OPERATION BLUE STAR
June 3, 1984, the Martyrdom day of Guru Argan Dev : that was the day the Army chose to surround Guru Arjun's temple. The onslaught started two days later on the night of June 5 around 7 p.m. The total number of people killed during Operation Blue Star at Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, Punjab and other gurdwaras as well as the marching villagers and Army deserters is more than 12,000 in numbers. Mary Anne Weaver a British correspondent in her report to Sunday Times, London June 17, 1984, observed "not since independence has the Army been used in such numbers - about 15,000 troupes took part in the assault." The rest of Punjab was flooded with soldiers to put down internal rebellion. The specially picked and trained Indian soldiers were supported by tanks and armoured personnel carriers and yet it took them more than 72 hours of continuous all-out battle to gain control of the shrine which was defended by followers of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Brahm Chellany, the only foreign correspondent who managed to remain in Amritsar after the government had ordered them out, reported the statements of doctors and police officials were that many of the Sikhs killed in the attack had been shot at point-blank range with their hands behind their backs. Some of these bodies with hands tied behind the back were photographed. This is also borne out by the testimonies of survivors. While the Darbar Sahib was under attack, other Army units were battling their way into 74 other gurdwaras in Punjab. In their book, "The Sikh Struggle," Ramnarain Kumar and George Sieberer write: "The Army which had suffered a heavy toll in three days of battle went berserk and killed every Sikh who could be found inside the temple complex. They were hauled out of the rooms, brought to corridors on the circumference of the temple and with their hands tied behind their back, were shot in cold blood. Among the victims were many old men women and children."
What is tragic is that a tense situation which could have been resolved without a shot being fired was allowed to deteriorate to the point where the sacred sanctity of the Golden Temple complex was violated and desecrated in the most brutal and unholy way. Thousands of innocent visiting pilgrims and temple workers lost their lives in a sacred place of worship. The Akal Takht, the seat of supreme Sikh temporal power was reduced to rubble. Harmandir Sahib was riddled with over 300 bullets. The Sikh library with precious manuscripts of the Gurus was burned to the ground. The Temple treasury Toshakhana with priceless historical artefacts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was destroyed. The continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in Harmandir Sahib was interrupted for the first time in hundreds of years. These events have forever left a permanent scar on the Sikh psyche.
The destruction and loss of life marked the darkest chapter in Sikh history this century. This event marked a critical turning point for all Sikhs around the world as it made them realise that they could not take the existence of their religion for granted.
Picture of supreme temporal seat of Sikhs, Sri Akal Takht reduced in rubble, photographed on June 7, 1984 after Indian army captured the entire darbar sahib complex.
Smoke coming out of the Golden Complex during Operation Blue Star. Serenity & sanctity of the holiest Sikh shrines was eclipsed by the Indian Government.
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."
The Supreme Temporal Seat of Sikhs-Sri Akal Takht, before Operation Blue Star [on left side] and after Operation Blue Star [on right side]
"MUGHAL EMPERORS AND BRITISH GOVERNORS ALIKE TRIED MILITARY SOLUTIONS TO THE SIKH PROBLEM AND SUCCEEDED ONLY IN ADDING TO THE ROLL OF MARTYRS CHERISHED BY THE PROUD AND PRICKLY PEOPLE. SIKHS HAVE LONG MEMORIES. THEY HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN OR FORGIVEN THE DAY IN 1919 WHEN GENERAL DYER ORDERED HIS TROOPS TO OPEN FIRE IN THE SACRED CITY OF AMRITSAR AND MRS.INDIRA GANDHI MAY WELL HAVE CAUSE TO RUE THE DAY SHE DID THE SAME." - Sunday Telegraph, London, June 10, 1984.
The victim, "Bhai Awatar Singh", was subject to indescribable tortures by Indian police. His abdomen was burnt with hot iron, arms were battered during interrogation hot rods were pierced through the soles of his feet and flesh was pulled with the pliers.
GREAT MARTYR OF SIKH COMMUNITY : SANT JARNAIL SINGH BHINDRAWALE
"PHYSICAL DEATH I DON'T FEAR, DEATH OF CONSCIENCE IS A SURE DEATH." - Sant Jarnail Singh
prime minister Rajiv Gandhi [Son of Indira Gandhi] who had come to Chandigarh in
the first week of May, 1984 [before Operation
Blue Star] had
chosen to describe SANT JARNAIL SINGH BHINDRAWALE as a religious leader. asked
specifically by media person, "Is BHINDRAWALE an extremist?," Rajiv
Gandhi evaded a reply and said, "This is for you to evaluate." He was
further asked, "Do you think he is a political leader?" Rajiv Gandhi
responded positively, "He is a religious leader and has not shown any
political inclinations so far".
To this day Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale's body has never been found, and some believe he is still alive.
SAHEED HARJINDER SINGH JINDA and SUKHDEV SINGH SUKHA, great martyrs of Khalsa community, who killed army chief general A.S.VAIDYA at PUNE, in revenge of Operation Blue Star. general VAIDYA was chief of army when Operation Blue Star took place.
SAHEED BEANT SINGH, body guard of late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. Beant Singh killed the then prime minister Indira Gandhi at her residence on October 31st, 1984, in revenge of ordering the army to attack Sri Darbar Sahib under Operation Blue Star. Bhai Beant Singh became Shaheed on the spot, while Satwant Singh was convicted and hung by the leftover Brahmanic government.
DEAD BODY OF GREAT SIKH MARTYR MAJOR GENERAL SHABEG SINGH
The Sikh nation, ever since the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji has responded to the Call of duty and resisted tyranny even at the cost of sacrificing their lives. Guru Arjan Dev Ji chose to sacrifice his life for the principles of Sikhism rather than hand over a sum of 25 lakh rupees demanded by Chandu Shah. Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life to uphold the rights of Brahmans to follow their religion and resist conversion by the fanatic emperor Aurangzeb. Guru Gobind Singh Ji sacrificed his whole family and himself to uphold the principle of Sikhism. Sikh history ever since has seen a succession of martyrs who following the path of our Gurus, laid down their lives on the altars of the Sikh religion man endeavour to keep it alive and strong. In this line of martyrs is included a humble, but brave and forthright man, who came from rustic Village surroundings to become a general in the Indian Army. His name was Shabeg Singh. Here is the story of a man, who, when the call for duty came, gave up all the thoughts he had for a peaceful retired life and died trying to serve his community. General Shabeg Singh belonged to village Khiala, about nine miles from Am Chogwan Road. The eldest son of Sardar Bhagwan Singh and Pritarm Kaur. He had three brothers and a sister. The family traced its lineage to great Sikh warrior, Bhai Mehtab Singh who along with Bhai Sukha Singh slew the notorious Massa Rangar in 1740 and thus avenged the desecration of the Golden Temple. The family was well to do and prosperous and had good size of land holding of over 100 acres. The village Khiala was earlier known as Khiala Nand Singhwala. Nand Singh was the great grandfather of Shabeg Singh. Later on the name got shortened to the mother of Shabeg Singh was devout lady but she was very practical and a great disciplinarian. She never forgot to remind her children and grand children that they were the descendents of Baba Mehtab Singh and must live up to the family name. Sardar Bhagwan Singh was the village Lambardar and remained quite occupied with the problems of the village folk who always looked to him for guidance and depended greatly upon his advice. In 1952, the younger brothers Sardar Shamsher Singh, Sardar Jaswant Singh along with their brother-in-law shifted to Haidwani in the Terri area of UP after having bought farmlands there. In 1957, Jaswant Singh died. From his early childhood Shabeg Singh displayed qualifies of leadership and intelligence much above that of the average village child. He was quick witted and often spontaneously composed extemporaneous verses to caricature interesting village personalities. He displayed a keen interest in history and literature and his village teachers were impressed with his intellectual ability. They advised Sardar Bhagwan Singh and Pritam Kaur to send him to a school. He was sent to Khalsa College Amritsar for secondary education and from there to a Govt. College Lahore for higher education. He was an outstanding foot ball and hockey player and excelled in athletics. At the age of 18 years he had equalled the India records in 100 meters sprint and was the District Broad jump champion. However, even though he had a natural ability for sports he did not wish to pursue that as a career, his mind was on the army, which was considered a noble profession. He excelled in studies and generally topped his class. In 1940, an officers selection team visiting Lahore colleges were looking for fresh recruits to the Indian Army officers cadre. Out of a large number of students, who applied, Shabeg Singh was the only one to he selected from Government College and sent for training in the officer training school. After training he was commissioned in the second Punjab Regiment as a Second Lieutenant. Within a few days the Regiment moved to Burma and joined the war against the Japanese, which was then in progress. In 1944 when the war ended he was in Malaya with his unit. After partition, when reorganisation of the regiments took place, he joined the Parachute brigade as a Paratrooper. He was posted in the 1st para battalion in which he remained till 1959. By nature Gen Shabeg was a voracious reader, he had read about every military campaign and knew the biography of every military general of consequence. He had a natural flair for history and loved reading. He could fluently speak Punjabi, Persian, Urda, Gorkhali besides English and Hindi. He was an instructor in the Military Academy at Dehra Dun and held a number of important staff appointments in various ranks In the army he had a reputation of being fearless officer and one who did not tolerate any nonsense. People either loved him or dreaded him because of his frank and forthright approach. During the course of his service in the Indian army, Shaheg Singh fought in every war that India participated in. In 1947, he was at Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir fighting against the Pakistan Army. While at Staff College, in addition to the academic work, he set a record in winning three, point to point and five flat races on horse back a record never equalled. Because of his knowledge of military science and excellent grasp of military operations he was appointed a Brigade Major after the staff course. As Brigade Major of 166 Infantry Brigade- a crack formation, he felt most at home when the formation was out on military exercises. In 1962 during the India-China war, he was in Northeast Frontier Agency as a Lt Col in HQ four Corps where he was GSO-J (Intelligence). In the 196S operations against Pakistan, he was in the Haji Pir Sector in Jammu and Kashmir, commanding a battalion of Gorkha troops. He commanded 3/11 Gorkha Rifles with distinction and was mentioned in dispatches for the capture of important enemy positions on the Haji Pir front. A few days before the battalion was to he launched into attack, the Commanding Officer (that time Lieutenant Colonel) Shabeg Singh received a telegram from his mother informing him that his father had expired. Being the eldest he quietly put the telegram in his pocket and no one in his battalion even knew that the commanding officer had lost his father on the eve of battle, Only when the operations were over, did he apply for leave and perform his duty of consoling his mother and family. His mother, Pritam Kaur, never asked why he had not been reached for performing the last rites. Everything was understood the call of duty to defend the nation's frontiers was of primary importance. Soon after the 1965 operations, Shabeg became Col G.S. of an infantry division, after which he was given command of the crack 19 Infantry brigade in Jammu Sector. When the Eastern sector of India was becoming deeply involved in Naga anti-insurgency operations he was posted as Deputy GOC of the largest Indian Division - eight Mountain Division which had nearly 50 thousand troops under command. With his leadership qualities and employment of daredevil tactics he was greatly successful in handling the counter-insurgency operations in that region.
In 1971, when the political turmoil in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) started and the Bengalis declared their intentions to separate, the Yahya Khan Govt cracked down on the Bengalis, forcing them to flee to neighbouring Indian States. India decided to intervene and in 1971 started the clandestine insurgency operations in East Pakistan. The Indian Army Chief Field Marshal Manekshaw specially selected Shabeg Singh, then a brigadier, and made him in-charge of Delta Sector with lead Quarters at Aggartala. He was given the responsibility of planning, organising and directing insurgency operations in the whole of Central and East Bangladesh. Under his command were placed all the Bangladesh officers that had deserted from the Pakistan Army. These included Col Osmani, as adviser, Maj Zia-Ur-Rehman and Mohammad Mustaq. Zia Ur Rehman later became the President of Bangladesh while Mustaq Mohammed became Bangladesh army chief. Starting from about January to October 1971, the insurgency operations gradually grew to such an intensity that by the time war started, the Pakistan army in East Bengal had completely lost their will to resist. The Indian Govt did not want the world to know that the Indian Army was training and directing the Bengali insurgents so all activities were very secret. Shabeg was so thoroughly involved in these clandestine operations that for five months from December 70 to April 71, his family had no news about his whereabouts. They believed he was till in Nagaland and wondered why he did not write because he had always been regular in writing home to his wife. In April 1970, the first letter was received from the Civilian address of a Merchant shop in Aggartala and his name was written as S.Baigh, such was the nature of secrecy maintained of the Army's involvement in the insurgency movement. The wife was quite confused and the family wondered what was going on because the letter was very brief and just said, "don't worry I am ok." Meanwhile as the Mukti Bahini got bolder, the Pak Army in the East began to grow demoralised due to the onslaught. It got so widely dispersed in trying to contain the 'Mukti Bahini' that when the Indian Army launched its operations in Nov.1971 they were able to walk through to Dacca, virtually unopposed. Over one hundred thousand enemy troops with the complete general staff surrendered, leading to the emergence of Bangladesh. The credit of this great achievement was mainly due to the efforts of Shabeg Singh, who spent day and night organising, motivating and training young Bengali youth to fight for their land. Such was the motivation of a Bengali youth force known as Mukti Bahini and so perfect the direction of their operation that no senior administrative officer felt safe in Bengal. Guerilla strikes were launched on five star hotels and on ships in Chittagong harbor to show the extent of power which the Mukti Bahini wielded. Strategic bridges were destroyed, factories closed and movement within Bangladesh restricted resulting in a paralysis of the economy. No doubt it was a cakewalk for the Indian Army when the actual operations were launched. The Indian government promoted Shaheg Singh to the post of Major General and awarded him the Param Vashist Sewa Medal in recognition of his services. He had earlier been awarded the Ati Vashist Sewa Medal also. He was made General Officer Command of MP Bihar and Orissa. The Jaya Pyakash Narayan movement had started during 1972-73 and became a serious threat to the Indira Govt. Police were sympathetic with JP and his followers, so the Government decided to use the Army. Gen Shabeg was asked to arrest JP and take some harsh measure against his followers but he refused saying this was not his job. The result was that the Congress Govt later instituted a CBI inquiry to harass him on cooked-up charges and he was out posted of the area. After the Indo-Pak wall, all the Pakistani POWs were under his jurisdiction and senior General Staff were kept at Jabalpur which was also the HQs of MP.Bihar and Orissa area. Due to jealousy of certain senior army officers and the policy of the Indian government not to promote outstanding Sikh generals, he was not given the command of a Division which was a move of the Army for denying him promotion. Here was a field commander with so much war experience-denied command of a combat formation. Why so? Only to do deny him promotion when his name came up. While he was posted as GOC of the UP Area HQs in whose jurisdiction the Kumaon Regimental Center is placed, it was found that the commander of the Kumaon Military Farm had given a large sum money to the Chief, Gen Raina, who was himself from the same regiment. A court of inquiry discovered that General Raina, Army received over two hundred thousand rupees from the Kumaon farm to meet expenses for his daughter's marriage. When this information was brought to the notice of the General Office Commanding, Shabeg Singh; he told Gen Raina about the findings of the Court of Inquiry and requested the chief to return the amount as the Military farm of the Kumaon Regt was already running a loss. The result was that Gen Shabeg was promptly posted out of the this indiscretion and the inquiry hushed up. The forthwith posting was an unprecedented action because peacetime postings are never conducted on such emergency basis. Soon after that the Army instituted a court of inquiry against Gen Shabeg Singh which dragged on for one year till the date of his retirement on May, 1 1976. The main charge against the General had accepted a plaque costing Rs 2500 as a gift on his positing out of Jabalpur area HQs. -Even though a similar present had been predecessor and it is common for senior officers to accept such gifts. However, in the case of Gen Shabeg it became an offence. Some other flimsy charges were also made like allowing his official house land to be used for cultivation purposes and permitting sale of goods purchased from customs in the area HQs Canteen. These practices had been in vogue even before Gen had taken command of the area in 1972. The vindictiveness of Indian Government and the Army Chief was made obvious, when one day prior of Gen Shabeg's retirement, on April 30, 1976 the hero of Mukti Bahini, a highly decorated general with PVSM & AVSM, who had been actively involved in every operation that Indian Army fought since his joining service and who spent the major portion of his life in field areas separated from the cost of his wife's health and the education of his children was dismissed from the Army. Such was the treatment meted out to a brave soldier and an outstanding General, a leader of men, whom the Indian government and some senior Army officers in 1984 after Operation Blue Star dubbed as 'disgruntled' and frustrated because he was loyal to his community and fought for its honour and to protect the Golden Temple against the Army attack.
Soldier of the Panth:
Gen Shabeg Singh was convinced, even while he was still serving in the Army, that the Hindu Government of India would never allow the Sikhs freedom in Punjab. He was aware of the discrimination against Sikhs in denying them promotions and the general hostility of the Hindu Govt. who were set to weed out the Sikhs from the Army. The general reduction in the strength of Sikhs in the Army and the policy of the Govt. towards Sikhs in Punjab by denying them capital industry, restricting the Sikh peasant to farming of wheat and crops whose prices were also controlled to deny them full reward. The denial of full and fare shares of river waters were apart of an overall conspiracy to deny Sikhs their legitimate due. At the same time the propaganda of the Indian Government against the Sikhs, painting them as communal and ensuring that Punjab state gradually became poorer was a device to humble the Sikhs. Their demand for autonomy was treated as treachery and anti-patriotic by the Govt, and the Hindu dominated press vociferously branded the Sikh demands as secessionist. The beleaguered Sikhs had no way to voice their grievances, they were not properly organised, they had no press which commanded international attention. The Indian Government was well aware of these weaknesses of Sikhs and they exploited these to further weaken and subjugate them. The Akali party as painted as party of uneducated, unlettered, obscurantist Sikhs so that belonging to intelligentsia, shied away from it. The Akalis in turn were suspicious of these former Government servants and doubted their loyalties. This resulted in growing gap between the Sikh Intelligentsia and Sikh politicians. The Hindu government was happy at this state of affairs and made full use of the weakness of Sikhs. Retired Sikh Army officers as well as Civil Administration preferred to join the Congress rather than a Sikh political party. In 1977, Gen Shabeg Singh decided to throw-in his lot with the Akali Party as it was the only party in Punjab which could fight for the rights of the Sikhs. He met Sardar Gurcharan Singh Tohra and offered to work as a soldier of Panth. The SGPC president was initially hesitant and distant but gradually was won over by the sincerity of the general and started seeking his advice important matters like associating Sikh Intelligentsia and ex servicemen with the Akali Morcha. The Indian Government was quick to notice Gen Shabeg's joining the Akali movement and started sending messages for him to disassociate with politicians or face serious consequences. It was the way of Shaheg Singh that once he took a decision, he stuck to it and refused to be shaken from his resolve. His brother, who was progressive and well -to- do farmer and an active political worker in the Terri at Bazpur became the first victim of the Government's ores ion on the family. The local Congress leader along with the police connived to finish him and he was killed by the Brahmin leader in 1978. The same congressman has ever since been terrifying the Sikhs in that area. The loss of his younger brother, was a big blow to Shabeg Singh but his resolve not weaken. The general and his family members were harassed, the CBI tried to implicate the general in a case of alleged misappropriation of wealth and dragged on the case till 1983 Dec., to embarrass and harass him. Eventually the case fell through due to its flimsiness and the acquitted general to his son, "These CBI official knowing too well the weakness of their case and feeling ashamed of their vain attempts to slander me could not bear to look me in the face." For five years he had to bear with this govt. sponsored harassment only because he had opted to politics and not taken repressive means against Jaya Prakash Narain's movement a few years earlier.
Gen Shabeg Singh was very active during the Akali agitation of 1980 to 84. He courted arrest a number of times and won the hearts of the agitationist who saw that here was one leader who did not accept any preferential treatment in prison. He slept on the floor on a single rug and gave his cot to any old or infirm co-prisoner. He cared for their wants and protested to jail authorities for better conditions for the old and weak agitations. He won the respect of his colleagues and other leaders like Prakash Singh Badal, Balwant Singh, H.S. Dhindsa aiid Vice Chancellor B.S.Samundri. Most Akali leaders liked and appreciated his work and sense of dedication. All those who associated with him were enthused by his Spirit He became popular with the people in Punjab and was soon fully engrossed in his service to the "'Panth". During the periods when he was out of jail he spent a major portion of his time in the village at Khiala where his mother lived He did not care for the old age comforts that he had planned for by constructing a comfortable house at Dehra Dun. His wife too came to stay in the village where he spent most of the time. This was in spite of her ill health due to a defective kidney and hypertension and the neglect of their house at Dehra Dun.
Joining with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Punjab had become a leaderless state in 1982- or perhaps there were two many leaders. The people of Punjab were confused. There was Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Parkash Singh Badal, Sant Longowal, Jagdev Singh Talwandi and a host of other big and small leaders. But everyone was suspect in the eyes of the people thanks to the Govt. propaganda and machination of Congress led by Gandhi. Into the scene now stepped another leader, a charismatic personality. A saint and leader of the renowned 'Damdami Taksal' Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. A selfless, dedicated leader who was frank, forthright and outspoken. He had but one interest only - the interest of the Sikh community - the Khalsa. He did not mince words when he attacked the deceitful politics of the Congress. He spoke out plainly on how the Sikhs had been exploited, and how the Akalis', inspite of their assertions, had fallen prey to the politics of deceit and disruption. They were accused of neglecting Sikh interest when in power to appease the Central Congress Government. People flocked to him. He soon emerged as the undisputed leader of the Sikhs. His following grew at an alarming rate to the discomfort of the Indira Government. When Gen Shabeg Singh met Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, he felt naturally attracted to this out spoken, plain and bold man who was a natural leader and whose word, all Sikhs, specially in rural Punjab, The two became closer and closer with passing time.
Conference of Sikh intelligentsia
In 1983 Gen Shabeg Singh and other leaders suggested to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Sardar Gurcharan Singh Tohra to get together the Sikh intellectuals and discuss the dangerous situation that was being created by the Government, which was bent upon exploiting the Sikhs to win popular Hindu support and how it could lead to a breaking point. Gen Shabeg Singh worked ceaselessly in drafting letters and inviting eminent Sikhs and ex-Army officers to attend the meeting which was eventually held and all shades of Sikh leadership felt convinced of the need of unity at this critical juncture. A very large number of retired army personnel attended this meeting and this frightened the Govt. A resolution was made that if need be, Sikhs would sacrifice their lives for the cause. A line was drawn and all who agreed were asked to step across it. Gen Shabeg Singh led the way. With passing time, the only way the Sikhs could escape from the conflagrant situation that was developing was to remain united, but the Govt was steadily working toward eroding any such moves because it had already made up its mind to teach the Sikhs a lesson. Indira Gandhi, developed a new strategy in dealing with the unwelcome emergence of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. She cleverly planned to use the phenomenon to finish Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and also win the support of Hindu majority at the cost of the Sikhs. A massive smear campaign was launched to denigrate the new leader who she knew would never compromise on principles. The story of what followed is well known. With each passing day the Governments shameless tirade against the Sikhs grew and grew. There was no way for the Sikhs to respond but only by getting stuck deeper in the quagmire. Eventually Sant Bhindranwale and his loyalist were forced to seek shelter in the apparent safety of Akal Takhat. The only hope of Sikhs was unity of leadership but that was not to be. They were not strong enough to repel an all out Govt attack, though they had the power to hold the police and allied security forces at bay, perhaps for many months. Now Sant Jarnail Singh needed Gen Shabeg Singh's help. The General was away at Dehra Dun trying to recuperate from a serious heart attack that he had suffered a few months before, while on one of his "Sikh Prachar" meetings. A special messenger reached the house at Dehra Dun in the middle of March1984, with a message from Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale that he was needed at Amritsar. After convalescence at Dehra Dun, Shabeg Singh and his wife had planned on a visit to Hajur Sahib where his wife had pledged to offer prayers once his CBI case was decided In Dec 1983 he had been acquitted of all charges. But this visit was not to be. Without second thought and still not fully recovered he left for Amritsar and that was last he saw his Dehra Dun home which he had planned to spend a peaceful retirement in pursuit prayer and meditation. At Amritsar, he got fully involved in setting up the defences against Government attack on the Golden Temple complex. He had to plan his defences such that they were inconspicuous because the pilgrims' movement to the Golden Temple and around it had to remain unhindered. At the Same time, the defences had to be very effective. He was in his element now. In the service of his community he did not mind giving up his life. He had always had a love for warfare and thought of death in battle a privilege. Perhaps he had a hidden desire to die fighting and in the holy presence of our Gurus. What better place then, than the Akal Takhat and the close proximity of Harmandir Sahib and in the service of his community. Tirelessly he worked against time with the prayer of Guru Gobind Singh on lips "Deh Shiva Var Mohe……." In the past, whenever in war, he always offered this prayer. Being an Army General he must have been very well aware of the odd against him. Re had less than 200 young Khalsa youth to help him. Though these were no ordinary youth. They were highly motivated, dedicated to the cause and each one resolved to fight to the last when the time came Yet he knew that with this small band, and hardly any resources with which to resist the might of the Indian Army, he might surely be overwhelmed. In the interest of the Sikh cause, he did suggest to Sant Jamail Singh Bhindranwale to leave the Akal Takhat and seek refuge outside the country to carry on the struggle. But how could the head of Damdami Taksal accept such a suggestion however practical it may have appeared. Perhaps Indira to knew and had calculated on this. When the time came, he would prefer sacrifice and martyrdom in the footsteps of Baba Deep Singh. Here was combination of two great traditions. One, the head of the great Daindami Takhsal and another a descendent of Bhai Mehtab Singh who had at this very place slashed off the head of vile Massa Rangar and carried it on his spear charging through the bewildered soldiers of the Nawab 250 years earlier. In the meanwhile, the political situation grew worse Indira Gandhi was playing her cards as per the game plan. Hindu feelings against Sikh throughout the country had been sufficiently aroused to condone any action against Sikhs including an assault on the Golden Temple. Commandos had been rehearsed for months at Chakkratta. Come June 1984 and it was time to call in the army and administer the 'coupe de grace'. The army leader had been carefully selected, Lt Gen R.S. Dayal though the Chief of Staff to Gen Sunderji the Army Commander in charge of the operation was yet given greater coverage by the Govt. dominated media to show that the Army Sikh officers even at the highest level approved on the Golden Temple. Major Gen K.S.Brar, a Sikh only in name, clean shaven, married to an anglo-Indian who smoked and drank and cared not for Sikhism, these two were orchestrated as the leaders of the attack. Giani Zail Singh who signed the papers for army action was the President of the country. How clever of the 'Pandityani'. She had everything all set. On June 1 and June 2 Gen Brar himself went to asses the defences of the temple dressed as a pilgrim and convinced his superiors the operation would take only six hours. On June 3 at 9:30 a.m. Punjab, Amritsar was sealed off and no movement of people allowed into the Golden Temple or out of it. At 8:30 a.m. that day Gen Shabeg Singh had literally forced his mother, wife, sister-in-law and nephew to leave the complex and go to the village. They had come there to offer prayers on the Shaheedi Gurpurb of Guru Arjun Dev Singh which fell on June 4 and make arrangements for the annual 'Chownki' which proceeds from Harmandir Sahib to Gurusar the Gurdwara of guru Hargobind Sahib. The Chownki (party carrying the Guru Granth Sahib) halts at village Khiala which is on the way. Soft drinks, tea and snacks are served to everyone and this duty had been performed by Pritam Kaur, General Shabeg Singh's mother since many, many years. Even if she was alone, she made sure arrangements for the Chowmki's were made by the village folks At Harmandir Sahib, thousands of pilgrims who had come for the annual occasion could not leave before 9:30 a.m. and were trapped, many thousands would lose their lives in the massacre that was about to be unleashed by the power-hungry Indira and her stooges. Sikhs would be presented with another group of martyrs. The last chapter in the lives of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Bhai Amrik Singh and Gen Shaheg Singh along with those valiant youth who fought for the honour of Golden Temple and the Sikhs was about to close. So too would be lost the lives of thousands of innocent pilgrims while those spared would rot in camps and prisons of the Indian Govt. for many years. Yet a new chapter in the history of the Sikhs was about to begin. Ever since Blue Star, tens of thousands of Sikh youth have lost their lives in the struggle to achieve Khalistan, a land which the Sikhs can call their own. A place where they will be the masters of their destiny and not be exploited by any unscrupulous and power hungry Hindu politician like Indira or Rajiv. Sikhs cannot rest until they have our own homeland where coming generations of Sikhs can enjoy the fruits of liberty and pursue happiness in a democratic society. The sacrifices of those tens of thousands shall not be allowed to be in vain. By the Grace of Waheguru the Sikh phoenix will rise from its ashes to soar higher. That day shall not be too faraway when the blood of our martyrs shall bear fruit.
THREAT TO KHALSA COMMUNITY?
Blue Star is a stigma on the forehead of Indian culture and civilisation. It is a black spot on Indian democracy and its love and concern for Human Rights. ‘Blue Star Operation’ raped Indian consciousness and projected Sikhs as militants and mercenaries of loot, arson and plunder - a race which saved the Indian society and protected its centuries old legacy in the middle ages of its history. ‘Blue Star Operation’ crushed Sikhs who during the freedom struggle made maximum sacrifices at the altar of Indian's freedom from foreign yoke. After the attainment of Independence of India, Sikhs protected the borders of India from foreign invasions and enable it to become self reliant in the domain of production of food grains. Sikhs were punished by the Congress rulers particularly by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi whose wrong policies were opposed tooth and nail by Sikhs during the dark days of emergency. Realising that Sikhs could dethrone her from the Premiership Indira Gandhi hatched a conspiracy to teach Sikhs a lesson with the help of "some Sikh MASSA RANGARS in the incarnation of Zail Singh and Darbara Singh. It was a deep rooted conspiracy to annihilate Sikhs and Sikhism from India. Sikhs were projected as "terrorists" over the electronic media as well as in the print media. Religious places of Sikhs were invaded by the Indian army in Punjab. Tanks were used to demolish the old and famous Gurdwaras including Golden Temple and Akal Takhat, Keshgarh sahib at Anandpur Sahib. Gurudwara Dukh Nivaran at Patiala and the historic Gurdwaras at Mukatsar and Tarn Taran. Thousands of Sikh men, women and children were crushed to death by the Indian army in a cold blooded manner during the Operation Blue Star. Innocent devotees were gunned down in the Parikarma. Tosha Khanna was looted. Sikhs Library was burnt, Kotha Sahib and Bungas were destroyed. Sikhism was defamed. Sikhs were defaced. The modesty of Sikh psyche was outraged ironically by those very forces which were once nurtured and cultured nourished and protected by Sikh Gurus. Congress party especially the Gandhi family though the Operation Blue Star depicted Sikhs as traitors in the eyes of the world unmindful of the fact that Sikhs have glorified the glorious traditions of Indian Army by their brave deeds from time to time. Between June 6, 1984 to January 25, 1998 no Indian leader of any political party including Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and United Front ever condemned the Operation Blue Star and its aftermath. But on January 25, 1998 while addressing an election rally of the Congress party at Chandigarh Mrs. Sonia Gandhi while describing Operation Blue Star and its aftermath as an unfortunate incidents expressed anguish. What does it mean? Shall Sikhs forget Operation Blue Star and its aftermath? Shall Sikhs forgive all those who are responsible for the GREAT TRAGEDY AND GENOCIDE? Will any one answer as to why Sikhs were punished? Will anybody fix responsibility for Operation Blue Star?
Tuesday May 25th
100,000 Indian Army troops are mobilised and deployed throughout Punjab surrounding all important Gurdwaras including the Golden Temple complex.
Friday June 1st
Thousands of pilgrims start to gather at the Golden Temple complex to celebrate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev on June 3rd.
As Bindranwale sits on the roof of the Langer hall, police snipers open fire on him. They missed and Sikhs fired back. A seven hour skirmish during the night lasting until the morning leaves 11 dead and 25 injured. There were bullet holes in the Langer building, in the marble pavement (parkarma) surrounding the Golden Temple and in the Golden Temple itself.
Sunday June 3rd
All communications including phone lines to and from Punjab are cut. Road blocks prevent anyone from entering or leaving Punjab and all journalists are expelled from Punjab. A total curfew is imposed and as many as 10,000 pilgrims are trapped inside the temple complex.
Milk vendors from the villages who supply milk to the city of Amritsar are shot dead for violating the curfew orders.
Monday June 4th
The army starts firing on the temple complex and their is a gun battle lasting 5 hours. Using machine guns and mortars the army fires at militant positions atop the two 18th century towers called Ramgarhia Bunga's, and the water tank behind Teja Singh Samundri Hall as well as surrounding buildings. At least 100 are killed on both sides.
At 7:00 p.m. Operation Blue Star, the invasion of The Golden Temple begins with tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army moving to enclose the Golden Temple complex. Troops are briefed not to use their guns against the Golden Temple itself or the Akal Takht. Artillery is used to blast off the tops of the Ramgarhia Bungas and the water tank. Scores of buildings in and around the temple complex are blazing. One artillery shell lands more than 5 km away in the crowded city.
In the narrow alley behind the Akal Takht paramilitary commandos try to get into the temple. Some make it to the roof but are turned back due to the heavy gunfire. Meanwhile tanks move into the square in front of the northern entrance to the Golden Temple known as the clock tower entrance.
At 10:30 pm commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment try to run down the steps under the clock tower onto the marble parkarma around the sacred pool. They face heavy gunfire, suffering casualties and are forced to retreat. A second wave of commandos manage to neutralise the machine gun posts on either side of the steps and get down to the parkarma.
The Akal Takht is heavily fortified with sandbags and brick gun emplacements in its windows and arches. From here and the surrounding buildings the Sikhs are able to fire at any commandos who make their way in front of the Gurdwara.
Two companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles enter the temple complex from the opposite side on the southern gate entrance and after a gun battle are able to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. They are reinforced by two companies of the 15th Kumaons. Repeated unsuccessful attempts are made to storm the Akal Takht.
After midnight tanks are used to break down the steps leading to the parkarma from the hostel side and an 8-wheeled Polish-built armoured personnel carrier makes it's way towards the Akal Takht. It is destroyed by a Chinese-made rocket propelled grenade launcher.
Six or more Vijayanta tanks enter the temple complex crushing the delicate marble inlays of the parkarma and plough their way towards the Akal Takht. Orders arrive and the tanks start firing their large 105mm cannons equipped with high explosive squash-head shells into the Akal Takht. These shells are designed for hard targets like armour and fortifications. When the shells his a target, their heads spread or squash on the hard surface. Their fuses are arranged to allow a short delay between the impact and the shells igniting, so that a shock-wave passes through the target and a heavy slab of armour or masonry is forced away from the inside of the target armour or fortification.
The effect on the Akal Takht, the most sacred of the five Takhts, is devastating. Over 80 shells are pumped into the sacred Gurdwara. The entire front of the Takht is destroyed and fires break out in many of the different rooms blackening the marble walls and wrecking the delicate decorations dating back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Marble inlays, plaster and mirror work, filigree partitions and priceless old wall paintings are all destroyed.
The gold dome of the Akal Takht is also badly damaged by artillery fire. At one stage a 3.7 inch Howell gun is mounted on the roof of a building behind the shrine and fired a number of times at the beautiful dome.
At the other end of the Temple complex on the easternmost side a battalion of the Kumaon Regiment were invading the hostel complex where many of the innocent pilgrims were in hiding as well as the temple administration staff. There was no water because the water tower had been destroyed and it was very hot.
Secretary of S.G.P.C.)
"They cut our electricity and water supplies. It was very hot in the rooms. There was no water. We had only two plastic buckets of water. Longowal had to place two people as guards over the buckets. Many people would squeeze their undershirts to drink their sweat to quench their thirst."
Around 1:00 am the Army entered the hostel and administrative buildings and ordered everyone out and made them sit in the courtyard of the Guru Ram Das Hostel. There were about 250 people who came out.
"Suddenly there was a big explosion. All hell broke loose. It was pitch dark. People started running back into the verandah and the rooms. I and Abhinashi Singh were sitting next to Gurcharan Singh, the former Secretary of the Akali Dal whom Bhindranwale accused of murdering Sodhi. Gurcharan was shot as he tried to run inside. We realised that soldiers were shooting at us. They thought someone from among the crowd had exploded the grenade. But it was probably thrown by extremists on the water tank overlooking the Guru Ram Das Serai (Hostel). We ran to Tohra's room and told Longowal what was happening. Longowal came out and shouted at the Major. He said, 'Don't shoot these people. They are not extremists. They are employees of the S.G.P.C.' The Major then ordered his men to stop shooting. Later in the morning we counted at least seventy dead bodies in the compound. There were women and children too."
Among the dead were 35 women and 5 children. The survivors were made to sit in the courtyard of the Guru Ram Das Hostel until curfew was lifted the next evening. They were not given any food, water or medical aid. People drank whatever water was in puddles in the courtyard from the blown up water tank.
mother of 3 young children)
"When people begged for water some soldiers told them to drink the mixture of blood and urine on the ground."
Many of the young men in the group of innocent unarmed civilians were then shot by the soldiers.
"I saw about 35 or 36 Sikhs lined up with their hands raised above their heads. And the major was about to order them to be shot. When I asked him for medical help, he got into a rage, tore my turban off my head, and ordered his men to shoot me. I turned back and fled, jumping over the bodies of the dead and injured, and saving my life crawling along the walls. I got to the room where Tohra and Sant Longowal were sitting and told them what I had seen. Sardar Karnail Singh Nag, who had followed me, also narrated what he had seen, as well as the killing of 35 to 36 young Sikhs by cannon fire. All of these young men were villagers."
"Early on the sixth morning the army came into the Guru Ram Das Serai and ordered all of those in the rooms to come out. We were taken into the courtyard. The men were separated from the women. We were also divided into old and young women and I was separated from the children, but I managed to get back to the old women. When we were sitting there the army released 150 people from the basement. They were asked why they had not come out earlier. They said the door had been locked from the outside. They were asked to hold up their hands and then they were shot after 15 minutes. Other young men were told to untie their turbans. They were used to tie their hands behind their backs. The army hit them on the head with the butts of their rifles."
"The young men and some other pilgrims were staying in Room Number 61. The army searched all the rooms of the Serai. Nothing objectionable was found from their room. Nor did the army find anything objectionable on their persons. The army locked up 60 pilgrims in that room and shut not only the door but the window also. Electric supply was disconnected. The night between June 5th and June 6th was extremely hot. The locked-in young men felt very thirsty after some time, and loudly knocked on the door from inside to ask the army men on duty for water. They got abuses in return, but no water. The door was not opened. Feeling suffocated and extremely thirsty, the men inside began to faint and otherwise suffer untold misery. The door of the room was opened at 8 am on June 6th. By this time 55 out of the 60 had died. The remaining 5 were also semi-dead."
By morning light, there is only sporadic sniper fire from the rubble of the Akal Takht. By late afternoon the army was firmly in control of the Temple complex and curfew was lifted for two hours to allow people who were still in hiding to come out.
"I went to the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) on 5th June around 7:30 in the evening because I had to ensure that religious ceremonies were performed. The moment I stepped on to the parkarma I stumbled across a body. Bullets were flying and I had to take shelter behind each and every pillar to reach the Darshani Deorhi. Another body was lying there. I ran a few yards and reached the Akal Takht. Night prayers start at Harmandir Sahib five minutes after they start at the Akal Takht. I wanted to find out if the path (recitation) had started there. I had a glimpse of Bhindranwale. We did not speak to each other. Around 7:45 I came out of the Akal Takht and ran into the Darshani Deorhi. I ran towards Harmandir Sahib, unmindful of the bullets flying past my ears. I began night prayers. Soon a colleague of mine, Giani Mohan Singh, joined me. Seeing the intensity of the fire we decided to close all the doors, barring the front door. Soon we completed all religious rites. We then took the Guru Granth Sahib to the top room to prevent any damage to the holy book. The Head Priest, Giani Sahib Singh, had given clear instructions that under no circumstances was the Guru Granth Sahib to be taken to the Akal Takht if the conditions were not right.
Looking through the window-pane from the first floor of the Harmandir Sahib, I saw a tank standing on the parkarma with its lights on. I thought for a moment that it was the fire brigade come to collect water from the srowar (holy pool) to put out the fire which was raging in almost every room. A few minutes later my belief was shattered when I saw the vehicle emitting fire instead of putting it out. By 10:30 or so around 13 tanks had collected on the parkarma. They had come after crushing the staircase from the eastern wing where Guru Ram Das Serai, the Langer and the Teja Singh Samundari Hall are situated. One after another the cannon fire lit the sky. When the first shell hit the bottom of the Darshani Deorhi, creating a hole in it, I saw the room with the historic chandni (canopy) presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh catching fire. One after another the big bombs hit the Darshani Deorhi in quick succession, and what was once a lovely building was now on fire. The Toshakhana (Treasury) was also on fire. Occasionally a bullet would hit the Harmandir Sahib. We were 27 people inside, mostly ragis (singers) and sewadars (temple servants).
In the early hours of the morning of 6th June we took the holy book down and performed the religious rites that are performed every day, like maharaj da prakash karna (unfolding the holy book) and reciting hymns from the scriptures. The two side-doors were closed and the front and back doors were open. Bullets kept hitting the wall both inside and outside, ripping off the gold surface at various places. Soon after we finished reciting prayers one of our colleagues, Ragi Avtar Singh was hit. We pulled him into a corner. Another bullet came and hit the holy Granth Sahib. We have preserved this book.
In the meanwhile the pounding of the Akal Takht was continuing. There was no let-up in the fire in other places either. We were thirsty and desperate for water. We crawled to the holy pool to get water for ourselves and for the wounded colleague.
Around 5pm they announced on loudspeakers that those hiding in the Harmandir Sahib should come out and that they would not be shot dead. While myself and Giani Mohan Singh remained inside, others walked out with the arms above their heads."
Over 300 bullet holes were counted in the Golden Temple itself.
With the lifting of the curfew innocent Sikhs thought that by coming out from hiding they would now be safe. Sadly this was not the case.
Nada, Temple Public Relations Officer)
"On the fifth night, the night of the real assault, mortars started throwing up plaster. My wife and I and my two daughters decided to go down from our flat on the first floor to the office, which is on the ground floor. At this point I thought of surrendering but I was told by a Bhindranwale man, 'One more step outside the complex and you are a dead man'. Faced with this threat to my entire family plus the insecurity of the office room, I decided to move down to a small basement where there was a fridge. An exhaust fan outlet in the basement proved a life saver. I could hear soldiers speaking outside and different instructions from their commanders. Next to the basement was another cubicle facing the Temple where a sevadar used to sleep. I heard the army drag out this man. He was shot. Since extremists had been using all possible openings as pill boxes and grenade launchers the soldiers decided to lob grenades into all such openings, including my fan outlet. The minute I heard the order we all moved under a staircase. Minutes later two grenades came in. The splinters took three inches away from most of the walls. But luckily we escaped. We spent the night under the staircase. Eventually at about 11 am on the 6th my wife noticed an officer standing outside. She called out to him to attract his attention and requested him to rescue us. She told him that she had two young daughters. The officer behaved decently and said, 'Don't worry I too have two daughters. Nothing will happen to you. Stay put.' He organised chapattis, pickles and drinking water. He eventually let us out when curfew lifted.
We had to step over dead bodies strewn everywhere. We were taken to the square in front of the main clock tower entrance. The minute the soldiers saw me, a male member of the group, they positioned their rifles on their shoulders with the barrels pointing at me. I think they were about to shoot me when a brigadier who recognised me intervened. We were then led by soldiers across the parkarma to the library side. A lieutenant accompanied us. Upon reaching the other side he asked me to stand against the wall and lined up a firing squad. He asked me to say my prayers. I requested to say good-bye to my wife and the two daughters. At this point the brigadier showed up again and shouted at the young officer, 'What the hell are you doing!' The officer said, 'Sir, I misunderstood your order. I thought this man was to be shot.'
Now we were made to sit on the ground. My hands were tied behind my back. We were about 70 in that lot. All of us were told to keep our heads down. A slight movement of the head resulted in a sharp rifle butt. We spent the whole night sitting there."
Outside the Temple complex the army troops were on a brutal rampage, killing and looting surrounding houses of Sikhs.
"On the way back to the hotel (afternoon of June 6th) I witnessed a scene at the Kotwali which is blood curdling. This is where some soldiers were kicking some of the 11 suspected terrorists as they knelt on their bare knees and crawled on the hot road surface."
"The people were taken out of their houses. Men's hands were tied with their turbans. Women's necks were sought to be asphyxiated with their plaits. Then they were shot in the chests. No quarter was shown to women, aged or children; in the eyes of the troops every Sikh was a terrorist. Those who survived died of thirst. Their houses were ransacked, and then put on fire. The area surrounding Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) was full of debris. What happened is beyond description of sight, hearing or words."
As night fell the Army troops were given the order to storm the remains of the Akal Takht and shoot on site anyone they found inside. The troops encounter little resistance and find dead bodies and the smell of death everywhere.
In the early hours of the morning the troops discover the bodies of Bhindranwale and his closest followers in the basement of the Akal Takht.
The day was spent in clean up operations flushing out any remaining snipers and collecting the dead bodies. Soldiers were openly walking about the temple in their shoes, drinking alcohol as well as smoking. Blood and bodies were strewn all over the broken marble of the parkarma. With putrefying corpses floating in the sacred pool of nectar and the smell of death everywhere.
The Darshani Deori the entrance gate of the Golden Temple which houses many priceless treasures was destroyed and looted. Although fighting had now died down, the central library complex was mysteriously burned down. Many priceless manuscripts, some in the Gurus own handwriting were lost forever.
The number of people who lost their lives will never be known. The Army refused to let the Red Cross enter the complex and cremated the dead before the bodies could be identified or claimed by their families. The Amritsar municipal sweepers refused to clear the dead bodies away but were eventually persuaded by offers of rum and being allowed to strip the bodies of all valuables. They piled the dead into garbage trucks and unceremoniously cremated them. Family members were not allowed by the army to claim the remains or perform any traditional funeral rites. It is clear that thousands lost their lives in the Temple complex.
Elsewhere across Punjab hundreds of Sikhs were killed in the army operation at the same time which saw 42 Gurdwaras raided at the same time as the Golden Temple, including high casualties at Moga, Mukatsar, Faridkot, Patiala, Ropar and Chowk Mehta.
Kar Seva is the ceremonial cleaning of the sacred pool is normally undertaken every 50 years. A special Kar Seva was undertaken in 1985 to replace some of the damage. Tens of thousands of Sikhs participated and the sacred pool of nectar was completely drained and cleaned.
Restoration work has taken 15 years to complete. The Akal Takht has been entirely rebuilt. The marble of the parkarma has been replaced in sections with new marble. Repair work on Harmandir Sahib included rebuilding the temple dome and walls with new gold. The Ramgharia Bungas have been repaired and Teja Singh Samundri Hall has been left, pockmarked with bullet holes as a reminder of the tragedy.
What was one of the darkest chapters of Sikh history, reminiscent of the persecution the Sikhs faced at the hands of the Mughals has acted like a lightening rod for all Sikhs. It should not be viewed as a cause of incitement of hatred, but rather as a jolting reminder to Sikhs that they cannot take the existence of their religion for granted. As caretakers of the Sikh religion, it is up to Sikhs to actively participate and make sure that the message of the Gurus and the Sikh religion survives and grows, overcoming any and all adversities.
A TRUE SIKH NEVER FORGETS 1984