1984 June – The Battle of Amritsar
1984 June – The Battle of Amritsar
After the Sikh massacre of Amritsar and Kanpur, the reputation of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale the Lion of Lions, rose tremendously as a powerful Sikh leader in the community as well as Sikh political circles. From 1977 until 1983, he led his agitation, the Dharam Yudh Mocha against the Arya Samaj, the government and other fanatic Hindu organizations who were working against Sikhi and the cultural concept of Punjab. Many of his followers were young rural Sikhs, who had been down-trodden by both the state and central government and suffered from unemployment, poverty and being treated as second-class citizens. After a long trial that dragged on for 3 to 4 years, Gurbachana, the Narakhdhari leader, was acquitted by an Indian court, even though more than 10 persons identified him as one of the murderers and testified in court, it was clearly evident that there was a political backing behind the cult leader. Sikhs then served justice for themselves by assassinating Gurbachana.
The battle of Amritsar codenamed ‘Operation Bluestar’ by the Indian army started on 1st June 1984. The Indian army invaded the Sri Harmandir Sahib complex on the orders of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. At the time of the operation, close to 100,000 army troops had been deployed throughout Punjab. This attack on Sri Akaal Takht Sahib, the Sikh throne was to instil fear into the Sikhs of India and to quieten the free voice of the Sikhs. The Army commanders had thought that they would convince the Singhs of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj to surrender; however, abiding by Khalsa traditions, the handful of Sikh men, women and children stood their ground and defended Sri Harimandir Sahib with their lives, and by doing so they had their names written in golden ink on the pages of Sikh history which we will always remember.
Under the orders of Indira Gandhi, army generals Ranjit Dayal, Krishnaswamy Sunderji and Kuldip Brar drew-up a twofold plan. To achieve the prime objective to get Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale out of the Sri Harimandir Sahib complex, they had planned a commando operation. Commandos were to be supported by infantry, the tanks were only to be used as platforms for machine guns to neutralize fire on troops approaching the complex, and to cover the exits in case anyone tried to escape.
The plans first task was the destruction of General Shabeg Singh’s outer defences. Much of this had been completed in the preliminary firing when General Kuldip Brar had hoped to frighten Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale into surrendering. These defences included buildings within the alleys surrounding the complex, which were occupied by the Singhs. Some of them were as far as 800 yards away from the complex. These outposts were all in wireless contact with General Shabeg Singh’s command post in the Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. The Temple View Hotel, outside the complex, had also been occupied by Singhs, next to it was Brahmboota Akhara, a large building housing the Udasi Sikhs. Then there were three main towers, the water tank, Ramgharia Bhurj and Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai where Singhs had set up positions, because they stood well above the rest of the buildings, the towers were also excellent observation posts observing the movement of troops in the narrow alleys surrounding the complex. The tops of these towers were blasted off by artillery fire. The use of artillery in the dense city of Amritsar proved very costly, especially in human lives. Many innocent people living in close proximity of the complex were killed. After this initial assault, the commando operation started.
It was between 10 and 10:30pm when commandos from 1st Battalion, the parachute regiment, wearing black denims were ordered to run down the steps under the clock tower (from the Sikh Museum) on to the Parikarma, turn right and move as quickly as they could towards Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. But as the commandos went down the stairs of the main entrance to get onto the Parikarma, they encountered heavy casualties. Within 5 minutes, 40 commandos were killed, mainly caused by Singhs with LMGs who were positioned on either side of the steps leading down to the Parikarma. Later the Indian army found out, that it was only 2 Singhs that had caused all the damage from these positions. The few commandos who did get down the steps were driven back by a barrage of fire from the Atta Mandi Entrance on the south side of the Sarovar. In the Indian army control room, based in a house on the opposite side of the clock tower, General Kuldip Brar was waiting anxiously with his two supporting officers to hear that the commandos had established positions inside the complex. When no report came through, he was heard over the command network shouting abuse at his army, “You bastards, why don’t you go in.”
The few commandos who survived, re-grouped in the square outside the complex and reported back to their army generals who reinforced them and ordered them to make another attempt to go in. The commandos were to be followed by the 10th Battalion of the Guards commanded by Lt Israr Khan. The second commando attack managed to neutralize the LMG posts on either side of the steps and get down on to the Parikarma. As the Indian commandos stepped onto the Parikarma, they came under heavy fire from the positions of the Singhs at the Atta Mandi Entrance. The Indian army faced numerous casualties and in the process of returning fire, the Indian army shot and damaged Sri Darbar Sahib.
The Indian army had suffered almost 20 percent casualties without managing to turn the corner of the Parikarma to the western side. Singhs would also suddenly appear from man-holes within the Parikarma and let off a burst of machine-gun fire, and disappear into the passages which run under the complex. These Singhs had been taught to fire at knee level because General Shabeg Singh wanted the invaders to crawl towards Sri Akaal Takht Sahib, many Indian commandos received severe leg injuries. By this time soldiers from the Bihar regiment had cordoned off the whole Sri Harimandir Sahib complex, but not very effectively.
General Kuldip Brar requested tanks to be brought into the Sri Harimandir Sahib complex. Instead an armoured personnel carrier entered. It had just crossed the octagonal tile that marks the martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed when it was blown up by explosives (RPG or grenades). The frustrated Indian army general again requested the larger tanks and was given the go ahead. According to an eyewitness who was present at Sri Harimandir Sahib complex during the attack, as many as 13 tanks were brought into Parikarma and lined up on the eastern side as the expensive marble was crushed. General Kuldip Brar ordered the tanks to bombard Sri Akaal Takht Sahib and thus, the highest seat of Sikh authority was demolished by the Indian army. At this point, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale came out of Sri Akaal Takht Sahib with 30/40 Singhs and a battle ensued. Most of the Singhs attained martyrdom near the Miri Piri Nishan Sahib and the rest managed to reach the Sarovar and attained martyrdom there.
The following morning, the Indian army was responsible for plundering historical Sikh relics. Some soldiers set fire to the Sikh Reference Library and many historical manuscripts including handwritten Saroops of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj were burnt as well as the treasury looted. There were more than 140 bullets marks on Sri Darbar Sahib itself, even though the Indian army insisted that not a single bullet was fired towards Sri Darbar Sahib.
Sikh pilgrims who were held by the army in buildings in and around Sri Guru Ram Das Sran, Teja Singh Samundri Hall and nearby buildings were not given any food or water for 4 days. Army soldiers asked them to drink water mixed with urine from small puddles on ground. One army soldier went berserk and fired on these innocent pilgrims killing 70. About 40 or so bodies of Sikh men with their hands tied behind their backs in execution style, were found in several rooms. A journalist saw a whole truck filled with bodies of women and children. There is more than enough evidence that the Indian army soldiers were served alcohol as well as cigarettes inside the Sri Harimandir Sahib complex.
It was an utterly unequal battle fought between a handful of Sikh defenders led by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale, and allies General Shabeg Singh and Bhai Amrik Singh versus the might of the Indian Army, headed by General Krishnaswami Sunderji assisted by General Ranjit Dayal and General Kuldip Brar. The Sikh fighters’ arms and ammunition were limited in comparison to the weaponry used by the Indian Army. But what chance did the Indian army have of winning this battle of Amritsar? They were equipped with all kinds of powerful and sophisticated weapons including ‘Vijayanta’ battle tanks, howitzer guns, canons using twenty-pounder shells, mortars, machine guns, Russian made helicopters and international warfare grade explosives. In contrast, the Saint Soldiers of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji defending one of the holiest Sikh shrines in the world. The numerical strength of the Sikh defenders was also miserably insignificant in comparison to that of the Indian army. The Sikh fighters were no more than three hundred whereas the army personnel fighting them in the Sri Harimandir Sahib complex were at least seven thousand.
The Sikh fighters had no line of communication or source of ration supply. They were completely cut off from the state, the country and the world. They were besieged within the complex, particularly inside Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. Supply of electricity and water was cut off. The Singhs had nothing to eat but roasted grains, and would profusely sweat due to the scorching June heat. They were exhausted due to not being able to sleep for seven days and seven nights. On the other hand, the Indian army had all sorts of provisions, facilities, reserves and so on. Yet the Sikhs fought gallantly and demonstrated their remarkable valour, courage and fighting skills, holding the well-equipped Indian army at bay for five days and serving a bloody reply, the reply which the army would remember forever. Had the Sikh defenders been equally armed, had their numerical strength been even one-tenths of the Indian army, they would have pushed the army up to Delhi or even beyond Yamuna.
The aftermath of the Battle of Amritsar Sahib was not different from other attacks on Sri Harimandir Sahib in previous centuries. To make matters worse, Indian Armed Forces simultaneously attacked 40 other historical Gurdwaras all over Punjab. It was reminiscent of Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion where Abdali’s forces had destroyed all the Gurdwareh in their path. About 5000 soldiers of the Sikh regiment of the Indian army called the Dharmi Faujis, as well as other institutions rebelled against the Government of India. They abandoned their barracks and attempted to reach Sri Harimandir Sahib complex. In this pursuit, they were killed by the army or were arrested and court marshalled. Many prominent Sikh leaders and theologians who had been honored by the Indian government returned their medals and certificates, for example Bhagat Puran Singh, who returned his award to the state.
This attack only accelerated the Khalistan movement and overnight Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale became a revered household name and true role model to the Sikh youth of not just Punjab but the global Sikh diaspora. It was obvious that sooner or later Indira Gandhi would have to suffer for this destruction and on 31stOctober of the same year, two devoted Sikhs named Bhai Beant Singh Maloya and Bhai Satwant Singh Agwan, who were working as Delhi Policemen posted at Indira Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi, assassinated her. This was followed by a mass organised Sikh killing in Delhi, Kanpur, and other major cities in India. Sikhs were murdered in broad daylight by the supporters of Indira Gandhi whilst the authorities assisted. Sikh women were forced to watch the men in their family burnt alive, after which they were gang-raped by racist mobs backed by Indian politicians.