29 years ago this day, Khalistani terrorists gunned down 125 train passengers, mostly Hindu

Hindus have faced more genocides, brutality and persecution than arguably anyone else in history. By waging a grim battle for survival, we have managed to resist and survive against all odds. But the struggle has taken its toll. Our collective consciousness has been systematically erased by colonial rulers, especially the British, and later by the neo-colonial English-speaking elite who have held sway since 1947.

Hindus are killed each day in religiously-motivated hate crimes, riots and lynchings in Bharat and neighbouring countries, but mainstream media is hardly bothered to report. We have faced so many massacres and  genocides even after Independence (such as the 2.5 million Hindus murdered in the 1971 East Pakistan genocide), but these barely register on our collective memories.

Today, I came across a 29-year-old news report from 15 June 1991 – “Sikh militants kill as many as 125 in attack on two trains.” Here are some excerpts (emphasis added) –

“Sikh extremists shot dead as many as 125 people aboard two passenger trains in northwestern Punjab state Saturday night in the worst series of attacks by militants since the start of the region’s secessionist movement eight years ago. A dozen Sikh militants halted the first train about 9:45 p.m. by hot- wiring a signal box. Then they boarded the railway cars and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing men, women and children, Punjab government sources said.

The extremists stopped the second train at 10:15 p.m. with a similar trick. They boarded the cars, separated Sikhs from Hindus, forced the Hindus outside and shot them down alongside the railroad tracks, the sources said. Police said the extremists killed at least 67 people and wounded another 115 in the two massacres near Ludhiana city, 170 miles northwest of New Delhi. But other government sources said 125 were killed. The Press Trust of India news agency reported 110 slain and quoted unofficial sources as saying 125 were killed.

Authorities said the Khalistan Commando Force was believed to be responsible for the attacks. The organization is one of several Sikh extremist groups fighting to create an independent theocratic state called Khalistan, or ‘Land of the Pure,’ in Punjab.

The attacks came one day after the government declared the entire state a disturbed area, giving the military the power to search homes and arrest people in a bid to lower the level of violence before general elections scheduled for June 22. The militants have been waging an assassination campaign against candidates for office, killing at least 20 politicians in an apparent attempt to force the government to cancel or postpone the balloting.

The Congress (I) Party, the country’s largest political group, has refused to participate in the elections and has repeatedly urged caretaker Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar to call off the balloting. Hours before the two attacks, Congress (I) Party spokesman Pranab Mukherjee described the Punjab elections as a ‘farce’ and appealed for authorities to cancel the voting.

…The attacks caused the highest single-day death toll since the start of the Sikh secessionist movement, a campaign that routinely claims 20 to 30 lives in a day. More than 1,300 people have been killed so far this year.

At least 13,000 people have died since the start of Sikh extremist violence in Punjab in 1983. Last year was the worst on record, with about 3,750 killed.”

I was 13-years-old and living in Mumbai when this massacre occurred, having spent 3 years in Bathinda, Punjab from 1986 to 1989 during my father’s posting there. I still have memories of bus trips in Punjab where every time a bearded Sikh man boarded the bus with a blanket or cloth thrown around him, you would feel a frisson of fear and some recent report where Hindus travelling by bus were shot dead by terrorists would flash in your mind.

I remember following current affairs and watching Prannoy Roy’s ‘The World This Week’ news program quite diligently at the time. But this brutal gunning down of 125 Hindus, women and children included, aboard two passenger trains seems to have completely evaded me – I have zero memory of it. I do remember watching and hearing about the 1991 Gulf War after Saddam invaded Kuwait, though. So was the Ludhiana train massacre covered by state-run Doordarshan or any of the mainstream newspapers of the time, I wonder?

Trawling the net, I found the Indian Express‘s 16 June Madras edition online, and to their credit they did cover this terrorist act on the front page. But was it covered just in passing, without the follow-up articles, editorials, interviews with survivors etc. which ensure that an incident of this magnitude registers with people?

This massacre happened just after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and right in the middle of polling for the 1991 general election – so maybe it wasn’t considered all that ‘news worthy’ by editors at the time? The previous year, 19 Jan 1990 to be precise, had seen the mass exodus of around 5 lakh Kashmiri Hindus from the valley due to systemic killings and rapes by Islamic terrorists – another event of which I have zero memory from the time.

It wasn’t just this undeclared news censorship, I don’t recollect my parents or other adults in the family discussing these matters either.

Clearly, our narrative-setters and opinion-formers had decided to bury this massacre of Hindus near Ludhiana city, just like they did with the KP exodus the year before. I completely understand now, how Maharashtra’s then Congress CM Sharad Pawar was able to lie through his teeth after the 1993 serial blasts engineered by Dawood Ibrahim, to invent one additional blast site at Masjid Bunder (a Muslim-majority area) in order to send the ‘secular’ message that it wasn’t just Hindu areas that were targeted. Pawar also lied to claim that explosives used at the Air India blast site matched what was used by some ‘Southern Indian side terrorist organisation’ (LTTE).

This is Nehruvian secularism in action. This is how generation after generation of Hindus has been kept in the dark and brain-washed, thought policed, consigned to keep repeating their mistakes out of sheer ignorance. If not for social media and the rise of alternative digital media outlets, we would still be swallowing whatever narrative they want to feed to us.

(Featured image source: https://sites.google.com/site/freedomfromterrorism/)


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