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1978 Vaisakhi Massacre

Bijla Singh

Bhai Fauja Singh
Where history of the world is written in ink Sikh history is written with blood of Sikhs. Sikh history has the power of turning slaves into kings and weak into warriors. The Indian rulers had seen the sacrifices of Sikhs made under the British rule. They had seen how powerfully Sikhs had beaten the British. Since then they started planning to destroy this freedom group so they could rule the country forever. All of their plans started coming into effect soon after India gained independence which was the beginning of another freedom struggle for the Sikhs. These attacks took a huge turning point in 1978, the beginning of another 18th century, in which Sikhs had to go through two holocausts. Thus began the closing chapter of another oppressor rule. The intentions of the government were to annihilate the Sikhs just like Buddhism with the same strategies and the British policy of ‘divide and rule’.

The way to destroy a community is to attack its roots. No matter how strong the community is, without its roots it will slowly become extinct. Then the next step is to destroy the language, culture and the history. Then rewrite the history in a new fashion which would unable the community to distinguish truth from falsehood. Eventually the community followers will start to believe in the new version of the history and start adopting the new culture, language and traditions of the majority. Before you know it, the community loses a sense of pride in its heritage. Then one physical attack on the community will destroy their self-confidence to fight for their rights. Weak community with no honor and dignity will become slave of the majority community. This is the way of Indian government to destroy Sikh religion.

1978 was the beginning of a war on Sikhs. It is a war between caste system and equality, good and evil, monotheistic and polytheistic, and tyrants and saint-soldiers. It is a war between sons of Gandhi and sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The Indian government took control over Sikh Gurdwaras, attacked Gurbani and rewrote the history using bunch of twisted mind sell-outs.

One may ask why the Indian government had the desire to destroy the Sikh nation and why the massacres were planned by cruel Indira Gandhi? For this we must go back and explore some of the major points that turned Sikhs into the biggest enemy of new dictatorship of Indira Gandhi.

Background

Indira Gandhi was most influenced by her father Jawaharlal Nehru. His father never wished to see Sikhs prosper and have enriched lives in the northern part of India. Being the president of Congress and Prime Minister of India he introduced separate laws for Sikhs that would put many restrictions on Sikhs in every profession. Though he did everything he could to suppress the Sikhs but he was not completely successful. After his death he left his daughter, Indira, to continue his mission. Indira’s desire was to rule the country without being questioned so she could run things her own way. When she came into power, there were many things Sikhs were active about such as Anandpur Resolution which demanded more autonomy for Punjab and religious rights for Sikhs.

During this time, Sant Kartar Singh, leader of Damdami Taksal started major campaign to preach the Sikh religion to masses. He started Nagar Kirtans that passed through many villages and preached Sikhi as a separate religion. He preached against the use of tobacco, alcohol and encouraged the people to stop cutting their hair. His message inspired thousands to take Amrit. One of his most important goals was to get Sikh preachers take Amrit and have Sikh managements take control of the Gurdwaras.

Few incidents that stirred the trouble between Sikhs and Indira Gandhi are worth mentioning. In 1975, Sikhs celebrated martyr day of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Numerous Sikh leaders along with Sant Kartar Singh were invited. Indira Gandhi was also invited. In the gathering of 2.2 million people when Indira Gandhi arrived everyone from stage stood up and welcomed Indira Gandhi but only Sant Kartar Singh did not get up because it was against the principles to pay special respect to someone in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Indira Gandhi took it as an insult. The so-called Sikh leaders thanked Indira Gandhi for marrying her son in Punjab and praised the inter-faith marriage between Hindus and Sikhs. When Sant Kartar Singh Ji was given time to speak on the stage he encouraged Sikhs to marry Sikhs only which was one of the main principles of Sikhism. He further stated that Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of the country because of the sacrifices made by the Sikh community therefore she should be paying respect to Sikhs not the other way around. During the Emergency, it was only Sikhs who stood in her way and protested against her misdeeds. Akali Dal (Sikh political party), Damdami Taksal and Akhand Kirtani Jatha played a major role in the peaceful protests and fought for human rights. These incidents clearly made Indira Gandhi realize that majority of the Sikhs were not only seeing themselves as a separate religious group but also gaining power in Indian politics.

Planning Actions

Indira Gandhi perceived Sikhs as a national threat. Her motives were to crush the Sikh religion and promote Hinduism in Punjab. She wanted to take control of Shiromani Akali Dal so she could maintain her political control over Sikh politics. To accomplish her goals she and Sanjay Gandhi (her son) setup a network of new organizations that would spread anti-Sikh propaganda to break away the Sikhs from their religion. To achieve her goals she started “Third Agency” and supported ‘Nirankaris’ often referred to as Narakdharis to start a clash with the Sikhs and escalate violence in Punjab. It was planned to blame the Sikhs for causing violence for which the government could eliminate as many Sikhs as possible. First let’s look at Narakdharis.

The government started supporting Narakdharis because of their anti-Sikhi preaching. Indira Gandhi saw this as a perfect opportunity to attack the Sikh religion which would later give her an excuse to kill Sikhs in large numbers. Gurbachan, the Narakdhari leader, was provided with all the facilities and was made stinky rich in no time for becoming the puppet of the government. Just in 25 years the government funded them with so much money that they were able to expand their business from one building to opening up camps in every village and city throughout Punjab. Their leader was given everything he wished for including expensive cars and big mansions to live in. Every preacher’s expenses were covered by the government. An article on Nirankaris was published in Indian Express part of which is given below:

The genesis of the real trouble between Nirankaris and Akalis goes back to the years, when Mrs. Indira Gandhi headed the Union Government. She wanted to weaken the Shiromani Akali Dal but found that Akalis could not be brought to heel. She thought of an elaborate plan to strengthen the Nirankari sect not only in Punjab but throughout the country and abroad also. Official patronage was extended to the Nirankaris much to the chagrin of Akalis, who have always considered the Nirankaris as heretic.

In pursuit of this policy of divide and rule Mrs. Gandhi personally gave clearance for a diplomatic passport to be issued to the Nirankari Chief and the Indian High Commissioners and ambassadors abroad were instructed to show him respect and regard. This was meant to help the sect to improve its image and increase its following abroad.

During Mrs. Gandhi’s regime, the Nirankaris were known to be receiving financial help from secret govt. funds not open to audit or scrutiny by the Parliament.

During the emergency, the recalcitrant attitude of the Akalis further annoyed Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Sanjay Gandhi. Efforts for building a parallel organization among the Sikhs of Punjab as counter blast to the Akalis were intensified. At the instance of Mrs. Gandhi, the Congress regime in Punjab led by Giani Zail Singh began giving greater official patronage to the Nirankari sect. Mr. H. S. Chhina, a staunch Nirankari was appointed Chief Secretary to the Punjab Govt. in 1976.

As a result of open official patronage and support this sect got a considerable boost within the administrative setup of the Punjab govt. Mr. Chhina appointed Mr. Niranjan Singh as D. C. of Gurdaspur. Mr. Niranjan Singh tried his best to enlarge the field of operation of the Nirankaris. (Kyon Keeto Vesaho, Sardar Narayan Singh, 47-48)

The Narakdharis were supported in every way and were provided with special security forces equipped with more firearms than Punjab police. They were given special instructions to attack Sikh religion and hurt the sentiments of Sikhs. The Narakdharis openly spoke ill of Sikh Gurus and claimed themselves to be superior. This caused religious fights in Punjab and Delhi. Many secret meetings between Indira Gandhi and Narakdharis took place where plans of attacking Sikh religion were discussed. Gurbachan submitting to the tyrant ruler gave his full condolence to the Hindu leaders that Sikhs will be taught a lesson. At his place he would place Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh Holy Scriptures, lower than his sitting place and would get his followers to bow to him instead of to the True Guru of the Sikhs. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the prevalent Guru of Sikhs, is always respectfully seated at the highest platform in any congregation. Anyone seated on a platform higher than that of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is considered disrespectful and sacrilegious among Sikhs. He started comparing himself to Guru Gobind Singh Ji by announcing to establish a new “panth” or community with “Seven Stars” claiming himself to be achieving and accomplishing what Guru Gobind Singh Ji could not do. It must be noted that Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave Sikh community a distinct appearance and turned Sikhs into warriors by establishing the system of Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones). This was government’s way of attacking Sikh religion directly.

Now we come to the third agency. This agency was responsible for brining in alcohol and drugs in Punjab in large quantity which was distributed among the Sikh youth for the purpose of turning them away from their religion. This agency was behind stirring up the trouble between Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab. Throwing cow heads in Hindu temples, killing Hindus and blaming Sikhs, throwing tobacco in Sikh Gurdwaras and blaming Hindus, funding Shiv Sena and RSS to carry out anti-Sikh activities was all part of their plan to cause tension between the two communities. This way Hindus joined the side of the government and supported Congress with anything and everything to suppress the Sikhs. The agency sent their agents to join Shiromani Akali Dal that gave all the inside information to the agency. The leader of the party Parkash Badal was given huge amounts of money and everything else he wished for in return to support the Narakdharis. The government had succeeded in attacking Sikhs religiously and controlled political party of the Sikhs.

Bloody Vaisakhi

Seeing that all of their plans were working, it was the time to take a blow at the Sikh community. Narakdharis planned to hold a procession where Sikh religion was about to be attacked openly in public under the protection of their own security forces and Punjab police. Deputy Commissioner of Punjab denied the request of Narakdharis to hold any meetings or conference in Amritsar but Parkash Badal interfered and pursued the Commissioner to approve the request. It was very ironic day in Sikh history. The day of 13th April, 1978, one of the holiest day, was chosen. Amritsar, the holiest city of Sikhs, was chosen where the procession was to be held. Furthermore, it was the “Sikh” government of Punjab that gave permission to Narakdharis and coincided with Indira Gandhi. Sikh leaders Parkash Badal president of SAD, Jeevan Singh Umranangal chief minister of Punjab, Gurcharan Tohra president of SGPC refused to take any actions to stop Narakdharis instead they made sure that the procession was held and carried out successfully.

At last, the procession was held. Narakdharis prepared themselves to attack Sikhs in the heart of their city. Punjab police was called for security. The government sent special army units for protection. Followers of Gurbachan were equipped with lethal weapons, guns, revolvers, acid-filled bottles, swords, knives and mechanical propellants for shooting poison-tipped arrows. The procession marched through the streets of Amritsar speaking disrespectfully against the Sikh Gurus and calling Guru Granth Sahib “a mere book” on loud speakers. The news reached Darbar Sahib where thousands of Sikhs had gathered to celebrate Vaisakhi. Sant Jarnail Singh, leader of Damdami Taksal, gave a brief lecture to the congregation and appealed Sikhs to take action. It was decided that Sikhs should protest peacefully to stop the Narakdharis. Batch of Sikhs, lead by Bhai Fauja Singh Ji, left Darbar Sahib. Most members of the protesting group were from Damdami Taksal and Akhand Kirtani Jatha. Sikhs peacefully marched toward the procession reciting religious hymns. When they reached near the procession, they were stopped by one police officer and were asked for the reason for protesting. Sikhs calmly told him that they were there to stop the procession and not to cause any trouble. The police officer told Sikhs to wait there until he came back. He went away not to talk to anyone but to warn Narakdharis to prepare themselves to kill Sikhs. Without warning, Sikhs were fired upon. The Narakdharis threw bottles filled with sulfuric acid on Sikhs. Even police and security forces joined them to kill Sikhs. 13 Sikhs became martyr, including Bhai Fauja Singh and more than 80 Sikhs were wounded. Even then the procession did not stop and continued for four more hours. The names of 13 other Sikhs killed in the massacre are as follows:

Bhai Amrik Singh
Bhai Avtar Singh
Bhai Darshan Singh
Bhai Dharamvir Singh
Bhai Fauja Singh
Bhai Gurcharan Singh
Bhai Gurdial Singh
Bhai Harbhajan Singh
Bhai Hari Singh
Bhai Kewal Singh
Bhai Piara Singh
Bhai Raghbir Singh
Bhai Ranbir Singh

Aftermath

No government official took any action. Parkash Badal had left for Mumbai to attend Vaisakhi fair. After the procession was over, all Narakdharis successfully escaped to Delhi in government vehicles. All of this had been planned out by the government beforehand and Badal offered himself to do this job. He provided all the support, security forces, weapons, and the vehicles. Though the government never wished to do anything about it but the massacre of Sikhs in the streets of their holiest city was not something Sikh nation would have ignored. This had enraged the Sikhs to take matters into their own hands. Just to mislead Sikhs into thinking that the government is doing all it could, arrest warrants of 60 Narakdharis were released but no one was arrested. All these people stayed in their mansions in Delhi. Who was to be arrested and interrogated and who would have taken any action at all when it was the government behind it? The government had made all the plans and this massacre was the first strike at dignity, pride and self-confidence of Sikhs.

The government produced fake certificates showing that the murderers’ health was not fit to stay in jail. Thus they were all bailed out before they even went to jail. The next step was to save them from judicial system. Instead of having the case being heard in Punjab, it was taken to Karnaal, Haryana which was the neighboring state of Punjab. The government knew that any Sikh Judge with good moral values would have found the criminals guilty so the case was taken to Hindu majority state where the judge Mr. Gupta, a Hindu, showed his loyalty to the government by freeing all the criminals. Not only the judge acquitted all the Narakdharis he also passed strictures against the Punjab government for registering the case. Where this news saddened the Sikh community, the Hindus showed their happiness by celebrating in the streets and distributing sweets. It was nothing but shameful for the Indian political parties, human rights organizations, newspapers and television to not protest against the Sikh massacre. Instead, Sikhs were blamed for causing the trouble and disrupting the peace of Amritsar. For many months after the massacre, Narakdhari programs were broadcasted on the television. Newspaper printed news in their favor on the front page.

This did not end the Sikh conflict with Narakdharis. It continued in other parts of India. Narakdharis were supported by the media on full scale for killing innocent Sikhs. On September 26th, 1978 Narakdharis with the help of local police killed 9 innocent Sikhs. Instead of arresting Narakdharis, the police arrested Sikhs that protested against this unjust killing. On November 5th, 1978 Sikhs protested against Narakdharis for desecrating Guru Granth Sahib Ji but the police threw tear gas and fired upon Sikhs. Three Sikhs Bhai Avtar Singh, Bhai Maninder Singh and Bhai Gobind Singh were killed. On the same day, Gurdwara Rakaab Ganj and Bangla Sahib were closed and sealed off by the government. It was first time in the history that any government closed these Gurdwaras to the pilgrims. Even Mughals and British government had not done this but the cruel Indian government went many steps further in oppression and injustice.

So what can be concluded from this? Sikh massacres took place in the Sikh holy city on Sikh holy day when the “Sikh” government was in power. What could be more tragic than this? But the betrayal by the so-called “Sikh” leaders like Badal, Tohra, Talwandi, and Barnala continued to persist. The Indian government has been doing its best to destroy the Sikh Panth. For centuries many kingdoms, invaders, and governments have tried to destroy these dynamic freedom loving people but failed in their missions. The government should open its eyes and consider the truth for one minute. Where is Massa Ranghar, where is Abdali, where is Meer Manno, Indira Gandhi, General Vaidaiya, Lalat Makhan, Arjan Das and anyone else who stood against the Sikhs? Sikhs still exist and will continue to do so for the ages to come. Those who attacked to destroy Sikhs died in vain but Sikhs stood together stronger and bolder.

1978 Massacre brought Sikhs together. It was the first attack on Sikhs in India that gave birth to another Sikh struggle for a separate country. The government attacked to weaken the Sikhs but it made them stronger and Sikhs stood up to defend themselves, to seek justice and to end another tyrant rule. A Hukumnama by the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat, Amritsar, was issued calling upon GurSikhs all over the world to socially boycott these fake "Nirankaris" and not allow their faith and creed to grow or flourish in the society. The leader Gurbachan was killed in 1980 by GurSikhs. Babbar Khalsa started by Bhai Sukhdev Singh Ji was the first freedom group that came out of Akhand Kirtani Jatha for the pursuit of delivering justice to the perpetrators. Sant Jarnail Singh, leader of Damdami Taksal raised awareness of slavery and awakened the entire community to free themselves from the clutches of the Indian government. While Sikhs were uniting together the government was making plans to escalate violence in Punjab and kill Sikhs in significantly large numbers by attacking Darbar Sahib. Another chapter of history was being formed that inspired thousands to join the freedom struggle and would continue to inspire thousands more to keep the struggle going until Khalsa Raj is established in Punjab.

Source: How Sikhs became Slaves by Saroop Singh Narang