June 6, 1984 – Chronicle of a Journalist’s Story

I can never forget. It’s as if the story was etched in memory, it still sends shivers down the spine and triggers reactions of horror and disbelief.

It was just a few days after June 6, 1984. I had, along with photographer Sandeep Shankar, been inside the Golden Temple complex just a week before – a beat that made Punjab our second home. We were there every other day, actually learned to understand Punjabi if not speak it fluently, to cover one of the biggest battlefields in India at the time (the other two being Kashmir and Assam ).

We had gone inside the most beautiful Gurudwara in the world (again), to meet Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (again) and his many lieutenants and armed cadres who had then taken over Harminder Sahib in Amritsar.

The tension was palpable as this was my first visit where we saw no civilian pilgrims. But we were there to do a job and we did it. Bhindranwale, as usual, had a small durbar on the roof, and even though no one was talking about it, there was a state of readiness as if the men inside were expecting some kind of military action. Little did we know this would be our last meeting with Bhindranwale, who showed no sign of tension. But this is another story.

And it came. Army soldiers stormed into the temple in the early hours of the morning. And if an officer who was part of the operations later told me on condition of anonymity that he was telling the truth, the soldiers were sent in unprepared with little or no idea of ​​the disposition. For example, many were killed descending the steps of the gurdwara without knowing that small ventilation windows of the cellars opened on these steps. On both sides. And they were mowed down by Bhindranwale’s guns as they rushed forward, completely taken by surprise, stumbling and falling over bodies. And lose countless in the dark.

The scene of the Odessa marches from the battleship Potemkin. Dramatic and so bloody.

We heard outside that the Akal Takht had been “damaged”. The army had cordoned off the whole area, so there was no access, but after a few days, after insistently knocking and shouting, we reached the first group of journalists taken to Harminder Sahib. Nothing prepared us for what we saw. A HUGE gap where the Akal Takht was. Unbelievable! I still remember the shiver down my spine, complete disbelief replaced by a flood of unhappiness and apprehension that washed over mind and body.

What did they do? What will happen now? What did they trigger? How could they do this? How will they handle the repercussions? The questions raced through the brain with jerky rapidity. And then the first group of checked pilgrims began to arrive. And the scenes remain etched… The old men and women who came and almost collapsed from grief. They sat around the parikrama, isolated Sikhs, tears streaming down each cheek. Quiet and silent, like ghosts, they sat motionless, all eyes fixed on where the Akal Takht had been. The silence was eerie, and so tragic.

By this time, we reporters were back in action, trying to interview the pilgrims and record their responses. They had no words for us, and their grief was so visibly deep that we hesitated to approach them. How their hearts had been hurt and they couldn’t even look at us, let alone answer questions that seemed silly when juxtaposed with reality. So we retreated, tried to corner the army officers, insisted on answers that no one really had, with the “we had to save our men” and “the leaders had taken refuge in the Akal Takht and we had no other way to get them out.’

We’ve written tons of questions about this, warning about the plus and the worst. And since journalists are often the first chroniclers of history (at least were, now we are propagators of fake news and propaganda), we recorded the event as we recorded the years before it. , as we recorded the consequences – in great detail. . Bloody details that have wounded the secular soul of India, perhaps irreparably.

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