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Connecting The Dots



This year, 2009, marks the 25th Anniversary of 1984, when horrendous crimes were committed against the Sikhs in the very land of their origin. To commemorate this sad milestone, we at have asked our regular columnists, as well as our contributors and readers, to share with us the impact 1984 has had on their lives. We have also sought out personal stories and anecdotes, in an attempt to capture the inner thoughts and deepest ruminations of those touched in any way by the events of that fateful year, on what 1984 means to each one of them and their loved ones - without going into a litany of facts and figures or a listing of the injustices to date, all of which will invariably be covered with due diligence elsewhere. We intend to present these personal perspectives to you throughout the twelve months of 2009. The following is the 43rd in the series entitled "1984 & I".  



Though some will find the analogy with Nazi Germany here too extreme, both the explicit targeting of Sikhs as traitors following Operation Bluestar and the clear earmarking of Sikh residences and businesses in the post-assassination carnage speak to an incipient genocidal campaign.

The vast majority of victims were people who shared a common religious identity, the Sikhs. When an entire group representing a particular racial or religious identity are targeted for annihilation, and in consequence, hundreds of thousands of people are killed, the word for it is Genocide.

Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group - Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

This short report draws upon the work of human rights activists and journalists, mainly non-Sikh, over the past 20 years. Its aim is to draw to attention to India's secret war against the Sikhs, which, in our view can only be described as a crime against humanity.

Who Are The Sikhs?

Sikhs are a minority in India, forming just 2% of the population. Most are concentrated in the northern state of Punjab, where they form a majority. Their religion was well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago. It has a following of over 25 million people worldwide and is ranked as the world's 5th largest religion.

Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind, gender equality and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus (teachers) enshrined in the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.

First Attack: June 1984

On June 4 1984, India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to invade the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, in the state of Punjab. Code named Operation Bluestar, 40 other shrines were simultaneously attacked using massive fire power. On the pretext of apprehending ‘a handful of militants' lodged inside, the Indian Army unleashed a terror unprecedented in post-independence India. This was all done in the shadow of a complete news blackout.

Joyce Pettrigrew described it as an attack "not on a political figure or movement but to suppress a religion, to attack their heart, to strike a blow at their spirit and self-confidence ...

"The army which had suffered a heavy toll in the 3 days of battle went berserk and killed every Sikh man, women and child who could be found inside the temple complex. They were hauled out of the rooms, brought to corridors on the circumference of the temple and with their hands tied behind their backs, were shot in cold blood.'

Eyewitness Accounts


The Shiromoni Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee's secretary, Bhan Singh, was in the temple complex at the time of Operation Bluestar. On the 1st morning of the attack, he counted "at least 70 dead bodies" of old men, women and children.

Soldiers, commanded by a Major, continued to line up young Sikhs along the hostel's corridor to be shot. When Bhan Singh protested, the Major flew into a rage, tore away his turban and ordered him to either flee the scene or join the "array of martyrs". Bhan Singh "turned back and fled, jumping over the bodies of the dead and injured." Hundreds of young Sikhs, innocent pilgrims from the villages, were killed in this manner.


Ranbir Kaur, a women school teacher witnessed the shooting of another group of 150 people whose hands had been tied behind their backs with their own turbans.


A singer at the Golden Temple, Harcharan Singh Ragi, his wife and their young daughter came out of their quarters near the information office on the afternoon of June 6. They witnessed the killings of hundreds of people, including women, and would themselves have been shot if a commander had not taken pity on their young daughter who fell at his feet begging him to spare her parents' lives.


Associated Press correspondent Brahma Chellaney had managed to dodge the authorities to remain in Amritsar during the Operation Bluestar. Later, he reported that dead bodies were taken in municipal garbage trucks round the clock and burnt in heaps of 20 or more. One attendant at the city's crematorium told him that there was not "enough wood to burn the dead" individually. He also saw "an estimated 50 corpses" in a large garbage lorry which included women and children. He talked to a doctor who had been forced to sign post-mortem reports of some people killed inside the temple. The doctor corroborated the reports that their hands had been tied before the soldiers shot them.


G.K.C Reddy has commented that "Operation Blue Star will go down in history as one of the biggest massacres of unarmed civilians by the organized military force of a nation". Further, he added that ‘the word unarmed is used deliberately as the disparity in arms on the two sides was so great that those resisting army invasion of the temple could hardly be termed armed."


In an effort to destroy a crucial part of Sikh heritage, the army deliberately set fire to the Sikh Reference Library within the complex, after it had been secured. Irreplaceable copies of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, archives of documents from every period of Sikh history and even artefacts from the lives of the Gurus were reduced to ash. Several truckloads of whatever was left were removed and have not been heard of since.

The Toshakhana (Treasury) - consisting of priceless historical relics and treasures of the Golden Temple collected over centuries - was systematically looted.

It took the use of Vijayanta tanks to win the fight for the army. These let loose a barrage of high explosive shells, which tore off the entire front of the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs, setting off fires in many of its internal rooms (some of which housed precious historical relics), and badly damaged its dome.

Citizens for Democracy, a respected Indian civil liberties group headed by the distinguished jurist V.M. Tarkunde, noted that the actual number of alleged militants was quite small relative to the number of innocent worshippers who had gathered at the Golden Temple to commemorate the martydom of Guru Arjun Dev - one of the high holidays of Sikhdom.

"It was indeed a mass massacre mostly of innocents."


Subramaniam Swami published an article soon after the massacre inside the Golden Temple to say that the government had been master-minding a disinformation campaign to create legitimacy for the action. The goal of this disinformation campaign, according to Swami, was to "make out that the Golden Temple was the haven of criminals, a store of armoury and a citadel of the nation's dismemberment conspiracy."

Second attack : November 1984


What followed after Mrs Gandhi's assassination on Oct 31 begged belief. 20,000 Sikhs were massacred in the most barbaric method of burning. Encouraged by central government ministers and MPs with the connivance of the police, mobs were assembled to carry out a four day orgy of killings and plunder.

Early morning after the day of the assassination, hordes of people from the suburbs of Delhi were transported to various localities in the city where the Sikh population was concentrated. The mobilization suggested the backing of an organisation with vast resources. The criminal hordes descending on the city carried crude weapons like iron rods, knives, clubs and combustible material, including kerosene, for arson. They were also supplied with lists of houses and business establishments belonging to the Sikhs in various localities.

The government controlled television, Doordarshan, and the All India Radio began broadcasting provocative slogans seeking bloody vengeance: "khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (Blood for blood!)."

Murderous gangs of 200 to 300 people each, led by the leaders, with policemen looking on, began to swarm into Sikh houses, hacking the occupants to pieces, chopping off the heads of children, raping women, tying Sikh men to tires set aflame with kerosene, burning down the houses and shops after ransacking them. Mobs stopped buses and trains, in and out of Delhi, pulling out Sikh passengers to be lynched to death or doused with kerosene and burnt alive.

In some areas, the Sikh families grouped together for self-defence. The police officials then arrived to disperse them, by force when persuasion did not work. In other areas, the police searched the houses for weapons including ceremonial daggers, and confiscated them before the mobs came returned.

Khushwant Singh, the writer and MP said he realized "what Jews must have felt like in Nazi Germany". He concluded: "The killing assumed the proportion of a genocide of the Sikh community."


The Delhi pogrom has been documented by several organizations.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties and the People's Union of Democratic Rights published a joint report, called Who are the Guilty? The report says that "the attacks on the members of the Sikh community in Delhi ... far from being spontaneous expressions of ‘madness' and of ‘grief and anger' at Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, as made out by the authorities, were the outcome of a well organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commission and omission by important politicians of the Congress and by authorities in the administration..."

The report mentions the names of 16 important Congress politicians, 13 police officers and 198 others, accused by survivors and eye-witnesses.


The report by the Citizens for Democracy, led by former High Court Justice V. M. Tarkunde, concluded that the "carnage was orchestrated by the ruling party."


Yet another investigative report compiled by a team of prominent citizens including retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, S. M. Sikri, former civil servants Badruddin Tyabji, Rajeshwar Dayal and others, came to the same conclusions.

Eyewitness 1 - Gurcharan Singh Babbar

"Every time the mob spotted a Sikh, it burst into joy: ‘Here comes a Sardar, we have found one here‘. The killers were combing the residential colonies and markets for Sikhs, a majority of whom were killed right in their homes. After killing the men, the mob raped their wives and daughters. There was nobody to rescue Sikh men from the massacre and Sikh women from gang rape. Some Delhi policemen were also among those involved in the carnage.

"Sikh women begged the killers to spare their men and children. The more they begged, the more savage did the killers become. Sikhs were killed with knives, iron rods, petrol and kerosene and a strange, white chemical which did not need a match to burn. Dragged out of their homes, pulled out of public and private transport, Sikh men were killed savagely and then abandoned to be eaten by dogs, cats, pigs and crows. The lucky ones got a mass funeral. Truckloads of corpses were unloaded and burnt with kerosene oil. Thousands did not need cremation because they were burnt alive."


Eyewitness 2 - Novelist Amitav Ghosh

"It was still and quite, eerily so. The usual sounds of rush-hour traffic were absent. But every so often we heard a speeding car or a motorcycle on the main street. Later, we discovered that these mysterious speeding vehicles were instrumental in directing the carnage that was taking place. Protected by certain politicians, ‘organisers‘ were zooming around the city, assembling the mobs and transporting them to Sikh-owned houses and shops.

"Apparently, the transportation was provided free. A civil-rights report published shortly afterward stated that this phase of violence ‘began with the arrival of groups of armed people in tempo vans, scooters, motorcycles or trucks,' ...

"With cans of petrol they went around the localities and systematically set fire to Sikh-houses, shops and Gurdwaras ... the targets were primarily young Sikhs. They were dragged out, beaten up and then burned alive ... In all the affected spots, a calculated attempt to terrorize the people was evident in the common tendency among the assailants to burn alive Sikhs on public roads. Fire was everywhere; it was the day's motif. Throughout the city, Sikh houses were being looted and then set on fire, often with their occupants still inside.

"A survivor - a woman who lost her husband and three sons - offered the following account to Veena Das, a Delhi sociologist: ‘Some people, neighbours, said it would be better if we hid in an abandoned house nearby. So my husband took our three sons and hid there. We locked the house from outside, but there was treachery in people's hearts. Someone must have told the crowd. They baited him to come out. Then they poured kerosene on that house. They burnt them alive. When I went there that night, the bodies of my sons were on the loft - huddled together.'

"Over the next few days, thousands of people died in Delhi alone. Thousands more died in other cities. The total death toll will never be known. The dead were overwhelmingly Sikh men. Entire neighbourhoods were gutted; tens of thousands of people were left homeless."


Khushwant Singh, who had been lucky enough to escape the mobs in November 1984 wrote: ‘For the first time I understood what words like pogrom, holocaust and genocide really meant.'

Third Attack of 1984 - Present


In the Punjab, where the majority of Sikhs live, the government initiated a sweeping crackdown on Sikhs across the state under the code name Operation Woodrose. Amritdhari (baptized - that is, fully observant of their religious discipline) Sikhs were particular targets as the following Indian Army publication illustrates:

"Any knowledge of the ‘Amritdharis' (baptized Sikhs) who are dangerous people and pledged to commit murders, arson and acts of terrorism should immediately be brought to the notice of the authorities. These people may appear harmless from outside but they are basically committed to terrorism. In the interest of all of us their identity and whereabouts must always be disclosed.'


These instructions constituted unmistakably clear orders by the government of India for genocide of all Sikhs formally initiated into their faith.

Black Laws

The Terrorism & Distruptive Activities (Prevention) Act allowed for the detention of a person on mere suspicion. Special courts were held in secret by executive magistrates who were appointed centrally. Tens of thousands of Sikhs were detained , tortured and disappeared. Only one percent of people were ever convicted of a crime under the act.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Krishna Iyer noted that "justice in Punjab had been crucified on the cross of the law."


Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code allowed a person to be presumed guilty if she were found at the scene of a crime and to be held without charge for a year. The state could close down a newspaper or seize a book or any other material considered prejudicial to national integration.

Under the National Security Act an individual could be preventively detained for a year if judged to be likely to behave in a manner inimical to the interests of the country. Human right activists, lawyers, teachers and journalists were also targeted, harassed, detained and even murdered. The rape of women began to be used more and more as a form of torture.

The right to life of citizens is at the heart of India's Constitution Article 21. But in 1988, the Indian Parliament passed a 59th Amendment which enabled the suspension of Article 21 on the grounds of ‘internal disturbances'.

Punjab was then declared a ‘Disturbed Area' under the Disturbed Areas Act of 1991. This astonishing move meant that India was legally suspending protection of the right to life against arbitrary violation in the state where the majority of Sikhs lived.

Punjab became a police state far exceeding what George Orwell envisaged in his book named, chillingly, "1984".

After 1987 the army and security forces' death squads penetrated into the heart of many rural homes in search of the young. Third degree methods were employed by the police. The UK-based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture documented Sikh torture victims who had fled India.


Mass Cremations

Human rights activist, Jaswant Singh Khalra, set about uncovering a dark secret in the Punjab. He discovered that missing Sikhs in their thousands had been executed without trial by police and security forces and that most of the bodies had been secretly disposed of through mass cremations. Just by examining three of these, Durgiana Mandir, Patti and Tarn Taran, records showed that police cremated three thousand bodies. It is generally believed that there were a total of fifty such cremation grounds used by police across Punjab.

Khalra was later abducted by the police and murdered.

Many bodies were dumped in the rivers and canals of the Punjab and neighbouring states. The Rajasthan state government went on record in complaining to the then Chief Secretary of Panjab about the large number of bodies being carried into their state through the canals. Eyewitnesses often spoke of bodies of young men with hands tied behind their backs. Similarly in 1988, when serious floods stuck the Punjab, bodies were washed into neighbouring Pakistan. Radio Pakistan referred to 1,700 bodies being carried by the flood waters coming from India.

For Sikhs, 1984 heralded a nightmare that was to last for more than a decade and its effects are still being felt in present day Punjab. Amnesty International's 2003 report revealed that torture and other forms of human rights violations were still widespread. It was also alarmed that an amnesty had been declared for police offices preventing them from being prosecuted for human rights violations.

This was supported by both the government and opposition parties.


Over the period, 60,000 awards were given to police officers for killing both ‘listed' and ‘unlisted' militants. Bounty killing had become big business.

Political scientist Paul Brass, writing in the prestigious Cambridge History of India Series, noted that the mood in India "bore an ominous resemblance to that of the 1930's Germany, likening the orchestrated urban pogroms against Sikhs and Muslims to so many Kristallnachts."


The Demonization Of The Sikhs

The question arises, how did all this take place without any international outcry?

The answer to this lies in the way Sikhs were stigmatized, as Jews had been similarly been in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. All Sikhs were labelled anti-national and terrorists, especially if they raised any voice against their treatment. But the Indian authorities went one step further in order that this voice remained unheard, especially to the outside world.

In the recently released report, Reduced to Ashes - The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab, Ram Narayan Kumar noted: "My own research on Punjab in that period suggested that the state agencies were creating vigilante outfits in order to infiltrate the Sikh radical movement and generate a climate of moral revulsion by engineering heinous crimes which they then attributed to armed Sikh groups."


Throughout the 80s and 90s, the Punjab police were reported to have carried out "clandestine operations, including orchestration of sensational terrorist crimes, to manipulate public opinion in favour of repressive measures at home and to undermine international attention on reports of human right abuses in Panjab."

Dhiren Bhagat of the Indian Post reported on custom officers at New Delhi airport intercepting a consignment of arms, including rocket launchers and ammunition on an Indian Airlines flight from Kabul. Sometime later, the arms were used by so-called militants in the Punjab.

The Indian media sensationally reported the use of rocket launchers and this helped the government rush through emergency powers in the Punjab curtailing life and liberty rights. Dhiren Bhagat's story suggested that the rockets had been fired by the government sponsored agent provocateurs with the intention of whipping up "anti-Sikh hysteria in the country."


Bhagat was killed under suspicious circumstances shortly after his article was published.

Rajinder Puri, a well-known columnist, made similar allegations and suggested that Indian intelligence organisations like RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) were "themselves patronizing rabid elements to discredit the Sikh movement."


A Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, carried an investigation report claiming that Indian government agents were responsible for the bombing of an Air India jet in June 1985 that killed 329 people aboard (2 Sikhs who were arrested and charged for this, have since been found Not Guilty).

The objective of the bombing was to discredit the separatist movement in Punjab as a terrorist movement, and to destroy the basis of sympathy for its protagonists in the western countries.


As Joyce Pettigrew observed: "The consensus view, from a wide range of people to whom I talked, was that the strategy of these massacres and killings (of Hindus taken off buses and shot) were planned elsewhere. It was also a general view that they were carried out with a view to discrediting groups that appeared to have roots among the population."


There is also evidence to show that people who committed crimes attributed to militant separatists were putting on the Sikh attire including the turban, to give the Sikhs a bad image. Successive governments manipulated the media to attribute all crimes to separatist militants. This generated a public reaction, helpful in denying justice to the Sikhs.


September 17, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Gurcharan (U.K.), September 17, 2009, 6:59 AM.

It may well be a sad but true fact that Dr. Manmohan Singh has been PM not for obvious reasons - that he's a very good intellctual and highly regarded around the world - but for helping politicians hide behind his skirts for the awful things they have committed in 1984! This is "exactly" one of the reasons I choose not to go to India! The hypocrisies and injustices continue to this day!

2: Amardeep (U.S.A.), September 17, 2009, 11:14 AM. is a also good web site which sheds light on this subject. The way it happens always, if people commit one crime, then they have to commit another to hide the first, and so on. But does our shared pain unite us tighter?

3: N. Singh (Canada), September 17, 2009, 2:50 PM.

Thank you for publishing these articles. I have been struggling to deal with the pain of what happened in my lifetime. In each harrowing story and tortured body I see the faces of all the Sikh men I have loved so much in my life that it has been agonizing to say the least. It offers some relief to know: a) that others feel the pain too; and b)that the truth is finally beginning to come out. Now what we need is to tell the whole world our story so that it doesn't become lost in history and the true face of India is shown to the world. We need to honour and remember all those lives that have been lost; and never forget!

4: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), September 18, 2009, 4:33 AM.

A pithy, clear headed and heart rending summary. The first duty of a government is to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens. Simply stated, a government that treats its own citizens as this government has done has no right to govern them. To regain that trust and that right requires some honesty and transparency of effort. It is not done by empty gestures of Inquiry Commissions - 11 so far - that rise phoenix like from ashes and follow each other into a heap of ashes. All this leaves is a legacy of bitterness and anger.

5: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), September 18, 2009, 7:03 PM.

Having observed the events of 1984 from close quarters and having seen the betrayal, treachery and the genocidal policies of the Indian Government against Sikhs, it is troubling that the Sikh leadership has not taken any serious steps for the security of the Sikh nation. It is unfortunate that we can easily be fooled by symbolic and sentimental gestures and are forgetting the holocaust of 1984. The hard truth is that we are as vulnerable as before and our enemy is as determined as before in continuing its cunning and cruel war against us. The first step of enslaving the Sikhs was taken by Pandit Nehru when he disarmed us by reducing our numbers in the armed forces from 25% to less that 2% and by going back on promises to share power with the Sikhs. The hand wringing, calls for so called transparency, the rule of law, justice for victims, or shaming the criminals by so called truth commissions, has proved to be a waste of time and efforts. It is important that we face the truth and recognize that we do not have the physical resources in our hands for self defence. We need a united resolve of all our brothers and sisters and a bold, honest and intellectual leadership which can guide the Sikh nation in reclaiming our God given right to have effective levers of political, economic and massive military power in our own hand. This is the ONLY way to live with dignity, honor and security on the subcontinent.

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