Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

Sat Nam Readers!

WARNING – This post contains graphic images.

Woodrose growing in its native Hawaii

Operation Woodrose is the topic of today’s discussion.  This is a part of a series of posts which deal with what happened to the Sikhs in India, and impacted Sikhs the world over, in 1984.  Woodrose – a beautiful name for such a horror.  Woodrose are small plants that are native to Hawaii (see left), which sort of look like a cross between a wild rose and wood.  Operation Woodrose was anything but small, anything but natural, anything but beautiful.

Operation Woodrose was an Indian military operation that began around the same time as Operation Bluestar and ended sometime in September, 1984. The purported objective of the operation was to prevent widespread rioting and unrest in the Punjab (the primary home of Sikh people).  At the time the largest Sikh political party was the Akali Dal.  The Indian government, led by Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party, had all of the prominent politicians of this party arrested, along with approximately 100,000 Sikhs, primarily young men.  They also banned the All India Sikh Students’ Federation, the largest Sikh youth group at the time.  The young Singhs who were detained faced torture while imprisoned during this operation and some were murdered.  The government has been criticized for suppressing a minority during the operation, using draconian legislation (see below).  If you read the post on Operation Bluestar, you will know that foreign media had been ejected from Punjab during this time, power was blacked out, and travel in and out of the region almost impossible – ensuring that Punjab and the Sikhs living there would be cut off from the outside world during this operation.  This in the world’s biggest “democracy”.

Credit: SikhLionZ website entry on Operation Woodrose

The Indian government rounded up thousands of people suspected, in their words, of being “militants”.  These numbers included innocent civilians.  Roughly 8,000 people have disappeared as a result of Operation Woodrose.  Another 20,000 or so young Sihks are said to have crossed over into Pakistan.  The Army forced entry into untold numbers of Sikh homes, in every village and city in Punjab, even into the homes of those who were never suspected of committing any crime.

Many Sikhs believe that the operation’s stated aim of ending militancy and preventing rioting and unrest was merely the excuse the Indian government used to hide the true aim of the operation – to bring an end to the Sikhs by disappearing or killing off our Amritdharis (baptized Sikhs who wear the 5K and are very visibly Sikh) and destroying the Sikh identity.  It certainly would not have been an easy life to be easily identified as Sikh in 1984 in Punjab, and for many years later.

If that were the true aim, and like all things 1984 the truth is somewhere in the middle, the Congress Party and Indira Gandhi both misunderstood the Sikh identity and underestimated the Sikhs themselves.

We cannot be broken in this way.  Our identities aren’t held by our living Amritdhari Sikhs, though they are to be respected for their commitment to our faith.  Our identity is communal and a gift of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.  Guruji died after blessing us with our identity and you cannot kill him again by killing off Amritdhari or any Sikh.  All that is accomplished there is inflicting pain, instilling distrust, and ensuring that there is a future excuse for militancy.

The operation terrorized Sikhs and those who lived among them, rather than ending militancy or restoring public peace.  Take the following description:

“The Indian army would go to villages and pull out the Sikhs, then publicly humiliate Sikhs and then kill most males or detain them.  Women also were dishonoured in many ways.  The army particularly targeted young Sikhs and on some occasions were embarrassed when just a handful of Sikhs would repel army units, however on the whole the superior numbers of troops and their superior arms kept such successes down.  The result was the death of thousands of Sikhs.”

Indira Gandhi on Sikhs, prior to the beginning of the Operation:

“Any knowledge of dangerous Amritdhari’s who are pledged to commit murders, arson and acts of terrorism, should immediately be brought to the notice of the authorities.  These people might appear harmless from outside but they are basically committed to terrorism.  In the interest of all of us their identity and whereabouts must always be disclosed.”

Credit: SikhLionZ website entry on Operation Woodrose

In its own words, in their publication “Bat Cheet” the Indian Army has stated that any baptized Sikh (by which they meant any bearded Sikh) was effectively a terrorist.  The Army blamed Guru Gobind Singh Ji for militancy among the Sikhs and declared war on our Guru personally.  This form of decree, which was used to support the mass killing of Sikhs had only been done twice before in our history – by Emperor Bahadur Shah and Emperor Farukh Siyar.

During the Operation, witnesses say that many Sikh men were summarily shot while their hands were tied behind their backs.  They also report that their turbans were often unwound and the men humiliated before being executed.

To ‘legalize’ this operation against its own citizens, the Congress Party passed two acts – the Punjab Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act 1983 and the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Act 1983.  The first act allowed the government to declare Punjab a ‘disturbed area’ and the second gave the army the power to fire upon or otherwise use force, even deadly force, to maintain the public order.  Special Courts were set up to try and sentence suspected terrorists quickly.

The Chief of Police of Punjab, K.P.S. Gill has said that the actions suffered “from all the classical defects of army intervention in civil strife” and stated that the Indian Army acted blindly during the operation.

Our gurdwaras were put under the control of the Army.  Many were burned and many, many copies of our living Guru – the Guru Granth Sahib – were destroyed.  This action could not have been an effort to restore peace, but an effort to cause pain to the Sikhs and to destroy our religious identities by burning our living Guru.

Thirty years on, Operation Bluestar, Operation Woodrose and all that followed through November, 1984 have not been forgotten.  How could it be?  What happened was a horror inflicted on a minority by a government that could have and should have behaved more humanely.

This part of Sikh history remains alive and will remain a gaping wound among Sikhs until the wound is addressed and healing finally begins.  It’s more than a matter of time passing, 1984 is a part of our identity and our history.  It’s more than a matter of acknowledging what happened.  It’s time perhaps to find ways of reconciling 1984 for all concerned.


Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act 1983 http://punjabrevenue.nic.in/armsact.htm
Chandigarh Disturbed Areas Act, 1983 http://indiankanoon.org/doc/241270/
Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984 http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/document/actandordinances/terroristaffectedact.htm
The Politics of Genocide, Inderjit Singh  http://books.google.ca/books?ei=fbscS9P4OI7okwT8uenTCw&id=2-qGAAAAMAAJ&dq=woodrose+sikh&q=woodrose&redir_esc=y
Religion and Nationalism in Punjab, the Case of the Punjab, Harnik Deol  http://books.google.ca/books?id=wKRP1-H8T8AC&redir_esc=y
SikhiWiki entry on Operation Woodrose: http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Operation_Woodrose