Last week, Sikhs around the world gathered publicly to remember the 30th anniversary of the Storming of the Golden Temple in Punjab, which began a series of tragic events in 1984, and called for those tragic events to be termed a genocide.
The Golden Temple
In the 16th century, an early guru of Sikhism built a marble temple in Punjab, India, in the center of a holy lake of water called the Amritsar. Later, gold was applied to parts of the building, giving it the name Golden Temple. This temple became a favored pilgrimage site for Sikhs of India. Gurus would teach on love and compassion for all living things. Sikh gurus have lived in the Golden Temple over the centuries, and the Sikh holy scriptures are kept safe there.
The Storming of the Golden Temple
A young militant Sikh, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, created a base of operations in the Golden Temple in 1982, from which he began to demand the Indian state of Punjab, the area surrounding the Amritsar, be accorded to Sikhs as a homeland. More conservative Sikhs shared this desire as well, but as greater numbers of people joined Bhindranwale, the government of India deemed this movement a threat and danger to the control of power in Punjab. So on the week of June 3-8 of 1984, Prime Minister Indira Ghandi ordered Operation Blue Star and sent military forces to storm and empty out the Golden Temple. Thousands of militants and supporters were killed during the sweep.
Resulting tensions spilled over the entire country. Towns throughout Punjab were tossed and many thousands of young men were arrested and detained. In October, the Prime Minister was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards sympathetic to the Sikh cause. In retaliation, another 3,000 Sikhs were killed rioting in the streets in the Indian capital of Delhi. Ultimately more than 37,000 Sikhs died during this turbulent period.
To this day, Sikhs still look for their holy pilgrimage site in Punjab to be recognized as a homeland independent of India’s Hindu rule.
Thirty years later, Sikhs still seek an end to human rights violations in India. In June and November, the faithful regularly gather and reaffirm the desire to visit the Golden Temple in their own homeland. A major tenet of this religion is the value of self-determination, which underscores even further the sense of urgency its followers feel for achieving a sovereign territory. This year, large groups of protesters gathered around the world in solidarity to bring the matter before the world stage. Groups in New York and San Francisco held peaceful protest rallies in the United States.
A group of about 15,000 gathered in San Francisco, surprising organizers and placing a notable extra load on public transportation. The orange headgear worn by many of the faithful presented a colorful display and gave observers a visual sense of the significant numbers of Sikhs effectively living in exile in the Bay Area, greater California, and nearby states, as they wait and work for self-determination in Punjab.
The first picture that comes to mind when thinking of genocide is of the Jewish Holocaust. But other cultural and religious groups worldwide have faced the same horrific extermination in the name of preserving governments in power. Although the number of victims does not come close to the millions lost to the Holocaust, the storming of the Golden Temple could be considered a genocide because the Hindu government of India worked to systematically eradicate a cultural people group from the face of India.
Motions have been made in Parliament in the UK and in Australia, to recognize the 1984 events as genocide. In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India did issue a formal apology for the terrible atrocities, and force the resignation of at least one official known to have been involved. But today’s faithful around the world still seek further acknowledgement and progress in the arena of human rights. Through the continued fight for recognition, international protests and rallies raise awareness of human rights violations still happening today in the Punjab, around India, and across the world.