Operation Woodrose was a military operation carried out by the Indira Gandhi-led Indian government in the months after Operation Blue Star to “prevent the outbreak of widespread public protest” in the state of Punjab. The government arrested all prominent members of the largest Sikh political party, the Akali Dal, and banned the All India Sikh Students Federation, a large students’ union. In addition, the Indian Army conducted operations in the countryside during which thousands of Sikhs, overwhelmingly young men, were detained for interrogation and subsequently tortured. Despite its purported success in controlling the armed insurgency in the Punjab region, the operation was criticized by human-rights groups for the suspension of civil liberties and habeas corpus, resulting in the disappearances of thousands of Sikh men. After the operation, the central government was criticized for using “draconian legislation” to repress a minority community.
Operation Woodrose was a follow-up to Operation Bluestar, taking place from June to September 1984. It was an operation in which the Indian Army unsuccessfully attempted to wipe out Sikh militancy. The Indian Army went to every village and town to detain suspected militants. In the process, the army detained thousands of young Sikhs in the countryside, many of whom were tortured and murdered. This event is largely unknown because of the strict media censorship imposed by the then-ruling government of Indira Gandhi, which was fearful of the instability of the nation and the censorship of the congress party. In Punjab the operation caused the Indian Army to become very unpopular.
During the operation, General Jamwal was assigned the responsibility to seal the border and General R.S. Dayal was instructed to oversee the apprehension of militants in the state of Punjab. Woodrose involved forced entry into thousands of Sikh homes, most of whose inhabitants had committed no crime.
Many Sikhs believe that the aim of ‘Woodrose’ was not to wipe out ‘militancy’, but was really aimed at wiping out Sikhism by riding Punjab of its Amritdhari’s, especially young men.
The way in which the operation was conducted is as follows:
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 dishonored 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.
Before Operation Woodrose started, Indian PM Indira Gandhi had the following published in magazines:
“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 the outside but they are basically committed to terrorism. In the interest of all of us, their identity and whereabouts must always be disclosed.”
Conduct the operation
Operation Woodrose was similar to Operation Bluestar in its execution and intention. Sikh youth was picked up and murdered throughout Punjab.
Operation Woodrose was similar to Operation Bluestar except that the Gurdwaras were now under the control of the Army and hunting down any Amritdhari (baptized) Sikhs in the countryside throughout Punjab became the sole objective. The Army stated in its publication, known as ‘cheat or talking points, that any baptized Sikh (bearded) was effectively a terrorist. It blamed Guru Gobind Singh for militancy among Sikhs and to all intents & purposes waged war on him personally. This was the third time in history that a decree of this kind (re. mass annihilation of Sikhs) was declared; the first two being by Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-12) and Emperor Farukh Siyar (1713-19).
During both Woodrose & Bluestar, any Sikh wearing a turban was dishonored and summarily shot at point-blank range with their hands tied behind their backs, with their unwound turbans. Any youth aged between 15 and 35 were particularly targeted for eradication.
The Army worked very closely with members of the Congress Party, BJP, and CPM activists to ensure that every village and town was combed for baptized Sikhs. Those that were not shot were indicted for being members of opposition Sikh political parties. The mopping-up operations truly involved the infliction of terror upon a community that had until now been unquestionably patriotic.
Even by conservative estimates the number of Sikh youth taken into custody during the first 4 to 6 weeks of Operation Woodrose amounted to 100,000. Even the most patriotic nationalist Sikhs accepted there was no choice left but to somehow find a way of defending itself against the ever-growing use of the Army, para-military forces, and state-sponsored terrorism.
The operation consisted of the rounding up of thousands of Sikh youth and civilians. Troops would lay siege to targeted villages in the early-morning hours, confining the inhabitants to their houses and stopping all movement out of the village while conducting house-to-house raids. Some villages experienced repeated sieges. Sikh homes were raided indiscriminately, with an overwhelming number of detained being innocents.
According to estimates published by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, approximately 8,000 individuals were reported as missing or killed by October 1984 as a result of Army operations during Woodrose alone (not including Operation Blue Star where over 5,000 civilians were killed) by state media, though Punjabi-language media estimated much higher figures. According to Dr. Sangat Singh, who served in the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Government of India in the 1970s, about 100,000 youth had been taken into custody within the first four to six weeks of the operation, with many not heard from again, with many taken into custody beaten and tortured.
The operation was mainly concentrated in the border districts, and all amritdhari, or initiated, Sikh men from ages 15 to 60, particularly between 15 and 35, were referred to as “potential” terrorists in Army communiqués and targeted and taken from border villages. Since the most likely targets were youth, many would try to flee across the border to Pakistan as the army approached. At first, Pakistani authorities jailed them as trespassers, before realizing their potential use, exploiting their resentment and distress to return a number of them as armed, motivated militants. About 20,000 fleeing youth are estimated to have crossed the border.
Extrajudicial abuse extended even to distinguished Sikh army veterans; as Sikh ex-servicemen formed a large proportion of the rural Sikh population at about half a million at any given time. Between the army’s treatment of youth, veterans, and the old and infirm, rumors abounded in the countryside that the state was trying to wipe out the younger generation of a small minority and was systematically engaged in its suppression. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion continued in the countryside for several months. Even after the formal end of the operation in September 1984, the community remained at the mercy of the authoritarian state apparatus; its deep, long-lasting sense of distress and disgruntlement would later become a significant factor in precipitating the subsequent militancy.
Even after the operation, hundreds of men, women, and even children, picked up from the countryside, remained incarcerated
Punjab-Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act (1983)
To allow for the legality of the operation, the states of Punjab and Chandigarh had been declared by the Indian government as ‘disturbed areas’ by the enactment of the Punjab Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act 1983, while the Army was given unprecedented powers to detain and arrest civilians by the enactment of the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Act 1983. The act empowered any commissioned, warrant or non-commissioned officer of the Army if “of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use forces, even to the causing of death”. The act also allowed such an officer to “arrest, without a warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offense or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offense”.
Fast Track courts were set up under the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act 1984 to try to sentence suspected terrorists rapidly.
The Army revengefully let loose a reign of terror in every nook and corner of all villages of Punjab. Like hunting hounds, they rounded up thousands of Sikhs, especially the youths, detained them in military camps, tortured them brutally, and in many cases shot them dead. Many were crippled and maimed permanently. The reckless oppression forced hundreds of those Sikh youths, at whom the Army could not lay hands, to flee their villages. The mothers, sisters, and wives of those Sikhs who went underground for fear of arbitrary arrests, were arrested and detained in the military camps. Tortured and in many cases molested in order to force their fleeing relatives to surrender. There was none to hear their wails and woes: there was none to give them healing touch.
Only wild wolves were let loose to howl and growl at them. The fanatic Hindus slyly smiled and gleefully rejoiced at the pitiable plight of the Sikhs in Punjab
Punjab Chief of Police, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill described the actions as “suffering from all the classical defects of army intervention in civil strife” and stated that the Indian Army had acted “blindly”.
The army operations were overseen by Major General Jagdish Singh Jamwal, who was assigned the responsibility to seal the international border with Pakistan, in an attempt to control the smuggling of arms and personnel, and by Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dyal, who was instructed to oversee the apprehension of militants in the state of Punjab.
Terrorists and terrorism are wrong and there is no place for terrorism in the world in this day and age, but anti-terror laws should be about stopping terrorists; not for the ethnic cleansing of minorities like India is doing. Sikhs are being ethnically cleaned under the name of anti-terror laws of Hindu India. These laws are specially designed to attack the Sikh identity and force Hinduism into the Sikh Nation. It was very easy to see that the policy of the RSS Hindutvists was behind these operations.