The Last Time I Was In Amritsar – June 1984

An amazing, and true, account of surviving torture at the hands of the Indian police forces during their campaign to wipe out the Sikh religion.

***

The Crimes of Indira Gandhi:
The Last Time I Was In Amritsar – June 1984

by MAI HARINDER KAUR

June 4, 1984

I was in Amritsar with my husband, Mani, and thirteen-year-old son, Sandeep. We had been in the city since mid-May, visiting relatives, of which we have many in that area.

The date, for those of you who don’t recognize it, was the beginning of Operation Blue Star – as it was named by the Indian government – when the Indian army stormed the Harmandar Sahib, claiming to be looking for ‘terrorists.’

The army knew that thousands of people were in the gurdwara complex to commemorate the Shaheedi Gurpurab of Guru Arjan. They opened fire on the whole complex and killed who knows how many. Fortunately, we were at a cousin’s house when it all started and thus were safe, or so it seemed.

No such luck. Two days later, the police barged into the house where we were staying and took us all.

Fortunately, as it turned out, the three of us had our passports on us. I’m not sure exactly where we were taken, a police station
somewhere. They separated the men and the women; I was afraid that that was last I’d see of my men.

Then they put put each of us women in different rooms. And I waited. For the first time in my life, I was really scared. After a time, a very young policeman came in. Although my hands were bound behind me, I managed to pull out my Canadian passport.

He was not impressed.

“Are you Sikh?” Expressionless.

“Yes.” Calmly.

“Wrong answer.” He slapped me across the face.

“Are you Sikh?” Expressionless.

“Yes.” Calmly.

“Wrong answer.” He slapped me HARD across the face.

“Are you Sikh?” Expressionless.

“Yes.” Calmly.

“Wrong answer. And you’re also really stupid.” He doubled up his fist and slugged me in the mouth.

“Are you Sikh?” Smiling slightly.

“Yes. I’m Khalsa.” Blood was coming out of my mouth. I wish I could say I was unafraid, but that would be a lie. A BIG lie. I have, to this day, never been so terrified in my life. But I managed to keep my voice steady.

He reached over to me and tore my shirt off. Then he pulled out my kirpan. “The little Saint Soldier has her little knife, I see.” In a sarcastic voice. He drew the blade across my throat. I laughed nervously. A strange reaction.

Unlike most Sikhs, I usually do not carry a blunt kirpan. I know, I know. A kirpan is a religious article, not a weapon. I’m sorry if I
offend anyone here, and I know I will, but I have never believed that our spiritual father, Guru Gobind Singh, intended us to be unarmed. I usually carried a razor-sharp medieval French war dagger that had belonged to a lady ancestor of mine. I suppose it couldn’t really be called a kirpan, but it was what I carried. I’m not sure why that day, I didn’t have my dagger on me. If I had, I would be dead.

So I laughed nervously.

That seemed to infuriate him and he pulled my pants down. At this point a second cop came in. The first one started pulling at my hair.

“You Khalsa have a real fetish about this, don’t you? Is it true that you’ll die before letting it be cut?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Stupid.”

The second cop handed him a big pair a scissors. He pointed them at my hair. “I’m going to use these. The choice is yours: here,” pointing at my hair, “or here?” He cut the top of my kacchhera, so they fell down. pointing the scissors at my crotch.

He laughed and laughed.

Paralysed with terror, I said nothing, but inside I screamed with every fibre of my being.

“GOBIND!”

No ‘Guru,’ no ‘Singh,’ no ‘Ji.’

Just, “GOBIND!”

The result was instantaneous. I was not afraid. I was not in pain. I don’t know how I knew they wouldn’t dare cut my hair; I couldn’t care less what else they might do to me. My dad’s words came to me: “No one can humiliate me without my consent.”

I laughed. “I’m Khalsa.” I looked at the mirror across the room. I’m not a complete idiot. I know mirrors in interrogation rooms are one-way glass. And I was certain that the cops were forcing my son and husband to watch this. Sadistic f****ing bastards! I nodded to my unseen men and smiled.

He slugged me in the stomach. It didn’t hurt. He slugged me like that several more times until he finally knocked me off my feet and I fell to the floor. I have never felt so calm and complete, as strange as that sounds. I was completely unafraid.

He stood over me and stared at me, now completely naked, lying on the floor. He kicked me in the head repeatedly. Then, he pulled me up by my hair and with the help of his colleague sat me in a chair. He cut open a hot chili and rubbed it all over my face, up my nose and into my eyes. I didn’t react at all.

He opened my legs and rubbed the chili all over my vaginal area. The second one pulled me forward to my feet, while the first one shoved it up my anus. He pulled it out and stuffed it into my mouth. The whole time, he was trying to taunt me by saying all sorts of insulting things. None of it got through to me at all. I will not record what he said, partly because it was mostly in colloquial Punjabi, of which I understood little, and partly because it would serve no purpose beyond teaching someone how to be insulting.]

After he finished with the chili, he started with the scissors, which turned out to be very sharp. Little cuts, not big ones, all over my breasts, then my stomach. When I didn’t react to that, the bottoms of my feet. By this time, he was completely livid. I thought he was going to maybe cut my throat or gouge my eyes.

Again he grabbed me by the hair and threw me on the ground, and opened my legs. He raised the scissors over my crotch, clearly intending to use them as a weapon of rape. He stopped, clearly savouring the moment.

At exactly that instance, the door opened and someone burst through, yelling. “Stop! We have orders not to mess with the Canadians.”

He glared at me, with pure hatred. But he stopped. The second cop untied my wrists.

I stood up, pulled up my kacchhera, then my pants. My shirt was torn beyond any usefulness, though. My mouth was still full of blood which I spat on the floor at his feet. He spoke, very softly, so only I could hear: “If I ever see you again, you’ll be sorry I didn’t finish with you today.”

So what was going on in me, while he was torturing me? I believe this does qualify as torture. I could see, hear and feel everything that was going on. But I felt no pain, either physically or psychologically, then or later. Instead, I was aware of various voices singing the Mool Mantar, over and over. It was the most beautiful thing you could imagine. It completely transported my being to another level where pain simply doesn’t exist. This was the second time something like this had happened to me in this life – and it has not been repeated since.

I was operating in two completely different states of being. All of my senses seemed to be in overdrive. My hearing was enhanced. Colours were vivid and alive. I was fully, completely conscious and aware. I want to emphasize that I was not being brave or strong or heroic. And I am not masochistic. I was as calmly joyful as I could ever imagine being. It simply made no difference to me what they were doing.

Why do I think this happened to me? Because I relied on a promise made by one who was a father to me. There is nothing special about me in this. Any Khalsa in this position has the right, perhaps even the obligation, to do the same. No special, secret words, no silly rituals, just the total intention.

I’d like to make a couple of aside comments here. First, there are still a few things I have left out, for the sake of decency. I was not raped, since rape is vaginal penetration. Please notice that it takes nothing fancy to torture someone, no special equipment, in this case, just some chili, a pair of scissors and something to tie my hands. Also, very little imagination.

I have not mentioned that, at this time, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy. They, of course, had no way of knowing that. Not that it would have made any difference to them! Why I didn’t lose the babies then and there I can only ascribe to the fact that I was being protected by my Guru in some fashion.

I just kept smiling. “I’d like my kirpan back, please.”

The second cop handed it to me, along with my passport.

They took me, still half naked and bleeding, to a hallway, where I was reunited with Mani and Sandeep. With great dignity, my son took off his shirt and helped me put it on.

“Here, Mom”‘ His voice was shaking a bit. I looked at them. They had been roughed up a bit, and normally neither would have ever tied a turban so sloppily. We would discuss all that later. I evidently got the worst treatment, physically.

Later we discussed the incident. Mani looked into my eyes. “There for a moment, I thought you might break.”

I met his gaze. “So did I.”

“I could see you change. All of a sudden, it was like you became someone else. What happened?”

I told him. He turned to our son. (Of course, all this happened 22 years ago, so all the quotes have been approximations, except this, which I remember verbatim.).

“Your mother is a magnificent person. You won’t find another like her, but I hope when you get married, you’ll marry a woman you can love and admire as much as I do my wife.’

What woman could possibly forget such praise from her husband?

Sandeep looked at me, and said, in a whisper, “Mom, you were so lucky they got stopped when they did.”

Both of us said, in unison, “Luck had nothing to do with it.”

I will leave the story there, only noting that it was not my strength and courage that made me strong; it was a gift from my father Guru.

The only part I can really take any credit for is crying out for help when I needed it.

We could not get back to our family home that day, but fortunately some good people saw us right outside the police station and took us in.

Although some of the city’s water was cut off, it was running where our host family lived. I felt incredibly dirty. Thank God for a good shower! Mani helped me clean up, washed and conditioned my hair – which, against all odds, was intact – and combed it out for me. He couldn’t believe I could walk on those lacerated feet, but even afterwards, while I was healing, I was in no pain. I have a few scars left, my hearing was slightly damaged, but nothing too important.

Mani, being a physician, thoroughly examined me, but even with the beating I had taken, there were no major injuries.

Our hosts, who were Hindus, gave us clean clothes, some really good food, comfortable beds and a feeling that there were still some decent people in Amritsar. We burned our old clothes, except I kept the shirt Sandeep had given to me. Our family in Amritsar still has it, as a remembrance.

There is much more I could write about Amritsar at that time, the smell, the heat, the noxious insects, the sacred sarovar filled with blood and dead bodies, but that can be found elsewhere on the net. I’m trying to record only my personal experiences.

8 responses to “The Last Time I Was In Amritsar – June 1984

  1. ardas waheguru ji agge ehi karda ha ki he waheguru ji ,jo ehna bloody indians ne sikhan nal kita hai ik var ehna nal vi ise tran hove ,,,,,khalse nu sda chardi kla wich rakhna ji ,,,,

  2. Waheguru, I wish to be a Sikh

    • glad to hear it!! waheguru ji, you can be. Just ask at your local gurdwara when the next Amrit sanchar will occur in your area.

  3. wchick police official does dis,,,,do u rembr name????/

  4. dunno wht u think,but JUSTICE is wht sikhism is about ,this narration agitates ,, end needs to be different…

  5. I am well aware that police not only tortured but raped and killed thousands. So what I am going to say should be taken to mean that I am siding with police. Here goes:
    The dialog in which the policeman slaps and says ‘wrong answer’ again and again many times? It never took place. And the dialogue, ‘little saint soldier has a little kirpan’ also could never have taken place. The whole sentence style is purely western and is not used at all like this in India by people who are not in touch with western style english. In 1984 only people of high society could have spoken such westernized idiom. I have lived my whole adult like in Punjab and I am well educated in an english school, I can say this with confidence based on first hand experience.

  6. I think you are nitpicking too much here. I do believe that the writer honestly conveyed both what happened, and what was said. If there is a slight difference in sentence structure it doesn’t really matter, as long as what was said is honestly conveyed. There are numerous accounts of torture at the hands of Punjab Police where the officers are reported to have spoken in the same high handed, imperious manner while torturing Sikhs. Also, the ‘wrong answer’ dialogue doesn’t seem even a bit out of place. This kind of English does exist in Indian movies.

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