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Every year at the beginning of the month of June, Sikhs all over the world offer prayers for thousands of their unknown compatriot-martyrs who laid down their lives when the Indian Army attacked the Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar in June 1984. This was given the name of OPERATION BLUE STAR. Perhaps it was the first such action in the world when the armed forces of a country launched an assault with tanks and heavy artillery on the holiest shrine of a religious community. The unprecedented act in a secular, independent India was condemned by everyone, all over the world. It was seen as an attack on Sikhism and the entire Sikh community. 

The state of Punjab was put under a curfew and the Indian army laid a siege around the Golden Temple Complex. Thousands of pilgrims had congregated in the Golden Temple to mark the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev who compiled the Guru Ganth Sahib and laid in Harmandir Sahib in 1604. The army action that lasted many days claimed thousands of lives, even though the official figures were projected as being very low. The Sikhs refer to it as the ‘Teeja Ghallughara’ or the ‘Third Massacre’, after the earlier two brutal killings of the Sikhs in the eighteenth century by the Ahmed Shah Abdali and Afghan.

The book, In the Service of Free India: Memoir of a Civil Servant written by Sh. B.D. Pande, the Governor of Punjab, and published in 2021, has revealed that Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was determined to stamp out the terrorists who had taken refuge in the temple complex and directed that no measures should be spared to do that. She clearly told the Governor that ‘she would not hesitate to bomb the Golden Temple if she had to.’

So many books have been written on the tragic events detailing the entire story of the Sikh struggle in Punjab – the emergence of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderawalan, launching of the Dharm Yudh Morcha and the specificities of parleys between Akali's and Central Government. The White Paper released by the Government of India put the onus of responsibility on the Akali's for the failure of talks and tried to project a narrative that Sant Longowal and other Akali leaders did not have the courage to solve the issues. I admire Governor Pandey for providing a true story of what happened in 1984. 

I am among the few most unfortunate people who were in the Golden Temple a day after the Army attack and witnessed the most horrible scene of our lives. Giani Zail Singh, the then President of India, was not consulted by the Prime Minister about her plan to attack the Golden Temple. He rushed to Amritsar to see for himself the situation. We were only a few members of staff and no media person or photographer. It was a most horrible scene, with blood and bullet marks on all the walls, including on the sanctorum of Golden Temple. There was blood in the holy Sarovar, and the Akal Takht was in shambles. One could imagine how it would have looked when Ahmed Shah Abdali forces had demolished the Golden Temple in 1722 A.D. There was no kirtan nor any other religious ceremony for two days and the ‘jyot’, the eternal flame, was also extinguished. The worst blow was that the army declared the Golden Temple Complex as enemy territory with a huge signboard at Darshani Deohri, the archway that leads to the Golden Temple’s sanctum. Hundreds of innocent pilgrims were killed during this army operation. We were told by the Army Commander that the body of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderawale was found under the debris of Akal Takhat. He further said that Army tank had to be brought in to overcome the fiercest existence from inside, 98 Army personals were killed. 

As the report of Army action spread, there was a mass upsurge in the countryside. Villagers started moving towards the Golden Temple. A helicopter was sent to identify them. They observed crowds of thousands of people gathered at different places. The Army Commander immediately issued orders that no Sikh should be allowed to move towards Amritsar. There were numerous incidents in which the Army opened fire, killing hundreds of Sikh devotees in neighboring areas of Amritsar. Curfew was imposed in the entire State. Searches were carried out in all important gurdwaras in the state by the army and selective killings were reported at many places. 

 I quote my speech delivered in the Indian Parliament in December 2009. “About 25 years ago, an incident occurred that had never happened earlier in the history of the world. The most sacred place of our religion was defiled by sending armies. Who went into the Golden Temple at Amritsar? It is the army of India that went inside on the pretext of catching one person.” To catch one person the Indian Army was sent inside a holy shrine. Thousands of people in Amritsar were killed and the Akal Takht Sahib was demolished. 

In the Golden Temple complex, Akal Takht Sahib is as important to the Sikhs as is the Golden Temple. The Akal Takht was demolished as if one were demolishing an illegally constructed building in the city of Delhi! How many people died in this tragedy? Many, many pilgrims who had come from far and wide to pay their respects, died. The Sarovar, which is the holy tank of the water of life, was filled with blood. The people of the world watched the unfolding of this tragedy. Curfew was imposed in Punjab which was called ‘Wood Rose’. Earlier, the attack on Golden Temple Complex was named Blue Star but now it was followed by ‘Wood Rose’ in Punjab. How many Sikh youths were killed? In this House, I had earlier stated that there are villages in Punjab where no wedding has taken place for the last twenty years because all the young men have been killed. No marriage procession has ever gone from there.”

In my speech I also mentioned the Sikh carnage in Delhi after the death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the killing of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of India. I called upon the Members of Parliament to follow the procedure adopted in other countries and in the International Court of Justice. "Our demand is that the Supreme Court should set up a mechanism under Article 2 of the UNO Convention on Genocide and Article 7 of International Criminal Court of Crimes against humanity. The Supreme Court of India should come forward under the Act; otherwise, the judiciary would be equally culpable”. 

I further said, “We speak about Bosnia, when about 8000 Bosnian Serb Muslims were killed. What happened next is that the President of Serbia became an accused in the World Court. The man who had killed Bosnian Serb Muslims, the then President, is an accused in the Hague court. He has been given an exemplary punishment.”

S. Khushwant Singh, a world-renowned journalist, while speaking in the Parliament mentioned, “I visited the Golden Temple a month after the army action, interviewed many people who had been in the complex at the time and saw the damage done with my own eyes. Let me tell you and, through you the rest of the country, that Government of India’s White Paper has grossly underestimated the number of lives lost, overlooked mentioning that the dead include hundreds of totally innocent men, women and children. The government spokesmen have repeated ad nauseum that no damage was caused to the Harmandir Sahib; as a matter of fact, it still bears fresh bullet marks by the score; a hand written copy of the Granth Sahib was pierced by a bullet; a blind raagi, Amreek Singh, was killed inside the temple while performing kirtan; the Akal Takht is a total wreck and besides, the entire archives consisting of nearly 1,000 manuscript copies of Guru Granth Sahib and innumerable Hukamnama bearing the signatures of our Gurus have gone up in flames. What is most painful about this vandalism is that it took place after the resistance had been overcome.”

A number of questions about the circumstances leading to these events remain unanswered. We owe it to posterity to lay bare the truth concerning these momentous events. Smt. Indira Gandhi, Sh. Rajiv Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh, who had close knowledge of these events, are no more. And there are many who are around but are still reluctant to come out with the truth. 

Till today the army action report on Blue Star has not been published. Under the Secrecy Act, all Government papers are to be released after thirty years. Governor Pandey’s book reveals many startling facts, and on the basis of that, a fresh inquiry is required. The Government of India should be requested to form a Judicial Commission headed by a Supreme Court Judge. The Sikh Forum established by Late General Jagjit Singh Arora can also appoint a Commission to collect data from the families of Sikh leaders who were then at the helm of affairs. 

Once I proposed in the Parliament that like South Africa we should adopt the Truth and Pardon Commission. The Sikhs till eternity shall never forget this shameful act on part of Indian Army attack on our holiest place.

 

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