2nd June, 1984
We spent the whole of the next day in the room, only venturing out to the corridor to use the toilets. The men in the room went out of the room at 12pm to get food from the Langar Hall. They brought back enough food for one meal, for everyone in the room. A lot of us were now suffering from dehydration due to the heat.
3rd June, 1984
10am - We get a visitor to the room, he says he is an employee of SGPC (Shromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee – the management committee of the Gurdwara complex). He says that there will be an announcement to allow innocent pilgrims to leave the complex, he says we can all leave then. We all rush after him, thinking we have a slim hope of survival. In all about 200 people join this sort of walk to freedom. We are all assembled collectively at Manji Sahib Gurdwara and eagerly await the announcement from the army.
At 11am the announcement is made by the army that innocent pilgrims can leave and no harm will come to them. The army announced that pilgrims leaving, must leave through the Brahm Buta Market exit gate. When signalled by the SGPC workers the whole procession started walking towards the gate, I had realised that the SGPC workers conspicuously ensured they were at the back of the procession. I halted Surjit’s family and mine and said “Lets go to the end of the lines, like the SGPC workers,” my Mami looked at me, as if to say, are you crazy? Fortunately, at this point I saw the same Singh who had taken me and Surjit standing on an upper floor of the Langar Hall with his gun in toe. I pointed him out to my Mami signalling he has told us to go to the back, my Mami quickly obliged, for fear of getting shot by the Singh, even though, he wasn’t even looking at us.
All of a sudden, gun fire stared and about 40 of the people at the front of the procession were immediately gunned down. Everyone ran helter skelter, for cover. I grabbed Parveen and ran towards the Langar Hall, I dived to the floor, smashing Parveen’s chin on the floor and cracking her front teeth. She whimpered, but bravely didn’t cry. We then crawled our way to the Langar Hall. I lost my brother, mama, mami and Suraj in the chaos. I never saw them again. Surjit had followed my lead and made it to the Langar Hall with me. I later learnt from family members that Balwant had told them the following;
Balwant:“Mama, Mami, Suraj and I made it back to Manji Sahib. Some of the leaders of the SGPC and Akali Dal (Sikh political party) were trying to reassure the congregation that they would assure a safe escape, but there was much incessant bickering due to the earlier calamity of the 40 innocent pilgrims being gunned down by the army. Then a few hours later, these leaders left the complex with their arms in the air and about 70 others they had not taken to arms and were not involved any firing against security forces. But this time the leaders were forced to the front of the procession. We were shocked by the earlier incident and decided not to try leaving again.
Suraj died on died on the 4th June from dehydration and Mami died from banging her head so hard in the wall, in anguish of his death. She was already weak from dehydration and trying incessantly to breast-feed Suraj. She was like a crazed woman when he died and banged her head with much fervour, into a wall 2 or 3 times and the bleeding killed her. Mama tried unsuccessfully to get her treated and took off his own turban in an attempt to bandage the wound.
Me and Mama survived to 6th June, as we both took the drastic step of drinking bloodied water from the Sarovar (sacred water tank of the Golden Temple that pilgrims bathe in). It made my stomach churn and I was nearly sick, when I first drank it. When Mama realised this, he slapped me so hard on the face, that I got an instant scar, he hollered, “You stupid boy, you will die! If you don’t drink.”
On 7th June, the army took control of the whole complex. I and Mama had survived by playing dead. We used to lie down between dead bodies and went undetected like this. At times we were even trampled upon by army personnel and I and Mama both developed bleeding in our mouths due to biting in agony, whilst trying not to make a sound in the excruciating pain. At about 12pm we watched the army killing Sikh men by tying their turbans around their backs, these were non-combatant pilgrims. They were all shot at point blank range. After witnessing this, Mama grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “We are only going to survive this, if we pretend we are militants. We are going to have to find some guns and surrender to the army, they will not kill us then as they will try to extract information from us.” I thought he was insane and looked musingly up at him. He then lashed a back-handed slap across my face. “Trust me, it is our only chance of survival!” he shouted and his voice broke as he said it. I could see he was desperate. He was at the end of his tether, I agreed with him as I thought we’re dead anyway.
Mama’s plan worked, we conducted a fake surrender throwing empty guns (we had recovered) on the floor in front of the army personnel and throwing our arms in the air. At this point of surrender, I stared straight at the guns of the soldiers, waiting for a gun to launch a bullet that would pierce my body. But Mama was right, the soldiers cautiously approached us and sent us to Ladha Kothi Jail. This was full of people from the Golden Temple, all the prisoners were from there.
Mama died on 17th July 1984. He died from the relentless torture he endured at Ladha Kothi. He would get hung upside down, then, they would start interrogating him, trying to force him to make confessions or give information that he simply did not have. To force him to speak they would beat him with metal rods, electrocute him, run wooden logs over his legs and sexually abuse him. The sleepless nights between 7th June - 17th July were unbearable for him. He persistently cursed his luck saying, “What possessed me to surrender as a militant, this place is worse then hell itself. God please bring my death!” He also used to caressingly beg for my forgiveness, “Son, I am sorry, I shouldn’t have slapped you, my stubbornness has led us here, please forgive me, please forgive me...” This was our daily ritual and he used to fall asleep everyday begging my forgiveness.
I was labelled a hardcore militant due to my age. Eventually I was released from prison when I was 13years old. I returned to my village - a disturbed 13year old, due to all that I had witnessed and experienced. Due to continuous police harassment after returning to Maheroo, I took the step of trying to protect myself rather than be a victim of physical violence from the state machinery. I joined the Khalistan Commando Force as Bhai Manbir Singh was its leader and he was from the village Chaheroo, which is neighbours my village.
I was involved in militant actions until the age of 18 and eventually came to the UK, to escape from India. My parents were both killed by the police when I was 17 years old, as they kept harassing them about my whereabouts. They were both killed being tortured by the police. I had no real inclination to faith initially and became a practising Sikh, due to the unjust and inhumane way that the state treated me, faith was the only thing that gave me solace and some hope of a better future.”
Balwant became mentally unstable and could not settle in to life when he arrived in the UK. He no longer had a recollection of what ‘normality’ was, he could not adjust to finding a job, working, buying a house and getting married – things we may take as a normal course of life. All that he had endured took it’s toll in the most unforgiving manner, he committed suicide at the age of 22.