Sound of a big explosion, all hell breaking loose, pitch darkness all around, cut electricity and water supplies, sound of midnight tanks – these are some of my memories associated with what I term as the greatest slip-up in India’s independent history: Operation Blue Star. Nobody can restructure the long and unfortunate 72 hours of Operation Blue Star other than those probably who saw the action right from where it was happening, Though I was a very young girl 35 years back, who went to ‘Nani Ghar’ in the summer vacations, the horrendous sights and sounds of those 3 days would haunt me till eternity.
Operation Blue Star had disaster written all over it right from the go. A not so knotty situation was allowed to escalate to a point where the consecrated sacredness of a place of worship, ‘Darbar sahib,’ was dishonored in the most ruthless way, with death and destruction. The Akal Takht, the symbolic seat of supreme Sikh temporal authority was bargained and reduced to rubble. As a person of literature, it hurts me to the core to even think about the precious hand written manuscripts of the Gurus' which were burned to the ground. What a waste! And all because of a situation that deserved to be defused without wasting a single bullet or losing a single human life. The ill-fated and unsolicited operation took not only the lives of alleged Sikh separatists and army men, but thousands of innocent pilgrims who had gathered to celebrate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan on June 3rd that year.
My grandmother used to recite a very powerful and interesting Sakhi of Guru Nanak Dev Ji to me. While returning to his home in Punjab, Guru Nanak Dev Ji stopped in Sayyidpur, a small town in modern-day Pakistan, to visit one of his beloved disciples with Lalo. The scenes of the attack by the army of Babur were gut wrenching. The carnage was such that the calm and gentle prophet’s heart was torn to shreds. The words He then spoke to Babur became the substratum of a principle which is fundamental to the Sikh faith – denunciation of tyranny and an unambiguous pledge to fighting oppression, no matter what the cost. This belief was further strengthened by the gore of Guru Arjan, and that of Guru Tegh Bahadur who sacrificed his head for the protection of religious freedom or if I may say ‘HINDU’ religious freedom.
The history of Sikhs and the framework of their faith is so deeply rooted in the threads of the religion that even to this day, when we rise for Ardas, we call for ‘Sarbat Da Bhala.’ But I wonder what others perceive it as. From where we stand, I only see oppression - be it the unheard cries of the victims of Blue star, the bereaving families of 84 riots still running from pillar to post for justice, or the fight for reasonableness by the peaceful farmers for almost 6 months now.
Operation Blue Star was followed by the assassination of India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the subsequent anti-Sikh riots hit the Sikhs like never before. What happened in 1984 was no less than a bloodbath. To the Sikhs (including my family) it was what 1947 was to our forefathers. It is a reminder of a wound that never stops emanating and a psychological trauma that still hurts the innermost recesses of the mind. It is a living and thriving aide memoire of the horrific vision of burning flesh, smoking cities, and a nightmare lived by myself and many others. Thirty years after Operation Blue Star, the Indira Gandhi-ordered attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib, we are expected to disremember the massacre. We are asked not to tell our children how the number of innocent lives lost in the operation was actually far more than alleged militants the army was after. Even today our sentimentalities related to memorializing the 1984 are quizzed. We are called traitors for grating up the old wounds that history wants to forget.
I fail to picture what Blue Star and its following events will be probed as, by our future generations. Will it just be another episode of a military operation for them, or do would they really see it as a chapter in Indian history that needs to be scrutinized. There are living breathing people who tell us the stories of oppression, tyranny, injustice and have a great relevance in the kind of world that we are living today, be it suppressing an honest opinion or better still muzzling the voices that dare to bring out the truth. The young must search because fighting for justice and standing by truth is what the very nature of our creed is.