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Photo above - by Gurumustuk Singh. Thumbnail image - Kulpreet Singh.


1984 & I:
We in India Remain Divorced from Reality




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 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 eleventh in the series entitled "1984 & I".



During the course of my travels in the West for my first book, I was quite surprised - as a Sikh-Indian living in India - to listen to some of the views held by a section of Sikhs in the diaspora.

Even after almost one and a half decades of violence in Punjab (at the hands of both the militants and the government authorities) being comprehensively quelled and a bit of balm (though not of very high quality) being applied, some of them not only hold an anti-Indian government stance, but a small few still think Khalistan is the only solution to the human rights violations by the Indian government.

Also, during my travels, I observed that in the post-9/11 West, especially America, safety had suddenly become an issue for the Sikhs, since a few had been targeted, some even killed, by ignorant people who mistook them, because of their turbans and flowing beards, as Arabs.

Being a community that has a natural instinct for survival and enterprise, I was particularly interested in examining how it was grappling with a post-9/11 America.

One of the significant outcomes of these circumstances has been the unprecedented rise of Sikh activism in America in terms of the growth of some excellent Sikh advocacy organizations. The Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, and the United Sikhs are but only three of such groups.

Also noteworthy is the lingering feeling some Sikhs abroad still have that India remains the most unsafe place for them in the world. After all, they say, a mere five or six Sikhs have been killed, and a handful more injured by thugs in post-9/11 America, all in circumstances of mistaken identity, compared to the thousands of innocent men, women and children massacred under the aegis of government authorities, in broad daylight, in the streets of India's capital city alone.

And, they are quick to add, each of the criminals in the U.S. has felt the quick hand of justice. In India, in sharp contrast, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, the criminals, although clearly identified, continue to roam free.

Anybody who has traveled to the West in the last six years would agree that for a brown-skinned person, it is safer to hide behind the nomenclature of being an "Indian", though that hasn't helped some Hindu temples from being burnt to the ground! I know of several Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the U.K. and U.S.A. who have been calling themselves "Indians" for years - not unlike many Americans who habitually hide behind the Canadian flag when they travel abroad.

However, Sikhs who follow the discipline of their faith, do not have the luxury of playing chicken: their outward identity is geared to having to face reality and grapple with it headlong.

Many Sikhs, when confronted with a situation whereby someone mistook them for an Arab, have tried to clear the air by saying: "I'm not an Arab, but a Sikh!"

For once in history, it has helped Indians to be identified as Indians not only as an antidote to being physically harmed, but also in business. After all, Sikh-Americans, through their long history on the continent, have historically carved out a reputation of being hard-working and more professional than their Asian peers.

"I concede this point," said the Fresno doctor who had got into a heated argument and was on the verge of kicking me out of his clinic, because of my outburst of apologetics for things Indian.

"Before you leave, answer my one question," he demanded.

"How do you justify the storming of the Golden Temple, followed by the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms?"

My head hung in shame!


[Khushwant Singh has recently authored Sikhs Unlimited. It's a travelogue from the U.K. to the U.S.A., featuring fourteen extraordinary Sikh men and women. He resides in Hoshiarpur, Punjab.]

March 12, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Arvinder Singh Kang (Oxford, MS, U.S.A.), March 12, 2009, 3:04 PM.

Let the truth be known. Let the torch of history bring pride to young minds and rejuvenation to a dying culture and a weakened comunity, but reviving faith. Let the younger minds illuminate with knowledge, that their thoughts do not become "us verses them" or be driven by hate or half-baked knowledge or youtube videos, but their actions bring the change to the causes that led to our bloody past. Let the future generations remember the past, yet grow up to not let it hinder their attitude to other races, or ethnic groups. Let them know about our Tenth master who directed Bhai Ghanaiayya ji to hate the sin, and yet give succour to the sinner. Spread the knowledge and change shall come. Remember, we shall overcome; but hate we shall not. For hate shall breed hate, and we, the Sikhs, are the seekers of love.

2: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), March 12, 2009, 3:58 PM.

I think it is disingenuous and totally outrageous on any one's part, even to remotely mention or compare the attacks on Sikhs due to mistaken identity in U.S.A. post 9/11, with the brutal and premeditated attack on Harmandar Sahib and the genocide of tens of thousands of Sikhs by Indian Government and its officially sponsored minions in civilian, police and army uniforms. While the United States Government has promptly enforced the laws of the land, The Indian Government has actively shielded the well known and well identified criminals, and has done every possible to shamelessly deny any justice to Sikhs. Far from the so called healing "balm", it has been applying salt to Sikh wounds by awarding bravery medals to the perpetrators and making them members of parliament and ministers in the cabinet. Sikhs will be short sighted and totally naive, if they think that all their troubles are now behind them and that they can live in India as equals. Unfortunately the truth is rather uncomfortable and bitter and unless effective levers of political, economic and military power come back in the hands of the Sikhs, as a third major force in the Indian subcontinent, the security and survival of Sikhs in their homeland will be perilous.

3: H. Singh (Los Angeles, U.S.A.), March 12, 2009, 9:17 PM.

Our discussion should not turn into "Us versus them" as A.S Kang has rightly commented. However, I have often bemused myself about whether 1984 was a clash between two communities or was an organized carnage by the government, or both. Perhaps, someone can shed light on this.

4: R. S. Bhinder (India), March 18, 2009, 11:12 PM.

The debate about comparing the anti-Sikh attacks (due to mistaken identity) in post 9/11 U.S. and the anti-Sikh pogroms and carnage in Delhi and many other cities in India post assassination of Indira Gandhi, could be concluded with one sentence: Had the ruling politicians in the U.S. instigated and given a free hand to the majority community for, say, 72 hours, few Arabs/Muslims or even Sikhs would have survived to tell the story. People are similar the world over, but it is the political bosses who make the difference. And the general level of decency and humanity prevalent in a society!

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We in India Remain Divorced from Reality "

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