Operation Blue Star was the codename for the attack on the Akal Takhat and the Golden Temple complex on June 1st till the 6th in 1984. On the orders of the Prime Minister of India at that time, Indira Gandhi, the Indian army invaded the Harminder Sahib Complex, also known as the Golden Temple complex. At the time of the operation, close to 100,000 army troops had been deployed throughout Punjab. Operation Blue Star was a massacre event that commenced much discrimination against Sikhs and it should not go unpunished for.
The Sikhs suffered through 20 years all due to a baseless attack of Operation Blue Star in 1984 that lead to Indira Gandhi’s Assassination a few months later and the Anti-Sikh Riots. From that time until the early 90’s, Punjab was a witness to many human right violations from the government passiveness and police brutality. Operation Blue Star was an attack in a Sikh religious shrine that had no strong base. India’s Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, resented Sikh leaders for their opposition during the state of emergency she had declared in 1975. Mrs.
Ghandi and her congress party were determined of finding a way to divide the Sikh politicians in the Punjab. The idea was to produce a Sikh leader, unbeknown to him and to project him as an extreme militant who appeared or should appear as though he was articulating the concerns of all Sikhs. However, around this time, there was a Sikh revivalist movement lead by the charismatic preacher, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale that swept the Punjab. In 1983, Bhindranwale and his armed followers took over the Akal Takhat building in the Golden Temple Complex.
For the Sikhs, the Akal Takhat is second only in importance to the Harminder Sahib itself (the Golden Temple). Law and order in the Punjab continued to deteriorate. By the end of May, there was already a state-wide blackout in Punjab and an imposed curfew of 9 a. m. till 4 p. m. Particularly in Amritsar, where the Golden Temple is located, the water supply and electricity were removed. By the 2nd of June, 1984, Mrs. Ghandi took the decision to finally remove the threat of Bhindranwale and his men. Rather than sending in the police, she sent in the army with their tanks to the prestigious Golden Temple.
Also, she did this during one of the Golden Temple’s major religious events. The timing of the assault on the Golden Temple was in one word, diabolical. We must not forget that Punjab at this stage was saturated with intelligence agencies and their agents in moulds. Are we expected to believe that they completely overlooked the fact that it was the death anniversary (Shaheedi Purb) of the founder of the Golden Temple, Siri Guru Arjun Dev Ji, and timed the assault to that time, when pilgrims are coming from all over the world to be there on that hallowed occasion?
Inside the complex was Surinder Kaur Nanda, the wife of the Golden Temple’s Information Officer. She says they had no idea that the army would attack the Golden Temple because everybody comes to the Golden Temple to say their prayers and to bow their heads before Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh’s 11th Guru and Holy Book. Immediate blackout was imposed as the army readied itself for what it codenamed Operation Blue Star. We heard noises of bombardment at the Akal Takhat, noises of people dying, crying with pain. And we heard noises of shoes, shoes of the army men entering the Golden Temple.
Shoes are not permitted in the complex to show respect to God. They, however, entered the Golden Temple along with their shoes and didn’t care for any respect, regard or religion. Bhindranwale, however, did not hold back. When the army was finally given permission to fire on the Akal Takhat where Bhindranwale held up, the tide turned against the militants but at great cost to the sacred building. Bhindranwale’s body was found in the night of June the 6th but the exact way he died still remains a mystery. Weapons allegedly recovered from the militants were displayed to the world.
The casualties, however, were not. Official’s figures for the totalities were 83 soldiers and 492 militants and civilians, including 30 women and 5 children. Unofficial estimates went into the thousands, over 5000. When survivors came out from inside, they saw dead bodies lying here and there and witnessed a bad smell coming out. Their own people had attacked fellow Indian people. For the Army’s 9th division to be ordered and suppress the people into such a small complex, it’s shocking. There’s truly no comparison in history.
Yes, the Indian government had attacked Indians and the Sikhs will never forget this, for what it brought afterwards. Mrs. Ganhdi was assassinated in November of 1984. By the afternoon, one learned that they were her two Sikh bodyguards that killed her. It was an act of revenge of the thousands of innocents that were denied a proper death. It was at night that the mob started coming around on trucks, with cans of oil and petrol, matches and iron rods. Much like the rest of India, in Delhi, the mobs burnt up Sikh taxis, Sikh temples, Sikh factories, Sikh homes and Sikh shops.
There were armed police men standing by doing nothing. Citizens were shocked. “This is what a Jew must have felt like in Nazi Germany. I, an Indian, have become a refugee in my own country. ” Some of the worst violence took place in Trilokpuri, a suburb of Delhi, where Sikhs and Hindus lived in close quarters. Husbands and sons were dragged out of their homes and beat with knives and swords, drowned in petrol and burned alive. Bodies were stacked up and set alight on the sides of the street.
The Congress parties were entirely and completely responsible for what had happened in Delhi after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. The killings, the burnings, the lootings, the rapes, this was all entirely due to the Congress Party. They controlled the federal government in the Centre and they controlled the Delhi Administration. Everything was under them and it could all have been easily stopped in one day. By the time of Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral, most of the violence had subsided but senior members of the Parliament were accused of not only negligence but eventual complicity of the killings.
What was very clear was that there was a certain sort of methodology in the way the mobs moved; it was not random. If Sikh houses were singled out, it was because they were already listed and those lists were available from the Municipal Corporation: which property is where, who is paying how much tax, who is living on what number on what street. Police stations have recorded many telephone calls where Sikhs were pleading for help, but no action was taken. It would seem as though a community of 13 million Sikhs were being held ransom for the act of what three Sikhs had done.
There have been acts of violence against Sikhs and their properties in practically every part of the country. There was a hatred growing at an exponential rate against the Sikhs. The police officials, however, deemed everything to be in the norm. There were more than 16, 000 Sikhs in the refugee camps set outside Delhi, who were lucky enough to escape with their lives. Almost every family had a story of murder, burning and beating to tell. The camps were filled with widows and families mourning over their horrific experiences. Many were washing outside in the gutters on the side of the road.
Sikhs place great importance on their cleanliness and the religion calls for an uncut beard and long hair. However, many men had their heads shaved by the mobs, as a graphic act against Sikhism. Doctors were volunteers and the food was arranged by the Sikhs themselves as the government refused to address the problem, since they insisted that the situation was normal and that the Sikh population was exaggerating the events. The fear of violence recurring has lead many thousands of the 3 million Sikhs living outside the Punjab to abandon their homes and go to their native state.
The Sikhs were left in a very insecure position. The anti-Sikh riots after Gandhi’s assassination and the attack on the Golden Temple had increased Sikh militancy and armed separatism, which was the reason behind the few years of suffering of the Sikhs in their native state of Punjab. There were many human right violations as the government responded to the increase in Sikh militancy and armed separatism by plunging a massive security force into Punjab. The authorities earned a notorious reputation for human rights violations.
Punjab became a police state for several years afterwards. As one walked along the streets, there were police vehicles with officers pointing guns at the citizens. Human Right violations, particularly of custodian murders, explain the way of deaths that have presumably occurred in armed encounters, have been fairly common. It is generally acknowledges that only some of the official reports of armed encounters involving exchange of fire between the Indian security forces and armed Sikh groups are genuine.
When they do take place, the Security Forces try to keep the forces. However, most of the time, the reports of deaths and encounters are concocted in the sense that they are afterthoughts, which aim to explain the custodial killings. Innocent people have been taken out at night to the police district and have been tortured and shot. Government officials privately admit that the custodial killings of non-militants are common. They argue that they have no other way to de-moralize a terrorist movement, which enjoys the measure of sympathy in Punjab’s countryside.
The women were subjected to illegal detainment, rape and sometimes killed at the police stations. Promotions for more encounters you do (terrorists). The end goal was achieved: Khalistan supporters died. The courage (craze) of conviction of the people in Punjab is not easily daunted, even if they must suffer great hardships in the process. More than 2000 people in the Amritsar District alone were reported missing. Official evidence was uncovered by Jaspal Singh Dhillon’s persistent inquiry where the Punjab police had cremated several thousands as unidentified and unclaimed bodies.
I don’t know of any history in more recent times where the police resolves political issues. It has not worked in Punjab over the last 2 decades. There is no way to assume that Punjab is now completely at peace because below the surface, the same resentment are present. Many of the grievances are unaddressed and those who have lost lives due to police brutality, their families and others are now added to those who already had grievances. What kind of justice is it when the government-supporting killers go free?