This article has been submitted by Mohit Seth for the CLATGyan Blog Post Writing Competition. If you think this article is a good read, ‘Like’ this article on Facebook (the button is at the bottom of this piece) or post a comment using the ‘comments’ section below.
5th June, 1984 – this date brings back horrifying images of Operation Blue Star and the series of events which led to the Sikh holocaust. Operation Blue Star was an Indian military operation ordered by the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi to remove separatist from Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as The Golden temple. The separatist were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, who was accused of anti-Hindu rhetoric and importing heavy weaponry into the state. According to Bhindrawale, in the ghastly partition of 1947, while the Hindus got Hindustan the Muslims got Pakistan; the Sikhs were left with nothing, although 72 % of the martyrs were Sikh. All Bhindrawale wanted was equal status for Sikhs, and for this he started the Khalistan movement, which sought to create a separate Sikh state. In his public speeches, he encouraged Sikhs to use arms to fight against their repressors. He was labelled as an antagonist by the Indian Government, led by Indira Gandhi.
On 3rd June 1984, a 36 hour curfew was imposed in the city of Amritsar, cutting it off from the rest of the country. On the night of 5th June, the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is surrounded by the Harmandir Sahib complex. Residents of this complex were unaware of the ruthless invasion of the Indian army, and were trapped along with Bhindrawale and his comrades. A 12 hour long battle ensued, which was brought to an end when the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army ordered army tank to enter the holy shrine and open fire at the Akal Takht, killing Bhindrawale, and with him hundreds of innocents. Of those who survived, the men were taken to military camps and tortured.
This operation left many questions unanswered. Was it really required to send in the army into one of the holiest places of the Sikhs, to turn the shrine to rubble and apply presidential rule in the city? This incident made the people who were not preachers of Bhindrawale ideology to follow him and the Khalistan movement was at its zenith. Operation Blue Star brought hatred in the hearts of all Sikhs and Punjabis across the world for Indira Gandhi; she was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards 4 months and 3 weeks after the golden temple incident. The guards were arrested as well as convicted, and the assassination was followed by killing of lakhs of Sikhs all over the country. They were often burnt alive, often murdered in front of their families. The Indian capital of Delhi was painted red with the blood of thousands who were massacred. Many innocent Sikhs in fear of their lives cut their hair short and gave up other religious articles in order to disguise themselves.Why were so many Sikh brutally killed? Where was that military that marched into the Golden temple at that time? Of the two body guards, Beant Singh was killed, and Satwant Singh was sentenced to death by hanging, but nothing was for those who killed innocent Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Author Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Bhushan award protesting against the Operation Blue Star. In 2003, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale was declared a martyr by the SGPC, nineteen years after he was killed. In 2008, the Akhal Takht declared Beant Singh and Satwant Singh to be martyrs. Almost every year, groups gather in London to commemorate these events and raise awareness of people that are still missing or locked up. Operation Blue star was not necessary. According to many noted historians, Indira Gandhi feared the rising popularity of Bhindrawale among the Sikhs, which she could well see spreading across the whole country. A generation on, the spectre of 1984 is fading as Sikhs look towards the future rather than the past. But the continuation of human rights’ abuse and the lack of justice makes it difficult.