ATTACK ON THE HEART OF SIKHISM
Dr Gurdarshan Singh
The White Paper issued by the Government begins the story on June 2 with the Government of India deciding to call in the army in aid of civil authorities in Punjab with the object “to check and control extremist, terrorist and communal violence in the State of Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, provide security to the people and restore normalcy.”1 According to Devinder Singh Duggal, who was one of the persons to give an eyewitness account revealed that, on June 2, a team of the BBC including Mark Tully was taken around the Darbar Sahib and shown thirty four holes, some of them as big as three inches in diameter, caused by the bullets on all sides of the Temple.2 Tully noted, “The CRP firing took place four days before the army actually entered the Temple ... I believe that the Central Reserve Police (evidently under orders of the Generals, who were incharge of the assault since the end of May, 1984) firing was the start of an attempt to frighten Bhindranwale into surrendering, an attempt which lasted almost to the hour that the army did eventually go in four days later.”3
The tragic and the momentous character of the contemplated attack is evidenced by the Prime Minister's nervous behaviour at a meeting of the party workers from all over India, on June 2, 1984. The meeting was meant to be held behind closed doors but three journalists managed to walk in. One of them Anand Sahay observed: “When Mrs Gandhi walked upto the platform she appeared to be limping. Her shoulders were hunched. She looked dishevelled. Her face was drawn. She choked as she spoke. I was so surprised that I thought someone in her family must have died.”4 Sahay concluded that normally immaculate Mrs. Gandhi's downtrodden and dishevelled appearance must mean that “something big had been decided.”5
Even when it was difficult to hide the onset of the attack from the onlookers and gun shots were being fired heralding the horrendous event, the Prime Minister resorted to the most immoral and disgraceful act of hiding the truth. Till the end she played one gimmick after another to prove her credibility to the outside world. On the evening of June 2, 1984, she appeared on the national radio to make an unscheduled broadcast to the nation about the Punjab crisis. It was an exercise in duplicity as she had no intention of matching her words with deeds. She told a lie to the nation that the Government had accepted most of the demands of the Akalis and that a settlement had not been possible only because they (Akalis) kept raising fresh demands. The speech marked the culmination of a long series of hypocritical exercises aimed at running down the Akalis. She could not shun the pretence of negotiations even when she had already launched the military attack. She said, "Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Akali leaders to call off their threatened agitation and accept the framework of peaceful settlement which we have offered.”6 It was rhetoric that lacked substance. She said all this while she was fully aware that her ordered attack was in progress and irreversible, thousands of troops had already converged on the State and surrounded the gurdwaras, which were being unprovokingly fired at. People in Amritsar as well as everywhere else in Punjab could sense that the Army was poised for a big drastic action. Kuldip Nayar observed: “How could she first order military operation and then suggest negotiations? And even if Akalis were ready to talk, how could they contact her; all their telephones had been cut off.”7
Towards the end of her broadcast, the Prime Minister trying to sound very genuine made an appeal, “Let us join hands together to heal wounds. The best memorial to those who have lost their lives is to restore normalcy and harmony in Punjab which they loved and served. To all sections of Punjabis, I appeal, don't shed blood, shed hatred.”8 The decision to shed more blood and more hatred had already been taken. The Prime Minister's consistently calculated policy now led her into the suicidal step which would generate only hostility and destruction instead of peace and harmony, hatred in stead of love, chaos instead of normalcy, more suffering instead of solace and disunity instead of unity and integrity. Ian Jack and Mary Anne Weaver, correspondents of Sunday Times, London observed: “The cracks in the integrity of the Indian State – what the Indian press likes to describe as fissiparous tendencies widened dramatically, when the Golden Temple was invaded; and they will take a considerable time, if ever, to close again.”9
Lt. General Ranjit Singh Dayal, Chief of Staff, Western Command had taken over as Adviser Security to the Governor of Punjab on June 2.10 The whole administration of the State along with the railways and other transportation services including the postal and telecommunications were carried on or suspended, to suit the needs of the armed forces. The State police service virtually ceased to exist as massive purge operation went on and its various functions were taken over by the army personnel, i.e., such functions as frisking, searching and arresting people, performing security duties, regulating movement of transport and men, guarding railway tracks, canals, etc., and other installations of public utility. Thus on June 2, the army took over the administration, and whatever vestiges of a civilised government had remained vanished.
3rd June, 1984, the day chosen for mounting the attack was the martyrdom day of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjun Dev, the architect and builder of the Darbar Sahib. A large number of people, approximately estimated at ten to fifteen thousand had come from the towns and villages to commemorate the occasion. It was felt that the day was deliberately selected to cause maximum loss of life and suffering to the Sikhs. Besides thousands of the pilgrims, there were hundreds of Akali workers, who had gone there peacefully to court arrest in connection with the Dharam Yudh Morcha. The priests and sewadars of the Temple and employees of SGPC were also in the Complex. No body had any inkling or warning of the sudden curfew and the imminent Army attack. As observed in the report of the Citizens for Democracy, “No one inside the Golden Temple had yet realised the sinister plan of the authorities. Punjab had been sealed. Amritsar had been sealed. The Golden Temple had been sealed. Thousands of pilgrims and hundreds of Akali workers had been allowed to collect inside the Temple complex. They had been given no inkling or warning either of the sudden curfew or of the imminent Army attack. It was to be a black Hole-type of tragedy, not out of forgetfullness but out of deliberate planning and design.”11
Bhan Singh, Secretary of the S.G.P.C. who was trapped inside and was one of the survivors said, “Had the army given a warning, at least those pilgrims who had come for the Gurpurb could go out and then those persons who were simply here to participate in the Dharam Youdh Morcha could go out. But no warning was given to the people. The firing was started from all around the complex with vengeance, as if they were attacking an alien, enemy country.”12 Gurdev Singh, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar at that time, sought the help of the army authorities to get the pilgrims out but nobody paid any heed to his suggestion. A shake up in the Amritsar administration was immediately ordered and Gurdev Singh proceeded on leave.
Two centuries earlier, Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, had been the target of attack on the Diwali of 1736 by the Mughal army. It was a massacre of such great magnitude that people remembered it for a long time as the “bloody Diwali.”13 When Ahmed Shah Abdali had raided Darbar Sahib, he too had chosen the Baisakhi day to launch his attack in order to inflict the maximum casualties on the Sikhs who gather there in large numbers to commemorate the birth of the Khalsa on Baisakhi. It is well known that the historical Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar also took place on the Baisakhi day, i.e., 13th April, 1919. Invasion of Darbar Sahib on a holy day brought back to people's minds the gory accounts of the turbulent periods of Sikh community found in the books of history. The “Operation” was the first of its kind in the history of India, in fact of the world, when troops were ordered to storm a community’s most sacred shrine involving large scale massacre of its own people – men, women and children.
As the troops launched the attack on the Darbar Sahib, the entire State of Punjab was virtually isolated from the rest of the world. All postal services and tele-communications were snapped. A thirtysix hour curfew, later extended by another thirty hours, of the most savage kind, was clamped over the length and breadth of the State, including the countryside. So much so that no one could walk on a public way or cross even a lane. No curfew passes were issued and army vehicles with machine guns mounted on their roofs and, in some cases, tanks loaded with tank carriers, were seen in the streets to give the impression that the military was in control.14 Residents living in the immediate precincts outside the Golden Temple were given only five minutes to vacate their houses and shops on the day the curfew was clamped. As some of the residents found it impossible to vacate their premises within the stipulated time, some of them were said to have panicked and leapt out from the second and third floor and died. Some old men, women and children who could not escape had to undergo life and death struggle, since the water and electricity supply were stopped.15 It was a virtual martial law, though without any declaration to that effect. All rail and bus services were cut off. All non-military vehicles including the bullock carts were banned from the roads. “Even the dogs were not allowed to bark”, said an eyewitness.
News censorship was ordered for a period of two months, the foreign journalists were rounded up and expelled from the State under military escort. So much so that all the leading newspapers of the State had to suspend publication for three days. All wartime emergency measures were brought into force. Life came to a standstill. The telephone connections of the Complex were disconnected on June 2 and the water and electricity supply were cut off on June 3.
The firing which had started on June 1 continued intermittently for the next two days, this being an attempt to provoke cross-firing to enable the army to locate the points of resistance. But as already stated, no retaliatory firing look place.
Subash Kirpekar, one of the journalists who met Bhindranwale on June 3 after the army had surrounded the Temple complex, asked him if he feared death. Bhindranwale replied, “One who fears death is not a Sikh.”16 He insisted that he was not responsible for the murders which had brought the army to the gates of the Golden Temple. When Kirpekar asked what could be done to stop the violence, he replied, “Ask those who are responsible for it.”17 He asked the Sant, ‘Is it your contention that Sikhs cannot live in India?’ The Sant replied, ‘Yes, they can neither live in nor with India.’ If treated as equals it may be possible. But frankly speaking I don't think that is possible.’18 This was the last interview which the Sant had with a journalist. Eyewitness accounts disclosed that Bhindranwale had issued strict instructions not to fire a single shot unless or until the security forces entered the Darbar Sahib.19 They had put up fortifications in the Temple only as a measure of defence and not offence. The eyewitness account of Duggal disclosed that Bhindranwale's men resorted to firing only when the army entered the Golden Temple.20 Despite their unprecedented courage and commitment, they were no match for the army either in terms of number of men or in amount of arms and ammunition.
As the army entered the Complex, the men inside under the command of Maj General Shahbeg Singh retaliated and a vigorous battle ensued. The armed forces which had been firing intermittently since June 1, resorted to heavy firing from the morning of June 4, without any let up. Apart from heavy firing from LMG’s and MMG’s, the army troops also threw mortar shells and poisonous gas cannisters inside the Akal Takhat and other buildings in the Complex. The army commanders had thought that the whole ‘Operation’ would not last more than a few hours but due to the determined fight put up by the Sikh youth, the battle lasted almost four days. Mary Anne Weaver, a Correspondent of Sunday Times, London, observed: “The army expected they could clear the temple of Sikh extremists in 48 hours. Instead it took four days. Resistance was as fierce as the death defying hyperbole that Bhindranwale had promised: “If the authorities enter the temple, we will teach them such a lesson that the throne of Indira will crumble.”21 They were determined to fight to the last man and to the last bullet. On the first two days, the army had brought into operation machine guns, mortars and rockets, but they could make no headway despite its heavy loss. Subash Kirpekar who was watching the scene from his hotel room observed: “For the first time, I sense that my friends are wondering whether the Army has not taken too long to complete the task. A mere Sant has held them at bay for three days. Some of the markets around the Temple complex have caught fire. I can see huge flames leaping up and dancing devilishly in the air. I wonder whether the entire city will be engulfed in flames if the fire spreads.”22
There were hurried consultations and evidently it appeared that orders were obtained to launch an attack with heavy artillery and tanks. This was the first action of its kind in which seven divisions of the army were deployed and all the three wings of the armed forces – Army, Navy and Air Force were brought into operation to tackle a domestic situation. Perhaps the planners were under the impression that the demonstration of a mighty show of fire and thunder of the three wings of the army would frighten Bhindranwale and his men into submission. But they were mistaken as the rattle of gun fire and the rumble of the armoured vehicles could not subdue the defenders. Mary Anne Weaver, a British correspondent in her report to Sunday Times, London (June 17, 1984) observed: “Not since independence had the army been used in such numbers – about 15,000 troops took part in the assault, with another 35,000 standing by – to put down an internal rebellion. Not even in the more ruthless days of empire had the army been used to storm such an important religious shrine.” Bhindranwale’s men had withstood the Indian infantry for two days but the tank barrage was too overwhelming to be resisted with their limited means. As some eyewitnesses revealed, the number of defending men was between fifty to one hundred. As many as 13 tanks were used in the attack. Out of these, seven were deployed for attack on the Akal Takhat. One of them was reportedly destroyed by a young boy of 16 years, who tied explosives around his body and jumped under the moving tank.23 Due to damage, the tank got bogged down in front of the Samadhi of Baba Deep Singh in the Parikarma. Later it was removed by the army with great difficulty. Brahma Chellaney reported: “At about 9 pm on 6 June, entire city of 700,000 was plunged into darkness by a power outrage. Half an hour later, Amritsar was shaken by powerful shelling, mortar explosion and machine gun fire. The big battle had begun. Half the city was up on rooftops watching the battle. Tracer bullets and flares lit up the crescent moonsky. The explosions at the Golden Temple rattled doors and windows miles away. While the battle was raging, the state-run radio claimed that the city was ‘calm’. Between 10.30 pm and midnight, we heard slogans from city outskirts of villagers trying to march to the Golden Temple from three different directions. The slogans - ‘Long live the Sikh religion’ and ‘Bhindranwale is our leader’ were heard briefly on each occasion and were followed by rapid army machine gun fire and screams.”24
Gas cannisters and ‘stun’ bombs (meant to stun the opponent) were lobbed at the Akal Takhat to support the First Para Commandos and ten Guards who went into the attack. However, due to strong breeze and close brick-lining of the rooms, the stun bombs and the gas cannisters did not have the desired effect and the commandos kept asking for more and more fire support, which was promptly coming. In spite of all this, the commandos suffered heavily.
As the news of the bloody attack on Darbar Sahib was heard, tension built up in Punjab and there was a mass upsurge in the countryside. Army helicopters spotted groups of angry Sikhs gathering in many different places in their bid to march to the Shrine in order to defend it. At Gohalwar, a village about twenty kilometers from Amritsar, a crowd of over 30,000 persons gathered to start a protest march against the army invasion. At Raja Sansi and Heir villages in Amritsar district, thousands of Sikhs were seen planning to march towards the Temple. Reports were also received of angry villagers gathering in Batala in Gurdaspur district trying to rush to the Shrine. The army concluded that 'resort to deadly firing was the only effective way to disperse the ever swelling rebellious crowds.’25 Accordingly, Sikhs marching to Darbar Sahib were subjected to bombing and machine gunning from the air, resulting in the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters.
The curfew that was initially imposed for thirty six hours was extended by another thirty hours.26 On the night of 5-6 June, the battle increased in ferocity. According to General K S Brar, on June 6, around 4-30 am, thirty soldiers managed to get into the Akal Takhat: “The battle continued for another two hours and the extremists fought to the last man.”27 Due to repeated explosions, the Akal Takhat was reduced to rubble, Bhindranwale and his men died defending the Temple and became as was the subsequent reaction of the community, martyrs in the Sikh tradition. People believed that they sealed the pledge of their sincerity with their blood. Martial tradition of the Sikhs gives the pride of place to martyrdom and battle against overwhelming odds. ‘Whatever one says of them, their fight to the last not only made them martyrs in the eyes of many Sikhs but invested the concept of martyrdom with a contemporary relevance.’28
Bhindranwale and his defence of the Akal Takhat became a part of everyday folklore. Songs and ballads eulogising the brave fight put up by him and his men became very popular in the villages and cities. The folk song named ‘Saka,’ sung by famous Nabha ladies, who were arrested later on, became very popular. The song took up the theme of atrocities committed by the Indian army on the Sikhs, who had made the maximum sacrifices for the freedom of the country. It exhorted them to put up a brave fight if they wanted to save their turbans and beards.
Bhindranwale was cremated on the evening of June 7. A crowd of about ten thousand people had gathered near the Temple but the army held them back. Many policemen present at the cremation were reported to have given him a tearful farewell.29 On the other hand, Hindus, who had looked upon him as a villain heaved a sigh of relief and were seen laughing and distributing sweets to the army jawans. Curfew order seemed to have been relaxed for them as it was done when the army entered the city and was poised for the attack.
Here it is necessary to give details about General Shahbeg Singh, who had because of the reported impending attack, organised the defence of Darbar Sahib. Like Bhindranwale, he was also the worst victim of the AIR and Doordarshan propaganda machinery. Umpteen times references were made to him as someone who had been ‘cashiered’, ‘dismissed’ and ‘court marshalled’ from the army. No one referred to him as the hero of Bangla Desh War. He was caught alive and tortured to death.30 There are photographs which show that ropes had been tied around his arms and he was dragged before he died.31 The Government did not allow the General’s son Prabpal Singh to attend his cremation. When he asked whether he could have his father’s ashes, he was told that Government would immerse them in one of India’s sacred rivers.32
‘I am a patriot of a finer mould than the Prime Minister herself,’ said Shahbeg Singh during the course of an interview with Tavleen Singh before the army action.33 The General was dismissed from the army only a day before he was due to retire under a special clause which did not even entitle him to a trial. This special clause had never been invoked in the case of any other officer in the history of the Indian army. Afterwards the matter was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, who levelled two charges against him – one that he took a truck in somebody else's name and thereby misused army transport and another saying that he built a house costing Rupees nine lacs.34 Shahbeg Singh won both the cases.35 He wanted to get his name cleared of the ‘false’ charges, either through a court martial or a civil trial. He even approached Home Minister Zail Singh for this purpose.36 When nothing was done, Shahbeg Singh developed a firm conviction that he had been discriminated against only because he was a Sikh. “The aim was to deny me my promotion because I was a Sikh. This is how Sikhs are being persecuted in the army.”37 The relevant facts pertaining to his acquittal, by a special court, of the charges framed against him were deliberately suppressed. To have reported these facts about Shahbeg Singh's life in proper perspective, would have meant reducing the intensity of communal hatred against him among the Hindus. This did not obviously suit the media's policy. Since a large number of the Sikhs knew these facts about Shahbeg Singh”s life, they resented this one-sided presentation.38
The army claimed to have acted with much restraint. But the damage to the Akal Takhat showed that restraint was just thrown to the winds. The effect of the tank barrage on the building was devastating. The entire front of the sacred Shrine was destroyed leaving hardly a pillar standing. The gold plated dome of the building also came under heavy fire and was badly damaged. The Timeless Throne of the Sikh religion was in shambles. David Graves, the first foreign correspondent of Telegraph, London, allowed to visit the Darbar Sahib Complex, reported: “The Akal Takhat looks like it has been bombed. It looks like a building in Berlin after the War. Every building in the Complex had been riddled with bullets and there was still a stench of death in the air.”39 Even the Golden Temple bore more than three hundred bullet marks, in addition to the shooting of one priest Avtar Singh Purewal and the passing of bullets through the holy Guru Granth.40 In an interview with Surya, Giani Puran Singh, the Head Granthi of Harmandar Sahib told that he showed the bullet marks on Harmandar Sahib, to Indira Gandhi, when she visited the Shrine on June 23. He also told her that 700 copies of Guru Granth Sahib had been burnt. “Avtar Singh, one of the members of the Ragi Jatha, died right in Harmandar Sahib and yet they say that not even a bullet was fired at Harmandar Sahib.”41
Even the most moderate accounts put the number of slain in the Complex at three thousand.42 According to some other estimates, the number was eight thousand and even more.43 The Government White Paper put the number of dead at 493 and the number of injured at 86 in the Golden Temple Complex.44 In addition, it put the number of dead at 59 and injured at 35 in other Gurdwaras during this “operation.”45 The military experts believe that the ratio of dead and injured in almost every warfare is one to five. This casts serious doubts on the figures given by the Government. But till this day the Government has not released the list of people killed in the action. Among the victims were not only the young men who had put up resistance against the army but also hundreds of innocent pilgrims and priests, old men and women, newly wed couples and young mothers with babies in their arms. The promiscuous carnage was executed without discrimination of innocence or guilt, age or sex. According to Ram Narayan Kumar and Georg Sieberer, “The army which had suffered a heavy toll in three days of battle went berserk and killed every Sikh to be found inside the temple complex. They were hauled out of the rooms, brought to corridors in the circumference of the Temple, and with hands tied to their back, were shot in cold blood. Among the victims were many old men, women and children.”46
The White Paper issued by the Government put the number of army men killed at 84 and the injured at 249.47 Whereas according to Brahma Chellaney, the army lost about two hundred soldiers.48 Three months later Rajiv Gandhi, while addressing the Nagpur session of the National Students Union in September, 1984 said that 700 soldiers and officers were killed in the ‘operation’.49 An army communication newsletter No 152 also admitted that "the troops had to pay high price and suffered heavy casualties.”50 The soldiers who lost their lives in the action were paid one lac Rupees each and other pensionary benefits to the next of their kin. Soldiers who had lost their lives in the Wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971 were not given these benefits. Some of the soldiers and officers were given promotions and were decorated with gallantry awards for their “heroic feats.” Generals R S Dayal and T S Oberoi were elevated to the rank of Lt Governors after their retirement.
Brahma Chellaney of the Associated Press (AP) of USA, the only foreign correspondent who managed to stay in Amritsar during the storming of the Darbar Sahib, revealed on the basis of interviews with affected persons, including the doctors and the police officials, that many of the Sikhs killed during the attack were shot at point-blank range, with their hands tied at the back with their turbans.51 The entire ‘operation’ became a by-word for army brutalities.
Even though the Akal Takhat had turned into a rubble with the tank shells and army had established its control over the entire Complex, the soldiers still took out their wrath on the unarmed and innocent pilgrims who had been trapped inside. The army men were seen at their worst behaving like a communal and grossly insensitive force slaughtering people like rats. Communal passions had been aroused due to repeated pronouncements made by the Government media and the national press that the Sikhs were asking for Khalistan. Before launching the ‘operation’, the army Generals had drilled into the heads of the rank and file that the 'enemy' wanted an independent Sikh state and was posing a threat to the country's integrity, which they had all sworn to uphold.52 But even as the entire state apparatus had been communalised, it was even more dangerous to politicise and communalise the army. The communal frenzy which gripped the army destroyed its image beyond repair. The army, though consisting of heterogenous elements had a name for fighting as a united force against a common alien enemy. The atrocities and sacrilege committed by the soldiers in the Darbar Sahib horrified the Sikhs, who had given their sons to the army with so much love and pride. Even when the resistance from the defenders of the Temple had been overcome, they killed with vengeance hundreds of pilgrims, who could not go out due to the sudden imposition of the curfew.
Grenades and poisonous gas shells were thrown at the men, women and children, who had locked themselves in the rooms, bathrooms and toilets of Guru Nanak Niwas, Guru Ram Das Serai and Teja Singh Samundri Hall. Those who tried to come out were pierced with bayonets and shot dead. Some soldiers out of vengeance caught hold of small babies and children by their feet, lifted them up in the air and then smashed them against the walls and thus breaking their skulls.53 The eyewitness accounts collected by the CFD expose the army’s claim of using restraint. According to the Report, on June 7, twenty eight persons were pushed inside a strong room without any ventilation and locked. When the room was opened, 14 of them were dead. Bodies were left to rot inside the room and then burnt. “This was free India’s Jallianwala Bagh leaving the old Jallianwala Bagh of the British days far behind in the number of killed and the manner of killing,”54 observed the Report. There are several independent human rights organisations in India, including the Citizens For Democracy. In September, 1985, the CFD released a booklet, ‘Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab.’ This document was banned the very next day after its release.
A Naik of Kumaon Regiment who participated in Bluestar narrated the events of the fateful night of June 5 and 6 to ‘Probe India.’ Relieved to be returning home safely, he recounted the gory details while sitting in the compartment of the Amritsar-Hawraw Mail: “On the morning of June 6, the Golden Temple Complex was like a graveyard. Bodies lay all around in buildings, on the Parikarma and in the Sarovar. The sun was shining and the stench from the bodies was becoming unbearable. Bodies of Jawans were identified and handed over to their respective regiments. I, myself carried the bodies of three soldiers on my shoulders. Each regiment conducted the funeral rites of their various jawans. The civilians who died, about 1500 of them, were piled in trollies and carried away. A lot of them were thrown into the rivers. The battle was a tragic one. I couldn't eat anything. Food made me sick. I used to just drink lots of rum and go to sleep. I am glad now to be relieved of my duty in Amritsar.”55
Mary Anne Weaver, a correspondent of Sunday Times, London reported, “The army may be operating under ‘take-no-prisoners’ orders and wanted few militants to survive.”56 She made this observation on the basis of diplomatic sources in Delhi.
It was reported that a woman who pleaded with a soldier to get some water for her child dying of thirst was told, “Why should we serve you water? Have we come here to kill you or serve you water ?” Addressing another one who made a similar request, he retorted, “Not long ago they were saying that we won’t give any water to Haryana or to Rajasthan. You bastards, now, none of you will get water even to drink.”57
On the basis of information gathered from reliable sources, Simaranjit Singh Mann wrote a letter to President Zail Singh. "The Indian armed forces I have now learnt had orders not to take any prisoners, a fact which I have mentioned in my resignation letter. After the operation into the Golden Temple was completed, a hundred children within the age group of eight to twelve years, who were students of the Damdama Sahib Taksal (Order), (Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala was the Jathedar of this Taksal), were lined upon the Parikarma (Circumambulation) of the Golden Temple and asked individually by an army officer whether they “still wanted Khalistan.” Each looked up towards heaven as if to seek some divine inspiration and as each received it he uttered the Sikh slogan ‘Jo Bole So Nehal.’ One by one as each Sikh child took this pledge he was shot dead by the jawans of the Indian Army. None amongst them asked for mercy or for a moment faltered in giving a courageous reply to their evil captors. They died to the last upholding the glory and traditions of the Sikh faith.”58
We are giving below some eyewitness accounts of the happenings inside the Darbar Sahib Complex.
Duggal records : “At about 4 am in the early hours of the morning of June 4, the regular Army attack on the temple started with a 25-pounder which fell in the ramparts of the Deori to the left of Akal Takhat Sahib with such a thunder that for a few moments I thought that the whole complex had collapsed. I along with my wife were then sitting in the verandah of my house adjacent to the Sikh Reference Library. Recovering from the initial shock, we moved into the room and took shelter in one of its corners. Thereafter, every second the ferocity of firing increased and it continued unabated till the evening of the 6th June.
As we were on the first floor and our quarter was open on all sides, our position was very vulnerable. The bullets hit our quarters on all sides and some of them pierced through the doors and landed inside the room. To add to our miseries, the power and water supplies had been cut. Through a slit in the shutter of a window we saw a large number of dead bodies in the Parikarma of the Golden Temple. They included women and children. We could not leave our room. Coming out in the open would have exposed us to sure death.”59
“The helicopters hovered above and continued to fire from above. Some of these helicopters also guided the firing squads of the Army by making a circle of light around the targets. Immediately after these circles, the cannon balls would land on the targets causing havoc. We saw a large number of boys blown to pieces.”60
Citizens for Democracy group records the evidence of one young College going girl in the following words: “They continued the firing till the evening of June 5 and then it was about 8.30 p.m. It was completely dark when they entered, accompanied by very heavy firing. The blasting was so severe that I thought that I had reached some other world.”61
She said, “We were 40-50 persons huddled together in the room, including women and children, also a child of six months. In the next room were the pilgrims who had come on June 3 to celebrate Gurpurb but they had been trapped.”62
She continued, “The upper portion of the Akal Takhat had been fired at by the Army and completely destroyed. Pieces of the Guru Granth Sahib were flying in the air and littering the ground. The place seemed to have been transformed into a haunted house...There were some among us who were frantic for some water, they came out in the open. In the morning I saw the dead bodies lying in the Parikarma. This was the worst kind of treachery.”63
Giani Puran Singh, a priest at the Harmandir Sahib and also an eyewitness remembers: “At 7.30 p.m. on 5th, I went to Sri Akal Takhat where I met Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with whom I had a long satisfying talk while shots were ringing outside. At 10.00 p.m., the tanks started entering the complex and the barrage of shooting from without became more intense as heavy armour began to be used. At this stage, an armoured carrier entered and stood beside the Sarovar. The lights on this carrier, when switched on, bathed the whole complex in bright light. We were viewing all this perched in the main dome of Harmandar Sahib and thought that probably the fire brigade had come to get water for extinguishing fires raging throughout the city. But we were proved wrong when this vehicle came down to the Parikarma and started firing. From both sides the tanks started closing in, from clock tower to the Brahm Buta the tanks set fire to all rooms, while desperate people collected water from the Sarovar to extinguish the fires. Loud cries and wails of both women and children rent the air. A vigorous battle ensued and the Darshani Deoris of Clock Tower and Atta Mandi along the Serais (rest houses) were in Army control by 10 o'clock, the next day (June 6). The 40-50 youth who had been holding the forces fought bravely till either they were killed or the ammunition was exhausted. From about 10 in the night till 4.30 the next morning, we were on the roof of Darbar Sahib.”64
“At 2 a.m. on June 6”, said Pirthipal Singh, Sewadar at the Akal Rest House, "the Army people came to the Rest House. They tore off all my clothes, stripped me naked, my kirpan was snatched, my head gear (patka) was untied to tie up my hands behind my back. They caught me by my hair and took me along with five others, who were all pilgrims to the ruins of the water tank; there we were made to stand in a line all naked for an hour or so; we were told, “Don’t move or you’ll be shot.” They kept hitting us with the rifle butts. Then a Major came and ordered a solider, shoot them, then shouted at us, “You must be Bhindran-wale's Chelas? You want Khalistan?”, I said, “I am here to do my duty. I have nothing to do with all this.” “Six of us were in a line facing the Major, when a Pahari soldier started shooting from one end, killing four of us (with 3 bullets each). As my turn was coming, suddenly a Sikh officer turned up and ordered, “Stop shooting.” Thus I was saved. The Sikh officer was told, “these people have ammunitions.” At that he ordered them to lock us in a room. Two of us were locked up in a room in Guru Ram Das Serai, but we did not talk nor did I ask the other man’s name. On 7th June, the door was opened at about 8 or 9 in the morning. We had gone without water. The floor was covered with blood. I was allowed to leave.”65
According to Bhan Singh, on June 6 at 4 a.m., he was arrested along with Longowal and Tohra. He says, “We were encircled by the Army people, throughout the day from 4 a.m. till 5 p.m. when Sant Longowal and Jathedar Tohra were taken to the Army Camp, but I, along with many others, was kept inside the compound of Guru Ram Das Serai. We were taken away to the Army Camp at about 9.30 p.m.”66
On the morning of June 6, a girl student, daughter of a SGPC employee, staying in the Complex, opened her room and came to fetch water. She said, “I saw nothing but piles of dead bodies, all stacked one over the other. At first I instinctively felt that I wouldn't manage to go out. All I could see was a ceaseless mound of dead bodies. It seemed that out of all the persons who were staying in the Parikarma, not one had survived.”67
The narrations of Bhan Singh, Harcharan Siagh Ragi, Giani Puran Singh and the girl student tear apart the Government issued “White Paper” that the Army had been instructed ‘to treat all apprehended persons with dignity and consideration’ and also that “no women and children were killed in the action by the troops.”68
Bhan Singh remembers: “On the 6th morning when hundreds of people were killed or wounded, everywhere there were cries of those people who were wounded and injured but there was no provision for their dressings and there were no Red Cross people within the Complex... Many young people aged between 18 and 22 years were killed and so were some ladies. A lady carrying a child of only a few months saw her husband lying before her. The child was also killed on account of the firing. It was a very touching scene when she placed the dead body of the child alongside her husband’s body. Many people were crying for drinking water but they were not provided any. Some had to take water out of the drains where dead bodies were lying and the water was red with blood. The way the injured were quenching their thirst was an aweful sight which could not be tolerated. The Army people were there, moving about mercilessly without showing any sign of sympathy with those injured or wounded. Those who were under arrest were not provided any facility of water or food or any other thing of that sort. The clothes of those who were arrested were removed and they were only left with shorts. Their turbans, shirts, etc., were all removed and heaped together. Such a brutal treatment was given to them, as if they were aliens and not the citizens of the country to which the forces belonged.”69
“There were about 27-28 persons with us, 5 of them ladies, some elderly men, the rest young boys... Out of the remaining male youths, they picked up four and took off their turbans with which they tied their hands behind their backs. Then the Army men beat these 4 Sikh boys with the butts of their rifles till they fell on the ground and started bleeding. They kept telling the boys all along, “You are terrorists. You will be shot.” These boys were shot dead right in front of me. They looked completely innocent. Neither they seemed to know how to use a rifle, nor did they seem to know the meaning of ‘terrorism’. They were shot before my eyes. Their age was between 18 and 20 years. I did not know who they were - circumstances had brought us together. Whenever I recollect that scene; I seem to lose my bearings,”70 says the girl student.
She says, “Then they (the Army people) surrounded me and started questioning me. I told my grand-mother not to speak a word to them as they were speaking only with bullets. I asked them whether they had come to protect us or to finish us. I said my grandfather was a Colonel in the Army...The Army man incharge then asked his colleagues to leave me and my family members. He told me to go away quickly. And so we were saved.”71
Giani Puran Singh narrates : “At 4.30 a.m. on June 6, Guru Granth Sahib was brought down, Parkash done and the Hukamnama taken, the Kirtan of Asa-di-Vaar started. This Kirtan was not done by the appointed Ragi Jatha (Hymn Singers) but by members of Bhai Randhir Singh Jatha, one member of which Avtar Singh of Purewal was later martyred inside the Darbar Sahib. The official Jatha of Bhai Amrik Singh had been martyred at the Darshani Deori the previous day. Bhai Avtar Singh was hit by a bullet which tore through the southern door, one of which is still embedded in the Guru Granth Sahib which is there since Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time. Time passed and at 4.00 p.m. on June 6, some poisonous gas was spread and the Akal Takhat was captured. Without this gas, the forces could not have been able to gain the Akal Takhat. At 4.30, the Commandant Brar spoke from a speaker on the Southern Deori that all living people should surrender. All those who had come face to face with the forces had been eliminated. We (I and Giani Mohan Singh) asked all the 22 within the Darbar Sahib to surrender and told the Commanding Officer that two priests had stayed behind and, if need be, he could send his men for them. He did not agree with them and called aloud on the speaker that we should come with raised hands. We decided against this because if we were shot on the way it would merely be a waste. We were in the Darbar Sahib till 7.30 when two soldiers and a sewadar were sent to fetch us. While on our way out I stopped to pour a handful of water in the mouth of the wounded member of the Jatha, who asked us to send for help. I promised to do so provided I remained alive. General Brar told us that he too was a Sikh and then enquired as to what we proposed to do. We told him that we wanted to go to the urinal. Then we were questioned of the whereabout of Santji and were told that he would not be harmed. We told them that they knew better as they were in command. We were questioned; whether any machine gunnists were operating from Darbar Sahib to which we said that they were welcome to inspect the premises themselves. Five persons accompanied us to the Harmandar, one Sikh officer and 3-4 others. When we started, the Sikh officer insisted that we should lead because if firing started, from within, we would face it because we would be shot if someone shot from within. When we reached the Harmandar, a search was carried out by them, picking and searching below every carpet but no sign of firing was traced. Meanwhile, the wounded member left behind had passed away. His body was placed in a white sheet, brought out and placed alongwith various others lying outside.”72
Apart from the wanton killings, the army set the Sikh Reference Library and Archives, Toshakhana and Museum on fire in a fit of revengeful vandalism. Hundreds of copies of the Holy Granth, Hukamnamas (edicts) bearing the signatures of the Sikh Gurus and extremely valuable rare manuscripts dating back to the times of the Gurus were destroyed. This took place when the army had taken control of the Complex and the announcement to this effect had been made by the All India Radio. The buildings of Guru Ram Das Serai, Guru Nanak Niwas and the SGPC office in the Teja Singh Samundri Hall were also set on fire. According to Bhan Singh, the army had removed all the records of the SGPC and the building was set on fire subsequently so as to provide an alibi that all the records had been burnt. Ramesh Inder Singh who had taken charge as the new Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar is said to have contacted the army authorities and wanted to send fire tenders to extinguish the fire but he was not given permission to do so.
An eyewitness account of Devinder Singh Duggal is worth recording. He told a team of the CFD that as he had left the Complex on 6 June all those buildings were in good shape in spite of the army attack. On 14th June, 1984, Duggal was arrested by the army and taken inside the Darbar Sahib to take charge of the Library. When he told the army authorities that the Library was no where, he was told that he had no option but to sign a typed receipt to the effect that he had taken over the charge of the Library.73 Duggal, who was in a state of shock, refused to take charge of the ashes of the Library.74 According to the official version, the Library caught fire accidently due to the heavy machine gun fire released by Bhindranwale's men, who had taken positions in the Library. According to the eyewitnesses the Library was in control of Brigadier A K Dewan and his men. According to Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, “The Garhwals did manage to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. Their commanding officer reported this to his Brigadier, A K Dewan.”75 Both Duggal and Bhan Singh reported that the Library was intact on the afternoon of June 6.76 This belies the official version. Evidently, army deliberately set the Library on fire. In an interview with Mark Tully, Bhai Ashok Singh said, “Any army which wants to destroy a nation destroys its culture. That is why the Indian army burnt the library.”77
Giani Kirpal Singh, Jathedar Akat Takhat told Surya: “The Government wanted to destroy Sikh history. Otherwise, how do you explain the fire in the Sikh Reference Library? The archives were set on fire two days after the army action. It was a historical collection of ancient books, Khardas (manuscripts), handwritten historical beeds (Holy books), some of them were even written by the Gurus, Janam Sakhis (biographical sketches of Gurus), Hukumnamas (commandments of Akal Takht) which were of the greatest importance as the Sikhs regularly referred to them for their research.”78
Later in an interview with the Tribune, Duggal pointed out that there were about 20,000 books in the Library, "not even one book has survived the ‘holocaust’. There were over 500 handwritten manuscripts related to the Sikh tenets, scriptures and history. There was also a library of 250 odd wooden blocks related to historic events, personalities and saints.”79
Lt General J S Aurora, who visited the Temple, a month after the bloody attack, observed: “I went to Amritsar on 6th July, visited the Golden Temple and talked to the Army authorities and others who were there during Army operation. The damage to the entire complex was much beyond what was reported in the media news or the press. It was difficult not to feel hurt and to control one's anguish.”80
Eyewitness accounts reveal that the Red Cross was not allowed to enter the Complex in aid of the wounded. Many people died of thirst as they were not allowed to drink water. Pool of nectar (Sarovar) was converted into a pool of blood with the throwing of dead bodies into it. Many people were said to have quenched their thirst with the water from the pool mixed with blood. Water supply to the Complex had been cut off.
The dead were robbed of their money and ornaments. The money from the Temple golaks (money boxes) was also taken away.81 Some historical paintings in the museum were found missing. The missing items also included rare coins, albums, a rosary presented by Maharaja Dalip Singh and a hand-embroided picture of Guru Nanak presented by the famous Pakistani Singer Malika Pukhraj and her daughter Tahira.82
The authorities did not bother to identify the dead or to record the number of casualties. The precincts of the Shrine were seen littered with dead bodies for three days after the ‘operation’. The doctors who were entrusted with the task of performing post-mortem over the highly decomposed bodies could not sleep for several nights. Later on, it was decided to dispense with the formality of post-mortem. Subash Kirepaker reported: “The disposal of corpses posed a great problem. So much so that seven truck cleaners behind my hotel were rounded up one morning and threatened with dire consequences if they did not do as ordered. But, they stubbornly refused. So the scouts then went to contact some sweepers. They too refused. But when offered liquor and the lure of owning whatever was found on the corpses, be it gold chain, ring or cash, goes the story, they agreed. Some of them have made tidy fortunes in the bargain.”83
A sweeper described the gruesome sight in these words: “The bodies had been lying in the scorching heat of June for two days. When we tried to lift a body by the limbs, flesh simply came into our hands. We tore turbans and dupattas of the dead to tie them around their limbs in order to lift and carry them on stretchers to the nearby trucks (generally used for carrying garbage) to be dumped at Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital for post-mortem. From there the dead bodies were taken to the Chatiwind cremation ground for mass cremation.”84
Another sweeper recalled: “In one room a number of corpses lay one atop another. There was ankle-deep congealed blood all around. It appears some people, who had been hiding there, were discovered by some jawans and shot at point-blank range.”85
It was reported that the dead bodies were loaded and carried in the garbage trucks of the Municipal Committee, dumped together and burnt by pouring kerosene oil, diesel and petrol on them. Since some of the bodies were highly decomposed and kerosene oil could not completely destroy the human flesh, the stench did not go away for a period of two weeks or even more. Brahma Chellaney reported the following account given by the man on duty at the city crematory: “I twice visited the main city crematory on 9 and 11 June to check the fatality toll in the Golden Temple assault... Bodies were being brought in municipal garbage truck round-the-clock since early 6 June. ‘We have been really busy. To add to our woes, we don’t have enough wood to burn the dead, and so we are cremating them in heaps of twenty or more, said the crematory official. Near the Golden Temple, I saw an estimated 50 corpses in a large rubbish lorry that had sewage still smeared on its outer body. From the back of the grey truck, at least two masculine legs were sticking out and from the left side one could see the hanging forehead and the long flowing hair on an apparently unturbaned Sikh. As I peeped into the truck from the back, I could see dead bodies of at least two women and a child. That night it was difficult to sleep; I kept thinking of the dead bodies.”
“On 10 June, a UNI reporter and I saw the dehydrated body of a petty shopkeeper, who apparently had died of starvation and thirst, being pulled out from a wayside stall by troops about two kilometers from the Golden Temple. Later, the district police chief admitted in confidence that six people and more than 1,000 buffaloes had died of starvation because of the strictly-enforced curfew. In Amritsar's Green Avenue, where I stayed with the Air Force Officer, babies had no milk to drink and residents were mostly eating lentils and home made bread. A village milkman who tried to bring milk to the area in violation of the curfew was shot dead by soldiers. From my three military sources, I gathered that 106 people had been killed between 4 and 10 June by army firing on crowds of Sikh villagers trying to march to the Golden Temple.”86
The Guardian, London, in its issue of June 26, 1984, observed: “In Amritsar, people have yet to recover from the trauma of the three-day battle between the troops and the Sikh extremists inside the Temple. Residents, particularly of the areas adjoining the Temple, talk of nights of terror when mortar shells whined over their heads and sharpnels struck their houses. Hundreds of houses and shops surrounding the Temple, the hub of the city, were reduced to rubble in the crossfire. At a conservative estimate, more than 500 buildings have been destroyed. Many of those who died are believed to have been indoors when the ancient buildings collapsed under fire. Bodies are still being dug from the debris. All the bodies cannot be recovered till the entire area is demolished. The destruction has left nearly 30,000 people homeless. Thousands gather at the site every day to survey the remains of what were their homes and shops.”
The Observer, London, (June 9, 1984) reported: “Outside the Golden Temple scores of buildings have been reduced to rubble. Flies outnumber people who stand around in mournful groups outside their damaged homes. Foreign reporters have not been allowed inside the inner walled city which has been badly damaged by shell-fire. Four of the seven bazaars have been hit by shells and partially destroyed.”
1. Government of India; White Paper on the Punjab Agitation (New Delhi, 1984), p 43
2. Oppression in Punjab, p 58.
3. Tully, Mark and Jacob Satish; Amritsar Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle (New Delhi, 1985), p 145.
4. Ibid.,p 142.
6. White Paper, p 109.
7. Tragedy of Punjab, p 91.
8. White Paper, p 109.
9. Sunday Times, London, June 10, 1984.
10. The Tribune, June 3, 1984.
11. Oppression in Punjab, p 59.
12. Ibid., p 60.
13. Gian Singh, Gyani; Twarikh-i-Guru Khalsa (Patiala, -1923), p 18.
14. Indian Express, June 17, 1984.
15. Mann, Simranjit Singh; ‘Letter to President Zail Singh in Dharam, S.S.; op. cit, p 232.
16. Kirapekar, Subash; ‘Operation Bluestar; An Eyewitness Account' in Amarjit Kaur, Shourie, Arun et.al ; Punjab Story (New Delhi. 1984), p 78.
19. Oppression in Punjab, p 57.
20. Ibid, p 60.
21. Sunday Times, London, June 10, 1984.
22. Kirapekar, Subash; op. cit., p 81.
23. Dharam, S.S.; op. cit., p 41.
24. Chellaney, Brahma; 'An Eye Account' in Samiuddin Abida; op. cit., p 181.
25. Harminder Kaur; op. cit., P 20.
26. Kirapekar, Subash; ‘Amritsar Diary’ in Simuiddin, Abida (ed.); op. cit., p 172.
27. Brar, K.S.; ‘It was a Difficult Task’ in Samuiddin, Abida; op. cit., p 164.
28. Karlekar, Hiranmay: ‘Guerilla action in Punjab? - I’ in Indian Express, August.23, 1984.
29. Tully, Mark and Jacob, Satish; op., cit., p 182.
30. Ibid., p 175.
32. Ibid., p 183.
33. Tavleen Singh; ‘Terrorists in the Temple’ in Punjab Story, pp 48-49.
35. Indian Express, July 2, 1984.
36. Tavleen Singh; op. cit., pp 48-49.
38. Pritam Singh; ‘The Role of the Media’ in Amrik Singh (Ed,); Punjab in Indian Politics (Delhi, 1985), p 163.
39. Telegraph, London, June 15, 1984.
40. Tragedy of Punjab, p 102.
41. Surya, August, 1984.
42. Tragedy of Punjab, p 109.
43. Dharam, S.S.; op. cit., p 43.
44. White Paper, p 169.
46. Kumar, Ram Narayan and Sieberer, Georg; The Sikh Struggle (Delh i, 1991), p 265.
47. White Paper, p 169.
48. Chellaney, Brahma; op. cit., p 183.
49. Tragedy of Punjab, p 108.
50. Harminder Kaur; op. cit., p 4 7.
51. Chellaney, Brahma; op. cit., p 185.
52. Tragedy of Punjab, p 94.
53. Harminder Kaur; op. cit., p 38.
54. Oppression in Punjab, p 11.
55. Probe India, August, 1984.
56. Sunday Times, London, June 10, 1984.
57. Harminder Kaur; op. cit., p 39.
58. Mann, Simranjit Singh’s Letter to President Zail Singh in Dharam, S.S.; op. cit., p 231.
59. Oppression in Punjab, pp 59-60.
60. Ibid., p 61
61. Ibid., p 63.
64. Ibid., pp 64-65.
65. Ibid., p 67.
66. Ibid., pp 67-68.
67. Ibid., p 68.
68. Ibid., p 69.
69. Ibid., pp 69-70.
70. Ibid., pp 70-71.
71. Ibid., p 71.
72. Ibid., p 72.
73. Ibid., pp 66-67.
75. Tully, Mark and Jacob, Satish; op. cit., p 163.
76. Oppression in Punjab, p 67; Harminder Kaur; op. cit., p 45
77. Tully, Mark and Jacob, Satish; op. cit., p 176.
78. Surya, August, 1984.
79. The Tribune, July 4, 1984.
80. The Punjab Story, p 92.
81. Harminder Kaur, op. cit., p 45.
83. Kirepaker, Subash in The Punjab Story, p 83.
84. Harminder Kaur; op. cit., p 46.
86. Chellaney, Brahma; ‘An Eye Account’ in Samuiddin, Abida; op. cit., p 182.
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