Operation Blue Star
Frustration within the Sikh community in Punjab due to the betrayal and threatening behavior of the Indian government gave way to a small-scale armed insurgency calling for the implementation of what the Sikhs had been peacefully agitating for since India's independence. The leader of this armed movement was a preacher from an orthodox Sikh institution called Damdami Taksal, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
Bhindranwale encouraged his followers to arm themselves and fight violence with violence. He took shelter within the Golden Temple complex, and soon emerged as an unchallenged leader of the Sikh movement, with considerable influence, by the early 1980s. The Indian government, led by Indira Gandhi, who had once tried to use Bhindranwale against the Sikh political party, Akali Dal, began to infiltrate the ranks of Bhindranwale and orchestrate acts of terrorism across the state of Punjab. Refusing to concede to the modest demands of moderate Sikhs, Indira Gandhi escalated the tension between the Indian government and Bhindranwale by labeling him as a terrorist. The climax of the Indian government's campaign against the Sikhs came on June 4, 1984 when, with a heavy hand, the Prime Minister ordered a full-scale military assault on the Golden Temple complex, where Bhindranwale and a couple hundred followers took residence. Over the course of a three day period, a Sikh holiday, the Indian army pounded the holiest Sikh shrine with tanks, artillery, and weapons ordinarily reserved for full-scale war. In the Indian government's undeclared war against the Sikhs, a military operation code-named Bluestar, thousands of innocent Sikh devotees trapped in the Golden Temple complex perished. Bhindranwale and a couple hundred of his armed followers died defending the Golden Temple from the attackers.
The Indian government's attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984 left a permanent wound on the Sikh psyche. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in November of the same year, thousands of Sikhs across India were massacred by organized mobs of criminals. In Delhi, local politicians directed these mobs to Sikh-owned businesses and homes, where innocent Sikhs were subsequently caught hold of, beaten unmercifully, doused with gasoline, and burned alive. To this day, no more than a dozen people have even been charged with the murder of an estimated 10000 Sikhs. The organizers of these pogroms, prominent politicians and city bosses, remain free men while absolutely no justice has been done to Sikhs.
For Sikhs, the traumatic events of 1984 prompted a vast majority of them to struggle for full-fledged independence. The movement for a separate Sikh nation, Khalistan; a poorly-organized guerrilla movement, was brutally crushed by the Indian government by 1994. Human rights groups estimated that nearly a quarter of a million Sikhs, mostly innocent people, were killed at the insistence of the Indian government on suspicion of sympathizing with the armed separatists.
Currently, the movement for a separate Sikh state has shifted abroad, where most of the Sikh Diaspora supports independence, or at least autonomy, for the Sikhs of Punjab. The Sikhs living outside India, especially in Europe and North America, having experienced true democracy and freedom in those countries, naturally wish the same for their brethren in their homeland; however, Indian Sikhs live under the fear of a relapse into the recent violent past, and therefore, have still not been able to address their legitimate grievances.
The political future of Sikhs in India remains uncertain, and the lack of strong Sikh leadership in India hurts their cause. As a distinct nation, and followers of a unique religion, the right to self-determination by peaceful, democratic means would be a righteous course of action for the Sikhs living in India. The lessons of Sikh history indicate that a viable Sikh state would be in the best interests of a nation which has suffered quite a lot in such a short time. Sikh nationhood in the real sense would inevitably increase awareness of this great religion, so rich in heritage; nevertheless, in accordance with the optimism inherent to Sikh beliefs, future Sikh history may well be a fruitful era during which Sikhs can prosper and educate the world about their faith. Only time will tell.
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