June 1984, Light of Truth – 09.

1984 Eyewitness: 

           A Young Flight Lieutenant in the Indian Air Force

PUKHRAJ SINGH

              Every time the topic of the Indian Government’s invasion of the Darbar Sahib is touched upon in my family, one aspect which always dominates the discussion is my father’s chilling recollection of the events that unfolded in the scorching hot first week of June, 1984.

Then a young Flight Lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, trained to fly supersonic jets, my father had taken the abrupt and surprising decision of side-stepping to helicopters. The unit to which he got posted bore the proud history of being raised in the “resplendent heights of Leh” – it comprised of the rugged Cheetahs and Chetaks, and had been stationed in Jammu since long. He was regularly sortieing to the Siachen glacier, where the Indian government had got embroiled in a messy cartographic skirmish a year earlier.

As he returned from one of the trips, the commanding officer directed him to take a Chetak (the Cheetahs were better suited to the dizzying altitudes of Siachen) and headed towards Amritsar.  He landed in the city on June 5. Around a dozen helicopters from various units had descended there to assist the army.

The invasion was already underway and my father got busy in ferrying senior commanders to nearby villages. While Harmandar Sahib was being raided, Brigadier-level officers were committing similar atrocities in the rural areas. Villagers were being rounded up in systematically conducted search-and-seizure procedures.

A poignant scene that remained with him was how hordes of frail old menfolk and children as young as eleven or twelve years (those who could not be even remotely connected to militancy, were being rounded up – their hands were tied at the back with disrobed turbans and they were thrown into the scorching fields.

The avid photographer  that he was, my father had just bought a swanky new Yashica Electro-35. He had clicked thousands of panoramic aerial shots and instinctively brought the camera for that ominous trip as well.

Gliding low over Darbar Sahib on June 5, carrying another Army functionary out on a survey  , my father saw the Akal Takht in flames and the parkarma mauled by tanks, littered with bodies here and there. Not realizing the intensity or enormity of the spectacle, he released the shutter three-four times.

Returning to Jammu after twenty sorties, as the soldier within took a backseat, the very magnitude of the incident got to him.

Now, before I go on, it must be said that my father doesn’t fit into the caste or class stereotype that plagues the Punjab peasantry today. He came from an impoverished family of tailors from Tarn Taran, some 25 kilometers from Amritsar. They could never have imagined one of their own, (after surviving on scholarships throughout his life), joining the ranks of an elite government service.

It was a coup of sorts. The proximity to poverty helped my father see through subtle societal constructs. Though he persevered to remain a proper Sikh, when donning the pilot’s helmet over uncut hair became a particular problem, my father exhibited a strange sort of inward agnosticism, a healthy aversion to religious symbolism.

So, when he narrated his account of the Amritsar tour to my mother, it was with a dispassionate understanding of spiritual politics and minus any prejudice, that my father murmured prophetically, “Jo mai dekheya hai, mainun nai lagda ke hun Sikhi kattadta zyada der chupp rahegi” (After what I saw, I don’t think the staunch yeomanry of the Sikhs will keep quiet for very long). 

Indira Gandhi was indeed  executed for her crimes less than six months later …by members of an elite Indian government security force sworn to uphold and defend the Indian Constitution.

[Excerpt from, and courtesy of NewsLaundry.

Sikh soldiers in the eyes of Pakistani Generals;

Let us go through a brief narration of the brave Sikh soldiers of present day Indian Army from a retired Major General Mukeem khan of Pakistan army. What he has penned down about the Sikh soldiers, is available on page 250 in his book ‘Crisis of leadership’. This book is written by him about Indo-Pak war of 1971.

‘….the main reason of our defeat was Sikhs fighting facing us. We were helpless to do anything in front of them. Sikhs are very brave and they have great craving for martyrdom also. They fight so fiercely that they are capable to fight an army many times bigger than them,’

‘…..On 3rd December 1971 we fiercely and vigorously attacked the Indian army with our infantry brigade near Hussaini wala border. This brigade included Pakistan army’s fighter Panjabi regiment together with the Balooch regiment. Within minutes we pushed back the Indian army quite far back. Their defence fell under our control. The Indian army was retreating back very fast and Pakistani army was moving forward with a great speed. Our army reached near the Kausre-hind post. There was a small segment of Indian army appointed to defend the post and their soldiers belonged to the sikh regiment. A small number of the Sikh regiment stopped our way forward like an iron-wall. They loudly greeted with the ovation of ‘Bole-so-Nihaal’, and attacked us like the blood thirsty hungry lions and hawks. All those soldiers were Sikhs. There was even a fierce and dreadful hand to hand battle. The sky filled with the roars of ‘Yaa Ali’ and ‘Sat –Sri-Akal’. Even in this hand to hand fighting the Sikhs fought so bravely that all our desires, aspirations and dreams were shattered.’

“…….In this war Lt. Colonel Gulab Hussain of Baloach regiment got killed. With him Major Mohammad Zaeef and Capt. Ari Alim also died.  It was difficult to count the number of our soldiers who got killed. We were astonished to see the courage of those handful of Sikh soldiers. When we seized the possession of of three storey defence post made of concrete, the Sikh soldiers went onto the roof of the defence post and kept on persistently opposing us.. The whole night they kept on showering fires on us and continued shouting the loud ovation of Sat-Sri-Akal. These Sikh soldiers kept on the encounter till the next day, when the Pakistani tanks surrounded this post and bombarded it with guns. Those handful of Sikhs got martyred in this encounter while resisting us, but other Sikh soldiers then destroyed our tanks with the help of their artillery. Fighting with great bravery, they kept on marching forward and thus our army lost it’s foothold.”

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Major Kulbir Singh Chandpuri.

“…..Alas a handful of Sikhs converted our great victory into a big defeat  and shattered our confidence and courage. The same thing happened with us in Dhaka (Bangla Desh). In the battle of Jaissur the Singhs opposed the Pakistani army so fiercely that our backbone was broken and our foothold was lost. This became the main and important reason of our defeat and Sikh’s fancy for martyrdom and mockery with death for the sake of safety and honor of the country, became the sole cause of their victory.

One more example of unmatched valor of Sikhs is presented here;

On 12th Sept. 1897, 21 Sikh soldiers of 36th Sikh Regiment were beseized by ten thousand Afreedi Pathans (who claims to be the descendants of mighty king Faridun of Persia) at Saragarhi near fort Lockhart, distt. Kohat of N W F Province (now in Pakistan). The fierce battle known by the natives as ‘Teera battle’ or Saragarhi battle was fought on  12th Sep. 1897 under the command of havildar Ishaer Singh who caused maximum casualities of the invaders. According to the accounts of Afreedi Pathans, more then two hundred pathans were killed in this battle and more then more then one thousand seriously injured. At the fag end of the battle only Havildar Isher Singh was left alone with twenty bodies of his brave fellow fighters Amritdhari Gursikh soldiers lying all around him. Unfrustrated by the attack of huge enemy, the  lone soldier fought  the battle for hours in the spirit of  Chardi-kalaa and showing exemplary courage unparallel in the history of wars, continued firing and fighting till the last drop of blood kept him alive. He and twenty of his other brave  Sikh soldiers practically proved in the battlefield the prophetic pronouncement of Guru Gobind Singh that’ Sava lakh se ek laraoon, Tabhai Gobind Singh naam kahaoon’, All these twenty one Sikh soldiers who laid down their lives heroically were awarded the highest gallantry award —— the INDIAN ORDER OF MERITT (IOM) equalent to existing PARAM VEER CHAKRA for their supreme valor and sacrifices by British govt. The highest gallantry awards were given on that day to 21 Sikh soldiers which were the highest in strength awarded for any single day anywhere in world.

 

When the news of that peerless sacrifice reached England, all the members of the British Parliament in their special session paid glowing tributes to the most daring Sikh soldiers and two minutes silence was observed in their sweet memory . The members of the house while eulogizing the remarkable acts of bravery of the brave Sikh soldiers of Saragarhi battle said, “the English as well as Indian subjects are proud of 36th Sikh Regiment and it is no exaggeration to record that the armed forces which posses valiant Sikhs can not face defeat in any war.”

 

Below is the extract from a draft publication written in 2002, about Anglo-Sikh relations.

 

It provide useful briefing material for projects like the Wellington Arch Sikh Exhibition in London, in January 2009.

 

         The Epic of Saragarhi 12th September 1897

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“Fighting against overwhelming numbers, they all died at their posts, with unflinching loyalty and devotion to their oath while upholding to the very last, the traditional bravery of the Sikh nation”.  (The Commander-in-Chief, India).

 

This was one of the most heroic actions in recorded history fought by a small detachment of 21 jawans of the 36th Sikh (since redesignated as the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army). The action was fought at Saragarhi in North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan and close to the Afghanistan border. Saragarhi was a small army post, a small square stone blockhouse built on a high ridge called the Samana Ridge. The post provided vital communication between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan on either side of the Saragarhi post.  One hundred and twenty-one jawans of the 36th Sikhs were in Fort Lockhart and 175 in Fort Gulistan at the time. You need to remember that communication those days was by visual signalling equipment.

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Several thousand Pathan tribesmen attacked this small post on the morning of 12th September 1897. They surrounded the post so that no help from the other units could reach in time. These jawans under the command of Havildar (sergeant) Ishar Singh     fought a memorable battle killing over three hundred attacking tribesmen. The last person to join the battle was the signaller, Sepoy (soldier) Gurmukh Singh, who had until then kept the battalion headquarters informed of the situation. He asked permission from headquarters to stop signalling, took up his rifle and fell fighting single-handed. The valor of these heroes of Saragarhi won wide acclaim and they were posthumously awarded the highest military honors for gallantry. Battle Honors were also awarded to their battalion, 36th Sikhs.

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It is not surprising that following epics like the battle of Saragarhi and the earlier Anglo-Sikh wars, the gallantry of the Sikh battalions became legendary. The military fame of the Sikhs spread worldwide. The Sikh units of the Indian army became role models for others. They provided a source of inspiration for others while convincing the British commanders that soldiers from the Indian subcontinent could stand their ground against the best in the world. It is with this background that we need to assess the contribution of the Sikhs to the two World Wars fought for the freedom of mankind. A contribution, which is sometimes forgotten by the politicians or overlooked by the military historians.

So Indian army had never got any opportunity to taste the valor of Sikhs, the operation Blue star was only the first time when the mighty Indian army, well equipped with sophisticated and modern weapons faced handful untrained Sikh youths. There were nearly one hundred thousand of army was deployed to face the 200-250 Sikh youths only equipped with their traditional weapons and with some old already used in second world war —-Machineguns, Grenades and Rifles but they had a motto to save their holiest shrine from invasion and to lay down their lives for holy cause. They (Sikh youths) had a will to get martyrdom but only after teaching a lesson to these soldiers of Indian army. These Sikh youths proved a steel wall in front of mighty Indian army and stopped their advance for 72 hrs. The pride of mighty Indian army was shattered within minutes when they faced a fiercefull fight with these handful untrained warriors of 10th master Guru Gobind Singh ji.

The Generals of Indian army had assured the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi that they will get control of Akal Takhat sahib within just half an hour only. And shall arrest Sant Jarnail Singh ji Bhindranwala dead or alive. Indira Gandhi had given such orders to General Vaidya, the Commanding officer in chief of Indian army as; 

“I don’t give a damn if the Golden Temple and whole of Amritsar are destroyed, I want Bhindranwale dead.” (Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister, communicating with Gen. Vaidya during “Operation Blue Star”)

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 Ajmer Singh Randhawa.

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