1984 – Operation Bluestar Eyewitness Accounts
EYE WITNESS ACCOUNTS OF THE ARMY ACTION
Who were the eye-witnesses to the Golden Temple episode?
1. Devinder Singh Duggal –
In charge of the Sikh Reference Library located inside the Golden Temple complex. Duggal is an acknowledged authority on Sikh history. He used to reside in a house adjacent to the Sikh Reference Library, was present there between May 28 and June 6, 1984 and hence (in his own words) "an eye-witness to some of the atrociities committed by the Army during its attack on the Golden Temple". About fiftyish, Duggal now lives with his lecturer-wife in Jallandhar, where we interviewd him. His eyes become moist and his voice quivered as he described the assault on the Golden Temple.
2. Bhan Singh- Secretary of the S.G.P.C.,
short, slim, in his mid fifties, Bhan Singh is a man of few words. He was present in the Golden Temple Complex during the Army attack and was arrested at dawn on June 6 along with Longowal and Tohra from the Guru Nanak Nivas which now houses the SGPC Office, where we met and talked to him. His account begins from June 3, 1984.
3. Giani Puran Singh
– one of the priests at Harmandir Sahib.
4. Girl Student –
Grand-daughter of SGPC member, she preferred to remain anonymous. Aged about 20 years, she goes to college at Amritsar. She went to the Golden Temple on May 29, 1984, with her grand-parents and an aunt, to fulfill a vow, and was there until June 6. We met her in Amritsar in the house of a widowed victim of the November 1984 Delhi violence.
5. A.I.S.S.F. Member
– about 25-years old, he would not give his name, son of a police officer, he was visiting the Golden Temple in June 1984 for the Gurupurab and was there from June 1. He was arrested by the Army on June 6 but released in October. He was rearrested soon after and had been again released a little before we met him. Remarkably calm and soft spoken, he said that there were about 100 fighters with Bhindranwale inside the Temple Complex and less than 100 arms, mostly, 303 guns of the II World War. Extremely handsome, he is a member of the All India Sikh Students Federation.
6. Prithipal Singh
– A young (24 years) Sevadar at the Akal Rest House, inside the Guru Ram Das Serai, Golden Temple complex, where mostly distinguished guests stayed. He was on duty throughout the period of the Army Operation. He narrated how he had a hair-breadth escape, even after being lined up before the firing squad on June 6, after he had been arrested, stripped naked and his hands had been tied behind his back with his turban. He showed us the bullet-ridden walls of the Akal Rest House, where we spoke to him.
7. Joginder Singh –
and empoyee of the S.G.P.C. whom we met at the Golden Temple.
8. Surinder Singh Ragi "Patnasahib Wala"
– Head Ragi (singer) at the Harmandir Sahib, we met the young man (about 35 years) outside the Information Office of the Golden Temple, He was in the Kesari (Sochre) roles of a priest. He was on duty at the Harmandir Sahib during the Army action. He is an extremely popular singer of ‘Shabads’ from the Gurbani and his tapes are on great demand. He spoke to us with great conviction. "The Guru taught us to resist atyachar (represssion), not to do atyachar".
9. Baldev Kaur
– an Amritdhari woman in her mid-thirties, she had come to the Golden Temple on June 2, 1984 for the Gurupurab with her husband (Puran Singh who is now in Kapurthala Jail) and three children from her village Khanowal in Kapurthala district. She was so calm and fearless when she described her tribulations. She is facing severe economic hardships, cultivating only two acres of land, having no regualr source of income since her husband’s arrest more that 9 months back.
10. Harchan Singh Ragi
– one of the Hazuri Ragis who sings at the Harmandir Sahib, he is in his late fifties. With serene eyes and flowing white beard, he has an endearing touch. He was on duty at the Harmandir Sahib singing ‘kirtans’ when the Army shelled it very early morning on June 4. Born into a Hindu Brahmin family, he was orphaned at the time of partition and then adopt0ed and brought up by Amrik Singh, the blind Head Ragi of the Golden Temple who was killed inside the Harmandir Sahib on the morning of June 5. We met him at the Information Office of the Golden Temple, and he lives just above it. Raminderpal Singh – an innocent boy – one of his sons, is detained at Jodhpur Jail as a ‘terrorist’.
Some of the details of the life in Amritsar at the time of the Army action, were provided to us by the relatives of a few of those who were captured from the Golden Temple after the army operation, as ‘terrorists’ accused of ‘waging war against the State’ and who are now being tried under the Special Courts (Terrorists) Act at Jodhpur Jail. It is the Jodhpur detenues who are eye-witnesses to the Army operations in Amritsar in June 1984, not the relatives we met. But some of their evidence was passed on to their relatives in the course of brief meeting in jail from time to time. We met the relatives of:
(a) Kanwaljit Singh – A 20-year-old student of Khalsa College (evening) Delhi, whose father (Satnam Singh) runs a provision store at Lawrence Road, Delhi. Kanwaljit Singh visted the Temple with his friend on June 2, wanted to return to Delhi the same afernoon, but found that the last train had left Amritsar. And so he was forced to stay at the Guru Ram Das Serai inside the Golden Temple Complex. After Army action, he was arrested by the Army from the Serai and later chargesheeted with 378 others as ‘terrorists’ and detained under the N.S.A. We spoke to his youger brother, Inder Mohan Singh, at Delhi.
(b) Jasbir Singh and Randhir Singh –
Two brothers who went to Golden Temple, separtely, on June 3 to pay their respects. As Jasbir Singh was coming out after fulfilling his vow on June 3 at about 1:30 p.m. on the side of the Chowk Ghan ta Ghar, he was detained along with other youths by the C.R.P. The C.R.P. made them take off their shirts, tied their hands behind them and made them sit on the hot road outside the Information Office. Randhir Singh was staying in a room in Guru Ram Das Serai, belonging to their uncle (a member of the SGPC) from where he was arrested on June 5. Randhir was injured by bullets on his leg. We spoke to their father, Harbans Singh Ghumman, about 55 years a farmer and former MLA belonging to village Ghummankala , district Gurdaspur.
June 1, 1984 – Pieceing together the evidence of various eye-witness and also second-hand socurces, such as Kirpal Singh, President of the Khalsa Dewan, Amritsar and S.S. Bhagowalia, advocate at Gurdaspur and Vice-president for the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (Punjab), the following picture emerges as to what happened at Golden Temple from June 1, 1984. It is really amazing how, except for some minor details, the accounts of different persons interviewed separately tally so closely with regard to the date, the time and the description of incident June 1, 1984. The AISSF Member, Duggal, the girl student, Sevadar Prithipal Singh and Baldev Kaur all said the the Golden Temple was fired at by security forces from the outside for the first time on June 1 itself, not June 5 as claimed by the White Paper. According to the AISSF member, "At 14.40 in the afternoon of June 1, suddenly the CRP without provocation started firing, aiming at the people inside the Parikarmas. There was no firing, from inside the Golden Temple. The firing by the C.R.P. was on the Harmandir Sahib and the Manjih Sahib. The firing continued till about 8 p.m." Sevadar Prithipal Singh added that the shooting which started from outside, was not preceded by any warning. Devinder Singh Duggal’s account is extremely detailed and lucid. "By the end of May, it was widely known that the Army is going to attack the Golden Temple, and on that account there was tremendous tension in the entire city and its surrounding ar eas. The worst fears of the people came to the surface when on 1st June, the security forces which had beseiged the Golden Temple for months together and had made strong fortification on the multi-storey buildings all around it, suddenly started firing in side the Golden Temple. The firing sarted at 12.30 p.m. and continued for a full 7 hours. What was worse was that Harmandir Sahib was made the main target of this firing. I took shelter along with my staff behind the steel almirahs of the Library, one of the bullets pierced through three almirahs and landed on the fourth and we had a narrow escape."
Duggal continues – "Not a single shot was fired from inside the complex. When I asked some of the boys as to why they did not answere the firing, they replied that they were under strict orders of the Sant not to fire a single shot unless and unti ll the security forces or the Army entered the holy Golden Temple. In the evening, when I heard in the news bulletin that there was unprovoked firing from inside the Temple, but that the security forces showed extreme restrain and did not fire a single sh ot, I was surprised at this naked lie. The very fact that as many as eight persons, includeing a woman and a child had been killed inside the Golden Temple complex and there were as many as 34 big bullet wounds on all sides of the Harmandir Sahib complete ly belied the Government’s version. I asked Bhan Singh, Secretary, S.G.P.C., to do something to refute this falsehood. He said that nothing could be done because all links with the outside world had been snapped."
According to the girl student, curfew was clamped soon after the firing started. She confirmed the killings – "Authorities had said none had died, but I dressed the wounds of 3 men who died later in front me in Guru Nanak Nivas." That the cur few was lifted soon after the firing stopped is indicated by the AISSF member, who said, "after the firing stopped, at about 8.30 p.m., a group of people (Jatha) courted arrest."
There is no doubt then that security forces (C.R.P.) fired on the Harmander Sahib on June 1 itself and the news over the A.I.R. that there was unprovoked firing from inside was a blatant lie. However, most official versions maintain a meaningful silenc e about the happenings of June 1. For them, as for example, with the Government’s White Paper, the story begins on June 2 with the Government of India deciding to call in the Army in aid of civil authority in Punjab, with the object of "checking and controlling extermist, terrorist and communal vioulence in Punjab, providing security to the people and restore normalcy." How much security the Army succeeded in providing to the people and how much normalcy, they were able to restore, is however, a nother matter.
June 2, 1984 – Duggal was relieved when "fortunately, on 2nd June a team of five reporters including Mark Tully of B.B.C. came there (Golden Temple) and were told the truth . They were taken around the Golden Temple and shown 34 big wounds caused by the bullets on all sides of the Harmandir Sahib, some of them as big as almost 3" in diameter."
"The 2nd June passed off peacefully," according to Duggal, because there was no firing and no curfew, while Baldev Kaur said it was ‘quiet’. A large number of Sikhs came to the Golden Temple from the surrounding areas along with their familie s as the next day, June 3, was Guru Parb or the martyrdom day of Shri Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth holy Guru of the Sikhs. The peace and quiet was only on the surface, because active preparations were afoot to break the peace. Kanwaljit Singh and his friend Manjit Singh from Delhi visited Golden Temple on the morning of June 2 and found that there there was no restriction for pilgrims to enter Amritsar or even the Temple. But the exit doors out ot Amritsar were being closed. After visiting the Temple, when Kanwaljit went at noon to the Amritsar Railway Station to catch a train for Delhi, they were told that the last train had already left and that the Flying Mail in the evening would not be leaving. In fact they were told all outgoing trains had been cancelled. So Kanwaljit and Manjit were forced to return to the Golden Temple and put up in the Guru Ram Das Serai for the night. Thus was Kanwaljit to miss his interveiw at Delhi with the Institute of Bank Management on June 3 morning and his examination with the State Bank of India the same afternoon.
The AISSF young man said that the C.R.P., outside the Golden Temple was replaced by Army on the night of June 2. Although there was no formal curfew, and all visitors entering the Temple were allowed to come in without any ado, all those who left the G olden Temple on the night of June 2 were being taken into custody. "I did not therefore leave the Golden Temple complex", said the A.I.S.S.F. member revealing his caution
June 3, 1984 – According to the AISSF member, "Guru Parb was on June 3. About 10,000 people had come from outside including many women and 4000 of them were young people. Those who were inside were not allowd to go out after 10 p.m. on June 3. The Jathas which had come mainly from Sangrur were not allowed to court arrest."
Bhan Singh confirms: "June 3 being Guru Parb, thousands of pilgrims had come. But suddenly there was a curfew, so the pilgrims and the 1300 Akali workers came to participate in the Dharam Yudh Morcha and to court arrest, could not leave. The Akali Jathas consisted of about 200 ladies, 18 children and about 1100 men and all of them along with the thousands of pilgrims were forced to stay back inside the Temple complex. Most were living in Guru Ram Das Serai, some at Teja Singh Samundri Hall."
The girl student remembers, "On June 3, at 6 o’clock in the evening we came to know that Punjab had been sealed for 48 hours and that even cycles would not be allowed on the streets."
Kanwaljit Singh sent a telegram home to Delhi at 8.05 p.m. on June 3 from the Golden Temple Post Office "Coming after curfew". It means that the curfew was ‘reimposed’ (Duggal’s word) between 8.05 p.m. and 10 p.m.
No one inside the Golden Temple had yet realised the sinister plan of the authoritites. Punjab had been sealed. Thousands of pilgrims and hundreds of Akali workers had been allowed to collect inside the Temple complex. They had been given no inkling or warning either of the sudden curfew or of the imminent Army attack. It was to be a Black Hole-type of tragedy, not out of forgetfulness but out of deliberate planning and design.
June 4, 1984 – Duggal’s recollection are vived, almost photographic. "At abut 4 a.m. in the early hours of the morning of June 4, the regular Army attack on the temple started with a 25- pounder which fell in the ramparts of the Deori to the left o f Akal Takht Sahib with such a thunder that for a few moments I thought that the whole complex had collapsed. I along with my wife were then sitting in the verandah of my house adjacent to the Sikh Reference Library. Recovering from the initial shock, we moved into the room and took shelter in one of its corners. Therafter, every second the ferocity of firing increased and it continued unabated till the evening of the 6th June.
As we were on the first floor, and our quarter was open on all sides our position was very vulnerable. The bullets hit our quarters on all sides and some of them pierced through the doors and landed inside the room. To add to our miseries the power and water supplies had been cut. Through a slit in the shutter of a window we saw a large number of dead bodies in the Parikrama of the Golden Temple. They included women and children. We could not leave our room. Coming out in the open would have exposed us to sure death."
Baldev Kaur’s account of how the Army attack began is similar – "Very early on June 4, while it was dark, there was cannon fire from outside the Golden Temple without any warning. Shots were fired from all sides."
Bhan Singh is emphatic that no warning was given, no public announcement was made by the Army before the shelling of the Golden Temple started on June 4 – "had the army given a warning at least those pilgrims who had come for the Guru Parb could g o out and then those person who were simply here to participate in the Dharam Yudh Morcha could go out. But no warning was given to the people. The firing was started from all around the complex with vengeance, as if they were attacking on alien, enemy co untry."
According to the girl student the shelling started at about 20 minutes past 4 o’clock on June 4 dawn and continued without interruption upto 2 o’clock in the afternoon of that day (June 4), and evening of June 5.
Her account is extemely graphic – On June 4 at about 3:30 a.m. we were inside the Harmandir Sahib reciting our prayers. Suddenly, thew was a black-out in the whole of the Goldne Temple complex. The devotees continued to be immersed in worship. A about 20 minutes past 4 o’clock there was a very loud explosion. We felt that the whole of the Golden Temple complex was shaking. I was alone on the balcony overlooking the lake or sarovar. Suddenly something roundish fell in front of me. I was curious. So I ge ntly touched it and pushed it into the water. As it fell, there was a big noise and then the water rose and splashed into the Harmandir Sahib. I started reeling, once tilting on one side and again on the other. Someone pulled me inside. The explosions con tinued. We then realised that the Army’s attack on the Golden Temple had begun." In a flash she described her companions – "Inside the Harmandir Sahib there were about 50 to 60 persons – soem granthis (priests), ragis (singers), sevadars (employ ees), the rest of them yatris (pilgrims or visitors) like me and my family. I did not see any armed terrorist."
The Army fired from all sides and did not spare any target in the Temple complex which seemed to shelter people. According to Prithipal Singh, the Sevadar on duty at Akal Rest House, deep inside the Guru Ram Das Serai, the Akal Rest House was shelled f rom the side of Gali Bagh Wali (to the left of the main entrance from the side on chowk Ghanta Ghar) at 5 a.m. on June 4. The bullet marks on the walls, the doors and windows of the side rooms of the Akal Rest House bore silent testimony to the Sevadars s tory, as we listened to him in May, 1985, almost one year after the shooting.
The Harmandir Sahib was not spared by the Army on June 4, just as it had not been by the C.R.P. on June 1. According to the girl student, bulletts hissed past her and her grandmother and aunt when they crawled across the bridge on their stomachs in the ir bid to escape from Harmandir Sahib. She managed to pick up a portion of a shell which had exploded on the bridge near Harmandir Shaib – it was marked 84 mm., and it had two colours, yellow on the upper part and blue on the lower part.
Baldev Kaur’s account suggests that there was no immediate counter-fire from inside the Golden Temple complex. The A.I.S.S.F. member said that "there was some stray firing from inside the Golden Temple before the Army’s entry into the complex" ;. The girl student provides a comparative picture of the magnitude and intensity of firing from outside the Temple and from inside. "The firing that took place from inside the Golden Temple was negligible. On June 1, there was absolutely no firing f rom inside. Wheras on June 4, the ratio what something like this – if a thousand rounds were being fired by the Army from outside, then about one or one and a half rounds were fired in reply by the armed militants from inside the Temple complex."
Meanwhile, according to Duggal, "the helicopter hovered above and continued to fire from above. Some of these helicopters also guided the firing squads of the Army by making circle of light around the targets. Immediately after these circles, the cannon bell would land on the target causing havoc. We saw a large number of boys blown to pieces."
According to Bhan Singh, "they (the Army) treated the inmates of the Complex as enemies and whenever there was any person wounded on account of the firing, no Red Cross people were allowed to enter, rather the Red Cross personnel had been detained beyond the Jallianwallah Bagh," – more that a kilometre away from the main entrance to the Golden Temple from the Chowk Ghanta Ghar side. In accordance with the U.N. Charter of Human Rights, the Red Cross is permitted to go in aid of the wounded rig ht inside the enemy territory, but in Amritsar in June 1984 the Red Cross was not allowed to enter the Golden Temple – a respected and hallowed part of our country- in aid of Indians under attack from the Indian army. It only means that the attack was so brutal and the battle scene so grisly, that there was much to hide from the public scrutiny, even if it be that of a neutral agency called the Red Cross. This also explains perhaps why Press Censorship had already been imposed, the last of the journalists were hounded away and the Press was not allowed inside the Golden Temple upto June 10 when they were taken on a guided tour of the Complex for the first time since the Army Operations began almost a week before.
June 5, 1984 – The firing and counter-firing continued. Harcharan Singh Ragi saw his guardian and mentor – the old completely blind Head Ragi of the Golden Temple, Amrik Singh being shot by a bullet and dying inside the Harmandir Sahib at about 6.30 a.m . on June 5. This was the respect shown by the Indian Army to the Harmandir Sahib! The White Paper issued on July 10, 1984 adopts a holier-than-thou attitude – "Specific Orders were given to troops to use minimum force, to show the utmost reverence to all holy places and to ensure that no desecration or damage was done to the Harmandir Sahib…" (Para 10) and once more "In spite of this (machine-gun fire from Harmandir Sahib on the night of June 5) the troops exercised great restrain and refrained fr om directing any fire at Harmandir Sahib." All this is propaganda. We have recorded the truth – the Harmandir Sahib was fired at by the C.R.P. on June 1 and there wer 34 bullet marks on it which were shown to Mark Tully of the B.B.C. the next day. Wh en the Army attacked the Golden Temple at dawn on June 4, the Harmandir Sahib was the target of destructive shelling and on June 5 two Ragis – one Amrik Singh, blind, 65-year-old – a singer of devotional songs and another Avtar Singh were killed by bullet s right inside the Harmandir Sahib. Perhaps the White Paper was doing an exercise in sarcasm and irony when it stated: "the troops exercised great restraint and refrained from directing any fire at Harmandir Sahib."
Meanwhile, the girl student and her companions had managed to come away from the Harmandir Sahib, crawling on their stomaches across the small bridge. They were bundled into a room on the ground floor of the Akal Takht. They kept sitting there, having nothing to eat and no water to drink. To continue, in her own words, "Helicopters were encircling the Temple from above. After the helicopters completed their circle, at about 11:30 a.m. on June 5, the huge water tank inside the Temple complex was fi red at. The tank could not be broken even after the initial 10 shells hit the tank. Then one bomb hit the tank after which it burst and all the water gushed out. The fighters who had taken their positons beneath the tank were killed. "They continued the firing till the evening of June 5 and then it was about 8.30 p.m. It was completly dark when they entered accompanied by very heavy firing. The blasting was so severe that I thought that I had reached some other world.
"We were 40-50 persons huddled together in the room, including women and children, even a child of six months. In the next room were the pilgrims who had come on June 3 to celebrate Guru Parb but they had been trapped."
"The upper protion of the Akal Takht had been fired at by the Army and completely destroyed. Pieces of the Guru Granth Sahib were flying in the air and littering the ground. The place seemed to have been transformed into a haunted house.
"Then the tank entered. It had powerful searchlights. I thought the ambulance had come to attend to the dead and injured. But it had turned out the opposite. The tanks went riding past us. From the tanks the announcement came, loud and clear: &quo t;Please come out, God’s blessings are with you. We will reach you home absolutely safe and sound," There were some among us who were frantic for some water, they came out in the open. In the morning I saw the dead bodies lying on the Parikrama. This was the worst kind of treachery."
The A.I.S.S.F. Members narration of the events of June 5 has a somewhat different emphasis – less personal reflection and more of detached observation. On June 5th at about 8 p.m. the Army entered the Complex through the Ghanta Ghar side under heavy co ver fire. The road was blocked. Nobody was allowed to come out of the Complex. The Army entry was not preceded by any warning of announcement asking the people to surrender. "There was some stray firing from inside the Golden Temple before the Army e ntry into the Complex. But the real resistance began only after the Army entered the Temple. The order from Bhindranwale was to use limited firearms with discretion. There were only about 100 people to fight and there were less that 100 arms consisting mo stly of 303 rifles used in the World War II, 315 guns and a few stenguns. When the army entered, the ammunition was nearly exhausted. "After mid-night, at about 1 a.m. one armoured carrier and 8 tanks came inside the complex. The tanks had powerful s earchlights and they came down the stair-case, and the Army surrounded the langar building." Even 11 months afterwards, we could still see the marks of the tanks on the Parikrama.
Duggal’s account is also informative. By the evening of June 5, he and his family had managed to move to the house of the Giani Sahib Singh, the head priest of Golden Temple, which is about 25 yards away from the house he had earlier taken shelter in. In Duggal’s words, "The night between the 5th and 6th was terrible. The tanks and armoured carriers had entered the Golden Temple Complex. The firing was such, that its ferocity cannot be described. In the early hours of June 6th, we learnt that the holy Akal Takht had been completely demolished in the firing. As devoted Sikhs, we were extremely shocked. Tears flowed through the eyes of everybody there. All through the night we heard the heart rending cries of the dying persons." Giani Puran Singh, a priest at the Harmandir Sahib also an eye-witness remembers – "At 7.30 p.m. on 5th I went to Sri Akal Takht where I met Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with who I had a long satisfying talk while shots were ringing outside. Gyani Mohan Singh, whose duty was to conduct REHRAS (Evening Prayer) had not been able to reach Harmandir Sahib, due to the shooting. I then came down from the Akal Takht and joined some "Singhs" in a morcha and enquired of them whether Gyani Mohan Singh had passed that way. As per the tradition the ‘Regras’ at Akal Takht starts 5 minutes later than at the Harmandir Sahib, but that day Path at the Akali Takht had already started. Upon this I rushed towards Harmandir Sahib amidst gunfire, stopping for a breather at the Darshani Deori. On reaching I started the recitation. Meanwhile, Gyani Mohan Singh also reached the place. We were about 22 people in the Harmandir Sahib, some devotees and others the employees of the Gurudwara. By the time the path was over the firing outside became more intense. ‘Sukhasan’ of Guru Granth Sahib was done and then taken upstairs. At 10.00 p.m. the tanks started entering the complex and a barrage of shooting from without became more intense as heavy armour began to be used. At this stage an armoured carrior entered and stood beside the Sarovar. The lights on the carrier, when switched on, bathed the whole complex in bright light. We were viewing all this perched in the main dome of Harmandir Sahib and thought that prob ably the fire brigade had come to get water for extinguishing fires raging throughout the city. But we were proved wrong when this vehicle came down to the Parikrama and stared firing. From both sides the tanks started closing in, from clock tower to the Brahm Buta the tanks set fire to all rooms while desperate people collected water from the Sarovar to extinguish the fires. Loud cries and wails of both women and children rent the air. A vigorous battle ensued and the Darshani Deoris of Clock Tower and A tta Mandi along with the Serais (rest houses) was in Army control by 10 o’clock, the next day (June 6). The 40-50 youth who had been holding the forces fought bravely till either they were killed or the ammuniton was exhausted. From about 10 in the night till 4.30 the next mornign we were on the roof of Darbar Sahib."