6th June 1984 is etched onto the collective psyche of Sikhs across the word. It was on this day 35 years ago that by storming the Darbar Sahib Amritsar with helicopter gunships, tanks, infantry and rocket propelled grenades, the Indian state committed a heinous crime against Sikhs, nay against humanity.
Though there was no internet and social networking in those days and the Panjab was put under a media blackout, within hours news filtered out and the global Sikh diaspora erupted in anger and rage. The army began to encircle the Darbar Sahib on the 1st June and the battle began.
The first skirmish was at a bunker built at Baba Atal Gurdwara, which was defended by by the Babbar Khalsa chief Mehnga Singh along 40 men. After coming under heavy machine guns and semi-automatic rifle fire from the forces of CRPF and Border Security Force (BSF), Mehnga Singh became the first shaheed.
From then on each day the battle intensified with the full scale assault on the 6th leading to the destruction of the Akaal Takht and the loss off 1000’s if lives, both civilian and army. How could the Indian state declare war in the one community that gave more for the freedom struggle than any other?
This one event led to the call for an independent Sikh homeland. Perhaps the greatest gathering of protesters amongst the diaspora was the one in Central London on 10th June 1984. On that day over 100,000 Sikhs, the vast majority who were not practicing, gathered to display their anger and demand for freedom.
I was 24 years old the time and was actively involved in the Sikh struggle. Indeed, just 2 months before the attack, I was in Panjab and had the honour of meeting many of those who lost their lives and attained martyrdom.
The picture (above) shows me with other protesters at the march in Central London 35 years ago. I am in the blue attire helping to set light to the dummy of the them Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. Recalling those days still brings a tear to my eyes.
Some say forget 1984, but humanity should never forget such crimes, for to forget is to run the risk of them being repeated. I am reminded of a famous observation by Milan Kundera, in his Book of Laughter and Forgetting. “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Such a tragedy should never ever happen again, but this can only be possible if we keep reminding the world and ourselves of this dark day in Indian history when state executed mass murder of its fellow citizens during the first week of June 1984.
[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is a Visiting Fellow in Race and Education at University of Arts London and a Visiting Professor of Social Work at University of Chester as well as a presenter at UK-based Akaal channel. This views were shared on his Facebook page]
Punjab’s Khadoor Sahib seat in India’s 2019 General Election – Its international significance (Asia Samachar, 20 May 2019)