This Day in World History
6 June 1984
Indian forces massacre Sikhs in Amritsar
After months of standoff between India’s government and Sikh dissidents, the Indian army attacked those dissidents who had taken refuge in the holiest Sikh shrine — the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India — on 6 June 1984. The fighting left hundreds dead and more captured. The attack also enraged many Sikhs across India, which would have fatal consequences for Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the assault.
Sikhism is a faith that had its origins in the Punjab more than 350 years ago. Persecuted over the years by both Indian Hindus and Muslims, many Sikhs have dreamed for centuries for more autonomy. Those hopes were dashed when British India was portioned into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947 as the Punjab was divided between the two new nations. In the 1960s, India made some concessions to Sikhs, but to some Sikhs it was not enough.
Among these dissidents was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who led a group of militant Sikhs. In 1983, they moved to the Golden Temple, setting off a confrontation with the government.
The government had refrained from moving on the temple for months, fearing the backlash that would result. Finally, Gandhi ordered the attack, code-named “Operation Bluestar.” After a week of fighting, around 1,000 were dead including about 800 Sikhs, Bhindrawnwale among them.
Months later, in October, two Sikh bodyguards shot Prime Minister Gandhi during a morning walk in her garden. She died soon thereafter. The two guards had no time to explain the reason for their action. They were immediately killed by other guards. It is generally assumed, though, that they had been angered by the attack on the Golden Temple.
Unfortunately for India’s Sikhs, the attack on the prime minister prompted attacks on innocent Sikhs across India, in which more than a thousand people lost their lives until order was restored.