Friday, October 31, 2008

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale (1947 - 1984) - 3

The Delhi Massacre, 1984:

On June 3-6 1984, in Operation Bluestar, Indian forces laid siege to the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, in the Punjabi city of Amritsar. The temple had been occupied by heavily-armed Sikh militants under the leadership of Sant Bhindranwale. In the massacre, and in dozens of other mass killings that took place simultaneously at religious sites throughout Punjab, thousands of Sikhs were murdered by Indian security personnel. At the Golden Temple, according to Human Rights Watch, "Indian government forces were guilty of outrageous violations of fundamental human rights -- deliberately attacking the temple at a time they knew thousands of religious pilgrims were inside, not offering an opportunity for surrender, and summarily executing those it captured." ("India: Arms and Abuses in Indian Punjab and Kashmir", September 1994.) Many children and women were killed in the assault, along with a preponderance of Sikh men. "Civil liberties organisations, such as the Movement Against State Repression, have claimed that the total number killed in Operation Bluestar exceeded ten thousand. Thousands of young men also went missing in the period after Bluestar." (Joyce Pettigrew, The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State and Guerrilla Violence, p. 24 [n. 10].)

Hindu men rampage through the streets of Delhi, November 1984:

On October 31, 1984, the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had ordered Operation Bluestar, was assassinated in a revenge attack by her two Sikh bodyguards. Over the following five days, one of the worst gendercidal massacres of modern times took place in the Indian capital, Delhi. The victims were Sikh males of all ages. At 10 p.m. on the evening following the Prime Minister's assassination, widespread killings broke out across Delhi, apparently organized by the Hindu extremist parties that have become prominent players in Indian politics. Hindu men roamed the streets, declaring an open season on Sikh males (those who were religiously observant were easily identified by their long hair and turbans). The gendercidal character of the killings was indeed almost total. According to the Indian feminist Madhu Kishwar,

The nature of the attacks confirm[s] that there was a deliberately plan to kill as many Sikh men as possible, hence nothing was left to chance. That also explains why in almost all cases, after hitting or stabbing, the victims were doused with kerosene or petrol and burnt, so as to leave no possibility of their surviving. Between October 31 and November 4, more than 2,500 men were murdered in different parts of Delhi, according to several careful unofficial estimates. There have been very few cases of women being killed except when they got trapped in houses which were set on fire. Almost all the women interviewed described how men and young boys were special targets. They were dragged out of the houses, attacked with stones and rods, and set on fire. ... When women tried to protect the men of their families, they were given a few blows and forcibly separated from the men. Even when they clung to the men, trying to save them, they were hardly ever attacked the way men were. I have not yet heard of a case of a woman being assaulted and then burnt to death by the mob. (Kishwar, "Delhi: Gangster Rule," in Patwant Singh and Harji Malik, eds., Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation [New Delhi, 1985], pp. 171-78.)
A typical account of the atrocities was provided by a female witness whose "husband and three sons ... were all killed on 1 November." As investigators summarized her testimony:

When a mob first came the Sikhs came out and repulsed them. Three such waves were repulsed, but each time the police came and told them to go home and stay there. The fourth time the mob came in increased strength and started attacking individual homes, driving people out, beating and burning them and setting fire to their homes. The method of killing was invariably the same: a man was hit on the head, sometimes his skull broken, kerosene poured over him and set on fire. Before being burnt, some had their eyes gouged out. Sometimes, when a burning man asked for water, a man urinated on his mouth. Several individuals, including her sister's son, tried to escape by cutting their hair. Most of them were also killed. Some had their hair forcibly cut but were nevertheless killed thereafter. (Quoted in Khalsa Human Rights, "Cases of Victims".)

The estimate of 2,500 dead offered by Kishwar (above) is almost certainly too low. The New York Times in 1996 cited the research of Sikh activist Gurucharan Singh Babbar, who "has piles of affidavits from victims' families that prove, he says, that 5,015 Sikhs were killed, more than double the official figure ..." Whatever the exact death toll, it was "one of the darkest chapters in [India's] half-century of independence." (John F. Burns, "The Sikhs Get Justice Long After A Massacre," The New York Times, September 16, 1996). Throughout the massacre, Indian police and security forces stood by or assisted in disarming Sikhs, rendering them defenceless. An Indian Supreme Court Justice, V.M. Tarkunde, stated in the aftermath of the slaughter that "Two lessons can be drawn from the experience of the Delhi riots. One is about the extent of criminalisation of our politics and the other about the utter unreliability of our police force in a critical situation." (Quoted in Khalsa Human Rights, "The Delhi Massacre: An Example of Malicious Government".)

A Sikh woman weeps after her husband was burned to death in the Delhi massacre.

It is important to note that while few if any Sikh women were intentionally killed, hundreds, if not thousands, were raped -- sometimes repeatedly -- by rampaging Hindu men. Many of the female survivors of the massacre today live in Tilak Vihar, a quarter of Delhi that has become known as the "Widows' Colony." Since 1984, they have pressed for justice in the killings, and finally achieved some success in 1996, when "a magistrate ... imposed a death sentence on a butcher found guilty of two Sikh murders in the riots. Evidence presented in court indicated he was also involved in at least 150 other killings." The justice in question, Shiv Narain Dinghra, has led a "personal crusade" of his own, sentencing dozens of rioters to five years' "harsh imprisonment." Nonetheless, official Indian attitudes toward the slaughter reflect a belief that "the massacre was necessary to teach a lesson" to the Sikhs, according to Dinghra. (Burns, "The Sikhs Get Justice.")

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