Operation Blue Star: Democracy justifies Injustice
It was fiery June of 1984. There was a large crowd of people in the Holy Shrine gathered to observe the martyrdom day of their Guru Arjun Dev, an event of special significance in the development of Sikh faith. Sikhs from all over the world had travel long distances to become part of this Holy ritual. Many of whom wouldn’t have even thought in their wildest dreams that this could be their last journey. The dark night of June 5th became witness to the beginning of bloody game which ultimately finished off with the assassination of thousands of innocent Sikh men, women and children. Operation Blue Star was the code name given to the dreadful attack launched on the Golden Temple (the holiest Shrine of Sikh community) in June 1984 by the Indian government. Justification for such an odious episode which claimed a huge number of civilian causalities could not have been better than operation for the seizure of militants hiding in the Holy Shrine.
On June 2nd 1984, Indira Gandhi-led Indian government cloaked a veil of secrecy and horror over the entire northern Indian state of Punjab. A curfew was announced and Indian Punjab came totally under the army control. Telephone lines were cut and all the press reporters were asked to leave. Surrounded by military troops, the State was completely disconnected from rest of the world. Nobody was allowed to enter or leave. Self-proclaimed largest democracy had set the stage for what was to follow; a deliberate, cold-blooded massacre of her own citizens, by the state establishment itself.
Wikipedia registers that a media blackout was imposed in Punjab before the attack on Golden Temple. The Times reporter Michael Hamlyn reported that journalists were picked up from their hotels in a military bus, taken to the adjoining border of the state of Haryana and “were abandoned there”. A group of journalists who later tried to drive into Punjab were stopped at the road block at Punjab border and were threatened to be shot if they proceeded. Indian nationals who worked with the foreign media were also banned. The press criticized these actions by Government as an “obvious attempt to attack the temple without the eyes of foreign press on them”.
When all’s said and done, the operation started. A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces, led by General Kuldip Singh Brar, surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. Army claims to keep asking the militants to surrender, using the public address system but some people contradict this statement and say no one was informed to come outside the temple. Several hundreds and thousands of Sikhs in the temple were became target of massacre by the Indian army, not even sparing the children. Priceless Sikh artifacts and literature was burnt. An Enormous number of pilgrims were murdered where a majority was mercilessly exterminated. A correspondent of the Associated Press, Brahma Chellaney, the only foreign reporter who managed to stay on in Amritsar, reported that “several” suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied. Also, no efforts were made to identify the dead. No relative were informed. Hesitant to turn over the bodies, the Indian government cremated them immediately making sure that no autopsies could be performed and no precise body count was made. Perhaps, the exact number of men, women, children and elderly dead by the hands of their own government will never be known.
As if the operation blue star had not inflicted enough misery and destruction to the Sikh community, it was followed by operation wood rose, a mop-up operation spreading the destruction to other Gurdwaras. The Army simultaneously attacked various other Gurdwaras and caused considerable bloodshed. As per Dr.Sangat Singh’s, “The Sikhs in History”, the White paper mentions 42 Gurdwaras, but some accounts mention 74. The army was given powers equal to martial law to clear villages of “militants”. Strict censorship, including a blanket ban against the foreign pressmen entering the state of Punjab, made this army operation earthed for some time. It later transpired that during this operation thousands of Sikhs, overwhelmingly young men, were detained for interrogation and subsequently tortured. According to estimates published by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, approximately 8000 individuals were reported as missing as a result of Army operations during this period. Whereas, Dr.Sangat Singh, Joint Intelligence Committee, claims about 100000 youth had been taken into custody within first four to six weeks of the operation and he adds that many of them were not heard of again. Women were desecrated in various fashions. People wearing turbans were dishonoured and summarily shot at point blank range with their hands tied up at their backs with their turban cloth. The illusion that operation blue star would brought the Sikhs to heel and that they would be amenable to compromise with the government was completely dispelled. In reality, sullen resentment produced a sense of unity in the unfortunate community.
After the cordon, the misinformation from the state-controlled press continued to propagate. Claims were made and later retracted or proven lies. To set the government record straight, a white paper was issued. Soon after, the government’s own spokesperson conceded that the figures carried in the white paper were grossly under estimated. This particularly destroyed the legitimacy of that white paper. Also, the sequence of events narrated in the government’s white paper were not borne out by the eyewitnesses present in the temple complex during the operation. The number clashes between 493 given by Indian Government under civilian/terrorist category to 8,000 by eyewitnesses.
The operation was truly a terror inflicted upon a minority living in a “democratic” state. The government did not keep track when it slaughtered its own people in that fearsome army operation. Indian government still claims that the Operation Woodrose never happened but the cold hard facts presented in Cynthia Mahmood’s book “fighting for faith and nation” negates those claims completely. The Hindustan Times correspondent Chand Joshi alleged that the army units “acted in total anger” and shot down all the suspects rounded up from the temple complex. Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, in Amritsar; Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle, criticized the Army for burning down the Sikh Reference Library, stating that it did this to destroy the culture of the Sikhs. In The Sikhs of Punjab, Joyce Pettigrew alleges that the army conducted the operation to “suppress the culture, and political will, of a people”. Similar accusations of high handedness by the Indian Army and allegations of human rights violations by security forces in Operation Blue Star and subsequent military operations in Punjab have been levelled by Justice V. M. Tarkunde.
Attack on Golden Temple and its follow-up Operation Woodrose, concealed from public eye with great treachery, were two of the most inhumane acts committed by the Indian government. It is not surprising that this legacy of ill-will and bloodshed produced a sense of alienation among the Sikhs. In search of political gain, countless Sikhs were murdered and no one was held accountable. Khushwant Singh (internationally renowned writer), Dr Ganda Singh (eminent historian) and Sadhu Singh Hamderd (editor of Ajit) returned their Padma Bhushan awards in protest. Four months and three weeks after the operations, Indra Gandhi paid the ultimate price for the planning and execution of Operation Blue star and Woodrose. She was shot by her two Sikh body guards. This reaction of the Sikhs should not have come as a surprise, but it did. Four years later these incidents Mrs. Gandhi assassins, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, paid the penalty for their vengeance being hanged to death in Tehar jail. Regrettably, 29 years have passed yet the people behind 1984 massacre and killers of thousands of Sikhs remain unpunished. In fact, the soldiers and generals involved in the operations were presented with gallantry awards, honours, decoration strips and promotions by the then government.
What a shame that in much hyped “secular” India there is one law for Hindu majority and another for Muslims, Christens and Sikhs, who are in minority. Indian government must not forget that India can never achieve the pursuit of national glory unless her minorities feel safe and secure while living there. It is high time that she may act as a true secular state and accord the status as that of Hindus, to all minorities. India must realize that bad beginnings can never have good endings.