• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

1984-5 Reactions From The Public In Amritsar

Dalvinder Singh Grewal

Jan 3, 2010
1984-5 Reactions From the Public in Amritsar

Dr Dalvinder Singh Grewal

With a bleeding heart, I returned towards the Dukh Bhanjani Beri with the officer. The stinking smell made me feel lousy. Near Dukh Bhabjani Beri, the officer told me that he had to visit the Tactical Headquarters of his affiliated Brigade. I preferred to accompany him. This Tactical Headquarters was in Brahm Boota Akhara. There was quite an activity of soldiers around the area. I happen to find a known officer with whom I had done a course. He was the Brigade Major and pleased to meet. I sat in the headquarters and was presented a cup of tea. During discussions, I put him a question: “The Division had landed here on 25/31 May but the operation could be completed by 7th June only. This was quite like Bangla Desh Operations. How did this happen that only 400 untrained civilians could hold a Division plus for so many days?” Initially, he was reluctant but when prodded he came out with a reply saying that: First three days were in prodding and flushing out to weed out the unwanted. The actual operation started only on 4th night and continued up to 6th morning. It was delayed due to heavy fortifications in Akal Takhat complex, surrounding buildings and parikrama. Infantry attacks assisted by paratroopers had to face heavy causalities without any success. These hardened fortifications could only be blown by tanks. For using tanks, permissions had to come from Delhi, Which came only on 5th evening.

We held discussions for about two hours on this and other subjects. These are discussed later. The Engineer officer who brought me into the complex got busy in his task hence could not accompany me further hence I was to go alone thereafter. I thanked him for the much-wanted help. While returning, I saw the serai area which had visible signs of flooding as a result of the blowing off the overhead water tank by a direct hit by an Artillery shell. After Akal Takhat, the maximum causalities were in the serais and most of these were of the pilgrims who had gathered to pay homage to Guru Arjan Dev ji whose martyrdom fell on 5th June. Since the entire area was still under the Army and the civilians especially Sikhs were not opening their mouth due to the fear caused by the horrendous attack. I thought it better to discuss with the civilians outside the complex and with some of my acquaintances at Amritsar. A few shops were open outside the complex.

I entered a tea shop which belonged to a Sikh. While he was preparing tea I showed my concern at the damage to Akal Takhat and Sri Darbar Sahib and enquired, “How could they do such a thing to Sikhs?” He asked me where I had come from. I told him that I had come from Talbehat near Jhansi and was sent to ascertain that there was no damage to the Sri Darbar Sahib. ‘Have you seen this now?’ he enquired. ‘What did you find and feel?” he quizzed. “Atrocious. It is beyond words.” Seeing me in uniform, he was reluctant initially but opened up seeing my sympathy.

“It was a plan to teach Sikhs a lesson. Indira did the same thing as did Abdali’, he said feeling great pain. I quizzed, “Abdali was a foreign invader but Indira was not a foreigner and one among from us.” He felt quite angry, “Hitler killed his own population in thousand just because they belonged to a different culture.” He opened up further, “Indira had a grudge against Sikhs. They had opposed emergency.” He said. “But if he had grudge against Sikhs why did she make Giani Zail Singh as the President?” I wanted to prod him further. Meanwhile, another educated Sikhs have entered who listened to our discussion. He added: “Giai Zail Singh was Indira’s tool. He played well into her hands to teach Sikhs a lesson. He was the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. If he did not want the attack on Darbar Sahib, he would not have allowed the Army.” I was at the back-foot. I could only say, “Probably he would not have been asked.” “No! No! He was in the total picture. He was totally involved in Indira’s plan. He propped Bhindranwale against Akalis. After emergency when Indira came to power, she wanted Sikhs to be taught a lesson. In Punjab, Giani ji was the Chief Minister. He used religion to fight his main opponents; the Akalis because he wanted to take the control of Shiromani Committee (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sri Amritsar) into his hands and take the real power from them. He wanted to show himself to be a better Sikh than Akalis. Indira saw this development to her advantage. Giani ji suited her best in here plan. She got him to Delhi and made him the Home Minister. With her connivance, Giani Zail Singh developed relations with Bhindranwale to create a gin against Akalis who had by then resorted to agitations. It worked well initially. Since Sant Ji went out of the hand of Giani Zail Singh and Sant Bhindranwale aligned with Akalis, this did not suit the centre. The centre started creating a villain out of him. Indira Gandhi had three stalwarts of RAW in her advisory network. A disinformation campaign was started against both Akalis and Bhindranwale by the Central Government. The rumours were floated all over about the bad deeds of Sant ji which actually had never happened. Cases of molestation and murders were deliberately attributed to him so that he was presented as a monster, which he never was. He always denied his role in any murder or molestation. We are closest to Darbar Sahib. We have never heard any bad thing about Sant Bhindranwale. To most of us, he was a very pious person. You can verify this for yourself from other Sikhs. But if you meet a Hindu brother, you will find these rumours floated in Amritsar against Bhindranwale and his followers. He was made a demon in their eyes. Since Sant Ji found the abandonment of Anandpur Sahib Resolution adopted by political trio i.e., Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Parkash Singh Badal; the key leaders of Akalis then, he broke away from Akalis. Threats started pouring in against him. As a result, he was not finding himself safe in the Serai. Earlier he was staying in Room No 47 of Guru Nanak Serai but later shifted to Akal Takhat in view of the threat to his life”.

“How did this alienation of Bhindranwale from Longowal start?” I wanted to know the real reason. “Bhindranwale and Longowal could not maintain cordial relations after September 1983. In an agreement with opposition leaders in July 1983, Akali Dal came down to two demands: Chandigarh to remain with Punjab and Punjab Water Dispute to be decided by the Supreme Court. Bhindranwale considered it to be a climb down from Anandpur Sahib Resolution, hence was very vocal about it. Meanwhile, his minibus containing Sri Guru Granth Sahib and a library of his lectures were first impounded by Haryana Government and then burnt down. In anger, Bhindranwale gave vitriolic statements about the other community. This was against the stand of Akali Dal. It is also often mentioned that it was during this period that some dead bodies were seen floating in the sewage system of Serai. These were attributed by Bhan Singh to Bhindranwale even though there was no proof of it. This, however, caused a sense of fear among SGPC officials including Longowal. However, no one openly spoke against Bhindranwale.

Meanwhile, Amreek Singh and Thara Singh who were arrested a year ago were released in September 1983. Amreek Singh was the President of AISSF originally an outfit of Akali Dal. In September 1983 AISSF held a conference at Manji Sahib.showing their strength. In a common decision, it declared support to Bhindranwale thereby adopting a different view from the Akali Dal. This was followed by a build-up of the AISSF in the complex. Most of the members were stated to be armed with Sten guns and rifles. They were addressed by Sant Bhindranwale and even Sant Longowal but it happened to be the last address of Longowal to AISSF. Bhindranwale Longowal was treated by Bhindranwale differently because of Akali Dal reducing their demands from Anandpur Sahib Resolution to demands of Chandigarh and reference of Punjab waters to Supreme Court. Longowal felt the threat his self from Bhindranwale’s men. For his protection, he requested Babar Khalsa owing allegiance to Fauja Singh’s wife. 40 Babbars moved to Serai complex in December 1983 Sant Bhindranwale felt this as a threat to him. To avoid any confrontation Sant Bhindranwale was shifted from Room no 47 in Serai to Akal Takhat sensing trouble.

“How and why Bhindranwale moved to Akal Takhat without the permission of SGPC?” I enquired. It was Tohra who permitted this in the light of strained relations with Longowal and likely eruption of conflict between Babbar’s and the Taksal and AISSF youth. The Akal Takhat Jathedar objected to it but Tohra overruled him. Due to the continuous threats to Longowal, he invited Babar Khalsa to protect Teja Singh Samundri Hall and Serai complex. Then Sukhdev Singh was the chief of Babbar Khalsa through Smt. Amarjit Kaur wife of Fauja Singh who was martyred by Nirankaris on Vaisakhi day was the overall controller. About 150 of them entrenched on Water Tank in Guru Ram Das Serai, Guru Nanak Seari areas, on the road between SGPC complex, Sri Darbar Sahib complex and Baba Atal area. The boundary between the two was the road going to Teja Singh Samundri Hall.” This was a good detail, however; I wanted to know what happened actually inside when Sant Bhindranwale was in the complex.

“Can you tell me how the operation started?” I wanted to know some details from these locals who appeared to be well versed with the operation. He told,“The CRPF and BSF had made bunkers on buildings all around the complex. Sikhs too had some bunkers on some buildings. There had been occasional firing from the police since May. There has been some fire exchange between the ‘fighters’ and the CRPF also.” The militants however never resorted to unnecessary firing or killing anyone and I am witness to the same.”

“Why was AIG Atwal killed within the complex?” I enquired. He said, “Atwal was earlier the SSP of Amritsar. It was well known that when Atwal visited Sri Darbar Sahib to get information about the Sant and his men. He occasionally planned to arrest and to kill some Sant Bhindranwale men but they escaped. One of them, however, died having been shot at. The militant was of the Student Federation hence they were very angry. They had warned Atwal not to enter Darbar Sahib. But Atwal still. He paid his obeisance at Sri Darbar Sahib and after a round of parikrama, was about to go out from Deodhi in the eastern side towards Hall bazaar when he was shot at and killed. His body was not allowed to be taken out for hours possibly due to some tussle between SGPC official and Sant’s men. Bhinder the DGP of Punjab was furious and Tohra too was annoyed.”

I enquired further, “Did Sant Bhindranwale’s men belong to All India Sikh Student Federation?” There reply was clear. “They were not only from the Student Federation but also from Taksal. Some others also joined. Among them some ex-servicemen, police deserters and criminals too joined unwittingly. Student Federation president was Amrik Singh son of Sant Kartar Singh Bhindranwale, the predecessor of Sant Jarnail Singh. Harminder Singh Sandhu was the General Secretary. They both always stayed with Sant Bhindranwale.” The owner of the tea stall also spoke, “Babbar Khalsa men were also there but they were in Guru Ram Dass Serai area. They were against Sant Bhindranwale but stayed in the complex to protect SGPC and Serai complex as well as Sant Longowal and to save the complex from Army operation. This was the reason that actions between Bhindranwale's men and Babbar Khalsa men were not coordinated. Serai area was an easy target while Akal Takhat area was the most difficult target.”

“In all, how many of these militant Sikhs could be in the total complex?” I wanted to know the approximate number. He paused and thought over it and said “I do not think they were more than 700 initially; about 150 each in the East and West Parikarma and 17 fortifications and about 80 in the Akal Takhat complex. Out of them about 200, who were not seriously committed as Damdami Taksal men, left the complex on 3 June. In addition, Babbar Khalsa maybe around 100-150 in the SGPC complex”.

“How many could have died?” I wanted to know the number of the dead. Out of these hardly anyone could have escaped. In addition, the major causalities were of the pilgrims which included a Jatha which had come from Sangrur to court arrest for Akali agitation. A number of the pilgrims were killed to show the increased number of the militants in the complex

“Where were all these fighters deployed?

The Babbar Khalsa was deployed in Shiromoni Committee and Serai complex to the south of the road going to the office of Shiromani Committee. The Militants of Bhindranwale were on the other side towards the Darbar Sahib. The maximum concentration was around Akal Takhat and the civilian buildings around Akal Takhat. They had occupied around 17 houses around Akal Takhat and made their posts there. There were a number of them in and out of the rooms along the parikrama as well. There could not be more than 70-80 in the Akal Takhat building. All militants were controlled by General Shabegh Singh.

“How did the battle go?”

There was CRPF firing on 1st June where there were a number of causalities. Heavy shelling could be seen on 3rd June to 6th June. We cannot tell about this since thereafter there was a curfew and we were not allowed to move even. Only Army knows better or a few Gurdwara employees who were at Darbar Sahib. We could only watch bright shell bursting or huge thuds of the shells bursting which went on 5th and 6th June. Even on 7th and 8th firing from militants have been reported.

Worst, however, was the treatment given to the pilgrims. Young of them were collected and shot to increase the number of militants. Maximum killings were of pilgrims staying in the parikrama and in the serais. Som Shiromani Committee staff was also killed. The treatment of the arrested was again shocking. About 60-70 Pilgrims were forced into a small room and suffocated to death. Out of them not more than ten would have survived. Similarly, no water was given to them for days together. In another incident, somebody launched a grenade into the pilgrims; the army personnel escorting them opened fire on the pilgrims and killing most of them. Some say that the grenade was thrown by the army itself to cover the killing of these pilgrims.

These spldiers had no respect of the sanctity of the religious place. They moved in the parikrama and sanctum sanctorum with boots on. They smoked within the complex. They kicked the dead. They abused the pilgrims and ill-treated them throughout as if these pilgrims were the enemy.
View attachment 20500

The Sikhs in the tea shop whose number had risen to five by now and three of them shared very valuable information; I extracted whatever they could give. Since I was very keen to know more from other sources as well, I proceeded further to know more details from others.

(Note: Later when I studied the details of the operation in detail I found that these events and their progress thereafter has been mentioned by Tavleen Singh but with a lot of exaggeration and without any proof (Terrorists in The temple: PP.50-54). It was a tragedy that media (especially the Delhi media) gave one-sided reports clearly biased by the feed is given to them by the Government and anti-Akali and anti-Bhindranwale lobby. It was not that, Akalis and Bhindranwale did not have faults; they had some of them well-exploited by some interested individual and groups. This will be clear from the events that followed.

Tavleen also mentions of Khalistan Headquarters in Room 32 in Guru Nanak Niwas but manned only by Balbir Singh Sandhu who himself made and served tea to the visitors. This shows that he had no one to assist. She created a hill out of the mole and showed it to be a danger to the nation from this one man of Khalistan. It is a wonder how Tavleen writes over many pages about an individual who had no following. In fact, Khalistan has never been a favourite subject in Amritsar or anywhere else in Punjab till date as has been projected by the media. Possibly this projection by Tavleen and other correspondents influenced by her helped the Government to show Sikhs as anti-nationals and terrorists. This has since been done till date without any viable proof. Further details are discussed in later chapters.)

❤️ Tap / Click or Scan