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It's not just Muslims, even Sikhs have to prove their patriotism now

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 17 April 2017, 17:36 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

It's not just Muslims. If you are a Sikh, your patriotism will be questioned if you do not toe the line of the Hindutva brigade. Even if you happen to be a decorated officer of the Indian Army.

Lieutenant General (retired) Harcharanjit Singh Panag is one of India's most distinguished army officers. A recipient of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, he has served as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command as well as the Central Command.

But in the past few days, right-wing trolls have crossed all limits in insulting this veteran of the 1971 War. They hurled unspeakable abuses at him and called for him to be thrashed, lynched and humiliated. Even worse, they called him a traitor, a terrorist sympathiser and of course, “Khalistani”.

All this because Lt Gen Panag tweeted that the image of a Kashmiri, tied in front of a military jeep will "haunt the army forever".

This was an extremely bold statement for a former armyman, that too one who has had five stints in Jammu and Kashmir and been the head of the Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command. But it was also typical of Lt Gen Panag, given his track record as a soldier - he never shied away from speaking his mind and following his conscience. He is said to have ordered as many as 120 Courts of Inquiry into alleged corruption in the Army. Even last year, he wrote in favour of autonomy for Kashmir.

What followed his tweet on Saturday was a barrage of bile, abuse and accusations. But it wasn't just right-wing trolls but some prominent supporters of the BJP who targetted Lt Gen Panag.

Among the first off the block was former Infosys honcho TV Mohandas Pai, who fired a thread of rhetorical questions at Lt Gen Panag.


But the real abuse came from two known stormtroopers of the Narendra Modi government -- film director Ashoke Pandit and singer Abhijeet. This is what Pandit, a member of the Central Board for Film Certification, tweeted:

To know Ashoke Pandit's opinion of Sikhs, watch his film Sheen (2004) in which Kashmiri Sikhs are shown as spineless people who struck a deal with militants. Then of course there was molestation-accused Abhijeet:

Not to be left behind, Madhu Kishwar joined the right wing party and called the 1971 war hero a "Paki puppet".

One Guruprasad Bhat, who is followed by none less than PM Narendra Modi on Twitter, said that Lt Gen Panag "would throw stones at his own troops" in Kashmir.

A number of officers spoke against the use of a civilian as a human shield and the complete alienation of Kashmiris from the military. But it was only Lt Gen Panag who was targetted by the right-wingers. It does seem that this was partly because of him being a Sikh. This is evident from the fact that part of the abuse, comprised "Khalistani" barbs. Take these distasteful tweets for instance:

Some even compared him to Shabeg Singh, the Indian Army Major General who joined forces with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

It wasn't just Lt Gen Panag, even his family had to face similar slurs. This is a sample of what his son Sherbir Panag, a Delhi based lawyer, had to go through.

Unfortunately, the Aviator Anil Chopra, who "liked" a tweet calling Sherbir a Khalistani, happens to be a retired Air Marshal.

Even lawyer Navdeep Singh, a former military reservist, who fights cases for the welfare of soldiers, was abused for supporting Lt Gen Panag.

This is not the first time in the recent past that Sikhs are being targetted by the Hindutva brigade in this manner. Recently, Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur was hounded on social media and given death and rape threats for speaking against ABVP's hooliganism. Aam Aadmi Party leaders like HS Phoolka and Jarnail Singh have also been called Khalistani in the past.

Several Sikhs observed that the right wing brigade's frequent use of the "Khalistani" label to target Sikhs, has become a dangerous trend. They voiced their anguish at Sikhs being branded as traitors.

The pattern is exactly like the manner in which the Hindutva brigade has targetted the Muslim community. Even in that case it labelled as traitors several prominent Muslims ranging from Vice-President Hamid Ansari, to Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Sania Mirza.

The message for the two communities is clear - you might be a Hamid Ansari or a HS Panag - no matter how much you have done for the country, you will be labelled a traitor if you don't submit yourself to the Hindutva Right. Minorities with a voice and a spine are not allowed.

First published: 17 April 2017, 11:59 IST