Terror attack in Punjab brings back memories of bloody times

Monday’s  terror strike on a police station at Dinanagar in Punjab, in northwestern India, brought back memories of bloody times in the early 1980s — when the state was engulfed in militancy.

Four policemen, including a senior officer, were killed in the Monday encounter. So were three civilians and three terrorists. The cops didn’t have bullet-proof vests and fought with antique guns, while the extremists used sophisticated AK 47s.

Security personnel run during an encounter with terrorists at the police station in Punjab

Security personnel run during an encounter with terrorists at the police station in Punjab

The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country’s intelligence agency, had warned the government  in a report submitted a month ago that there could be a  terror strike, given the resurgence of  radical Sikh  (a religious group in India) outfits in various regions — particularly in Pakistan, Malaysia, Germany, France, Britain and the US.

Though it is too early to say with any certainty who was behind Monday’s attack, the RAW report sent to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to suggest that hardline Sikh outfits could have perpetrated it. Fingers are also being pointed at Pakistani groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba who might be keen on opening a new front in Punjab. Hitherto, they had largely confined themselves to Kashmir, a state  Pakistan claims as its own.

The Hindu newspaper, quoting the RAW report, said: “On June 6 in Germany, Sikh radical organizations such as Babbar Khalsa International (BKI-G) and Sikh Federation (SF-G) staged a protest outside the Consulate General of India, Frankfurt. The event was attended by 8-10 Pakistan/Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) origin persons as well. A few new Sikh families, which arrived from Portugal, were also seen participating in the protest … A Kashmiri youth  spoke at length saying Kashmiris supported the demand for Khalistan  (an autonomous state within India for Sikhs) … Similarly in the UK, rebel groups under the banner of Sikh Federation held a remembrance march and freedom rally to commemorate the 31st anniversary of Operation Blue Star.”

Tranquillity had descended on Punjab soon after Operation Blue Star in June 1984 — when Sikh extremists under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, holed up inside one of the holiest of  shrines, Golden Temple, with a huge cache of arms and ammunition, were flushed out by security forces. It was a battle soaked in blood that saw Bhindranwale dead and his movement for  Khalistan crushed. With no political solutions coming, an embittered Bhindranwale had  taken up arms to push for an independent Sikh State, Khalistan.

(Later, there would be a similar gory war in Sri Lanka in which the Tamils, led by leader of the  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Vellupillai Prabhakaran,  would fight for a separate homeland.)

The Sikhs, already bitter about their political and religious concerns not being addressed, were devastated that one of their most sacred spots, Golden Temple, had been soiled. It broke the proud Sikh spirit — a community that had literally helped Hindus fight the Muslim onslaught during the communal riots which took place after the Asian subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan in 1947, and granted freedom by colonial Britain.

In October 1984, barely months after Operation Blue Star, India’s  Congress Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, often compared to Britain’s steely Margaret Thatcher, was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards — as she was walking on her lawns for an interview with a foreign television crew.

In one of the most dastardly communal flareups seen since the 1947 partition riots, hundreds of Sikhs were mercilessly killed or burnt alive in the days following the assassination by rampaging Hindu mobs, and while India writhed in agony, the administration run by the Congress and headed by Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, chose to play fiddle. Or, this is what has been widely reported.

(India would see yet another such mayhem in the Gujarat of 2002 when hundreds of Muslims would perish– with the government failing to stop the massacring  Hindu mobs.)

One is never sure whether the Sikhs have got over the 1984 humiliation (some of them had to cut their long hair and stop wearing turban — mandated by Sikhism) and the excruciating experience of those torturous days. Have the community’s grievances been addressed? Are the Sikhs now at peace? These are some of the questions that need to be looked into, and if at all there is any  truth in the RAW report, New Delhi must wake up to nip right in its bud the emergence of another form of extremism — a kind of rebellion that was crushed in the 1980s Punjab at the cost great human tragedy.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with two of India’s best regarded daily newspapers, The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years, and who now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Categories: Asia Times News & Features, South Asia

Tags: , , ,

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    when Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue star to kill and take out Brindanwale and his followers who took refuge in the Golden Temple of Amritsar, that operation not only killed Brindanwale and his followers, but violated the cardinal rule that anyone who does take refuge in Sikhism’s most holy Gurudwara, the Golden Temple (or the “Vatican” of Sikhism) get full protection. New Delhi who was fully aware of this, brazenly violated this trust of this faith.
    there were no negotiations, no flexibility. New Delhi took the war into the Golden Temple, killing Brindanwale and destroying part of that temple in the process. One note must be made. The Sikh faith born in the 15th century, combined the elements of Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism took from the Koran and the Bagavat Gita (the Hindu “bible) to create the “Adi Granth” (the Sikh” bible”), The (Muslim) Mogul Empire saw this as an abomination and launched brutal genocidal acts against the Sikhs, to the extant that Guru Nanak changed the Sikh faith from a passive, non violent faith to a militant faith.
    From then on many old Gurudwara in the Punjab, Pakistan,and India have scenes that depict the carnage they suffered. Those in New Delhi knew this first hand. Indira Gandhi’s personal body Guards were Sikhs. One more note. During the partition that created Pakistan and India, the Punjab was cut in half (similar to Germany after world war 2). Only Bengal suffered a similar fate that created East Pakistan and West Bengal. Before that the Anglo Sikh wars ended the Sikh Empire and the British carved out Kashmir from that Empire.
    Before the Sikh Empire, Kashmir was ruled by Muslims for close to 500 years.After it was carved out of the Sikh Empire it became a predominantly Muslim region and stayed that way to this day.
    Going back to “Operation Blue Star”. What made this operation so bad was Operation Woodrose. That included India’s military killing thousands of Sikhs across the Punjab state. That chapter cannot be forgotten. Several years later New Delhi cut the Punjab again to create the new states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, thereby gutting any hope of a “Khalistan” taking the lands that once belonged to the Sikh Empire to make a new homeland.
    After this operation Indira Gandhi’s personal Sikh body guards assassinated her. That led to another blood bath of Sikhs across India, mainly in north India.

  • Notorious Bandit

    Article propagates false things..author has not researched well before writing a single sentence. Article is nothing more than Copy-Paste work of agenda propagated by Indian agencies to suppress Sikhs

    1) Sant Bhindrawale never demanded Khalistan. He wanted to pass Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Google up for more details

    2) As per the latest documents de-classified by UK, Indira’s government was planning attack and rehearsing the same back in yeay 1982-1983 whereas Sant Bhindrawale started staying in Akal Takht (Sikh political Seat) in year 1984

    3) There is a hell lot of difference between Golden Temple, Akal Takht and Golden Temple Complex. Golden Temple is Sikh religious seat, Akal Takht is Sikh political seat and Golden Temple Complex is where both these structures are placed.

    4) Since 16th century Akal Takht has been the political seat of Sikhs and gurus have challenged political and government establishments whenever they suppressed minorities and violated the right to practice religion.

    What Sant Bhindrawale wanted

    1) Wanted to pass Anandpur Sahib resolution which contains
    a) Punjab should govern its own waters
    b) Punjab should decide to whom electricity generated in the state should be distributed
    c) Punjabi should be first language of Punjab State
    d) As per Section 25 b of Indian constitution Sikhs are considered part of Hindus which is incorrect. We are Sikhs and not Hindus or Muslims.

    Shame on writer of the article and shame on new agency!

  • Notorious Bandit

    No sir, our granth is not a combination of Hindu rituals and pakhands and Islamic fanaticism.

    a) We believe in One god and not 330 million Hindu gods and goddesses.
    b) We believe in equality and propagate ‘religious freedom’ and not believe in jihad and kafir terms.
    c) We believe in serving people in Gurudwaras (Sikh Temple) irrespective of persons background, color, race, ethnicity and social status. We are not like Hindus who does not allow people of low caste to enter their Hindu temples
    d) We do not believe in rakshas, devis and devtas like Hindus
    e) We do not put burkha and force our women like Muslims

    Punjab was bifurcated into Himachal and Haryana way before 1984 during Punjabi Suba movement (please Google).

    Knowledge is good but incomplete knowledge is definitely dangerous. Request you to not propagate incorrect information!

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Notorious Bandit

    Thank you for the correction. My comment was based on what I learned a while ago. I read your comment and did some research of my own. Your comment stands true to what I have just learned. I would like to add a quote from “Fast facts on Sikhism”:
    “Sikhism emerged in 16th-century India in an environment heavily permeated with conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim religions. It was somewhat influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as some Sufi Muslim influences. While Sikhism reflects its cultural context, it certainly developed into a movement unique in India. Sikhs regard their faith as an authentic new divine revelation. (See Religion in India and Hinduism and Islam)”
    If this is incorrect please let me know. thank you again.

  • Che Guvera

    The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh had said:

    “When all efforts to restore peace prove useless and no words avail,
    Lawful is the flash of steel. It is right to draw the sword”

    This is the same definition of Jihad ( its a different thing that muslims do lot of bad things under its name which actually Jihad never asks you to do). So is this not borrowed from Islam?