Since the conception of Sikhi and the Khalsa Panth, Sikhs have always faced unrelenting attacks from oppressive regimes who felt threatened by the Khalsa’s revolutionary mission. Oppressive tyrnats have never been able to sit comfortably in their seats of power because of the endless opposition posed by the Khalsa.
Ahmad Shah Abdali, an Afghan emperor known for kidnapping the women of India to sell them in the bazaars of Afghanistan, was one such tyrant who would try to enter India through the Sikh Homeland, Punjab. Here, he would meet the stiff opposition from the Khalsa. So committed were the Sikhs to fight against Abdali’s inhumanity, that despite the hardships the Sikh Nation was going through itself, the Khalsa attacked the Afghan caravans to take back the plunder and women Abdali kidnapped.
Abdali decided it would be necessary – as many had tried before him – to destroy the Khalsa once and for all; so he could plunder and exploit India without opposition. In an effort to clear his way into India by destroying the Sikhs, Abdali started with the demolition of Sri Harmander Sahib. Those well versed in Sikh history know that these events ironically had the reverse effect. In fact, Sikhs to this day take inspiration to fight oppression from martyrs such as, Baba Deep Singh Ji who had his head severed while defending the Sikh shrine from Abdali’s soldiers.
Countless tried – although unsuccessfully – to destroy the Sikh Nation through a myriad of means. Almost carelessly, the Sikhs dealt with every adversary on the battlefield, never paying attention to the size or might of their foe. Instead, every threat to their existence was virtually a boost and reminder of the Khalsa’s mission. These attacks to wipe out Sikhs have not ceased to this day, although the tactics have undoubtedly moulded over time.
The year 1984 is one deeply etched in the consciousness of every Sikh as it unmasked genocidal designs of the Indian state. In June, the government launched a full-fledged military operation – code-named “Operation Bluestar” – on the the Sikh city of Amritsar – reminiscent to earlier attacks by tyrants, such as Abdali. The country that refers to itself as “the world’s largest democracy” deployed over 70 000 army personnel, tanks, and chemical gases to attack a place of worship full of unarmed devotees.
Like Abdali’s raids, Operation Bluestar has become a source of inspiration and strength for the Sikh Nation because of the valiant resistance offered by a handful of Sikhs led by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale. During the invasion, the Indian forces experienced the might of the Khalsa firsthand; what was expected to be a quick and easy operation in fact turned into a grueling battle which lasted for days.
Though the invasions sanctioned by Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Ahmad Shah throughout the 1700’s took place in different centuries, there is a common thread that connects both, manifested in the words of Joyce Pettigrew when she comments that Operation Bluestar was an attempt to “attack their [Sikhs] heart, to strike a blow at their spirit, and self confidence.”
The consistent selection of the Darbar Sahib complex – and Akal Takht specifically – as a target is not a coincidence but a result of the fact that the Akal Takht represents the political aspirations of the Sikh Nation. Both attacks were integral parts of the tyrants’ nefarious designs to disarm the Sikh Nation and shatter the Sikh resistance. It was a message demanding subservience to the Delhi throne to which the Khalsa responded with unrelenting rebellion.
The month of June has special significance in Sikh history not only because of the army invasion of Darbar Sahib in 1984, but because of the political executions of two earlier pillars of the Sikh struggle. Guru Arjan Dev Ji and Baba Banda Singh Bahadur join Sant Jarnail Singh Ji as political leaders executed by the rulers of India for posing a threat to the security of Delhi’s throne. Although many overlook the political realities of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s shaheedi, the fact of the matter is that Jahangir ordered the execution because he saw the development of the Sikh movement as a serious threat to his empire.
Sant Jarnail Singh Ji reminded us of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s example and that of Baba Banda Singh. He reminded us that Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s vision is diametrically opposed to the Indian model of society and development based on the concentration of power and wealth, exploitation, and sectarianism.
In the words of Joyce Pettigrew, “The sacrifice of Bhindranwale’s life and that of his followers drew attention to the fact that Sikhs live by a model of society opposed to that for which India stood. They were slaughtered in defense of their conception of what society should be.”
On the 28th anniversary of the Battle of Amritsar, if we want to pay homage to those who were massacred and those who were killed resisting the army invasion, we must remind ourselves of why Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Baba Banda Singh, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji and his comrades opposed the Indian model of society in the first place and what kind of society it is that Guru Nanak Dev Ji envisioned. We must then continue their ongoing struggle, sparked by the initial imprisonment of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and rekindled by the martyrdom of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji.