Militant and Migrant: The Politics and Social History of Punjab (Routledge India, 2011)
By Radhika Chopra
Militant and Migrant explores the pre and post history of a critical event, the storming of the Golden Temple complex by the Indian army in 1984, widely referred to as Operation Bluestar. The focus throughout is on the links between militancy and migration, two movements that transformed the socio-political landscape of the north Indian state of Punjab in the late twentieth-century, suggested by the subtitle of the book. The sacred center at Amritsar, the transnational settlement of Southall in the U.K. and a village of the agriculturally prosperous Doaba region of Punjab— three sites that are viewed as metonymic spaces of identity transcending geographic boundaries— are the terrain for the argument and form the structure of this book.
Exchanges between the sacred, the transnational and the rural existed well before 1984. After 1984, however, and through the violent decades of the militancy period, these three locations became connected via the circulation of political ideologies, violent deaths, financial support, a sense of disaffection, and the migration of men. Analysis of the links between transnational migration and religious revival is a key theme of this study.
The book begins with an interpretation of a ritual of remembrance that commemorates the traumatic event of Operation Bluestar and the deaths within the sacred space. If the event is remembered, it was also ‘anticipated’ in family strategies to ‘protect’ young men from becoming embroiled in militancy or the objects of state violence. Using biography, the pre-event is viewed through the perspective of family and their understanding of political risk. The final chapters are the view from afar, of the critical event, the movement of militancy and the processes of migration viewed from the perspective of a transnational neighborhood that became a sanctuary for militants who fled to seek political asylum among transnational kin and brethren.
Using biography, visual anthropology, oral history and memory, the book is a narrative account of a troubled period in the contemporary history of Punjab that continues to have significant implications for the Indian state.