Operation Bluestar’s bitter legacy 25 years on
By Hardeep Singh
Almost twenty five years after operation Bluestar, the emotional scars following the attack on Sikhism’s holiest shrine are far from being healed. The victims of the highly organised atrocities against Sikhs throughout India continue their lengthy battle for justice.
A major mistake was the assumption that Bluestar, a military operation would be a solution to the Sikh issue.
As a British Sikh born in London, I was only a child when the news of the showdown between the Indian Government and so called "Sikh militants" was being intermittently reported in the media. Even at this tender age, I sensed Sikhism the faith in which I was born into was under attack.
The prelude to this massacre were decades a political struggle for greater autonomy for Sikhs in the Punjab, the only Sikh majority state in India and its bread-basket. In my view these political grievances stemmed from an unfair settlement for Sikhs in 1947 with the partition of the Punjab, their ancestral homeland & the creation of the two nation states of Hindustan & Pakistan.
Another mistake was that the Indian Government was of the belief that somehow it could take such brutal action in utter defiance of international law and opinion. Bluestar will go down in history as one of the biggest massacres of unarmed civilians by the organised military force of a nation.
I often wonder why the barbarity of Bluestar didn’t dramatically awaken the collective conscience of the West?
To the West, the Punjab turmoil was manoeuvred into the convenient pigeonhole of a ‘pro-west’ Government of India versus the menace of so called "Sikh militants" hell bent on destroying India’s fragile democracy. The tendency to paint an image of conflict as such a dichotomy serves only to inhibit the voicing and proposal of alternative solutions to inherently convoluted issues, which have roots much deeper embedded in history than is often acknowledged.
Post Raj nostalgia and allegiance to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty may help explain shallow interpretations of the nightmarish events of Bluestar. On the contrary, Bluestar according to many Sikhs worldwide and in Britain, was a well orchestrated plan to suppress the Sikh faith itself through massacre along with worldwide vilification of its practitioners.
The reality is that there is still much misinformation about the events of 1984. The media censorship at the time perpetuated this, along with restrictions imposed on human rights organisations. Only last year on a discussion on BBC Asian Network I was compelled to contact the presenter who talked of ‘Hindu-Sikh riots’ in Delhi in 1984. Were these not state sponsored pogroms?
With India’s increasing role on the Global stage including the recent G20 summit, it clearly has an immensely significant role to play in world affairs.
Aside from the razzmatazz and showmanship of the IPL and it’s recent flirtation with English Cricket, the global marketing frenzy of the Tata Nano along with the rise in Britain of the Shilpa Shetty franchise, India may need to pause and reflect not just on the cataclysmic events of 1984 and it’s aftermath, however more recent violations of human rights of other religious minority groups.
On the 2nd of October last year Amnesty international released a report about how the Indian government had to do more to halt the massacre of Christians in the eastern state of Orissa. Although the Indian government called the riots a "national shame", they continued nonetheless.
Although the buildings in the Holy City of Amritsar have been restored, the blood stains still remain on the marble floors, a constant reminder of Bluestar and its legacy.
The memory of the horrors visited upon many thousands of civilians, will not dissipate quickly, or perhaps at all. The nomination for election of men named by eyewitness’s as inciting hate mobs against innocent Sikh men women and children during the Delhi riots was a regrettable development deserving international condemnation. Sadly the world seemed not to have made even a peep of protest.
In another recent report, Amnesty UK described the events of twenty five years ago as a ‘national disgrace’ for India as the Government has failed to mete out justice to those responsible for the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. The events of June 1984 demonstrate the fragility of Indian democracy & a modern day massacre of a religious minority. Parallels are often drawn between the Delhi anti-Sikh riots and Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany.
The newly re-elected Congress, their trinity –the two Gandhis and Mr. Singh have a moral obligation to readdress the campaign for justice, in order to assuage the sense of mass grief that still remains, decades later.
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