29 years ago today, a few days after Operation Bluestar which saw the Indian Army attack the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, the then ex-Chief Minister of Punjab Parkash Singh Badal and Ex-Union Minister Surjit Singh Barnala were arrested in Chandigarh just a few hours before they were to be interviewed by the BBC.
Just 2 days before, Badal & Barnala had appeared before the press in Chandigarh despite the media blackout to announce that the holiest shrine of the Sikhs Shri Akaal Takhat Sahib had been demolished by the Indian Armed forces and that thousands of innocent pilgrims had been killed. Badal went on to further say that “it was now time for the Sikhs in the armed forces to mutiny and desert their barracks, march towards Punjab and help save the lives of the innocent.”
Emotionally charged and angered at the news, thousands of Sikhs serving in the Army overnight mutineered and deserted their barracks. Sikh soldiers based in Maharastra, Gujarat and Bihar started to march towards Punjab only to be ambushed by the Police and other regiments of the Indian Army. It is estimated that hundreds of Sikh Soldiers died that night. Those who survived the ambush were court martialed and imprisoned. When released they were denied their Military pensions and forced to live in abject poverty. These Sikh Soldiers who rebelled to help defend their place of worship are now called “Dharmi Faujis” (Soldiers of Faith). Not once did Badal or Barnala, who asked these Soldiers to mutiny in the first place, visit them in jail or after they had been released.
In 2010 and 2011 I visited Punjab to meet some of the Dharmi Fauji’s. One of these was Major Dalbir Singh who was imprisoned for 13 years after deserting his barracks on the night of 9th June 1984. Until a few years ago he lived with his wife in a makeshift house with no income or pension. Another Dharmi Fauji who was at the rank of Sergeant at the time of mutiny now fails to pay for his children’s education as he has little or no income.
Whilst we remember those who 29 years ago gave up their lives for their faith, please remember those who have been living the nightmare everyday since then.
– Kirat Raj Singh