06 June 2007

Amritsar Redux

Mai was in Amritsar with her husband, Mani, and thirteen year old son, Sandeep, at the time of Blue Star. This account is from her personal blog, sometimes - 2. It appeared in slightly different form earlier in this blog.


This is another story I had not intended to tell publicly, but the family have prevailed upon me because, they say, it's a great story, and might actually give someone some encouragement someday. So here goes.
I have cleaned up the story and the language considerably, since I want to keep my blog at a PG-13 rating. It was a lot rougher than I have actually written it.

[ Maman read what I had written and said, 'Cleaning up is one thing. Whitewashing is another. Mani wrote me about what he saw and you've left out almost everything. If this is to be any kind of a record, you need to add at least some of that.' OK, I'll try to add some. The new stuff will be written like this.]
June 4, 1984. We had been in Amritsar since mid-May, visiting relatives, of which we have many in that area. The date, for those of you who don't recognise it, was the beginning of Operation Blue Star or more properly, Ghallughara, when the Indian army stormed the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple), looking for 'terrorists.' They found thousands of people there commemorating the anniversary of the shaheedi of Guru Arjun Dev Ji. They opened fire on the whole complex, and killed, who knows how many. Fortunately, we were at a cousin's house when it all started and thus were safe, or so it seemed.

No such luck. Two days later, the police barged in and took us all. Fortunately, as it turned out, the three of us had our passports on us. I'm not sure exactly where we were taken, a police station somewhere. They separated the men and the women; I was afraid that that was last I'd see of my men.
Then t hey put each of us women in different rooms. And I waited. For the first time in my life, I was really scared. After a time, a very young policeman came in. Although my hands were bound behind me, I managed to pull out my Canadian passport.

He was not impressed.
'Are you Sikh?' Expressionless.
'Yes.' Calmly.
'Wrong answer.' He slapped me across the face.
'Are you Sikh?' Expressionless.
'Yes.' Calmly.
'Wrong answer.' He slapped me HARD across the face.
'Are you Sikh?' Expressionless.
'Yes.' Calmly.
'Wrong answer. And you're also really stupid.' He doubled up his fist and slugged me in the mouth.
'Are you Sikh?' Smiling slightly.
'Yes. I'm Khalsa.' Blood was coming out of my mouth. I wish I could say I was unafraid, but that would be a lie. A BIG lie. I have, to this day, never been so terrified in my life. But I managed to keep my voice steady.
He reached over to me and tore my shirt off. Then he pulled out my kirpan. 'The little Saint Soldier has her little knife, I see.' In a sarcastic voice. He drew the blade across my throat. I laughed nervously. A strange reaction.
Unlike most Sikhs, I usually do not carry a blunt kirpan. I know, I know. A kirpan is a religious article, not a weapon. I'm sorry if I offend anyone here, and I know I will, but I have never believed that our f ather Guru Gobind Singh Ji intended us to be unarmed. I usually carried a razor-sharp medieval French war dagger that had belonged to a lady ancestor of mine. I suppose it couldn't really be called a kirpan, but it was what I carried. I'm not sure why that day, I didn't have HT, my dagger, on me. If I had, I would be dead. So I laughed nervously.
That seemed to infuriate him and he pulled my pants down. At this point a second cop came in. The first one started pulling at my hair. 'You Khalsa have a real fetish about this, don't you? Is it true that you'll die before letting it be cut?' I nodded. 'Yes.'

'Stupid. '
The second cop handed him a big pair a scissors. He pointed them at my hair. 'I'm going to use these. The choice is yours: here,' pointing at my hair, 'or here?' He cut the top of my kechera, so they fell down. pointed at the scissors my crotch. [He laughed and laughed.]
Paralysed with terror, I said nothing, but inside I screamed with every fibre of my being, ' GOBIND!!!!' No 'Guru,' no 'Singh,' no 'Ji.' Just, ' GOBIND!!!!'
The result was instantaneous. I was not afraid. I was not in pain. I don't know how I knew they wouldn't dare cut my hair; I couldn't care less what else they might do to me. My dad's words came to me: 'No one can humiliate me without my consent.' I laughed. 'I'm Khalsa.' I looked at the mirror across the room. I'm not a complete idiot. I know mirrors in interrogation rooms are one way glass. And I was certain that the cops were forcing my son and husband to watch this. Sadistic f* cking bastards! I nodded to my unseen men and smiled.
He slugged me in the stomach. It didn't hurt. He slugged me like that several more times until he finally knocked me off my feet and I fell to the floor. I have never felt so calm and complete, as strange as that sounds. I was completely unafraid.
He stood over me and [stared at me, now completely naked, lying on the floor. He kicked me in the head repeatedly. Then, he pulled me up by my hair and with the help of his colleague sat me in a chair. He cut open a hot chili and rubbed it all over my face, up my nose and into my eyes. I didn't react at all.
[He opened my legs and rubbed the ch ili all over my vaginal area. The second one pulled me forward to my feet, while the first one shoved it up my anus. He pulled it out and stuffed it into my mouth. The whole time, he was trying to taunt me by saying all sorts of insulting things. None of it got through to me at all. I will not record what he said, partly because it was mostly in colloquial Punjabi, of which I understood little, and partly because it would serve no purpose beyond teaching someone how to be insulting.]

After he finished with the chili, he started with the scissors, which turned out to be very sharp. Little cuts, not big ones, all over my breasts, then my stomach. When I didn't react to that, the bottoms of my feet. By this time, he was completely livid. I thought he was going to maybe cut my throat or gouge my eyes.
Again he grabbed me by the hair and threw me on the ground, and opened my legs. He raised the scissors over my crotch, clearly intending to use them as a weapon of rape. He stopped, clearly savouring the moment.
At exactly that instance, the door opened and someone burst through, yelling. 'Stop!! We have orders not to mess with the Canadians.'
He glared at me, with pure hatred. But he stopped. The second cop untied my wrists.
I stood up, pulled up my kechera, then my pants. My shirt was torn beyond any usefulness, though. My mouth was still full of blood. which I spat on the floor at his feet. He spoke, very softly, so only I could hear,'If I ever see you again, you'll be sorry I didn't finish with you today.'
[So what was going on in me, while he was torturing me? (I believe this does qualify as torture.) I could see, hear and feel everything that was going on. But I felt no pain, either physically or psychologically, then or later. Instead, I was aware of various voices singing the Mool Mantar, over and over. It was the most beautiful thing you could imagine. It completely transported my being to another level where pain simply doesn't exist. This was the second time something like this had happened to me in this life - and it has not been repeated since.
[I was operating in two completely different states of being. All of my senses seemed to be in overdrive. My hearing was enhanced. Colours were vivid and alive. I was fully, completely conscious and aware. I want to emphasize that I was not being brave or strong or heroic. And I am not masochistic . I was as calmly joyful as I could ever imagine being. It simply made no difference to me what they were doing. Why do I think this happened to me? Because I relied on a promise made by one who was a father to me. There is nothing special about me in this. Any Khalsa in this position has the right, perhaps even the obligation to do the same. No special, secret words, no silly rituals, just the total intention.
[I'd like to make a couple of aside comments here. First, there are still a few things I have left out, for the sake of decency. I was not raped., if rape is vaginal penetration. Please notice that it takes nothing fancy to torture someone, no special equipment, in this case, just a chili, a pair of scissors and something to tie my hands. Also, very little imagination.
[I have not mentioned that, at this time, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy. They, of course, had no way of knowing that. Not that it would have made any difference to them! Why I didn't lose the babies then and there I can only ascribe to the fact that I was being protected by my Guru in some fashion.]

I just kept smiling. "I'd like my kirpan back, please.' The second cop handed it to me, along with my passport.
They took me, still half naked and bleeding, to a hallway, where I was reunited with Mani and Sandeep. With great dignity, my son took off his shirt and helped me put it on. 'Here, Mom.' His voice was shaking a bit. I looked at them. They had been roughed up a bit, and normally neither would have ever tied a turban so sloppily. We would discuss all that later. I evidently got the worst treatment, physically.
Later we discussed the incident. Mani looked in my eyes. 'There for a moment, I thought you might break.'
I met his gaze. 'So did I'
'I could see you change. All of a sudden, it was like you became someone else. What happened?'
I told him. He turned to our son. (Of course, all this happened 22 years ago, so all the quotes have been approximations, except this, which I remember verbatim.) 'Your mother is a magnificent person. You won't find another like her, but I hope when you get married, you'll marry a woman you can love and admire as much as I do my wife.' What woman could possibly forget such praise from her husband? (It goes both ways. A man could not forget such praise from his wife, either.)
Sandeep looked at me, and said, in a whisper, 'Mom, you were so lucky they got stopped when they did.'
Both of us said, in unison, 'Luck had nothing to do with it.'
I will leave the story there, only noting that it was not my strength and courage that made me strong; it was a gift from my father Guru. The only part I can really take any credit for is crying out for help when I needed it.
[We could not get back to our family home that day, but fortunately, some good people saw us right outside the police station and took us in.

[Although some of the city's water was cut off, where our host family lived, it was running. I f elt incredibly dirty. Thank God for a good shower! Mani helped me clean up, washed and conditioned my hair - which, against all odds, was intact - and combed it out for me. He couldn't believe I could walk on those lacerated feet, but even afterward, while I was healing, I was in no pain. I have a few scars left, my hearing was slightly damaged, but nothing too important. Mani, being a physician, thoroughly examined me, but even with the beating I had taken, there were no major injuries.]
[Our hosts, who were Hindus, gave us clean clothes, some really good food, comfortable beds and a feeling that there were still some decent people in Amritsar. We burned our old clothes, except I kept the shirt Sandeep had given to me. Our family in Amritsar is still keeping it today, as a remembrance.]

There is much more I could write about Amritsar at this time, the smell, the heat, the noxious insects, the sacred sarovar filled with blood and dead bodies, but that can be found elsewhere on the net. I'm trying to record only my personal experiences.
[Now, Maman has read the new version and is almost satisfied with it , so I will leave it as it is.]

For more information, try Googling or Yahooing on 'Operation Blue Star.'




A 22 year old Hindu Amritsari man I email insists that that is a complete fabrication. His reasons are so silly that I have never answered them, but I am very, very angry at him right now for suggesting that this whole Blue Star is something to laugh at; I very much doubt I will answer any more of his emails.Here are his two objections:

They knew we were Canadians. Not wanting an international incident, they would have left us alone

Punjabi police do not mistreat women unless they are close relatives of terrorists or suspected terrorists.

The first presupposes that the underlings who were first in charge of us would care about such niceties as international relations more than they would care about the pure pleasure of tormenting us. I will point out that as soon as someone in charge realised that foreigners were being worked over, they were ordered to stop, orders that were immediately, if reluctantly, obeyed.

Do I need to even comment on the second? Does anyone believe that these [Punjabi police] have respect for women? Shall we start with K.P.S. Gill? (It takes more than a turban and 'Singh' somewhere in your name to make you a Sikh!)

But totally insulting to me is the implication that I am not the close relative of someone involved in the Khalistan movement - in local police language, a terrorist! How dare he imply that my family accepts the yoke of the Hindus, the perfidy of Mr. Gandhi and company. Now is it clear to everyone why I decline to identify my family?

There are a couple things that I personally wonder about, though. As foreigners, why were we not quickly escorted out of Punjab? Or why didn't we disappear? They must have known that we would eventually tell our story.

And why did they just turn us lose. Unless I am mistaken, the city was under curfew at that time. We should not have been on the street. What would have happened if those good people (whom Guru Ji sent) had not met us?

These are questions that have only occurred to me years later; at the time, and for some time after, I was in an altered state of consciousness where such things had no meaning. Indeed, the aftereffects of that spiritual state remain with me still.

Why was I chosen for special treatment? I believe it had something to do with my brown hair, green eyes and fair skin. They must have believed that I would be the weak link in the chain. They were wrong. Among us, there were no weak links.

As to the rest of my family that were taken that day, at their request, I have little to say except that the three of us got off much more lightly than they did.

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