1978 Kanpur Massacre
After the Vaisakhi Massacre of 1978, a peaceful agitation was started against the Nirankaris. Wherever they held their meetings, Gursikhs would go and strongly protest. Thus Gurbachan Singh was unable to address the meetings held at Varanasi, Azamgarh and Allahbad. On 25th September 1978, Gurbachan Singh reached Kanpur at 9.30pm flanked by police officers ordered to provide protection.
The news soon leaked out and Sikhs started a protest march from Gurdwara Gobindpuri Sahib Ji, which is three kilometres away from the Nirankari Bhawan in Kanpur. Women and children were also amongst the protesters. The Nirankari chief had again made full preparations for the Sikhs.
When the Sikh protesters reached the Nirankari Bhawan, the Nirankaris attacked them with brickbats and shotguns. An armed volunteer of the Nirankaris attacked Jathedar Kishan Singh with a spear, piercing his stomach. A fight ensued, and it was then that the police officers started to shoot at the Sikh protesters. As a result, thirteen Sikhs were martyred while a further seventy-four were injured.
This incident further increased Sikh resentment against Nirankaris and the Indian government. On 28th September, the bodies of those killed at Kanpur were carried in huge procession. The day before, the Sikhs of Amritsar, Delhi, Bombay, Lucknow, Kanpur and many other places observed a one-day protest strike.
The names of some of these Shaheeds are: Bibi Darshan Kaur, Bhai Jagjit Singh, Bhai Harcharan Singh, Jathedar Karam Singh, Jathedar Kishan Singh, Baba Kashmira Singh, Bhai Manmohan Singh, Bhai Gurbir Singh, Bhai Balwant Singh and Bhai Gurjit Singh.
As tempers ran high, the Punjab Government decided to ban the Nirankari Chief from entering Punjab for six months. Gurbachan Singh challenged this in the Supreme Court and the ban was lifted.
On the 30th September 1978, the Sikhs of Delhi organised a protest march and presented a memorandum to the Government of India, which demanded that all Nirankari ‘Smagams’ be banned. On 4th November 1978, the Nirankaris sent out a procession in Delhi to mark their annual conference. The Sikhs retaliated with a counter protest march that ended in bloodshed. The President of the Delhi Akali Dal, Avtar Singh Kohli, was hit on the head by a police-fired tear gas shell and was killed. Aside from him, Bhai Darshan Singh and thirteen-year old Maninder Singh were also Shaheed. Nine other Sikhs received injuries.
During the 5th and 6th November 1978, disturbances broke out in parts of Delhi and a curfew was imposed. Jan Sangh (BJP) workers provided a protection force, enabling the Nirankaris to continue their functions despite disturbances throughout the city. Many Arya Samaj leaders, including Lala Jagat Narain, gave speeches supporting the Nirankaris. This gave a new direction to the anti-Nirankari agitation. The Sikhs now strongly felt that the majority Hindu community in India was in support of the Nirankaris and their activities.
The Sikhs decided to take matters into their own hands following the failure of peaceful means.This time they were to obey Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s instruction:
“When all means of redressing a wrong have failed, it is both just and righteous to unsheath the sword”.
Bhai Ranjit Singh, a member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha along with two other Gursikhs assassinated the Nirankari chief at his home on April 24th 1980. Bhai Ranjit Singh had managed to find employment at the Nirankari headquarters in Delhi, posing as a carpenter. Later that evening, he waited with an automatic rifle in a room within their guesthouse. One of the windows gave a clear view of the driveway.At about 11pm, he shot Gurbachan Singh from his position just as he returned home from a public function. Bhai Ranjit Singh managed to escape by jumping down onto a compound wall.
Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar, Jathedar of Babbar Khalsa, was a very close friend of Bhai Fauja Singh. He heard the news of Bhai Fauja Singh’s martyrdom while his Anand Karaj ceremony was being performed. He left his newly wed wife and rushed directly to Amritsar. He played a major part in eliminating the Nirankaris, including the assassination of the Nirankaris ‘Sat Sitaare’. Later he went underground from where he led the Khalistan movement for fourteen years, before attaining martyrdom on 9th August 1992.
Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala emerged after the Amritsar Massacre as the pivotal figure spearheading the Sikh response to the Indian government of Indira Gandhi. The situation deteriorated as the government continued its policy of undermining the Sikh nation. This included the extensive murder, rape and humiliation of Sikhs, particularly Sikh youth. Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala educated the Sikh masses about the central government’s anti-Sikh policies and discriminations and brought many onto the path of Sikhi through his teachings.
Frustration grew amongst the Sikh masses against the government and the Hindu media barons, such as Lala Jagat Narain, who deliberately and consistently depicted Sikhs as ‘terrorists’. Baba Jarnail Singh’s popularity became a threat to the government that had by then began to plan Operation Bluestar to bring the Sikh Panth to heel by attacking their temporal and spiritual sovereignty.