Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Violent History of Amritsar

Being a foreigner, I've not been exposed to the history of India in the same way that Indians have. Just as with any other country, there is violence in the process of establishing democratic societies. India has been no different. While there are a lot of conflicts that happened across India, I'm only going to focus on Amritsar for this post. There is simply too much to cover to list all of India.

It's my hope that you gain a brief understanding into the mindset of Amritsari's. They are unlike any other city dwellers in India. They have their own culture, their own unique set of issues and their own set of triumphs. The following is a brief overview of some conflicts you need to know about to understand the typical Amritsari.

Whether they be Sikh or Hindu, Jain or Muslim, these conflicts affect them all. A few of these are more than just dark days in Amritsar's history. They are pivotal conflicts that shaped thinking and still cause tension.

1919 Amritsar Massacre - This is also known as the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. The event occurred on April 13, 1919 when hundereds of unarmed protesters were gathered at what used to be a park (and is now a monument with a park) to protest the British taxes placed on Indians. A few days prior the city had been placed under martial law and gatherings of this type were not permitted but still thousands of Sikhs traveled to the city to celebrate Baisakhi. An over-zealous leader had his troops open fire on the crowd until their rounds were exhausted. He later admitted this was all for "moral effect." This event is often touted as a defining moment in India's leaders changing their stance from working with the British to seeking full independence. You can read a longer snippet of info at The History Channel.

1947 Partition of Punjab - The partition is a well known event that occurred alongside India gaining Independence. What occurred in simple form is that the state of Punjab was divided in half and part went to the newly formed Pakistan while part stayed with India. As part of partitioning, many families were split up or displaced. Many Hindus left what is now Pakistan and Muslims migrated north to be part of it.This split was primarily designed to lessen the conflict between Hindus and Muslims but instead it increased the tension. Also affected were the Sikh population in Amritsar as the line of division separated many people from their "holy city" and the Golden Temple.

Several more conflicts erupted as a direct result of the partition, most centered around Kashmir. You can read more at one of my earlier blog posts, or at American Diplomacy Publishers. There is even a blog devoted to this partition that I recommend you read for some good links. Finally, because this is such a huge topic, there is a scholarly reference here: The Unfolding Crisis in Punjab, March - August 1947: Key Turning Points and British Responses

April 13, 1978 - The head of the Naqli Nirankari's led a procession through Amritsar and Bhindrenwale (of the Akali's) set out to counteract him. Shots were fired and an Akali was killed. This incident brought Bhindrenwale to light as a leader and his followers increased in number from this time until 1983. Hindu-Sikh tensions built and crimes increased and this rapidly became a bloody, ongoing battle. Random attacks occurred in which machine guns were used to kill 10-15 people at a time in drive by type incidents. By 1983 it is believed between 500-1000 people were murdered this way. The entire area had become a hot zone of militant activities.

Operation Bluestar -This is a military operation launched in June 1984 by PM Indira Gandhi to apprehend and remove Sikh militants from the Golden Temple. It is believed they were gathering weapons and at that time all of Punjab was in a state of civil unrest that was getting worse. The military moved in and took over the Golden Temple. They were met with the same machine gun bursts and random kill styles that had been occurring in the previous years to innocent civilians. The Sikh libraries were destroyed and the Golden Temple heavily damaged. PM Indira Gandhi became a victim of the aftermath of this operation. To read full details about the event, see this links: Operation Bluestar.

1984 Anti-Sikh Riots - This horrific incident occurred after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh guards. Sikhs were ambushed in their homes and slaughtered - men, women and children - by those who blamed them for Indira's death. The massacre lasted 4 days and thousands of Sikhs were murdered. Trials and inquisitions are still open to this day.

Primarily the riots were focused in Delhi but they also occurred elsewhere including trains being stopped going between Amritsar and Delhi for the purpose of murder, etc. For more about current feelings on this subject, check out these links.
NDTV: The open wounds of 1984 anti-Sikh riots
Time World: India's 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots: Waiting for Justice

While these are the predominant events of violence in Amritsar's history, they are not the only events that occurred. Many references are made to this day of these events. They effect man and woman alike, regardless of religious affiliation.


  1. Hey, It's a good thing you're catching up with your history...Just helps to settle in here better and gives a better perspective of how people are in India. Much improvement from your past posts which, tbh, bordered on the silly and reflected ignorance, for which I won't obviously blame you( Europeans mixed w/ Indians and Differences b/w Indians and Pakistanis). If you've travelled outside North India you would realize how Punjabis can be quite loud/aggressive and quick to pick a fight as compared with (generally) more rational, calmer South Indians....that's the general belief which has some truth to it. There's less lane cutting/honking in Mumbai than Delhi :P. Punjab was a frontier province since many centuries and marching armies have arrived through these terrains since many years. And In fact the Brits created brigades specially for so-called martial races which included among 3-4 others, Punjabis of course. In fact, Sikhism which is a religion which otherwise has very peaceful ideals, ironically has a dagger as an essential article of faith (kirpan) for self protection under duress.
    Other regional stereotypes which may/may not be true, but are typically assumed: Bengalis as cultured, Tamils/Malyalis as intelligent, Biharis/UP/Rajsathanis as being uncouth/ rural, Kashmiris/Himachalis as good looking, Gujaratis/Marwaris as cheap/money minded(Patels running 7/11s :P).....These are just stereotypes and you'd probably see movies creating character roles around these regionally stereotypes.....Just the way, I guess Hollywood does : Mexicans are always blue collared, Indians are either grocery store owners or doctors/engineers, Brits as 18th century Lords and highnesses :p...Anhow, keep working at it and I'm sure you'll find your way through our country's idiosyncrasies :P Good Luck!

  2. My previous posts have all been emotional and a reflection of my struggles while in India. I can write more clearly now because I'm no longer there. I'm not sick and tormented feeling or angry. I'm back to the normal, clear-thinking me.

    There is a huge difference between North and South Indians. I would like to comment though, that blog I posted about Indians mixed with Europeans was only thoughts based upon professional and scientific research. Everyone has random thoughts and there are still things I don't understand but yes, now that I'm out of India, I can look back and see things more clearly.

    I will always advocate for world equality. I have my own ideals about that, regardless of anyone's history. I'm not sure my stubborn attitude on all God's people being equal can ever be changed. :D