Once a killer, now a healer

June 5th, 2009 - 4:15 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin and Parminder Singh Bariana
Gurdaspur (Punjab), June 5 (IANS) For years his name spelt terror across Punjab as he spearheaded a merciless and violent movement for a separate Sikh state. Today, Wassan Singh Zafarwal runs a homeopathy clinic on the outskirts of his village.

A former Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) chief whose writ ran through Punjab in the post-1984 era of terrorism in the state, Zafarwal is today a reformed man. Besides the small clinic, he preaches the evil of drugs and dowry in villages of Gurdaspura, a district bordering Pakistan.

He returned to India in 2001 after living in Switzerland on asylum. He escaped from the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, just hours before the Indian Army ringed it in June 1984 with a view to storming it.

Even as he fled, the army barged into the temple, leading to hundreds of deaths. Within months, two Sikh bodyguards shot dead prime minister Indira Gandhi to avenge the temple storming, leading to anti-Sikh violence and further boosting Sikh militancy.

The former terrorist has no regrets for what he did then.

“The Khalistan movement was forced on us by the government. Operation Bluestar was a clear example of the repression of Sikhs, who were being treated as slaves in this country,” Zafarwal told IANS in his village, 25 km from here.

He was referring to the army operation in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, codenamed Operation Bluestar.

Zafarwal escaped to Pakistan after June 1984 and returned to India some time later to be part of the Panthic (religious) Committee that announced the Council of Khalistan in 1986. He headed the KCF at the peak of Sikh militancy in Punjab in the post-1984 period.

The former terrorist, who had a close association with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), said: “The ISI and Pakistan were never really serious about the Punjab issue. Their interest was in Kashmir. They used Punjab to create problems for India.”

Zafarwal tried to explain why the Khalistan movement weakened.

“Having an armed movement is always the last resort to achieve something. We have not left the movement. We are only using other means, like democratic ones, to get our point of view across and continue our fight.”

Like many others during those blood-soarked years, Zafarwal spoke about the “repression of Sikhs” in India. The Khalistan movement raged for about 10 years until it was crushed in 1993 — after some 25,000 deaths.

Zafarwal is not the only ex-militant to lead a near normal life in today. There are many like him who have given up violence, realising the futility of losing lives for a movement that was never destined to succeed.

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