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Fighting for Faith and Nation

Dialogues with Sikh Militants

By Cynthia Keppley Mahmood

Publication Year: 1997

The ethnic and religious violence that characterized the late twentieth century calls for new ways of thinking and writing about politics. Listening to the voices of people who experience political violence—either as victims or as perpetrators—gives new insights into both the sources of violent conflict and the potential for its resolution.

Drawing on her extensive interviews and conversations with Sikh militants, Cynthia Keppley Mahmood presents their accounts of the human rights abuses inflicted on them by the state of India as well as their explanations of the philosophical tradition of martyrdom and meaningful death in the Sikh faith. While demonstrating how divergent the world views of participants in a conflict can be, Fighting for Faith and Nation gives reason to hope that our essential common humanity may provide grounds for a pragmatic resolution of conflicts such as the one in Punjab which has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the past fifteen years.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Contemporary Ethnography


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List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book is the result of a difficult project that could not have been undertaken without the guidance, generosity, tolerance, and trust of a great many people. First to be mentioned must be the Khalistani Sikh community, whose members put themselves at risk by welcoming an inquisitive stranger. The hospitality of countless Sikh households and gurudwaras made the interviews... on which this research is based possible, and many individuals spent hours and days away from their homes and their work to answer my endless questions.

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1. Of Nightmares and Contacts

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pp. 1-25

LAST NIGHT I was awakened by a nightmare, the same recurring dream I have been suffering for the past year or so. I was in Cambodia, a Cambodia I know only through TV images of Vietnam War vintage. It was hot, humid; the air was heavy with tropical smells but vibrating with danger. I was climbing a long stone stairway in a kind of tower, looking down through crumbling windows at a busy marketplace below. People carrying baskets of fruit on their heads; bald-headed monks begging for alms...

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2. The Fragrance of Jasmine

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pp. 26-49

IN THIS CHAPTER I look at the basic history and doctrines of the Sikh Faith, as seen through the eyes of the orthodox. Their vision of Sikhism and their understanding of what it means to be a Sikh is somewhat at odds with the perspective of Western academia, which is at the moment a source of considerable controversy. This controversy, and what it can tell us about the value of "inside" and "outside" scholarship, is considered further in Chapter 10...

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3. A Saint-Soldier

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pp. 50-85

MARK JURGENSMEYER suggests the term "religious nationalism" as a descriptor of the many politicized religious revival movements across the globe. Militant Islam is prominent, in its myriad forms from North Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia to the Pacific, but other movements include the Hindu revitalization now being expressed in India, the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka, the right-wing Jewish militancy in Israel and the West, and more...

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4. Blue Star

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pp. 86-106

"THE KAHLSA is like a finely tuned instrument," it is said. "All it takes is someone to hold his finger on the right note." In recent times, that someone was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The episode he provoked, the Indian army attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984, forms the raison d'etre for the continuing insurgency, populated largely though not wholly by Khalsa Sikhs. In this chapter, I examine the events directly leading up to that confrontation, the battle itself, and the immediate aftermath...

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5. Why Khalistan?

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pp. 107-134

WHAT LED UP TO THE POINT at which Jarnail Singh Bhindranwalt" and his companions went down in a hail of gunfire at the Akal Takht, spawning what became the militant movement for Khalistan? The history of the ten Gurus and the development of Sikhism during the Guru period provides the ideological base for Khalistani activism, but a series of events that took place from the death of the last Guru in 1708...

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6. Drawing the Sword

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pp. 135-166

FIVE MONTHS AFTER Operation Blue Star, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was stepping into her garden at One Safdarjang Road, New Delhi, when she was shot by one of her Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh. As she fell, another Sikh guard, Satwant Singh, pumped bullets from his Thompson automatic carbine into her body. The entire right side of her body was opened up by more than twenty bullets...

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7. Three Fighters

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pp. 167-184

"MY PARENTS WERE very much hurt by the attack on the Golden Temple. My father commented that he had four sons and that even if one of them should get sacrificed for the nation he would be proud that his family had contributed something. He said clearly that nobody guilty of any crime should be spared. But he also felt that at no cost should any innocent be killed...

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8. Playing the Game of Love

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pp. 185-212

IN AN ESSAY on the break-up of the Soviet Union called "Why Were We Surprised?'' W. R. Connor proposes that the "realist" model of politics long dominant in the West was, in fact, highly unreal in that it neglected what he calls "the passions"—of ethnic and religious loyalties, affirmations of cultural identities, yearnings for a moral state.1 The collapse of the Soviet Union was not the first time Western social science had failed to predict a major sociopolitical upheaval...

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9. The Princess and the Lion

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pp. 213-234

"WELL, I DIDN'T HAVE any interest in politics prior to 1988. But when I went to college I saw some victims of the brutality of the state, and this shook my conscience. One girl, Harjinder Kaur Khalsa, had come from Australia to get married in Punjab, and on the way back she was arrested at the airport in Delhi and was martyred. Then there was a boy, Gurmukh Singh, who was the captain of the hockey team at my college...

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10. Culture, Resistance, and Dialogue

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pp. 235-261

THE IDEA OF ETHNOGRAPHY as a kind of conversation is now common in anthropology, as common as the idea of ethnography as a kind oi natural science once was. Some people misinterpret the presence of ethnographers in their texts as a form of narcissism and condemn what they see as the "navel-gazing" quality of current ethnographic narrative. Those critics will not be happy with this effort...

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11. Looking into Dragons

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pp. 262-276

I HADN'T ENTERED into this project with any idea that I was doing "applied" anthropology—that is, anthropology with a practical outcome. Although in a vague way the reason I was interested in violent conflict was because I wanted to contribute to ending it, the reason I was interested in the question of justice because I wanted to contribute to achieving it, I, like most scholars, assumed that the way I would do these things was simply by writing about them...


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pp. 277-292


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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-306


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pp. 307-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200171
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812215922

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 1997

Series Title: Contemporary Ethnography
Series Editor Byline: Kirin Narayan, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 44966032
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fighting for Faith and Nation

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sikhs -- Politics and government.
  • Punjab (India) -- Politics and government.
  • Human rights -- India -- Punjab.
  • Sikhism.
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