(Original, in Punjabi, published in the
Vancouver, Canada, August 24, 1984)
Khushwant Singh has just returned from Amritsar. He is breathing fire. He says: ‘‘Three hundred bullets have hit Sri Darbar Sahib, a blind musician was sitting inside and was hit there by a bullet. His body was dragged out and cremated with the rest of the dead but the carpet on which his blood had been spilt could not be cleaned. It was wiped, washed and scrubbed but the flies would again come to that spot. Also the stench got worse day by day. So the army had a piece of the carpet cut out and replaced by a similar piece.”
I wonder. Pools of blood have been created in our hearts. No matter how hard we try to mop up the spill, there is no way to clean the blood that has soaked in. Time will perhaps wipe or wash away the blood but the spots will be there forever. The smell of blood will gradually become a stench. The flies of boiling anger and helpless rage will again and again visit the same spot of blood.
Not me alone but every Sikh wishes to ask those who have power and who by exhibition of that power have assured themselves the Hindu votes in the next elections: ‘‘What are you going to do about this stinking spot of blood in our hearts. How will you cut it up with scissors and patch it with a new piece?”
Nirupma Datt has written a poem in which she says: “Today in every home in the Punjab every mother, every sister, every wife is turning her spinning wheel in reverse direction because someone has said that doing this brings the men who have gone away back home.”
Every third home reports someone gone to Amritsar. The people at home do not know whether he is hiding somewhere, is underground, has gone to some other city with some friend, or has been killed.
It is hard to estimate the number of those killed. The army reports about seven to eight hundred dead. Times (London) reported that the army cremated thirteen hundred and fifty bodies. Satinder Singh of ‘The Tribune’’ says: ‘In the entire Par karma, there wasn’t an inch of empty space. The corpses were piled over each other. At places they were packed so close that the arm of one was touching the arm or leg of the other. In the darkness of the night truckload after truckload of dead bodies was taken to seven or eight different cremation grounds. There they were piled in a heap and cremated. In the crematorium at Chattiwind alone, nine hundred and ten bodies were cremated. I was told this by the man in charge.”
“By this count my voice quivers. Trying to figure out the number of total dead I feel angry at myself for being alive. “T cannot estimate correctly, but there were thousands,’ he says. In the eyes of this tall and tough man there are tears of blood.
Then he adds: doesn’t matter. From 1707 till 1791, two hundred thousand Sikhs were killed. The same Bungas of Harmander Sahib have been destroyed four times and each time they have been rebuilt. The Sikh was created to be a martyr.”
* * *
When this holocaust took place, I and my daughter Arpana were in Athens. Someone watched the news on the television and told us: ‘‘The Golden Temple has been invaded.”’
Military invasion? Is the Golden Temple Goa or Dacca that the army had to invade it?
Then we remembered Khushwant Singh’s repeated warnings in the Parliament: If the army enters the Golden Temple, there will be a bloodbath. There will be a lot of bloodshed. Find another way. Negotiate. Try to solve the problem.
And the oft-repeated words of Indira Gandhi: “The army will not be sent into the Golden Temple.”
It all seemed like a Greek tragedy. Greek tragedy in the real sense where all the actors know they are moving towards the horrors of death, but some power external to their minds and bodies, some mysterious power or the god of death himself pushes them inexorably to their doom.
In this case that mysterious power was perhaps Indira Gandhi herself. Coming to think of it, it appears she alone knew of this doomsday and how it would be enacted. One wonders if it was a preplanned and well thought out doom.
BBC News every hour. The attack, tanks, guns, gunpowder, the dead. A news item in the Times “Among the dead were a number of women and children.”
Every Greek friend was being especially kind to us. They were sorry for us as if they had come to offer condolence at some bereavement.
But every member of the Indian Cultural Group which included only two Sikhs, myself and Arpana, was only talking about the weapons that Sant Bhindranwale and his followers had collected inside the Golden Temple. They were saying: ‘‘what could poor Indira Gandhi do?”
Arpana was tearful with anger and she was showing them the news in the Times. A news item: “Among the dead were several young men whose hands were tied behind their backs and who had been shot in the forehead.’’ Another news item: “Among the dead were women and children. What crime had the children committed?” Arpana asked them.
Harish Awasthi of All India Radio said: “Are you sure they were innocent?”
Arpana could not take it from him. She shot back: ‘‘what do you mean? If children are not innocent, what are they? Corpses of children!”
I brought her into our room. She was crying. I said: “‘didn’t you say I never will stay anywhere outside my country? This was because outside one’s own country one has to live as a second-class citizen. But in your own country, every minority has to become second class citizens. We shall have to think it over now.”
* * *
We returned and noticed a strange division. Every Hindu was saying the army action was the right thing to do and only talked about the arms collected inside the Golden Temple. Every Sikh was talking about the bloodbath that took place at Harmander Sahib.
What have these beggars for votes done to us? What games have they played? The board has split right down the middle.
History will not forgive them for creating this dividing line in the Punjabi minds.
Daily, the government was busy justifying its military action over the TV and the radio. It was trying its best to prove that no bullet had been fired at the Golden Temple.
Akal Takhat? According to the government, there were gun emplacements in the walls. The powder caught fire and so the building got destroyed.
* * *
Even among those entrusted with the military duty, there would be some who would flinch at the fearsome dance of death. Of these, one officer told Khushwant that the top of the Akal Takhat building was blown off from a distance by armored tanks. After that perhaps a fire started inside. Sant Bhindranwale and all his followers who were inside came out. All the fighting took place in front of the Akal Takhat over the bloody Parkarma. Sant Bhindranwale was among the first to die.
He also said that all died singing Sabads. Yes, my friends, only those are called martyrs who die this way, defying death and singing Sabads in the face of a hail of shot from the tanks. “But Satinder was saying the fighting went on for two days and two nights!”
“Even after three days when Giani Zail Singh visited, the sound of gunfire was there. All of us heard those sounds on the television. Yes, we did hear them. Under the entire Parkarma, there are residential basements. There were hundreds, perhaps one and a half thousand, men in them. They were firing from openings and manholes. Later, these basements were blasted by the army. Even now it is frightening to walk over the Parkarma.”
It gives me chills. Walking over decaying dead bodies! My God!
* * *
Madan Gopal Singh has just come from Amritsar. He says he met two of the workers who cleared the Par karma of dead bodies. They were saying: “It was the first time in our lives we had seen so many corpses. The military personnel asked us to load these dead bodies onto trucks. We were allowed to drink as much liquor as we wished. Without liquor it would be impossible to stand so much blood and so much death.”
He (Madan Gopal Singh) says: “There are 462 bullet marks on Harmander Sahib. Four persons were killed inside Harmander Sahib and the copy of Guru Granth Sahib on the upper story was burnt.”
“How many persons you think died there?”
He says: “It is hard to estimate, but certainly thousands. Of these only a few would be extremists. This is all I could figure out because some of them escaped by jumping over the roofs of the houses that have been built on the back side. Most of the dead were villagers who had come along with their women and children to observe the gurpurab (June 2nd was the 378th anniversary of the martyrdom of the fifth Guru of the Sikhs).”
“But the government’ says that before (the invasion) the army had used loudspeakers to ask people to come out.” “Yes, they did make such an announcement before attacking Darbar Sahib even though the attacks on gurdwaras in other places took place without any warnings.”
Only day before yesterday, Anoop’s sister was telling us about Sri Dukh Niwaran Sahib. Their home in Patiala is located just opposite this gurdwara. She said: “It was a Gurpurab. Thousands of people from villages had come. Generally, most people who do not return to their homes in the evenings eat at the langar and sleep at the Gurdwara planning to return home after listening to the morning Kirtan. At midnight the machine gunfire started. We were surprised and turned on our lights but there was no electricity. We checked the phone. That was dead too. The army had cut off electricity and phone connections for the entire area before attacking. There was no firing from the inside of the gurdwara. How could there be? The people were running around in confusion. There were screams, noise and the incessant sound of gunfire. Well, when it was all over, they loaded the dead onto several trucks in our full view. We were glued to the window panes, watching and trembling at what we saw. It was such a horrible sight. The dead were being dragged like sacks and loaded onto the trucks. It was all darkness, it was doomsday. We have felt miserable ever since. There was the curfew. Now it has been relaxed somewhat and we have come to Delhi. It was hard to swallow food. We couldn’t sleep at night. Even when we did sleep we had nightmares and heard the sound of gunfire.”
I asked Madan Gopal: “Why didn’t those people come out?”
“They were simple country folk. They probably felt that if they went out with their families, they might be arrested by the army outside. Inside they were in the house of Guru Ramdas. How could any calamity befall them there?”’
* * *
I am sitting in a scooter rickshaw. The rickshaw driver is a Sikh young man. I start a conversation: “‘Son, where are you from?’’ He answers: “From Baba Bakala, Madam.”
“Are you aware of what happened in Amritsar? Do you hear the news?”’
“Why wouldn’t I know? For two days we did not cook any food in our home. My mother still keeps on crying. Every morning, after Paath, my father mentions the names of the martyrs of Amritsar Darbar Sahib in the Ardas. These people who have committed such atrocities cannot survive for long.’’ He keeps on talking, full of anger, and full of sorrow. ‘‘What is going to happen now?”’ he asks. “I don’t know,” I respond. I am telling the truth. I do not know what will happen next.
He says with great confidence: ‘‘now certainly Khalistan will come into being. So much bloodshed cannot go wasted.”
I tremble. What have they done the producers of this Greek tragedy? There were only a couple of persons living in foreign countries who, to draw attention of the Press and others to themselves, talked about Khalistan or under the cover of this demand were trying to get their brothers and nephews to come out to England or Germany. No right thinking person ever took Khalistan seriously. It was not a demand of the Akalis when they launched their agitation in 1982 nor did Bhindranwale at any time adopt this as his slogan.
What has happened today?
Is it a demand of a hurt “psyche,” or of “identity?”’ I hear this word every day from both kinds of people, well-educated as well as simple folk.
This was the mistake of the creators of the drama made. They had merely played the game of votes, the humanity and psychology of which is understandable even by nonpolitical: persons like myself. Coming to think of it, the Akali Party too must have thought of the elections before starting the agitation. Every political party thinks of the elections. The people? The common man? Who are they? They are only the count of votes or the fuel to be fed to the fires of riots and wars. Indira Gandhi had seen the dreadful defeat of 1977. The wounds of defeat in the southern states after she returned to power at the Center still hurt. The government needed the enactment of such a drama for the elections. It was for this reason that for the last two years, whenever negotiations appeared to succeed, she would either herself say .something harsh in the Parliament or get Home Minister Sethi to do the same. In any case the negotiations would break down just as they appeared to come to a successful end.
In any case, what was the substance of it all? In August 1982, when the Akalis started the agitation, the demands were entirely economic. The religious demands were only an embellishment. These were accepted too. But the economic demands were for all Punjabis, Hindus as well as Sikhs, viz., the demand for Chandigarh, the demand for water, and the demand for consideration of the issue of Punjabi speaking areas. Out of these, the Akalis had agreed to refer the issue of water and the Punjabi speaking areas to a tribunal. That left the Chandigarh issue. In lieu of Chandigarh, they were willing to give to Haryana some villages near Chandigarh as well, as financial compensation. What was it that prompted the government to put obstacles in the way of such a reasonable demand?
One can only speculate. (Everybody says that not even the air that Indira Gandhi breathes knows what goes on in her mind. How can anyone else know anything about it? No one can tell what plans she is making but that cannot stop us from guessing). Many people think that this game plan had been carefully thought out. This Greek tragedy had been carefully delineated in her mind and then performed on the stage. You must have read Harkishan Singh Surjit’s article in “Aarsi’ to learn how each negotiation was broke up. No agreement was allowed to be reached because the government knew that by letting matters linger the problem would not be solved. It could only get worse and gather momentary. It was known that when the agitation gets strong and there are some deaths, people will collect weapons in Harmander Sahib and there will be greater apprehension among the Hindus. The leadership will pass from the moderate Akalis to the militant Sant Bhindranwale.
At that stage, either the two groups will start infighting or sending the army, with great fanfare, into Harmander Sahib, to restore peace will win laurels for the government. Or, if they don’t start fighting each other, military action will be taken for the sake of peace “‘outside,”” and the Hindu population of the whole of India will say: “Indira Gandhi saved the nation or else.
‘Hindu votes will be in her pocket. Victory in the next elections would be assured.