The Forgotten Carnage: 1984 Operation Woodrose

Graphic picture of innocent Gursikhs, men and woman, killed by Punjab Police

Operation Woodrose was a military operation carried out by the Indira Gandhi-led Indian government in the months after Operation Blue Star to “prevent the outbreak of widespread public protest” in the state of Punjab.The government arrested various political leaders, and banned the All India Sikh Students Federation, a large students’ union. In addition, the Indian Army conducted operations in the countryside during which thousands of Sikhs, overwhelmingly young men, were detained for interrogation and in many cases subsequently tortured or killed. After the operation, the central government was criticized for using “draconian legislation” to repress a minority community.

Although this operation was said to be aimed at eradicating the presence freedom fighting groups in the state, thousands of innocent Sikh civilians were targeted by the Government. According to estimates published by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, approximately 8,000 individuals were reported as missing as a result of Army operations during this period.

To allow for the legality of the operation, the states of Punjab and Chandigarh had been declared by the Indian government as ‘disturbed areas’ by the enactment of the Punjab Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act 1983. At the same time, the Army was given unprecedented powers to detain and arrest civilians through the enactment of the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Act 1983. The act empowered any commissioned, warrant or non-commissioned officer of the Army if “of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use forces, even to the causing of death.” The act also allowed such an officer to “arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence”.

Fast Track courts were set up under the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act 1984 to try and sentence suspected terrorists rapidly.

Punjab Chief of Police, K.P. Gill described the actions as “suffering from all the classical defects of army intervention in civil strife” and stated that the Indian Army had acted “blindly”.

The army operations were overseen by General Jamwal, who was assigned the responsibility to seal the international border with Pakistan, in an attempt to control smuggling of arms and personnel, and by General R.S. Dayal, who was instructed to oversee the apprehension of “militants” in state of Punjab.

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