Female, Sikh, Militant…

The Story of the Self as History in Sandip Kaur’s Autobiography Bikhṛā Paĩdā


  • Maria Puri Independent scholar, Delhi




autobiography, Sikh, militancy, Sandip Kaur, identity formation, metacommentary


The Indian State has a long history of military interventions at numerous, mostly peripheral locations. Most of the interventions are protracted and may be viewed as virtual civil wars, each side producing and legitimizing its own version of events. This paper will focus on the fallout of the Punjab insurgency (1970–1995), and its decisive point, the Indian army intervention codenamed Operation Bluestar (June 1984), as narrated by a former militant, Sandip Kaur. Her Punjabi book, Bikhṛā Pai͂dā (“Difficult Journey”) (2008), written by somebody who is not a writer, represents a sub-category which “inhabits (…) margins of literary and autobiographical writing” (Butalia 2017: 20). Hence, it offers a unique glimpse into the process of identity construction, both at the personal and the communal level, enacted against the larger backdrop of national games played out on the regional scene and informed by Sikh ‘metacommentary’ (Oberoi 1987: 27).


Amin, S. 1995. Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura, 1922–1992. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Astha, D. P. 1959. The Poetry of the Dasam Granth. New Delhi: Arun Prakash.

Barros, C. A. 1992. Figura, Persona, Dynamis: Autobiography and Change. In: Biography, 15(1): 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1353/bio.2010.0371.

Block, A. 2001. Honour and Violence. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bloom, M. 2011. Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorist. Toronto: Viking Canada. https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812208108.

Bruner, J. 2001. Self-making and World-making. In: J. Brockmeier, D. Carbaugh (eds.). Narrative and Identity Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture. Amsterdam–Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Butalia, U. 2017. Sandip Kaur’s Bikhra Painda: A Militant Woman’s Story from Punjab. In: Sikh Formations, 13(1–2): 20–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2016.1147188.

Cheran, R. 2021. Preface. In: Thamizhini 2021. In the Shadow of a Sword: The Memoir of a Woman Leader in the LTTE. Tr. N. Rodrigo. New Delhi: Sage Publication and Yoda Press.

Chopra, R. 2010. Commemorating Hurt: Memorializing Operation Bluestar. In: Sikh Formations, 6(2): 19–152. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2010.530509.

Chopra, R. 2011. Militant and Migrant: The Politics and Social History of Punjab. New Delhi: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203814048.

Chopra, R. 2013. A Museum, a Memorial, and a Martyr. In: Sikh Formations, 9(2): 97–114. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2013.822142.

Chopra, R. 2015. 1984 – Disinterred Memories. In: Sikh Formations. 11(3): 306–315. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2015.1088318.

Chopra, R. 2017. Seeing off the Dead: Post-mortem Photographs in the Darbar Sahib. In: Sikh Formations, 12(2–3): 207–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2017.1289682.

Coughlin, A. M. 1995. Regulating the Self: Autobiographical Performances in Outsider Scholarship. In: Virginia Law Review, 81(5): 1229–1340. https://doi.org/10.2307/1073505.

Cragin, R. K. and S. A. Daly. 2009. Women as Terrorists: Mothers, Recruiters and Martyrs. Santa Barbara: ABC Clio.

Das, B. 2005. Bina Das: A Memoir. New Delhi: Zubaan. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520939530.

Das, V. 2007. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Berkeley–Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Devgan, S. 2013. From the ‘Crevices in Dominant Memories:’ Virtual Commemoration and the 1984 Anti-Sikh Violence. In: Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 20(2): 207–233. https://doi.org/10.1080/1070289X.2013.771579.

Devgan, S. 2015. The Digital Story of 1984: Diasporic Sikhs and the Mediated Work of Memory and Emotion. In: Journal of Punjab Studies, 22(2): 343–378.

Devgan, S. 2018. A Haunted Generation Remembers. In: Contexts, 17(4): 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/1536504218812867.

Drif, Z. 2017. Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter.Tr. A. Farrand. Charlottesville, Virginia: Just World Books.

Dutta, K. 1945. Chittagong Armoury Raiders: Reminiscences. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House.

Eakin, J. P. 2020. Writing Life Writing: Narrative, History, Autobiography. New York and London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367439118.

Eakin, P. J. 2001. Breaking Rules: The Consequences of Self-Narration. In: Biography, 24(1): 113–127. https://doi.org/10.1353/bio.2001.0008.

Elston, C. 2016. Women’s Writing in Colombia: An Alternative History. Cham: Palgrave Macmillian. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-43261-8.

Fenech, L. E. 2005. Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition: Playing the ‘Game of Love.’ New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gaur, I. D. 2016. Martyr as Bridegroom: A Folk Representation of Bhagat Singh. New Delhi: Anthem Press.

Gayer, L. 2011. Have Gun, Will Travel: Interpreting the Trajectories of Female Irregular Combatants. In: Y. Guichaoua (ed.). Understanding Collective Political Violence. Houndmills–Basingstoke–Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230348318_6.

Gayer, L. 2012a. ‘Princesses’ among the ‘Lions:’ The Militant Careers of Sikh Female Fighters. In: Sikh Formations, 8(1): 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/09639489.2012.671031.

Gayer, L. 2012b. Liberation and Containment: The Ambivalent Empowerment of Sikh Female Fighters. In: Pôle Sud, 1: 49–65. https://doi.org/10.3917/psud.036.0049.

Gayer, L. 2019. From Militancy to Activism? Life Trajectories of Sikh Women Combatants. In: Fillieule, O. and E. Neveu (eds.) Activists Forever? Long-Term Impact of Political Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 159-180.

Geertz, C. 1975. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Genette, G. 1997. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Tr. J. E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ghandy, K. 2021. Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir. New Delhi: Roli Books.

Gill, K. P. S. 1997. Punjab: The Knights of Falsehood. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.

Gill, K. P. S. 1997. Kūṛu phirai pardhān. Mohali: Unistar Books Pvt. Ltd.

Gill, M. K. 2012. Merī sāhitak sva-jīvanī. Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University.

Gilmore, L. 2001. The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.7591/9781501724343.

Gupta, Sh. and K. Sandhu. 1993. Operation Bluestar has no champions today: K. P. S. Gill. In: India Today. 15.4.1993.

Habib, A. Z. 2011. Prisoner No. 100: An Account of My Days and Nights in an Indian Prison. Tr. S. Husain. New Delhi: Zubaan.

Hamilton, C. 2007. Women and ETA: The gender politics of radical Basque nationalism. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7228/manchester/9780719075452.001.0001.

Harbus, A. 2011. Exposure to life-writing as an impact on autobiographical memory. In: Memory Studies, 4(2): 206–220. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750698010389571.

Haripriya, S. 2018. Married to martyrdom: The remarried widow of a Sikh martyr (Punjab, post-1984). In: Contributions to Indian Sociology, 52(3): 263–282. https://doi.org/10.1177/0069966718785323.

Ibarruri, D. 1987. They Shall Not Pass: Autobiography of La Passionara. New York: International Publishers.

Jaijee Singh, I. and D. Suri. 2020. The Legacy of Militancy in Punjab: Long Road to ‘Normalcy.’ New Delhi: Sage.

Jakobsh, D. 2006. Relocating Gender in Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195679199.001.0001.

Kaur, S. 2008. Bikhṛā paĩdā. Amritsar: Azad Khalsa Prakashan.

Kaur, S. 2011. Uṛki saci rahī. Amritsar: Azad Khalsa Prakashan.

Keppley Mahmood, C. 1996. Fighting for the Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812200171.

Khalid, L. 1973. My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary. New York: Hodder & Stoughton.

Kumar, R. 1993. The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990. New Delhi: Zubaan/Kali for Women.

Lambert-Hurley, S. 2018. Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography and the Self in Muslim South Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Malhotra, A. 2017. Piro and the Gulabdasis: Gender, Sect and Society in Punjab. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1131565.

Malhotra, A. and S. Lambert-Hurley (eds.). 2015. Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance and Autobiography in South Asia. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Menchú, R. with E. Burgos-Debray. 1984. Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Tr. A. White. London: Verso. https://doi.org/10.1080/03064228408533778.

Mitra, J. 2004. Killing Days: Prison Memoirs [Hanyaman, 1990]. Tr. S. Banerjee.

New Delhi: Kali for Women & Women Unlimited.

Murphy, A. 2012. The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in the Sikh Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199916276.001.0001.

Nora, P. 1996a. Preface to the English Language Edition: From Lieux de memoire to Realms of Memory. In: P. Nora (ed.). Realms of Memory. Rethinking the French Past. New York: Columbia University Press: xv–xxiv.

Nora, P. 1996b. General Introduction: Between Memory and History. In P. Nora(ed.). Realms of Memory. Rethinking the French Past. New York: Columbia University Press: 1–20.

Oberoi, H. S. 1987. From Punjab to “Khalistan:” Territoriality and Metacommentary.

In: Pacific Affairs, 60(1): 26–41. https://doi.org/10.2307/2758828.

Oberoi, H. 1998. The Construction of Religious Boundries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in Sikh Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Paul, G. S. 2015. Victim of dark days of terrorism, she is ray of hope for many. In: The Tribune. 7.12.2015.

PED 2009. Punjabi-English Dictionary. Patiala: Punjabi University.

Ray, B. (ed.). 1995. From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rinehart, R. 2017. Debating Dasam Granth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigo, N. 2021. Translator’s Preface: The Woman Who Refused to Die. In: In the Shadow of a Sword: The Memoir of a Woman Leader in the LTTE. Tr. N. Rodrigo. New Delhi: Sage Publication and Yoda Press.

Roy, A. 2011. Walking with the Comrades. New Delhi: Penguin.

Sahgal, L. 1997. A Revolutionary Life: Memoirs of a Political Activist. New Delhi: Kali for Women.

Saksena, R. 2018. She Goes to War. Women Militants of India. New Delhi: Speaking Tiger.

Shah, A. 2018. Nightmarch: A Journey into India’s Naxal Heartlands. New Delhi: HarperCollins.

Siebenschuh, W. R. 1989. Cognitive Processes and Autobiographical Acts. In: Biography, 12(2): 142–153. https://doi.org/10.1353/bio.2010.0534.

Singh. G. 2000. Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab. Houndmills–Basingstoke–Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Singh, K. 1999. A History of the Sikhs. Vol. II. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Singh, N.-G. K. 2010. The Sikh Bridal Symbol: An Epiphany of Interconnections. In: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 8(2): 41–64.

Singh, N.-G. K. 2017. Babarvani and the call for gender justice. In: Sikh Formations, 13(1–2): 5–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2016.1147187.

Singh, N.-G. K. 2019. Hymns of the Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Penguin.

Singh, P. 2016. EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Ex-Freedom Fighter Bibi Sandeep Kaur. Sikh24.com. 5.11.2016. Accessed online 20.2.2019.

Singh, R. 2002. Jel ciṭṭ hīā̃. Amritsar: Gurmat Sehit Sadhan. https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T002420.

Singh, R. 2012. Autobiography of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh. Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh Trust.

Singha, H.S. 2000. The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. New Delhi: Hemkunt Press.

Soyza, N. de 2012.Tamil Tigress. Pune: Mehta Publishing House.

Summers, C. 2013. What Remains: The Institutional Reframing of Authorship in Translated Peritext. In V. Pellat. Text, Extratext, Metatext and Paratext in Translation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 9–32.

Tatla, D. S. 2006. The Morning After: Trauma, Memory and the Sikh Predicament Since 1984. In: Sikh Formations, 2(1): 57–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448720600779869.

Tatla, D. S. 2015. The Third Ghallughara: On the Sikh Dilemma Since 1984. In: Sikh Formations, 11(3): 316–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2015.1087681.

Thamizhini 2021. In the Shadow of a Sword: The Memoir of a Woman Leader in the LTTE. Tr. N. Rodrigo. New Delhi: Sage Publication and Yoda Press.

Tully, M. and S. Jacob. 1985. Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle. New Delhi: Rupa & Co.

Wallach, J. J. 2006. Building a Bridge of Words: The Literary Autobiography as Historical Source Material. In: Biography, 29(3): 446–461. https://doi.org/10.1353/bio.2006.0063.

Vij-Aurora, B. 2020. How to Divide Farmers? Use ‘Khalistan,’ ‘Maoist’ and ‘Tukde Tukde Gang.’ In: India Today. 14.12.2020.

Yami, H. 2021. Hisila: From Revolutionary to First Lady. New Delhi: Penguin Books.




How to Cite

Puri, Maria. 2021. “Female, Sikh, Militant…: The Story of the Self As History in Sandip Kaur’s Autobiography Bikhṛā Paĩdā”. Cracow Indological Studies 23 (1):91-136. https://doi.org/10.12797/CIS.23.2021.01.04.