This week, Sikhs all over the world remember and mourn the death and destruction that was afflicted twenty five years ago in the June 1984 attacks on Sri Akal Takht Sahib and Sri Harmandir Sahib, among dozens of other sacred Gurdwaras across Punjab.
PUNJAB UNDER FULL MILITARY CONTROL
During the first week of June, a month when the local temperatures reach 115°F, thousands of Sikh pilgrims were gathering at Sri Harmandir Sahib to commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Immediately, under the order of the Central Government, communications across Punjab were severed and a full media blackout and censorship was imposed across the entire state. Public travel was suspended and electricity was interrupted and cut to all main nerve centers of Punjab. Thousands of unknowing pilgrims who were visiting Sri Darbar Sahib became trapped inside the complex premises only to be shot dead by the Indian Army troops who had surrounded the complex in preparations for a major attack that will be remembered as one of the darkest days in modern India.
|"communications across Punjab were severed and full media blackout and censorship was imposed across the entire state"|
The military assault, code named Operation Blue Star, continued for roughly a week and resulted in immeasurable casualties and damage that not only will stay etched into the Sikh psyche for generations, but has also altered the political landscape of the country that committed this act of terrorism and crimes against humanity.
DESECRATION AND SLAUGHTER
Under a preposterous pretext that Sikh "militants" were about to declare a separate Sikh Nation called Khalistan, the Indian army, for the first time since 1947, attacked it's own citizenry inside one the Sikh's holiest of shrines. Along with the few brave armed Sikhs who defended the sanctity of the holy complex, thousands of innocent unarmed visitors, men, women, and young children were slaughtered during this attack--turning the sacred pool of nectar in the center of the complex blood red.
The continuous singing of Kirtan and sacred hymns that have been recited around the clock for centuries was brought to a stand still. Sri Darbar Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum, holy of the holies, was riddled with bullets. Inside, one of the bullets had pierced the centuries old handwritten saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The hazoori Ragis, minstrel priests, Bhai Amrik Singh and Bhai Avtar Singh Parowal had also been shot and killed. The ramalla cloth that covered the sacred embodiment of God was soaked in the blood of the dead attendants.
Shaheed Bhai Avtar Singh Parowal
Outside, the very symbol of the Sikh Nation's spiritual and temporal power (Miri-Piri), Sri Akal Takht Sahib, had been severely damaged--it's front courtyard and facade virtually turned into rubble. Hundreds of historic saroops of Siri Guru Granth Sahib and other irreplaceable holy scriptures had been reduced to ash. Across the complex, the Sikh Reference Library, containing countless irreplaceable Sikh artifacts and works of literature had also been intentionally torched.
|"Hundreds of historic saroops of Siri Guru Granth Sahib and other irreplaceable holy scriptures had been reduced to ashes...the Sikh Reference Library, containing countless irreplaceable Sikh artifacts and works of literature had also been intentionally torched."|
Despite the continual denial by the Government, human rights organizations conclude that thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed during this military operation. The cries of young mothers and their weeping babies who fainted and succumbed in the 115 degree scorching temperatures echoed across the complex for many days, yet no one was there to assist them. The pilgrims who were captured alive by the military were tied up only to be put on their knees and slaughtered at point blank range--not even the children and elderly were spared. In order to cover up this pre-planned massacre, municipal garbage trucks were used to carry the unidentified bodies to mass cremation sites and unmarked graves.
WHAT THE PRESS STATED:
C.K.C Reddy, an Indian journalist who witnessed some of the events writes:
"[The] Whole of Punjab and especially the Golden Temple Complex was turned into a murderous mouse trap from where people could neither escape nor could they seek [assistance] of any kind. The way the dead bodies were disposed off adds to the suspicions regarding the number and nature of the casualties. The bodies of the victims of [the] military operation in Punjab were unceremoniously destroyed without any attempt to identify them and hand them over to their relatives. The government, after the operation, on the other hand, did everything in its power to cover up the excesses of the army action. The most disturbing thing about the entire operation was that a whole mass of men, women, and children were ordered to be killed merely on the suspicion that some terrorists were operating from the Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras."
Jagtar Singh, a senior journalist, was a Punjab correspondent with a leading English daily during the assault, here are some excerpts from his forthcoming book:
"From the main entrance on the ghanta ghar (clock tower) side, the pockmarked Darbar Sahib reminded you of the buildings damaged in World War II. The big clock on the main entrance on that side had stopped, frozen in time, indicating the exact time action began early on June 4. Inside, the stink of human flesh was all pervading."
"...the stink of human flesh was all pervading...
"The stench in the Akal Takht area was nauseating and it appeared some bodies were still lay buried there.
"...Heaps of bodies were loaded in the municipal corporation's garbage trucks and carried to the cremation ground. No effort was made to identify the bodies."
"On the historic doors of the darshani deodi leading to the sanctum sanctorum in front of the Akal Takht, a notice proclaimed in capital letters: UNDER ARMY OCCUPATION. That is exactly what it was. Army authorities took pains to explain how the damage to the central shrine had been avoided. But by then colossal damage had been inflicted at another level - the damage to the Sikh psyche."
"Haversacks of the soldiers lay piled up in the two staircases leading to the first floor of Darbar Sahib. The historic hand written Bir of Guru Granth Sahib on the first floor was covered with a white bloodstained cloth. Placing this Bir in order was a traumatic experience, which continued to give shivers to this writer even several years later."
"The ashes of Bhindranwale, Bhai Amrik Singh and Major General Shabeg Singh were immersed along with 200 others at Kiratpur Sahib on June 14. The government, for unexplained reasons, did not reveal information at that time. Heaps of bodies were loaded in the municipal corporation's garbage trucks and carried to the cremation ground. No effort was made to identify the bodies."
"The Akal Takht, the unique symbol of sovereignty and Sikh struggle constructed by [the] Sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, which later came to acquire the distinction of being the supreme Sikh institution for prayer and politics, was still smoldering."
"The stench in the Akal Takht area was nauseating and it appeared some bodies were still lay buried there."
|"...The historic hand written Bir of Guru Granth Sahib on the first floor was covered with a white bloodstained cloth. Placing this Bir in order was a traumatic experience, which continued to give shivers to this writer even several years later..."|
"The convoy was taken back straight to Raja Sansi. The water tank in the semi area with gaping holes caused by artillery fire and the two observation towers of the fortress Bunga Ramgarhia in the shrine complex, told the story of heavy fighting. Only later it came to be known that tanks had been taken right inside the complex to attack Akal Takht, the last point of resistance. The complex stood as mute witness to the three-day war."
"Nearly every inch of the walls, apart from the sanctum sanctorum, had bullet marks of virtually all calibers. The Akal Takht lay in ruins."
AN ATTACK ON SIKHI ITSELF
It is obvious to even a casual observer that the June 1984 assault was ordered not to suppress so-called Sikh militants, it's purpose was much deeper. It was an assault on the Sikh religion itself and everything the Sikh Nation represented--it's dignity, it's aspirations for spiritual and political freedom, righteousness and equality.
For twenty five years, the Indian Government and the Indian press have continued to cover up and mis-portray the events of June 1984. The country that represents itself as the world's largest democracy is still unwilling to come to terms with the horrific atrocities that were committed against the Sikh Nation under the guise of national unity or national integrity. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two from other democracies.
INDIAN DENIAL OF ATROCITIES
US President Barrack Obama, who this week visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp memorial in Germany, where thousands upon thousands of Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany under similar pretexts, stated:
"These sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time. More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished...
"(Buchenwald) teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests."
|"...we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests...."|
"It is up to us to bear witness; to ensure that the world continues to note what happened here; to remember all those who survived and all those who perished, and to remember them not just as victims, but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed just like us," he said.
Some in the Sikh Community have tried to raise awareness of the brutalities committed by the Indian Government--but to a great extent, the Nation remains helpless at attracting the attention of a global audience.
At Buchenwald, there is a memorial to the victims that is heated to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit--human body temperature--24 hours a day, year round, to symbolize the life that was lost. In fact, the entire concentration camp has been left as is--as a reminder that evil that was committed.
WITHOUT A TRACE: Thousands pershed in Operation Blue Star - 25 years later, very few vitims have been identified.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Sikh community. Instead, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, in conjunction with the Indian Government, has worked hard to virtually erase all evidence of the horrors that were inflicted on the Sikh Nation in 1984. Not a single memorial has been erected to commemorate that Ghalughara or holocaust.
Today, a visitor at the Sri Darbar Sahib complex would never know that this peaceful place once became the killing ground for thousands of pilgrims a quarter century ago and sparked off a genocide that killed tens of thousands more. The Government has worked extensively in suppressing that information--be it in the press or in schools and universities. While in Europe, there are only a few who can deny the Holocaust, in India there are very few who believe or even know a similar holocaust occurred for the Sikhs.
Perhaps it is the Sikhs who need to learn from the old adage, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Perhaps we will learn the hard way. Sikhs need to first remind ourselves, our families, our children, and our neighbors what we went through--the tortures, subjugation, humiliation, and pre-planned genocide, and destruction. We need to not only preserve and chronicle the evidence and memories of the events, but instill them in the minds of every Sikh man, woman, and child. Only then can we say "never again, never again." We first have to listen to ourselves, only then will others listen.
So far, no case stands in front of the United Nations or any International Human Rights courts to recognize the organized attacks on the Sikh Nation and no assurance that such events will not re-occur.
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