Joyce Pettigrew, The Sikhs of Punjab, London: Zed Publishers, 1995
In June, 1984 more than 150,000 Indian army troops, equipped with helicopter gunships and tanks were sent to the northern Indian state of Punjab, The Indian army unleashed an attack unprecedented in post-independence India. The Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine of and over 125 other Sikh shrines were simultaneously attacked on the false pretext of apprehending 'a handful of militants' lodged inside the Golden Temple. Communications across Punjab were severed and a full media blackout and censorship was imposed across the entire state. Public travel was suspended and electricity was interrupted and cut to all main nerve centers of Punjab. The attack by the Indian Army started on June 3rd, a day when thousands of Sikhs had gathered inside the temple to celebrate the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev. Using tanks, the army let loose barrages of highly explosive shells, which destroyed the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs. Priceless artwork and historical texts in Sikh Reference library were looted and destroyed, marble inlays were crushed, and the over 300 bullet holes were counted in the Golden Temple after the attack. Because the borders of Punjab were sealed off during the invasion, a curfew imposed, and sever censorship placed upon the press in Punjab, it is difficult to know just exactly how many people died in the attack. Official figures claim there were only 1,000 casualties, but most estimates put the number of civilian casualties around 5,000. Approximately 700 soldiers from the army were reported killed.
Indian army unleashed the attack visitors were humiliated and there was blood splattered everywhere including the sacred water tank (sarovar). All this destruction was bad, but it was nothing compared to the brutality the army showed to the civilian worshippers who were caught in the crossfire. Worshippers who included old men, women and children who were rounded up and made to sit for hours in massive groups in courtyards, and were denied medical attention, food, or water. Many young Sikhs trapped during the attack were shot and killed by the soldiers with their arms bound behind their backs. It was a catastrophe. Mr. Chellaney, South Asia correspondent of the Associated Press in Amritsar during the attack also reported that several Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied.
No enquiry was ever ordered to establish the truth and many Sikhs are still rotting in jails after thirty years. After this operation, the army fanned out to the countryside to arrest young men and humiliate Sikhs all over Punjab. Thousands were arrested and tortured and extra judicial killings by the police and paramilitary forces continued for nearly a decade. After thirty years, the attack on their holiest shrine still rankles Sikhs. Even today, the wounds are fresh and indignation is fathomless.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in India in the 15th century. Sikhism is world’s fifth largest organized religion that preaches equality of all human beings. It has more than 27 million followers all over the world. Sikh men stand out with their distinct turbans and beards and almost all of the people who wear turbans in the United States are Sikhs. In their daily prayers, Sikhs pray for the well being of entire human race.
In collaboration with other communities and interfaith organizations, Bay Area Sikh community has planned a Parade to pay homage to the innocent victims of the Golden Temple massacre that occurred 30 years ago in Amritsar. The parade will be held on Saturday (6/7/2014) from 11:00-2:30 pm in San Francisco. More than five thousand people are expected to attend the parade. We invite all to join us in praying for compassion and healing on the anniversary of this horrible tragedy.