OPERATION BLUESTAR : The untold story
Investigation Team : Amiya Rao, Aurbindo Ghose, Sunil Bhattacharya, Tejinder Ahuja and N.D.Pancholi
June 6, 1984
” At 2 a.m. on June 6″, says Prithipal Singh, Sevadar, at the Akal Rest House, “the Army people came to the Rest House. They tore off all my clothes, stripped me naked, my kirpan was snatched, my head gear (patta) was untie d to tie up my hands behind my back. They caught me by my hair and took me along with five others – who were all pilgrims – to the ruins of the water tank, there we were told, “don’t move or you’ll be shot.” They kept hitting us with the rifle b utts. Then a Major came and ordered a soldier, shoot them, then shouted at us, “You must be Bhindranwale’s Chelas? You want Khalistan? I said “I am here to do my duty. I have nothing to do with all this.” “Six of us were in a line faci ng the Major, when a Pahari soldier started shooting from one end, killing four of us (with 3 bullets each). As my turn was coming, suddenly a Sikh Officer turned up and ordered, “Stop Shooting”. Thus I was saved. The Sikh Officer was told, &quo t;these people have ammunitions”. At that he ordered them to lock us in a room. Two of us were locked up in a room in Guru Ram Das Serai, but we did not talk nor did I ask the other man’s name. On 7th June the door was opened at about 8 or 9 in the m orning. We had gone without water. The floor was covered in blood. I was allowed to leave.” This was then the ‘dignity and consideration’ which the White Paper had claimed was shown to those apprehended by the Army. Bhan Singh picks up the thread of the story at about 4 a.m. on
June 6. “I was arrested along with Sant Longowal and Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra early morning on the 6th. We were encircled by the Army people, throughout the day from 4 a.m. till 5 p.m. when Sant Longowal and Jathedar Tohra were taken to the Army Camp, but I along with many others was kept inside the compound of Guru Ram Das Serai. We were taken away to the Army Camp at about 9.30 p.m.” Even on this point of arrest of Longowal and Tohra, the White Paper has a totally different version – “At 1.00 a.m. on June 6, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and Shri G.S. Tohra surrendered near Guru Nanak Niwas with about 350 people. The terrorist opened fire at them and also lobbed hand grenades to prevent surrender. As a result, 70 people were kille d including 30 women and children.” Even Longowal is on record that he and Tohra were arrested at 5 a.m. from Guru Nanak Niwas (where the S.G.P.C. Office is now located) and kept there in Army custody the whole day. Neither he nor Bhan Singh talk abo ut surrendering to the Army nor do they refer to the killing of 70 people including 30 women and children, by terrorists at the time of their surrender. Should we believe Bhan Singh (and Longowal) or would we blindly accept the White Paper’s Version?
On the morning of June 6, as the girl student opened the door of their small room and “came out to fetch water, what did I see but piles of dead bodies, all stacked one over the other. At first I instinctively felt that I wouldn’t manage to go out . All I could see was a ceaseless mount of dead bodies. It seemed that all the persons who werre staying in the Parikrama, not one of them had survived. The Army said later that they did not go inside the Golden Temple wearing boots. But I have seen som e of the dead bodies of the Army men in uniform – they were wearing boots and belts.” The White Paper is contradicted once more.
The girl student’s narration continues. It is an amazing and astonishing account of how she accidentally met Bhai Amrik Singh, Prsident of the A.I.S.S.F. and Bhindranwale’s close associate. She had not met him before but once he told her his name, she recognised him at once because his pictures had come out in the papers. How Amrik Singh gave her some water in a bucket which she gave to her relatives and acquaintances, but she could not bring herself to drinking it because it was red, mixed with blood. How Bhai Amrik Singh sent her a message urging her to leave the Temple Complex at once with her group in order to escape being dishonoured or being shot dead as ‘terrorists’ by the Army personnel, and also to survive to tell the true story of what happen ed inside the Golden Temple to the world outside. She recounts in breathtaking detail how she picked up the courage to first come out of the Complex and then bring out her relatives and acquaintances.
To quote her own words – “So I decided to try to find the way out. There was a man lying dead. I had to place my foot on him. My foot touched sometimes somebody’s had, sometimes somebody’s body. I had to move in this fashion. There is a staircase next to the Nishan Saheb (outside teh Akal Takht) and next to it there was an iron gate, which had got twisted because of the shelling. I pulled the gate and came out, there was nobody. The place was deserted. The doors of the houses were shut and locked from outside. I was in a haze. For I saw the locks and yet I kept shouting for shelter. Then I came to my senses, realizing that the inhabitants had locked their houses and gone away. Then I broke the mud patch in the wall of a house and entered it. One o f the doors of this house opened out into the Golden Temple. I went back to the temple through this door. I found a wounded man who relayed my message to my grandmother through other wounded persons, that I had managed to come outside, she should also com e out. By then the room in the Akal Takht building, where I had taken shelter with my grandmother was already in flames. The 20-25 people in that room came out with much difficulty and reached the place where I was. The house had been sprayed with shells and bullets and there were gaping holes in the walls. We found a water tank in that house which had escaped destruction, unlike the water tank in the Golden Temple complex. First we all drank water from that tank. We met an injured man who had also taken shelter in that house. He asked us to go with him to his house. We accompanied him. He made us change all our blood-soaked clothes; some we washed clean.”
The narrations of Bhan Singh, Harcharan Singh Ragis, Giani Puran Singh and the girl student tear apart the White Paper that the Army had been instructed ‘to treat all apprehended persons with dignity and consideration’, and also that ‘no women and chil dren were killed in the action by the troops.’
Bhan Singh remembers- “On the 6th morning when hundreds of people were killed or wounded, everywhere there were cries of those people who were wounded and injured but there was no provisions for their dressings and there were no Red Cross people w ithin the complex. Many young people aged between 18 and 22 years were killed and so were some ladies. A lady carrying a child of only a few months saw her husband lying before her. The child was also killed on account of the firing. It was a very touch ing scene when she placed the dead body of the child alongside her husband’s body. Many people were crying for drinking water, but they were not provided any. Some had to take water out of the drains where dead bodies were lying and the water was red with blood. The way the injured were quenching their thirst was an aweful sight which could not be tolerated. The Army people were there, moving about mercilessly without showing any sign of sympathy with those injured or wounded. Those who were under arrest were not provided any facility of water or food or any other thing of that sort. The clothes of those who were arrested were removed and they were only left with shorts-their turbans, shirts, etc. were all removed and heaped together. Such a brute treatme nt was given to them, as if they were aliens and not the citizens of the coutry to which the forces belonged.”
Harcharan Singh Ragi similarly recounts- “My quarters are on the first floor above the information office and it was unsafe, with the firing going on endlessly, to stay there. Four members of the family of Narinder Pal Singh, the Information Offic er who also lived on the same floor as us and we five took shelter in the basement of the Information office building. On the 6th of June, between 12 noon and 5 p.m., the Army announced that people should come out. This was the first announcement given si nce the Army operations began. All of us in the basement volunteered arrest and the Information Officer and myself showed our identity cards as employees of the S.G.P.C. As we were coming out, we saw that hundreds of people were being shot down as they ca me out. We saw many women being shot dead by the commanders. I also would have been, but for my little girl, Jaswinder Pal Kaur (Anju), rushing to the Army Commander and begging to save her father’s life.”
And now let us listen to the girl student once more- “On June 6 at o’clock in the evening, they announced a relaxation in the curfew for one hour. Meanwhile, we went through some devious lanes and managed to take shelter in a house which was some distance form the Golden Temple. The Army people announced that everyone should come out. So we came out.”
“There were about 27-28 persons with us, 5 of them ladies, some elderly men, the rest young boys. The Army made all of us stand in queue. There were 13 boys out of which three I clained to be my brothers. I did not know them from before. I merely wanted to save them. I don’t know why, perhaps because they thought the 3 boys were part of our family but the Army released these three boys. They went away. Out of the remainging male youths, they picked out four and took off their turbans with which th ey tied their hands behind their backs. Then the Army men beat these 4 Sikh boys with the butts of their rifles till they fell on the ground and started bleeding. They kept telling the boys all along, “you are terrorists. You were coming from inside. You were taking part in the action. You will be shot.” These boys were shot dead right in front of me. They looked completely innocent. Neither they seemed to know how to use a rifle, nor they seemed to know the meaning of ‘terrorism’. They were sho t before my eyes. Their age was between 18 and 20 years. I did not know who they were – circumstances had brought us together by chance. Whenever I recollect that scene, I seem to lose my bearings.
“Then they (the Army people) surrounded me and started questioning me. I told my granmother not to speak a word to them as they were speaking only with bullets. I asked them whether they had come to protect us or to finish us. I said my grandfathe r was a colonel in the Army. The Army man. in charge then asked his colleagues to leave me and my family members. He told me to go away quickly. And so we were saved.”
Giani Puran Singh narrates- “At 4:30 a.m. on June 6, Guru Granth Sahib was brought down. PRAKASH done and the Hukumnama taken, the kirtan of Asa-di-vaar started. This kirtan was not done by the appointed Ragi Jatha (Hymn singers) but by members of Bhai Randhir Singh Jatha, one member of which Avtar Singh of Parowal was later martyred inside the Darbar Sahib. The official Jatha of Bhai Amrik Singh had been martyred at the Darshani Deori the previous day. Bhai Avtar Singh was hit by a bullet which t ore through the southern door, one of which is still embedded in the Guru Granth Sahib which is there since Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time. Time passed and at 4:00p.m. on June 6, some poisonous gas was spread and the Akal Takht captured, if not for this gas the forces could not have been able to gain the Akal Takht. At 4:30 the commandant, Brar spoke from a speaker on the Sourhtern Deori that all living people should surrender. All those who had come face to face with the forces had been eliminated. We (I a nd Gyani Mohan Singh) asked all the 22 within the Darbar Sahib to surrender and told the commanding officer that two priests had stayed behind and if need be, he could send his men for them. He did not agree with them and called aloud on the speaker that we should come out with raised hands. We decided against this because if we were shot on the way it would merely be a waste. We were in teh Darbar Sahib till 7:30 when two soldiers and a sewadar were sent to fech us. While on our way out I stopped to pour a handful of water in the mouth of the wounded member of the Jatha, who asked us to send for help. I promised to do so provided I remainded alive. Gen. Brar, meanwhile announced over the loudspeaker that nobody should fire upon us. The moment I stepped o ut of the Darshani Deori, I saw the Akal Takht ruined and the rubble was spread all around. Hundreds of corpses were lying scattered. We were wished by Gen Brar who told that he too was a Sikh. He then enquired as to what did we propose to do. We told him that we wanted to go to the urinal and then be allowed to go to our residences. He allowed us to go to the urinal and then we were questioned of the whereabouts of Santji and were told that he would not be harmed. We told them that they knew better as th ey were in command. We were questioned, whether any machine-gunnists were operating from Darbar Sahib to which we siad that they were welcome to inspect the premises themselves. Five persons accompaied us to the Hari Mandir, one Sikh officer and 3-4 other s. When we started the Sikh officer insisted that we lead because if firing started from within, we would face them, moreover we would be shot if someone shot from within. When we reached the Harimadir, a search was carried out by them, picking and search ing below very carpet but no sign of firing was traced. Meanwhile the wounded member left behind had passed away. His body was placed in a white sheet, brought out and placed along with various others lying outside.”
According to the A.I.S.S.F. member, “on 6th June at 5:30 p.m. we surrendered before the Army. 199 surrendered before us. We were made to lie down on the hot road, interrogated, made to move on our knees, hit with rifle butts and kicked with boots on private parts and head. Our hands were tied behind our backs and no water was given to us. We were asked ‘how many people were inside? and ‘where are the arms and ammunition?’ At about 7 p.m., we were made to sit in the parakrama- near the Army tanks. There was firing from the side of the Akal Takht and many were injured.” This is yet another convincinbg evidence of the dignity and consideration shown by the Indian Army to those captured, after the action was over.