Sacred Violence: The Sikh State in the Twentieth Century

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:20 AM
Room 207 (Hynes Convention Center)
Shruti Kapila , Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Denied their status as a separate political community though recognized as a religious minority, Sikh representation emerged as a shadow of the nation-states of India and Pakistan, in the midnight hours of 1947. With the exchanges of population, these borders were made in blood. The further re-division of the partitioned states of Punjab and Bengal between 1965-71 jeopardized the equation between linguistic and religious boundaries that had defined the original territorial arrangements of India and Pakistan. The birth of Bangladesh made linguistic identity salient for nationality thus under-cutting religion as the sole parameter of nationality.  By contrast, the re-division of the Indian Punjab used language to further undercut Sikh claims to be a political community since both Hindus and Sikhs were Punjabi-speaking. In short, neither religion nor language were sufficient for Sikh claims to their representation as a separate political community. 1984 proved to be the Orwellian year for India. Breaking away from the contract of the citizen with the state, the militant movement of Bhindranwale re-launched the quintessential notion of the Sikh as a sant-sipahi (warrior-saint). While ‘terror’ became the feature of this movement, ‘torture’ and excess made the state salient – an economy of violence that sought to create new political meaning.  Circumventing liberal ideas, this militant movement took violence to the sacred centre of the community rather than diffusing it to the fringes of the nation-state (as in the case of the Naxalites). Equally this violence was not globalised nor de-territorialized as in the more recent case of Al-Qaeda. Rather, the sacred violence of the movement transformed Sikhs from a religious minority to a finite political community that made Sikh nationality redundant.