Kids Corner

1984

1984 & I:
I Remember ...

by INNI KAUR

 

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 requested personal stories and anecdotes, as well as an attempt to capture their inner thoughts and deepest ruminations 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 19th in the series entitled "1984 & I".

 

 

India has a strange hold on me.

 

It is not my birthplace,

But

It is in my soul.

 

I hear the bell of Krishna;

I hear the call of Muhammad;

I hear the chant of Buddha;

I hear the Shabad of Guru Nanak.

 

I have knelt on its soil;

I have kissed its ground.

I yearn

To be mingled with its dust.

 

The Pogroms of 1984

Shattered this love.

Instantly, I grew up.

 

I saw my mother-in-law, a strong, brave woman, crumble as images from India filtered through our television in Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A. Her memories of the Partition came rushing back. Memories that she had tucked deep within gushed out. It was 1947 all over again for her.

I heard her stories; I witnessed her tears; I thought I understood, but I was wrong. I could not have understood, because I did not experience it.

In March of 1985, I flew from New York to India, to be with my mother. She was visiting her sister in Janakpuri, a suburb of Delhi. Delhi was tense. The mood was sombre. People stayed indoors.

One evening at around 9 pm, there was pounding at my aunt's door. Her Hindu neighbours had heard that busloads of goondas (thugs) were being brought into Janakpuri to burn down Sikh homes.

What transpired after that was surreal. My grandmother and I were assigned to a Hindu home in the neighbourhood. My mother and her sister went to another Hindu home. The rest of the family was scattered in yet other Hindu homes.

That night will forever be etched in my DNA.

My grandmother and I were put behind a tall steel cupboard in a pitch-black room. She was clinging to her large black handbag (into which she had stuffed her gold jewelry) and was saying her prayers.

I just sat dazed.

From time to time, we would hear loud voices coming from the street. My grandmother would tense up and hug me even closer.

I can't remember saying much. But I remember vividly what happened next.

My grandmother very calmly said: "Inni, if that door opens, I will kill you first and then I will kill myself."

She took out a knife from her black handbag and showed it to me.

I never uttered a word. There was nothing to say.

We sat quietly together and waited out the night.

The mob did not come. It was a false alarm.

The next morning, my mother insisted I leave Delhi. I flew to Bombay that evening.

Back home in Connecticut, I allowed myself to revisit my Delhi experience. But it was too painful. I could not comprehend it and so, I kept silent.

Years flew by.

From time to time, the memories would awaken and tears would flow. I was still unable to grasp the depth of my emotions.

The 20th anniversary of the 1984 massacre: I started to write. More tears flowed. Many pages were filled. Finally, the piece was done. I read it. Tears of gratitude flowed. The healing had taken place;

I could see it in my writing.

I sent the finished piece to my family and friends. Their response astounded me: "Why are you going there? What is the use? Forget about it!"

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I felt that someone had stabbed me with a knife.

I sent it to Sikh and Indian magazines. No one published it.

I died a thousand deaths during this process. Every rejection was a stab.

Gurumustuk Singh from sikhnet was the brave one who put it on his website.

My voice had found a place.

They say:

Do not write;

Do not speak;

Forget about it.

 

If I agree,

Then

In my silence

Lies my guilt.

 

As long as I draw breath,

As long as there is strength within me,

I will write,

I will speak.

For I remember ...  

 

I Remember...

The year is 1739.

Hindustan is in terror.

The cruelty of the Mughals

Is felt everywhere.

 

Nadir Shah is in Delhi

Looting the treasures,

Carting away twenty-two hundred Hindu women

For his private harem.

 

The news spreads like wildfire

Across this great land.

Helplessness and confusion

Reign supreme.

 

Sardar Jassa Singh,

Commander of the Sikh army,

Hears of this atrocity,

Vows to take a stand.

 

The Sikhs are a minority;

The Mughals have the upper hand.

Despite this disparity,

A midnight attack is planned.

The Mughal camp is asleep;

The Sikhs wait in silence.

At the stroke of midnight,

They begin the attack.

 

Kirpans are in the air;

The Mughals are caught off-guard.

The women are freed

And safely brought back.

In Hindu households,

Sighs of relief are heard

As the women rush back

To the arms of their loved ones.

 

There are Sikh casualties,

But there are no tears;

To uphold a woman's honour

Is the Sikh dharam.

 

From that day on,

A pattern emerged:

The Sikhs struck at midnight

To free the captured women.

 

Every night, the women prayed

For the safety of the Sikhs.

Mothers told their daughters,

"Trust only a Sikh."

 

Hindu mothers, with love,

Made their first-born sons Sikhs.

A sacred trust existed

Between a Hindu and a Sikh.

 

Through the centuries,

This trust and love continued,

Until the forces of evil

Raised their ugly head.

 

The year is 1984,

The unthinkable happened:

Our Hindu brothers

Turned on us.

 

Sikh women were raped;

Their fathers, husbands,

Sons and brothers

Butchered in front of their eyes.

 

The country was in shell-shock

At the brutality of this massacre;

Yet, no voice rose

To speak against this massacre.

 

I ask my Hindu sisters:

"Where were you?

Did your hearts not bleed

At the rape of your sisters?"

 

Twenty five years have gone by.

The pain has not diminished.

There are no answers

To what happened in 1984.

 

To my Hindu sisters,

I have one request:

Tell your sons, husbands and brothers

The sacrifices of the Sikhs.

 

To my Sikh brothers,

I need not remind you:

You are bound by our Guru

To protect the weak.

 

No Sikh hand will rise

Against any woman;

Be she a Hindu or a Muslim,

She has the protection of a Sikh.

 

My Ardaas:

Let the winds be gentle;

Let there be peace on this land;

Let this shattered trust

Be given a chance to grow.

But ask me not to forget,

For I remember...

On this 25th anniversary of the Pogroms of 1984, I reflect on the courage of the non-Sikhs who protected the Sikhs.

You are our unsung heroes.

I salute your bravery;

I salute your goodness;

I salute your morality.

 

But ask me not to forget,

For I remember...

 

April 25, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: D.J.Singh (U.S.A.), April 25, 2009, 7:45 PM.

Jag rachna sab jhooth hai, Jan leho re meet / Keh Nanak thir na rahe, Jiyo baaloo ki bheet / Ram gayo Ravan gayo, jaa ke bohu parivar / Kaho Nanak thir kichh nahi, supne jiyon sansar / Chinta taaki keejiye, Jo anhonee hoe / Ih marag sansar ko, Nanak thir nahi koi / Jo upjiyo so binas hai, Paro aaj ke kaal / Nanak Hari gun gaye le, chhad sagal janjal // [GGS:1429]

2: Jay Speights (Washington, DC, U.S.A.), April 26, 2009, 3:59 AM.

Throughout history there are vivid and graphic events that remind us of the inhumane depths to which man can descend. We need to be reminded about these events or we become lax and comfortable and lulled into a false sense of security that we are safe. Then the next shocking injustice happens and we awaken from this state. So we have to thank Inni for this sharing and helping us to remember that people who cherish justice, love and compassion, must be vigilant and ready to stand up for the rights of others to practice their faith and cultural traditions without fear. This is a global mission. Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Thank you, Inni.

3: Tarlochan Singh (California, U.S.A.), April 27, 2009, 2:03 PM.

A nice piece by Inni Kaur that comes from her heart, based on her unforgettable and dreadful experience. Let's not forget that it was all pre-planned. It started in Punjab six months earlier, in June 1984, with an army attack (infamous Operation Blue Star) on the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht in which at least 37 other gurdwaras in Punjab were also attacked. Tens of housands of young Sikhs were killed in Punjab during various "operations" that followed, such as Operation Black Thunder, Operation Wood Rose, Operation Mand, and so on, when army and security forces combed every village and town of Punjab and picked up and killed thousands of young Sikhs in fake encounters. It was the time when being an Amritdhari Sikh was considered a crime. It invited unnecessary suspicion and government wrath, reminding us of the tyranny of the Mughal rule of Aurangzeb and Zakriya Khan. What happened in November 1984 in Delhi and other parts of India was simply a continuation of the same act, but in a slightly different form. It is a shame that those who are guilty of crimes against the Sikhs have been rewarded with federal ministerial positions, seats in the Indian parliament and other plum jobs. H.K.L. Bhagat never got punished for inciting angry mobs against the Sikhs. Both Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, along with many others, remain unpunished and protected by the CBI, the Congress party and the establishment. Even though Jagdish Tytler's ticket to contest election from Delhi for the Indian parliament was eventually withdrawn by Congress as a face-saving act after the Sikhs showed much needed unity against his candidacy, the fact remains that both hatchetmen of Congress and perpetrators of crimes against the minority Sikh community remain free and unpunished. One must not forget that the Khalsa Panth never tolterates injustice and always fights back with full force.

4: Prem Piyush (Hyderabad, India), April 29, 2009, 4:12 AM.

Dear Sister: I can't even say that I understand your feelings because that would be a blatant lie. But I can definitely say that whatever happened in Delhi was not the action of Hindus. This was a task of the monsters whose sole purpose was to kiss the feet of the Gandhi family. The portion I liked the most in this poem goes: "But ask me not to forget, For I remember... " Sadly, there are many victims who shifted base out of Delhi or probably were made to do so. Justice still awaits such people. India still awaits. I pray to the Almighty that better sense prevails and there are more convictions in this case.

5: Jaskaran (New Delhi, India), April 30, 2009, 3:21 AM.

Well Inni, I was there. October 31, 1984: I was just 14 years old but it's still crystal clear today. Although we ( including my family ) were lucky ones to escape, but the experience was horrible. My parents and sister survived a mob attack (they were returning home, on the way some boys/men stopped the car and told Dad not to proceed further and return, and luckily they wern't spotted by the mob which was only 10 meters away). For the next few days, our house was guarded in turn by our neighbours. I was sporting a guth (hair in a braid, Swedish style). One house only a lane away got burned and robbed by the mob. Even our school was totally burned down. Well, even today when I go to the gurudwara and have langar, there are arguments - whether to serve the poor or not(for I stay in fear some day these people to whom we are offering free food will come back and ...) I hope no one gets to see this in their life time.

6: Rajdeep Kaur Singh (New Jersey, U.S.A.), April 30, 2009, 2:53 PM.

Dear Inni: I read your words - and I cried. For those whose lives were snatched away, and for those who lived through the horrors of it and will forever carry a scar in their hearts. Yes, I remember those days very vividly, though I wish I could forget. I was 12 years old and growing up in India then. And yes, what a way to be forced to grow up! Overnight, I became a 'gaddar' in the land of my birth, a threat to the land I loved, an eyesore to the very neighbors I'd grown up with. My brother had to bear the brunt of all this through high school for many years after '84. Despite all this, Waheguru's spirit of Chardi Kalaa still bloomed, like a fragrant flower - bringing the soothing balm of solace to many. Against huge odds, true humanity shone when some non-Sikh neighbours helped their Sikh neighbours survive the killings, while risking their own lives. Courage stood bold and true when Sikhs surrounded by bloodthirsty mobs refused to cower in fear and fought back the thugs. Many Sikhs lived their lives in the shadow of death - never once even thinking of renouncing their Guru or His commandments - the Kesh and the Turban. It's so easy to slink away in the face of apparent defeat. But standing your ground in defence of your deepest held values even through the toughest challenges, now THAT is true victory - the victory of the soul. It took an ugly holocaust in 1984 to jolt awake the soul of many a Sikh. Are we still awake enough to never discriminate against those of a different skin color, or social status, or national origin or even sexual orientation. Gurbani says : "Maanas ki jaat sabh ekai pehchanbau" ... Do we really? Or have we forgotten?

7: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 30, 2009, 3:30 PM.

Just reading such sensitively related personal accounts changes one. How much more searing would be the wounds if one lived and experienced something like this. I remember similar days from 1947, but in 1984 I was safe in New York. And to think that humans can, at times, show a nobler side. Inni, thank you.

8: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), May 01, 2009, 10:13 AM.

Your last lines - I relate to them the most. The guilt and accusations of ungratefulness inflicted by our protectors when we talk about 1984. There needs to be an understanding by them that a sister whose brother was brutally murdered is not exactly going to be content over saving herself. She will remember. Thank you for bringing this out in the most beautiful of words.

9: Davinder Kochar (Australia), May 16, 2009, 12:30 AM.

I and my whole lot of extended family, was deeply scarred by 1947; this was deepened by what happened in 1984. My brother-in-law was returning home to Delhi by train from a conference with one of his colleagues, also a Sikh. This colleague disembarked at Nizamuddin railway station but my brother-in-law, on a whim, chose to disembark at the next station. His collegue never got home; he was mercilessly massacred by a mob of Hindus. My brother-in-law got off at the Delhi station but, as luck would have it, he - along with other Sikh passengers - was advised by the security not to leave the station. He and the other Sikhs spent two nights at the station until things calmed down. Obviously, they all spent sleepless nights. Finally, a Hindu neighbour offered to drive my sister to the station. They took a blanket with them so that they could bring my brother-in-law back home hidden in it. They made him lie flat and still on the back seat and covered him with the blanket and scattered a few other clothes to make it look natural. He was lucky to arrive home safely. He is alive today but lives with this horrible memory. Some Hindus turned into demons during those tragic days of mindless violence. Savage instincts seem to raise their ugly head in that land anywhere, anytime.

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I Remember ..."









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