Refocus on the Sikh Genocide of 1984

After the California State Assembly’s resolution, it’s the US Congress’ turn

The California state assembly passed a resolution on April 10, this year, which said that the Sikh community in the USa had not yet recovered from the physical and psychological trauma of the riots, urging the US Congress to recognise the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as ‘genocide’, and to condemn the violence. The resolution was introduced by Jameet Kaur Bains, first–ever elected Sikh member, was unanimously passed by the assembly.

The resolution also stated that the ‘Widow Colony’ in New Delhi still houses Sikh women who were assaulted, raped, tortured, and forced to witness the dismemberment, burning and murder of their families, and who are still calling for justice against the perpetrators.

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However, the Sikhs are fighting for a separate homeland since 1947, but the movement attained impetus by the efforts of their spiritual leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, which in 1984 resulted in the most brutal operation against the holiest shrine of the Sikhs-the Golden Temple complex (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar, Punjab, and resulted in killings of thousands of Sikhs.

In this regard, ‘Operation Blue Star’ was an Indian military operation which occurred between 3–8 June 1984, ordered by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to gain control over the Harmandir Sahib, and to arrest Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his followers from the complex buildings. Bhindranwale had earlier taken residence in Harmandir Sahib and made it his headquarters in April 1980. He was the only leader who had boldly been fighting for the genuine rights of the Sikhs.

Indian Army led by Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Kuldip Singh Brar, supported by troops and armoured vehicles, broke all records of state terrorism and extra-judicial killings through that barbaric operation.

At that time, there were only 251 Sikhs inside the complex to protect the Harmandir Sahib, and to resist the well-trained Indian army, equipped with sophisticated weaponry. In those days, the majority of the Sikhs were coming to the temple-complex to celebrate Martyrdom Day of Guru Arjun Dev.

Nevertheless, the Indian regime used tanks and destroyed the Akaal Takhat Sahib which is right in front of the Harmandir Sahib. On June 6, when all Sikh fighters were martyred along with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Indian troops entered the temple-complex with their shoes, deliberately ignoring the holiness of the place, showing utter indecency. When the Indian Army realized that only 251 men had prevented them from entering the Harmandir Sahib for so many days, they started killing innocent Sikhs who had come there to visit the temple. The only purpose was to hide their humiliation.

In this respect, in their book, The Sikh Struggle, Ramnarain Kumar and George Sieberer write: “The army killed every Sikh who could be found inside the temple-complex. They were hauled out of rooms, brought to corridors on the circumference of the temple and with their hands tied behind their back, were shot in cold blood. Among the victims were many old men, women and children.” However, “all visitors were locked up in rooms for two days without any food, water, or electricity and were starved to death. Besides, the Harmandir Sahib remained under the army control for many months.”

The Sikh diaspora has expressed serious concerns over this crackdown harassing Sikh population in the Indian Punjab, elsewhere in India, including those living abroad. Various Sikh entities living in India and abroad have strongly condemned Indian crackdown and emphasised to stop persecution of the Sikh community.

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The brutality of the ‘Operation Blue Star’ was not confined to the Harmandir Sahib. Indian armed forces simultaneously attacked 40 other historical gurdwaras all over East Punjab.

When Sikhs in other states came to know about the desecration of the Harmandir Sahib and massacre of their brethren, they quickly left for Punjab. New Delhi tried to stop them before they could reach Punjab. Many Sikhs were assassinated on the way and many others were arrested.

According to an estimate, about 50,000 Sikhs were killed within a few days. The whole Amritsar city was sealed and was burnt. A number of tourists either were murdered or arrested. Shops belonging to Sikhs were looted and their houses were set ablaze by Hindu mobs. In most of the cases, Sikh women were molested and some persons of their community were also burnt.

Another tragic dimension of the operation is that historical Sikh artefacts— all the manuscripts written by the gurus—  were also set ablaze by the Indian Army. But New Delhi fabricated a false story by claiming that they were burnt, while bombing the Harmandir Sahib.

In the same October, two dedicated Sikhs, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh who were posted at Premier Indira Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi as bodyguards, assassinated her. Then anti-Sikh riots by Hindus erupted in the Indian Capital New Delhi and other cities. They continued in some areas for several days, killing more than 3,000 Sikhs in New Delhi and an estimated 8,000– 20,000 Sikhs in total were killed across 40 cities in India, while police watched silently so as to provide the Hindus with a free hand to massacre Sikhs.

In fact, the attack on the Harmandir Sahib and genocide of Sikhs accelerated the liberation of their movement for independent state in the Indian Punjab, named Khalistan as Bhindrenwale became a folk hero. But, the Indian government made every effort to crush the same with the state machinery.

To maintain its control over the Harmandir Sahib, another attack was launched on the Temple in 1987, called ‘Operation Black Thunder’. This time the only Sikh resistance which was the natural outcome of the tragedy was the main target. In that connection, quite a number of people of their community were killed and dead bodies lay inside the sacred place for many days.

According to a report, many trucks were loaded with dead bodies and all were burned with kerosene oil. Afterwards, ‘Operation Woodrose’ and ‘Operation Black Thunder-II’ were conducted against the Sikh community, which also assassinated them extra-judicially.

After these barbaric operations, Sikhs organised themselves into an armed power in order to fight the Indian state terrorism. Many Sikhs left India to escape further genocide. Sikhs have spread out all over the world to keep the movement of Khalistan alive. In this connection, their struggle is still going on.

Notably, participation of almost 208,000 Sikhs in the Khalistan referendums held in the recent years in four western countries—the huge number of Sikhs who voted in favour of an independent Khalistan reflected that their demand for an independent homeland is gradually being accepted globally.

On March 18, prior to launching crackdown by the Indian police and paramilitary forces, section-144 was imposed, and mobile phone service was suspended in Sri Muktsar Sahib and Fazilka districts of Indian Punjab. Ever since Amritpal Singh Sandhu took over as the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’, Indian Police arrested a large number of Sikhs as well as members of ‘Waris Punjab De’ and Amritpal Singh.

The Sikh diaspora has expressed serious concerns over this crackdown harassing Sikh population in the Indian Punjab, elsewhere in India, including those living abroad. Various Sikh entities living in India and abroad have strongly condemned Indian crackdown and emphasised to stop persecution of the Sikh community.

Undoubtedly, in light of the California state assembly’s resolution, we can conclude that anti-Sikh bloodshed of 1984 was the genocide and the US Congress must recognise this fact.

Sajjad Shaukat
Sajjad Shaukat
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations and can be reached at [email protected]


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