhead said...

I think that those who have the misfortune to experience war (torture) first-hand will always have a perspective that will never be shared by intellectuals or historians.

I honestly believe that if Senator Mccain (a Vietnam POW)had won the Republican ticket and had become President that there would be no war in Iraq. Most war vets are psychologically/ physically scarred for the rest of their lives. Instead we have a President who served in the reserve air force.
However, I think it IS important to study,analyze and educate ourselves about these horrible events, if not to avoid them happening again then at least to salvage any meaning from the atrocities of the past and to honor the memories of those who suffered.
I think war is the ugliest most horrifying contrivance invented by mankind.

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