Over three decades ago the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar was invaded by the Indian State and the home of Sikhdom, the Akal Takht (Fortress of the Timeless) was specifically targeted for destruction. Far from forgetting those events of 1984, the Sikh community worldwide continues to be impacted by it. Some people ask why Sikhs do not move on after so many years – there are many reasons why the events of June 1984 are still wholly relevant and what follows are some of those explained by our writers and other guest contributors.
“Forgive and forget is a line often used by politicans wanting to promote and propagate the status quo, it tries to put the blame on the victims. Let’s ‘forget’ for a moment that a military response to a humanitarian problem is a sign of a failed state; should one forgive even if the perpetrator of a crime refuses to redress the grievances of victims? Likewise it’s hard to see how selective forgetfulness could ever be a virtue. It is important to remember our history, both good and bad and the reasons and circumstances under which events took place, for history has a habit of repeating itself. What happened in 1984 was more than a physical attack on the Akal Takht; it was an attack on the values that the institution stood for: Truth, justice and equality. The State was quick to rebuild the Akal Takht after it was destroyed, but they haven’t even come close to reflecting the values that it represented.”
–Gurpreet Singh Rehal
“The Indian State invaded the Darbar Sahib because a few hundred Sikhs were too close to successfully challenging their hegemony over the people. Those Sikhs were free; and they wanted that freedom for others who lacked the courage of their convictions. But they were not so naïve as to think that they could provide freedom to others, just as it could not be ‘given’ to them. They stood their ground because that is what free men and women do – and it brought with it the epiphany for the watching Sikh world as to what freedom truly is. I awoke when I learnt of what led up to the events of 1984 and I am free because of what took place in June that year. Far from forgetting or moving on, the Battle of Amritsar is instead a beacon of light needed now more than ever to instigate a new breath of life for the people of South Asia… when they awaken to it.”
–Harwinder Singh Mander
“The events of 1984 still remain fresh in the memory from which I gain confidence in the direction I am taking in life. The ability to spring from being non-existent to taking the head off a snake, this is the capability of the Sikh ideology.
The teacher, who has remained a constant through the changing dynamics of the world, is brought to light by a few individuals whom lived the teachings; ones that I am striving to understand achieve and make my lifestyle.”
– Jagdeep Singh Mahoon, artist
“The June 1984 invasion is still just as important today as it was 31 years ago. If as a community we are to forget the events ‘and move on’ then I believe we are not acting through a Khalsa mindset. Continuing to fight to achieve justice for the events that took place and still continue take place today is not even a question in my mind.”
“I thought I remembered 1984 to give continued life to those killed. I thought that by remembering, their spirits would soar. When we had our daughter, I thought I remembered to ensure she never forgets the ugliness of humankind, and how easily power and greed can corrupt. But through reflecting this week, I’ve realised the one constant in my remembering of 1984, have been the greats that emerged in the harshest of times.
I remember (the disappeared) Jaswant Singh Khalra’s words, encouraging us to continue to be candles in the darkness. I remember pizzas with (the late) Ram Narayan Kumar, prep talks from him and the amazing humility with which he did great work continuing to highlight a forgotten genocide and countless disappearances. I remember cha with Paramjit Kaur Khalra, her disdain at how little the SGPC have done, and yet her continuing strength to a campaign that has taken so much from her. The list of names she maintains so that other families, whose lives remain difficult, can be assured the names of the disappeared are recognised. These are the spirits that soar, without fail, year after year, come June, November or the dates on which people I respect were disappeared. These are the great spirits that are part of my daughter, and of whom she is constantly reminded – the reason we remember 1984.”
“June 1984 could easily be yesterday or tomorrow. The invasion was the climax of an annihilation against the Sikhs and the Punjab, but instead of stemming the opposition, it was reinvigorated. Sikhs fought back and continue to fight back against economic inequality, environmental destruction, and cultural genocide. If you believe that it was a one-time event, and is no longer relevant, go into the fields and villages of Punjab and see the ongoing devastation; still relevant? Undoubtedly.”
“Some would argue that three decades is more than enough time for wounds to heal. However, healing is a process that can only take place under the right conditions. A wound to the body must be kept clean and the immune system must not be hindered from performing the task it was designed to do. Similarly, healing from mass trauma to the Panth can only come about if the process of truth, justice and the resolution of the original grievances are not hindered by the State. What happened in June 1984 was more than a physical attack; it was also a psychological attack on the spirit of the people. If the knife of betrayal is still stuck deep within our backs, how can old wounds heal?”
-Dr Onkar S Rehal
“Operation Bluestar was another reminder to the Sikhs to submit to the subordinate status within the Hindu caste system. Sikhism is repugnant to Hinduism which necessitates the demise of the former by changing its character from a socio-political religion to one which is solely concerned with divorcing oneself from reality, akin to the Himalayan sages. This assault is only surprising to those with no appreciation of Brahmin intelligence; for whenever they are empowered they conflict with those with whom they feel most threatened internally, irrespective of any sound competing external interest: Pundit Hardial, Chandu, Pandit Kirpa Ram, Raja Bhim Chand all conspired to destroy the institution of the Guru (whilst Hinduism became subservient to Islamic domination within India, and the Sikh Gurus did not). Operation Bluestar was no different because for the first time in nearly two centuries the Guru Panth was politically aligned to the Guru Granth. The attack is relevant insofar that it had achieved its objectives of destroying the concept of the Gurus political ambitions. If the Khalsa desire good governance within India, then this is the beginning of the end, and not the end.”
-Pal Singh, SikhPolice.org
“Sikhs have orders to be peaceful and should remain so as long as that is the order. The status quo however changed on 1 June 1984 when intoxicated by her power as a ruler, the Prime Minister of India instigated a military attack on the temporal home of Sikh sovereignty. As in the past, the Sikhs swiftly assassinated the Head of State along with the Head of Army and some of the high ranking Government officials directly responsible for the subsequent massacres. A timely reminder that Guru Nanak’s sword was as strong and resolute as ever.
Despite this, Sikhs today petition various Governments across the commonwealth for ‘justice’ in search of some form of symbolic relief. True justice will not come from others and it certainly won’t be pretty. The Guru himself showed us that violence is a necessary and liberating tool for the oppressed. On 26 January 1986 the Panth collectively decided self-determination was the new order of the day. If more resources were spent on highlighting the Panth’s immediate reaction to 1984, Sikhs would not be pleading for justice. On the contrary they would understand the role of earlier Generals of Khalistan and proactively initiate the inevitable: Azaadi.”
–Ranveer Singh, National Sikh Youth Federation
“The events of June 1984 demonstrate the recent evolution in the narrative of the historic Sikh struggle against oppression. Those that say “Sikhs should move on” in no way represent Sikh political thought, in fact they represent the antithesis of Sikh political thought. The Battle of Amritsar is our most contemporary frame of reference through which we make evident the consequences of the height of Sikh rebellion. We draw parallels with the events of Sikh history not because we are shocked at the injustice and destruction but because we are reminded of our strength, that against all odds, the mind state of the Sikh revolutionary prevails. June 1984 further demonstrates that we are prepared, we possess the skills and that we will knowingly embrace the dire consequences of making a stand against the machinery of the state, when that state resorts to tyranny and barbarism to silence the people.
June 1984 is an example of the excellence of Sikh revolution. The heroism of the Sikh fighters is celebrated in Gurdwareh all over the world; we have made them into giants like Sukha Singh and Mehtab Singh. They will live forever amongst our legendary ancestors celebrated through music, art, literature and film. The context of the political struggle surrounding June 1984 immutably connects us to our Gur-itihas and inspires our future. We forget neither June nor November and steel our resolve to continue the Sangharsh.
-Shamsher Singh, activist
“The Sikh community is doing India a favour by never forgetting 1984. The assault on the Harmandir Sahib complex is a textbook example of an oppressive force trying to crush a movement for truth. Critics who are part of the mainstream South Asian consciousness disagree with how Sikhs bring up the 1984 issue every June. They say Sikhs should move on and get over it. What these critics really want is for Sikhs to stop creating a public relations nightmare for India. But if India is interested in becoming the democracy it pretends to be, step one for them is to join us in our protests against injustice. India needs to right its wrongs in a way that addresses the anti-Sikh Government actions that Sant Bhindranwale and his followers were standing up against. The annual remembrance of the Ghallughara is an act of consciousness for a country in dire need of a conscience.
The survivors of the attack and the subsequent thousands disappeared by Government forces in the ensuing decade deserve justice. Their human rights were violated by India and the country’s current disregard for this truth is embarrassing for it. Until countries take steps towards addressing past wrongs, they can’t truly dig themselves out of the darkness of injustice. India will never reach its full potential as long as it lies about it’s role in killing tens of thousands of Sikhs. India should be thanking Sikhs for reminding them to take a better path. Our message to India: don’t just call yourself a democracy, be one. As Guru Nanak wrote, “one may give themselves a great name and revel in the pleasures of the mind, but in the eyes of the lord, they are just a worm.” (SGGS, Ang 360).”