Friday, November 14

Opration Bluestar

I want to make it clear that, through this article I do not wish to support nor condemn Operation Bluestar. I just wish to report the reasons, operation itself and its aftermaths, trying not to take up sides with any particular party. Another thing I want to make clear is that the operation itself was not much different from any other regular army mission, it's the reasons and the aftermath which makes it much more significant, as much more disturbing. This incident has, indeed, hurt both the Indian army and the community of Sikhs throughout the period of time.

In the decade of 1980’s Pakistan backed terrorism had acquired major proportions in Punjab. The demand for Khalistan, a separate nation for Sikhs, was increasing with every passing day, and so was the number of innocent common civilians killed in the terrorist activities. Sikh terrorists killed Hindu political leaders, common Hindus, Sikhs, migrant workers and all who dared oppose their demands and commands. Even the state government and the police had their hands tied. Punjab was steadfastly becoming the worst state of India, which at some time, not much far in the history, was considered the most prosperous state. It demanded for some hard-core action at the national level.

Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India thought no differently. After a series of high-voltage political drama, the hard decision was taken, at last, which eventually proved to be the primary cause of Indira Gandhi’s shootout by her own Sikh bodyguards.

The mission was entrusted to Gen. Arun Vaidya, proposed chief of the Indian Army, assisted by General K. Sundarji who describes:

"We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips." 

On June 1, a total curfew was imposed upon the whole state, which included total cutoff of electricity, mass media blackout, and absolute cutoff from other states. The whole state was put under the Lt. Gen. Ranjit Singh Dayal. Around 1,00,000 soldiers entered and eventually controlled Punjab, troops were planted around each and every Gurudwara of the green state, and thus the stage had been setup for the most complex ever Anti-Terrorist action of the world. 

The terrorists, extremists or the separatists, however you prefer to name them, were headed by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. They had long since setup, the Amritsar situated Golden temple, the most sacred symbol of Sikhism, as their primary base from where commands were issued and the most bloodshed terror acts were planned cold minded. Time magazine reported (about Amritsar, in the issue dated 7 November 1983) that:

"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, fierce Sikh warriors wield submachine guns, guarding against encroachment by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil, all too aware that the bodies of murdered comrades often turn up in the warren of tiny streets around the shrine."

But now (3rd June 1984) the temple’s every square inch was cornered by troops from the Indian army. A final warning and a last chance to surrender was given by the army, in whose reply came, though not much unexpected, automatic gunfire. And though the mission, or rather the Operation, which many soldiers dreaded, others just considered as a part of their duty, began formally.
More than 17 houses were destroyed in the neighborhood, which the army believed provided, or might  provide shelter to the militants. After the mass destruction two large 18th centaury towers were destructed as the militants were constantly using them as watchtowers, showering heavy gunfire on anyone near the temple-campus.

After the primary success of the mission, army forces consisting of the 1st battalion and the Parachute regiment marched right into the Golden temple on the sad day of 5th June 1984, opposed by light gunfire of the Sikh militants. They marched, they fought, they killed, they died. Those who survived regrouped and requested for more forces to be sent. The commandos were thereafter followed by the 10th battalion. After suffering heavy casualties, 7 APC tanks marched into the temple and helped further with the goal of removing militants from the temple and securing Akal Takht, one of the most holy shrines of Sikhism. By the evening of 6th June 1984, most of the militants were removed (read killed) from the temple and its surroundings. And this ambitious mission was thus successfully accomplished. Or at least militarily successful. Politically, it happened to be a disaster. For it worked like a dagger piercing the sobbing hearts of Sikhs throughout the India. For it played with the religious sentiments of millions of our brothers. For it raises a question, that still needs to be answered: Was operation Bluestar really necessary? Was there no other alternative?

So strong were the aftermaths that a whole book can be written on the subject (in fact, some were). Most powerful, yet sad, aftermaths include 1984 riots and Indira Gandhi assassination. 1984 riots were primarily caused by the numerous rumors including army's destruction of the Golden temple to a major extent, soldiers consuming alcohol in the sacred premises, Sikh women being harassed by soldiers in small towns. The Sikh community, already known for its hot blood, was on fire. Sikhs initiated the riots, Hindus replied and so spread the riot like a wildfire. The entire state Punjab was in flames. Man became thirsty for man’s blood. Bloodshed corpses, destroyed property, children crying for their parents who might never return, slaughter, torn down houses, chaos, misery, agony - became a common sight. Probably riots of such intensity were never witnessed by this country, and hopefully will never be in the future.

Some questions that raise on the back of my head:
a) Why was the day of ‘Vaisakhi’ chosen as the D-day of the operation, because this meant that more than 10,000 pilgrims were captured during the whole operation inside the temple?
b) Why so many innocent civilians were killed during the operation? (Even army doesn’t deny that civilians were killed by both parties).
c) Was it really necessary to use tanks in the temple prelims?
d) Why were the Akal Takht, Research library, and the museum destroyed during the mission? (It took 15 long years to reconstruct them).
e) Why were the bodies of the dead never returned to their families, nor even tried to be identified? Just  gotten rid of without performing any rituals.

Some numbers may help in putting the brutality of the operation in some context:

The official death toll: 
Military - 83
Militants and civilians - 492

But some noted historians and researchers place the number around this:
Military - 700
Militants and civilians - 5000

Who decides how successful the mission actually was?

Pavan,
November 2008

Tuesday, September 16

Couch Surfing

So here goes my first ever blog post.

I just read about couch surfing, and it's really an exciting concept.

There is a website called www.couchsurfing.com . You can register yourself there. Now what it does , or rather what you can do with it, is really interesting. It basically acts as a platform for all the 'couch surfers' (just like an ordinary social networking site, you'd say). But the adventure just begins with this website, at the point where it ends on other social networking websites, that's knowing new people all the way round the globe.

Okay, now one may be justified by asking 'What the heck is this couch surfing?' Actually it is a method of traveling.Now assume that you are on a vacation trip to Paris. Now as you don't know anyone out there you will obviously have to reside in a hotel, eat expensive meals and rent even-more-expensive city guides and then rely on them to guide you along the whole city. So is the traditional approach, adopted by the most of the travelers around the globe. Now before you ask, 'Now what's wrong with that?' let me tell you
   a) You have to spend lots of money, thus your tour is shortened.
   b) You can never have the 'real' feel of the culture of Paris.

That's where 'couch surfing' enters the scene. Actually being an 'couch surfer' you reside right at the house of some local family of Paris during your stay, of course with their prior consent, share their dinners and your memories at the dining table, and get a feel of the 'actual' culture.The best part is you can slash your expenses by a great deal and hence have a stay long enough. Some families may allow you to share their extra bedroom, some their guest room, some may even give you their spare keys, and some just a single crouch. That's why it's called couch surfing , because you don't expect anything more a single couch. However its not an all-expense-paid trip, you may bring some gifts for your hosts form India and present them at the end of your stay.

Too good to be true, ain't it? Enter scene 2. In order to get these astonishing benefits of couch surfing you have to offer similar services at your place. And believe me (although I have absolutely no experience of couch surfing, but still Believe me)  some times it's true fun, whilst an enriching experience at some other. In our sanskruti (culture) of "Atithi devo bhava" (Guest is God) it surely is an enlightening and exciting experience to host people from different geographical and cultural backgrounds all over the world.

So here the above mentioned website comes in handy. People who aspire to become couch surfers create an account there, they tell other people about themselves, their interests, hobbies, etc. And when they need to travel to any particular place they search for the registered 'couch surfers' in that region, find people who share similar interests and send them requests for seeking their hospitality. If the other-party finds them appropriate, it approves the request. Maybe you will get rejected several times before finding an appropriate 'match', no hard feelings, bro! And you can always link references on your profile of people you have hosted and/or resided with,  it always helps!

You would be surprised to know that according to wikipedia:

"The CouchSurfing project was originally conceived by Casey Fenton in 2000. According to Fenton's own account, the idea arose after obtaining an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland. Rather than stay at a hostel, Fenton randomly emailed 1500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay. Fenton ultimately received over fifty offers of accommodation. On the return flight to Boston he began to develop the ideas that would underpin the CouchSurfing project."

Some fun facts,
  • It has 700,000 members across the 232 countries of the globe,
  • Out of them 6500 are from India.
  • It claims to have 30 million page views by July 2008. 
  • It's slogan is "Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch At A Time"
At the end of the day (or, at the end of the post) I would like to conclude that it is a fast emerging trend among travelers, and I thought you (being my blog reader, few as they are) ought to know such kind of things. So are you ready for the 'Couch Surfing' experience?

PS: Do comment if you had any such experience(s) in your past!