36 years of Operation Blue star


Masroor Ahmad

Sikhism has a rich and distinctive history, during which it has forged a unique identity while interacting with the other major religions of subcontinent. Sikhism, founded in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak Dev, is the youngest and the latest among world religions. It is a religion with a message of hope and optimism. Sikhs can accept that the central figures of other faiths, such as Krishna, Moses, jesus and Mohammad, were messengers of God with divine mission. The word Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word Shishya, which means a, disciple’ or ‘learner’. This embodies the mindset of Sikhs, who are on a continual quest towards enlightenment.

Here it is necessary for our purposes to interject that the word “fundamentalist” has been applied to Sikhism too by both media and scholars especially in the time leading up to and since the tragic Operation Blue Star.
In June 1984, the Indian Army surrounded the Harmander Sahib, Golden Temple, in Amritsar, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. In what became widely known as Operation Bluestar, troops laid siege to most sacred shrine of Sikhism, hoping to drive out a small band of armed militants. Inside charismatic religious leader and radical political activist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was aware that death was at hand. When his followers encouraged him to escape the complex through a back door with his life intact, he reportedly vowed to side by his comrades to fight for the cause of Sikh identity which had been endangered in the crippled secularism of India. When the dust settled after operation blue star, Sant Bhindranwale’s lifeless body reai inside the Golden Temple, but his name was given immortality as a martyr. Following the death of Bhindranwale, countless Sikhs died in an armed struggle for independence in Punjab, a struggle that was countered harshly by the Indian Government. Torture, forced disappearance, and police harassment came to typify day-to-day life for many Sikhs. Exploding bombs and gunfire echoed through the villages in Punjab, stirring up fear in the hearts of both Sikhs and Hindus, who were witnessing an ever-increasing gulf developing between the two communities.
Earlier, Bhindranwale’s often used to expose the Hindu mentality in his speeches which became more acerbic and contemptuous of Hindus. He would bluntly refer to Mrs Gandhi as Panditan di dhee or Brahmani – that Pandit’s daughter or the Brahman woman. Hindus were dhotian, topian walley – those who wear dhotis and caps.

Many critics are of the view that it was a poorly planned operation which lacked professionalism require for such adventures. They chose 5 June 1984 as the day to launch the operation. It was the death anniversary of Guru Arjun, the founder of the Hari Mandir, a day when hundreds of thousands of Sikhs were expected to come on pilgrimage from remote areas. Nor were alternative methods of getting at Bhindranwale considered seriously. He could have been overpowered by a band of commandos in plain clothes; the Temple complex could have been cordoned off; the people inside deprived of rations and access to potable water and forced to come out in the open to surrender or be picked up by snipers. It would have taken a couple of days longer, but would have been comparatively bloodless.

However, the army stormed the Golden Temple with tanks, armoured cars, and frogmen, with helicopters hovering overhead to give directions. The battle that ensued lasted two days and nights. In the cross-fire almost 5,000 men, women and children perished. The devastation caused by the Indian army inside the shrine was horrible. The Akal Takht was reduced to rubble by heavy guns fired from tanks; the central shrine, which both parties had declared hors de combat, was hit by over 70 bullets. Even Mrs Gandhi, who had been assured that the operation would not last more than two hours, was horrified at the extent of damage caused to sacred property and the horrendous loss of lives. Instead of admitting that she had blundered, she decided to cover up the whole thing with a barrage of lies.

Around 5,000 Sikhs were slain in this single operation. That is the tragedy of Punjab, and India’s gravest crisis of nationhood since 1947. There is still hate, rumours, suspicion and bitterness in Sikh community against the dominant Hindus in the context of this tragedy. The storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian army prompted veteran writer Khushwant Singh (late) to return his Padma Bhushan. He bashed on Indian Government by saying that, “Operation Blue Star ‘was a well-calculated and deliberate slap in the face of an entire community”.

Such terrible bloodbath has not been witnessed in the Golden Temple since it was built 380 years ago. This eventually resulted in an attempt on the life of the then president Gyani Zail Singh, the Operation Black Thunder (which claimed more than 800 lives), the assassination of Indira Gandhi and as a consequence of that the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 which were a kind of “wild justice” which saw countless barbaric killings and whose victims are still devoid of any semblance of justice.

Indian endeavour to deviate the world audience from attention regarding Kashmir through fake news will not be successful as it will in no way shield the atrocities and oppression of the ruling party, BJP, in India as evident in illegal maneuvers witnessed in Indian occupied Kashmir as well as the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act Bill. On the other hand, the Sikh community, the world over, is aware of the importance that the Government of Pakistan attaches to the minorities and their places of worship as the historic opening of the Kartarpur Corridor.

The Sikhs are an important community in India which though being a religious minority contributes significantly to India’s state system and society but they are getting same treatment by Hindu majority as Muslims or any other minority. Once Dr. Awatar Sekhon a prominent Sikh leader wrote to Marry Robinson, High Commissioner, on Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland that since the independence of India more than 1.4 million Sikhs have been killed in different genocides and massacres. More than 26, 000 Sikhs have been perished since the Operation Blue Star of June 1984 along with innumerable cases of rapes, desecration, humiliation and staged encounters. There are more than 70, 000 Sikhs lingering on in jails without their trials. As regards the other minorities in India, the situation is no less different. More than 200,000 Muslims, a similar number of Christians and approximately 80,000 Kashmiris have been subjected to extermination. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits, Manipuri’s, Tamils, Andivassis or aboriginals of India and other Non-Hindu minorities of have had the same fate. There have been instances of rape wherein the foreigners like Roman Catholic nuns were not even spared. The Sikhs had to make continuous struggle to protect their religious and cultural identity. The attack of Indian Army on the Golden Temple, Amritsar, 1984, had a profound impact on their mindset which will continue to haunt Indian Government till the Sikhs secure their identity.