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7 March 1990: When Khalistani extremists killed 22 Hindus and ruined dozens of families

When bunch of Sikh Khalistani terrorists ruined dozens of Hindu families and took away my innocence at age six.

A ‘young’ and ‘vibrant’ man is face of the farmers’ protest against the three new farm laws that they think will take away their land. Indian ‘liberals’ are swooning over his ‘this is a revolution’ monologue. They romanticise the idea of ‘revolution’ to bring down a democratically elected government. Every turbaned man is Bhagat Singh incarnate for them. Except, they forget that Bhagat Singh stood up against imperial British rule and not democratic government.

Interestingly, the actor and now-leader Deep Sidhu seems blank about the laws. To be honest, I am not even bothered by his ignorance. However, I have a problem with the way he whitewashes the terrorist acts of Khalistan.

The infamous “Abohar Goli Kaand” of 1990

1990… I was six years old. On March 7 evening, my parents were spending some quality time with a family friend at their home in the residential area of Civil Hospital in Abohar, Punjab. They had planned to go to the Sadar Market (famous as Street Number 12 Market). Abohar is a small town in Fazilka district near the India-Pakistan border.

As my sister and I were playing with the other kids, my parents canceled the plan to go to the market and decided to go back home instead. As we were preparing to leave for home, we heard loud gunshots. In a few minutes, the unprepared Civil Hospital was overwhelmed with dead bodies and injured people. I was too young to remember what had happened. However, over the years, the story has been told and retold to me by my parents and grandparents and some books, especially ‘Itihas Ke Jharokhe Se Abohar’ which detail the incident that scarred my childhood.

The bloodied evening that ruined 33 families

On March 7, 1990, at 6:30 PM, people heard loud blasts coming from the end of the street. The unexpected shoppers and shopkeepers thought some children are bursting firecrackers. Only a few seconds later, people were seen running from the end of the street. As they came closer, what they were shouting became clearer. “Bhajjo goliyan maar rahe (Run they are shooting people)”, “bande maar te, bande maar te (they killed them), “aapni jaan bachao bajjo (run and save your life),” people screamed as they ran to save their lives.

Excerpt about the incident from ‘Itihas Ke Jharokhe se Abohar’ by Late Mathura Das Hiteshi

Within the next few seconds, more than ten Khalistan Commando Force (KFC) terrorists emerged from all sides of the market, shooting people in every direction. KFC is a banned terrorist organisation operating in Punjab and receives immense support from Sikhs in Canada. Amongst many other killings, KFC is responsible for assassination of Punjab CM Beant Singh in 1995 and General Arun Vaidya who led Operation Blue Star in 1986.

People tried to run from the market, but the congested road was not helpful at all. Shopkeepers started closing their shops as quickly as possible, and the customers hid inside the shops. Those who were selling goods on carts ran to save lives, but many were killed.

After the bloodbath, the terrorists ran towards Fazilka road and vanished in the web of houses. It is believed that some of them hid in a house for hours as police had started looking for them. They threatened the house-owner and stayed there till late at night. Those who managed to escape ran towards Fazilka and believed to have vanished in the farms.

Police gates were shut for more than 40 minutes

One of the most depressing parts of the story is that the gates of the only police station in Abohar were shut the moment police learned about the incident. People ran towards the police station, which was not too far from the Sadar market, to get help, but they were welcomed with closed doors with no answer from the police. After 40 minutes of the incident, police officers came out of the station and started looking for the terrorists who were already long gone.

The sad state of Civil Hospital

Though the Civil Hospital of Abohar served several adjoining villages, the administration was not prepared for such a tragedy. When people realized the terrorists had fled from the scene, they started opening shutters and tried to help the injured. As there was no ambulance service available, the injured were taken to the hospital on carts. The bodies and injured started to pile up in the hospital with limited staff. The hospital was overwhelmed within minutes. Unfortunately, the stock of medicines, surgical instruments, and even bandages was not enough to accommodate all injured.

The attack was not over yet

After an hour of the incident, people were seen lining up in the hospital to donate blood. Those who were in the market were trying to help as many people as possible. Thirty more minutes passed by, and then people realized it was not over yet. Two bomb blasts further shook the town. More people died, more lost limbs, and sustained severe injuries. While 22 were killed on the spot, around ten more died due to injuries or the aftermath of the incident. As per official records, as many as 45 were injured.

Excerpt about the incident from ‘Itihas Ke Jharokhe se Abohar’ by Late Mathura Das Hiteshi

“I had no choice,” said one of the terrorist

There are countless stories of the incident that were never documented. Amongst those who lost their lives was a young woman who hid in the same shop where she was shopping as soon as she learned about the terrorists. One of the terrorists entered that shop, and before he could start shooting people, she recognised him.

“Tu? (is that you?)”, she asked, shocked. For a brief moment, the terrorist seemed surprised to find someone known to him there. Except, after the brief moment passed, he said, “I had no choice,” and started shooting. The woman died on the spot.

The man who bled out to death

Another story that haunts me is of 45-year-old Gobind Narang, who used to sell readymade garments on a cart. He was shot but escaped and hid in a shop. The shopkeeper, who did not know someone is hiding in the shop, pulled down the shutter and did not come back from his home. Gobind bled out to death in his shop due to lack of medical attention.

These are just amongst the countless stories of horror from that incident and others where Khalistani Sikh terrorists unleashed violence upon Hindus with covert and overt support from influential Sikhs in Canada and UK.

Only RSS and BJP leaders rushed to help

There were many organizations in Abohar at that time. Some were affiliated with political parties as well. However, according to records, only BJP leaders and RSS workers rushed out of their homes to help the injured. The rest of the leaders decided to stay safe and never came out of their homes. When my Nanaji first told me about the incident, he mentioned that some people went to their leaders’ homes, but no one came out to help.

The aftermath

The lack of preparations and coward act of the police was enough to make people angry. The next few days saw protests against the administration and police. On March 10, a large group of protesters marched towards the police station. They burnt down a police motorcycle and pelted stones on the police personnel. Then-District Magistrate Rakesh Singh was trying to calm down the crowd, but they pelted stones on his car.

Excerpt about the incident from ‘Itihas Ke Jharokhe se Abohar’ by Late Mathura Das Hiteshi

Without any warning, the police opened fire towards the crowd. 18-year-old Naveen Kumar and 20-year-old Rajendra Kumar were shot dead. As per the rules, police had to fire warning shots, but the rules were ignored. Abohar lost two more young souls.

March 12, 1993 – The day of revenge

DSP Surjit Singh Grewal was posted in Abohar on October 17, 1992. On the first day, he announced that he would bring the terrorist, Chanan Singh, who planned the attack, to justice. As a part of the plan, Grewal helped Gurmukh Singh, son-in-law of Chanan Singh, to settle down again. He made personal connections with Gurmukh and made sure no one doubts his plans.

DSP Grewal (Image: Itihas Ke Jharokhe se Abohar by Late Mathura Das Hiteshi)

Chanan started to visit Gurmukh after learning that Grewal was on their side. However, he was very careful during his visits. Grewal got solid intel that Chanan was coming to attend Gurmukh’s daughter’s marriage and son’s Shagun ceremony. Grewal formed a team and asked them to dress as daily wage workers. He posed as Daljit Singh alias Bittu, head of the Sikh Student Federation. 

On reaching the location, Grewal introduced himself as Bittu to Angrej Singh, son of Gurmukh. Angrej Singh believed him and took him to the house where Chanan was staying. 55-year-old Chanan, who was sitting on cots, realized that was not Bittu and started shooting at Grewal. Fortunately, Grewal was wearing a bulletproof jacket. Within seconds, Chanan’s dead body scrambled with Grewal’s bullets was lying in the pool of blood. Though the revenge gave little relief to the people of Abohar, the wounds of March 7 will never fade away completely.  

Late Mathura Das Hiteshi – The man who narrated the story

A significant part of the story was only possible because of the detailed narration of the incident in Late Mathura Das Hiteshi’s book “Itihas Ke Jharokhe se Abohar.”

Late Mathura Das Hiteshi

A freedom fighter, Hiteshi got the surname, which literally means “the one who thinks best for everyone,” for his social work. During his tenure as a bank manager of Punjab National Bank and later as chairman of Improvement Trust, he had made sure to help as many people as humanly possible.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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