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All images - details from painting by Canadian artist, Kanwar Singh [].


1984 & I
What I Saw







This year, 2016, marks the 32nd Anniversary of 1984, when horrendous crimes were committed against the Sikhs in the very land of their origin. In 2009, to commemorate the annual sad milestone, we at had asked our regular columnists, as well as our contributors and readers, to share with us the impact 1984 had had on their lives. We requested personal stories and anecdotes, as well as an attempt to capture their inner thoughts and deepest ruminations on what 1984 meant to each one of them and their loved ones - without going into a litany of facts and figures or a listing of the injustices to date, all of which would invariably be covered with due diligence elsewhere. The following is the fourth of the series entitled "1984 & I", originally published in 2009.




The June 1984 military assault on The Golden Temple was followed by a general mayhem, supported by law enforcing agencies, the Congress party and militant Hindu leaders. It took about two years to very gradually open the Harmandar Sahib complex fully to the public.

Even then, visitors were frisked, searched and were only then allowed to enter the Darbar Sahib at 5 p.m. for one hour. No one was allowed to carry in a camera or an empty bottle for taking back amrit (water from the sacred pool).  

Visit to The Darbar Sahib

I turned up there one day with my family during "off-time", i.e., before 5 p.m. When we were refused entry, I walked to the Military Post in Brahm Akhara, towards Sarai Guru Ram Das. A Sikh army officer was there and I requested entry. He sent a soldier with me and the guards allowed us to get in. My camera was not allowed.

We stood at the top of stairs on the Ghantaghar (clocktower) entrance. My tears started flowing, as I saw the massive hole in the dome of Akal Takht. I heaved a deep sigh; it was loaded with despair and gloom. May the Lord have mercy on Indira Gandhi!

On the Parkarma

As we walked on the parkarma, (the walkway that circumambulates the Harmandar Sahib and the sarovar, and walked past the Ramgarhia Bunga, we could smell the strange odor of the dead emanating from the ventilators.

We did the whole parkarma, took a sip of the water from the sarovar at Baer Sahib (the historic jujube tree gurdwara) and moved on. On reaching the spot memorializing Baba Deep Singh, we observed the marble floor of the parkarma had a deep pit in it, created by the sheer weight of the military tanks. From here, we could spot a large four-to-five-foot hole in the ToshaKhana (Treasury, which housed priceless treasures) gaping in the direction of the Harmandar Sahib.

From the left plank of the huge door at the entrance - a historic treasure in itself - I pulled out two bullets.

At the Karrah-Parshad stand on the side, located in the direction of the two Miri-Piri Nishaan Sahibs in front of the Akal Takht, the wall had a large area chiselled out and pockmarked with bullet holes.

Sikh Reference Library

We saw that the Sikh Reference Library had already been looted and burnt by the army, which we now know took place about four days after the hostilities had long subsided. Its burnt, crooked, empty almirahs were standing in the lane outside.

Sanctum Sanctorum

We went into the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandar Sahib with humble submission, folded hands and aching hearts. I counted 301 bullet marks in and out of the building. These were covered with discs of ordinary cardboard. There could easily have been many more points of damage which I had missed. This was in marked contrast with the government's and Indira Gandhi's own claim that not even a single bullet had been fired towards Harmandar Sahib.

Kotha Sahib

On the Kotha Sahib, where Guru Granth Sahib was put to rest at night, I observed a large crack. Oddly, the government propaganda had also repeatedly proclaimed that no damage had been done to this structure.

Akal Takht

All the decorative structures of the Akal Takht had been destroyed by tank and heavy gunfire. Extensive damage to the building was obvious to the naked eye ... only a burnt-out shell remained.

ToshaKhana (Treasury)

The famous peacock throne - its focal piece had been made out of a single piece of sapphire (neelum) - was missing from the ToshaKhana. The legendary sandalwood Chaur and the mace were also missing. The bejewelled canopy, presented to the Golden Temple coffers by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (as were most of the treasures that been stored here) was burnt. It is reported that some of the gems missing from it were later found in the pocket of a dead Indian soldier. I noted that the other items - well-known contents of this extraordinary collection - were all gone.

Was there any reason to blast this building? Sheer madness on the party of the army high-brass!


The Sikh Museum was intact. Only one painting had been hit by a bullet. It was a wonder that it escaped the destructive love of the army. [Editor: There's an obvious explanation - none of its contents were extremely valuable, unlike the contents of the ToshaKhana and the great Sikh Reference Library.]

S.G.P.C. Office

A hall in the S.G.P.C. Office (Samundri Hall?) where some of the dead victims had been cremated, bore evidence of an intense fire. The parapet had bullet holes. Out of these, I was able to prod out three bullets.

Guru Ram Das Sarai

The pilgrims staying in the Guru Ram Das Sarai (inn) - the attack on the complex coincided (?) with the Guru Arjan Shahidi Gurparab - had also been massacred. The government authorities did not want any witnesses. I picked up a kangha (small wooden comb - one of the five Kakaars), a railway ticket and a few more such items belonging to the dead pilgrims.


Due to the annual commemoration of the Martyrdom Day of Guru Arjan, there was a heavy rush of pilgrims in the Harmandar Sahib Complex. They were made to stand between Langar Hall (Dining Hall Complex) and Manji Sahib and were machine gunned. Four thousand pilgrims were killed in the complex. The parkarma was strewn with the dead.

* * * * *

The saddest and most shocking part of these military operations - which were simultaneously duplicated in other major Sikh centres elsewhere in the country - for me was that the Sikhs, the very elite of this nation in the highest meaning of the word, were brutalized in their own country, by their own people and by their own government.

We Sikhs were trusting, unsuspecting, unprepared ... What a shame!


Re-published on June 3, 2016 



Conversation about this article

1: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), January 28, 2009, 12:13 PM.

Thank you, Dr. Khokhar, for adding to our knowledge of the 1984 Sikh Ghallughara.

2: Harinder (Bangalore, India ), January 29, 2009, 8:57 AM.

Kartapurkh - He is the doer of everything. He creates, He destroys, and we all move as per His Hukam. Not even a leaf ruffles without His Will. What's there to talk about 1984, which was His Hukam too! And to it, I say: "Tera kiyaa meettha laage ...!"

3: Manraj Singh (Ottawa, Canada), January 29, 2009, 9:31 AM.

The World's Largest Democracy? Note to the Government of India: You violated and still violate the human rights of your citizens. State-sponsored terrorism is your Order of The Day. Some democracy!

4: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), January 29, 2009, 5:50 PM.

Would you please tell us the approximate date when you went to Durbar Sahib? You mentioned that you could smell the strange odour of the dead, so I am curious to know when the Army began its hurried re-construction of the Akal Takht.

5: Hitpal Singh  (New Zealand ), June 04, 2016, 1:26 AM.

What I saw was that Tohra, Ramoowalia and Talwandi heave a sigh of relief after Bhindranwale was killed and they got officially rescued by the Indin Army for there involvement in helping plang the attack on Harmandar Sahib. Later on, Badal and Barnala were officially escorted to a safe place for also facilitating the attack.

6: Ajmer Singh Randhhawa (India), June 06, 2016, 2:09 AM.

The death toll of pilgrims was over 10,000. The exact number is revealed from the unclaimed shoes deposited in Jorra Ghar (shoe depository). The killing of staff in their residential quarters and loot of their valuable items is also revealed. The Sikh Reference library was looted and torched long after the military action had ceased. Then, the Toshakhana (treasury) was looted before it too was set on fire.

7: Arjan Singh (USA), June 07, 2016, 6:47 AM.

Dear Kulwant ji: Is it possible for you tape what you saw as an audio recording so that your ordeal/experience becomes part of Sikh oral history. It will be invaluable to the future generations; to hear in the Sikh voice, the truth.

8: Bhupinder Singh (Sugar Land, Texas, USA), June 07, 2016, 4:39 PM.

Now it is time to declare it as Indian National Shame Week.

9: Raj (Canada), June 07, 2016, 11:29 PM.

Have we learned enough from it so it doesn't happen again? So that no one ever tries it ever again.

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What I Saw "

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