The Invasion of the Golden Temple

Dr. Sukhbir Singh Kapoor
Published by The World Sikh Organisation (UK)


It is now several months since the Indian Army stormed the holiest of the Sikh Gurdwaras. In defence, more than 3,000 unarmed men, women and children blocked the army's path to the Akal Takht, the second most sacred building in the Golden Temple Complex. The army mercilessly wiped them out.

In total, the army killed more than 10,000 people all over Punjab to gain control of 38 other historical Sikh temples in the state. The love of the Sikhs for their Gurdwaras has no parallel in other religions except perhaps in Islam. The Sikh religion and their feelings for their shrines are different from other religions for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the Sikh religion and its roots are not mythology or myth. They are historical facts. All the Sikh prophets were historical personalities and their teachings are all chronicled.

Secondly, the Sikh historical shrines are not only buildings of brick and mortar. They have in them the spirit of the Sikh Gurus. These edifices were built stone by stone by the labour and sweat of the Sikh prophets themselves and their disciples. The Harimandir, the holiest shrine in the centre of the Golden Temple complex was built by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs in 1601. The Akal Takht, which is to the north of the complex, was built by Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru in 1609. Since their construction, the Afghans have tried to attack them and in 1762 the Sikhs sacrificed thousands of their own people in order to defend them. The Sikhs do not worship the buildings or idols. They worship only one God, who they believe is the father of the whole Universe, but the historical Sikh shrines, built by their prophets by their own personal endeavours, have a special place in their hearts.

Finally, the Sikh religion is the only religion in the world whose holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, in its original form, signed and sealed by Guru Arjan, its compiler, exists and is available for reading and discourses.

There are also in existence a large number of letters and orders issued by the Sikh prophets to their disciples. To a Sikh, Guru Granth Sahib is not only a holy book but is the Guru himself. The Sikhs respect and revere Guru Granth Sahib as a living Guru. It contains the Word of God. It is a revealed treatise. Every Sikh temple has a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib to whom every Sikh bows when he enters the shrine. The violation of the sanctity of the Sikh temples along with the Sikh holy books is the last thing that a Sikh can tolerate.

India was a slave country for more than 1,200 years. A horde of invaders from Prussia, Mongolia and Afghanistan plundered and raped her people for centuries. The repeated torture and killings made her people cowardly and weak. Then there arose in the 17th century AD a mighty saint-soldier, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. From. the miracle of his baptism, he created a new nation of the Sikhs. He called them 'Khalsa' - the army of saint soldiers. He gave them a distinctive look, so that they could not denounce their faith in the face of adversity. He made them brave and fearless soldiers. Since the creation of the Khalsa, no invader has dared to place a permanent foot on the Indian soil to molest her shrines, to rape her daughters and to plunder her wealth. Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali did dare to invade her during 1745-1762 but the fiercest resistance offered by the Sikhs made their stay impossible and they both left in distress. China tried her might in 1962 and Pakistan tried her luck in 1947, 1965 and 1971. On all these occasions the crack regiments of the Sikh soldiers repulsed their invasion and brought victory to the Indian subcontinent.

In their short history, the Sikhs have sacrificed countless numbers of their own people to liberate India first from the Moguls and then from the British. The Punjab was the last state which fell to the British, and that too was due to the treachery and betrayal of the Hindu Dogra Ministers.

In the 150 years' war of liberation against the British, the Sikh sacrifices have been significant and momentous. Of all the people hanged, exiled and imprisoned by the British for taking part in the Independence movement, more than 90% were Sikhs - making sacrifices for a cause and fighting against injustice is in their blood. During the war against the British oppression, the Sikhs were assured time and time again by the stalwarts of Congress, including Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Motilal Nehru, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sardar Patel, that if the Sikhs helped the Congress in the struggle, then after Independence, they would be given a state in the north of India in order to develop their own history, culture and heritage. The Sikhs placed everything they had, their people, their wealth and their media at the disposal of the Congress to fight hand in hand with them.

India achieved independence in 1947, and the new Indian Government backed out from all its promises. The Congress drafted India's first constitution in 1950 and despite the strongest opposition from the Sikhs, lumped them as a part of the Hindu religion. The Sikhs protested loudly that they were not Hindus. The Hindu Government ignored their cries.

In the 1950's Congress Government passed the new Hindu Code Bill. The Sikhs lodged their plea for a separate Sikh personal law. The Congress rejected their plea. In 1955 the Congress Government reorganised India on a linguistic basis. The Sikhs submitted their claim for the recognition of Punjabi as the language of Punjab, and the reorganisation of Punjab on the linguistic basis like other states. Congress repelled their claim. In 1966 the Congress Government, despite the hue and cry of the Sikh leadership, divided the Punjab into three states. The states of Haryana and Himachal were carved out of Punjab. After 1947 this was the second division of Punjab. In 1947 the British divided the Punjab into West and East Punjab. The West Punjab was given to Pakistan, and the East Punjab to India. The Sikhs placed their claims for the inclusion of Chandigarh in Punjab and the re-distribution of a large number of Punjabi speaking areas wrongfully allotted to Haryana and Himachal. The Government turned a deaf ear to the Sikhs' claims.

In 1981 the frustrated and disappointed Sikh leadership submitted a long list of demands unlawfully denied to the Punjab and the Sikhs for too long. The grievances and demands were both socio-economic and religious. They included the following:

  1. The passing by Parliament of an all India Gurdwaras Act, to give control of all the Sikh shrines to a democratically elected body;

  2. Granting of holy city status to Amritsar on the pattern of Hardwar, Kurukhshetra and Kashi, the holy cities of the Hindus;

  3. The installation of Harimandir Radio at the Golden Temple, to relay Kirtan (holy hymns) all over the world;

  4. Renaming 'Flying Mail' as Harimandir Express on the lines of 15 other trains named after other religious places;

  5. As per the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, amendments to be made in the Constitution of India to give more rights and provincial autonomy to the States. The Centre, however, to retain control over foreign affairs, defence, currency and communications (including transport networks) while the remaining portfolios to be handed over to the states.

  6. The merging of Punjabi-speaking areas and the Chandigarh into Punjab;

  7. Handing over of water dams and electric headquarters in the state to the Punjab Government and re-distribution of river waters as per national and international rules.

  8. To grant second language status to the Punjabi language in Haryana, Himachal, Dethi and Rajasthan states.

As in the past, the Congress Government once again rejected all the Sikh demands. This time the Sikhs felt that the cup of their patience was running over. Their leadership also went from pacifist band to militant. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale emerged as a militant leader of the Sikhs. With the traditional Sikh sword, prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh, he also wore a carbine and bullet belt.

During this period, as in many other states of India, the law and order situation in Punjab worsened. During 1982-84 more than 300 people were killed in cold blood. The police had no clue as to who was behind these brutal and awful killings. Meanwhile, the Government became increasingly annoyed with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale for his refusal to assist in the destruction of the Akali leadership. The Sant had been brought to the political platform by the Government, but being a practicing and true Sikh he had refused to sabotage the justified Sikh movement. In revenge, the Government-run press and media started to implicate Sant Bhinderanwale in the killings which occurred all over Punjab. Unfortunately, and to his disadvantage, the young and politically inexperienced Sant did not show remorse for any of these murders (which was what the Government wanted). The Congress (I) widened its net, arranged a few more political killings and declared Sant Bhinderanwale and his aides as the wanted men.

The rising power of the Sikhs and mass conversion to the Sikh faith were the other pressure points for the Government. They wanted to destroy this power and halt the flood of Hindu conversion to Sikhism for good.

The present agitation of the Sikhs was being regulated from the Golden Temple precinct. The Temple, which is a source of pride for the Sikhs and the symbol of their spiritual and temporal power, was also on the 'hit list' of the Government's henchmen. Fanatical Hindus saw this disorderly situation as the most appropriate time to finish the Sikh cause. They prevailed upon Mrs Indira Gandhi to destroy Sikh power and insisted that she should not take the President of India into her confidence, because he is a Sikh. In this confused situation, when there was a vague chance that some of the Sikh demands might have been met by the Government, destiny played its worst card. Mrs Indira Gandhi, surrounded by zealous Hindu aides, submitted to their demands and ordered the Army to desecrate and destroy the symbol of Sikh glory, the Golden Temple, and kill all the Sikh leaders therein, thus finishing the Sikhs forever.

This military action, nicknamed Operation Bluestar, was planned to counter Sikh resistance at any cost. However, the Government had forgotten one vital historical fact, that is, that if Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah had been unable to destroy the Sikhs - when they were young and few in number - how could the Congress Government destroy them now, when they had matured and were 14 million in strength? No Sikh will ever forgive the present Government for this dreadful and sacrilegious act. If the Government's aim was only, as it claims, to arrest a few extremists hidden in the Temple, then this could have been achieved by laying siege to the Temple, by stopping food supplies reaching those inside and cutting off essential communications. Every entrance to the Golden Temple had been guarded by hundreds of armed constables for more than two years. They should had they been vigilant, have seen what was going in, by way of arms, and certainly have seen the anti-aircraft guns and machine guns that the Government alleges were there. A report is circulating in Sikh circles that most of the ammunition weapons supposedly found in the Golden Temple complex and shown on television and to foreign correspondents, were indeed planted there by the Government, to camouflage the inhuman atrocities of the Army. It is inconceivable that an arsenal of that magnitude could have entered the Golden Temple unnoticed by the police who had cordoned off that area.

The order for foreign and local journalists to leave Punjab and the censoring of all news and reports relating to the Punjab crisis were acts, which also throw suspicion and guilt on the Government. The Government has by now imprisoned more than 100,000 people. Its Army has killed more than 20,000 people - some in combat, others in cold blood. The Golden Temple and the other shrines are still under military rule. The people wonder what will happen next?

The only solution to this unhappy and unfortunate situation rests on two questions. Firstly, if the Government's intention is really to eliminate the Sikh movement forever, then clearly its recent action has not been enough. It has to eradicate all the 14 million Sikhs living both within and outside India. For, if even one Sikh remains, he will surely strike back at New Delhi to wreak his revenge, and from his blood will spring many more martyrs. Secondly, if the Government has itself been a victim of its own intelligence, has been duped by Hindu fascism, and is truly repentant of what has happened then it must withdraw immediately its Army from all the Sikh shrines it currently occupies. In addition, release all the detainees held unlawfully and accept the Sikh demands or show a greater willingness to do so, and punish the fanatical and fascist elements of the Government who have tried to tear India apart by sowing the seeds of Sikh alienation.

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