1984 – A Sikh Story

Today’s post is a sober one, my friends. This weekend sees the remembrance of one of the worst attacks to happen against Sikh’s in India in both Sikh history and Indian history. It’s a difficult post to write too because as well as being an event that was highly politically charged, I’m faced with the dilemma of feeling aggrieved at what happened, but so far removed from it, it’s hard to reconcile and decide do I need to be something more, something different.

Sikh’s are mostly located in the northern state of Punjab in India. In Punjab are some very important places of worship and focus for attention. One of these is Harmandir Sahib, also known as (quite literal translation) the Golden Temple.

This is the central place of worship for all Sikhs. It was originally constructed by the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das ji in the 16th century. A lake was formed around it, and enclosed in a structure which became a general housing area for practising Sikhs wishing to stay full time, place for visitors to eat langar (free kitchen), and educational facility.

At a later point, it was decided to also build close by the Akal Takht. Translated as the Seat (Throne) of the Timeless One (God), this was the first of five seats of temporal physical religious authority. I’ll explain the significance of five seats of authority in another post.

In the lead up to June, 1984, one Sikh, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was becoming fast famous. Described by some as a terrorist (and others as in the article as a freedom fighter) against the Indian regime, he was very vocal and adamant about the need for Sikhs to be fully recognised by the Indian government in giving them a land of their own known as Khalistan (Land of the Khalsa). Essentially, he wanted Punjab, as the birthplace of Sikhi, to be given to Sikhs. He caused a lot of unrest in the government, and was gaining a strong following.

The government wanted rid of him. They learned he had housed himself in the Akal Takht complex, armed with weapons. The army was ordered to remove Sant Bhindranwale and his followers from the complex. What ensued was 3 days of fighting from 3-6 June. Hundreds of sikhs were killed inside the complex. Sadly, this included many who were there for religious reasons and had nothing to do with the fighting between the two sides. Elders, women, men and children all there for nothing more than offering their prayers were not allowed to escape and were caught in the bloodshed. Many were killed from the army too.

During the attack, the Akal Takht and Harmandir Sahib were heavily damaged, and took years before they were both restored.

The operation, known as Operation Blue Star, was a success. They had found and killed Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his followers. It has gone down as one of the worst political disgraces in Indian history. It caused widespread and international disdain and anger amongst Sikhs and human rights organisations. There were subsequent retaliation attacks which caused great strife, but after many years, tensions between Sikhs in India and the government have died down. The call for a state of Khalistan still exists, but is sought after through peaceful methods now.

Since then, annually there is a remembrance of the attack, and the hundreds that died. On Twitter you may see the hashtag #neverforget84. This weekend, in all parts of the world where Sikhs live, there will be remembrance events of various sorts.

The BBC in the UK have produced some brilliant programmes on the topic. Last year, they produced one with the same title as the post. It’s now available on iPlayer anymore, but it is on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPFwxY9hiaY. It is an hour long though, so just bear that in mind.

As I said at the start, writing a post like this is difficult. I don’t know what this means for me, personally. I know what it should mean for me as a Sikh, and I find I’m at odds with knowing what more I need to do. This post is only one step in helping spread the word, which I hope helps.