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1984 Ghallughara Remembered

June 4, 2024

Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fatih!

Forty years have passed since the Indian government launched a devastating assault on the “Golden Temple” complex—Sri Harimandar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib—and approximately 100 gurduaras (Sikh places of learning and worship) across Panjab. The 1984 Ghallughara (major genocidal campaign) is now deeply ingrained in Sikh consciousness, etched into the very fabric of our identity.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of 1984 Ghallughara, we reflect not only on what happened but also on the underlying reasons behind the Indian state’s actions against the Sikhs. While we have extensively documented the violence, trauma, and atrocities of 1984, it is crucial to delve into the ideological and epistemological violence inflicted upon Sikhs. This deeper understanding helps us grasp why 1984 occurred and place these events in their historical context.

The attack on the Complex in June 1984 and the subsequent pogroms in November of the same year were not isolated incidents. They were part of a broader pattern of the Indian government's policies against Sikhs, stretching back to pre-independence promises made by leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. These leaders assured Sikhs of constitutional protections for their culture and language to secure their support during the independence struggle. However, post-independence, these promises were largely ignored, and Sikhs' demands for their rights were often met with accusations of separatism and communalism.

One primary demand from the 1950s and 60s was for Panjab to be reorganized on linguistic lines, similar to other Indian states. This demand aimed to preserve and promote the Panjabi language and was not communal. Yet, the Indian media and government misrepresented Sikh demands, portraying them as threats to national unity. This narrative fueled fear-mongering and incited violence against Sikhs.

Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980 marked a turning point. Determined to consolidate her power, she viewed Sikh political activism as a threat since the Akali political consciousness of the Sikhs opposed the dictatorial practices during the late 1970s emergency. Despite Sikhs' patriotic contributions to India, including suspending their demand for Panjabi Suba during the war with Pakistan, the 1980s saw Sikhs increasingly demonized as being supported by Pakistan. The Dharam Yudh Morcha, a campaign for Sikh rights, was met with violent rhetoric from extremist Hindu groups, further polarizing the situation.

In 1973, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (ASR) outlined Sikh linguistic and socio-economic rights demands. Contrary to government propaganda, the ASR was not a call for a separate Sikh state but aimed to safeguard minority rights within a federal India. However, by 1982, it was falsely labeled as a separatist manifesto, fueling further tensions.

The violence in Panjab escalated, with over two hundred young Sikh men killed in police encounters and numerous cases of sexual assault by police against Sikh women. This atmosphere of fear and oppression culminated in the brutal military action of June 1984 and the orchestrated genocidal massacre of Sikhs in November 1984.

The genocidal actions of the Indian state were not solely about physical extermination but aimed at breaking the spirit of Sikh political activism. The assault on the Complex, the destruction of the Sikh Reference Library, and the attacks on over 100 gurduaras were intended to disempower Sikhs politically. The goal was to silence Sikhs and prevent them from challenging the state in the future.

This campaign to erase political Sikhi has continued, with efforts to reframe Sikhi as a branch of Hinduism and undermine its unique identity. The Indian state has failed to recognize the Guru Khalsa Panth, viewing Sikhs merely as second or third citizens when it comes to their rights rather than a distinct and free community. This fundamental aspect of Sikh identity—our nature as a politically active and organized community—has been targeted but not suppressed.

For the Indian government, 1984 was an attempt to put Sikhs in their place. However, for Sikhs, it became another chapter of resistance and resilience. The fundamental nature of Sikhi cannot be suppressed, and the struggle against state oppression continues.

The 1984 Ghallughara reminds us to be like IkOankar, to feel the 1Force, and to continue cultivating the virtues of Love and Justice within us. It calls us to become civil servants of the Panth (Sikh collective) and to keep the Nam-Culture alive: identifying with the 1Force in myriad ways.

The study of 1984 is challenging, emotionally and intellectually. However, it is necessary to strengthen everything that we value as human beings. Our curated content this month focuses on the events of 1984. In commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1984 Ghallughara, we remember not only the loss of life but also the enduring spirit of Sikh resilience and resistance.

May Wisdom-Guru guide us!

Watch, Listen, Read

1984 Ghallughara: Battle of Amritsar

40 years ago, the world witnessed the desecration of Harimandar Sahib (Golden Temple) by the Indian Army. This video revisits “Operation Blue Star” through archival images and interviews, offering a deeper understanding of this complex historical event.

1984: A Conversation

Join us for a heartfelt conversation between Inni Kaur, SikhRI’s Creative Director, and Darsnoor Kaur, SikhRI’s graphic designer, as they explore the profound impact of June 1984, known as the Ghallughara or “Operation Blue Star.”

Why Was Bhindranwale There?

Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale is a pivotal figure in the events of 1984. There is much consternation and confusion over his actions and choices in the lead-up to the June 1984 Ghallughara.

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