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1984 & I
We Remember

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 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 first of the series entitled "1984 & I".

 

Exactly 25 years ago, the Indian Army attacked the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab, occupied over 40 Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras), sealed the borders of the state of Punjab, and turned it into occupied territory. 

Wholesale arrests, torture and killings of Sikhs followed.  Within six months, the Prime Minister who had ordered the attack was assassinated.   It truly brought India to the brink of fragmentation.  Atrocities continued unabated for over a decade.

I was living in New York, had not visited India since 1979, and was busily planning a trip there.  My plan to visit India never materialized until a decade later, partly because of restrictive policies by the Indian government on travel by Sikhs, and also because I couldn't bring myself to go there.

In the United States, I remember being shocked by the brutalization of civil rights workers in the South, and by the killing of students at Kent State University in Ohio, who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War, but this was far, far worse - beyond my worst imagination.

The detailed history of the past 25 years of murder and neglect in India are chilling but, in spite of official denials, not a secret.  Just google for the gory story.

I still had brothers and parents in India then. But India seemed no longer to be the land of my hopes and dreams.

Having lived here since 1960, my expectations of how a government serves and treats its own citizens had changed.  My mindset was totally different.

Having participated in the movements for racial equality, women rights and against the Vietnam War, I immersed myself in protesting the happenings in India.  Sikhs all over America raised their voices against them; often, it amounted to little more than venting - but that, too, was necessary.

A very few, well connected and educated professionals  - Hindus - asked me to join a select group of Hindus and Sikhs to speak for justice, unity and an end to the rampant killings of Sikhs.  I did.  Soon, we crafted a carefully drafted letter, almost a manifesto, addressed to Rajiv Gandhi, the new Prime Minister of India, outlining our recommendations. 

We (three Hindus, two Sikhs) took the letter to the Indian Consul General in New York and requested him to forward it to the Prime Minister in India.  He curtly declined, telling us that he lacked the authority to do so, and asked that we see the Ambassador of India in Washington.

We sought an appointment with the ambassador and went to see him. 

He read the letter, turned several shades of the spectrum, and suggested that the letter made India look bad.  We needed, he directed us, to clear the letter of all critical content, and recast it as a humble plea.  One Hindu with us tersely told the ambassador that the letter was not being submitted for his approval; as an ambassador, he was duty bound to relay it. 

We, therefore, requested that he perform his duty.  The stiff-necked ambassador agreed, and promised us a response from the Prime Minister's office within four to six weeks. 

I know that in India time moves at its own majestic pace but, 25 years later, we still wait for a response, alongside all those who suffered the carnage of 1984 and the subsequent decade, for some accounting, truth and justice.

I had become a U.S. citizen in the late 60's, but when I look back, in my heart I must have maintained a dual identity, and shared my loyalty with India.  These strands were finally divided post-1984.

My mind went to the likes of Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, legendary musicians both, who refused to perform in Nazi Germany, or under conductors whose lives had been tainted with Nazi connections. (Other luminaries like Yehudi Menuhin drew no such distinctions.)   And I thought of all the Jews who would not buy a Volkswagen, because this wonderful car had been developed under Nazi patronage.

I point to these simple examples to highlight the power of the individual to influence the values of a society.

For a nation and its people, reconciliation and forgiveness lie at the core of their existence, and so does it for India.  But reconciliation demands a modicum of acknowledgment, confession and atonement that have been conspicuous by their absence for 25 years. More than ten Investigation Commissions in that time have failed their mandate.

A part of me changed irrevocably in 1984.  It sundered any connection I had with the political entity that is India.  Yet, I continue to acknowledge and treasure the rich culture that shaped me, and immensely value Sikhi that came from that land.

2009 speaks of a quarter of a century of neglect.  1984 will always be A Year to Remember.

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com

For an extensive bibliography of books, articles & films on 1984, please check out THE 1984 RECORD by clicking here: http://sikhchic.com/article-detail.php?id=694&cat=11 

January 11, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), January 12, 2009, 7:41 AM.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and contributing to documenting the truth that is responsible for our detachment from any "loyalty" to the 'Republic of India'. "Reconciliation" is not on the agenda for India or its people. Why would it be, if Sikhs themselves are so quick to forget? Aside for a handful of activists, writers or artists, the majority of the Sikh nation considers 1984 a nightmare that has thankfully passed. Unfortunately, our short attention-span, combined with the long-term agenda of India's fundamentalist leadership has let go of 1984 as an unpleasant, not-to-be-brought-up incident. Sikhs happily remain an unobstructive and negligent roadblock in the roadmap of a larger "Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan" picture. Bigger roadblocks have emerged for the time being and Sikhs have a chance to focus on mansions, cars and ... sadly, even drugs.

2: Harinder (Bangalore, India), January 12, 2009, 11:34 AM.

Don't sound so pessimistic. People kill and fight since time immemorial. It is worth looking at what the Jews underwent and see how they are up and about and shining today. I feel retrospectively that it would have been better had our men gone down fighting rather than tamely being slaughtered like lambs. This is what we must teach our young generations - self defence to the very end, and not to shy away from fighting, if the need rises. Life is all about rejuvination and rising like a phoenix from the ashes, rather than wallowing in the past.

3: Chintan Singh (San Jose, U.S.A.), January 12, 2009, 6:20 PM.

Firstly, I am very glad to read that a few Hindus expressed concern over the actions of the Indian Government and also fought the endless battle with Dr. I.J. Singh. Secondly, I beg to differ from Gurmeet Kaur ji on her statement: "Sikhs happily remain an unobstructive and negligent roadblock in the roadmap of a larger "Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan" picture". I was recently in New Delhi for a few weeks and had numerous conversations with friends and family on why the Sikh community has forgotten 1984. What I heard over and over again in these discussions that Sikhs in India have no choice but to align themselves with the majority. As we all know that the majoirty writes the laws of the land. Isn't that somewhat true in North America as well? Those of us who live outside India, have had the good fortune to live in a secure and free society and thus can gather courage to freely talk about 1984 and the killings of Sikhs by Indian Government. Our minority community members who still live in India have no choice but to assimilate with the thoughts and culture of the majority, I am afraid. I asked my friends a number of times why do Sikhs choose to honor and support Rahul Gandhi in his campaign - he is former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's grandson; she was so against Sikhs and responsible for the attack on Golden Temple. Their response: Rahul Gandhi is still better (educated and progressive in his thinking) than the RSS and BJP. I am afraid that Sikh masses in India feel that they have no choice but to forget 1984 if they want to move forward. I am not saying they should forget but without their own leaders backing them up, they have no choice but to compromise with the situation and move on. I know that a few years ago a group of North American Sikhs had proposed to S. Tarlochan Singh (Member of Parliament and then Chairman of Minorities Commission) on the subject of constructing a memorial outside the Golden Temple with an engraving of all the innocent Sikhs killed in Operation Bluestar. He completely rejected the idea. If we have leaders who are not willing to remember 1984, then what can we expect from the community. I believe, like 1947 Partition victims are now beginning to speak-up, it will take another half a century for 1984 victims in India to start speaking-up and documenting what happened.

4: Raj (Canada), January 12, 2009, 9:24 PM.

I always make one comment whenever such articles are written; "We had a kingdom on par with any nation in the world, we lost it. We became one of the three religions of that subcontinent, instead of not taking sides, we joined one side and we lost it. We became the 22nd or 23rd linguist group. What an accomplishment of our great leaders!" Now we can cry all we want, we've lost miserably.

5: Mandeep Singh Bajwa (Chandigarh, Punjab), January 13, 2009, 10:44 AM.

The events of 1984 were a real tragedy. But for most people, why does the tragedy start only with the Army action in June 1984? There was political violence, terrorism, ethnic cleansing and rabid communalism in Punjab starting in September 1981. Why do those events not figure on most people's consciousness? Can those be washed away by the happenings of 1984? And what about the killings in the decade 1984-93? Are those somehow justified? Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.

6: Hardeep Singh (New Delhi, India), January 13, 2009, 10:59 AM.

I agree with Mandeep Singh ji. The govt. forces were messing around with the Sikhs long before 1984, what with their mischievous backing of the nirankaris and the epeated murder of Sikhs in broad daylight. Sadly, many Sikhs stooped to vengeance - even though we now know that many of the incidents then reported later turned out to be fake and rigged by Indian 'intelligece' to turn the public against the Sikhs. Remember the turbans and fake beards found in the trunks of abandoned vehicles after some of the bus-passenger murders? The situation spiralled into action and reaction, murder and mayhem. And all this because Mrs. Gandhi had found it opportune to back Bhindranwale and arm him to help her in her political machinations! Our sad lot is that we're stuck with sharing a land with a country which - with some remarkable exceptions, of course - has no concept of ethics, morality, decency and public good.

7: Ishar Singh (New Delhi, India), January 13, 2009, 11:26 AM.

Friends, this is not a time to either point accusatory fingers or to self-flagellate. It is a time to remember, understand, meditate and pray. Let's use this anniversary year, and this beautiful series, to pay homage to those who gave their lives for Sikhi sidak!

8: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), January 13, 2009, 7:56 PM.

In this enlightening conversation, I need to add two events that I did not touch on in my column. Both times, it was a debate with very highly placed confidants of Indira Gandhi. In one event, one of these two officials assured me that we Sikhs living outside India were not aware of the ground realities in India. And that no innocent person had been killed by the police in Punjab; only those who were guilty and were terrorists had sometimes been shot to death. When I recovered from such bald-faced nonsense, my response was this: I said that I must congratulate the Punjab Police on their training and insight that they can recognize a terrorist even from a distance, and shoot him dead with no necessity of the legal procedures to prove guilt. How then is it possible that in Delhi where over 2400 Sikh men, women and children were killed in two days (a rate of over 1200 per 24 hours, or about 50 per hour, about one a minute) that the police in the capital of the country - New Delhi - could not find one killer, to arrest or shoot? Is that the Punjab Police is trained differently (so much better?) or is it that the laws are not applied equally in these two places? Or is Punjab not a part of India? The official walked out of the debate. The second confidant of Indira Gandhi claimed that India's political structure rested on the three-legged stool of Socialism, Secularism and Participatory Democracy. My response was brief: When Indira suspended the Constitution and ruled by fiat, she sawed off the leg of participatory democracy; when she converted the manageable political-economic issues of Punjab into a countrywide conflagration of India vs. Sikhs for her political needs, she sawed off the leg of secularism. And not being an economist, I would leave India teetering on the one legged stool of Socialism. The reaction of this bureaucrat was similar to that of the first. The other result was equally predictable: I was advised by a friend in the Indian Foreign Service to not even try traveling to India for a few years. And I wonder to this day how such smart people could act so ...

9: Amardeep (U.S.A.), January 13, 2009, 8:50 PM.

I feel that reflecting on 1984 is good for the Sikh soul. I believe Sardar Bhagwant Singh Dilawari's article, 'Dynamics of Martyrdom', falls within the same category. [www.sikhsatsang.com]. Maybe, after reflection, we can come up with some action plan ...

10: Jodh Singh (Jericho, New York, U.S.A.), January 14, 2009, 10:23 AM.

It is a commendable endeavour to ruminate on what happened in 1984. If the story is analyzed truthfully and without bias, it will reveal that we Sikhs have gained and lost much in this poignant chapter of our history. There are only about a dozen books written about it, because most of us were abroad then. Please, where you describe the attrocities committed by the Government of India, do cover the lapses and inadequacies for which we ourselves are responsible. A far-reaching review of this history, of the type you have embarked on, could prove to be a guiding light for coming generations, so that the same blunders can be avoided, and we can accomplish gains without encountering any losses.

11: Tejwant (U.S.A.), January 14, 2009, 1:21 PM.

In my opinion, why this holocaust has been ignored for so long is due to the lack of acadamic, intellectual and true Gurmat education of the clergy at our Takhts. And the same can be said of the honchos at S.G.P.C. They are crafty politicians looking after their own interests and are too arrogant and egocentric to care for the Sikhi way of life. And the result of all this makes them have no charisma whatsoever.

12: Rachhpal Dhillon (Sweden), January 15, 2009, 3:00 PM.

I fully agree with Tejwant's statement and want to add that the S.G.P.C. has done nothing to serve Sikhism, except wear a uniform. If you don't look like them, then you are not entitled to those privileges which they are enjoying. Ethics, morals, freedom of speech and freedom of thought have fallen out of their measures ... all of which, I believe, are central to Sikhi. They have done nothing such as: building institutions for higher education or public health-care, etc., all of which are needed urgently. We need to come out of the stagnation of our minds if we have to survive as a religion. History should be remembered to learn lessons from, not to go back and live inside it.

13: Harpreet Singh (New Delhi, India), January 20, 2009, 8:40 AM.

Thanks for the interesting view-points in the article. I am of the view that if the Sikhs are strong from within, they can withstand any and every onslaught. Akal Sahaai!

14: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), February 02, 2009, 3:00 PM.

I would say to Mandeep Singh Bajwa that in the interest of honesty, fairplay and justice, there is a way to lay to rest the charges and countercharges of whose fault it was or how many were killed by whom. In a country where there is rule of law, it should not be a difficult matter to have an honest inquiry. I would have absolutely no problem in letting Bhindranwale rest in peace or condemnation, but only if an honest, credible inquiry based on unassailable evidence said so. Only one condition: such an inquiry must also be accompanied by another honest inquiry on the roles of Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv who succeeded her, RAW, KPS Gill and other agencies and people. Alternatively, I suggest a "Truth & Reconciliation Commission." Any takers?

15: Livleen Kaur (Oregon, U.S.A.), February 02, 2009, 3:12 PM.

Any journalist in India will tell you that there is a simple formula used by those who cover such stories for the Indian media, at least for their personal info and understanding of the extent of the killings at any given 'riot' or pogrom: You take the final government number - 'final', because the authorities release the facts in slowly incremental figures - and you DOUBLE it, and THEN multiply it by FOUR! That is, EIGHT times the official count! Indian journalists have determined, through decades of experience, that this is the closest you can get to the truth in India. So, how many innocent people did the government say were massacred in Amritsar in June 1984? In Delhi in November 1984? Mandeep Singh ji, you do the calculation!

16: Mandeep Singh Bajwa (Chandigarh, Punjab), February 13, 2009, 2:52 AM.

I'm all for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the events in Punjab and their fallout all over the country during the period 1981-93. There were concerns earlier that such an exercise might lead to a re-opening of wounds, propaganda by interested parties or the usual fiery rhetoric that Indians seem to specialize in. However, recent events have shown that our people have progressed, there's a far greater maturity and a clearer understanding of contentious issues. Some years earlier a similar exercise was undertaken by a group from civil society. While accepting affidavits which leveled allegations of a serious nature against Government agencies, they turned down all affidavits made against non-State players. This was far from the truth that we seek. To sum up, I'm all for a TRC. While many people want to move on, leaving the memories of the lost decade and a half (1978-93) behind, the ghosts of 1984 can only be laid to rest by a free, fair and judicious exercise in finding out the truth and accepting it.

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We Remember "









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