|Volume 49 Number 12, June 8, 2019||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
From June 3-8, 1984, 35 years ago, the Indian government of Indira Gandhi carried out the devastating assault and massacre of innocent Sikhs at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab, known as Operation Blue Star.
The stated aim of Operation Blue Star was to "flush out" so-called "Religious Terrorists" led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Operation Blue Star was carried out in the context of the concerted action of the Indian, British and Canadian states to criminalise the political demands of Sikhs for statehood for Punjab - the creation of Khalistan. They labelled the proponents of this demand "Sikh fundamentalists". By associating Sikhism with extremism they managed to criminalise Punjabis, including those who were not religious in any way and especially the youth. This served as the model for the subsequent targeting of all people of the Muslim faith and the demand that people prove their loyalty to the state by demonstrating that they are moderates. Meanwhile, as in the case of the Sikhs, all Muslims became targets of violence and the impunity of the state, along with all others on the basis of communal divisions and identity.
The Golden Temple is the holiest site of Sikhs. By modern standards the state is not permitted to interfere with a person's conscience and the practice of their beliefs or the sanctuary of their own church. The Indian army operation against the Golden Temple violated the sanctity of a place of worship and established the precedent that holy places would henceforth no longer be considered a safe haven from persecution or a refuge from the action of the state.
The military action, which included tanks, helicopters, armoured vehicles, artillery and chemical weapons, was timed to take place on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev in 1606. Over 70,000 troops were ordered to capture less than 50 men. The military assault occurred under cover of a total media blackout. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed over five days.
The storming of the centre of Sikh spiritual and temporal authority by the Indian Army under the orders of Indira Gandhi led immediately to a mutiny in Sikh units of the Army and four months later, on October 31, to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Ruthless anti-Sikh pogroms were unleashed by the Indian state to wreak revenge. Thousands of innocent Sikhs were beaten and burned alive during the anti-Sikh pogroms on November 1, 2 and 3. The state-organised anti-Sikh mobs massacred over 8,000 innocent Sikhs, 3,000 in Delhi alone.
The police stood by and watched and, in some cases, actively participated in the attacks. It is estimated that subsequent government operations Woodrose, Blackthunder, Night Dominance, Rakshak I and II, and Final Assault led to the deaths of 25,000 to 80,000 Sikhs.
The government officials who are known to have instigated, authorised and organised the violence subsequently enjoyed promotion, including to cabinet positions and decades of impunity despite repeated demands for justice.
Speaking a year later in London on the first anniversary of the massacre at the Golden Temple, Hardial Bains pointed out:
"What has been proven during this year in which the army has occupied the Punjab - the year which began with the invasion of the Golden Temple, the headquarters of the Sikh religion, and the indiscriminate massacres which were committed there and all over Punjab, as well as, shortly after, in Delhi and other places in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi - is that the Indian ruling classes want to create a religious problem, a communal problem, in order to divert the attention of the people from their real struggle for national and social liberation.
"At the same time, through their use of communal violence and fascist terror, they want to convince the struggling masses that the ruling classes are 'strong' and will be as ruthless in smashing the struggle of the people as the situation warrants. Nonetheless, the Indian ruling classes and their bourgeois political parties have not been able to accomplish any of their aims. The pure love and unity which the people of Delhi and other places exhibited for one another, in which they defended and sheltered the Sikh people, condemned the bestial hatred and the rape, looting and murders engineered by the Rajiv Congress under the watchful eyes of the police forces - the expression of the people's unity irrespective of their religion, caste or regional origin - brought forth tears of joy amidst the people, while the bitter news of the communal violence and fascist terror brought forth anger. This joy, and anger, both so deep, with the anger seething like a volcano, this response of the people, has driven the Indian ruling classes into further frenzy and desperation. The people expressed their real psychology, their love and affection for one another and for their cause. This has been ingrained in them, the result of the centuries-long struggle for real national and social liberation. The Indian ruling classes miserably failed in their aim of making religion the issue and a point of division and bestial hatred amongst the people. Even though Rajiv Gandhi assumed the role of a swaggering Hindu who accuses others of being 'Sikh fanatics', 'Naxalite extremists' and so on, the people in India and the people abroad, irrespective of their religion, caste or region of origin have condemned this as an insult to the Indian people and as abhorrent. They have understood all too well that this has been nothing but a cover, a ruse, to hide the real enemies, the Indian ruling classes. They have expressed their profound anger against this attempt to blame the people for the crimes the ruling classes themselves commit so as to sow communal strife. Rajiv Gandhi tried to divert the issue of the just struggle of the people for their livelihood, for their freedom, and for progress. This, he claims, overwhelms the government. He passed the anti-terrorism law and under this law, any struggle, be it of the workers for their livelihood, or of the peasants for their land, or of the people for true independence, prosperity and progress, is liable to overwhelm the government. Thus, all who stand for these just causes must be put to death, or carted away to the dungeons and jails. In passing this law, Rajiv Gandhi wants to kill the Indian revolution and put the Indian people to death or imprison them for it is only through the revolution that they can win their rights.
"Besides failing to make religion the issue over which the people are fighting, the Indian ruling classes also failed to create a climate of compromise and submission. Facing such an impossible situation, Rajiv Gandhi's draconian law also includes, besides the threats of death and long-term imprisonment, clauses which prohibit the Indian people from singing their songs of revolution, of valour and heroism and which espouse their determination to put an end to this barbaric rule which has brought them so much suffering. Under the pretext that this law is to curb terrorism, the government gives itself the right to commit any act of terror and, like Aurangzeb who also banned the playing of instruments and the singing of songs, Rajiv Gandhi has done the same. Aurangzeb was facing the revolt of the people of the south and of the northwest and northeast and the ground was slipping under his feet as well. He too, wearing the gown of a swaggering Muslim, thought he could kill the revolution and imprison and put to the sword all the revolutionary forces. In the same manner, today the Indian ruling classes and Rajiv Gandhi feel the ground slipping out from under them. This shows the utter fear that has gripped their hearts. Far from being able to create an atmosphere of fear, of compromise and submission, it is the Indian ruling classes which are afraid. It is they who must further split and divide, and this will further deepen the crisis and the contradictions will erupt like volcanoes. For their part, the Indian people know no compromise with their enemies, nor do they have the tradition of submitting to their native and foreign exploiters. The entire history of the struggle of the Indian people for national and social liberation is testimony to this.
"The Indian people will march on along their road of national and social liberation. They have the wisdom and the strength never to sacrifice their pure love and ancient traditions of unity and common struggle and to heroically fulfil their age-old desire to be independent and prosperous. They will never compromise their pure ideals, nor will they submit to the tanks and bullets of the enemy. It does not matter how much the Indian ruling classes try to find and promote those who will agree to engineer a compromise and create a climate of submission in Punjab, and it does not matter how much pressure they put on the people professing the Sikh religion or on the people in Assam, Kashmir and elsewhere, imposing communal tension and pressure on the peoples everywhere, or to what extent they carry out communal violence and fascist terror. The people who could put an end to Abdalis and Aurangzeb and who never accepted the massacres of Jalianwala Bagh and of Dum Dum, the heroic people of India who went to battle with their bare hands against the foreign occupiers and their native collaborators, this same people will also send the present ruling classes and their foreign backers packing. Such is the historical destiny of the doctrine of supreme sacrifice for the freedom, unity and love for the cause of the peoples. Such is also the destiny of the oppressors and traitors whose downfall and overthrow will be the first step towards the full expression of the real heroism and true ideals and values which the Indian people hold so precious and dear.
"The joy of struggle and the bitterness of tragedies and sufferings imposed on the people is their lot today. The victory of the people's revolution will end this bitterness. It will create the condition for the proliferation of the real personality of India, the land of heroes and heroic fighters, the land where the people value their ideals of freedom more than their lives, where the millions of hearts are throbbing to put an end to the curse of division and humiliation, of exploitation and oppression, the curse which British colonialism imposed on them and which is now carried out by their collaborators and world reaction. The victory of the people in this glorious struggle is guaranteed by their heroism and by their ideals."
1. The Times of India points out that declassified files in 2014 revealed that Britain had sent an SAS officer to India in February 1984 ahead of Operation Blue Star to draw up a plan to remove the "Sikh fundamentalists" from the Temple.
The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, had rushed through the Heywood Review in 2014, which had limited scope and was condemned as a whitewash. It found no record of assistance to Operation Blue Star by Britain other than the limited military advice provided in mid-February. But the British government also withheld four files. In June 2018 Judge Shanks ordered those files to be released, but in July only 40 pages of three of the four were so released.