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Spontaneous Reaction and Revolt in the Army

Among the tragic outcome of the Blue Star holocaust was the reaction and revolt of Sikh troops. Over four thousand Sikh soldiers were reported to have spontaneously deserted their regiments in a bid to get to Amritsar, when they heard the news of the army assault on the Darbar Sahib. The provocation and shock caused by the attack on their holiest shrine was too intense to bear. They took to arms at about ten cantonments in various parts of India.139 On June 7, nearly six hundred soldiers of the 9tb Battallion of the Sikh Regiment broke into the- regimental armoury in their cantonment on the outskirts of Ganganagar, near the Pakistan border. They drove through the streets of Ganganagar shouting, ‘Long live Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’140 and dashed towards Amritsar to save Darbar Sahib from the attacking Indian army, unmindful of the consequences of desertion to their lives and careers. The Rajputana Rifles were sent to chase the Sikh soldiers. Most of them were rounded up and brought back to their cantonment in open lorries covered with barbed wire. However, some of the mutineers were said to have escaped across the border into Pakistan.

The maximum desertions (1200) took place in the Sikh Regimental Centre at Ramgarh in Bihar.141 Here the soldiers killed their Commanding Officer Brigadier S.C. Puri, hijacked civilian trucks and dashed towards Amritsar. However, road blocks were set up on their way and they were rounded up before they could reach Amritsar. The reports of mutiny were also heard from the Sikh regiment in the Jammu region and the Punjab regiment at Pune.

This was the first time alter Independence that the Indian army faced such a grim situation in which the relations between the Sikh soldiers and the Hindu soldiers in the army were put under so much of strain. The Indian army which had been a proud, disciplined and united body of soldiers received a severe blow. These soldiers knew full well that they had no chance of reaching Amritsar, that they would be caught, tortured and even put to death, as under the Indian Arms Act, mutinying is punishable with death, but the trauma experienced by them was so intense that they could not sit back and sec their holiest shrine desecrated and destroyed. In most of the cases when people take to revolt they are lured by temporal 01 other gains, but in this case, the soldiers had no such motives. Their reactions were not premeditated, planned or organised but purely spontaneous, prompted by a sincere desire to save the honour of what was dearest to them. It is on record that they did not kill any Hindu civilian or soldier in revenge of what was being done to the Sikh populace. The only exception during the whole episode of the revolt by Sikh soldiers was the killing of Brigadier Puri, who it was reported had refused to sanction leave to the soldiers who requested for it. Except for this solitary incident there was no other case in which a Hindu soldier or officer was killed by a Sikh soldier.

The report of Mary Anne Weaver of the Sunday Times, London, is revealing:

“Sikh mutinies which erupted in the Indian army last week—or “desertions” as government spokesmen still insist on calling them—have dealt an unprecedented blow to one of India’s most cherished beliefs, since the country gained independence 37 years ago. At that time, India had come to esteem its armed forces as one of the few national institutions which transcended religious and regional divisions and bad consistently stood well back from political involvement...More than 100 years ago, a British Officer, Brigadier Hodgson, warned of the military consequences of any infringement of the Sikh faith. “Sikh troops”, Hodgson wrote, ‘would construe it as a desire to subvert Sikhism; it would lead to evil consequences and naturally inspire general distrust and alarm.” Hodgson’s warning still forms an important part of Indian, army’s conventional wisdom. According to senior army sources, Mrs. Gandhi’s decision to invade the Golden Temple did not have the unanimous approval of her Generals.”142

Four Sikh retired Lt. Generals appealed to the Government of India and the army authorities not to take disciplinary action against the soldiers and that they should be allowed to rejoin their units without punishment.143 They believed that it was the failure of the command which could not foresee that Sikh soldiers who swore their very loyalty by an oath before Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scripture) would naturally react after an attack on the Golden Temple, the primary seat of Sikh scripture. But in spite of the appeals, the Government and the army authorities decided to punish the soldiers. It is very significant to note that whereas the British Commanders after the Mutiny learnt a signal lesson never to take social, administrative or political steps that should provoke religious sentiments of the soldiers, the Indian Command and Administration remained blind to it and continued to pursue the siege of the Golden Temple and the Wood Rose plan of hunting out Sikhs in general and Amritdharis in particular on grounds of their alleged terrorism. And it is on record that during that operation even ex-soldiers and soldiers on leave were tortured and humiliated.