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30 years after Operation Bluestar: Wounds are yet to heal, say Sikhs

Three decades after the Indian Army stormed into the Golden Temple - the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion – the wounds and the hurt caused by that attack and its bloody aftermath are yet to heal, say members of the Sikh community.

This year (3-8 June) marks the 30th anniversary of what has often been described as a watershed moment in India’s political history for the chain of events it unleashed - forever altering India’s political course and leaving a permanent scar in the psyche of the Sikh community.

Operation Bluestar was ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the height of the Sikh militant struggle for a separate state (Khalistan) to flush out armed militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple.

Reuters

Reuters

“The wounds are still very fresh. The Sikhs can’t forget the manner in which it was done. The way the Akal Takht was demolished - that Sikhs can never forget,” says HS Phoolka, a senior advocate who has been fighting for justice on behalf of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, part of a bloody chain reaction that Operation Bluestar set off.

Over 3000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi in the communal clashes that engulfed the Capital following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, five months after the military offensive.

“The main issue is that even the guilty, not of Bluestar, but even the 1984 riots have not been punished. This would at least make some difference. If that is done, that will happen an impact,” says Phoolka.

Asked what his appeal would be to the new BJP government at the centre, Phoolka said, “I would like to tell them that the parties who are the constituents of the NDA are those who have held that the guilty of 1984 riots should be punished. Now they are in power and they should see to it that justice is done.”

For many in the Sikh community, the tragedy of Operation Bluestar is entwined with with that of the anti-Sikh riots and the continuing struggle of the victims for justice.

“It is a blot on the Indian judiciary that it has not been able to deliver justice to the sufferers. We will take up this matter in Parliament. Badal has been using this issue for political gains for the past 30 years. And now his daughter-in-law says that it is not in her hands to get justice,” says Harinder Singh Khalsa, Aam Admi Party (AAP) MP from Fatehgarh Sahib, in Punjab.

AAP’s national convenor Arvind Kejriwal is also scheduled to visit Amritsar on Tuesday.

Meanwhile radical Sikh group Dal Khalsa, which is describes itself as a political organisation that is committed to the goal of an independent Sikh state, has called for a bandh on 6 June and a parade on 5 June (the eve of the attack on the Golden Temple).

“We are organising a parade in the memory of Operation Bluestar. We don’t expect anything from them (Indian government). The parade will be organised in Amritsar and Vancouver, Canada. Badal has done a grave injustice by not doing anything and clinging onto power. People have lost their self-respect and are hoping politicians do what they should be doing,” said Dal Khalsa leader Kanwar Pal Singh.

Addressing a press conference on Sunday, Kanwar Pal Singh said that the bandh was being called to protest the “killings of hundreds of innocent pilgrims and “to relive the pain and agony of the heinous attack” and “to pay tribute to the all those killed by the security forces inside the shrine.”

However former CBI director and IG, CRPF, in Punjab during the Khalistani movement, Joginder Singh, was of the opinion that the past was in the past and it was time to move on.

"The common Sikh is not much bothered about this incident anymore. He had moved on. Operation Bluestar was not the first incident in the life of Sikhs. They faced several such incidents. Every nation has a bad tragedy but one needs to move on", he said.