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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 42 October 14, 2023

Letter to the Editor - Why the Bash the Left, over 1984 killings following Khalistan agitation | Indu Agnihotri

Saturday 14 October 2023


The Editor,
Mainstream Weekly

I would like to mention that I was rather puzzled after reading the Interview by Joe Hayns with an old friend of mine, Pritam Singh, on The Khalistan Question. (in Mainstream Weekly, October 7, 2023) [1]

The interview dwells on the trajectory of the Khalistan agitation and responses within India and the diaspora.

However, I was struck by the fact that for our friends in the now not so New Left, the organised left in India, in a way, still remains the favourite whipping horse, despite so much water having flown down the rivers of Punjab.

The response of the left in India/ Punjab can be analyzed from different angles, including with regard to their approach and response to the state and assertions of nationalism.

But it is wrong to say that the left did not protest against the 1984 killings, be it in Punjab or outside the state.

In fact if anyone did so, it was the different streams of the left.

What Prtiam Singh fails to mention is that progressives and the left were very much the target and on the radar of the Khalistani agitation.

This despite the fact that many, if not most, of those attacked both before and after 1984 would have been from his generation.

This included family members of the Preet Lari group and the well-known poet Pash, amongst others.

The efforts of the left in and outside Punjab during the 1980s to counter communal polarisation between the Hindus and Sikhs were widely reported during this period.

as also the interventions made through the cultural medium and platforms of writers and artists.

The interview in fact erases this aspect of the resistance and the efforts made to promote dialogue across communities, which brought left activists under the radar of the Khalistanis.

This was also in direct opposition to the right-wing response, which pursued a policy of polarization and deepening the divide between communities.

The fact that targeted killings in this phase removed an entire generation of young leadership of/in the left movement —across the diverse groups/ parties— has had a long-term impact on the politics of both the state of Punjab, as well as at the national level.

Women activists, including left women’s organisations on the left, mobilized against both, the terrorist onslaught on the people of Punjab, as well as the targeted attacks on women, including during the 1984 killings.

This went alongside efforts at rehabilitation of women victims/ survivors in cities across North India.

What is hardly ever taken note of is the fact that in the 1980s, organising women in Punjab against injustice and atrocities was an uphill task, with families being apprehensive about their safety and mobility, above all else.

It is important that these efforts are recognized and kept in mind while reflecting on the direction that politics in Punjab and India, post the 1980s.

These comments are aimed at pushing for deeper and more critical reflection on events which continue to shape the political discourse in contemporary India.

in solidarity

Indu Agnihotri

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