My brother (Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale) was born in the year of India’s independence in 1947. My father was a farmer and we were seven brothers and one sister in the family. Jarnail was the youngest. His childhood was normal, but he was religious from a young age. He was put into a school in 1953 but quit five years later. He then started helping my father tend the farm. It was my father who encouraged him to learn the scriptures. He would work in the fields as well as keeping reciting the prayers to himself. All this was at a very young age.
Then one day, Giani Gurbachan Singh, who was then head of the Damdami Taksal, came to see my father. My father and the Giani were very close. One day, Gianiji told my father, “Send one of your boys to me at the Taksal." My father was wondering whom he should send. At that point, when this discussion happened, Jarnail, was standing close by. Gianiji looked at Jarnail and said, send that boy to me. This was when Jarnail was about 14-15 years old. At the seminary he mastered the scriptures. Some years later he got married. Before the seminary gave him the title Sant, his religiosity and greatness were clear to us.
When the then head of the Damdami Taksal, Giani Kartar Singh, met with a road accident, he was the one who said “let that abyasi (learner) from Rode gaon (village) be the head of Damdami Taksal after me." Gianiji died a little later. My brother was first hesitant to take up the position but my father’s dictum was, “Never be greedy for position but never turn yourself away from responsibility." So he took the position. I had joined the Indian army by then. When I heard that Jarnail had become the head of the Damdami Taksal, I wondered how he would preach and give sermons. My father and I went to the Taksal to see him get installed as the head. I was wondering how he would preach but the sermon was electrifying and I was proud of him. Word soon spread about Jarnail’s preaching abilities and that is what drew people to him. Through his sermons and his advice, he freed people of their bad habits. He was no militant. He was misunderstood by the government. He was never afraid to speak the truth, which made people in power afraid of him, which is why they killed him.
It was on the morning of 7 June, 1984 that I heard on the radio that my brother had been killed. It was a severe jolt to me. I was with my army unit in Jallundar. I immediately went to my unit chief and asked permission to go to the Golden Temple. I was denied permission at first but when I insisted I was allowed to go. I was accompanied by six-seven jawans from my unit. I was taken inside the Golden Temple complex. Before that I was asked to surrender my weapon. As I went inside, I saw blood all over, there were bodies of children and women all over the parikrama.
Just as I went in, General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, General Officer Commanding of the Western Command, Indian Army chief General A.S. Vaidya and General K.S Brar who had planned Operation Blue Star passed within a few feet from me. They were on their way out. I could see huge columns of smoke billowing out of the Akal Takht.
There was a a Major from the Madras regiment who asked me who I was. I identified myself and he took me to where there were three bodies lying on the ground. One, I immediately recognized as that of Major General Shabeg Singh who was with the Indian army and a decorated officer before he was dishonourably discharged by the army. He had joined my brother some time ago. The second one seemed like that of my brother. Both his eyes were closed but one his eyes was sunk into the eye cavity of the skull. His usually long and thick beard was bent, stiffened by the coagulation of blood. His revolver case was lying empty next to him, his arms were stiff and stretched out parallel to his body. It didn’t occur to me then to ask for his body.
On my way out, I told one of the people in the temple to perform his last rites. “The Sant is dead, please make sure his last rites are done properly." I saw decomposing bodies all around. It was a very hot summer day. The langar area was full of blood. I passed piles of decomposing bodies and saw army men and municipal workers removing them. There were no bodies of army men, I guess they were removed earlier.
The next day I received word that Jarnail’s last rites had been done.
Soon after, I was booked under the National Security Act. I was placed in prison. There were many cases made against me so I spent the next two years in prison. There were simultaneous enquiries whether I had siphoned off any of the Army’s arms to my brother. It was established that none of the weapons in the armoury of my unit—which I was in charge of—had been missing.
After all these years, I can say I am very proud of my brother. He was a preacher. I wish the government had used my services to reach out to him.
As told to Elizabeth Roche