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Operation Blue Star still rankles with Gravesham's Sikh community
GRAVESHAM councillor Brian Sangha is like thousands of Sikhs who have made Gravesham their home since they first began to arrive on these shores 160 years ago.
The community is well established in the borough based around one of the largest Gurdwaras outside India - the majestic Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Saddington Street.
But if there is one issue which still polarises opinion and upsets adherents of the faith, it is what happened in the Punjabi city of Amritsar in June 1984.
Faced with a group of militants who had barricaded themselves into a part of the holiest Sikh shrine of all, the Golden Temple, the Indian Army mounted a ground assault beginning on June 3.
Operation Blue Star cost at least 500 lives and perhaps many more while in the aftermath Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
Thousands of Sikhs were killed in terrible riots which raged in response to the incident across cities including the Indian capital Delhi.
Cllr Sangha, who represents Pelham ward on Gravesham Council, said: "I regard what happened as analogous to the rape of a woman.
The Akal Takhat was heavily shelled during the six-day assault (image by Amarpreet Singh).
"It was a fundamental breach of privacy about which I still feel violated and angry.
"I am sure most rape victims would say that if at the time they had had a gun, and it was loaded, they would have used it and I think many Sikhs feel like that.
"You struggle to understand why the government resorted to military action so quickly."
Cllr Sangha’s own parents, father Sucha Singh and mother Nimber Kaur, were praying in the Temple the day before the attack when they were told to leave.
He said: "My father was just grateful to get out of it but at the time he had mixed views.
"He thought it was no place for that sort of thing to happen because it is one of religious worship but he recognised the situation could not have been allowed to continue as it was.
"I just think there should have been another solution that stopped short of rolling tanks into the Golden Temple."
Prime Minister David Cameron addresses Sikhs following the conclusion of an enquiry into the roll Britain played in Operation Blue Star.
The recent revelation a British SAS officer was sent to Delhi to advise the Indian Army on how it might expel the militants from the Temple has reignited debate about Operation Blue Star among Gravesham’s 7,700- strong Sikh population.
But given that the officer’s apparent recommendation of a surprise assault was ignored, Cllr Sangha believes there is little more that can be gained from probing any further into Britain’s involvement.
"If it stopped at advice it’s fine and it would seem that is where it ended.
"Sikhs in Gravesham are a peace-loving people who get on with their lives but this is a subject where many of them will have a view and there is a strong feeling of resentment at what happened.
"Some will feel any sort of advice at the time should not have been given."
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