Mark Tully, June 2004
Attack On Indian Unity
Twenty years ago, Amritsar was the stage for a bloody attack on Indian
unity with consequences that still reverberate today.
Sikhs around the world remember it as their very own 9/11, their worst
trauma in modern history, Operartion Blue Star, the storming of the
Golden Temple in Amritsar.
It was a justified act to flush out militants, say the Indian
authorities. But for many Sikhs it was a heinous defilement of their
most sacred site, and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent pilgrims.
In After Blue Star, Mark Tully explores what was behind the military
action. Why did it go so badly wrong? How did a separatist movement grow
out of it? And how has it shaped Sikh identity all over the world to
Survivors, Soldiers And A Saint
Twenty years ago, when the Indian army stormed the Sikhs' most sacred
shrine, Mark Tully was there reporting for the BBC. He returns to the
Golden Temple in Amritsar to assess both the trigger and the resulting
He speaks to the survivors of Operation Blue Star and hears about the
inner torment of one of the Sikh generals who led the attack.
And he goes in search of the man who became a saint after Blue Star,
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the Sikh preacher and leader of the
Sikh independence movement.
Thousands of miles away, in Britain, he meets the Sikh artist twins
whose work has been inspired by Blue Star.
Seeking Sikh Independence
Operation Blue Star, the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar,
traumatised Sikhs worldwide. Mark Tully examines how this event has
shaped the emotions, political outlook and identity of Sikhs both in
India and overseas.
The Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was shot dead by her Sikh
bodyguards. Violence against Sikhs all over India followed.
Many who had been westernised were prompted by Blue Star to return to
their Sikh roots and the separatist movement for an independent
Khalistan, a Sikh state in Punjab, still has a strong following from
Sikhs in Britain and the United States.
Please note that this transcript was prepared as part of the production
process and not for publication. The occasional references to FX (sound
effects or location sound) have been left in to make the transcript more
Announcement: And now the BBC's long-standing correspondent in Delhi,
Mark Tully, returns to the north of India where twenty years ago he
covered an event that's deeply affected the political and religious
outlook of an entire people, the Sikhs - in his new series, "After Blue
Kanwarpal Singh: Operation Blue Star was attack on the Sikh faith to
teach lesson to entire Sikh community, and we took it as a challenge,
and that was the point where Sikhs alienated from the Indian state.
Simarjit Kaur: It was an event like 9/11, where you just couldn't take
in the devastation of it, the magnitude of it.
Rabindra Kaur: Operation Blue Star broke the hearts of Sikhs worldwide.
General Brar: You may hear lots of stories about the extent of the
destruction etc. but as a honest soldier let me tell you that that's not
Khushwant Singh: It's caused a deep hurt in the hearts of the Sikhs, and
they're never likely to forget it.
Mark: The Indian Army called it Operation Blue Star. For Sikhs it was
the desecration of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, their most sacred
shrine, an assault on them and on their religion.
20 years ago I reported that dramatic event and its aftermath for the
BBC. Now I'm back to explore why Operation Blue Star happened and how
it's affected Sikhs in their homeland Punjab, and worldwide too. . .
As I enter the main gate to the Sikhs' most sacred shrine, I see the
Golden Temple sparkling in the evening sunlight, casting a golden
reflection too on the water of the pool it stands in.
Sikh men, bearded and turbaned, women, their hair covered too, and
children, bow their heads to the marble pavement as they enter. Some sit
at the edge of the pool listening to the hymns wafting across the water
from the Golden Temple.
Although the buildings have been restored, there is still evidence of
the grim and bloody battle fought here.
My guide is Kiranjot Kaur, a member of the committee that manages the
Kiran: This is the place where a lot of dead bodies were piled up, and
later the municipal corporation was called in to remove the dead bodies,
but you can still see the bloodstains on the floor of the marble, and
these very white marble has bloodstains as if fresh blood has just been
spilt on them.
Mark: Have you tried to remove the stains from here?
Kiran: These marks do not go away. They are like this since the last 20
Mark: Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the militant leader who had
occupied the Golden Temple, and Operation Blue Star was mounted to
regain control of the Golden Temple.
It was from the North East gate that the army sent in the tanks, after
it had failed to dislodge Bhindranwale. They came down the marble steps
here right onto the pavement surrounding the Golden Temple.
It seems extraordinary to me, you know, standing here, seeing all the
peace and harmony and indeed sanctity of this place, that it can once
have been a bloody battlefield.
Kiran: It is very unfortunate, but that is what the Indian govt turned
In its history of about 400 years this temple has been demolished about
4 times, (and this was in the 18th century, 17th and 18th century.
Because this is the place from where Sikhs draw their spiritual power.
And the ruler, any ruler, who tries to subjugate the Sikhs, for them
this is one place where they feel if something is done to this place
maybe they can subjugate the Sikh psyche and crush their spirit.
Mark: When you came here after Operation Blue Star, because you came
here quite soon after the Operation and you saw the devastation, did you
ever believe it could go back to what is was before?
Kiran: No, at that point of time it seemed absolutely impossible. And
the feeling standing here was such that I did not know whether to cry,
whether to hit out at somebody, or what exactly the reaction was, but it
was something, a mixture of everything.
Mark: Saint Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had taken up position in the
heavily fortified Akal Takht, the shrine facing the Golden Temple
itself. Just as sacred to the Sikhs as the Golden Temple, the shrine was
shattered by shells fired from the army tanks.
Some two thousand people were killed in Operation Blue Star., many of
them pilgrims who had nothing to do with Bhindranwale. The Operation was
launched on an important Sikh festival, so the complex was particularly
crowded. One person had a narrow escape.
Giani Mohan Singh in Punjabi - fade under Mark's translation
Mark translates: "Giani Mohan Singh was the head priest of the GT. He
spent one day and two nights inside the GT during this Operation.
When eventually Gianiji was allowed to leave the temple complex, he was
given five soldiers to accompany him back to his home. As they were
leaving the temple complex, some soldiers tried to fire on Gianiji. And
the other soldiers accompanying him said, "He's the head priest, you
must not fire on him. They said, "We have orders to fire on all pujaris,
that is all people who worked in the temple.
Fortunately for Gianiji, the five soldiers saved him and managed to stop
the attack on him.
Mark: The pilgrims visiting the Golden Temple on the day of Blue Star
came from villages all over Punjab.
Mark: In Virpal about an hour's drive from Amritsar, a widow draws water
from a handpump. In her home there's a framed picture of her husband,
one of the pilgrims killed in Operation Blue Star.
Elderly woman in Punjabi with translation voiceover: He used to go to
the Golden Temple every feast day, so on that day he was also there - it
was the martyrdom day of one of our Gurus. And he did not come back.
Mark: When news of the impending army attack broke, other villagers
rushed to the defence of the Golden Temple. Avtar Singh was one of them.
Avtar Singh in Punjabi with translation voiceover: There wasn't a lot we
could do because the army was just streaming in. We did not have many
people on our side. In the end we were arrested and there was nothing we
Mark: And you were wounded before you were arrested. Were you wounded
accidentally or did soldiers deliberately fire on you?
Avtar Singh in Punjabi with translation voiceover: I got two shots, one
in my knee and one in my side. But after I was arrested, I was
deliberately shot at by the army men, our hands were tied, and were made
to sit in the open, and the army men really ill-treated us. We were not
given water, and we were tortured.
Mark: Avtar Singh was one of several men from this village who was
jailed after Operation Blue Star. Nine men lost their lives.
The army's objective was to regain control of the Golden Temple complex,
which had been taken over by the militant Sikh leader, Sant Jarnail
Singh Bhindranwale. He'd mounted a violent campaign in support of the
demand for more Sikh autonomy. His men killed innocent people, robbed
and extorted money.
But ironically, Bhindranwale had the blessing of the government when he
started his campaign.
Patwant Singh: Bhindranwale was a creation of the Congress Party, he was
a creation of Mrs Gandhi.
Mark: The Sikh writer Patwant Singh was close to Indira Gandhi, then
Prime Minister of India. He says she promoted Bhindranwale, a Sikh
preacher, as a rival to the leaders of the Sikh religious party, the
Akali Dal, the opponents of her Congress Party in Punjab.
Patwant Singh: The idea was to find a Sikh charismatic enough to weaken
the Akalis, who were getting very strong, the Akali party..… There are
so many giveaways of who Bhinindranwale, whose creation he was, but the
public sort of continued to accept that he was his own person. Not that
he did the bidding of the Congress Party down the line, not at all,
Mark: Tell us one or two of what you'd call the giveaways, which gave
away the fact that Bhindranwale was a Congress plant?
Patwant Singh: The first is, all over Punjab, and he once came to Delhi,
… on his saffron coloured bus, with people, gunmen armed to the hilt.
And he sat in it. Now this is not allowed - this brazen sort of display
of arms. Nobody stopped them to find out whether they were licensed arms
or not. This was only done if the man is a creature of the government.
Secondly, the second thing which he did was that some of the speeches he
made were quite inflammatory. Why wasn't he arrested for that? He
wasn't, because that again wasn't on the agenda.
… Now I wouldn't say that Bhindranwale was a dishonest man. (But) he was
a pious man. But that piety of his was exploited by the Congress, and he
loved it, he loved the limelight.
Mark: Members of the government at the time have not been available to
give their point of view on the rise of Bhindranwale.
He soon slipped out of Indira Gandhi's control and started championing
demands for a larger share of the waters of the rivers flowing through
Punjab, territorial adjustments with the neighbouring state, and greater
Bhindrwanwale came to be seen by many Indians as the leader of a
movement aimed at establishing an independent Sikh state called
Khalistan. But the government delayed taking action against him until he
occupied and fortified the Golden Temple complex.
Archive - Narasimha Roa: "If a place of worship is misused, in the first
place the place itself loses its sanctity."
Mark: In a BBC interview just one month before Blue Star, Narasimha Rao,
a senior colleague of Indira Gandhi, gave the first indication that her
patience was running out.
Archive - Narasimha Roa: "All I can say at this moment is that no option
Mark: When the military option was chosen, command of the Operation fell
to a Sikh general, Kuldip Singh Brar. He recalls the explanation he was
given for the task he was called to undertake.
General Brar: The fact of the matter is that things have come to a
situation where the government has decided that military action is
necessary, otherwise in all likelihood Khalistan could be established
And the only solution was to nip it in the bud and to ensure that the
Golden Temple is freed of the militants who are entrenched inside it,
and I was told that there are something like 2000 militants inside, the
Golden Temple is very heavily fortified with every type of weapon,
machine guns, rifles, grenades and everything, they have barricaded the
whole place… obviously, everyone knew that this was going on for a long
time, perhaps they'd closed their eyes to it.
Mark: As a Sikh himself, General Brar was only too well aware of the
dilemma an attack on the Golden Temple would present to those of his
soldiers who were also Sikhs.
General Brar: And I spoke to the troops, and I said, any of you who
don't wish to go in on moral grounds, ethical grounds, anything, just
raise your hands. Nothing will be held against you and you don't have to
And this young Sikh officer was the only one from all the six battalions
that I addressed who raised his hand: and I said "No problem, son, if
you don't want to go in you don't have to." And he said, "No Sir, I want
to be the first to go in, and I want to be the first to go to Akal Takht
and get rid of the elements who have desecrated that place."
Mark: I remained in Amritsar reporting for the BBC until the day Blue
Star started, when the police removed all journalists from Punjab.
When we were eventually allowed into the Golden Temple complex again, I
was appalled to see the ruins of the Akal Takht, where Bhindranwale
fought his last battle and died. A carpet of spent cartridges littering
its floor showed how fierce the resistance had been.
General Brar makes it clear the army never intended to cause such
damage. He was given specific orders not to harm Harimandir Sahib, the
Golden Temple itself.
General Brar: I would like you to believe me when I tell you that the
instructions were to go in and cause minimum damage, minimum loss of
life, minimum use of force, and we stuck to that right to the end.
There were times when my battalion commander was screaming at me on the
radio to say, Our men are dying and you are not allowing us to fire
towards the Harimandir Sahib. I said, That order remains. You will not
fire towards the Harimandir Sahib, and you will not damage any parts of
Mark: The Golden Temple was intact after Blue Star, although there were
bullet holes in its gold plating, they could well have been caused by
firing from Bhindranwale's men.
General Brar says the damage to the Akal Takht and other parts of the
complex, the casualties, and the use of heavy armour were due to
For Sikhs, Blue Star was unimaginable sacrilege. The loyalty of many
Sikh soldiers broke under the strain. They mutinied in different places,
and in the Sikh regimental centre they shot and killed their commanding
General Brar blames the mutinies on the failure to keep the soldiers
General Brar: Yes, sure, a lot of people mutinied, they mutinied on what
they heard, there were so many stories going around … And here were
these troops who were emotionally charged up. And they said my God, our
temple is under attack. And they mutinied. But let me tell you one
thing, … I had three brigades. Of these three brigades two were Sikh
troops. … And they went in with me.
Mark: But General Brar did face hostility from his own family, and there
is no doubt that Blue Star had a profound effect on most Sikhs, in India
and other parts of the world.
Kiranjot Kaur: Blue Star has been a great turning point, especially for
the Sikhs living abroad.
Mark: Kiranjot Kaur, who was my guide at the Golden Temple at the
Kiranjot Kaur: Because the people who were going away from their
religion, Blue Star suddenly jolted them, made them realise who they
were. And they went back to their roots.
"I'm Amrit Kaur Singh." "And I'm Rabindra Kaur Singh, and we are artists
painting in the classical Indian miniature style, though with modern
Mark: The artist twins, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, have come down
from the studios in Liverpool to the BBC's Bush House in London to show
me their picture of Blue Star.
In the centre is the Golden Temple itself, standing in the middle of
blood-stained water. Surrounding it are different groups. There are
brutal soldiers, anguished pilgrims, there's a historic Sikh martyr who
- legend has it - continued fighting after his head was cut off in an
earlier attack on the Golden Temple.
And worryingly for me, there's a group of blindfolded journalists to
symbolise the insensitivity of the media coverage of Operation Blue
Star. The Golden Temple itself is painted from an aerial perspective.
Amrit: Really this is symbolic (they explain bird's eye perspective, diaspora, and why the painting is so full of blood and gore - reference
Mark: In India in the immediate aftermath of Blue Star, the legend of
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale the martyr was born.
Before his death, Bhindranwale's support didn't spread far beyond his
dedicated followers. Operation Blue Star had a radical impact on his
image, according to Delhi sociologist Dipankar Gupta.
Dipankar Gupta: I think prior to Blue Star Sikhs would have been quite
happy if the army had gone in and flushed out the militants. I've heard
that said by many Sikhs. "Why didn't the army go in and get rid of these
people, this temple isn't meant for such things."
But after Bhindranwale died the way he did, with not only many of his
followers but innocent pilgrims, their blood is mingled with innocent
blood, that is what hurt people the most, and the way the temple is
Mark: Before Operation Blue Star, leaders of the Sikh religious party,
the Akali Dal, had regarded Bhindranwale with a mixture of fear and
dread, dreading that he would usurp their position. When Dipankar Gupta
talked to one Akali leader, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, after Blue
Star, his attitude had changed.
Dipankar Gupta: He said to me very candidly, I'm trying to translate
that as close as I can, that before 1984 I thought Bhindranwale was a
scoundrel, but after what happened in Blue Star I think now he's a sant.
Mark: Sant is a saint.
Gupta: Sant is a saint.
Mark: And this is where Sant, or Saint, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was
educated - a seminary near Amritsar which is the headquarters of the Damdami Taksal, a Sikh missionary order.
Bhindranwale must once have sat here like these young boys, swaying to
and fro as they learn how to recite the Sikh scriptures.
Bhindranwale headed the Damdami Taksal, so I was certain he would be
regarded as a martyr here. But when I asked, just to make sure, I got a
surprise from Jaswinder Singh personal assistant to the head of the
Jaswinder Singh in Punjabi with voiceover translation: We believe that
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is well and in high spirits. We do not
believe that he is no more and that he has attained martyrdom. We feel
that he is absolutely fine.
Mark: Jaswinder Singh claims the photographs of Bhindranwale's dead body
are pictures of another person. I didn't find many Sikhs who believed
that. But I did find many who believed he was a martyr.
The Sikh tradition of martyrdom goes back to the ten Gurus who were the
founding fathers of the faith. My guide in the Golden Temple, Kiranjot
Kaur, explains the tradition's significance.
Kiranjot Kaur: The first Sikh martyr was the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev
Ji. And he was martyred because of his religious beliefs. After that,
the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tag Bahadur Ji, he was again martyred
for his, not for his beliefs but for the right of a person to uphold his
own beliefs. So giving up your life for a spiritual cause, or for the
cause of others, is something very supreme in Sikhism.
So when we are talking about Bhindranwale as a martyr, Bhindranwale was
killed but it was not for any personal gain. There was nothing personal
in it. So somehow it came out that certain people considered that he had
become a martyr because of this.
Mark: Bhindranwale's admirers believe he died a martyr. But they don't
think during his lifetime he fought for Khalistan, or Sikh independence.
Jaswinder Singh: He never appealed for Khalistan. When in fact he was
asked by some journalists he categorically said that we don't need
Khalistan. We have videos to that effect. He only said that we want to
stay with the rest of the country, but in case the others want to give
us Khalistan then we would not say no. But he at the same time said that
should there be an attack on the Golden Temple, the foundations of
Khalistan would have been laid.
Mark: Next week in "After Blue Star" here on the BBC, I'll look at the
building erected on this foundation. There is a Khalistan movement, but
how strong is it? And I'll be recalling the aftermath of Operation Blue
Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the massacre of Sikhs which
followed. What was their impact on the legacy of Sant Jarnail Singh
Mark: "Long live Khalistan!" Young Sikhs
shout for an independent homeland. The movement for Sikh independence
from India grew out of Operation Blue Star, the Indian army's attack on
the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' most sacred shrine, in June 1984.
Kanwarpal Singh: We have not forgotten, nor have we forgiven that
heinous crime. And we took it as a challenge, and that was the watershed
between the Indian state and the Sikhs.
Simarjit: "I was 17, and I first heard about Operation Blue Star on the
BBC. It was devastating. As of June 1984 many of us began to feel that
we needed a special country for the Sikhs."
Mark: Years of violence and tens of thousands of deaths in Punjab, the
Sikhs' home state, followed Operation Blue Star. There were years of
protests among Sikhs living outside India, too.
In this BBC programme I'll be asking why the resistance to Indian rule
built up and what impact Blue Star had on Sikhs' awareness of their
separate identity. I'll look at the way order was eventually restored in
Punjab and ask whether the Khalistan movement is still alive. And could
it ever succeed?
On the morning of 31st October 1984, just four months after Operation
Blue Star, two Sikhs took their revenge on the the Indian Prime
Minister, Indira Gandhi. They were members of her bodyguard, and they
shot her at point-blank range as she crossed the garden separating her
home from her office.
Mark: The All India Medical Institute in Delhi is the country's premier
hospital. This morning the corridors are crowded, there are patients
even lying on trolleys outside the hospital waiting to be treated. But
on the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Satish Jacob my BBC colleague
came here, and he found the place empty.
Satish: Yes, … that day I was told that Mrs Gandhi had been rushed to
this place. When I came here I found there were very few people. And
there is another emergency surgical room on the 8th floor, and I took a
lift and I went there, and as soon as I got out of the lift I saw one
doctor wearing white clothes, and he had a mask, and he had plastic
gloves, and he was just taking off his gloves, and I had some inkling
that he could be part of the operation. And I didn't tell him who I was,
I didn't say I was from BBC, I simply said, how is she? And he shook his
head and he said, no hope.
Mark: Indira Gandhi's death was a direct consequence of Operation Blue
Star. The Operation caused hundreds of innocent people to die and
reduced one of the Sikhs' most sacred shrines to rubble. But at least
there was a reason for it. The Golden Temple had been occupied by armed
Sikh militants, who had mounted a campaign of terror throughout Punjab.
There was no excuse for what followed Indira's Gandhi's assassination. I
covered that for the BBC.
Mark: Violence engulfed Delhi when Hindus were allowed to take revenge
on Sikhs for Indira Gandhi's assassination.
Only about a mile from where the BBC office was, one of the worst riots
after Indira Gandhi was assassinated took place. Hari Nagar is typical
of New Dehli today, crowded narrow lanes, choked with traffic, concrete
houses about 3, 4, sometimes even 5 storeys high, overcrowded in every
sense. And it was into this area that people streamed not just from the
road, but from the railway line as well, and from the flyover which
looms over this area. One of the residents of this area is Kuldeep Singh
Bhogal, who is the secretary of the All India Riot Victims Relief
Kuldeep Singh Bhogal in Hindi
Mark (translating): He says in this area huge fires were started, trucks
were burnt, and from the railway line Sikhs who were found on trains
were thrown out and killed, and in one family five people were tied to
their chairs, had oil poured on them, and were set on fire.
Mark (summarizes): There are no people apparently in this area any
longer whose members of the family have died because they all fled to
Punjab, not surprisingly they didn't want to stay here. But there's one
gentleman here whose house was burnt.
Mark: Who did this?
Pritpal Singh: There was a mob. It was in collusion with the police.
Mark: So it was in collusion with the police that all this happened.
Standing on top of the flyover?
Pritpal Singh: Yes, yes.
Mark: So they were standing on top of the flyover behind me here, and …
and they did nothing.
Pritpal Singh: They did nothing.
Mark: So they did nothing.
Pritpal Singh: So police were not doing a thing.
Mark: An impression confirmed by Khushwant Singh, the Sikh author and
historian who was a member of parliament at the time of Blue Star. Like
most people I spoke to, he believes that the riots were not just a
genuine response to the assassination of the Prime Minister.
Khushwant Singh: I have not the slightest doubt they were organised. The
spontaneous anger could have been contained within a few hours if they'd
imposed the curfew that they'd intended or gave orders to shoot at
sight, which they should have done… that night, the night it happened,
the mobs were rampaging, and I was here, I went out to see because they
were attacking shops across the road… there were at least three dozen
policemen there standing there watching the proceedings. And they'd had
orders not to interfere.
Mark: To make matters worse, no-one was punished for the murderous
attacks which killed several thousand Sikhs. Many who survived were so
terrified that they shaved their beards, cut their hair and discarded
their turbans so that they couldn't be identified as Sikhs.
Mark: At a Sikh festival in the English city of Leicester I meet men
who've done exactly the opposite.
Dabinderjit Singh: At that time I wasn't as religious as I should be…
but those events totally changed my perspective, and I became a
Mark: Dabinderjit Singh is a campaigner for Sikh rights. A young student
in 1984, he maintains Blue Star and the massacres after Indira Gandhi's
assassination created a religious revival among British Sikhs.
Dabinderjit Singh: I think a lot of Sikhs who'd come to this country and
perhaps cut their hair… saw this as an attack not just on the Sikh
nation, but also on Sikh identity, and they wanted to show that identity
and they completely changed their religious perspective.
Mark: And not just their religious perspective.
Mark: Dabinderjit Singh, making a political speech in a gurdwara or Sikh
temple. He maintains support for Khalistan swelled in British gurdwaras
after Operation Blue Star.
Dabinderjit Singh: There was a revolution, there was a revolution in our gurdwaras in terms of, we needed to preach about what had happened to
the Sikhs, and the struggle, and that has continued to this day.
Mark: Dabinderjit's friend Ranjit Singh, general secretary of the
Council of Khalistan set up in Britain, claims the independence movement
is flourishing in many countries where Sikhs live.
Ranjit Singh: "Within this country, and also in the US and Europe, you
have a very vibrant struggle for self-determination among the diaspora.
And self-determination within international law is something we
recognise as our human right, and we pursue that, and will continue to
Mark: But do Dabinderjit and Ranjit Singh represent Sikh opinion back in
Young men, enraged by Operation Blue Star and the massacre of Sikhs
after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, did sustain violent resistance
to the Indian government for several years. But Dipankar Gupta, a
sociologist at Delhi's Jawarhalal Nehru university, who's studied the
Sikh community, reckons most of the support for them was emotional, not
Dipankar Gupta: I rarely met anybody who said, Yes, we are with the Khalistani boys, and want secession from India.
What they said, or the impression I got was, there are these boys who
are upholding our pride, our dignity. And that's why there's a kind of
vicarious militancy on their part. They weren't with them in terms of
their political demands, their agenda, in fact they were not at all with
them. … They said, we are talking about Sikh pride and dignity, and look
what you've done to us after 1984.
Mark: Only two years after Blue Star, a group of Sikh separatists did
declare the independence of Khalistan here in the Golden Temple. Even
more extraordinarily, in the same year the government allowed the temple
to be recaptured by armed separatists.
Sarabjit Singh was the senior civil servant in Amritsar at the time; he
admits the government once again failed to take effective action before
it was too late.
Sarabjit Singh: When I was posted here the terrorists were already
there. And we were aware that weapons were being sneaked into the GT.
This was done under various covers. For example, trolleyloads of wheat
came in, and the assaults were hidden in the bags. No-one could really
search the whole trolley.
Mark: A dynamic police officer, KPS Gill, commanded the operation to
clear the Golden Temple of armed militants for the second time. In this
operation, no civilians were killed, the shrines were almost undamaged,
and the separatists surrendered.
The success of this operation made KPS Gill the obvious man for the job
when the government did eventually decide to tackle the Sikh separatist
Patwant Singh: What happened with this so-called police chief, he was a
Mark: Patwant Singh, a Sikh writer who lives in India, is highly
critical of the methods KPS Gill adopted.
Patwant Singh continued: I mean he brutalised and savaged people. … When
you savage and terrorise people, when the state does the terrorising,
then of course things do quieten down, a whole lot of families, people
have been killed, they have been burnt alive and so on, cremated and
things like that.
KPS Gill: I look upon the Punjab operation as one of the most humane
anti-terrorist operations in the world.
Mark: KPS Gill has never accepted the allegations against his police
force - allegations of torture and illegal killings followed by secret
cremations. KPS Gill maintains no-one can be cremated in India without
KPS Gill also points out that the separatists mounted a brutal campaign
against the police.
KPS Gill: We found that whenever there was funeral and there was mass
participation, at least ten new terrorists come up. So we said, let's
not make this funeral a mass spectacle. … But….. the terrorists
kidnapped 66 members of police officers' families, some of these
officers, men, and their families. 66 of them. And said if you don't
allow the religious ceremonies of this man to be held as a public
spectacle, we will kill these. We did not allow that to happen, all the
66 were killed. It was a very, very serious situation.
Mark: KPS Gill has not succeeded in convincing human rights activists in
India or abroad.
Gurjeet Singh: This little office here has 10,000 people, list of 10,000
people who got killed by the police.
Mark: From a cramped office in the English city of Leicester, Gurjeet
Singh runs "Khalsa Human Rights", an organisation that has catalogued
abuses against Sikhs in Punjab. This man's case is one of many examples.
Gurjeet Singh: He was picked up by the police and he was tortured to
really third degree torture, and in the end, the family was a really
well-off family, and they managed to bribe the police and they managed
to get the body from the police. And when they had the body, they
actually send us the pictures of the body, after he had been tortured he
was boiled alive in hot water. You can see all his skin was peeled off.
Mark: By 1992 the police had brought an end to the armed separatist
Kanwarpal Singh: People have suffered a lot. And after suffering a lot
of harassment and repression, they are depressed, and moreover they have
a sense of defeat in them.
Mark: In the Golden Temple complex I met one of the few people still
campaigning actively for Khalistan in Punjab, Kanwarpal Singh of the Dal
Kanwarpal Singh: You can say that present day, there is no armed
movement, guns have fallen silent. But spirit is there, dream is there.
Mark: The dream of Khalistan is actively being kept alive in Britain.
Pictures of Sikhs considered martyrs for Khalistan adorn the walls of
the Guru Teg Bahadur gurdwara in Leicester. The lectern bears the
slogan, "India, free Khalistan! Self-determination now!" The faithful
bow to the holy book and then sit cross-legged on the floor, listening
to rousing calls for Khalistan.
Dabinderjit Singh doesn't see anything wrong with bringing politics into
this place of worship.
Dabinderjit Singh: "You cannot divorce politics from religion, our gurus
instituted the idea of miri and piri, the connection between the
spiritual and the temporal. And that's why our gurdwaras are the place
to talk about human rights etc. You cannot divorce politics from your
Mark: Money pours into the collection box in the gurdwara, and it
doesn't take too much imagination to think where some of it would go if
the armed struggle for Khalistan was revived. And that has certainly not
been ruled out here. Dabinderjit Singh again.
Dabinderjit Singh: "Since 9/11 we've had to rethink the concept of the
armed struggle… but where there are human rights abuses you cannot deny
an individual the right to take up arms and defend themselves.
Kiranjot Kaur: The people abroad who are campaigning for Khalistan are
only creating problems for people living in Punjab.
Mark: Back in Punjab, Kiranjot Kaur is a member of the powerful
committee controlling the Golden Temple, no time for foreign Khalistan
Kiranjot Kaur: Because the people living abroad know very well that they
are not going to live in the Khalistan that they are demanding. And the
Punjabis who are living in India, since they are not demanding Khalistan
I don't really see why this whole hue and cry about Khalistan now.
Mark: The veteran Sikh writer and historian Khushwant Singh has even
started a campaign to persuade Sikhs abroad that no-one in India wants
Khushwant Singh: Well, I have spoken to them many times, openly,
certainly in the United States I addressed a large meeting. I think I
was able to bring a lot of them around to my point of view. That being
angry with the government is one thing, asking for Khalistan is another.
Because it's wanting to commit harakiri if you want Khalistan. It'll
destroy whatever remains of the community.
Mark: And what does the most powerful player in Sikh politics in Punjab
think about Khalistan? Gurcharan Singh Tohra played a prominent role in
the Akali Dal, the Sikh religious party, for many many years.
Tohra in Hindi
Mark: So, the Akali Dal does not believe there is any scope for
demanding Khalistan. (asks question in Hindi)
Tohra's answer and laughter in response.
Mark: I said to Tohra Sahib, ok, Akali Dal says there is no scope for
campaigning for Khalistan, what is your personal desire, and he laughs
and he says, there are some personal desires it is better to keep
Mark: We'll never know what Gurcharan Singh Tohra's personal desire was,
because sadly he died only days after my visit.
Mark: Songs from Bollywood are the theme music of today's India. They
and cricket link the country together. But do young Sikhs identify with
these links? Well, when it comes to cricket the students of Khalsa
College in Amritsar have no doubt.
Khalsa College: (Female) (laughs) Definitely!
(Male): It unites us, cricket. We are having preparation time for exams,
but we are just concentrating on the India and Pakistan match, all night
we watch television and our parents are just scolding us! (laughs)
Mark: But when it comes to more serious matters, some at least of the
students are not convinced India offers them any prospects.
Khalsa College: (Male) We are not getting jobs according to our talent,
our calibre, our qualifications, … That's why we are just migrating. …
I'm thinking of migrating to a developed country, preferably Australia,
my brother has already migrated to Australia, and I want to go there.
(Female): You know what I feel, there is always a place for the toppers.
That's what my grandfather used to say, there's always a place for the
toppers on the roof. You know the person who has got merit like 95, 98
percent, they can easily get job in India.
(Male): Everybody is not topper, and to be an average is not a crime
(Male): … There is no social security, that's why we are migrating to
Mark: Disgruntled students were the most active supporters of the Khalistan movement. So does that mean the lack of opportunities for
young Sikhs today could revive that movement? Yes, says one student.
Khalsa College student: Now is the right time for any religious leader
to come in and fuel another revolution. Because there are a lot of
unemployed people. Whenever there is unemployment, idle minds, you can
make them do anything.
Mark: Kanwar Sandhu, the editor of the Hindustani Times in Punjab,
agrees that there is still a danger of disturbances, especially if
opportunities for young Sikhs to emigrate dry up.
Kanwar Sandhu: If tomorrow the avenues abroad were closed, and there
were to be no jobs here, I don't know what is in store for them and for
all of us here. I think there could be another crisis in the making, I
think that's the point we need to worry about.
Mark: A new generation of fervent Sikh preachers is being educated in
this seminary near Amritsar. As I listen to the young boys reciting the
scriptures, I can't help thinking how determined they will be to make
Sikhs aware of their separate identity. There's nothing like a sense of
grievance to help achieve that.
For the moment, Sikhs' sense of grievance and the demand for Khalistan
is almost entirely a foreign phenomenon. But from what I've seen
re-visiting Punjab twenty years after I reported on Operation Blue Star
for the BBC, the government will have to create jobs for young Sikhs if
it's to ensure there's no revival of the movement for Khalistan in