Operation Blue Star... and After: An Eyewitness
I recognised Sant Longowal and Jathedar Tohra, whose pictures I had seen. Balwant Singh Ramoowalia introduced the rest.
In addition to Longowal and Tohra, they were Darshan Singh Issapur and Akali leader, Bibi Amarjit Kaur – Chairperson of the organisation called Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Sardar Bhan Singh – the Secretary of SGPC, Sardar Abhinashi Singh – the Deputy Secretary of SGPC and two sewadars named Manjit Singh and Gobind Singh.
When I asked about Bhindranwale, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia told me he had shifted to the Akal Takht Complex many days earlier. Was he alive, dead or captured? No one knew at that time. From the Akal Takht side sporadic firing of small arms could still be heard.
I greeted every one with the traditional ‘Sat Sri Akal’ and explained that my duty was to escort them all out of the Temple Complex to a safe place. I heard a collective sigh of relief. They all got up instantly, ready to follow me. There was no denial or hesitation.....
Outside, the rear door of the APC was open and the Junior Commissioned Officer in charge was standing by. I asked Tohhra to enter. He hesitated and asked in Punjabi, “Thah kithe jaa ke karna e?” (“Where are you going to knock me off”?) I replied, “Babaji, I am an army officer and also a Sikh. Believe me I shall take you to safety. There is no plan to knock you off. Thah nahneen karnaa.”....
Ramoowalia further narrated a tragic episode that occurred early in the morning when it was still dark.
The soldiers collected everyone including women and even old people in the compound of the Sarai and made them sit in rows. Most of these people were pilgrims who had come from their villages for the Gurupurab on the 3rd of June. Their number was nearly 200. Hardly any among them could have been militants. The compound was almost full.
Perhaps the aim was to take down their particulars. A few soldiers were standing guard with weapons at the ready. All of a sudden a grenade was thrown into the crowd from one of the upper stories. A few died instantly including a soldier and many succumbed to injuries later. These included a few employees of the SGPC including Gurcharan Singh the trusted secretary of Sant Longowal, Nachhatar Singh the president of Akali Dal Distt Sangrur and Jathedar Baggar Singh of Bathinda. There was a pandemonium and utter chaos. To save their lives the people rang for shelter into the verandahs and the rooms. Thinking the prisoners were trying to flee the soldiers standing guard opened fire into the crowd. The casualties piled up rapidly.
It was not known who had thrown the grenade, a solder or some terrorist who was still roaming free. A little later in the morning according to Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, a Major of the same unit lined up about 20 Sikh youth against a well and had them massacred with machine gun fire. A few days later Bhan Singh repeated the same episode to me. This was not the only incident of its kind.....
We were relieved to find that the shutters and the locks had not been tampered, though we noticed a few bullet or bayonet holes in the shutters indicating some soldiers had been through the place. They must have bayoneted and fired a few rounds at suspected militants hiding behind the shutters. We peeped through the holes. Every thing appeared to be intact though the glass of the showcases were shattered. Bhan Singh and Abhinashi Singh also had a look and confirmed that all items appeared to be safe.
After deliberating whether we should open the shutters at this juncture, we decided against it. In any case the keys were not available. I accorded top priority to placing a responsible guard at the Tosha Khana at the earliest, to prevent pilfering by the Army personnel or any one else.....
I decided to remain at the Tosha Khana while waiting for the guard to arrive. Through the broken wall of the burnt room I looked at the façade of Akal Takht just 50 meters away. It was close to 7 pm but, the visibility was good.
The top storey including the dome had collapsed and certain parts were still smoldering; some of the gold plated sheets of the dome had fallen and were mixed with the debris below.....
Unlike the morning there was no sound of firing now. The debris had blocked the entrance to the basement, except the one on the right side, and also most of the loopholes through which the militants had been firing the previous night. Presently I saw a militant crawling out of this entrance. It appeared he was wounded in one or both the legs. A commando in black overalls pointed a carbine at him and said some thing I could not hear. I only saw the militant pointing at his own chest, probably asking the commando to finish him off. The commando obliged with a single burst.....
The guard arrived in about 20 minutes. It consisted of a JCO (Naib Subedar) and 10 Jawans — all Sikhs. I explained to the JCO how important the Tosha Khana was for the Sikh community and hence its safety. It would be a big disgrace for the Army if the Tosha Khana was plundered, I told him.
It is with pride that I laud the loyalty of those Jawans. Being so close and exclusively in charge of the priceless treasure under chaotic conditions, they neither touched any item nor allowed any one else to go near it. — Excerpted from Operation Bluestar and After... An Eyewitness Account by Brig (retd) Onkar Singh Goraya.
(Note: The author uses unconventional spellings for some names. These have been standardised).