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Hindu Minority in Punjab

August 09, 1985

It was a pleasant surprise to see Rone Tempest's excellent article (July 31) on Punjabi Hindus, including interviews with residents of Banga. I lived in Banga for two years in the 1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer in an agricultural development program. I had many friends, both Hindu and Sikh who were students at Sikh National College.

During a visit in 1982, I observed greater prosperity and improved living conditions in many villages. However, it is evident that Sikh farmers are more prosperous than most Hindus in rural areas. While many Sikh farmers have built large modern homes, the Hindu sections of villages are often squalid and disease-ridden. The Green Revolution effectively shifted economic and political hegemony from the Hindu Brahmins to the Sikh farmers. This is clearly an underlying dimension of the present strife.

The article mentioned the Hindu agricultural and industrial laborers who have migrated to Punjab from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The major reason for the labor shortage was the emigration of many Sikh agricultural laborers and artisans to the Persian Gulf in the 1970s. This led to higher wages and the influx of 1.5 million Hindu laborers. While a portion of these are seasonal migrants, many remain permanently.

It is discouraging that recent politicization has occurred along religious lines. The concept of a "Sikh nation," similar to the idea that Muslims, prior to partition, constituted a separate nation, has been propagated by Sikh separatists.

Religion, as a basis of nationalism must be rejected, as it has been by moderate Sikhs, if the two communities are to live in harmony in Indian Punjab. I hope the new agreement between the Sikh Akali Dal Party and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi will promote this objective.

EDDIE J. GIRDNER

Goleta

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