OPERATION BLUESTAR : The untold story
Investigation Team : Amiya Rao, Aurbindo Ghose, Sunil Bhattacharya, Tejinder Ahuja and N.D.Pancholi
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.”