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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Flashbacks: Golden Temple attack
Apar Singh BajwarKartar KaurGiani Joginder Singh VedantiTarlochan SinghKanwarpal SinghGurmej SinghBhupinder SinghGurjit Kaur

Kanwarpal Singh

"The night of 5 June, 1984, seemed like the end of the world had come," recalls Kanwarpal Singh Bittoo then a young student at Amritsar's Khalsa College.

"We sat huddled together inside our homes as a never-ending succession of explosions and continuous gunfire ripped through the night. It was dark and terribly humid. The electric supply had been shut down and all telephone lines had been cut.

We had one common goal - to avenge what the Indian government had done

"Then suddenly, on the morning of June 6, a deathly silence enveloped the old city.

"Rumours circulated wildly. '[Militant leader] Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is dead,' 'the Indian army has destroyed the Golden Temple,' 'Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale has escaped across the border into Pakistan'.

"Some days later when the soldiers permitted anxious devotees to once again enter the Golden Temple, hundreds of people rushed in. I was among the first to go inside.

"The sight before us was more horrific than could possibly be imagined. The Golden Temple complex had been devastated. The Akal Takht lay in ruins. There was blood everywhere. The parikarma (pathway around the temple pool was run over with tank tracks. The Amrit sarovar (the pool, or tank, surrounding the temple) was stained with blood.

"It was a day of mourning for all Sikhs.

"I saw people shaking their heads and weeping like little children.

"What I saw made me very angry. I was angry with the Indian state for daring to desecrate our shrine."

'Dangerous conspiracy'

Young Kanwarpal Singh's sense of indignation only increased as the days passed.

Crowds race towards the Golden Temple after it reopens (Photo courtesy The Tribune)
Crowds race towards the Golden Temple after it reopens (Photo courtesy The Tribune)

"I had no doubt in my mind that Operation Bluestar was part of a deep and dangerous conspiracy that the government of India had hatched to dishonour the entire Sikh Community."

The 19-years-old college student and some of his friends decided to exact revenge.

Fed on a regular diet of rumours that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had escaped to Pakistan, these young men decided to follow the leader.

"We got in touch with a local smuggler, who was also a Sikh like us. This man helped us in crossing the border into Pakistan, where we were arrested and jailed for making an illegal entry. By and by more than 600 boys and men had landed in the same jail at Faislabad.

"We were all known as 'Bhindranwale's Boys'.

"We had one common goal - to avenge what the Indian government had done.

"After six months in the Faislabad jail, the authorities in Pakistan offered to send us back to India but I and many others elected to stay back and join ranks with Sikh separatist outfits already working out of that country.

"I joined the Babbar Khalsa International and lived in Pakistan for many months under the leadership of Mehal Singh Babbar."

Kanwarpal Singh made several trips back into India on missions assigned to him by his leaders.

However, he refuses to divulge details saying they could be used against him.

He travelled to many countries forwarding the cause of a separate Sikh homeland or Khalistan (Land of the Pure) before he was eventually arrested and extradited from Bangkok in 1997.

'Revolutionary and democratic'

Today Kanwarpal Singh has forsaken the path of armed resistance against the Indian state.

But he continues to espouse the cause of Sikh sovereignty as an activist of the Dal Khalsa which is among the few overground Sikh organisations that openly demand freedom from India.

"The Dal Khalsa is a revolutionary and political organisation which believes in employing democratic means to achieve what our Gurus had ordained for the Sikh Community.

"The Guru said: 'Raj karega Khalsa (the pure shall rule)' and this is an integral part of the Sikh psyche.

"It does not matter that we are at the moment only a small minority. After all, all revolutions began with only a handful of committed people."

"Operation Bluestar was the starting point for me and many others like me. The huge separatist movement that the events of 1984 sparked off have thoroughly served to give Sikhs a distinct identity across the world."

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