An account of Operation Bluestar by a Jujharoo Singh

Contents:

  • Quotes from Investigative Media
  • Account of Operation Bluestar from Bhai Sukhvant Singh Jalalabad
  • Comparison of Casualty Figures from Various Sources
  • Brief Mention of Operation Woodrose (A parallel operation designed to slaughter Sikh civilians in the villages)

Some quotes from investigative and media reports pertaining to the June 1984 attack on the Golden Temple are attached below:

“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 succor 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 military operation in Punjab were unceremoniously destroyed without any attempt to identify them and hand them over to their relatives.So even the courtesy and honor customarily shown to the dead soldiers of the enemy was not shown to our dead countrymen, since those killing them were our own soldiers. Because the government had decided to exterminate these victims physically they ceased to exist as persons deserving any honor of human dignity. We lack even the civility of the British imperialists, who after the Jalianwala blood bath instituted the Hunter Commission to make a thorough enquiry into the events. The government, after the operation, on the other hand, did every thing 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. There had been no judicial verdict of guilt against definite individuals who had been taking shelter in the Golden Temple.” (CKC Reddy, et al, Army Action in Punjab: Prelude & Aftermath, New Delhi: Samata Era Publication, 1984, pp. 46-48)

“An undeclared, unilateral ruthless war _ against hundred of innocent defenceless men and women in far-away tiny villages of Punjab from where their voices do not reach the rest of India.In the name of curbing terrorism, unabashed state terrorism has been unleashed on the Sikhs branding them as criminals, arbitrary arrests and McCarthy style witch-hunt, sadistic torture…shooting down of young men in false encounters are common occurrences; even village women are not spared, they are being harassed and beaten up, dishonored and taken away to Police Stations or to unknown destinations.The eye witnesses witnessed the use of gas by the Army, the pile of dead bodies on the `Parikarma,’ the arrival of tanks which some of them thought were the ambulances, the hovering of helicopter at night, throwing their search light on targets which were bombed, the wanton destruction of the Akal Takht (the Eternal Throne), the Research Library and the Museum.Today, it is the State itself which openly indulges not only in murder and assault but also in inhuman torture, molestation of women…and false encounters leading to gruesome death.Our visit was almost like lifting the corner of a veil to discover a face – an amazing face full of conflicting emotions, suffering yet defiant, anguished yet challenging, tortured yet proud.” (Judge V M Tarkunde, et al, Oppression in Punjab: Report to the Nation, New Delhi: Citizens for Democracy, 1985, pp. 8-10, 18-19)

“The pattern in each village appears to be the same. The Army moves in during the early evening, cordons a village, and announces over loudspeakers that everyone must come out. All males between the ages of 15 and 35 are trussed and blindfolded, then taken away.Thousands have disappeared in the Punjab since the Army Operation began. The government has provided no lists of names; families don’t know if sons and husbands are arrested, underground or dead.” (Mary Anne Weaver, The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 1984)

“On the strength of constitutional features, India claims to be the largest functional democracy in the world where wide-spread human rights abuses, systematic persecution of estranged communities and suppression of political dissent cannot occur. However, the experiences of the Sikhs in Punjab show that as a demonised community targeted for abuse by the authorities, they had no protection from the leaders of the supposedly independent institutions, including the judiciary, either in shielding their fundamental rights against imminent violations or in obtaining acknowledgement and legal restitution of wrongs. Freedom of discourse remained an empty promise which even the higher judiciary joined the chorus to turn the page and obliterate the victims’ memory on the grounds that a public discussion and scrutiny focusing on past abuses and the role of institutions would undermine the interests of peace and social order.” (Ram Narayan Kumar, et al, Reduced to Ashes (Volume One), Asia Forum for Human Rights, Kathmandu, Nepal, May 2003, pp. 75)

This is based on an interview with Bhai Sukhvant Singh Jalalabad, a prisoner in Nabha Jail. He fought in the June 1984 attack on Darbar Sahib. Bhai Sukhvant Singh began staying with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in 1982 along with 11 other young men from his village. Later, six of those Singh’s would become Shaheeds during Bluestar and the rest were arrested and sent to Jodhpur Jail.Bhai Sukhvant Singh was released in 1989 and joined the Sikh ResistanceMovement. He was arrested and sent back to jail in 1997 where he has remained since, except for a brief four-month release in 2000. This is his account of the attack and how he and other Singhs fought back:

An account of Operation Bluestar by a Jujharoo Singh

On June 4th, at Amritvela, as the sweet sound of keertan was coming from Darbar Sahib, unexpectedly at 4.15am, a loud explosion was heard. It felt as though this explosion had taken place right near us. This was a signal for the bombing to begin. This all was part of a very carefully hatched plan by the Indian Government to attack the Sikh’s most important centre.

All of a sudden a hail of bullets began to fly. All us Singhs became alert right away.We were about 20 Singhs in the Sindhi Hotel, which was near the Langar building.  By daybreak, all the placements that had been made at high places had been completely obliterated. It’s important to say here that whatever placements had been made before June 3rd, and the government had noticed, were completely destroyed. Only those positions remained intact that had been made after June 3rd and which the government was unaware about. General Shabegh Singh spent the entire night of June 3rd making new positions and those were the ones that caused to most damage to the army. We came to a lower level of the Hotel and made new positions in the rooms and with our weapons we took them up.The bullets were flying at us so quickly that we couldn’t fire back.

We got in contact with the Langar Building and this was where Bhai Amrik Singh and Baba Thara Singh were commanding operations. They sent us a message at the Sindhi Hotel to leave there and to come to the Langar where all the Singhs would be gathering to fight together. This was because the Sindhi Hotel could have been surrounded at any time.At about 11am, we left the Sindhi Hotel and went to the Langar. There all the Singhs gathered and had a meeting where different positions were assigned. I and some other Singhs were given our duty at the Burj, but when we got there, there was a storm of bullets being fired at it. The Burj was swaying and it seemed that it could fall at any moment. Inside it, the dust made it impossible to breathe. Our position here could not be successful so we came back to the Langar Building.

So many bullets were being fired that no one could leave their morcha. But we would only shoot when we had a soldier in our sights. All of us were in contact with each other and we would go to each others morchas. If someone needed ammunition we could get it.All night the fighting continued but the army did not have the courage to advance on foot.At around midnight, four helicopters began to hover around Darbar Sahib. They tried to drop Commandos but the Singhs with their fire did not let them. A helicopter hovered over the Langar Building for quite some time as well and Bhai Amrik Singh grabbed an LMG and fired at it. This one too couldn’t drop any Commandos.

The next day at around 5, the Langar building came under organized fire. Our placements on the top level were completely destroyed. Many Singhs were Shaheed and others were injured. There was no one to tend to the wounds but Guru Sahib was doing so much kirpa that the injured were still encouraging the rest of us to fight hard. The dead bodies of the Shaheed Singhs were lying in the placements but our hearts had become like stone and it didn’t matter anymore. In our hearts we all wanted to fight ill our final breath.

On the evening of June 5th, Bhai Amrik Singh and the others made a plan to go to Akal Takhat Sahib. We also got ready to go with Bhai Sahib because we had planned to bring ammunition from there. Bhai Sahib and the rest of us went through the Parkarma, through a hail of bullets and reached Akal Takhat Sahib. We met Sant Mahapursh (Baba Jarnail Singh) there and he gave us a Fateh. Sant Ji asked Bhai Amrik Singh about the Langar side and what was going on and he asked us if we were in “Chardi Kala”. We replied that we were all in Chardi Kala. Sant Ji had a yellow keskee on his head and a Thompson Gun in his hands. He was in total Chardi Kala.We explained that we had come for ammunition and Sant Ji told Bhai Rachhpal Singh to get us what we needed. Bhai Rachhpal Singh took us to the basement and we took as much ammunition as we could carry. We then returned to the Langar Building. After this, we lost all contact with Akal Takhat Sahib.We distributed the ammo and in total we were 60-70 Singhs at the Langar. There were bullets flying in every direction. We took up positions on the bottom most floor.

As night fell, the Army sent 400 trained Commandos from the Ghanta Ghar gate, Baba Deep Singh gate and the Langar side. From the Langar side, we did not let even one Commando get into the Complex. On the other sides as well, not even one Commando survived. The army saw that they couldn’t advance by foot so around 11pm, tanks and armoured vehicles began to come from the Seraa(n) side. They fired a hail of bullets at the Langar as they advanced.Us Singhs in the Langar, Baba Thara Singh, Bhai Surinder Singh, Bhai Major Singh (Nagoke), Bhai Balvinder Singh, Bhai Svaran Singh, Bhai Dalbir Singh, etc., had a meeting at the back side of the Langar Building. We decided to leave here and go to the Akal Takhat Sahib. Bhai Svaran Singh did an ardaas here that “Guru Sahib Jio! Give use the strength to combat this enemy.”

At 1am, we went into the parkarma via the Brahm Buta Akhara. Bullets were flying ahead of us. Bhai Svaran Singh and Bhai Dalbir Singh went into an adjoining room where there were many other Singhs from the Kar Seva Jatha. It’s important to say here that about 35 Kar Seva-vale Singhs had done an ardaas that “if Darbar Sahib is attacked, we will become Shaheeds.” Only four of these Singhs survived and they spent time with us in Jodhpur Jail. The rest all fought bravely and became Shaheed. The Jathedar, Baba Pehlvaan, whose name I have now forgotten, fought most bravely of all.Bhai Major Singh Nagoke separated from us and went into the underground room near the Langar that had a well in it. Five other Singhs also descended into this room. Bhai Major Singh had known about this place before and we too had gone there a couple times. They had stored food rations here. When we were taken to the prisoner camp, we found out that when on June 9th, Giani Zail Singh came to Darbar Sahib, the Singhs fired on him from this room. One of Giani Zail’s bodyguards was killed but he himself survived.Major Singh and the others fought to the end. The army ended up martyring them with poison gas. Major Singh also had a major role in the killing of Nirankari Gurbachana that the Sangat does not know about.

When we began to move towards Akal Takhat Sahib, we only had about 20 Singhs left. The rest were all Shaheed. Instead of going directly towards Akal Takhat Sahib, we moved towards Dukh Bhanjani Beri because the firing was less in this area. Near here there is also an enclosure where women can do ishnaan. We put our shastar there. There was no position made here so we couldn’t continue to fight. We drank the water from the sarovar and quenched our thirst. We only had a few bullets left, the rest of the ammunition was exhausted. Just our weapons remained.

At Amrit vela we began to discuss how we could move towards Akal Takhat Sahib. Baba Thara Singh was saying that if we reached there, we would have no problem getting more amo. All night the tanks had been entering the parkarma and in the Deori in front of the Langar, a tank was constantly firing shells. Inside the enclosure,we had taken up positions that if the army tried to enter, we would kill as many of them as possible before dying. Bhai Surinder Singh and Bhai Balvinder Singh along with 5 Singhs decided that they would swim through the sarovar to Darbar Sahib. After going to Darbar Sahib, they would run on the causeway to Akal Takhat Sahib. When the Singhs began to swim, we watched and in front of us, all were martyred and not even one made it across.

On June 6th, at around 9 or 10am, we suddenly heard the cries of Jaikaray. We thought that maybe the Sangat from outside had arrived but when we listened with more attention, we realised the shouts were coming from Akal Takhat Sahib. There were tanks standing in front of Akal Takhat Sahib and they had destroyed the building completely. Finally, Baba Thara Singh said to us, “we cannot fight tanks with bullets. If any of us can escape, they should try.”At the suggestion of Baba Thara Singh, we threw our weapons (which were without ammo now) into the sarovar. Baba Ji did ardaas that we would go outside and become Shaheed. Baba Ji asked the elderly to accompany him. He said if they were arrested it was fine, but if not, they would certainly be happy to be Shaheed. My uncle also accompanied Baba Ji. The moment they stepped out, they were all shot dead.

We returned into the enclosure but the army realised there were people inside. They announced that if there was anyone inside, they should come out, otherwise they were opening fire. So at around 10am, 15 Singhs and some members of the Sangat came out, but this time the army did not open fire. They immediately began to beat us with sticks. I saw the bodies of Baba Thara Singh an my uncle lying there. We managed to survive. Our arms were tied behind our backs with our dastaars and the army began to beat us so badly that some Singhs died from their injuries.

We were taken to the chhabeel near Manji Sahib Divaan Hall where a number of Singhs and members of the Sangat were already sitting. We were made to sit with them on the parkarma. We heard from the soldiers here, while they were hitting us, “Your Bhindranwala tiger has been killed and we’ve won the battle.” We were silent and staring at Akaal Takhat Sahib. There were still tanks in front of Akaal Takhat Sahib and there was a tank directly behind all of us as well. If firing came from any direction, the tank would fire a hail of bullets in that direction.Night fell here. This night, a scene occurred in front of me that I will never forget and still passes through my eyes even today. One Bihari soldier was smoking and then threw the butt into the sarovar. A Sardar soldier was also standing there. There were some Sardar soldiers to be seen that day. The Sardar said to the Bihari, “Don’t throw the butt into the sarovar” but after smoking another, he threw the butt into the sarovar again and said, “What are you going to do?” The Sardar took his carbine and blew the Bihari away. On top of a nearby tank, another Bihari soldier opened fire on the Sardar and ripped his body apart with bullets. He fell dead into the sarovar and his body began to float on the surface.

At that point, the Bihari captain ordered the tanks to run us over and kill us. The turned the tanks towards us but suddenly a Muslim Major came and he said in a loud voice, “What are you doing??!” The soldier on the tank said, “Our Captain Sahib has ordered us to kill them.” The Major replied that all these prisoners have been put on a list and if any are killed, the killer would be held responsible. He had the Biharis changed and the new posts began to make our lists.We asked the Major for water but he said that if we survived, we should consider ourselves lucky. We stayed there all night in this state. The Major came a few more times in the night to ask how we were. In the morning we were ordered to stand but because many of us were badly beaten, they fell over. They were then beaten more.

In a line we were marched to the Seraa(n) area near Manji Sahib Divan Hall. On the way we saw that the bodies of the Sangat were everywhere and some were still screaming in pain. No one was listening to them. The Soldiers were only picking up their own dead and wounded. In front of the Seraa(n) there were 500 people already sitting and we too sat down. The army then began to throw hand grenades at us. Everything was covered in blood and bodies began to pile up. The soldiers were also firing at us now so that no one would survive. Here, my companion Bhai Raj Singh became a Shaheed. I was slightly injured but survived again.We lay there with the other bodies.

When the firing stopped, we went into the rooms of the Seraa(n).In one room, there was an injured mother and her baby. She didn’t care about herself but she was begging for the life of her child. After a while, her voice and that of her baby was silenced by bullets. They did not even spare innocent children.

Chunks of flesh had been blown away and were sticking to the walls of the Seraa(n). The army then announced that whoever was still alive should come out. We saw rooms filled with bodies and they smelt very bad. We came out and this time we saw that along with the pilgrims were leaders of the Sikh Students Association. We saw Balvant Singh Ramuvalia there who was helping make lists. He tried to speak with an officer but that officer slapped him and knocked his turban off. We saw the bodies of SGPC secretary Gurcharan Singh and Bugga Singh lying near some sacks of wheat. Where we were sitting we found out that some Sardar soldiers had come and taken the two and shot them dead. They said “you are the cause of all this” and executed them. The Bihari soldiers were looking at the Sardar soldiers with suspicion and saying “they shot at us as well.”

The night of June 7th arrived and we were taken by bus to Amritsar’s army camp. We were locked up in small rooms that were meant for ammunition. They were very tight and had no fan. We were so thirsty that some of us were falling unconscious. Bhai Sunaam Singh became a Shaheed here. We were almost unconscious and crying out. The noise made the army open our doors and when we ran out to drink water, the army opened fire and many Singhs died here. We continued to lie inside.

On the night of June 8th, a Sardar soldier took charge. He was from Jhabaal. The Biharis were changed. He said to us that he was also pained by all that had happened and his own father who did seva with Baba Khark Singh had also been killed. He said he had just returned after doing the cremation. He said that we should last one more night like this and then we would be put in open barracks.

On June 9th we were put in open barracks and were given Cholay Puris to eat. We began to throw up right away. Doctors came and said that we had been dehydrated and we should only be given rice and water. He said that if your bodies accepted the water, we might live otherwise there was no hope. We had not had anything to eat for the past four or five days. Our bodies began to accept the water and then we were given rice for the next two or three days. We thought we would survive now. Then began the job of identifying us. We were marched in front of a room where the fighters were separated from the regular Sangat. A companion of Sant Ji was doing the identifying. We were a total of 60 Singhs left and we were put in two rooms.

Different agencies interrogated us for two months but we gave them no information. We were then taken to Nabha jail. Here the interrogation continued. When this stopped, we were remanded to custody under the National Security Act for a period set for two years. Our families found out we were ok. After the remand, we were taken to Ladha Kothi Sangrur were they interrogated us again. They kept asking where Sant Ji got the weapons, who were the fighters and who were involved in various actions that took place. We kept repeating that we didn’t know anything.

We were about to be sent away to “Kala Pani” when some Guru Kae Laal killed Indra. All the Singhs faces were shining with happiness since history had shown that whoever attacked Sri Darbar Sahib could not escape the Khalsa.What had been happening to us for the past five months now stopped. New lists were made and 379 individuals were charged with rebellion and sent to Jodhpur Jail. We were sent there via air from Patiala.

There were two women as well, Bhai Rachhpal Singh’s wife and another from Amritsar [Bibi Amarjit Kaur]. There was a court inside Jodhpur Jail. We all fell ill because of the food given to us here but soon we became used to it. After five years in jail, in 1989, the charge of rebellion was taken back under pressure from the United Nations. Those of us who didn’t have any other cases booked, were then released. I had cases in Punjab so I was sent to Jalandhar Jail and then Amritsar. I later came out on bail.

The government offered us assistance but I rejected it and joined the movement again in 1990. Since 1997 I am in jail again and await the day when with the grace of the Guru some true leader comes again to take the Panth into Chardi Kala.

-translated by karamjeet Singh

—————————————————————————————–

Aftermath

 

The number of people who lost their lives will never be known. The Army refused to let the Red Cross enter the complex and cremated the dead before the bodies could be identified or claimed by their families. The Amritsar municipal sweepers refused to clear the dead bodies away but were eventually persuaded by offers of rum and being allowed to strip the bodies of all valuables. They piled the dead into garbage trucks and unceremoniously cremated them. Family members were not allowed by the army to claim the remains or perform any traditional funeral rites. It is clear that thousands lost their lives in the Temple complex.

How many died?
Indian Government white paper category “civilian/terrorist”: 493
AP, Reuter and New York Times (June 11, 1984) 1,000
Author Mark Tully’s (Amritsar, Mrs. Ghandi’s last battle) 2,093
Amritsar crematorium worker 3,300
Author Chand Joshi (Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality) 5,000
Eyewitnesses 8,000
How many killed were “combatants”
Government White Paper 200, 35 bodies in Akal Takht 200
A.I.S.S.F. Member – 100 fighters June 5th 100
S.S. Bhagowalia, V.P. Association for Democratic Rights 140-150
Indian Government White Paper
Own troops killed 83
Own troops wounded 249
Civilians/terrorists killed 493
Terrorists and other injured 86
Civilians/terrorists apprehended 1,592

Total number of troops taking part in the attack is estimated at around 1,000 (Mark Tulley),

Child Prisoners

22 children between the ages of 2 and 16 years old were detained among the 1,592 terrorists apprehended by the army according to the government White Paper and on the  “most dangerous terrorists list”. They languished in jail suffering torture for over a year until social worker Kamala Devi petitioned the Supreme Court for their release from Ludihana jail.

Prisoner Mehrban Singh, Age 12
“We were repeatedly asked if we were Bhindranwale’s men. They hit us at Ludhiana jail, jabbing fingers into our necks, wanting us to confess that we had been filling magazines with bullets for Bhindranwale’s men.”

Prisoner Shamsher Singh, Age 11
“We were given very dirty food in the army camp. The food was better in the jail. We were regularly beaten in the jail. We were told we were Bhindranwale’s people and they wanted to know about Bhindranwale’s friends. They asked us where Bhindranwale kept his arms.”

Continuing Violence

Parallel to Operation Blue Star, another military operation called Operation Woodrose took place. Across Punjab the Indian Army attacked 42 to 74 Gurdwaras resulting in high casualties at Moga, Mukatsar, Faridkot, Patiala, Ropar and Chowk Mehta. The exact number of Sikhs killed are not know but 257 people were shot and killed during the storming of just a single Gurdwara in the operation, Gurdwara Dukhniwaran Sahib in Patiala.

On October 31, 1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot and killed by two bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh as revenge for Operation Blue Star. Over the next four days, as many as 3100 Sikhs were killed in retaliatory attacks, mainly in Delhi by Hindu mobs said to be organized and coordinated by Indian government officials. As many as 50,000 Sikhs were left homeless as their houses were burned to the ground.

In the 10 years following 1984 over 70,000 people were detained under emergency terrorism legislation (TADA), yet only 1 percent of them were eventually convicted of a crime.

Case of Sukhwinder Singh, 23 years old
Report for the Committee on Disappearances in Punjab
On 13 December 1991, Sukhwinder Singh accompanied by Lakhwinder Singh went to Munda Pind village on a tractor trolly to do some shopping. While returning, they were apprehended by the police of Munda Pind police post and handed over to Goindwal Sahib police. SHO Tegh Bahadur of Goindwal Sahib Police station and head constable Rachhpal Singh personally supervised Sukhwinder’s interrogation under torture during the course of his illegal detention for five days. The family members regularly visited him in the police station and served him food. Gian Singh met his son at Goindwal police station for the last time on 16 December 1991. Gian Singh, along with several other village elders had been talking to SHO Tegh Bahadur Singh to get Sukhwinder released from his custody. The SHO demanded a bribe of Rs 200,000 for Sukhwinder’s release. Gian Singh, a small farmer, was unable to raise such a large amount and beseeched the SHO to release his son for Rs. 50,000 but the SHO turned down the offer. Gian Singh was still struggling to raise the amount, demanded by the SHO for his son’s release when on 19 December 1991, several Punjabi newspapers reported the killing of Sukhwinder Singh and another unidentified militant in a supposed armed encounter with the police force. The cremation was carried out without the family’s knowledge.

 

– from http://www.sikhmuseum.com/bluestar/chronology.html

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