Akal Takhat - The Attack
Besides the historic weapons carried by Sikhs, the kirpans and khandas, the group which had fortified the historic Takhat, with rifles, assault weapons & grenades, numbered no more than 250. The Golden Temple, the surrounding Bungas and guest houses and Langar were filled with 2,000 or more pilgrims, guests and employees of the complex. Many had come to visit the Temple on the day associated with the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan.
The Army commanders had thought that the size and might of the forces employed to route the Takht's occupiers would convince the Singhs to surrender, but in a long tradition that has seen the Harmandir Sahib sacked and all but destroyed many times in the past, almost all of the Singhs had chosen to stand their ground, to fight and to fall as their historic, legendary Khalsa brothers of the past had done, so many times before, as martyrs defending this holiest site of the Sikh religion from another invasion.
In the attack around 1,600 innocent pilgrims, men, women and children, were also killed in the operation which saw the use of heavy artillery, rockets and tanks being employed, as well. More than 3000 soldiers of the Indian army from many different states, were killed during the attack with more than double that number injured.
Operation BluestarSome history leading up to the attack.
On 13th April 1977, the head of the fake Nirankaris named Gurbachan led a procession in Amritsar. Earlier he had declared that "If Guru Gobind Singh can make five beloved one's, he will make seven stars". The fake Nirankaris are strongly associated with Arya Samajis and other such organization which came out of need to reform Hinduism, they were seeking to free Hinduism from its age old superstitions and rituals—the same rituals that Guru Nanak had rebuffed even in his childhood. However, instead of targeting the common Hindu awash in such ritualism, this movement's individuals spearheaded their efforts towards the Sikhs.
The fake Nirankaris, and another group of the same ilk, the Arya Samajis, wanted the Sikhs to shave off their beards, doff their turbans and doubtless shear their long hair, losing many of their ties to Guru Gobind Singh's 5 Kakars, and assimilate into Hinduism (or Hinduism, as they saw it, with such rituals as "Havan"). So on the occasion of Vasakhi, the very day that the Khalsa was born , the same day of the Jallawalian Bagh massacre--Gurbachan Nirankari had the unmitagated gall to lead an armed mob right through Amritsar, to the Holy Takhat (for Sikhs the Eternal Throne of Akaal Purack.)
Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale was, at this time, a little known preacher, who would visit villages and preach to youngsters to reaffirm the essential credos of their Gurus and return to Sikhi. The Akhand Kirtani Jatha (an Akali group with a totally opposing viewpoint, to say the least), with its leaders, set out from the Akal Takht to stop Gurbachan Nirankari for his inflamatory, "Creating five stars" boast, a non-to-suttle suggestion that he would best Guru Gobind Singh ji. Gurbachan and his armed accomplices opened fire on the Akalis and, one by one, a total of 13 Akalis were killed.
After this incident, Bhindrenwale's reputation as, a young Lion of Lions, a potentially powerful Sikh leader, rose tremendously in the Sikh community and in Sikh political circles. From 1977 until 1983, Bhindrenwale led his agitation against the Arya Samajis and other fanatic Hindu organizations who were working against Sikhi and concept of Punjabiat. There were, as well, many Sikhs who opposed him for his fanatical views. Many of his followers were young rural Sikhs, who had been disappointed with both the state and central government due to unemployment, poverty and other problems. After a long trail that dragged on for 3-4 years, Gurbachan Nirankari, was acquitted by an Indian court, even though more than 10 persons identified him as one of the murderers and testified so in court, it was clearly evident that there were political heavy weights behind him as well as behind Bhindrenwale.
Young Motor Cycle Driving Terrorists
By 1983 about 500-1000 people had been murdered throughout the Punjab by armed brigades of young motor cycle driving terrorists who would suddenly appear and with one burst of machine gun fire kill 10-15 people. Prominent Arya samaji leaders and news paper publishers of the Hind Samachar group such as Lala Jagat Narain were gunned down--the Government of India implicated Bhindrenwale and arrested him at Chowk Mehta in 1982, but he was released in two days. Then, in the later half of 1982 he moved to the Golden temple complex where he setup his headquarters in Guru Ram Das Sarai. In 1984 he moved to the Akal Takht.
Indira Gandhi and the government of India declared presidential rule in Punjab and deployed 4 Army divisions throughout Punjab, in a desperate attempt to flush out Bhindrenwale and his sympathizers from the Golden Temple complex.
The Attack Begins
Then it all started, I quote from the much acclaimed book, Amritsar Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle, by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob,
- "At Seven o'Clock on the evening of 5th June, tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment of the Indian army started moving up to the Golden Temple complex. They passed Jalianwala Bagh, the enclosed garden where General Dyer massacred (in the wanton slaughter of nearly 400 peaceful men, women and children, which dealt a mortal blow to Britain's rule of India energizing India's cry for Azadi (freedom).
- When Mrs. Gandhi was told that Operation Blue Star had started, she could not have imagined that the attack would be the flashpoint of inspiration for a Sikh independence movement, a movement which then had very little support save Bhindrenwale's entourage and some small, scattered groups of Sikhs living in Britain, Canada and the United States. Major-General Brar, the Indian commander, was leading a mixed bag of troops, representative of the widespread recruiting pattern of the modern Indian army, which had broken with the British tradition of limiting recruitment to certain 'martial castes'. There were Dogras and Kumaonis from the foothills of the Himalayas, India's northern border; Rajputs, the desert warriors from Rajasthan; Madrasis from Tamil Nadu, one of the most southern states; Biharis from the tribes of central India and there were some Sikhs as well. Major Brar had joined the Maratha Light Infantry 30 years ago in 1954 as a lieutenant. He had fought in Bangladesh under Lieutenant-General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the Sikh general who was the most outspoken critic of Operation Blue Star."
The Sikhs Holding the Akal Takhat
Bhindrenwale and his group had occupied the Akal Takht, the highest seat of Sikh authority, a few weeks before. He had been criticized for this act as he was the only person other than Guru Hargobind, and his family, to reside in the Akal Takht. The Jaththedar of the Damdami Taksal was obviously spoiling for a fight--a last showdown with the Indian army. Sure that sooner or later the Army would attack, he wanted to go down in Sikh history as a martyr--not as a deserter or negotiator as some viewed the other Akali political leaders. Thousands of rural Sikh youth comprised his make shift forces but though they were raw and inexperienced they were led by a man of history, the highly decorated hero of the Bangladesh war General Shabeg Singh who after a lifetime of exemplirary service, a few days before his retirement, was dismissed and charged with petty crimes by the Indian Army. Theirs' was a force of men, of young and old, Sikhs who like the Sikhs of earlier days pittied those who died in bed as old men. Like the Sikhs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's days, they saw themselves engaged in an epic battle--a battle of right and wrong.
Brar's superior officer was Lt-General Krishnaswamy Sunderji, who asked his chief staff Officer, Lt-General Ranjit Singh Dayal, to draw up the plans for Operation Blue Star. Dayal, like Brar was a Sikh, but he had not shaved his beard or cut his hair, and still wore a turban. Dayal was also an infantry soldier, having served in the Ist Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, which was to spearhead the attack on the Golden Temple Complex. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, Dayal became legend by capturing a pass which had previously been thought to be impregnable, and blocking off one of the most important routes from Pakistan-Controlled Kashmir into Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. A frontal assault was impossible and so Lt-General Dayal climbed up the mountains towering over Haji Pir pass and came down on top of the Pakistanis.
Dayal, Sundarji and Brar drew up at twofold plan. The essence of this plan was to separate the hostel complex from the Temple complex so that the Pilgrims staying in the hostels could be evacuated without becoming involved in the main battle. To achieve the prime objective to get Bhindrenwale out of the temple complex they had planned a commando operation. Commandos were to be supported by infantry, tanks were only to be used as platforms for machine guns to neutralize fire on troops approaching the Golden Temple complex, and to cover the Temple exits in case anyone tried to escape. Armored personnel carriers were to be positioned on the road separating the hostels from the Temple complex to keep the two potential battle fields apart.
Operation Bluestar, the plans go awry
The plans first task was the destruction of Major-General Shahbeg Singh's outer defenses. Much of this had been completed in the preliminary firing when Major-General Brar had hoped to frighten Bhindrenwale into surrendering. These defences included the seventeen houses which the police had allowed Bhindanwale's followers to occupy in the alleys sorrounding the Golden Temple. Some of them were as far as 800 yards away from the complex. These outposts were all in wireless contact with Shahbeg Singh's command post in the Akal Takht. The Temple View Hotel, outside the Temple complex, had also been occupied. Next to it was Brahmbuta Akhara, a large bulding housing the headquarters of a Sikh sect. Then there were three main towers which had been fortified to make positions from which Bhindranwale's men could fire into the Golden Temple complex. Because they stood well above the rest of the building, the towers were also excellent observation posts observing the movement of troops in the narrow alleys sorrounding the Temple. The tops of these towers were blasted off by artillery fire. The use of artillery in the dense city of Amritsar prooved very costly, especially in human lives, many innocent people living in close proximity of the Golden Temple were killed. Then the commando operation started.
It was between 10 and 10:30 PM when commandos from 1st Battalion, the parachute regiment, wearing black denims were ordered to run down the steps under the clock tower on to the parikarma, or pavement, turn right and move as quickly as they could round the edge of the sacred tank to the Akal Takht. But as the paratroopers entered the main gateway to the Temple they were cut down. Most of the casualties were caused by Sikhs with light machine-guns who were hiding on either side of the steps leading down to the parikarma. The few commandos who did get down the steps were driven back by a barrage of fire from the building on the south side of the sacred pool. In the control room, in a house on the opposite side of the clock-tower, Major-general Brar was waiting anxiously with his two supporting officers to hear that the commandos had established positions inside the complex. When no report came through he was heard over the command network saying, "You bastards, why don't you go in."
The few commandos who survived regrouped in the square outside the Temple, and reported back to Major-General Brar. He reinforced them and ordered them to make another attempt to go in. The commandos were to be followed by the 10th Battalion of the Guards commanded by a Muslim, Lieutenant-colonel Israr Khan. This battalion had Sikh soldiers in its rank. The second commando attack managed to neutralise the machine-gun posts on either side of the steps and get down on to the parikarma. They were followed by the Guards who came under withering fire and were not able to make any progress. They radioed for permission to return fire at the buildings on the other side of the tank. That would have put the Golden Temple sitting in the middle of the Sarovar directly in the line of fire.
Brar refuses to allow fire towards the Golden Temple
Brar refused permission. But then he started to get messges from the commander of Guards reporting heavy casualties. They had suffered almost 20 percent casualties without managing to turn the corner of the parikarma to the western side. Sikhs would also suddenly appear from man-holes in the parikarma the Guards were fighting from, let off a burst of machine-gun fire or throw lethal grenades, and disappear into the passages which run under the Temple. These machine-gunners had been taught to fire at knee-level because Major-General Shahbeg Singh expected the army to crawl towards its objective, But the Guards and commandos were not crawling, and so many of them received severe leg injuries.
Brar, then decided on a change of plans. He ordered his men to occupy the roof tops of the clock towers as well as all the rooms along the parikarma. Army commandos rushed in from the main clock tower entrance, their objective being to neutralize fire from the Akal Takht to the North. They ran into trouble as soon as they went down the steps, automatic gunfire hit them from both sides of the stairs and more then 40 commandos lost their lives in less then five minutes, amazingly only two of Bhindrenwale's supporters were firing at them. The Next batch of commandos were able to run down the stairs and turn right but here again, automatic gun fire from the Akal Takht, as well as the old towers and water tank hit them.
By this time Soldiers from the Bihar regiment had cordoned off the whole Golden Temple complex, but not very effectively. The Madras regiment had tried to enter through the Eastern gate and had encountered many difficulties. While Kumaonis from the North, close to the Langar, were trying to gain entry, desperately, without much success. So General Brar requested tanks to be brought into the Golden Temple complex, instead of a heavy tank an armored personnel carrier entered. It had just crossed the octagonal tile that marks the Samadh of Baba Deep Singh when it was blown up by a rocket launcher.
Brar again requested tanks and was allowed this time. According to Giani ji of Golden Temple, who was present at Golden Temple itself during all this time, as many as 13 tanks were brought into parikarma and lined up on the eastern side, expensive marble was crushed and whole eastern parikarma broke. Brar ordered to blew up the Akal Takht and thus the highest seat of Sikh authority was brought down by Indian army. Bhai ji at basement of Akal Takht tells us that Bhindrenwale came to Guru Granth Sahib and after Ardas said "Those who want to be martyrs come with me" then he dashed outside in front of Akal Takht and was greeted with bullets, like about 40-50 of his group. Many were able to reach Sarovar . Next morning, Indian army was responsible for gutting down historical Sikh relic, some soldiers set fire to Sikh library and many historical manuscripts were lost as well as treasury Toshakhana was gutted. There were more then 140 bullets marks on Golden Temple itself, even though Indian army insisted that not a single bullet was fired towards Golden Temple.
Sikh pilgrims who were held up by Army in buildings in and around Guru Ram Das Sarai, Teja Singh Samundri Hall, etc. These innocent bystanders were not given any food or water for 4 days. Army soldiers asked them to drink water mixed with urine from small puddles on ground. One army soldier went berserk and fired on these innocent pilgrims killing 70. About 40 or so bodies of Sikh men with their hand tied up behind in execution style, were found in several rooms. A Journalist saw a whole truck filled with bodies of women and children. There is more then enough evidence that Army Soldiers were served alcohol as well as cigarettes inside Golden Temple complex.
It was an utterly unequal battle fought between a handful of Sikh defenders led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale assisted by Major General Shahbeg Singh and Bhai Amrik Singh versus the might of the Indian Army headed by Lt. General Krishnaswamy Sunderjit assisted by Lt. General Ranjit Singh Dyal and Kuldeep Singh Brar. The Sikh fighters arms and ammunition were limited in comparison to the ones possessed by the Indian Army.
Light Machine Guns and some old sten-guns (old British machineguns), some carbines of 30 calibre Rifles, 303 Rifles, revolvers and pistols of various calibre sand some hand grenad Tanks heavy enough to grind their tracks into the marble of the Parkrama that endless peaceful pilgrims have walked for centuries.
And of course the Sikh in the Akaal Takhat, who were the first to live in the Takhat Since the Guru who had it built and first called for Miri and Piri, had their most deadly weapon that day--the same weapon that Baba Deep Singh had had that day when his head fell on the very same Parkrama attacked so many years before--the line had been crossed and the Shabad of 'then' was as real to them in 1984 as it was before:
- "Jo to praym khaylan ka chaao, sir dhar talee galee mayree aao."
- Those who wish to play the game of love (to follow the Sikh path), come to me with your head in your palm.
- "It maarag pair dhareejai, sir deejai kaan na keejai."
- If you wish your feet to travel this path, don't delay in accepting to give your head.
What chance did the Indian army, which was equipped with all kinds of heavy and sophisticated weapons which included Main Battle Tanks "Vijayanta", howitzesr, heavy guns and canons using twenty-pounder shells, mortars, machine guns, light machine guns and other pieces of artillery normally used in a field war against an enemy country, have to win the other battle fought that day?
Besides, the army had stun-gas bombs, incendiary bombs, highly explosive hand grenades. Armed Personnel Carriers. Armoured Carriers and a lot of other sophisticated weaponry. The Army used Russian made helicopters too.
The numerical strength of the Sikh militants was also miserably insignificant in comparison to that of the Indian Army. The Sikh fighters were not more than two hundred whereas the Army's numerical strength fighting them in the Complex was at least seven thousand.
The Sikh fighters had no line of communication and source of supply. They were totally cut off from the state. the country and the world. They were completely besieged in the Golden Temple Complex, particularly inside the Akal Takht. Supply of electricity and water was cut off. They had no reserves to reinforce their positions. They had nothing to eat but roasted grains, nothing to drink but their own sweat oozed from their bodies due to scorching heat. They had no place to answer the call of nature. They could not sleep for seven days and seven nights. They were exhausted and weared out under these horrible conditions. On the other hand Indian Army had all sorts of provisions, facilities, reserves and what not. Yet the Sikhs fought gallantly and demonstrated their remarkable valour, courage and fighting skill. Yet they held the well equipped Indian Army at bay for five days and gave it a bloody reply, the reply which the Army would remember for ever. Had the militant Sikhs been equally armed, had their numerical strength been even one-tenths of the Indian Army, they^vould have pushed the Army up to Delhi or even beyond Jamuna.
The unequal battle, that the handful supporters of Sant Bhindranwale fought has been recorded in the golden letters in the history of the Sikhs. The entire credit for this exemplary valour goes to Sant Bhindranwale who had inspired the Sikhs who filled their will to fight for their rights and defend their faith.
Is it any exaggeration to say that after Guru Gobind Singh it was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who has taught the Khalsa to live with dignity and die with honour.
He surrendered himself completely to the will of God; his faith remained unshaken; whatever God ordained tasted sweet to him. Was he not as a true man of God convinced that all that happened is by the command of the Lord; and that his duty was to accept His command cheerfully.
Has the battle for respect and equality that he was fighting for been lost? Are swords really mightier than words. He and his partners, the shaheeds of those days and before, have done their part in getting India's and the world's attention. What are the next steps?