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Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants by Cynthia Keppley Mahmood

Published in 1996 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, “Fighting for Faith and Nation” focusses on interviews and conversations conducted by the author, Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, with Sikh militants. Mahmood provides a range of accounts of human rights abuses and also investigates the tradition of martyrdom in the Sikh way of life. At the time of writing, Mahmood was Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maine, Orono.

 
 

The book consists of eleven chapters, as listed below:

  • Of Nightmares and Contacts

  • The Fragrance of Jasmine

  • A Saint-Soldier

  • Blue Star

  • Why Khalistan?

  • Drawing the Sword

  • Three Fighters

  • Playing the Game of Love

  • The Princess and the Lion

  • Culture, Resistance, and Dialogue

  • Looking into Dragons

When published, this book was one of the first to provide detailed dialogues with Sikh militants in English. This was incredibly important, as it formed a viewpoint that challenged the propaganda that had been previously propagated throughout the West. It provided an insight into what people were actually fighting for, the grievances they held and the vision for the future. In Chapter three, “A Saint-Soldier”, Mahmood provides the dialogue between herself and Iqbal Singh, who studied at the Damdami Taksal. This dialogue provides an interesting account of Iqbal Singh’s observations of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji, from his early years in the Damdami Taksal up to the 1980s.

“Sant Jarnail Singh Ji had so much respect for gurbani and the Guru. Once I know we were sleeping in the same room, and we used to just lie on the floor rather than beds. There were some prayer books up in the rafters and one time one somehow got loose and fell down at Sant Jarnail Singh Ji’s feet. He was sleeping and didn’t realise what had happened. When he got up and saw the book lying by his feet he cried, ‘This is an insult to gurbani, how could I do that?’. He was very disturbed about this and wouldn’t eat or sleep. Sant Kartar Singh Ji went to him and said, ‘Jarnail Singh, this is not your mistake. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ But Sant Jarnail Singh Ji was in such pain that he read the whole of the Guru Granth Sahib as an apology” - Extract from Mahmood’s dialogue with Iqbal Singh in Chapter 3, A Saint-Soldier, page 57

Chapter six, “Drawing the sword” gives an account of the genocide that followed the assassination of Indira Ghandi in November 1984. In this chapter, Mahmood also describes her conversation with Bhai Dhanna Singh, a member of the original Panthic Committee, which declared the independence of Khalistan on April 29th 1986. He describes how in December 1987 he was imprisoned for one year and spent time in Nabha jail, Sangrur prison. He describes the latter as a location that contained many political prisoners held in immensely poor conditions.


Cynthia Kepply Mahmood’s “FIghting for Faith and Nation” is a must read book for anyone wishing to understand the landscape of the Khalistan movement, from both a pre-1984 and post-1984 perspective. Her accounts of Sikhs who had left their homes and families to fight for the movement is incredibly intriguing and certainly puts their sacrifices into perspective. Credit must also be given to Mahmood for her non-bias and open minded approach when conducting the interviews. She attempts to stay as close to the truth as possible, ensuring that the viewpoints of the interviewees are put forward accurately.


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