3rd June, 1984
Satwant:When we entered the Langar Hall, the door was slammed shut by an armed Sikh. I looked around frantically and quickly realised that the Langar Hall was a mini fortress. There were sandbags piled next to openings and armed Sikhs were guarding the rations. I also saw wiring which had been erected and realised a mini wired network for communications had been set up.
The Singh who had given us the cyanide capsules came over and greeted us saying, “Sisters are you okay?” I pointed at Parveen and she started crying and blood started to pour out of her mouth. The Singh quickly picked her up and ran with her behind some sandbags. Behind the sandbags there was a Sikh woman with a turban on. I was shocked at the sight of her turban as I had never seen a woman wear a turban before, she calmed Parveen down, cleaned her wounds and applied some cream to stop the bleeding from her mouth. The Singh came back after about 10 minutes and said “I am Seva Singh, if you want to survive, I suggest you stay here and I promise to ensure your safety.” Me and Surjit were re-assured by Seva Singh and asked how we could be of help. He said we could assist the injured pilgrims and we started helping the woman who had treated Parveen.
4th June, 1984
We stayed in the Langar Hall until 4th June. At about 12pm Seva Singh came over to us, he said “I have arranged for your escape you must come with me immediately and do exactly as I say.” Me and Surjit nodded in agreement. Seva Singh told us that there was an opening at the back wall of Baba Atal Gurdwara, he and another Singh would ferry us to the safe house. We followed his orders, our path from the Langar Hall to Baba Atal was treacherous as we had to dodge sniper fire and come under attack from commandos, who were parachuted down from aircraft. We witnessed about 20 commandos were making their descent down, the Sikh militants opened fire, firing at their parachutes so when they landed they were seriously injured. We had witnessed the army continuously kill Sikhs indiscriminately between the 1st June to 4th June and were coping the best we could, with the war-like situation and killing all around us. We couldn’t believe that the Indian Army had turned the Golden Temple complex into a killing field. It beggared belief that a whole scale army operation against it’s own people was underway.
As for the journey to Baba Atal we also had to walk over dead bodies of Sikhs and Indian army soldiers. The stench of death was sickening and unforgettable. We successfully dodged sniper fire until Baba Atal Gurdwara, where Surjit was grazed on the arm by a bullet, thankfully she only sustained a minor injury. As for our escape, Surjit and I had to make separate ways out from the complex, both ferried by a Singh each. Surjit had made it safely in to a Sikh household and I never saw her again. Me, Parveen and Seva Singh waited for the other Singh (who had taken Surjit to the safe house) to return safely, before leaving ourselves. One Singh had to remain near to the wall opening, to guard it from the army entering the complex from it.
Now it was our turn, me and Parveen made it safely to a flat of a Hindu family who were sympathetic to innocent pilgrims. Seva Singh bid us farewell and I bowed and touched the dust of his feet raising it to Parveens brow and my own. I thanked Seva Singh, “May you live on, and have a good life, my brother,” he was a little embarrassed and smirked, saying “Whatever God will’s will happen,” he turned and left, I peered out of a window of the flat to see Seva Singh leaving, about 40 yards from the house, he fell to sniper fire, a bullet had pierced his chest. I ran to him, the Hindu family tried to stop me for their own safety and mine, but I wasn’t thinking of the consequences and my safety and ran to his aide. I raised his head in my lap and stroked his forehead, he looked up and said “Vaheguroo.” He then passed away in my arms. I cried and screamed in agony.
I was crying for somebody I didn’t know, had known for only a few days, but he was the only adult who provided safety and a sense of family for me. At that point in time he was all I had. I sat there crying for about a minute, I glared back at the flat and saw Parveen staring at me. I signalled for her to stay there and made my way back to the flat. She innocently asked “Where are mummy and daddy now?” I replied, “I am your mummy and daddy now” and she said, “But you are my deedi (sister).” I said, “I am now your sister, mummy and daddy. We have to live with these people until we save enough money to go and see mommy and daddy.” She was pacified temporarily.
For the next 6 years, me and Parveen lived with this Hindu family in Amritsar, we changed our names to Hindu ones and lived with them as their servants. They became our surrogate family and we were treated lovingly, but had to put up a pretence of being servants, in front of other people to not raise suspicion. The head of the household was a gentle kind-hearted man, who was sympathetic to the Sikh cause and he kept in touch with influential Sikhs in the militancy. These Sikhs in turn paid for our upkeep. This family had been helped earlier by Bhindranvale in a dispute about dowry demands in the marriage of their daughter. Living with this family changed my whole outlook on Bhindranvale and what I termed, Sikh Terrorists. Living in Amritsar, I had easy access to recordings of Bhindranvales speeches and learnt that he was not the monster the media and government had projected him to be.
When I was 20 years old, I left Amritsar to go to Germany and had to leave Parveen in an orphanage. She was than 10 years old. I was married in Berlin to a Sikh through the contacts of my new family of Amritsar. I never tried to contact my real family or Parveen’s, as we would have risked the lives of our new Hindu family and were grateful to just be alive.
I am now 40 years old and live in Birmingham, England. Parveen is now 30 years old and is married with one child. We did eventually make contact with our relatives in 1995 when Punjab turned to what some refer to ‘normality’ at the end of the guerrilla warfare.
I am now divorced and can never forget June 1984. The famous verse of “I have seen all other places, none compare to you,” in reference to the Golden Temple, has very different connotations for me and Parveen.
I attend the annual remembrance march in London in June and rally in Trafalgar square. I mourn for what I witnessed, lived through and live through. I feel a numbness that is indescribable when I think of these events. My only solace in life is meditation, as that is the only escape I have found that works.
I pray for the safety and well-being of all humanity, “Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, Tere Bhane Sarbat Da Bhalla” (May the name of God gifted to me by Guru Nanak, keep me in high spirits and I pray for the betterment of all humanity, oh Lord). I have no hatred, enmity or anger towards those that killed my family and so many other Sikhs. My closure is not sought in viewing myself as a victim. Rather I spend my days with resilience as thousands of Sikhs before me have done. Sikhs have been persecuted throughout History.
I hope that Sikhs realise that what happened to us should lead them to take positive action to try and get some redress, or at the very least to not forget. They should open their minds and hearts to the human side of what happened to us as a people. Thousands suffered and live on with horrifying memories. As a community and a people, we don’t like being victims and this is portrayed with the rightful glorification of martyrs. The point I’d like to make is, the martyrs make up a minority and the majority who survived have also suffered immensely but little has been done or is being done to unearth their stories and support them.
I still have the cyanide capsule that my brother Seva Singh gave to me. The small time I had with him, inspired me so much that he became my reference point or alter ego and I would think of how he would handle a situation and in this way I always found a solution to my problems. After years of searching I recently found photos of him. I take out the cyanide tablet every year at Rakhria (an Indian festival which marks the vow of protection that a brother gives to his sister and their love), the capsule is then placed in front of his photo and I place my fingers lovingly over his photo and wave my hand over my brow – in the hope that his dust still magically inspires me to live on and be an ounce of the Sikh that he was.