The 1978 Nirankari Massacre of Sikhs
The Amritsar Massacre
On 13th April 1978, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha gathered together from all over India at Amritsar to hold their yearly Vaisakhi Smagam. Kirtan had started from Amrit Vela and at about ten o'clock an important message was received. The message said that the followers of Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh were holding a procession in Amritsar and were shouting insulting slogans directed at Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the Sikh religion.
The Sangat knew very well that the Nirankaris had been doing such things for several years.The Nirankaris had even gone so far as to give degrading names to prominent Gursikhs including Mata Tripta, Bhai Gurdas, Bibi Nanaki, Baba Buddha, Bhai Lalo and Bhagat Kabir. They scornfully referred to Guru Granth Sahib Ji as "a bundle of papers", and they called Kar Sewa "Bikar Sewa". The Nirankari leader is on record as saying that Guru Gobind Singh had made only Panj Pyare (Five Beloved) and that he would make 'Sat Sitaare' (seven stars). He had even dared to place his foot upon Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Since 1943 the Nirankaris have annoyed the Sikhs by distorting Gurbani to promote their warped ideals; just as many Sant-led movements do today. However it was during the 1970's that the then Nirankari 'Satguru' Gurbachan 'Singh', went even further. He published articles stating that, Gurdwara Sarovars are pools which serve no purpose and they should be filled-up; Guru Gobind Singh Ji was either fighting battles or hunting and that he knew nothing about meditation; that no sensible person can call the writings in the 'bulky miscellany' (referring to Guru Granth Sahib Ji) a divine revelation.
Bhai Fauja Singh heard the news from the loudspeaker when he was kneading the dough for the langar. He washed his hands and rushed to the congregation. He delivered a short speech, explaining the dire situation and drew a line, asking for those who are willing to accept martyrdom to cross it. Bhai Joginder Singh Talwara asked children and women not to go. However, many Bibian still insisted on going. After performing Ardas, the Gursikhs bowed before Guru Granth Sahib Ji and went off to Ramdas Niwas.
Upon reaching Ramdas Niwas they found that the procession had finished.The Gursikhs then decided that they should go to the place where the Nirankaris had gathered to hold a peaceful but resolute protest against the blasphemous insults directed at Guru Sahib. It is known that Sikhs of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and the Bhindra Jatha reached the Reego Bridge near Gobind Gar. Here, the Police stopped them. The Gursikhs remonstrated to the police about the insults being shouted at the gathering. These insults could be heard clearly from where they were standing. They told the police that they wanted to protest against the organisers of the gathering and the hurtful insults. A police officer told the Gursikhs that he would go and stop the Nirankaris and for them to remain there. The police officer went to where the Nirankaris had gathered and the Sikhs waited patiently for thirty minutes for him to return.
On his return there were more policemen accompanying him. D.S.P Joshi told the assembled jatha to go back and that the procession had ended a long time ago. But provoking speeches could still be heard on the loudspeakers. Then about five to six thousand uniformed Nirankaris rushed towards the group of about two to three hundred Gursikhs. Within seconds the massive force of Nirankaris mercilessly attacked them with pistols, rifles, spears, swords, bow and arrows, sticks, stones, acid bottles and home made bombs. The Gursikhs that were hit with bullets fell to the ground and were brutally butchered with swords, spears and axes. As the ground became covered with the bodies of the dead and wounded the police fired tear gas and bullets, but even that was directed towards the jatha, causing further injuries and death. In this way, the Nirankaris received greater assistance and were emboldened.
Bhai Fauja Singh was fired upon by the Superintendent of Police, who emptied the bullets from his pistol into Bhai Fauja Singh's chest. These were not the only bullets he was to receive that day, but he kept on standing, uttering only "Waheguru". Two Sikhs attempted to carry the still breathing and chanting Bhai Fauja Singh to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment, but were quickly arrested by the Police. Bhai Fauja Singh's body was taken by the Police and put into the "dead wagon". Again, another Sikh came upon Bhai Fauja Singh and found him breathing and still uttering "Waheguru". He attempted to help, but half an hour later, when Bibi Amarjit Kaur arrived, Bhai Fauja Singh had attained martyrdom.
D.S.P Joshi was responsible for shooting Bhai Fauja Singh. He did not allow anyone to provide medical attention to Bhai Fauja Singh. Eventually the police took the bodies of the Shaheeds to the morgue. The wounded were taken to hospital.
The astonishing thing is that the gathering of the Nirankaris continued for three-and-a-half hours after this bloody massacre had occurred. It has also become known that the D.C of Gurdaspur, Naranjan Singh I.A.S, and other senior officers were present in the gathering during the massacre. It is clear that the authorities of the Amritsar district allowed the Nirankaris to hold their procession in the Sikhs main city of Amritsar during Vaisakhi. The Police authorities are guilty of colluding with and allowing the Nirankaris complete freedom to kill at will, and not dealing with them properly at the right time.
Dalbir Singh produced a telling eyewitness account. Dalbir was a former communist who had devoted himself to trade union activities for more than a decade and is one of many who believe that the Nirankaris had fought the Sikhs with a pre-conceived plan. At the time of the clash he was a correspondent at The Tribune based in Amritsar. His report states:
"It was the afternoon of 13th April 1978. I had returned home from a routine walk around Amritsar. I was taking a nap after lunch when the telephone rang. Someone who refused to identify himself told me that several people had been killed during a shooting incident at the Nirankari convention. I rushed out to the stadium at the railway colony.
There were many dead bodies that were strewn outside the venue of the convention. I didn't yet know what had happened. I wandered around and met Govind Singh, the son-in-law of the Nirankari chief, on the stage. Govind Singh first led me to a tent in which there were many armed persons. After entering it, he suddenly turned around to lead me to another tent in which some Nirankaris were chatting with the Deputy Superintendent of Police.
I approached him and explained that I had seen some armed men who might have been the killers. The officer completely ignored this information. The next day, the police searched the Nirankari centre in Amritsar for the killers and their weapons. They had let the killers scatter, when they could still have been nearby, only to catch scapegoats one day after the actual incident." Dalbir Singh maintains that the local administration had allowed the main culprits to escape.
The government produced a panel of doctors for the post mortem of the dead bodies. It has become known that Mr Janjooha D.C ordered the post mortems to be done only by one doctor and the government orders were not correctly carried out.The D.C was also involved with the Nirankaris.
The press also printed the news details of the incident incorrectly. The Gursikhs of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and the Bhindra Jatha were called 'fanatics'. Harbhajan Singh Yogi responded stated:
"Today I read the newspaper report in which it was said, 'a body of fanatic Sikhs'. If doing Kirtan and defending the good name of our father Guru Gobind Singh Ji makes us fanatics, then we welcome this allegation. Remember, those who do not defend the honour of their father are never worthy of respect on earth. These martyrs of Amritsar have shown us that we shall live in dignity; if it is not possible, we choose to die with honour."
The killing of the Gursikhs by the Nirankari leader Gurbachan Singh was a heinous crime. We ask from where and from who did the arsenal of weapons come from? By giving the order to kill the leader of the Nirankaris was the main guilty party of the bloody massacre and should have been punished according to the full weight of the law. However, the Indian government administration, it police and judiciary, were exposed as partners to the Nirankaris and guilty of failing to deliver justice.
The Amritsar Massacre set alight the flames of justice in the Panth by the martyrdom of thirteen Gursikhs and seventy wounded. Ten Gursikhs were members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and two from the Bhindra Jatha. Many of them left wives and children. The Khalsa Panth will always remember the thirteen Shaheeds, as will their great Kurbani.
The funeral took place on Saturday 15th April 1978 outside Gurdwara Ramsar Sahib, in front of a congregation of about twenty-five to thirty thousand people. The thirteen martyrs were united on a single funeral pyre, to be cremated together.
The Kanpur Massacre
After the Vaisakhi Massacre of 1978, a peaceful agitation was started against the Nirankaris. Wherever they held their meetings, Gursikhs would go and strongly protest. Thus Gurbachan Singh was unable to address the meetings held at Varanasi, Azamgarh and Allahbad. On 25th September 1978, Gurbachan Singh reached Kanpur at 9.30pm flanked by police officers ordered to provide protection.
The news soon leaked out and Sikhs started a protest march from Gurdwara Gobindpuri Sahib Ji, which is three kilometres away from the Nirankari Bhawan in Kanpur. Women and children were also amongst the protesters. The Nirankari chief had again made full preparations for the Sikhs.
When the Sikh protesters reached the Nirankari Bhawan, the Nirankaris attacked them with brickbats and shotguns. An armed volunteer of the Nirankaris attacked Jathedar Kishan Singh with a spear, piercing his stomach. A fight ensued, and it was then that the police officers started to shoot at the Sikh protesters. As a result, thirteen Sikhs were martyred while a further seventy-four were injured.
This incident further increased Sikh resentment against Nirankaris and the Indian government. On 28th September, the bodies of those killed at Kanpur were carried in huge procession. The day before, the Sikhs of Amritsar, Delhi, Bombay, Lucknow, Kanpur and many other places observed a one-day protest strike.
The names of some of these Shaheeds are: Bibi Darshan Kaur, Bhai Jagjit Singh, Bhai Harcharan Singh, Jathedar Karam Singh, Jathedar Kishan Singh, Baba Kashmira Singh, Bhai Manmohan Singh, Bhai Gurbir Singh, Bhai Balwant Singh and Bhai Gurjit Singh.
As tempers ran high, the Punjab Government decided to ban the Nirankari Chief from entering Punjab for six months. Gurbachan Singh challenged this in the Supreme Court and the ban was lifted.
On the 30th September 1978, the Sikhs of Delhi organised a protest march and presented a memorandum to the Government of India, which demanded that all Nirankari 'Smagams' be banned. On 4th November 1978, the Nirankaris sent out a procession in Delhi to mark their annual conference. The Sikhs retaliated with a counter protest march that ended in bloodshed. The President of the Delhi Akali Dal, Avtar Singh Kohli, was hit on the head by a police-fired tear gas shell and was killed. Aside from him, Bhai Darshan Singh and thirteen-year old Maninder Singh were also Shaheed. Nine other Sikhs received injuries.
During the 5th and 6th November 1978, disturbances broke out in parts of Delhi and a curfew was imposed. Jan Sangh (BJP) workers provided a protection force, enabling the Nirankaris to continue their functions despite disturbances throughout the city. Many Arya Samaj leaders, including Lala Jagat Narain, gave speeches supporting the Nirankaris. This gave a new direction to the anti-Nirankari agitation. The Sikhs now strongly felt that the majority Hindu community in India was in support of the Nirankaris and their activities.
The Sikhs decided to take matters into their own hands following the failure of peaceful means.This time they were to obey Guru Gobind Singh Ji's instruction:
"When all means of redressing a wrong have failed, it is both just and righteous to unsheath the sword".
Bhai Ranjit Singh, a member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha along with two other Gursikhs assassinated the Nirankari chief at his home on April 24th 1980. Bhai Ranjit Singh had managed to find employment at the Nirankari headquarters in Delhi, posing as a carpenter. Later that evening, he waited with an automatic rifle in a room within their guesthouse. One of the windows gave a clear view of the driveway.At about 11pm, he shot Gurbachan Singh from his position just as he returned home from a public function. Bhai Ranjit Singh managed to escape by jumping down onto a compound wall.
Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar, Jathedar of Babbar Khalsa, was a very close friend of Bhai Fauja Singh. He heard the news of Bhai Fauja Singh's martyrdom while his Anand Karaj ceremony was being performed. He left his newly wed wife and rushed directly to Amritsar. He played a major part in eliminating the Nirankaris, including the assassination of the Nirankaris 'Sat Sitaare'. Later he went underground from where he led the Khalistan movement for fourteen years, before attaining martyrdom on 9th August 1992.
Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala emerged after the Amritsar Massacre as the pivotal figure spearheading the Sikh response to the Indian government of Indira Gandhi. The situation deteriorated as the government continued its policy of undermining the Sikh nation. This included the extensive murder, rape and humiliation of Sikhs, particularly Sikh youth. Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala educated the Sikh masses about the central government's anti-Sikh policies and discriminations and brought many onto the path of Sikhi through his teachings.
Frustration grew amongst the Sikh masses against the government and the Hindu media barons, such as Lala Jagat Narain, who deliberately and consistently depicted Sikhs as 'terrorists'. Baba Jarnail Singh's popularity became a threat to the government that had by then began to plan Operation Bluestar to bring the Sikh Panth to heel by attacking their temporal and spiritual sovereignty.