Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma's operations were becoming more and more daring each day and they even became a topic of discussion in India's Home Ministry. Bhai Brahma was considered 'King of the Mand' and so it was decided to send the Indian Forces there to search for him. Police Chief Ribeiro assigned 'Operation Mand' to the new IG of the CRPF in Punjab, KP Gill.
The date of the operation was set for July 1986. The police expected many Sikh Fighters to come to the Mand for meetings during the local festival for Baba Dargahi Shah. This festival was attended by people of all faiths and the Singhs too gathered during this time to make plans. The Mand was a marshy, forested area that the police could not access, so the CRPF and Punjab Police were deployed in the thousands to surround the area. Ribeiro was certain that Bhai Avtar Singh and his fellow Singhs were in the area and now because of the cordon, could not escape. But still, the problem remained that the security forces could not go in en masse and they were too afraid to go in small groups. The solution chosen was to send in army helicopters to seek and kill the Sikh fighters.
CRPF men climbed aboard two helicopters and began to search for Bhai Brahma's hideout. The helicopters began to hover lower to the ground and below them were hiding Jathedar Durga Singh and his men. The Singhs opened fire on the helicopter with such force and volume that it crashed in flames into the marsh. The pilot and all the CRPF men were killed on impact. The Singhs shouted jaikaray and trained their sights on the next helicopter. The pilot had seen what had happened to his companion and decided his mission was impossible. After trying to avoid fire for a short while, he decided to go back to base. Of all the forces surrounding the area, no one had the courage to enter and attempt to rescue the men who had gone down with the helicopter.
As night fell, the Singhs, who were familiar with the area, made their escape. The CRPF and Punjab Police had been completely frustrated and to avoid embarrassment, arrested some farmers who lived around the Mand and claimed Brahma's men had been captured. The next day's newspapers carried a statement from the CRPF that one of their helicopters had collided with a tall tree and crashed, resulting in the death of the pilot and the men aboard.
Years later, Ribeiro in his autobiography, 'Bullet for Bullet' (1998) wrote, 'KPS Gill had been inducted as IG, CRPF, in charge of Punjab operations. He was an excellent operations man and it was he who conceived and planned the Mand operation. We faced some criticism from the press since not a single terrorist was caught in the operation' (pg. 283).
The police were completely frustrated by Bhai Avtar Singh. They began to take their frustration out on the entire village of Brahmpura. Bhai Avtar Singh's brothers were special targets of the police but no one was spared. An entire platoon of the CRPF was placed in the village school to terrorize the area.
When Bhai Brahma heard about the police excesses, he decided to do something about it. On December 27, 1986 Bhai Brahma and his fellow Singhs entered Brahmpura around midnight. He went to the Gurdwara and after offering his respects, turned on the roof speaker. Bhai Avtar Singh took the microphone and announced, 'Residents of Brahmpura, I am your Avtar Singh speaking. I know that the CRPF is harassing you because of me and asking you to tell them my whereabouts. I challenge the CRPF: if you have the courage, come and get Avtar Singh Brahma. There's no bravery in bothering the innocent villagers here. Let's have a contest of bravery today and satisfy ourselves. You have weapons and so do we. Let's have a real encounter tonight and in the morning you can count how many of your men the Singhs have mowed down. Come on CRPF-walio! You are proud of the strength of Delhi and its army and we are proud of our Guru. We are Guru Gobind Singh's sons and we can fight 125 000 alone.'
Bhai Avtar Singh had been heard through the entire village. He waited a while and seeing no response, began again, 'CRPF-walio! Come out of your quarters! Brahma, a Sikh of the Guru is waiting for you. The Brahma you couldn't find in the Mand is now waiting for you! I don't believe in spilling the blood of innocents and I don't attack those without weapons. I'm here to meet you now. CRPF-walio, you can meet me any way and any time. Give up your bothering of innocents and come in front of Brahma and satisfy your desire to prove your bravery! Bolay So Nihal! Sat Sri Akal!!! Waahiguru Jee Ka Khalsa Wahiguru Jee Kee Fateh!'
For a full 25 minutes Bhai Avtar Singh challenged the CRPF on the speaker and waited for over an hour for them to come out. Not a single person came. The Singhs, seeing that no one was brave enough to face them, left the village while bellowing jaikaras.
Even after the Singhs had left, the terrified CRPF platoon cowered in their base. When they were sure that Brahma had left, they came out. They had been shamed in front of the entire village. The CRPF went berserk and decided to take revenge on the Sikh villagers. Families were dragged out of their houses and the women were raped. One woman had her ear bitten off by a crazed CRPF officer.
Five women were brought together and their clothes were ripped off. One younger girl ran naked to save herself and spent the rest of the cold December night hiding in the bushes.
The CRPF raided Brahmpura's Gurdwara Sahib and began to shoot at a saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Once that saroop had been riddled with bullets, another Saroop was taken out of the Gurdwara Sahib and lit on fire.
The entire Sikh population of Punjab was horrified and shocked and news of this night of terror even became internationally known. It was demanded that action be taken against the guilty CRPF. Even Ribeiro admitted that what had happened was disgusting and publicly apologized but in his autobiography, he writes, 'KPS Gill was then IG of the CRPF. He was not willing to take any action against his men. He approached the home ministry in Delhi to ensure that sanction was not accorded for criminal prosecution. Finally, the Government of India did not sanction the prosecution.' The guilty CRPF battalion was removed and replaced with another. This was the greatness of Indian justice. KP Gill was later appointed DGP of Punjab Police because of his ruthless mentality.
Bhai Avtar Singh and his fellow Singhs decided to give the Brahmpura incident a suitable reply. CRPF bases were attacked with rockets and blown apart. Bhai Brahma and Jathedar Durga Singh continued to take on all the invading forces and every week news would come of a new guerrilla attack and whole companies being destroyed. The people were all crazy about Brahma and gave him their complete support.
The Final Battle
Bhai Brahma, when leaving the training camp for the final time had told some Singhs near to him that he would not return. He knew that his shahidi was fast approaching. That day finally arrived on July 22, 1988.
Bhai Avtar Singh and his fellow Singhs, Bhai Surinder Singh and Bhai Jarnail Singh DC were in Rajasthan near the Pakistan border. They had decided to cross and were staying with a Nihang Singh of the Sursingh Jatha. The Singhs approached the border and as they were about to cross, were spotted by the Border Security Force. The Singhs were surrounded but fought their way out. Again, on a tip, the BSF surrounded them a little distance away and once again the Singhs escaped.
Bhai Avtar Singh and his fellow Singhs were still on the move when they were surrounded a third time. Bhai Brahma knew that their ammunition was close to exhausted and he ordered the Singhs that they should escape but in no case should the fall into the hands of the BSF. Bhai Avtar Singh took a position in a green field and held the BSF back as the Singhs broke the cordon. Bhai Jarnail Singh and Bhai Surinder Singh were successful and managed to escape.
The BSF now focused on the field and showered it with bullets. Bhai Brahma was struck in the stomach but despite the pain, continued to battle. The BSF did not have the courage to approach the lone tiger and even in his wounded state, Bhai Brahma was proving deadly. Finally the shooting stopped and the BSF approached the body. As they did to every shahid Singh, they ripped Bhai Brahma's dastar from his head and stripped off his clothes and took his body to the police station. They were so terrified of the Legend of Brahma, that they could not be assured that this was really him. Photographs of the body were sent to Punjab but no one could confirm the idenity. The Singhs too did not confirm that their General had been martyred. Newspapers debated whether Bhai Brahma was alive or dead and the security forces too could not believe that Brahma had fallen. Only when Bhai Bhupinder Singh Canadian was arrested and he identified the body from pictures did the police finally know for sure that they had got their man. Bhai Bhupinder Singh was also later killed in a fake encounter.
An Akhand Patth Sahib in the memory of Bhai Avtar Singh was held in village Brahmpura. Baba Daya Singh, Jathedar of Baba Bidhi Chand Dal hoisted a Nishan Sahib in his memory. The Jathebandi appointed Bhai Gurdeep Singh Vakeel as the next Jathedar of the KLF.
Bhai Avtar Singh had left behind a strong and principled Jatha of Singhs who continued to be a nightmare for the Indian government.
Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma was a legend in the Punjab and during his lifetime, whole areas of the Punjab had become sovereign. Bhai Sahib's firm Gurmat principles won the hearts of the people and struck terror into the hearts of the Hindustani forces. As time passed, such Singhs became more and more rare and the movement slowed down and finally stopped. May Guru Sahib send us another Brahma in today's desperate times.
(Based on ਜੁਝਾਰੂ ਯੋਧੇ by Maninder Singh Baja, Translation by sewadars of Tapoban.org)