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Return of Padam Shri by Bhagat Puran Singh: A Symbol of Conscience in the Aftermath of ‘Teeja Ghallughara’

May 20, 2024 | By

Amritsar: June 1984 stands etched in the annals of Sikh history. The Indian Army’s assault on Sri Harmandar Sahib, the revered Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, and other Sikh Gurdwaras in Punjab marked a chapter known as the “Teeja Ghallughara.” The echoes of this holocaust reverberated across the Sikh community, leaving deep impact. Amidst these testing times, Bhagat Puran Singh, the embodiment of selfless service and compassion, took a courageous stand by returning his Padma Shri award to the Indian government, a few months after the tragic events of June 1984.

In a letter addressed to the President of India, Bhagat Puran Singh articulated the profound anguish and condemnation felt by the Sikh community in the aftermath of the army’s decision to attack Darbar Sahib and other Sikh Gurdwara Sahibs across Punjab and adjoining states. He expressed how the decision to deploy the military had inflicted irreparable wounds, stating, “the decision to send the army in Darbar Sahib has caused too many painful impacts. As a result of the army attack, the Sikh world has felt grave pain.”

Bhagat Puran Singh, a witness to the aftermath of the attack, recounted the atrocities committed by the Indian army with unwavering clarity. He highlighted incidents of grave abuses and atrocities, noting, “Army-men committed many such acts which may not be in your knowledge, but people have brought those incidents in my knowledge…I have acted patiently and did not act in haste.” His highlighted the moral degeneration and deep-seated enmity displayed by the armed forces towards the Sikh community.

The humanitarian legend cataloged the egregious violations of human rights, including the indiscriminate firing on innocent Sangat, the denial of water to children, and the brutal treatment of Sikh youth. He detailed how the army, in a display of wanton cruelty, targeted and executed young Sikhs after taking them in custody and when their hands were tied behind their backs. 

Bhagat Puran Singh’s poignant narration also shed light on the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage, such as the Sikh Reference Library, a repository of Sikh history and culture.

Bhagat Puran Singh concluded his letter by symbolically relinquishing his Padma Shri award, stating, “After witnessing these incidents, I return my ‘Padma Shri’ award to the government to express my protest.” 

Bhagat Puran Singh’s decision to recall his Padma Shri award remains a reminder of the power of conscience and moral courage in the face of adversity. His unwavering commitment to truth and justice serves as an inspiration for generations to come, urging us to uphold the principles of compassion, equality, and dignity. 

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