Tanya Roy: While this year marks the 36th anniversary of 1984 sikh massacre, it becomes almost inevitable to recall one of the worst riots witnessed in post-independence India. The 1984 anti-sikh carnage, the mindless bloodshed that claimed over 2700 sikh lives in the capital (New Delhi) alone is one of the traumatic disaster that still haunts the entire nation.  Let’s take a glance over those events which lead to this pogrom-

The 1984 Operation BLUE STAR :

The biggest internal security mission ever shouldered by the Indian Army. Operation Bluestar was the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s solution to the chaotic going law and order situation in Punjab. She ordered a millitary operation to remove Sikh millitants who were piling up weapons in the Harmandir Sahib Complex (Golden Temple,Amritsar) . The operation was carried out between June 1 and June 8, 1984. The operation took birth after the rise of Khalistan movement in India. The ‘Khalistan movement’ was a Sikh Separatist movement which aimed at creating an independent homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state called ‘Khalistan’ . Even though the Khalistan movement started in the early 1940s and 1950s , it gained momentum between 1970s and 1980s.

Operation Blue Star was divided into two parts namely, ‘Operation Metal’ – limited to Golden temple but it also led to the capturing of suspects from outskirts of Punjab (operation shop)  and ‘Operation Woodrose’ – carried out by Indian army, using tanks, artillery, helicopters and heavuly armed vehicles. It was launched throughout Punjab to quell millitancy.

GOC SK Sinha, who was asked by the then PM Indira Gandhi to plan the attack at the Golden Temple, had reservations over the proposal. He sought premature reitrement in 1983 on being superseded by Lt Gen Arunkumar Sridhar Vidya for the post of Army Chief. He was the brain behind the operation involving millitary attack against the millitans of Khalistan movement.

The significance of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale:

Bhindranwale was the leader of Dadami Taskal and was one of the main reasons behind Operation Blue Star. He had a massive influence on Sikh youth and possessed a skill of persuasion which he used in order to make people follow sikh rules and tenets. He also supported the khalistan movement and the creation of a separate state for sikhs.  In the 1972 Punjab state elections, congress won by a margin and Akali Dal was defeated. The Akalis wanted  autonomy for Punjab and they put forward the Anandpur Sahib resolution which demanded many powers be transferred to state from the central government. The congress rejected the demand and that’s when Bhindranwala emerged as the face of a fledgeling separatist movement and launched the Dharam Yodh Morcha in the year 1982. Bhindranwale and his supporters took to arms and soon Punjab was in the grip of a deadly terrorist movement. By 1983, 410 people had died in violent incidents while 1180 people were injured. The centre imposed the President’s rule in Punjab. In july 1983 one of the Akali leader Harchand Singh Longowal invited Bhindranwale to take shelter in Golden temple complex to evade his arrest. Operation blue star was specifically aimed to eliminate Bhindranwala from the Golden Temple complex and eegain the control over Harmindar Sahab.During operation Bluestar, Bhindranwale and Khalistan supporters took over Akal Takht complex in Amritsar’s Golden Temple. The operation lasted from 1st june to 6th june. Though the golden temple complex was unharmed , the Akal Takht and several other parts of the complex were damaged.


Officual reports estimates the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83 and the number of civilian deaths 492, though some independent estimate ascends higher. There were other missions planned to execute but was abandoned such as ‘Operation Sundown’ , which was planned by the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agency to abduct Bhindranwale and ‘Operation Black Thunder’ which was the second phase if operation bluestar, it began on May 9, 1998 and was carried out by Black Cat Commandos of NSG (National Security Guards) to remove Sikh millitants from the golden temple.

The Aftermath:

The milltary assault led to tensions across members of Sikh Community worldwide and it created  haywire  across the nation. On 31st october 1984, PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two sikh bodyguards , Satwant Singh and Beant Singh who later declared that they were taking revenge for operation bluestar which she had ordered. In the ensuing violence, which lasted roughly 3 days, 2733 sikhs were killed in New Delhi. Sikhs were also attacked in several other Indian cities including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela.

The Genocide:

Following the assassination of the then PM Indira Gandhi, by the time the violence ended, as per official figures 3550 sikhs had been massacred. What followed was four days of orchestrated violence , looting of properties of sikhs and their places of worship were horrifically attacked. In Delhi- Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri , Trilokpuri and other trans- Yamuna region were the worst affected . The mob entered sikh neighbourhoods and started killing them indiscriminately , destroyed their houses and shops. Others were dragged out of their homes, many sikh women were brutally assaulted and raped.

Sins of those in power and the commissions that obscured the truth:

During the night of 31st October and the morning of 1st November , congress party leaders were reported to to have met with local supporters to distribute money and weapons. Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and union leader Lalit Maken were reported handing out 100 Rupee notes and liquour bottles to the mobs. On the morning of 1st Nov , Sajjan kumar was seen holding rallies in Delhi’s Palam colony  , kiran gardens and Sultanpur where he was observed distributing iron rods from a parked truck to a group of 120 people ordering them to attack sikhs, kill them , loot them and to burn their properties. For many years , cases have been brought against many other congress leaders, notably Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tyler – but so far no senior politician or police officer has been sentenced.

As many as 10 commissions and committies starting with Ranganath Mishra and ending with Nanavati commission were constituted to look into the 1984 case. The Nanavati commission which submitted it’s report in Feb 2004 was headed by Jt. GT Nanavati, retired Judge of Supreme Court.the commission reported that the recorded  accounts from witnesses indicated that the local congress leaders or workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs. The commission recommended the reopening of  only 4 out of 241 cases closed by the police. In 2014, a special committiee was set up to carve out the possibility to set a special investigation team (SIT). A 3 member SIT was subsequently appointed in 2015  headed by Pramod Asthana, an IPS officer  to examine the evidence in criminal cases relating to the carnage. 36 years have passed and so far only 10-12 murder cases have resulted in conviction and only 25 were sentenced life imprisonment. The conviction rate is less than 1 percent. Lawyers who have fought for the victims also underlined that judgements have been delayed and the perpatrators still roam freely.

Any commissions that were set up, denied the possibility of a larger conspiracy being involved and they always sidestepped this question. If justice remains impossible even after 36 years  indicates that the state is not institutionally equipped to deliver justice and this makes the future seem evanesce for the vast majority of such victims across the nation. 1984 riots still remains one of the bloodiest and most brutal episodes of communal violence in Independent India.