Amritsar 'genocide' commemoration: Sikhs march through London

Golden Temple anniversary march Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The crowd marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square

Members of the Sikh community have marched through central London in protest over the storming of India's Golden Temple 30 years ago.

Thousands attended the event, as protesters demanded that the assault of June 1984 be recognised as a genocide.

Crowds from all over the country assembled in Hyde Park in support.

Sikhs say thousands were murdered when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the army into Sikhism's holiest shrine to flush out militants.

Recently, British Sikhs have also been angered by the revelation in previously secret papers published by the UK government in January, which suggest that an SAS officer was recruited to help plan the operation.

Image caption Sikhs gathered in central London for the march
Image caption The crowd was led by five Sikhs in ceremonial dress
Image caption People listened to speakers in Hyde Park
Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Demonstrators at Trafalgar Square brought mock coffins as part of their protest

In February, an investigation by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood found that British military advice was given to India ahead of the attack but it had only "limited impact".

The London march, from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, was led by five Sikhs in ceremonial dress with swords drawn, and included floats on the themes of "truth", "freedom" and "justice".

Marchers carried symbolic black coffins.

Golden Temple

Elsewhere, in Leicester, police are investigating after a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was vandalised with graffiti appearing to refer to the attack,

"Never forget 84" and "We want justice #84" have been sprayed on the base of the statue in Leicester's Golden Mile.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Golden Temple is one of the holiest shrines for Sikhs
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The temple was built of white marble by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjun, in the 16th Century

Although the Golden Temple in Punjab had been occupied by heavily-armed extremists in June 1984, even moderate Sikhs were horrified by the violence of the Indian army's attack.

At the scene

Poonam Taneja, BBC Asian Network

Sikh families from cities including Edinburgh, Birmingham and Leicester travelled to Hyde park in London.

Hundreds sat on the grass, eating ice cream, as they listened to speaker after speaker giving speeches in Punjabi, condemning the attack 30 years ago.

On a blazing hot day, there was a vibrant atmosphere as families held picnics surrounded by saffron flags featuring the Sikh Khanda symbol.

Some youths who were not even born when the raid took place were were wearing t-shirts featuring the slogan 'never forget 1984'.

The image of the Golden Temple in the centre of a lake of holy water - the "Amritsar" that gives the city its name - is iconic for Sikhs.

The temple - or gurdwara - was built of white marble by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjun, in the 16th Century - and later partly coated in real gold.

Guru Arjun later completed the Adi Granth - the holy scripture of Sikhism - and placed it in the temple.

In 1982 it, and others around it, were taken over by militants under the leadership of an extremist seminary student Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Bhindranwale wanted an independent homeland for Sikhs, where they could escape what he claimed was discrimination by the Hindu majority.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Indian army soldiers moved to flush out Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple in June 1984

There were also demands for a greater share of the water from sources serving Rajastan and Punjab.

To the government of Indira Gandhi, the movement represented a destabilising influence in a strategically important part of the country.

Mrs Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star, which led to commandos and tanks being used to attack the temple complex.

Storming of the Golden Temple

  • 1982: Armed Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, take up residence in the Golden Temple complex
  • 3-8 June 1984: The Indian army attacks the Golden Temple, killing Bhindranwale, his supporters and a number of civilians
  • 31 October 1984: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had given the go-ahead to Operation Blue Star, is assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards
  • November 1984: More than 3,000 are killed in anti-Sikh riots across India

After the attack, media reports showed Indian troops with weapons captured from the militants.

Soldiers also carried out a sweep of Punjabi villages and towns, during which tens of thousands of young men were arrested, according to Sikh groups.

Five months later - at the end of October - two of Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards shot and killed her, in revenge for what had happened.

It triggered an outburst of communal violence targeted at Sikhs, especially in the capital, Delhi.

'Too young to remember'

Sikh homes and businesses were attacked and set on fire and at least 3,000 people were killed.

There are claims many of those killed were identified using voting lists.

Sunday's event is not the first time British Sikhs have marched through London to protest against the attack on the Golden Temple and India's failure to prevent the killings of November 1984.

But the protest was given fresh impetus by the publication of the papers released under the 30-year rule, indicating a British role in planning Operation Blue Star.

The Sikh Federation says that as the documents date from February 1984, the British government can be held responsible for its failure to warn British Sikhs who travelled to Punjab in the months that followed and were caught up in the violence.

There would be a few people with first-hand experience of the aftermath of Operation Blue Star on the march in London, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says.

Among older British Sikhs, some still support calls for an independent homeland in Punjab, he says.

"Even as that aspiration fades with the passing years, a younger generation - some too young to remember the events of June 1984 - remain determined that what they say was the massacre of Sikhs should not go unpunished", our correspondent adds.

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