1984 remains one of the darkest years in Sikh and Indian history. In June of that year, orders from the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi sanctioned a military assault on the Sikhs holiest shrine – Harminder Sahib (the Golden Temple)- in Amritsar, Punjab. The attack claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.
Following on from this, on 31st October of the same year, Mrs. Gandhi was shot and killed by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Her assassination sparked genocidal killings of Sikhs across the country.
Bystanders watched with fear as mobs roamed the streets of New Delhi, gang-raping Sikh women, murdering Sikh men and burning down Sikh homes, businesses and Gurdwaras (temples). Reports revealed that law enforcement and government officials contributed to the massacres by engaging in the violence, inciting the public to seek revenge and providing the mobs with arms.
■According to ‘official’ reports, within four days nearly 3,000 Sikhs had been murdered. However, the true figures for the number of Sikhs that died are far higher.
■Throughout India, Sikhs were finding themselves victims to the backlash initiated by public and government officials.
■This outrage, in addition to the 1984 attack of the Golden temple, gave birth to many freedom movements led by young Sikhs in small villages throughout Punjab. They were taking up arms and fighting for justice against those who had targeted Sikhs.
The following stories are of the families of those few individuals who dedicated and sacrificed their lives to stand up to the injustice they had witnesses and promote freedom and equality.
Name: Parmjeet Kaur
Relationship: Wife of Martyr
In 1984 Parmjeet’s father was killed by Ludhiana police, he had been arrested and accused of smuggling people into Pakistan.
Parmjeet’s mother secretly arranged her marriage. Her groom, Ajit Singh, was from a wealthy family with eight sons. Parmjeet was happy and the family was financially secure, but she had no idea that her husband and his brothers were involved in the Sikh freedom movement.
The police began to raid their family home, and Ajit Singh would flee during these times.
The police would arrest and beat family members until someone paid for their release. Three years after the couple’s marriage, their son was born.
Tears fall as Parmjeet remembers the events of that fateful day. They were returning from a trip with their six-month old son.
When they reached the village of Batala, Ajit asked his wife to wait for him for a short while as he walked around the corner. He never came back.
Parmjeet returned home, where she learned that he had been arrested. She never saw him again. The police gave no explanation.
When her son finished his education, the family arranged his marriage, and Parmjeet was moved to a small section of the house as they had no further responsibility for her. Parmjeet, her son, and daughter in-law, live in debt and poverty. They have been conned out of money, Parmjeet pawned her jewellery to pay for her son’s house, but they cannot afford windows and keep the wind out with empty sand bags.
Parmjeet wishes that all relatives of the martyrs are treated with respect and dignity and that such awful events are never seen in Punjab again.
Name: Kartar singh
of Martyr Jagtar Singh
Kartar Singh is five years younger than his brother, martyr Jagtar Singh, who served as a freedom fighter in the movement for Khalistan 1986 – 1988.
Kartar Singh spent much of his time with his brother.
Bhai Jagtar Singh then went to Amritsar, to join the Army. The police tore up his certificate as tension between Sikhs and the government was high, he never forgot this.
He did not join the Army but did odd jobs instead. He was regularly targeted by police who accused him of being an extremist. In one-year, he was arrested and beaten by the police eight times. After the eighth time, Kartar Singh recalls his brother vowing to die fighting for the cause. That was the last time he saw his brother alive.
The police began raiding the family home – arresting and beating them, including his elderly parents.
When he was 17 years old, Kartar Singh was tortured and has only limited use of his legs today.
They accused him of lying that he did not know his brother’s whereabouts and arrested him. They electrocuted and beat him for six days. He was often unconscious but torture would resume when he regained consciousness.
Destructive rivalries had started within the Sikh freedom movement. Jagtar Singh was invited to a meeting and was requested to come unarmed. When Jagtar Singh and another Sikh went to the meeting, they were ambushed, tied up , their stomachs were cut open, and they were thrown into the river. The movement had crumbled internally over a struggle for power and control.
Kartar Singh has now invested everything in his children’s education, hoping they will have a better future and safer, happier lives.
Name: Parkash kaur
Relationship: Wife of
Martyr Gurnam Singh
Parkash describes how her husband Gurnam Singh used to come in from work and play with his two children. They were a happy family. One day, she learned that her husband had joined other Sikhs fighting in the movement. Not long after, the police started raiding their home and beating family members.
Parkash recalls that during the struggles, Gurnam Singh often reminded her that he would not change his course in life, and that she should start putting all her faith in God.
She began to worry about his whereabouts as he was spending more time away from home. Sometimes the police would arrive and harass the family. Parkash feared for her children and would send them to other people’s homes. Unfortunately, the children would sometimes be refused a place to stay as people feared that if the police were to find out, they would be subjected to the violence too.
She was at her mother’s house when her husband came to visit her. He didn’t stay long and said he must leave otherwise the police would capture him. In the following days she learned that he had been killed in an ambush. When she went to identify Gurnam’s body, there were many corpses there, all riddled with bullet holes.
She was able to identify her husband’s body by a mole on his small finger.
The police harassment stopped that day.
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If you wish to make a donation to any of the families you have seen above or to additional shaheed families- please visit http://www.yourseva.org
This project could not have been completed without the help of the Panth. Video and edit directed by Jag Singh. Camera operators; Jag Singh and Nav Singh (Instagram: nav_pulsepicture). Charity organisation: Yourseva.org. Music: Gursewak Jatha UK. Chief Editors Harpreet Kaur and Jaspal Singh (http://digitalsangat.com). On the ground: Yourseva- Punjab team.