For the benefit of our readers we have decided to publish extracts from “THE PUNJAB CRISIS AND HUMAN RIGHTS,” by S. Iqbal Singh of University of Chicago. Mr. Singh’s work stands out distinct as an objective and analytical study of a subject that has been distorted out of all proportions especially by those who have been laboriously endeavoring to justify the Army action as inevitable.

Mr. Singh’s approach is none motional and solely motivated by his anxiety to sift the truth from out of the smoke and dust screen of confusing hues.

The extract below is the second part.

The “Infant Terrorists”…

There is a heart wrenching side tale to the Golden Temple tragedy. Let it be recounted in the words of Gobind Thukral, a prominent reporter with India Today.

“There were other victims of Operation Bluestar little children, some only only two years old, who got rounded up when the army swept through the Punjab countryside … Since then, 39 children, aged between 2 and 12 years, have been languishing in two Ludhiana jails . . . There is four year old Rinku whose father died during the army operation and whose mother has been missing since then. Like the rest of the “infant terrorist” Rinku had to go through a grueling interrogation. When asked where his mother was, he replied, “I do not know.” Asked where his father was, he said “Killed with a Gun.” Why his stomach was so big, “Because I eat clay.”

Their ordeal began in early June (1984) when they were picked up around the Temple and packed into camps Two central agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) began their questioning. There were long intimidating sessions. The children cried and begged to be sent home. But it went on for days. Their little finger prints were taken and IB sleuths set about verifying their bona fides. One interrogating officer admitted that not many officials were moved by the children’s cries. The children continued to be locked up in the sprawling industrial city. Some were moved to a newer maximum security prison outside the city. Of the 39 children. Three of them have now been classified “dangerous terrorists.”

Sadly enough, in their interrogation the CBI and IB have shown little regard to any civil liberties or laws protecting young children. It is a fact that they were picked up from the Golden Temple or at best are said to have surrendered … Confessed a CBI officer: “These (civil liberties) are all fine ideas for newspapers and preachers. We had on our hands suspected terrorists and would-be terrorists.”

The News Laws

Under the newly proclaimed ordinances  The National Security (Amendment) Ordinance No. 5 and 6 of 1984, The Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) No. 9 of 1984 —any person can be arrested and detained for two years without a charge, the first six months without even informing any court or the next of kin of the arrested person. Furthermore, the Indian Evidence Act has been amended whereby the accused is considered guilty until he or she can prove innocence.

Special Courts have been setup in the adjoining state of Rajasthan to try the “suspected terrorists” under the above draconian laws. The credibility of these trials is further jeopardized in light of the fact that the Special Courts’ proceeding are held in camera and the identity of the witnesses deposing against the accused is not revealed even to the accused. This exercise has been aptly called the “biggest in camera trail in history” where 379 accused are being prosecuted under such conditions. This is in marked contrast to the juridical practices followed in democratic countries. It is worth noting that even the Nazi war criminals at the end of the Second World War were tried in open courts. Nearly one year after the military action in the Golden Temple, there is continuing press censorship and ban on the entry of foreign journalists, scholars and visitors to Punjab. About nine thousand Perseus are being held in jails without trial. These conditions not only alienate the affected Sikh population but also encourage violence due to perceived discrimination.

The Role of the Press

The storming of the Golden Temple was reported by most national papers and government owned radio and television in an unabashedly biased fashion. The information and broadcasting minister K. K. L. Bhagat had called all editors of Delhi newspapers individually one month prior to the military action to seek assurance of their support if a “strong action was taken” by the Government — and support did come overwhelmingly. Indira Gandhi was blindly lauded as the saviour of India and Government’s version of events was circulated without raising any doubt. This resulted in the media becoming an “obedient” press. “When the Military was sent to Punjab, the people were made to swallow a number of lies, bogus stories, distorted facts and false propaganda. Tragically a facile assumption became a reality that those who approved the military action in Amritsar were patriotic while those who did not were traitors.

The Indian press almost became a propaganda instrument for projecting the government version of the events so much so that the former member of Parliament M. R. Masani complained in a letter to the Statesman about government’s “Gagging of the press” with the sentiments: “We are flooded every evening on television and radio with a story that has got stale and lacks credibility. Even those who supported the New Delhi action in Amritsar are bored with the propaganda that is being pushed down their throats every evening.” He went on to demand “…Am I not entitled as an Indian citizen to know the truth.”

Cash Awards for the Army

A lump sum award of rupees one hundred thousand (approximately US $10,000) and liberalized pensions to the families of soldiers and officers killed during the assault on the Golden Temple and operations in Punjab was announced by the Indian Government. The amount is equivalent to more than 20 years’ salary of a soldier. The award is in sharp contrast to the Government’s policies pursued during India’s three wars with Pakistan, one war with China and continuous counterinsurgency operations in India’s tribal areas where awards, if made at all, ranged from equivalent of US $30 to $40. This practice is unheard of in the annals of modern professional armies and is rather the prerogative of mercenary groups, that too on a thriftier scale. The Sikh minority community wonders if attacking the holiest shrine of a religious minority is any more dangerous than full-fledged war against another country.

Civil Liberties and Human Rights Violations

There were several reports of brutalities and torture by the Army during Operation Bluestar. ‘“‘Soldiers carrying sten guns stop and search all vehicles, including bullock carts and tractors, every few miles along the highways. Army fitted with machine guns rumble down city streets carrying soldiers with their rifles pointed suspiciously at every passerby.” An unknown number of people were shot at pointblank range by troops who first tied their hands behind their backs. Doctors performing the postmortem came across numerous dead Sikhs whose hands were tied behind their back. Many arrested Sikhs and their hands tied with their own turban and were then killed with a single shot fired at their forehead.


An important Sikh leader, Bhan Singh, secretary of the Akali Dal was inside the Golden Temple during the military assault and witnessed many shocking happenings. He writes, “Soldiers lost their temper and began firing wildly killing between 30 to 35 people including women, children and aged people . . . I saw about 35 or 36 young Sikhs lined up with their hands raised above their heads and the major was about to order them to be shot.” Later these men were found to have been shot. “A local journalist said that he saw a dozen Sikh youths arrested inside the Golden Temple being made to pull their trousers above their knees, kneel and march on the hot road. The soldiers repeatedly kicked and punched them.” Jonathan Broder quoting a police official reported that the military assault was a “virtual massacre” and that he (the police official) saw at least 18 Sikhs being tied with their own turbans and shot. The New York Times in an editorial lamented that “Truth (is) on Trial in India” since the only crime of the accused reporter was of telling the truth regarding shooting of people with their hands tied behind their back.

As word of the attack on the Golden Temple spread along with it numerous rumours, thousands of people began gathering in villages around Amritsar, trying to converge on the town to see for themselves what was happening to their holiest shrine. Let Shekhar Gupta recount the rest: “As helicopters borne reconnaissance (monitor) patrols scoured the countryside looking for even the smallest accumulation of people, hundreds of wireless sets in the region repeated the alarming message from the police chiefs asking all officers to “shoot at sight anyone seen on the streets and at once fire at the mobs.” These orders resulted in the deaths of scores of men, women and children. No list of such people killed has so far been issued by the Government.

Soon after the military assault on the Golden Temple, Army began to conduct “the second phase” of Operation Bluestar or massive ‘cordon and search” operations. The pattern in each village was same. According to Mary Ann Weaver “the Army moves in during the early evening, cordons a village, and announces over loudspeakers that everyone must come out. All males between the ages of 15 and 35 are trussed and blindfolded, then taken away. Thousands have disappeared in the Punjab since the Army operation began. The government has provided no lists of names; families don’t know if sons and husbands are arrested, underground, or dead.” A specific instance on these lines is recounted: “It was 7 in the evening and he (Sant Pritpal Singh, the village temple priest) was conducting (evening) prayers . . . That night 13 worshippers were inside the gurudwara. Twenty Army trucks, mounted with machine guns and carrying 250 to 300 troops, sealed off the … temple. They blindfolded the worshippers and temple workers and pushed them with rifle butts to the narrow dirt road outside, where they were given electroshock charges with high-powered batteries attached to Army trucks. All were interrogated on the whereabouts of any villagers who may have joined Sant Bhindranwale’s militants.”

To minimize the ferocity of modern warfare and lethal weaponry, The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and Geneava Conventions of 1949 and 1977 had worked out rules of conduct “for belligerents in their relations with each other and with populations.” The provisions of these Conventions are binding on the contracting parties and India is a signatory to the Conventions. Some of the relevant provisions in relation to Punjab are:

 Ban on the use of “arms, projectiles or materials’ which may cause unnecessary damage, suffering or loss of life (Hague 1907: Art 23);


— Prohibition of violence to life and persons, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture (Geneva 1949);

— Forbiddance of outrage upon personal dignity in particular humiliating and degrading treatment (Geneva 1949);

— Ban on the passing of sentence and the carrying out of execution without previous judgment pronounced by regularly constituted court (Geneva 1949);

— Care and treatment of the wounded and the sick (Geneva 1949);

— Prisoners, detainees, wounded and sick “shall be treated humanely and cared for by the party to the conflict in whose power they may be, without adverse distinctions founded on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any similar criteria. Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons shall be strictly prohibited, in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated, subjected to torture. .. They shall not be willfully left without medical assistance.” (Geneva 1949: Art 12);

— Ensure that “the dead or honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of their religion … Their graves properly maintained and marked so that they may always be found.” (Geneva: 1949: Art 17);

— “The civilian population as such as well as individual civilian shall not be the subject of attack. Act or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among civilian population are prohibited.” (Geneva 1977: Art 51);

— Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited that is bombardment and firing on civilians or civilians among the military. (Geneva 1977: Art 51).

It is quite apparent that the above provisions have been grossly violated by the Indian Government in the light of the preceding facts. What lends poignancy to the situation is that the violations were indeed committed by the military against its own population. Tragically during the military action in the Golden Temple and other parts of Punjab, the civilians had neither the protection of the Conventions since India claims this as an internal matter, nor the safeguard of the free press and laws of the land expected under a democratic setup due to censorship and imposition of stringent ordinances. To cover up its excesses the Government orchestrated a number of steps: All foreigners including journalists who could eyewitness the events were turned out of Punjab prior to Operation Bluestar; most press people were made to vacate except those who would toe the official line; blanket ban was imposed on uncensored reporting on military operations or popular movement in Punjab; ban on train and bus travel was imposed to prevent leakage of the details of the events by word of mouth; and government controlled television and radio was misused to propagate a wholly misleading picture.

Article extracted from this publication >>  September 27, 1985