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All images are details from the painting, "Guru Hargobind: Lord of Miri Piri", by renowned Canadian artist, Kanwar Singh. [Copyright - ArtofPunjab.com]

1984

What happened on June 5, 1984

Edited by SUDESH N. BAJAJ

 

 

 

Operation Blue Star (June 3 - 6, 1984) was an Indian military operation ordered by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, ostensibly to remove separatists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The operation was carried out by Indian army troops with tanks and armoured vehicles. Militarily successful, the operation aroused immense controversy, and the government's justification for the rationale, timing and style of the attack are still under debate.

Operation Bluestar has been listed in India's Top 10 Political Disgraces by the country's leading news journal, India Today.

Official reports by the Indian government - for ever notorious for being fraudulent and self-serving - put the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83 and the number of civilian deaths at 492, though independent estimates ran much higher.

The impact of the military assault, its aftermath and the increased tensions led to assaults on members of the Sikh community within India and uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide. In India, many Sikhs - an elite community in India, leading in every sector, including per capita income, education, role in armed forces, achievements in the arts, sciences and sports, and historically in wrestling independence from the British - resigned from armed and civil administrative office and returned their government awards.

In retaliation for her crimes and the desecration of The Golden Temple, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards less than five months later, on Halloween Day - October 31 - 1984.

Indira Gandhi had first asked Lt. Gen. S.H. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of Indian Army and who was then slated to succeed as the Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given the sacrilegious outlook from Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the world - the shrine is unique in the world that it is not only open to people of all faiths, but revered by all as well.

He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him immediately with Gen. Arun Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian Army.

Gen. Vaidya was assisted by Lt. Gen. K. Sunderjee as Vice-Chief. Operation Blue Star was eventually planned and controlled by them.

On 3 June, a 36-hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended. Electricity supplies were also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of India and the world.

Complete censorship was placed on all types of media.

The Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple on the night of 5 June. The forces had full control of the Golden Temple by the morning of 7 June. Bhindranwale, Lt. Gen. Shahbeg Singh and several other militant leaders were killed in the operation along with several thousand innocent civilians - elderly men and women, as well as children who found themselves trapped inside the temple when the operation began and many were reported as wounded and killed as a result.

The attack by the army was intentionally planned to coincide with a high holiday, the Gurparab commemorating the 17th century martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the Fifth Sikh Teacher, in order to create the optimum number of Sikh casualties and strike terror in the community.

The armed forces, despite the fact that they far outnumbered the occupants of the temple and were armed with tanks, rockets, mortars and the latest in modern warfare, also suffered many casualties.

JARNAIL SINGH BHINDRANWALE

Throughout the material times, Bhindranwale - who was later branded by the Government media machine as a "terrorist" - was in contact with Indira Gandhi. There is clear evidence that she saw him as, and tried to use him as her puppet against the other Sikh political parties in Punjab, but when he refused to be her instrument against Sikh interests and he protested, she decided to eliminate him. 

Bhindranwale had earlier taken refuge in the Golden Temple in April 1980, when he had falsely been named as a suspect in the killing of a government stooge, Gurbachan Nirankari. When Bhindranwale voluntarily offered himself for arrest to the Punjab Police, mysteriously he never was ... under direct orders from the Central government.

After he became a credible voice for the legitimate Sikh demands which had been sitting ignored and neglected since 1947, the government saw it fit and opportune to corner him and his colleagues in The Golden Temple complex, so that he could be "dealt with" at will.  

Punjab was further seething at this time because of the massacre of a dozen Sikhs during a public protest against the anti-Sikh activities of the Nirankari baba, and the government‘s refusal to investigate it and hold the culprits accountable even though evidence had surfaced implicating a direct government involvement in the mischief.

In 1982, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, with the precincts of the Golden Temple. From here, he openly met and was interviewed by international news reporters and television crews over the increasing violence in the Punjab against Sikhs.

British journalists Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, who were at the scene, wrote:

"All ... terrorists were known by name to the shopkeepers and the householders who live in the narrow alleys surrounding the Golden Temple ... The Punjab police must have known who they were also, but they made no attempt to arrest them ..."

Time magazine reported (about Amritsar) that:

"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, fierce Sikh warriors wield submachine guns, guarding against encroachment by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil ..."

OVERVIEW

Operation Blue Star was launched to silence these Sikh militants who were beginning to become more vociferous over the ongoing human rights violations, from CBS' 60 MINUTES and his camera crew had personally interviewed Bhindranwale himself and the segment was broadcast around the world.

20:00 hrs - 22:00 hrs

The army began preliminary shelling and destroyed seventeen houses which the police believed Bhindranwale's followers occupied in the alleys surrounding the Golden Temple. Nearby, a large building housing the Brahmbuta Akhara was destroyed.

Then there were three main towers which rose well above the surrounding buildings, and could be used as excellent observation positions for tracking the movement of Indian troops in the narrow alleys surrounding the temple. The tops of these towers were also destroyed in the preliminary artillery fire.

22:00 hrs - 23:30 hrs

Between 10:00 and 10:30 pm on 5 June, Indian army commandos from 1st Battalion were ordered to run down the steps under the clock tower on to the parikarma (the marbled perimeter surrounding the pool and the Harmandar, the sanctum sanctorum) and move quickly around the edge of the sacred pool to the Akal Takht. As the paratroopers entered the main gateway to the Temple, they were gunned down by light machine-gun fire from both sides of the steps.

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 pool.

In the control room, a house on the opposite side of the clock-tower, the commanding officer was waiting with two supporting officers to hear confirmation that the commandos had established positions inside the complex.

The few commandos left regrouped in the square outside and reported back. He ordered them to make another attempt. The commandos were then to be followed by the 10th Battalion of the Guards.

This second commando attack managed to neutralize the machine-gun posts on both sides of the steps and get down on to the parikarma. They were followed by the Guards who came under heavy fire and were not able to make any progress. They radioed for permission to fire back at the buildings on the other side of the tank. That would have meant that the Golden Temple itself, which is in the middle of the pool, would have been in the line of fire. Ultimately, the order was given, once reports poured in of heavy casualties from the commander of the Guards.

23:30 hrs - 01:00 hrs

The army requested tanks after an Armoured Personnel Carrier was destroyed by a rocket fired by the Sikhs defending the attack on their temple. The request was granted and seven tanks rolled into the Golden Temple complex. They cleared the ramparts and later assaulted the main temple in order to neutralize the defenders remaining in the structure. The shelling achieved its objective and the primary target of removing militants from the Akal Takht was achieved by 01:00. However, the secondary objective of removing militants from other neighbouring structures went on for a further 24 hours.

CASAUALTIES

Independent historians place the figure of those killled at:

Military: 700

Sikh: 5000.

The casualty figures from eye-witness accounts (such as Amnesty International) was much higher.

AFTERMATH

An unspecified number of Sikh soldiers resigned from positions across India in protest, with some reports of large-scale pitched battles being fought to bring mutineers under control.

The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The militants took the position that there was no other way of holding a criminal head of state responsible for her heinous crimes, especially since she committed them to consolidate further and enhanced power.

On 31 October 1984, two of her armed Sikh security officers shot her dead.

Anti-Sikh pogroms were triggered by inflammatory statements made by the new Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi (who, oddly became her successor to the "democracy" by the mere merit of being her son) and his political goons, and fanned on by the government controlled media.

The widespread killing of innocent Sikhs, principally in the national capital, New Delhi, but also in other major cities in North India, led to major divisions between the Sikh community and the Indian Government ... especially with mounting evidence that political and government leaders had led the mobs and police as well as military authorities had been instructed to stay away.

General A. S. Vaidya, the Chief of Staff of the Indian army during the outrages of Operation Blue Star, was also killed in retaliation in 1986 in Pune by two militants, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha.

APPRAISALS OF THE OPERATION

The use of artillery in the congested inner city of Amritsar proved deadly and reckless considering many civilians lived near the Golden Temple. The media blackout throughout the Punjab resulted in widespread doubt regarding the official stories and claims.

The operation is criticised on five main grounds: the attack was unnecessary and could easily have been avoided; the choice of time of attack by Government; heavy civilian and military casualties; loss of historical and other property; and allegations of gross human rights violations by the Army personnel.

THE ATTACK WAS NOT A "LAST RESORT"

The attack on the Golden Temple was in plans even before the armed Sikh militants fortified it.

Then GOC of the Indian Army, S.K. Sinha, who was sacked on the eve of the attack for being critical of it, had criticized the Government's projection of the attack as "last resort"; and stated that the attack was in plans 1 year and 6 months prior to the actual day of attack. S. K. Sinha and Mark Tully report that the army had been rehearsing the attack for this time in the replica of Golden Temple they had built at a secret location near Chakrata Cantonment in the Doon Valley.

CHOICE OF TIMING

The timing of Operation Blue Star coincided with a busy Sikh religious day, commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev (the same Guru who oversaw the construction of The Golden Temple), and hundreds of thousands of Sikhs from all over the world visit the temple on the days around it.

Historians view the timing and attack by the Indian Army - under pressure from the fundamentalist Hindu lobby which had by then infiltrated the intelligence services of the country - as an attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Sikhs in order to demoralize them. In fact, one of the main reasons for heavy civilian casualty was the choice of the days of operation.

The Sikh community's anger and suffering was further increased by comments from leading newspaper editors, such as Ramnath Goenka, terming the operation as "A greater victory than the win over Bangladesh, this is the greatest victory of Mrs. Gandhi".

After the operation, the great Sikh Reference Library located within The Golden Temple was burnt down, but not until the rare books and manuscripts had been looted and removed by the army personnel.

Though identified as being stored at various facilities, the invaluable material is still to be restored to the Sikhs. Sadly, many of the manuscripts - often in single pages - have surfaced in the clandestine antique markets.

MEDIA BLACKOUT

Before the attack by the army, a total media blackout was imposed in Punjab. The Times (London) journalist Michael Hamlyn reported that journalists were picked up from their hotels at 5 a.m. in a military bus, taken to the adjoining border of the state of Haryana and "were abandoned there".

The main towns in Punjab were put under curfew, transportation was banned, news blackout was imposed and Punjab was "cut off from the outside world".

A group of journalists who later tried to drive into Punjab were stopped at a road block at the Punjab border and were threatened to be shot if they proceeded.

The Indian nationals who worked with the foreign media were also banned.

The press criticized these actions by the Government as an "obvious attempt to attack the temple without the eyes of the foreign press on them".

The Associated Press correspondent for South Asia, Brahma Chellaney, who somehow managed to stay back and hide in the city, and report the operation, was later threatened and questioned by police.

ALLEGATIONS AGAINST THE INDIAN ARMY OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Brahma Chellaney was the only foreign reporter who managed to stay on in Amritsar despite the media blackout. His dispatches, filed by telex, provided the first non-governmental news reports on the bloody operation in Amritsar. His first dispatch, front-paged by the New York Times, The Times of London and The Guardian, reported early on a death toll of at least about twice of what the authorities had admitted.

According to the dispatch, about 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops had perished in fierce gun battles.

Mr. Chellaney also reported that "several" suspected Sikh prisoners had been shot with their hands tied behind their backs. The dispatch, after its first paragraph reference to "several" such deaths, specified later that "eight to 10" men had been shot in that fashion.

In that dispatch, Mr. Chellaney interviewed a doctor who said he was picked up by the army and forced to conduct post-mortems despite the fact he had never done any post-mortem examination before.

The number of causalities reported by Mr. Chellaney were far more than government reports, and the Indian government, which disputed his casualty figures, accused him of inflammatory reporting.

The Associated Press stood by the reports and figures, the accuracy of which was also "supported by Indian and other press accounts" according to the Associated Press, as well as reports in The Times and The New York Times.

C.K.C Reddy, an Indian journalist, writes:

"Whole of Punjab and especially the Golden Temple Complex was turned into a murderous mouse trap from where people could neither escape nor could they seek succour of any kind. The way the dead bodies were disposed off adds to the suspicions regarding the number and nature of the casualties. The bodies of the victims of military operation in Punjab were unceremoniously destroyed without any attempt to identify them and hand them over to their relatives. The government, after the operation, on the other hand, did every thing in its power to cover up the excesses of the army action. The most disturbing thing about the entire operation was that a whole mass of men, women, and children were ordered to be killed merely on the suspicion that some terrorists were operating from the Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras."

Similar accusations of high handedness on the part of the Indian Army and allegations of human rights violation by security forces in Operation Blue Star and subsequent military operations in Punjab has been levelled by Justice V.M. Tarkunde, Mary Anne Weaver, Ram Narayan Kumar, a noted human rights lawyer, Joyce Pettigrew, a Swedish Anthropologist and many others.

The Indian Army responded to such criticism by simply stating that they "answered the call of duty as disciplined, loyal and dedicated members of the Armed Forces of India ... our loyalties are to the nation, the armed forces to which we belong, the uniforms we wear and to the troops we command".

Many other journalists and writers point out that a "wearing out" approach and blockade tactics - often used by the authorities, always with success - could have been resorted to, and the tragedy could easily have been avoided.

More serious questions have surfaced since then, however ... and they remain unanswered.

For example: 

The involvement of the right-wing and fundamentalist Hindu element in the critical and crucial decision-making processes of the government suggests a concerted agenda to attack the very core of the Sikh community and to eradicate its separate identity and philosophy, thus causing an absorption of it back into the dark recesses of Hinduism - exactly the way Buddhism, Jainism, and to a certain extent, Zorastrianism, had already fared under Hindu hegemony. What role had the Indian State played, and continued to play, in these nefarious matters?  

 

For more on the artist Kanwar Singh Dhillon's work: www.artofpunjab.com 

[The above report has been edited from Wikipedia and a variety of news reports.]

First published on sikhchic.com on June 5, 2009.

Re-published on June 5, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: H. Singh (U.S.A.), June 05, 2009, 3:30 PM.

Although sikhchic.com has attempted to produce the reality of the 1984 Sikh Genocide and some of the things are factual, but the conclusions of many articles here are quite obscure and murky. Overall, this piece also fits into the pattern. This piece seems to suggest that the massacre of Sikhs was a "mistake", a "blunder", etc., thus ceasing it to call a delibrate attempt to supress Sikhi. We have a term for it - it is known as 'obfuscation'.

2: Ajay Singh (Rockville, U.S.A.), June 05, 2009, 3:32 PM.

Thank you for this article. There is also a legal or illegal, to be precise, aspect of the military action that is adressed in detail by author S. Inderjit Singh Jaijee in his book, "Politics of Genocide", which also available in Punjabi. This book has not received the attention it should in Sikh circles but is an excellent resource for the whole decade of 1984-1994. Accordingly, prior to a military action within the Indian boundaries, there is a lengthy process required by law consisting of debate in Parliament, Presidential approval, request and approval by State and District authorities, etc., which was never followed, making it an illegal or criminal action.

3: Harinder (Bangalore, India), June 05, 2009, 8:03 PM.

Our gurdwaras, museums and exhibitions should cover more than just the great warrior-saints we have given to the world. How about our great scientists, painters, musicians, sportsmen and women, entrepreneurs, authors and poets, educationists, statesmen ...?

4: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), June 06, 2009, 10:06 AM.

This is not the first time, or the last time when the Sikh nation will be attacked. Unfortunately, we have not learnt any lessons from this tragedy or taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future. We are easily swayed by symbolism and sentiments and are forgetting that forces responsible for 1984 are still actively working to assimilate the unique Sikh identity into Hindutava; and that huge state resources are being spent to divide and subjugate the Sikh nation. The right to bear arms is the second amendment in the U.S. constitution, but for the Khalsa, it is the first and foremost requirement and a fundamental right. Our freedom, dignity and honor can ONLY be preserved, by effective levers of political economic and massive military power in the hands of the Sikhs as a third major force on the Indian subcontinent.

5: Harsimran Singh (Toronto, Canada), June 07, 2009, 7:57 AM.

Ours is a small community and what Sikhs are doing around the world is a signature of the greatness of their Gurus and their teachings. Sikhs have always paid the price for standing up to injustice and will continue to do so for there is good in this world which is worth standing up for, and dying for. My homage to all the shaheeds and their families.

6: Shakti Man (London, England), June 07, 2009, 11:53 AM.

Its a mixed bag of tricks all this. Bhindrawale was too close to the Congressis too long to not have them haunt him. The Akali Dal guys were up to no good too - Using the Sikh identity to pursue their own political hegemony. The S.G.P.C. wallahs all came out in surrender with their hands up in a cowardly fashion after promising to die for the cause! And, definitely the Indian government were trying to instill a punishing lesson to the Sikh community. They failed. What is happening in Punjab NOW? We let Punjab's environment and society die slowly while preaching a moribund patriotism.

7: Darshan Singh (United States), November 14, 2011, 3:17 PM.

I am writing a paper on BlueStar. [EDITOR: You may want to go to the "1984" section of this magazine site; you'll find a number of articles on the subject.]

8: Amit Kumar Mandal (Balurghat, West Bengal, India), July 18, 2012, 12:49 AM.

Though I am a Bengali Hindu, now I have to say that this is a shameful matter for our nation.

9: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), June 05, 2013, 7:15 AM.

Bhindranwale was a khalsa warrior Of Guru Gobind Singh. Everyone has to die one day. But he chose a death of honour, consistent with Sikh values and principles. He fought like a lion and gave a parting kick to the corrupt rulers of the country. India has never been the same again ... and still gradually sinking.

10: Harinder Singh (Ambala, India), August 12, 2013, 8:02 PM.

Sant Bhindrawale was right: many innocent Sikhs were being killed by Indira Gandhi. Her family was always against Sikhs. But despite their criminal assault on Harmandar Sahib, Khalsa is still in chardi kala. Waheguru aapni mehar rakhan.

11: Rajan Uppal (Nagpur, India), January 19, 2014, 10:24 AM.

The Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh shall always be in chardi kala. I need not repeat the unprecedented history of the great martyrs in Sikhi, right from Guru Arjan, Guru Tegh Bahadar, Guru Gobind Singh ji's and his four sons, etc., etc. Also because the Khalsa of the Dasam Pita is pure, the Guru who said "maanas ki jaat sabhey ek pehchanbo". Long live Gursikhi.

12: Gurvinder Pal Singh (India), March 24, 2014, 10:38 PM.

Operation Bluestar was mainly aimed at destroying the Sikh psyche. Thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed during this operation. The Indian government had hatred towards the Sikhs. Those who defended the Darbar Sahib will forever be remembered as great martyrs in history.

13: Aman Singh  (Ireland ), June 02, 2014, 9:49 AM.

India, out of Khalistan!

14: Yogesh Palta (Punjab), July 05, 2014, 4:06 AM.

1984 was the worst year in Indian history.

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