Tuesday, 31 May 2011

1978 Vaisakhi Massacre

Taken from Jasvant Singh Kanval's "Khoon Kay Sohilay Gaaveeaih Nanak" 


On Vaisakhi Day, the Nirankaris held their yearly smaagam at Sree Amritsar. In the open grounds in front of GobindGaRh fort, they erected a large tent and virtually erected a new Nirankari town. First the Nirankaris took out a procession through the town. In the procession, they shouted out their own slogans like "Today's Nanak has arrived! The saving-one has arrived!". Some Singhs who heard these slogans went and informed Sant Jarnail Singh jee at Manjee Saahib. He was the leader of Damdamee Taksaal. Sant jee was very saddened to hear about all these happenings. He could not tolerate anyone claiming equal status with Guru Nanak and sacrilegious comments about GurbaaNee. He immediately appealed to the Sangat to stop this sloganeering. At the same time, The AKJ Singhs were having their yearly smaagam in Ajeet Nagar, singing uninterrupted and pure keertan. This attachment to keertan was the gift of the great patriot Bhai Sahib Bhai Randheer Singh jee. Because colonialism was eating away at the Sikhs, Bhai Saahib wanted to bring people back to the pristine path of Gurmat and follow it in high spirits. To stop all kurehits, he relied primarily on keertan of GurbaaNee. So, Sant Jarnail Singh sent a Singh to Ajeet Nagar to inform those Singhs.

The messenger too was a Tat-Khalsa and he went and told the stage announcer:
"Singh jee, Sant Jarnail Singh has sent me. In the Nirankari procession, such slogans were shouted against Gurus and GurbaaNee that they cannot be tolerated and are challenging the honour of all Singhs. Come, let us all stop this procession!" He then repeated the disgusting slogans.

"Such horrible slogans!" the announcer said in passion. He immediately, without seeking any advice, said to the gathering "Beloved Sadh Sangat jee! Sant Jarnail Singh has sent a message that the Nirankaris are shouting slogans against the Gurus in their procession. Come let us go stop this procession. It is the Khalsa's responsibility to stop the disrespect of the Gurus and stopping their slander. We have been called to Manjee Sahib."

One of the Keertanee Jatha's leading young men, Fauja Singh, was at that time in the Langar kneading flour. He heard the call on the loud speaker and immediately began to wash his hands of the dough. He said to himself upon hearing all this "there is such a situation and you are still kneading dough?"

Hearing the announcer's call, half the sangat rose up. Again a voice from the mike spoke, "Children, the elderly and our sisters will not go to stop the procession"

The Singhs did an ardaas and left with the calls of Jaikaaray. The group moved towards Manjee Saahib chanting Satnaam Vahiguru, Vahiguru, Vahiguru. Sant Jee was at this time not at Manjee Saahib but was in Guru Ram Das Saraa(n). The Singhs arrived there. Bhai Avtar Singh began,

"You are Sant Jarnail Singh jee? You had sent a message for the Akhand
Keertanee Jatha?"
"Yes" said Sant jee
"Now what are your orders?"
"The Narkdhaaree procession has passed, but we should go stop their smaagam"
"Then come, rise. Will you lead the Singhs?"
"The Sangat has forbidden me from going. I am helpless. Bhai Sahib jee, you take the lead" Sant jee said, motioning to Bhai Harinder Singh. One young man in the Sangat called out in anger "Then Bhai Fauja Singh and Bhai Harinder Singh too will not go! You are the ones that called us." Bhai Avtar Singh silenced the young man with a motion of his hand.
"No problem, don't go" Sant Jarnail Singh said to Bhai Fauja Singh and Harinder Singh.

"But I have done an ardaas before Guru Maharaj. How will the Guru forgive one who backs down after an ardaas?" Bhai Sahib showed his steadfastness.

Some talk took place and then a group from both Jathas moved towards GobindGaRh. Some men had long sticks. The Taksalis had two .303 rifles, which served no use at the time of the confrontation. One rifle was defective and did not fire and the person who held the other backed away from the fight. In other words, these weapons did nothing in the fight.
While repeating Satnam Vahiguru, the procession reached the Railway Crossing where they were stopped by a Police Inspector. The Police had been informed that a group of 250 Singhs was coming towards the Nirankari smaagam.

"Where are you going?" the Inspector asked, shaking his stick. Bhai Avtar Singh took the discussion into his own hands.
"We are going to request the Nirankaris to stop speaking ill of GurbaaNee and the Gurus. You too are a Sikh, tolerating the slander of the Gurus is very hard."
"You want to do something illegal? You're going to disrupt a religious smaagam?"
"No sir, we are going to preserve religious sentiments. To disrupt is to insult religion, and that is what the Nirankaris are doing. You did not hear what kinds of slogans they were yelling in that procession. Our hearts are hurt by those awful slogans. We are going to express our outrage at their words."

"You stop here, I'll go stop them myself"
"We have to stop their smaagam" Bhai Fauja Singh said.

Seeing the enflamed passions of the group, the Inspector took a softer approach.

"Ok young man, I'll try my best" and the Inspector began to walk towards the smaagam.

The Sangat sat down on the road and began to repeat "Vahiguru". The meditation continued, while waiting for the Inspector to return. Fauja Singh was sure that the Inspector would do nothing. This was like rubbing salt on an open wound. "They are trying to cool our passion. He probably is gone to warn the Nirankaris."

Both Jathas understood the government was behind the Nirankaris, supporting them. The Inspector returned,

"Bhai Sahib! This is not in my control, but you too shouldn't go"

"We had listened to you so that no one would think that we were being extreme" said Bhai Avtar Singh calmly, "But no Sikh can tolerate the slander of BaNee or the Gurus."

"You stand aside, only that will happen now, that the Guru wills" said Bhai Fauja Singh moving past the Inspector. He drew a line on the road with his kirpan. "Whichever Singh wants martyrdom can cross this line. Whoever values his life should go back."

About 125 Singhs crossed the line: 150 stood there like statues. Some amongst them were gawkers as well. The Police could not calm the Singhs passion. The Singhs moved forwards shouting Jaikaras. The Inspector sent an urgent message for reinforcements.

Around the smaagam, countless trucks and cars were parked. When the Singhs neared the smaagam, many Nirankari youth dressed in police-like uniforms came out. They were all armed. They called to the Singhs: "Turn back! Go back! You have no work here!"

"We have come to speak to your leader. Why are you slandering the Gurus?" Bhai Avtar Singh replied.

The Nirankaris opened fire. In the first burst, three or four Singhs fell. The Singhs too unsheathed their swords. The Singhs advanced and began to cut at the Nirankari guards. But what match is there between guns and swords? The Nirankaris had started their smaagam with full preparation. They had arranged for weapons and fighters.

The Singhs had not thought they would have to play Holi of blood with the Nirankaris. Such was the clamour and confusion that all lost their senses. A lot of Nirankaris left the tent. The Singhs had bricks, arrows, stones and bullets rain upon them. But the Singhs did not lose heart and continued to move forward. Some Singhs, afraid of death, began to run back. Bhai Fauja Singh called them, "No one will call you Singhs of Guru Gobind Singh! Come back and fight!" But they did not stop.

"At least give us the two rifles??!!"
But they did not hear any of this and ran away. Bhai Fauja Singh was a Gatka fighter and using different Pentras, he was fighting the gunners. One burst of fire hit him in his eye. He fell. And then again he immediately rose and continued to attack. Two more bullets hit him the head and again he fell. At that time, Bhai Keval Singh came and lay on top of him

"Brother Fauja Singh, you can't leave all alone! You have to take me with you!"

Two bullets also struck Bhai Keval Singh and he was martyred on the spot. Bhai Avtar Singh had already passed on.

Bhai Fauja Singh was still alive and a river of blood was coming from his body. Bodies were lying all around, of which most were the wounded. The tent was emptied by those running away. The Rickshaw drivers left their cars and ran. Both sides had lost about 15-20, but the injured could not be counted.

The gun fire slowed. Two Singh children of about 12/13 years recognised Bhai Fauja Singh. They pulled him aside. Bhai Fauja Singh's body was like that of an elephant. With bravery, those boys put his body below the rickshaw seat. While one held the body, the other began to pull the rickshaw. Once they had started to move, a Police party arrived. At the Hall Gate the Police stopped the rickshaw

"Oi, this body? Where are you taking it?"

"To the Hospital. This is Bhai Fauja Singh, he's still alive." The boys said fearlessly.

"Get out of here or we'll beat the hell out of you!" said the officer swinging his staff.

The boys left the rickshaw and the police took the body to the hospital. Other bodies were also arriving there. All of Amritsar was gripped in fear. All faces were blank and could say nothing. The Nirankaris took some of their dead, loaded them on trucks and took them to some unknown location.
All the hired thugs were told to run away to avoid arrest. The Nirankari leader himself left for Jalandhar in a government car. A high official had advised him to run away. The collusion between the Hindu Press, the Police and Nirankaris was clear to all of Amritsar. It was the talk of the town, "did the Vaisakhi massacre just happen, or was it orchestrated?"

..The news of this massacre had also reached Ajeet Nagar. All of Amritsar had been shaken like a tornado. Bhai Fauja Singh's wife had insisted on accompanying the Jatha but all women were restricted from doing this. Bhai Fauja Singh's wife had said to her husband,

"I won't let you go alone. Keep me with you"
"It's not your turn yet. You have many other tasks to accomplish yet" Said Bhai Fauja Singh with a laugh. "Try picturing my dead body"

"Hai! I'll die with you!"

"No, you don't have the order for that"

"I want to follow YOUR order" she said, standing beside him.

"And that's why I'm saying you will not go with us"

Bhai Fauja Singh already had one murder case going on him and he was out on bail.

In Deena Nagar, a youth had raped a Sikh woman. Bhai Fauja Singh tried to talk with him,
"All daughters and sisters are the same. You didn't do the right thing"
"Who are you to explain anything to me?" Said the youth. "I've just come to make this request. There are bad results for acts like this" "I'll do this again. Who can stop me?" Said the increasingly argumentative youth.
"No, this isn't right. You should keep the community in mind too"
"You can use your force and do what you want. I'll keep doing this" "Fine, remember your maker then." Said the Singh as he dug his spear into the youth's chest. "keep doing what you want now". The young goon died on the spot.

Bhai Fauja Singh's wife sighed.

"One case hasn't finished, and you're ready for a second"
"All have to act according to Hukam, you will not come" Fauja Singh forbid his wife.

She stayed back in sadness.

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