Ranbir Singh Sandhu
The well-planned and rehearsed invasion of the Golden Temple in
June 1984, the massive cordon and search operations following it, the
military rule in Punjab since then, and the massacres after Mrs.
Gandhi's death constitute a sequence of tragedies planned and
perpetrated by a government against its own people.
The Indian government has tried to make Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
a scapegoat for all the damage done by its own ineptitude and
wickedness. It is very important that history judge the man
Fortunately, some tape-recordings of the late Jarnail Singh
Bhindranwale's lectures to the Sikh congregations at the Golden Temple
are available. From these the world can judge for itself whether this
man of God was a separatist, a terrorist, anti-national or just a holy
man, caught in the machinations of a wicked administration, seeking
light from the scriptures of his religion and trying to tell others of
his faith to do the same. True to his frequently expressed sentiment,
he lived as a devoted Sikh - with dignity and self-respect, and died
for the faith. As stated by the Guru: "I look forward to dying. When I
die, it should be at God's door".
Apparently, the Indian government escalated its persecution of the
Sikh minority after Mrs. Gandhi's return to power in 1980. She was
determined to teach this vigorous religious community, active in
upholding universal rights and justice, a lesson for, most recently in
the 1970s, leading the country's resistance to 'emergency', the
suspension of citizen's rights by an earlier government led by Mrs.
Gandhi. Never again would they launch agitations against her corrupt
and unjust government. This escalation took the form of large-scale
arrests, tortures and murders of Sikh young men at police stations.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a devoted Sikh preacher unused to
political trickery, presumed the atrocities were being committed by
over-zealous police officials. He appealed to various authorities
including senior administration officials, ministers in the state
government, the courts, and leaders in the central government. He did
not get redress. Instead of taking any action to curb the police
officials, the government started the propaganda that Sikhs were
engaging in subversive activities, were demanding a separate state,
were jeopardizing India's unity, and were in every way an undesirable
group bent upon mischief.
When a Sikh died, there was no judicial inquiry. Even when an
inquiry was held under public pressure, the guilty officials were
never punished. The death of a Hindu was grounds for a proper inquiry
and punishment of the offenders, but not so the murder, rape or
torture of a Sikh. Insult to Sikh scriptures and Sikh Gurus was not
objectionable in the eyes of the government. Indeed heretical groups
were actively patronized. The government deliberately set the Hindu
community against the Sikh. Whenever a Hindu died a violent death,
without any evidence and without even the semblance of any proof, the
government was in a hurry to announce that the killers were Sikhs. For
the same offense, the Sikh could always expect punishment more severe
than a Hindu.
There were three aeroplane hijackings as part of the Sikh peaceful
protest movement. In none of these were the hijackers armed. Nor was
there any damage done to the planes or injury to any passengers. In
all cases, after the plane had landed, the hijackers turned themselves
in without resistance, arguments, or a set of demands. Instead of
following the normal legal process, the government shot one of them
dead, another was given a lethal injection to cripple him for the rest
of his life and several are still in exile in Pakistan. Hindus
responsible for a similar hijacking, to protest Mrs. Gandhi's
detention while she was out of power, were rewarded with seats in
Having control of radio and television and sympathy from the
predominantly Hindu press willing to apply the Hindu definition of
sanctity to Sikh religious practices, the government was able to get
the Indian public to accept the big lie. The Sikh point of view never
reached the public outside of Punjab and Delhi because it could only
be carried by word of mouth. Thus the most patriotic community in
India which had provided the greatest, widely recorded sacrifices for
the achievement as well as preservation of the country's freedom and
had participated most significantly in the economic growth of the
region was labeled anti-national and treacherous in order to justify
the urge to humiliate and destroy it.
The government declared the Sikh tradition of bearing arms as
equivalent to preparation for an armed conflict. This was a direct
assault on the Sikh religion itself.
The government killed hundreds of Sikh young men by torture hoping
that the Sikhs would be frightened into submission. Thousands were
sent home from police interrogations as cripples. There were cases of
Sikh women, relatives of the Sikh activists, being stripped and
paraded in the streets and raped at police stations by police
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale appealed to the Sikhs to look to their
religion for solace and for the way they should conduct themselves in
life. This led to the Sikh revival under his guidance. Contrary to the
steady erosion that had been going on for thirty years, thousands of
Sikhs returned to the fundamental values of prayer, service and
sacrifice and sought confirmation in their faith. The government
treated this religious resurgence as organized revolt.
There was lawlessness in Punjab caused primarily by the government
killings as well as incidents of desecration and violence orchestrated
by it. Jarnail Singh and his followers and certainly the vast majority
of the Sikh population had nothing to do with it and would have been
thankful for an end to the senseless process. However, the government,
in order to give the Sikhs a bad name and to justify the actions it
was contemplating against the Sikh community, ascribed all crime in
the state to Bhindranwale who was a virtual prisoner in the Golden
Temple complex. This led to the build-up of violent anti-Sikh
sentiment all over India.
Bhindranwale was a "saint-soldier" in the finest tradition of the
Sikh faith, an inspiring, outstanding teacher and guide. In his life,
he stood for truth, amity, justice, and the practice of religion. He
died defending the holiest shrine of his faith, vastly outnumbered,
vastly outgunned, supported by a motley group of a few (estimates vary
from 50 to 250) untrained young men armed with an assortment of
obsolete weapons. He knew he couldn't win a military victory. That was
not really the point.
A Post-Mortem Report exists in the Sikh Educational and Religious
Foundation Library. This particular report may be in error in that the
body examined may not be that of Bhindranwale but of someone else.
There is a comment that the person was "well-built". Jarnail Singh was
known to be rather thin and lean. However, the complete report has a
set of fingerprints of the body examined and it should be possible to
verify these with fingerprints from records of the time he was
arrested in 1981.
Although Jarnail Singh's death has been enshrouded in mystery,
eye-witness accounts confirm that he died, probably on June 6, 1984.
His death need not be mourned. According to Guru Granth Sahib, he has
only 'gone home' to God. His martyrdom will be a source of perpetual
inspiration to all humanity. It will be remembered as a divine message
that all is not lost for God's people. That even though wickedness
rules, there will always be some who will defy the devil and one day
truth will triumph.