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
Two months before the invasion, known as ‘Operation Blue Star,’ Baba Nam Singh was kicked out of India.
“I was told to leave by the Indian government,” he said. “They knew. Yeah, they knew. They wanted me out.
“Before I left, things were getting a little hairy. I remember one time, up on the roof, some bullets went whizzing by us. Someone was trying to take pot shots at us. So, I remember, we all hit the ground, fired a couple of shots back.
"The Gurkhas, I’m not sure if they were just goofing around, but they definitely shot at us. Nobody got hit.
“And there were curfews,” he added. “We had to be in by a certain time.
“I had to leave right away,” Kreisman said. “I gave away things to Sant Jarnail Singh’s guys - the cassette player - I gave a bunch of stuff away.”
Baba Nam Singh never completed his gyaanee studies. But, unlike Guru Sant Singh, he would not have tried to stay and fight alongside Jarnail Singh.
“I had not felt that it was my fight,” he said. “They had grievance with the government, but I was never mistreated. And I was not particularly convinced of a fundamentalist Sikh state. I didn’t disagree necessarily. It was not what I was passionate about.”
After Baba Nam Singh left, a ‘60 Minutes’ news crew came from the U.S. to interview Jarnail Singh, just three weeks before the attack. The segment, called, ‘The Sikhs,’ aired on CBS on June 10, 1984, a few days after the invasion that spanned from June 2 to June 6.
Harry Reasoner conducted the interview. Baba Nam Singh was not there anymore, so someone else had to translate for Jarnail Singh.
Reasoner: “...This man always knew he was in danger. He was right. He died early in the fight. He had been in the temple for two years, under security within security. But he was always accessible to his followers... Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, 38 when he was killed. If he had been an American pastor, he would have been a fundamentalist. He hated the successful urban Sikhs who trim their beards and wear two-piece suits. The poor and the illiterate loved him, brought him what rupees they could spare.”
Reasoner and his crew went all around the Darbar Sahib complex, outside and inside. Outside, they saw the majority of the Sikh dissidents participating in nonviolent protests, same as what Guru Sant Singh saw.
Reasoner: “Not all the Sikhs we saw were militants... By the hundreds, they turned themselves in to the police to plead guilty to real or imagined offenses, to clog the jails and to clog the already clogged Indian bureaucracy.”
Left: Harminder Singh Sandhu, one of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's principle lieutenants. Harry Reasoner asked him: "Do you think you will get out of here without using a gun?" Harminder Singh replied: “It will depend on the behavior of the Indian government. We don’t want bloodshed and violence. We want to settle the issues in a peaceful way. But the government doesn’t want it. Certainly, this is a struggle for sovereignty of the Sikhs. Sikhs want to keep their culture, their identity secure. And if the government doesn’t accept it, certainly the Sikhs will have to take up arms. And this will not be a smaller war. Mrs. Gandhi and the Indian government, they will have to suffer too much for that." Right: Hundreds of dissidents with saffron dastaars peacefully protest by turning themselves in to the police.
Source: 60 Minutes
Inside Darbar Sahib, Reasoner noted that Jarnail Singh had “hundreds” of men, but that they were in the minority. Then he met with their leader.
Reasoner: “We found him at a mid-day audience. “You want to talk,” he said, “Sit down and we’ll talk. We want,” said the priest, “to bring an end to the slavery, which had been put around the necks of the Sikhs… In Sikhism,” he said, “religion and politics are inseparable from each other…” He is a Sikh and a servant of the Sikhs. “And in Sikhism,” he said, “nothing is irrational. A Sikh is never an oppressor but only defends himself and his people. “I have never,” he said, “initiated any attack with my tongue or my pen or with my sword. I only answer back or retaliate,” he said, “to actions initiated by the enemies of the Sikhs.””
Jarnail Singh spoke openly of the deaths and violence.
Reasoner: “These were not murders,” he said, “but justice. And, if necessary, the Sikhs would set up their own state.”
Left: Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale speaks to his supporters while Harry Reasoner listens, sitting on the floor (bottom right). Right: Harry Reasoner (right, his back to the camera) interviews Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
Source: 60 Minutes
Back in the US
Baba Nam Singh heard about the army’s attack when he was back in the U.S. He never heard from any of Jarnail Singh’s men again, not even the one from Singapore. But some of the people he knew, some of them ended up in the U.S. In 1987, he met the son of a merchant he used to know.
“They had this souvenir shop near the clock tower,” he said. “I saw that every day. He told me what it was like. They were holed up in their house for days with some other people."
He also mistakenly told Kreisman that that the Indian army evacuated all the pilgrims from the Darbar Sahib complex before troops went in to battle the militants.
“I don’t know if at that point if regular pilgrims had been given notices to leave," Kreisman said. "The only people that were left inside to fight were probably people who wanted to be there.”
Reasoner reported that perhaps 15,000 troops invaded Darbar Sahib to kill Jarnail Singh and his couple of hundred men.
“They were alert and armed,” Reasoner said of Jarnail Singh’s men. “But we got the feeling that they were sure they were safe. Breaking into the temple would be like the Italian army raiding St. Peter’s to arrest a dissident cardinal. We were all wrong.”
According to Sikhmuseum.com, the Indian government sent 100,000 troops to isolate and seize the state of Punjab. The government reported 200 combatants killed and 493 non-combatants killed. Independent sources estimated between 100 and 150 combatants killed, and up to 8,000 non-combatants killed.
“Well, I didn’t know about that,” Kreisman said.