After the Attack - Interview with the Head Granthi of the Golden Temple

A remembrance of the week of the June 1984 attack on Golden Temple.

Singh Sahib Giani Sahib Singh, the head Granthi of Sri Darbar Sahib, had his residence in Shaheed Bunga Street on the back side of Sri Darbar Sahib. Indian forces had initiated their attack on Sri Darbar Sahib at 4:45am on the morning of June 4. Under the battle conditions and intense exchange of fire, Singh Sahib fulfilled his duties on June 5 until noon. However, on June 6 he was not allowed to reach Harmandir Sahib for his duties. Other Giani Sahibans, including Giani Mohan Singh Ji and Giani Puran Singh Ji, were forced to remain inside, even after the completion of their regular duties on June 5 evening. They simply could not leave the premises. Following is an excerpt from an interview by BBC Journalist Harbir Singh Bhanwer with Singh Sahib Giani Sahib Singh.

HARBIR SINGH: When were you able to first return to Sri Darbar Sahib after Operation Bluestar and what were the conditions as you saw them?

SINGH SAHIB: Giani Mohan Singh Ji and Giani Puran Singh Ji, accompanied by some soldiers, reached my house around 5 am of June 7.

They informed me that General Sahib had summoned for me and instructed me to get ready in 15 mins. and accompany them. I left escorted by the soldiers. The Atta Mandi, Katdha Dal Singh and back anteroom (Deodhi) of Sri Darbar Sahib was full of soldiers. There were thousands of soldiers everywhere. We were stopped at every place and questioned, "who is he? kill him." Soldiers escorting me responded, "he is the head priest." Upon reaching the Darbar Sahib complex, inside I saw Sikhs seated all over the parkarma with their hand tied behind their backs with their own turbans. Among them were the Gurdwara employees. Giani Sujan Singh, Sant Bhindrawale's helper and SGPC member, was among the detained Sikhs. At the foot-steps of the parkarma, we were met by an arrogant Sikh Colonel. When the accompanying soldiers informed him about me, he promptly ordered "if he is the head Granthi, bring him inside." Parkarma had 6-7 tanks.

Dead bodies were everywhere. I inquired from the Sikh Colonel if I could meet with the detained Sikhs. He replied that his orders are against it. However, when I informed him that our own staff was among the detained, he suggested that I could watch but not speak with them. He further emphasized that if I talked with anyone, I will be killed. Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed's Bunga was full of detained Sikhs. As they saw me, they started crying. Some requested if I could seek permission for them to drink water from the sarowar.

Who so ever spoke was mercilessly beaten by soldiers with gun-butts and subjected to derogatory verbal abuse saying, "Sala asks for water!" I informed the Sikh Colonel that GurSikhs regularly organize "Shabeels" to gratuitously distribute water, and requested permission to distribute water among the detained Sikhs. Indian forces could be seem in all buildings of Sri Darbar Sahib. The reference library was burning at this moment. The whole Parkarma was in bad shape, covered with blood, red ammunition shells, and broken glass. There was no place to put your foot down. The soldiers accompanying me suggested that I wear my shoes. However, I refused and proceeded bare-foot. At the Shabeel corner someone fired at me. Fortunately, I escaped.

Now the soldiers escorting me were yelling "He is the head priest" but no one was listening to anyone. I was shot at once again near the Lachi Baer Gurdwara. This bullet missed and hit the floor near me. Near Lachi Baer Gurdwara, Sri Akal Takhat's courtyard was filled with dead bodies. Soldiers were everywhere. The Darshani Deodhi (anteroom) Janda Bunga (New anteroom) - everywhere soldiers were positioned with entrenched machine guns and LMGs. The historical Lachi Baer tree was badly brutalized. The nearby room for Palki Sahib was badly littered with scattered rumalas. With a deeply saddened heart and great difficulty, I reach thus far in my story.

The Darshani Deodhi (anteroom) was full of drunken soldiers who were smoking cigarettes. When these soldiers saw me, they started hurling derogatory verbal abuses at me, "who is this Sala?" Almost all the soldiers were abusive. They couldn't utter any words without using derogatory terms. From the door sill to the bridge, the Darshani anteroom was filled with rubbish. The bridge was heavily guarded with armed soldiers. Sri Harimandir Sahib was also heavily guarded. The situation inside Sri Harimandir Sahib wasn't any better. The carpets used for June 5 could not be replaced on June 6.

Ammunition shells and broken glass littered the insides as well.

There were 6-7 Sikh soldiers including a granthi and two Colonels when I reached inside. They informed me that General Sahib had left after a long wait for me. They instructed me to conduct Sri Guru Granth Sahib's Prakash and initiate kirtan and other services. By now I had been informed by other Singh Sahibans that the sacred copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib had been hit by a bullet.

HARBIR SINGH: The sacred copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib that was hit by a bullet, was that in use in the main hall or on the first story?

SINGH SAHIB: This copy was in prakash in Sri Harimandir Sahib. At Har-Ki-Paudi a Sikh was reading from Guru Granth Sahib, when a bullet hit a window and broke its glass. A piece of that glass cut Pathi Sikh's hand. It is this Sikh's blood that you find on the rumalas.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had previously riddled Sri Darbar Sahib with bullets from all corners on June 1. The next day, June 2, wasn't any better either. In consultation with Tohra Sahib, on the morning of June 4, all Akhand Paths were concluded and all sacred copies of Sri Guru Granth Sahib were moved in safekeeping after their 'sukhasan.' However, the Akhand Path at Har Ki Paudi was allowed to continue and completed on the morning of June 6. Because of the curfew imposed by the Indian forces, our employees could not reach Sri Darbar Sahib to assume their duties. As a result most pathis had to recite Path for 8-10 hrs. continuously.

HARBIR SINGH: When was Sri Guru Granth Sahib's Prakash conducted?

SINGH SAHIB: First of all we cleaned the insides of Sri Harimandir Sahib. The Sikh soldiers helped me with this task. Sukhasan of the sacred copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib that was hit by a bullet was conducted next. Then the Sri Guru Granth Sahib copy was brought from Lachi Baer Gurdwara and the prakash was accomplished around 10am. There was no Kadha Prashad served. A Sikh Sevadar brought some sweets prepared from sugar (Patasae) from somewhere and that was served instead.

HARBIR SINGH: Then which Shabad's kirtan was initiated?

SINGH SAHIB: When the two Colonels inside Sri Harimandir Sahib, Shamindar Singh and Sharma, asked me to organize shabad kirtan, I expressed the need for a significant staff to conduct such program.

They asked me in return where to get the required staff. Upon which I informed them of the Gurdwara employees among the detained Sikhs outside and asked for their release. They agreed to my suggestion and escorted me to where the Sikhs were detained. I pointed out our staff members and their hands were sniffed.

HARBIR SINGH: (Astonished) Why did they sniff their hands?

SINGH SAHIB: I didn't know either. Apparently, the hands used in firing guns can be identified through smell. It can also be identified from the fingers. Based on my request, 15 Sikhs were released. The rest were considered prisoners and were sent to camps. Among the released were Hajuri Ragi Mohinder Singh's tabla companion Bhai Gurcharan Singh (who could perform kirtan as well), Surma Singh Karamjeet Singh who could play tabla, and Sant Bhindrawale's Ragi, Bhai Harbhajan Singh. For several days these individuals conducted the kirtan. The information regarding kirtan being performed by military personnel in your diary is inaccurate.

HARBIR SINGH: Who did the Ardas?

SINGH SAHIB: This too was done by Sri Darbar Sahib's Ardassia Bhai Harpal Singh. All these individuals stayed in my house for several days. Upon seeking their release I took them to my house. Several of them had blood stains on their clothes. They bathed and washed their clothes. Several of them had to use my clothes.

HARBIR SINGH: Shabad kirtan started being relayed on radio from June 8, who organized this program?

SINGH SAHIB: The radio and electricity workers arrived on June 7. They installed the necessary wires, etc. Military personnel brought a loudspeaker from some Hindu individual. We returned it afterwards.

HARBIR SINGH: When were the dead bodies removed?

SINGH SAHIB: Giani Zail Singh was to arrive on June 8. So the Indian force removed all dead bodies from the Parkarma path from Ghanta Ghar anteroom towards Baba Budha's Baeri tree. But the bodies were left elsewhere. Even the sarowar had 10-12 floating bodies. I witnessed on June 7 that a Sikh ran out from a room along the parkarma and jumped into the sarowar. The soldiers immediately opened fire and killed him in the sarowar itself.

HARBIR SINGH: Did you learn anything about Sant Bhindrawale?

SINGH SAHIB: We learned on June 7 that his dead body was displayed in the Ghanta Ghar's anteroom. However, we weren't allowed to go there.

HARBIR SINGH: Tell us about Giani Zail Singh's visit?

SINGH SAHIB: On the day of Giani Zail Singh's visit, some soldiers took me towards the Langar building. All stories of this building were filled with soldiers. Dogra regiment was stationed here. Colonel Bajwa and one other Colonel informed me that some Sikhs were holed up in Ramgharia Bunga. They had taken one Captain Doctor hostage.
Furthermore, these Sikhs had conveyed that if 5 Singh Sahibans asked them to drop their weapons they will comply. Giani Puran Singh was with me. As we approached the bunga, we saw two GurSikhs seated with their backs tied to each other in front of the Bunga. We asked the Colonels that if the Sikhs dropped their weapons would they not shoot them? They promised that if these Sikhs haven't killed any of their men, they would be spared. Within the Ramgharia Bunga, approaching from Baba Kharak Singh's Dera side we spoke with the Sikhs over a small loudspeaker. We told them that "if you have any military hostages, release them and come out, you will not be killed." We could hear some noises but couldn't understand what was being said.

Finally we heard that they did not have any hostages. Upon hearing this the Colonel asked us to leave and said they would handle it from here. Giani Zail Singh's arrival was fast approaching.

HARBIR SINGH: Was firing ongoing when Giani Zail Singh arrived?

SINGH SAHIB: Firing was continuously ongoing here at one place or another. However, your report that a security personal of Giani Zail Singh's escort was shot is inaccurate. When Giani Zail Singh arrived, one of his escort had an umbrella covering him. I sent a sewadar and asked for the removal of the umbrella. They obliged. Giani Zail Singh paid respect upon reaching Harimandir Sahib. The question of honoring him with saropa simply did not arise. He asked some officer to contact me. Upon meeting, Giani Zail Singh first inquired about the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, Giani Kirpal Singh. I told him that he was safe. Then he asked about the attack. I summarized the events. Further I told him that the soldiers were moving around with naked heads, with boots, and continuously drinking and smoking within the premises. Their behavior was inappropriate and derogatory. Whenever they see a Sikh, they kill him without asking any question.

Hundreds of Sikhs have been killed this way. Additionally, the sacred places are being abused by them. They have done worse things than the mughals. How could all this happen under a Sikh President? Giani Zail Singh told me that Shrimati Ghandi did not tell him anything. He said that he wanted to visit on June 7 but couldn't. He said, "even today I have managed to come after great difficulty." I told Giani Zail Singh that the soldiers misbehaved with me and my staff. They make our job difficult. Why not arrest us too? He immediately ordered the four generals, Sundar Ji, Dayal, Baradh and Jamwaal to provide security. I further explained that the soldiers have looted the homes of our staff including Giani Sahibans. Giani Mohan Singh has been badly beaten, arrested and taken away. They wanted to burn the markets behind Sri Darbar Sahib complex. I later learned that the military had planned to burn the whole street around my house and the Kolsar Bazar. They were saved by Giani Zail Singh. Giani Zail Singh saw the sacred copy of Guru Granth Sahib that was injured with a bullet. He also witnessed the state inside Sri Harimandir Sahib.

Thus upon reaching Delhi, he immediately sent a package of Rumalas. I thought even though Giani Zail Singh is a Sikh, the rumalas are government property and therefore we did not use them.

HARBIR SINGH: Sardar Bhan Singh and Sardar Abinashi Singh were brought from camps by soldiers for Sri Darbar Sahib's visit, when were they brought for the first time?

SINGH SAHIB: Probably they were brought on June 8th. Interior Minister, Butta Singh, first arrived here on June 9th. Subsequently he visited everyday. On June 9th, I, Giani Kirpal Singh Ji, Sardar Bhan Singh and Sardar Abinashi Singh met with Butta Singh inside Sri Harimandir Sahib and exchanged views about various processes. Subsequently, committees were organized to take care of treasury (Tosha Khana), Museum, and Historical weapons, and slowly the processes started improving. I had informed the military on June 7th that five Singh Sahibans will collectively make all decisions and take any actions. However, the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat is the supreme authority. He individually can take any decision. Until June 16th, all Singh Sahibans had gathered together.

HARBIR SINGH: Your interview on Doordarshan, was that given of your free will or under the pressure of military guns?

SINGH SAHIB: The Punjab situation was dangerous at that moment. Giani Kirpal Singh had already read his views on TV. Whatever I said was done in consultation with our organizers, Sardar Bhan Singh and Sardar Abinashi Singh, etc. This was done to normalize the situation.

However, all statements were checked and approved by the military authorities. They were constantly saying that there is nothing here, write more statements.

HARBIR SINGH: When was the sacred maryada of Sri Harimandir Sahib restored?

SINGH SAHIB: On September 29th, the complex was handed over to us. The interrupted maryada was restored from Oct. 1st onwards. (The first Akhand Path at Har-Ki-Paudi was initiated for Giani Sahib Singh Ji).

Jagpal Singh Tiwana Dartmouth, Canada
Punjabi to English translation provided by Deepinder Singh

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