Justice Ajit Singh Bains was a courageous and fearless fighter for the rights of the people. All his life he defended their dignity and was in the front ranks of the fight for justice. He carried forward his family’s patriotic tradition of fighting for independence of India.
After Indira Gandhi’s invasion of the Golden Temple and all the crimes committed by her, once Rajiv Gandhi took over, he passed a special law ostensibly to curb terrorism. Its main thesis was that any activities by anyone resident in India or abroad which could overwhelm the Indian government would be curbed either by long-term imprisonment or by death. Besides other things, this included that no one can sing a song or play a musical instrument which could overwhelm the Indian government. Rajiv Gandhi not only banned singing of songs but also banned the wearing of turbans of saffron colour. Hundreds and thousands of young people responded by making a point of wearing saffron-coloured turbans not because it was the colour of the Sikh religion but as an act of resistance. Saffron became the colour of resistance, of revolt against tyranny.
To mark this occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Justice Bains who we lost such a short time ago, I want to recite a poem we wrote at that time to overwhelm the Indian government, when Justice Bains was visiting us in Canada. I want to recite it to you now, in honour of Justice Bains.
“Why is There a Smile on my Face?”
News from Delhi has come that freedom cannot sing any songs
We are told that the butchers sitting in Delhi are the guarantors of the people’s freedoms
After listening to this, why are you wondering why I have a smile on my face?
The streets of Delhi are stained in blood from the massacres which have taken place.
So many crimes have been committed against the people.
Why is there a smile on my face?
I am the voice of the martyrs.
I am the call of the martyrs.
I am the voice of the blood, sweat and toil of the workers and peasants.
No dictator, no emperor has ever been able to stop me,
No power has ever been able to silence me
No matter how many tanks and cannons, rockets or air force.
From the hangman’s noose I sing these songs.
I am the storm of justice and freedom
I come in waves and will go on creating waves
I will smash all the hindrances in my way.
There is no need to ask me why there is a smile on my face.
At the time, Justice Bains upheld the rights of the people against state violence and terror. It was not only a courageous act but very important that people in high places should use their voice to speak against the injustice, the terror, the violence and bloodshed. The anger amongst the broad masses of the people was widespread against the central government, against the army, and against those who wanted to compromise with the murderers and butchers of the Indian people.
Today, thanks to those who fought at that time who Justice Bains championed, the situation has changed . Today the younger generations and the whole world knows who is the organizer of the communal violence. They know because the people spoke out. Because justice-loving people like Justice Bains and his brother Hardial who organized Indian residents abroad, spoke out at the risk of their own freedom and security. Hardial had his passport withdrawn and eventually Justice Bains was seized and put into prison under false accusations. Despite this, they dared to call a spade a spade. They relied on the people, not the state.
Experience since the fight for independence in the 1850s and many revolts before that, and especially since Partition, has shown that the state fashioned according to British colonial structures is the one which commits the crimes.
The events which took place in Delhi, Kanpur and other cities after the death of Indira Gandhi and her terrible deeds during and after the invasion of the Golden Temple, were all organized and engineered by the Indian government, by the police forces under the direction of the Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress Party and since then by others who connive to keep the party system of government going even though its main role is to preserve the rule of the Tatas, Birlas, Advanis and others and keep the decision-making powers out of the hands of the people.
In other words, any illusions which may have existed in the minds of the people as to who is the cause of the problems were eliminated at the time Justice Bains and the courageous people of Punjab fought for their right to be and against their criminalization and the genocide being committed against them.
Certain crucial lessons come to us from that fight, all of which Justice Bains espoused.
- There are not a few individuals in Delhi and other places who, far from raising their hand against Sikhs, sheltered them as their brothers. From the point of view of their duty and honour, they united together, organized defence committees against the goondas and the criminals organized by the government. Today too when more crimes are organized against Dalits and people of Muslim faith, so too the people must unite and rely on their own strength. It is time to build the unity of the people, to push forward the pure feelings and sentiments of the masses and on this basis, find a way forward.
- There is never a time to answer the crimes with revenge killings, Justice Bains said. He opposed individual acts of terror as well as state terror. We share the sorrows of the peoples over the tragedies committed against them but our response must be to settle scores with the regime which creates such tragedies, he said. We must settle scores with the old British conscience of society which deprives us of our right to be.
- Justice Bains and his brother Hardial worked hard to lift the pressure put on the Sikh people and the people of all Punjab in terms of how to provide themselves with an orientation on the basis of which they could turn things around in their favour. They forcefully opposed and spoke against the pressure generated to incite racism and communal violence. The modus operandi of the ruling circles was and continues to be to do propaganda for the racists and fanatics while, at the same time, they suppressed the voice which was enlightened and democratic.
Enlightened people neither agree with acts of terrorism, nor do they organize it nor do they justify it, Justice Bains said. Far from it, they act against it. Only the reactionary ruling classes are terroristic.
In this way, Justice Bains countered successfully the campaign of disinformation of the ruling elite, monopoly media and the state, that problems in Punjab were due to some religious fanatics or fundamentalists. He brought out the truth that it was the rule of the elites and their state in Delhi that was violating rights of people in Punjab and rest of India in order to maximize their profits and to uphold the rule of law.
- The work of Justice Bains put pressure on Rajiv Gandhi’s attempts to organize a base of traitors in Punjab in various ways so that on the basis of these traitors, the central government would be able to carry on bargaining and selling out the interests of the people of India. The aim was to get use state structures to get Indians to accept a climate of compromise and submission. This was opposed not by calling names to this or that person or this or that party but by upholding the dignity and honour of the people, of their traditions, of their strivings and aspirations. This is what exposes those who cringe in fear or seek to exchange the people’s honour and liberty for some personal benefit.
This is the Justice Bains we knew and defended because he defended each one of us by
heroically rising to the occasion in defence of the rights of all. He inspired people with his fidelity to the belief that the Indian people are at the center of all solutions to the problems faced by them, and that based on their heroic traditions and thought material they will overcome the naked terror unleashed by the central state to crush their struggle for their Right To Be, control of their river waters, natural resources and make decisions that affect their lives.
In his book Siege of the Sikhs, he pointed out that the Indian ruling elite has not solved any problem faced by the people and all the outstanding problems from the colonial days are getting intensified and the central state is turning all economic, political and social problems into matters of law and order unleashing a reign of terror.
He clearly defined state terrorism and asked what are people to do when the state that is supposed to defend them actually turns on them? He pointed out that, ” State terrorism usually strikes first at this pillar of arriving at the truth. The investigative agency, when faced with difficulties, argues that it is impossible to tackle criminals unless the usual safeguards are relaxed for a period of time and it is allowed to assume the role of judge and jury. Such a relaxation leads to the undermining of the rule of law, whatever the level it was operating at in the first place. In India a method of informal advice to the armed forces, ‘disregard the law, no action will follow,’ has been in practice for some time. Armed men without the discipline of law quickly become worse than the criminals they are supposed to eliminate.”
He further stated that, “The raison d’etre of a government is to protect its citizens and to punish those who endanger the life, liberty and well-being of the citizenry. When the demarcation line between a terrorist act and a government vanishes, human rights organizations have no recourse but to address and expose government wrongdoings. When a functionary of a government behaves like a terrorist, he becomes more dangerous than the terrorist, since the law works against the terrorist but not against a government functionary who takes the law in his own hands. If the rulers themselves direct their officers to disobey laws, then there is no safeguard in the legal machinery.”
When he was kidnapped, handcuffed and imprisoned, enlightened world public opinion was outraged and led by his brother Hardial, an international campaign for his release brought out the truth of the struggle in Punjab and became a great factor in his release from prison. Even in prison he continued the fight and in his pamphlet smuggled out of Burail Jail, he explained the role of state terrorism and pointed out that it cannot defeat the spirit of the people for freedom and justice. He wrote,
“Historically, terrorism refers to the use of terror as a method to undermine just struggles, whether armed or unarmed. The state uses this method in several ways, two of which have gained much notoriety. The first is the direct and indiscriminate use of terror by the state against the people as in killings through ‘fake encounters,’ the torture of individuals in police stations and interrogation centres, extortion through arrests or threats of imprisonment or rape, and various other acts of violence against the people. The state also finances non-governmental, specialized terrorist organizations to carry out various forms of intimidation such as bombings, kidnappings, hijackings and indiscriminate killings. The aim of the latter is to create an atmosphere of anarchy and violence so that, out of frustration, the people absolve the state for its direct use of violence and other means of repression.”
He had unflinching faith and conviction in truth, unity and the wisdom of people. Farmers of Punjab and India in their 14 month long Morchas and continued struggle for MSP, and other demands have proven his conviction and faith in people that based on their unity and thought material they can face all odds and win.
He would often recite a couplet that was a favorite of Bhagat Singh:
Usey Fiqr Hardam Naya Tarz- E- Jaffa Kya Hai
Humein Yeh Shauk Dekhein Sitam Ki Intiha Kya Hai
(The Oppressor continuously devises new means of oppression
Our passion is to see the end of all oppression).
Justice Bains — Yours were 100 years well lived. We humbly stand in recognition of your contribution.
Jaspal Singh on behalf of the
Hardial Bains Resources Centre, Toronto, Canada
May 14, 2022