The American who lived with Bhindranwale
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014 | 08:14 pm
Norman Kreisman, of California, was known as Baba Nam Singh Khalsa when he was living at the Guru Nanak Niwas with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, from 1982 to 1984.
Photo Source: Norman Kreisman
The conspicuous American
At Darbar Sahib, Baba Nam Singh sometimes served as a translator for foreign news organizations. He particularly remembered a journalist who was doing a story on nihungs for National Geographic. He thanked Baba Nam Singh by taking him to a fancy restaurant at the mall area across from Maharajah Ranjit Singh Garden. He eventually saw a copy of the 1985 nihung issue when he was back to the U.S.
Baba Nam Singh also helped translate for a French photojournalist working for Le Figaro magazine.
Later, he helped interpret for Jarnail Singh when an American journalist came to interview him about the troubles in Punjab. He could not recall the name of the newspaper but remembered it was a large publication from New York or Washington, probably the New York Times or the Washington Post.
Baba Nam Singh had gained the trust and friendship of Jarnail Singh and his men, but he could not shake their suspicion that he was an undercover agent.
“For some reason, everybody thought I was a CIA spy,” he said, with a laugh. “In my room I had a short-wave radio… I used to listen to Voice of America or news from the BBC. That was it. But they were sure it was a way to communicate with the CIA.”
Baba Nam Singh was also followed by the Amritsar police, and stopped a couple of times. One time they took him to the police station and showed him pictures of suspects on their watch list, wanting to know if he were involved with any of them. Most were Afghans who had escaped the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and ended up in Punjab.
“They were keeping an eye on these Afghans, and me, for some reason,” he said.
“As a foreigner, they treated me differently, everybody did. They were afraid to mistreat me. Even when they took me to the police station they never touched me. If I were not American, I don’t know what would have happened.”
The police told him to stay with Jarnail Singh, at the niwas. He was under house arrest for three months because his visa had expired. It had been expired for a couple of years, at least.
“They said if they see me on the street they would arrest me. But through (Yogi Bhajan’s) connections, (President) Gyaanee Zail Singh helped me get a visa. He cleared it up from Delhi. I had to go to Delhi to get the visa on my passport and come back.”
By 1984, Punjab was turning into a military zone. Curfews were in place. And gunshots were heard at night.
“A couple of times a bus was stopped in the Punjab countryside by these masked guys, and everybody was told to get off. And Sikhs were told to go on one side and Hindus told to go on the other. And then these guys shot all the Hindus.
“Someone was saying that this was Sant Jarnail Singh’s (doing)… They blamed him. He said it wasn’t him. It was government supporters trying to make him look bad.
“Sant Jarnail Singh told me it was the Punjabi police who were doing it to destabilize the (separatist) movement, so that Sant Jarnail Singh would get blamed for it,” Kreisman said. “But he was not doing it. The Punjabi police were doing it. He told me himself. I believe him.
“Look at what happened after Indira Gandhi’s (assassination). Look at how many men they killed. The Punjab police tortured Baba Nihal Singh. He was dragged behind a jeep. He survived. But the point is that I would not put that past the Punjab police.
“His opponents were also saying that – and I never saw any evidence of this – but they were saying that Sant Jarnail Singh was being financed by Pakistan, or influenced by the Soviet Union, all kinds of things about his being manipulated by other (foreign) people who had an agenda to destabilize India. I don’t know, I never saw any of that.
“Certainly his men were true believers,” Kreisman said. “They weren’t cynical. They weren’t doing it for any political reason.”
But evidence shows that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did ask for foreign assistance. Recently released British top-secret letters circulated between the foreign office, the home office, the cabinet office and the defense ministry show that Gandhi asked Prime Minister Thatcher “for advice on plans for the removal of dissident Sikhs from the Golden Temple.” Sometime before February 1984, Thatcher sent a Secret Air Services officer to Delhi to possibly help plan the attack on Darbar Sahib. The conspiracy was kept under wraps at London until a couple of the letters were, perhaps accidentally, released and coincidentally discovered this week, 30 years later.
As tensions escalated in Punjab, Yogi Bhajan asked Baba Nam Singh to send information on what was happening.
“I read the local papers every day," Kreisman said. "He asked me to cut out articles he might find interesting, keeping abreast of what was going on in Punjab. I would cut out articles and mail it to him, articles about stuff like with Sant Jarnail Singh, the thing about those busses. He was aware of that stuff, I think, at least from other sources. But I would send him clippings of newspaper articles about those things.”
Jarnail Singh and his men knew what was coming.
“They had a kind of shaheed mentality. If you go down the street, there is Baba Deep Singh Shaheed gurdwara. They related to that. They definitely knew, and maybe even welcomed, the opportunity to die as shaheeds," Kreisman said.
“The thing to remember is that they were not there to protect the Golden Temple. Sant Jarnail Singh was there for protection. The Golden Temple was a sanctuary. The police would never go in there to arrest anybody.
“(But) the Golden Temple was attacked because he was there. Some people were angry and felt he had endangered innocent people by hiding out there."
When asked if Jarnail Singh and his men ever expected the army to come inside, Kreisman said: “I don’t think so. I don’t know if they thought that the army would actually invade the temple itself, as opposed to the surrounding area. I don’t think we ever talked about them actually going into the temple.”
It was their belief that they were going to die as martyrs, fighting for their cause outside the Darbar Sahib complex.