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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Flashbacks: Golden Temple attack
Apar Singh BajwarKartar KaurGiani Joginder Singh VedantiTarlochan SinghKanwarpal SinghGurmej SinghBhupinder SinghGurjit Kaur

Gurmej Singh

Gurmej Singh was arrested inside the Golden Temple Complex on 7 June 1984 and spent five years in jail without trial.

He was released when the Indian government withdrew sedition charges against him.

"I am basically a peaceful man. I do not remember ever nursing any kind of grudge against anyone.

It was pitch dark, hot, humid and so deafeningly noisy that one could not tell if the person lying next to him was dead or still alive

"I believe everyone - Sikh and Hindu - must live peacefully with mutual respect. There is no purpose served by fighting and blood shed.

"Yet, without any reason, I was unjustly thrown into a jail cell for five long years.

I was the sole earning hand and my wife and four little children were forced to suffer near starvation for no fault of theirs or mine.

"I used to grow vegetables in my village and sell these at the market in Amritsar. We were not rich, but my family led a decent life. I had two sons and two daughters, at the time, they were all below the age of ten.

"On 3 June 1984 a group of young friends from the village decided to accompany me to the vegetable market in Amritsar.

"Since this was the Fifth Guru Arjan Dev-ji's Martyrdom Day, we also planned to visit the Golden Temple the same afternoon.

"We were all still inside the Temple when the army imposed a curfew. Sensing trouble ahead, we tried to leave via the cobbler's bazaar, but we were turned back by a group of angry soldiers who ordered us back into the temple complex until the curfew orders were in force.

"Over the course of the next three days and nights, the Golden Temple was converted into a bloody battlefield with bullets raining from every conceivable direction.

"We took refuge in an office room in the complex but the bullets followed us everywhere.

"I was hit in my hip. Many of my village mates and others were fatally wounded.

"It was pitch dark, hot, humid and so deafeningly noisy that one could not tell if the person lying next to him was dead or still alive.

"Many people had been killed.

"Then sometime on 6 June, after the fighting had ceased, army soldiers broke open the door of our room and ordered all of us out.

"I was wearing a khaki-coloured turban and this led the soldiers to conclude that I was a police deserter who had joined up with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's armed militants.

'Continuous nightmare'

They thrashed me mercilessly and were about to kill me when a kind-hearted officer intervened.

Crowds outside the temple before it reopens (Photo courtesy The Tribune)
Crowds outside the temple before it reopens (Photo courtesy The Tribune)

"The events that followed after the army arrested me were a continuous nightmare.

"I was among hundreds who were first tortured in a military camp at the Amritsar Military Cantonment and then charged with sedition.

After a full year there, I was shifted out of Punjab, to the Jodhpur Jail in Rajasthan to join 378 others like myself.

"A full five years later, I was released without a trial. The government withdrew its cases against me and I was allowed to return to my family.

"They had by then given me up for dead.

"For the first time I was able to tell my own children the truth about what had occurred at the Golden Temple in the summer of 1984.

"I have spent the past 15 years trying to get some sort of a compensation for the time I was unjustly incarcerated.

"The Indian government was responsible for my suffering and the misery that my family was forced to bear.

"There can only be justice if this government pays people like me the compensation that is due to us.

"There are only a few of us that remain now - many have passed on.

"For the first time in history, Punjab has a Sikh chief minister and India has a Sikh as Prime Minister.

"Though it is true that no past government has bothered to do anything for people like me, I am suddenly hopeful."

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