Understanding 1984 Attack on Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple)

akal_takhat_sahib_1984_paintingSikh nation is observing 31th anniversary of Ghallughara (holocaust) of June 1984 when Indian army attacked the supreme Sikh shrine Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). The shrine is considered as a holy place in Sikhs as Macca in Muslim world. In this background, the attack can never be faded away from the consciousness of Sikhs and would maintain the alienation among Sikhs toward India. The unforgettable episode has become important chapter of Sikh history. It will keep reminding the Sikhs of their status in ‘free’ India. A noted Sikh scholar Late Dr. Gurbhagat Singh writes in an article, “Operation Blue Star materialized in June 1984 was a big holocaust. This is a wound that will never be washed out from the memory of Sikhs. This is a pain that will never be killed.” This is also a reality that only Sikh mind can realize the pain.

I recall the story which was told by a Punjab’s political activist of naxal background once, and proved turning point in his life. He said, “Being communists, we did not use to give importance to religious values or places when Naxal movement was going on in Punjab. At that time, we used to conduct our meetings near Sri Akal Takht Sahib sometimes. We consider Akal Takht Sahib as mere a simple religious building of Sikhs. However, when Indian army attacked Akal Takht and demolished it, I felt that scene of Akal Takht Sahib when I visited here along with my parents to pay obeisance during my childhood days with devotion. Thus, again I come back to Sikh ethos.”

Once, Harinder Singh Khalsa (IFS) also told a similar story, “Sri Darbar Sahib is the place from where I got blessed with top position in civil services. When I was informed, during my service as Indian ambassador in Norway, that Sri Darbar Sahib had been attacked by Indian army with tanks, my sentiments were injured deeply. With immediate effect, I resigned from the key position and preferred to meet both ends by selling newspapers.”

Like him, many Sikh officers had resigned from their services. Many renowned personalities belonging to Sikh community including Khushwant Singh, Bhagat Puran Singh Pingalwara, Dr. Sadhu Singh Hamdard, gave back the prestigious awards conferred by government of India against this grave sin. Moreover, Sikh soldiers in Indian Army revolted against the attack. The attack also led to the assassination of the then Indian Prime Minister and chief accused of the sin, Indra Gandhi.

Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwala
Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwala

Following the attack, Sikhs began to feel regret on sacrifices figured as 90 percent of total in Indian independence movement during British regime. Sikhs felt they are being deceived despite their biggest role played in wars fought for unity and integrity of India.

During British rule, Mohan Dass Karam Chand Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru had promised Sikhs that they will have full rights and freedom in independent India. They also gave the words that Sikhs will enjoy autonomy in Punjab without any external interference and no laws would be passed without consent of Sikhs. Gandhi categorically said, “if the congress or I betray you, your move to draw the sword as per teachings of Guru Gobind Singh will be justifiable.” Sikhs felt cheated immediately after the Britishers left India as the minority community was declared as criminal by profession by the first vice Prime minster of India Valabh Bhai Patel.  Since then, discrimination against Sikhs did not stop. When Indian army went for attack on the holiest shrine, their alienation with Indian state widened further. The attack created permanent rift between Sikhs and India.

The military action leaves many questions unanswered. If only Darbar Sahib Complex was to be ‘freed’ from Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other handful of Sikh militants, why Indian government ordered its armed forces to attack with artillery weapons? Why was the martyrdom day 5th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev ji, chosen for the attack when large number of Sikh devotees were paying obeisance here? They were murdered by Indian troop cold bloodily along with militants. Why were other Sikh shrines targeted by the Indian Army during the same period?

Significantly, around six months ago from the attack, why did Indian army go for rehearsal for the attack in a replica of Darbar Sahib Complex at a secret location near Chakrata Cantonment in the Doon Valley even when Sri Akaal Takht Sahib was not fortified by Sikh  militants? Why did Indian army burn Sikh reference library which secured rare historical Sikh scriptures, manuscripts and other Sikh literature which had no concern with fortification of Akal Takht Sahib by Sikh militant? Was not it a conspiracy of teaching a biggest ‘lesson’ to Sikhs in India?

Sikh mentality still sustain deep wounds caused by the attack and the Indian establishment has not stopped rubbing these wounds with salt. Main stream Indian media presents the phenomenon in negative sense. The entire phenomenon has never been understood sincerely so far. Even socialists and humanists never made efforts in this direction. Instead, to tarnish image of Sikhs, the false propaganda is spread against Sikhs as, “Bhindranwale was produced by Congress and when former stood against them, they murdered him”, “Sikh struggle was communal in nature i.e. against Hindus”, “(According to some Indian communists) Sikh insurgency was backed by Imperial countries like USA through Pakistan”, “this uprising did not represent popular mood of Sikhs but was sponsored by few radicals and communal elements among them” etc. Such government sponsored propaganda strengthens the voice that Sikhs themselves were responsible for the army attack.

Some circles of civil society who are considered as honest and humanist, interpret these happenings as a problem created by partial implementation of federal political structure in India which led to centralization of power and caused insecurity among various ethno-religious communities like Sikhs. To large extent, this interpretation is true but there are other layers of the phenomenon that need to be studied.

In this context, role of media needs to be analyzed. In order to make its actions successful, Indian state used Indian media as its most powerful tool. Large section of media abused media ethics by justifying state’s brutal practices and human rights violation. The hidden facts reveal that during army operation in Sri Darbar Sahib, most of the journalists posted for the coverage there by various media groups, were agents of Indian intelligence agencies and they played role as spies for the agencies. In addition, on editorial level as well, the media men had approach of giving clean chit to government’s atrocities. Media has always justified wrong doings of government on pretext of unity and integrity of country and termed the deadly attack as “Operation Blue Star”, the code name given by Indian army. It has been terming the Sikh fighters as ‘terrorists’. This is an example of biased approach of journalists who adopted the terminology set by the government.

Anybody who claims to have objective approach, must treat both sides—government and rebels – equally. It will only be possible if one gives up fascist agenda of “Indian nationalism” which is Hindu nationalism in real sense, and stops giving respect to Indian statute book like holy religious scripture.

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