Human Rights

The Massacre At Anandpur Sahib

International Human Right Organisation Report
March 26, 1986

The historic "Holla Mohalla" festival started when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa in 1699. It is held every year at Anandpur Sahib. The grounds in front of the historic Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib were the venue of the festivities on March 26, 1986, where seven persons are said to have been killed and several injured by a police firing on the followers of Damdami Taksal and the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF).

The claim of the authorities was that the police had to swing into action to save the lives of the Chief Minister of Punjab, Surjit Singh Barnala, his ministerial colleagues and Akali leaders present on the stage from the violent demonstrators.

While the Taksal and AISSF alleged that the police fired indiscriminately at the peaceful processionists who wanted just to continue towards the Akali Dal congregation to voice their demands including the release of Bhai Mohkam Singh of the Damdami Taksal arrested by the police on his way to Anandpur Sahib a day earlier.

Official sources gave the names of those killed as Ranjit Singh, Major Singh, Sukhwinder Singh, Satnam Singh, Puran Singh and Kulwinder Singh. The seventh body, the sources said, could not be identified. They put the number of injured in the firing at 15.

Representatives of the Taksal and the AISSF alleged that the number of the dead exceeded 15 and the number of those injured was 30. But according to unofficial sources at least 12 persons died. There were also conflicting versions about the burning of the canopy under which Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) was holding its Diwan (congregation). The authorities blamed the Taksal-AISSF group for the arson. Some persons claimed that the fire was caused by tear-gas shells. However, many others were of the view that it was the handiwork of the police forces who wanted to justify its unprovoked firing and killing.

To resolve the controversies and to enquire into circumstances leading to the incident the International Human Rights Organisation constituted a 4-member subcommittee consisting of Shaukat Ali Advocate, D. S. Gill, Lt Col Harbans Singh Kahlon and Gurdev Singh as members.

The Committee visited Anandpur Sahib, made on the spot enquiries and met the local Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), hospital authorities including the police officials. The committee also noted the versions of Takht, AISSF and Gurdwara Sri Keshgarh Sahib management.

The committee examined Mr. Ajaib Singh, Manager Takht-Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Nihang Baba Pritam Singh of Budha Dal, Bibi Avinash Kaur, Vice-President, Istri Akali Dal, Mr. Harjit Singh of village Kabe, Mr. Ram Dev, pharmacist, Dr. Kiranjit Kaur, Dr. Satbir Singh, Mr. M S Balraj, Head Mohrar of the Police Station, Anandpur Sahib, along with eye witnesses Mr. Joginder Singh, Tea Stall owner, Mr. Iqbal Singh, Depot holder, Mr. Bihari Lal of Luxmi Studio, Dr. Mann Singh, Mr. Jagdish Singh, another Tea stall owner. The committee also heard Mr. Mohinder Singh, Jawanda, President, Punjab Khetibari Zimidara Union and Mr. Sarabjit Singh Ropar, a student leader. They were said to be present at the place of occurrence.

The committee after carefully examining the evidence and other facts gave the sequence of events as under:

Sequence Of Events

After the arrest of Bhai Mohkam Singh of the Taksal, while he was proceeding to Anandpur Sahib to attend the function, Mr. Harinder Singh Kahlon and Mr. Sarbjit Singh Ropar of the AISSF; according to Mr. Ajaib Singh, Manager, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, held a meeting with Mr. Gurdev Singh, Secretary, Mr. Surjan Singh Thekedar, Mr. Piara Singh Padeana, Mr. Harbans Singh Ghuman, of Akali Dal (L) at the residence of Jathedar Harcharan Singh Mahalon on the evening on March 25. The federation leaders asked the leaders of the Akali Dal (L) to convey their message to the Government that in case Bhai Mohkam Singh was not released by 10:00 am tomorrow, the "Sangat" (Sikh congregation) would not allow Barnala to speak from there.

The Akali leaders did convey the message. The response of Mr. Barnala came through Jathedar Mahalon asking the nominees of Taksal and AISSF to see him at Chandigarh early next morning. Two nominees accordingly went to Chandigarh, but to no avail. They were asked to go back as Mr. Barnala was reaching at Anandpur Sahib by 10:00 am By the time Mr. Barnala was reached Anandpur Sahib, the Federation sources intimated, according to Mr. Sarbjit Singh Ropar, the intention of the Governments to resist the youth in case they tried to disrupt the Akali Dal Conference. They had instructions from the Centre to curb the youths at "Holla Mohalla," Mr. Sarbjit Singh further revealed. A Chandigarh-based journalist who obtained the information from Dr. Attar Singh, who was very close to Barnala, confirmed this version.

Mr. Barnala reached at Anandpur Sahib at about 11:00 am Thereafter, at a secret meeting the Taksal and Federation representatives decided not to allow him to speak from the venue as he had failed to release Bhai Mohkam Singh. Mr. Harinder Singh Kahlon made it public at 11:45 am, that all the Sangat present there would peacefully proceed to the Akali Dal congregation at the time when Mr. Barnala stood up to speak to voice their demands including the release of Jodhpur detainees and the youths in jails and/or implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolution.

A message came to the militants at 1:50 pm, that Mr. Barnala had reached the venue. Mr. Tarlok Singh, the father of Bhai Satwant Singh (then the accused in Indira Gandhi murder case) was then addressing the congregation. After a few minutes Mr. Kahlon stood up and announced the programme.

Mr. Kahlon and Mr. Sarbjit Singh Ropar addressed the “Sangat” while standing on a tractor seat just in front of their canopy. They were appealing to the masses to remain peaceful. By 2:00 pm, the congregation was surrounded by the police and para-military forces. They started this job from 11:00 am, after Barnala reached Anandpur Sahib.

The Sikh masses led by Mr. Kahlon, Mr. Sarbjit Singh, Bibi Bimal Kaur Khalsa (widow of Beant Singh - one of the assassins of Indira Gandhi), father and mother of Satwant Singh, and other activists of the Taksal and the federation started moving towards the Akali Dal congregation. The police forces started throwing tear-gas shells on the gathering without any warning. The teargas affected the police forces as the flow of the air was towards them. The people ran helter-skelter. The police forces withdrew a little and a few people continued towards the Akali Dal congregation. They had hardly moved 50 yards away, according to eye witnesses, when the Police started firing from the side of Akali Dal congregation. Two persons were killed on the spot, one was an old person of 70 and the other, a youth of 22. Some activists of Taksal and Federation lifted the bodies from there and brought them near their stage. After 15 minutes the firing stopped, the militants again started their stage and appealed to the people to collect there again.

After about 10 minutes, the police forces again opened fire from all directions barring the Keshgarh Sahib side. The maximum number of killings and injured was reported from the venue of militants when they restarted the congregation.

Official Version

The committee saw Mr. Diljit Rai, SDM Anandpur Sahib, who showed inability to say anything regarding the incident. However, he said whatever the District Magistrate, Ropar had given to the Press was the official version. Otherwise, he had instructions not to speak. On being questioned who ordered the firing, he asked the committee to read the First Information report by the Police (FIR).

The committee visited the Police Station and contacted head Mohrar M. S. Balraj who refused to say anything. He, however, revealed that the FIR was not available in the Police Station.

When the Committee approached the Judicial Magistrate, it was learnt that the FIR was not even available in the court's file. However, an Advocate informed the Committee that FIR's 1 to 20 dated 26.3.1986 were registered at Police Station Anandpur Sahib under sections 307, 353, 332, 148, 149 Indian Penal Code (IPC) and 25/54/59 Arms Act.

The Civil Hospital authorities were tight-lipped about the patients with firearm injuries. However, Mr. Ram Dev, a Pharmacist revealed that the dead body of an old person of 70 came to the hospital. He was cremated by the Municipal Committee. After the cremation, he was identified as Gurdip Singh son of Chanan Singh of Nakodar.

A list of the injured was however, affixed on the wall of the hospital. The number of the injured mentioned were 24. Out of them seven persons were declared unknown.


1. The persons killed are much more than the official version of seven. Twelve persons are said to have been killed. But Nihang Baba Pritam Singh disclosed that three dead bodies were taken away by a private Matador and tractor. Some people revealed that the Federation activists did take away some dead bodies in a truck. The committee feels that more than 15 persons had been killed while the injured were many more- might be about 50. According to Baba Pritam Singh, the number of the injured was 52.

2. The protesters were unarmed, according to eye witnesses. However, about 15 persons were carrying Kirpans. They were peaceful and non-violent. The Police version, the committee feels, is a sheer concoction and is far from the reality. In fact, the Police wanted to justify its brutal killing by blaming the youths.

3. The Police allegation about the attempt of the militants on the life of Barnala is also not borne out of facts. The bonafide of the authorities are suspect in so far as they started indiscriminate firing under the garb of protecting the Chief Minister.

4. The Committee is of the view that, indiscriminate firing was not only excessive but was unjustified considering all the circumstances of the happenings.

No, Lathi charge was resorted to by the Police. After stopping the firing for a while the police re-started firing on peaceful gathering near the stage of the militants. The firing from all directions on the peaceful congregation for more than 45 minutes can not be justified. All these killings were the brutal murders of the people by the Police for which the State authorities are responsible.

The extent of blind firing made by the police and the para-military forces could be gauged from the fact that a few persons sitting on the rooftop of the Langar (Kitchen) building were also killed. One person was killed at Lohgarh Sahib Gurdwara, more than 1 km away from Keshgarh Sahib. A few bullet marks could be seen on the walls of Agampur village and another woman was injured while she was walking along the railway track.

5. All eye witnesses denied that there was any firing from the Keshgarh Sahib Gurdwara or from the truck of the pilgrims. One woman who was present near the Akali Dal congregation disclosed that a body guard of Finance Minister Balwant Singh fired in the air when there was a confusion including the Chief Minister sped way be cars mostly leaving their body guards behind. The Police started firing on the mob after the Ministers had left the venue.

The personal Assistant of a Minister confirmed the woman's version as far as it related to the firing by the bodyguard of Balwant Singh.

6. According to some witnesses, the Shamiana (canopy) caught fire due to tear-gas shells, but many people revealed that the Shamiana including a Roadways bus, a jeep, a few Fiat cars, two tractors, etc., were burnt after the incident of firing was over, and it was the handiwork of the Police forces.

7. The dead bodies were not given to the relatives of the deceased. However, Mr. Ajaib, Manager, disclosed that two dead bodies were cremated by AISSF and Taksal workers at Pataal Puri on March 29.


The Committee is of the view that this massacre was avoidable, had Mr. Surjit Singh Barnala abstained from addressing the Akali Dal conference, had the government released Bhai Mohkam Singh, or had the authorities stuck to the norm of using minimum force to disperse an unruly mob.

Finally, the Committee is inclined to believe that the State Government's action at the Holla Mohalla was premeditated and was planned and executed on the Centre's instructions.

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