Punjab insurgency

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Punjab insurgency
Shown in red is the Punjab state in India from 1966–present
Date 1984–1995[1]
(11 years)
Location Punjab, India
Result Conflict ended with normalcy returning
India Khalistani militants
Commanders and leaders
India Zail Singh
India Ramaswamy Venkataraman
India Shankar Dayal Sharma
India Indira Gandhi
India Kanwar Pal Singh Gill
India Kuldip Singh Brar
India Ranjit Singh Dyal
India Rajiv Gandhi
India Vishwanath Pratap Singh
India Chandra Shekhar
India Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao
India Krishnaswamy Sundarji
[ Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale]] 
Bhai Amrik Singh 
Shabeg Singh 
Manbir Singh Chaheru 
Labh Singh 
Kanwaljit Singh Sultanwind
Paramjit Singh Panjwar
Ranjit Singh Neeta
Aroor Singh
Avtar Singh
Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala 
Navroop Singh 
Navneet Singh Khadian
Pritam Singh Sekhon
Gurbachan Singh Manochahal
Balwinder Singh
Talwinder Singh Parmar
Sukhdev Singh Babbar
Wadhawa Singh Babbar
Units involved
Babbar Khalsa
Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan
Dashmesh Regiment
International Sikh Youth Federation
Kamagata Maru Dal of Khalistan
Khalistan Liberation Force
Khalistan Commando Force
Khalistan Liberation Army
Khalistan Liberation Front
Khalistan Liberation Organisation
Khalistan National Army
Khalistan Guerilla Force
Khalistan Security Force
Khalistan Zindabad Force
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown
over 12,000 civilian deaths[2]

The insurgency in Punjab originated in the late 1970s, as some Sikhs, including Khalistan proponents, turned to militancy. The roots of the insurgency were very complex with the main factors being inadequate recognition of Sikhism and the Punjabi language and mistreatment from the Indian Congress Government since its formation in 1947. With all schools in Punjab teaching Punjabi children Hindi even after Punjab's linguistic reorganisation, parents and community leaders started to become concerned.[3]

The Punjabi Suba civil movement was started to address the language issue and restore Punjabi as the official language of Punjab. The Punjabi Suba movement was banned by the government on 14 April 1955.[4] During this time the Sikhs were faced with much humiliation and difficulties including peaceful protesters and innocent pilgrims being beaten, hit with bricks, arrested, and temple raids.[5] Following the Indo-Pak war of 1965 Punjabi was finally recognised as the official language of Punjab in 1966 when the Punjab land was further split into the states of Himachal Pradesh, the new state Haryana and current day Punjab.[6]

However this did not solve all problems, the Sikh community still feeling alienated within India, put forward a resolution to address all grievances they had with the Indian state. In 1973, the Sikhs put forward the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.[7] Within this resolution were issues including both religious and political concerns. From easy issues of recognising Sikhism as a religion to allowing all states within India to set local state level policies and not be forced to get permission from the central government. The Anandpur Resolution was rejected by the government but the religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined the Akali Dal to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982, a peaceful march, in order to implement Anandpur Sahib resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented a real solution to demands such as a larger share of water for irrigation and the return of Chandigarh to Punjab.[8] The Congress government decided to repress the mass agitation with a heavy hand; over a hundred people were killed in the police firings.[9] The security forces arrested over 30,000 Sikhs in two-and-a-half months.[10] After this, Bhindranwale suggested it was time for a militant approach with the help of arms and weapons to solve the problems of majority Punjab population leading to the beginning of the insurgency.[citation needed]

On 6 June 1984, Bhindranwale was shot dead in Operation Blue Star and on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. These two events played a major role in the Sikh and Anti-Sikh violence that would consume Punjab till the early 1990s.[11]

Roots of Insurgency[edit]

Punjabi Suba Movement[edit]

In the 1950s and 1960s, linguistic issues in India caused civil disorder when the central government declared Hindi as the main official language of India. For demanding Punjabi to be the official language of the Punjab a total of 12000 Sikhs were arrested for their peaceful demonstrations in 1955[12] including several Akali leaders including Tara Singh,[13] Gurcharan Singh Tohra,[14] and Jathedar of Akal Takht Achchhar Singh.[15] The nationwide movement of linguistic groups seeking statehood resulted in a massive reorganisation of states according to linguistic boundaries in 1956. At that time, Indian Punjab had its capital in Shimla, and though the vast majority of the Sikhs lived in Punjab, they still did not form a majority. But if Haryana and Himachal could be separated Sikhs could have a Punjab in which they could form a majority of 60 per cent against the Hindus being 40 per cent.[16] The Akali Dal, a Sikh dominated political party active mainly in Punjab, sought to create a Punjabi Suba. This case was presented to the States Reorganisation Commission established in 1953.

Economic impacts of the Green Revolution[edit]

While the Green Revolution in Punjab had several positive impacts, the introduction of the mechanised agricultural techniques led to unemployment. The unemployed youth could have been absorbed by industrial development, but the Indian government had been reluctant to set up heavy industries in Punjab due to its status as a high-risk border state with Pakistan.[17] The resulting unemployed rural Sikh youth were drawn to the militant groups, and formed the backbone of the militancy.[18]

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the Akalis[edit]

The second reason was attempts made by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi to use Bhindranwale to undermine the Akali Dal (Eternal Party), a political party. The strategy backfired when 13 Sikhs in Amritsars were killed in a clash between Sikhs and Nirankaris .They were holding a demonstration against the Nirankaris who with the permission of the then government holding a peaceful Congressional "Samagam" at the event of Baisakhi. Such a clash took violent shape and a total of 13 lives were lost. According to the government, Bhindranwale and his followers became a source of disruption and mayhem, but a secret 3rd agency was also working to make Punjab situation unstable at the behest of the Government. Bhindranwale gained a lot of support from the Sikhs, rural Sikhs especially, because they felt alienated from the Indian government. Their disruptions became so bad that in 1984, Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers who were in the Harimandir Sahib complex, Sikhism's most holy shrine, in Amritsar. The operation undertaken by the army was codenamed Operation Blue Star. Most Sikhs militants inside the complex were killed and the Akal Takht was bombed.

Pakistan involvement[edit]

Pakistan has been deeply involved in the training, guiding and arming Sikh militants. Wadhawa Singh, Chief Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Lakhbir Singh Rode, Chief, International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Chief, Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), Gajinder Singh, Chief, Dal Khalsa International (DKI) and Ranjit Singh Neeta, Chief, Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) permanently based in Pakistan, have been co-ordinating militant activities of their outfits in Punjab and elsewhere in India under the guidance of Pak ISI. Pak ISI agents regularly escort Sikh militants for trans-border movement and provide safe havens for their shelter and dumps for weapons and explosives.

Interrogation reports of Sikh militants arrested in India suggest training of Sikh youth in Pakistan (including arms training in the use of rifle, sniper gun, LMG, grenade and causing explosions using gunpowder) and possession of arms and explosives by the Pak-based Sikh militant leaders. These IRs also suggest plans of Pak ISI through Pak based terrorists to cause explosions in big cities like Amritsar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Delhi and targeting of VVIPs.[19] [20] [21]


A section of Sikhs turned to militancy in Punjab; some Sikh militant groups aimed to create an independent state called Khalistan through acts of violence directed at members of the Indian government, army or forces. Others demanded an autonomous state within India, based on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. A large numbers of Sikhs condemned the actions of the militants.[22]

By 1985, the situation in Punjab had become highly volatile. In October 1985, some Sikh militants stopped a bus and shot six Hindu bus passengers. On the same day, another group of extremists killed two officials on a train.[23]:174 The Congress(I)-led Central Government dismissed its own Punjab's government, declaring a state of emergency, and imposed the President's Rule in the state. During the five months preceding Operation Blue Star, from 1 January 1984 to 3 June 1984, 298 people had been killed in various violent incidents across Punjab. In five days preceding the Operation, 48 people had been killed in the violence.[23]:175

Operation Bluestar[edit]

Akal Takht being repaired by the Indian Government after the attack. It was later pulled down and rebuilt by the Sikh community.[24][25]

Operation Bluestar which occurred between 3–8 June 1984 was an Indian military operation, ordered by Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India,[26] to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was accused of amassing weapons in the Sikh temple and starting a major armed uprising.[27]

The government seemed unable to stop the violence in Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi. Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple complex in Punjab. Operation Blue Star was a mixed success.[28] A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. The army kept asking the militants to surrender, using the public address system. The militants were asked to send the pilgrims out of the temple premises to safety, before they start fighting the army. However, nothing happened till 7 PM.[29] Reports of Indian Army Soldiers tying up civilians with their turbans and shooting them in their backs were not uncommon. The attack also took place on a Sikh Holy Day, when there were an extra 150,000 -200,000 civilians.[29] The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants. Thus, tanks and heavy artillery were used to forcefully suppress the anti-tank and machine-gun fire. After a 24-hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex. According to the Indian Army, 136 army personnel were killed[30] and 249 injured. while insurgent casualties were 493 killed and 86 injured. Unofficial figures go well into the thousands. Along with insurgents, many innocent worshipers were caught in the crossfire. The estimates of innocent people killed in the operation range from a few hundred of people.

Anti-Sikh massacre[edit]

The Operation Bluestar inflamed the Sikh community. Many saw it as an attack on their religion and beliefs.

On 31 October 1984, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her two Sikh bodyguards. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, rioting mobs allegedly led by Congress leaders, who are still facing the court cases,[31] rampaged through the streets of Delhi and other parts of India over the next few days, killing several thousand Sikhs. The police "worked to destroy a lot of the evidence about who was involved with the killings by refusing to record First Information Reports" [32] Hundreds more were refused because the victims wanted to name Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler. Human Rights Watch reports "In the months following the killings, the government sought no prosecutions or indictments of any persons, including officials, accused in any case of murder, rape or arson."[33] Hundreds of murders are yet to be even registered by police.[31] The New Delhi Police was reported to be doing nothing to stop the rioting, as was the state and central government.[31] It was only after three days of rioting in the capital of the country that army was called in to restore order.[31]

After the riots[edit]

The Anti-Sikh riots across Northern India had repercussions in Punjab. A number of Sikhs were killed by Hindus.[34] Trains were attacked and people were shot after being pulled from buses. In 1986, 24 Hindus were pulled out of a bus and shot near Lalru in Punjab by Sikh militants.[35] According to Human Rights Watch "In the beginning on the 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab attacked non-Sikhs in the state.[36]

Indira Gandhi's son and political successor, Rajiv Gandhi, tried unsuccessfully to bring peace to Punjab . Between 1987 and 1991, Punjab was placed under an ineffective President's rule and was governed from Delhi. Elections were eventually held in 1992 but the voter turnout was poor. A new Congress(I) government was formed and it gave the police chief of the state K.P.S. Gill a free hand.


Gurharpal Singh, Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 11 (Nov. 1992), pp. 988–999 JSTOR 2645266</ref>

Punjab Insurgancy Chronology Outline
Date Event Source
March 1972 Akalis routed in Punjab elections, Congress wins
17 October 1973 Akalis ask for their rights through Anandpur Sahib Resolution
25 April 1980 Gurbachan Singh of Sant Nirankari sect shot dead.
2 June 1980 Akalis lose election in Punjab [37]
16 Aug 1981 Sikhs in Golden Temple meet foreign correspndents [38]
9 Sep 1981 Jagat Narain, Editor, Hind Samachar group murdered. [39]
29 Sep 1981 Separatists killed on Indian Jetliner to Pakistan [40]
11 Feb 1982 US gives Visa to Jagjit Singh Chauhan [41]
11 Apr 1982 USA Khalistani G.S. Dhillon Barred From India [42]
July 1982 Armed Sikh militants storm the parliament in a protest related to the deaths of 34 Sikhs in police custody [43]
4 Aug 1982 Akalis demand autonomy and additional regions for Punjab [44]
11 Oct 1982 Sikh stage protests at the Indian Parliament [43]
Nov 1982 Longowal threatens to disrupt Asian Games [45]
Oct 1983 6 Hindu passengers killed [46]
27 Feb 1983 Sikhs permitted to carry daggers in domestic flights [47]
3 May 1983 Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, talks of violence being perpetuated against Sikhs and for India to understand [48]
14 Oct 1983 3 people killed at a Hindu festival in Chandigarh [49]
Oct 1983 Hindus pulled off a train and bus and killed [50]
9 Feb 1984 A wedding procession bombed [51]
19 Feb 1984 Sikh-Hindu clashes spread in North India [52]
24 Feb 1984 6 more Sikhs killed in Punjab by police [53]
29 Feb 1984 By this time, the Temple had become the centre of the 19-month-old uprising by the separatist Sikhs [54]
3 April 1984 Militants cause fear and instability in Punjab [55]
8 April 1984 Longowal writes – he cannot control anymore [56]
14 April 1984 Surinder Singh Sodhi, follower of Bhindranwale shot dead at the temple by a man and a women [57]
17 April 1984 Deaths of 3 Sikh Activists in factional fighting [58]
27 May 1984 Ferosepur politician killed after confessing to fake police encounters with "terrorist" killings [59]
2 June 1984 Total media and the press black out in Punjab, the rail, road and air services in Punjab suspended. Foreigners' and NRIs' entry was also banned and water and electricity supply cut off. [60][61][62]
3 June 1984 Army controls Punjab security [63]
5 June 1984 Heavy fighting, Punjab shut-down from outside world. [64]
6 June 1984 2000 Sikhs killed in Punjab following 3 June invasion, daylong battle in Amritsar [65][66]
7 June 1984 Harmandir Sahib over taken by army. Army enters temple on a Sikh festival day [67]
7 June 1984 Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale dead [68]
8 June 1984 27 Sikhs killed in protests in Srinagar, Ludhiana, Amritsar after Government forces fired on protesters [69]
9 June 1984 Weapons seized, troops fired on [70]
10 June 1984 Reports of anti-Sikh riots and killings in Delhi [71]
11 June 1984 Negotiators close to a settlement on waters [72]
31 October 1984 Indira Gandhi killed [73]
1 November 1984 Mass Sikh killings begin in Delhi [74]
3 November 1984 Anti Sikh Violence, a total of 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and more Sikh 2,000 killed in other towns and cities, Sikh property worth crores of rupees looted or sacked. [74]
23 June 1985 Air India Flight 182 was bombed by Sikh terrorists killing 329 people (including 22 crew members); almost all of them Hindus
20 August 1985 Harcharan Singh Longowal assassinated [75]
29 September 1985 60% vote, Akali Dal won 73 of 115 seats, Barnala CM [76]
26 January 1986 Sikhs have a global meeting and the rebuilding of Akal Takht declared as well as the five member Panthic Committee selected and have draft of the Constitution of Khalistan written [77]
29 April 1986 Resolution of Khalistan passed by Sarbat Khalsa and Khalistan Commando Force also formed at Akal Takht with more than 80,000 Sikhs present. [78]
1 December 1986 Militants kill 24 Hindu passengers [79]
19 May 1987 General Secretary CPI(M) Comrade Deepak Dhawan was brutally murdered at Village Sangha, Tarn Taran
12 May 1988 Harmandir Sahib invaded by Indian Government during Operation Black Thunder II [80]
10 January 1990 Senior Superintendent of Batala Police Gobind Ram killed in bomb blast in retaliation of police gang raping Sikh woman of Gora Choor village [81][82]
16 June 1991 80 people killed on two trains by extremists [83]
25 February 1992 Congress sweeps Punjab Assembly elections [84]
3 September 1995 CM Beant Singh killed in blast [85]

See also[edit]



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