The 32nd anniversary of the massacre of militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bindranwale and thousands of his supporters in the Sikh holiest of holies Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 6, 1984 in Indian army-led Operation Blue Star evoked a demand by thousands of marching British Sikhs in London for a UN-led probe into the bloody event that still rankles in the Sikh consciousness even after all these years.
The events of that fateful day in 1984 had a background of partisan political manoeuvring and a fall out that went far and deep. The then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was persuaded to weaken the ruling Akali Dal mainstream Sikh party in Punjab by surreptitiously supporting a militant Sikh tendency under the leadership of Bindranwale.
But as many such manipulators have found (very often to their cost), ‘proxies’ tend to be a double-edged weapon. All too soon, Bindranwale slipped the leash and started acting with autonomy and even impunity, based on the ‘muscle’ (and weapons) his followers sported. The culmination of this process was the take-over of the Golden Temple by Bindranwale and company.
After a prolonged stand-off between the police and security forces surrounding the Golden Temple complex and Bindranwale’s supporters inside, Indira Gandhi gave the order to the army for an all-out assault.
In the bloody encounter that followed, and given the overwhelming force used against the insurgents, Bindranwale and thousands perished, thousands more Sikh youths were put on suspect lists, arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed for supporting an independent Sikh state dubbed Khalistan.
According to the protestors in London, many thousands of Sikh youths were also placed on black lists circulated to foreign governments, particularly the UK. What followed the assault on the Golden Temple and the persecution of Sikhs was even worse. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards gunned her down, sparking retaliation by incensed Congress crowds on any Sikh they could lay their hands on.
The gathering bitterness between the Sikh community and the Indian state and society thus acquired the characteristics of a deep, unhealed wound that festers beneath the surface to this day.
Matters have not been helped by the fact that no justice or redress has been made available as balm for the Sikhs’ scars. The marchers in London probably gave voice to the silent majority of Sikhs back home in India who may have retreated into a sullen and resentful quietitude.
Such catastrophic bloody events cannot just be wished away, no matter how much water has flowed down the rivers of Indian Punjab since. India owes it to its aggrieved Sikh community as much as to its widely acclaimed democratic and secular ethos to close this painful chapter through adequately addressing the Sikhs’ sense of being wronged.