Kids Corner

1984

1984 & I:
George Orwell's 1984
Alive & Well in India

by I.J. SINGH

 

This year, 2009, marks the 25th Anniversary of 1984, when horrendous crimes were committed against the Sikhs in the very land of their origin. To commemorate this sad milestone, we at sikhchic.com have asked our regular columnists, as well as our contributors and readers, to share with us the impact 1984 has had on their lives. We have also sought out personal stories and anecdotes, in an attempt to capture the inner thoughts and deepest ruminations of those touched in any way by the events of that fateful year, on what 1984 means to each one of them and their loved ones - without going into a litany of facts and figures or a listing of the injustices to date, all of which will invariably be covered with due diligence elsewhere. We intend to present these personal perspectives to you throughout the twelve months of 2009. The following is the 40th in the series entitled "1984 & I".    

 

 

India and Indians now tell us that 1984 was a mere blip on the stellar record of the world's most populous democracy.

What a difference 25 years make?

In June 1984, when the Indian army attacked the Harmandar (Golden Temple) in Amritsar and 40 other gurdwaras across Punjab, the government was able to ring Amritsar and Punjab with two of the heaviest security cordons even seen.

No one - certainly not a Sikh - was able to cross it. No news filtered out on the fate of the thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Darbar Sahib for the commemoration of Guru Arjan's martyrdom.

Brahma Chellaney, a reporter who was caught in the mayhem, tried to report on it and was charged instead with sedition.

In 1984, the Indian government exerted absolute and full control over all media - press, television and radio. Rumours abounded but not an iota of news filtered out of Punjab.

The world has changed and how.

In recent weeks, Iran has been in turmoil. But, despite its best efforts, the Iranian government failed to put a curtain of isolation around the country. The news filtering from there kept us glued to our televisions day and night.

Thanks to technology that did not exist in 1984 - the ubiquitous Internet, Cell phones, Twittering and You tube - the whole world knew what happened on the streets in Tehran as it happened. The eyes of the world were and are upon Tehran, and the government is held to some restraint and worldwide embarrassment.

Less than six months after the army attack of June 1984, the Indian prime minister was assassinated and a reign of terror was let loose over unarmed Sikhs in Delhi and many cities across India. Once again, Sikhs were held up as the face of terrorism by the Indian government - in total disregard of the truth. And the world believed it.

The world has changed for the better. The iron control that was possible in 1984 can no longer happen. The way the Indian government was able to portray Sikhs as terrorists across the world is no longer possible. The ignorance that most Indians still live in about what exactly happened in 1984 would not exist.

My Indian friends never tire of labelling the period "those bad or unfortunate times" that happened 25 years ago. The ball and chain of the past will only hold us back, they say. The new mantra is that India is now on a fast track of moving forward and even the financial troubles that plague the developed world can't tie India down.

Already the deniers of history tell us the "troubles" of 1984 lasted only two days in Delhi. The reason that not more than a handful of people have been charged with the wholesale killings of Sikhs over those two days, they claim, is because a really monumental tragedy never happened. Perhaps a handful of people died. In any case it was anti-Sikh rioting - spontaneous because the country's beloved prime minister had been assassinated by Sikhs.

Yes, I, too, am tired of listening to the same old litany of half-truths and distortions. I won't dwell on the history. It is quite well established. Within six hours of the assassination of India's Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1984, truckloads of armed thugs materialized in Sikh neighbourhoods. They had lists and addresses of Sikh-owned homes and businesses. They were armed with kerosene and weapons. They went on a spree of killing, burning, raping and looting. No Sikh was safe anywhere in India's capital city and many other towns and cities across the country.

Two days later, as if obeying an unseen commander, the frenzy stopped. Where were the police and army for two days? Safe in their barracks, of course. The government admitted to the death of over 2700 Sikh men, women and children in Delhi alone. That comes to better than 1300 victims for a 24-hour day or a shade over 50 per hour - almost one per minute.

And all the victims were unarmed. In 1984-India, trucks were not easily available; kerosene was rationed, requiring standing in lines for ever; and lists of addresses were and still not easily assembled. In those pre-Google days, one could not download addresses at the touch of a button.

India has never shown such remarkable efficiency. To put a genocidal killing spree together within hours speaks of a sea change in management skills that has not been seen before or since. That's why I don't label it anti-Sikh riots. There was no spontaneity to the violence. Riots they were not.

The next step was monumental in its deception. The new Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, signed an agreement with Sikh leaders promising to hold an inquiry and bring the guilty to trials. There have been over ten Inquiry Commissions in the past 25 years. Only a handful have been arrested for killing several thousand. In the meantime, evidence continues to degrade and disappear.

I think any government that treats its own citizens with such callousness has no right to govern.

Yet, as our friends tell us, we must move forward. The ball and chain of the past will not save us.

So, what is now for us to do?

The past is a prologue to the future. Without our connection to history, we become like an untethered balloon floating off to somewhere we may not want to go.

But the past must not hold us back, fixed in one place in time and space. In our personal lives, there is many a story that would be embarrassing to relive. Often they leave an indelible mark in our lives. Wouldn't it be nice if we could rewind the clock and expunge such times? If it were only so easy.

To move beyond such horrendous sins requires that we face them, acknowledge them and atone for them. And then we can carry forward with us the lessons learned.

How then to accomplish all that?

World opinion would likely not come to our aid all that readily.

Why?

Because global realities and geopolitics tell us that India is the only counterweight to China, the only possible competition to China's growing heft in Asia. Also, we need to keep the Islamic world in check - it sits astride the world's oil resources and has access to a nuclear arsenal as well. India is ideally suited geographically and strategically to help us manage that stalemate.

To deny the logic of the injustice done to the Sikhs would be Orwellian. It does not wash. One can't escape the irony in that the India born George Orwell named his fiction ("Nineteen-Eighty-Four") for the year to which India and its bureaucracy gave its evil life.

The Indian judiciary, though not entirely independent, can deliver a modicum of justice.

If that seems too awkward, perhaps a "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" would suffice. But that requires some truth and a lot of honesty, no matter how embarrassing it turns out to be. Many countries, besides South Africa, have tried this route successfully.

The way of such a Commission need not be embarrassing; it could even be liberating. Many nations - Sierra Leone, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Timor and Peru have trod this path. India and Pakistan need to.

From such a step, honestly undertaken, neither the Indian government nor the Sikh leadership is likely to emerge unscarred and unscathed.

I think of all the times that we Sikhs have been accused of acting without patience and having gone too far. Now I know that we have been patient long enough and that we did not go far enough.

Now 25 years and 10 Inquiry Commissions later I would say: Never let the story die.

 

ijs1@nyu.edu

August 17, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Bangalore, India), August 17, 2009, 7:33 AM.

Akal Purakh is the Kartapurakh. This is the first punishment to Sikhs from Waheguru for lowering themselves into delving in Hindu caste practices. The more caste the Sikhs practice, the more '84 shall happen to the Sikhs. The day Sikhs stop behaving like Hindus and brahmans, that day '84 will become a thing of the past!

2: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), August 17, 2009, 11:31 AM.

A few weeks ago, on Sony India television news, I heard India's Home Minister P. Chidambram say that the Pakistani government owes honesty to itself and should therefore come out clean and acknowledge that it did give shelter on its soil to those responsible behind the Mumbai attacks in November '08. He further went on to say that an actual peace process between India and Pakistan can begin only when the truth has been revealed and Pakistan has handed over those responsible for these horific crimes to the Indian authorities. I immediately thought: why doesn't this apply to the ruling Congress party (Mr Chindambram own paryt) - they should also be honest with themselves and bring the perpetators of the 1984 pogroms to justice. However, having said this, we all know of the corrupt judicial system of India and the 10 inquiry commissions that have simply gone away. Therefore, I believe that we as a community first need to step up and resettle the victims of 1984. Let's forget about the judicial verdict and punishing the guilty. That will happen when it will happen but the SGPC (as the chief body of the Sikhs) needs to take this task on of making sure that the 1984 victims are given proper housing, financing, occupations in the form of jobs or businesses and educational grants for their children. Then and only then we as a community are worthy to face the victims and rightfully pursue justice elsewhere. We always give the example of the support and sympathy the Jewish community has received from the world for the holocaust. Let's not forget what they have done for themselves. There should be no reason why we cannot pull in the resources and funds needed to help the 1984 victims with all the donations SGPC, DSGPC as well as all the other organizations receive in India and outside.

3: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), August 17, 2009, 12:42 PM.

I.J. Singh ji, your style of writing simply captivates me. In your article, you have said about your Indian friends telling half truths and advising you to move forward. I face a similar dilemma but I have made a firm decision on educating those who know me the real facts of 1984. I am not sure of whether to make a Powerpoint or a short film. I need T. Sher Singh ji's and your advice and guidance on going about it. I have written this as a comment and not an e-mail asking for help and guidance from everyone who is a visitor on this site and is reading it. I am aware of the 1984 section on your site and find it very soul stirring. Please help me in bringing the truth out to my friends, relatives, colleagues and whomsoever knows me. Gurfateh

4: Manjeet Singh (Damoh, Madhya Pradesh, India), August 17, 2009, 8:46 PM.

Great idea given by S. Chintan Singh. The SGPC should take full responsibility for the rehabilitation, education, employment of the victims and their families from 1984. An established Sikh can serve the Panth with more dedication!

5: Amar (U.S.A.), August 17, 2009, 10:34 PM.

The strategic location of India does play a big role. Similarly, the strategic location of Punjab creates an even bigger weight for the Indian government. Punjab plays a role in keeping Pakistan in check. In a previous article by I.J. Singh in "THE PARTITION & I" Series, he suggested linkage between 1947 and 1984. I am no historian but this is what I see in this. The Congress/ Hindu/ majority wants to keep the Sikhs /Punjab/ minorities economically deprived and bereft of power. 'No one kicks a dead dog'. They saw that Punjabis can bring about the green revolution even after suffering a devastating loss during Partition, and cut their river-water. They saw their bravery (giving maximum sacrifices for freedom) and their history (the Sikh Raj), and labelled them terrorists and started wiping out the male youth. They saw that Sikh that the religion is pure and simple, and that Ambedkar wanted to bring all Dalits to the Sikh fold ... so a quota was created for 'scheduled castes', and the mass conversion was averted. To give them a mral blow, they were lumped with the Hindus in the constitution. The attack on The Golden Temple was a mere egotistic statement on the part of the majority of "teaching Sikhs a lesson". Power can play a great trick and leaders can try to suck all possibly available blood, minorities and poor become the target of genocides, etc. And then leaders are gripped by those five vices: fear, ego, greed, lust and attachment. Leaders/ people kill other people out of fear of those people. Does the Indian government fear Sikhs/ Punjabis? Yes, due to their strategic location ... we know this from their actions. Punjab's strategic location and the minority status of Sikhs are part of the problem ... but they can easily be turned into strengths.

6: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), August 21, 2009, 10:23 AM.

Why not? Inderjit proposes a good solution that is practical, if done right. Whenever I go to any museum and other holocaust event, I always notice that the emphasis of the organizers is to promote understanding and love between communities so that such atrocities are not repeated. Events like the 1984 Sikh Holocaust or the German Holocaust of 1939-45 result from hatred and misunderstanding by one community towards the other. If the hatred and misunderstanding continues, no matter what the justification, the events are bound to be repeated; none of us would want that. Therefore, it is essential that Hindu and Sikh communities come closer and become friends rather continue to hold animosities against each other. I am not suggesting that we forget what happened but we must move towards forgiving and accepting the neighbours as kith and kin in the one human family, as our Gurus have taught us. Inderjit offered a fresh and practical solution. As he says, a "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" might work because it requires some truth and a lot of honesty, no matter how embarrassing it turns out to be. Many countries, besides South Africa, have tried this route successfully. I agree that the way of such a Commission need not be embarrassing; it could even be liberating. Many nations - Sierra Leone, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Timor and Peru - have trod this path. India and Pakistan need to undertake this. So should Hindus and Sikhs, Congress and Akalis. Next year, we Sikhs may invite our Hindu friends and neighbours when we commemorate the 1984 Holocaust. Meanwhile our leadership may move towards something like the "Truth & Reconciliation Commission".

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George Orwell's 1984
Alive & Well in India "









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