Eight days long Operation Blue Star (OBS) still haunts the Sikh community although 39 years have passed. The OBS attack started on June 1, 1984, and continued till the night of June 8. It was the first of a series of actions against the Sikh community that was planned allegedly by Hindu dominated establishment of the Indian Army.
One badly executed military operation leads to a civil war that drenches the hands of civil government, police, and judiciary in blood. Thousands of young Sikhs got missing either as the result of death by torture or imprisonment for an unknown duration at unknown locations.
OBS was an official beginning of a systematic purge of the Sikhs community in India. Over 100,000 Sikhs (mostly youth) were killed in the next four years (till 1988) while over 25,000 victims were left crippled for the whole of their lives. Sikhs living in North America and Europe claim that over 5000 Sikh women and girls were raped by Indian Army with no traces of cases against them. They also claim that Pakistan could have supported the Sikh movement but the then government of Gen Ziaul Haq was directed by the US government to stay away from the “Indian domestic issues”. Over 20,000 Sikh families migrated out of India (mostly in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom) after this event as they felt India did not own them and they were aliens in their country.
Sikh revolutionaries living abroad claim that the Indian government came out with a cooked, fictional, concocted, and fabricated ‘White Paper’ on Operation Blue Star, but no one believed it. The then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi contemptuously dismissed it in Parliament as “the handiwork of bureaucrats”. What she said in Parliament in defence of Operation Blue Star, however, was equally unbelievable – at least to those who dared to doubt the official version.
Then as now, the official version projected the government’s decision as absolutely justified, given the fact that militant leader JS Bhindranwale was using Golden Temple with his heavily armed followers as his hideout. Then as now, came the whitewash of the terrible fallout. Desperate to restore the Akal Takht, reduced to rubble by tank fire, the Centre ultimately found a little-known Nihang to undertake ‘kar seva’, the voluntary labour with which Sikhs build their gurdwaras.
Day after day, Doordarshan – the only TV channel then available—showed Santa Singh with his followers clearing the debris at the Golden Temple. This was described as the Centre’s “healing touch”. (Significantly, there’s no talk of a “healing touch” today). The daily telecast became so intolerable that a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court asking that this propaganda be stopped. Santa Singh was immediately excommunicated; what he built was torn down.
“Stories coming out from Punjab (Indian Punjab) of Army excesses resulted in anarchy within the Indian Army and Punjab Police. As many as 2,800 Sikh soldiers deserted their regiments. Three officers were shot by deserters; one, Brig SC Puri, died. Many deserters were jailed, court-martialed, and dismissed. The 9th battalion of the Sikh Regiment, the first to react, was never raised again,” said Jyoti Punwani in her article published on August 2, 2019, in New Indian Express under the headline “J&K: Lessons from 1984 unheeded”.
Several other articles and some books published abroad (mostly in Canada and the United Kingdom) highlight more untold and previously censored stories of the “Sikh Purge” which was designed years before Operation Blue Star was actually conducted.
Many former civil and military bureaucrats talked about the incident and there is a dire need for proper documentation of events that took place before Operation Blue Star and thereafter.
One of the most important events related to OBS is the “Mutiny of the 9th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment” which started in Bihar and spread as far as Rajasthan over 2600 Sikh soldiers were killed by Indian Police and Army after this mutiny and their bodies were not handed over to their relatives.
One serving Brigadier Brig Puri was shot dead at brigade headquarters in Ramgarh in Bihar by Sikh soldiers. Sikh Soldiers were under constant surveillance in the Indian Air Force, Army, and Indian Navy for years to come after this incident.
Operation Blue Star was planned by RAW to purge the rising demand of the Khalistan movement. It was planned well before it started to purge the rising demand of the Khalistan movement.
The Khalistan movement was a politico-religious Sikh nationalist movement that aimed at creating an independent state for Sikhs inside the current North-Western Republic of India. Even though the Khalistan movement started in the early 1940s and 1950s, it gained popularity in the 1970s when former East Pakistan became “Bangladesh”. Sikhs understood that India helped Bangalis to form their separate country on the bases of language, culture, and ethnicity then why Sikh should not get their own separate country on the same basis?
The Sikh community strongly believes that RAW also planned the assassination of PM Gandhi after OBS because her murder provided a justification to people and the state of India to purge the Sikh community all over India. It may be mentioned that the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi who ordered for Operation was assassinated on 31, October 1984 when her two bodyguards, Satwant Singh, and Beant Singh, shot her with their service weapons when she was standing in the garden of the Prime Minister House.
Her murder was instantly followed by Anti-Sikh riots spread all over India, killing more than 8,000 Sikhs in New Delhi alone in four days, and an estimated 20,000 or more Sikhs were killed in 40 cities across India. At least 50,000 Sikh families were displaced and their belongings, homes, shops, transport, offices, and businesses were looted and burnt down.
Like the Anti-Muslim Delhi Riots which took place in February 2020, Hindus attacked Sikhs with iron rods, knives, clubs, and combustible material (including kerosene and petrol). They entered Sikh neighborhoods, killing Sikhs indiscriminately and destroying shops and houses.
Armed mobs stopped buses and trains in and near Delhi, pulling off Sikh passengers for lynching; some were burnt alive. Others were dragged from their homes and hacked to death, and Sikh women were reportedly gang-raped and acid was thrown on them.
Anti-Sikhs Riots continued for four days (like the Anti-Muslims riots in Delhi in 2020) with the complete support of Police and paramilitary forces all over India.
The Second Purge:
The next two years for the Sikh community were very punitive and their economic survival was at stake. The Hindu community did not forgive them and caused all kinds of social and economic boycotts of the Sikh community.
Sikhs could not imagine that more was waiting for them but Operation Black Thunder started within the next two years.
The first Operation Black Thunder took place on April 30, 1986, and was carried out by Black Cat commandos of National Security Guards (NSG) to remove Sikh militants from the Golden Temple. The second Operation Black Thunder began on May 9, 1988, and both operations cost the disappearance of over 7,000 young Sikhs and the killing of over 3,500 undocumented youth from Indian Punjab. Indian Army used tanks, artillery, helicopters, and armored vehicles in this Operation.
Retired Sikh bureaucrats claimed that Intelligence Units working in universities all over India were keeping eyes on Sikh students almost two years before Operation Blue Star and their (students) data had been compiled with details.
Indian Army simultaneously attacked over 45 gurdwaras in Punjab and did massacre all over Punjab which was not confined only to Amritsar.
Over 50,000 Sikhs were killed within the first three weeks of Operation and businesses and shops belonging to Sikhs were looted by Indian Army and Hindu mobs.
Thousands of Sikh girls and women were raped by soldiers of the Indian Army and Hindu policemen who were sent from Delhi.
Since Operation Blue Star, Sikhs mourn that day. On the other hand, families of Indian soldiers keep regretting sending their loved ones to an incompetent and incapacitated military force. The level of mistrust among the soldiers was mounted and erupted in the form of erosion of the 9th Sikh Battalion this event is called the “Mutiny of 9th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment” that started from Bihar and spread as far as Rajasthan and over 2600 Sikh soldiers were killed by Indian Police and Army after this mutiny and their bodies were not handed over to their relatives. Pakistan’s decision not to help the Sikh movement under US pressure left a lifelong lesson to Sikhs that Pakistan help Sikhs as India did to Bangalis.