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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
Flashbacks: Golden Temple attack
Apar Singh BajwarKartar KaurGiani Joginder Singh VedantiTarlochan SinghKanwarpal SinghGurmej SinghBhupinder SinghGurjit Kaur

Tarlochan Singh

In 1984, Tarlochan Singh's old, ancestral shop was located only a few metres from the Golden Temple complex.

It was gutted during the Operation Bluestar.

The sound of gunfire had become quite a normal thing. But we sensed that a big showdown was only days away

He and other shopkeepers of the area set up tin sheds in place of the old shops, but some years later they were ousted from their place of business because the government decided to clear the area around the Temple complex to make a security corridor.

"It was a small place but my shop - just off the Chowk Durbar Sahib - was a tremendous place for business.

"The street was so narrow that even cycle rickshaws could not pass, but the bazaar constantly thronged with shoppers and tourists."

"Despite the repeated strikes called by the militants and the short curfews imposed by the administration, business was booming.

"We had regular customers and would make up any losses in a matter of days.

"You see, our bazaar was an integral part of what then used to be the Golden Temple circuit.

"Any pilgrimage to the Temple could not be complete without a visit to the old bazaars.

"Crowds of devotees would enter after removing their shoes at the Clock Tower entrance, say their prayers at the shrine and then invariably walk barefoot to the shops and buy what they needed.

"Scores of tourists from almost every Western nation also came to see the Temple. These folks would come to the bazaar buying little souvenirs or then simply shooting pictures of the place.

Gunfire 'normal'

"The military action and the events that followed completely changed our lives.

"The sound of gunfire inside and around the Temple had become quite a normal thing.

"But then we sensed that a big showdown was only days away when at the end of May, paramilitary force soldiers began building machine gun and mortar positions atop our homes situated only a little distance from the temple complex.

A day later, all hell broke loose. The sound of gunfire was deafening ... In the distance I could see our entire bazaar in flames.

"These men were soon followed by army troops, who ordered us to shut down our shops and go home.

"When the curfew was lifted for some hours on 3 June - the Martyrdom Day of the Fifth Guru - I rose early and rushed to the Temple to say a prayer as I did every year.

I returned home but when the reimposition of curfew was announced that evening hundreds of devotees were still inside the temple with nowhere to go.

"A day later, all hell broke loose. We spent that night in terror. The sound of gunfire was deafening. The night sky was lit up as if someone had turned on a thousand 1,000-watt bulbs.

"In the distance I could see our entire bazaar in flames.

"Someone said the soldiers had started the fire to prevent the militants from escaping.

"By early morning, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his men had all been killed along with many of the devotees who had come from faraway places.

"Like I said, they had nowhere to escape to."

For several months after Operation Bluestar, Tarlochan Singh and the other shopkeepers were not allowed to go near their shops.

But as the tension gradually eased, the traders set up tin sheds and restarted their businesses.

'Overnight we were paupers'

The old customers returned and all seemed okay until some years later - following two more attempts by armed Sikh separatists to use the Golden Temple as a sanctuary - the government decided to clear the area and build a security corridor right around the temple complex.

Mourning a newspaper editor killed by Sikh militants (Photo courtesy The Tribune)
Mourning a newspaper editor killed by Sikh militants (Photo courtesy The Tribune)

"The government said it was part of a plan to beautify the surroundings of the holy shrine and for this they demolished every building located up to a certain distance from the complex.

"The shopkeepers from the old bazaars were shunted out to a desolate location on the periphery of the Old City.

"Overnight we were reduced to being paupers.

"There were no customers here. Many traders sold the shops allotted to them and went away.

"Many others were ruined.

"Even today - 20 years later - there is no comparison between my earnings in the old bazaar and from this new shop. To survive I have had to change my trade.

"For us shopkeepers it has like always not been a question of Hindu or Sikh - Operation Bluestar affected us all.

"But there one major satisfaction in that the House of my Gurus (Golden Temple) has risen in stature and is today a more powerful symbol than ever before.

"There were never such huge crowds of devotees in the old days. I have lived near the Temple for 55 years, and I have never seen the place as glorious as it appears now."

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