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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Flashbacks: Golden Temple attack
Apar Singh BajwarKartar KaurGiani Joginder Singh VedantiTarlochan SinghKanwarpal SinghGurmej SinghBhupinder SinghGurjit Kaur

Apar Singh Bajwa

The year 1984 was a very difficult time for deputy superintendant (DSP) of Punjab Police Apar Singh Bajwa, now retired.

As part of an ill-trained, badly equipped and under-manned force, which had further been demoralised by long working hours, terrible living conditions and not the least of all - infiltration by Sikh separatist militants, it was his job to secure the perimeter of Amritsar's Golden Temple Complex.

I have no regrets. I did my duty as a policeman and I tried to act in as fair a manner as possible

The Golden Temple - Sikhism's holiest shrine - had been taken over by the militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his band of some 250 heavily-armed followers.

"Those were bad times," Bajwa recalled.

"The militants had found a safe sanctuary in the Golden Temple. They would sneak out, commit crimes and easily sneak back into the temple complex.

"Though we were responsible for preventing crime, the government has issued specific instructions barring the police from entering the Temple.

"The militants knew this and used it to their advantage.

"Things became further complicated when the [central government] home minister stated inside Parliament that none of the security forces would ever enter the Temple.

"Such a situation permitted the militants to fortify and arm themselves over several months prior to their final showdown with the army in June.

"Finally the army was called in and given the task of flushing out Bhindranwale and his men.

"We (the state police) were ordered back to our homes because there was a general impression that many cops were mixed up with the militants

"The intermittent curfew imposed earlier, was finally clamped down on the evening of 3 June, which was also the day of an important Sikh festival and there were thousands of ordinary devotees inside the complex

"We tried to get these people out but could only achieve partial success because the army began its offensive.

"I was then told to go home and I remained there until the morning of 6 June when I was summoned early in the morning.

"When I reached the police station near the temple, I saw the dead bodies of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, General Shabeg Singh, Thiara Singh and Amrik Singh lying there.

"I was asked to identify the bodies because I was familiar with all the dead men having often interacted with them as part of my duties as a police officer.

"The army officer in-charge then requested me to arrange the cremations. We performed these, according to Sikh rites, at the nearby Gurudwara Shaheedan."

Grim task

According to the DSP "a large majority of those who died inside the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar were common devotees who had come to the shrine on 3 June on the occasion of the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev's Martyrdom Day.

Sikh militant leader Sant  Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (centre)
Sikh militant leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (centre) (Photo: Swadesh Talwar, Indian Express)

"Apart from Bhindranwale's armed followers, I counted a little over 800 dead bodies inside the temple complex.

"I and my men were also tasked with clearing and cremating these bodies. Army and municipal officials helped transport them to the local cremation ground.

"While many of the innocents were killed in the crossfire between the army and the militants, it is true that the soldiers deliberately gunned down several devotees.

"You see they actually believed that anyone inside the temple was the 'enemy'."

The soldiers had no notion of how they should tackle an internal security situation like the one that had developed inside the Golden Temple.

Mr Bajwa said no attempt was ever made to identify the civilians killed.

"This would have been possible if the army had involved the state police. But then at that time the soldiers were in a hurry to conclude their operation and withdraw from the Golden Temple complex.

"It was this kind of haste because of which scores of ordinary families not only lost their loved ones but spent months in a futile search for their dead relatives," said the DSP.

'Avoidable tragedy'

As a police officer who in later years witnessed and was part of combating Sikh Militancy in Punjab, Mr Apar Singh Bajwa believes that Operation Bluestar could easily have been avoided had a little extra thought gone into the initial planning.

"This became clear in two subsequent operations in 1986 and 1988, when the state police and paramilitary forces successfully tackled heavily armed militants who took control of the Temple Complex.

"Operations Black Thunder One (1986) and Black Thunder Two (1988) were successfully completed without any damage to the Golden Temple," he recalled.

The police officer went about his job despite suffering considerable personal anguish (as a Sikh) over the damage to the Golden Temple and having subsequently to live under a constant threat from the militants.

"I have no regrets. I did my duty as a policeman and I tried to act in as fair a manner as possible."


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