Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles | Penguin | 296 pages |
Rs 450
BY Khushwant Singh<http://www.openthem category/ author/khushwant -singh>
AUTHOR(S) <editor@openmedianet>
Tagged Under | Operation
Bluestar<http://www.openthem category/ tags/operation- bluestar>|
riots <http://www.openthem category/ tags/sikh- riots> |
Emergency<http://www.openthem category/ tags/emergency>|
Gandhi <http://www.openthem category/ tags/indira- gandhi>

[image: The conclusion is clear: in secular India there is one law for the
Hindu majority, another for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs who are in

The conclusion is clear: in secular India there is one law for
the Hindu majority, another for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs who are in

[image: 31 October 1984: The sequence of events remains as vivid as ever.
Around 11 am, I heard of Mrs Gandhi being shot in her house and taken to

31 October 1984: The sequence of events remains as vivid as ever.
Around 11 am, I heard of Mrs Gandhi being shot in her house and taken to

[image: Bhindranwale, with the tacit connivance of Akali leaders like
Gurcharan Singh Tohra, turned the Golden Temple into an armed fortress of
Sikh defiance]

Bhindranwale, with the tacit connivance of Akali leaders like
Gurcharan Singh Tohra, turned the Golden Temple into an armed fortress of
Sikh defiance
<http://www.openthem article/books/ riot-and- wrong#><http://www.openthem article/books/ riot-and- wrong#><http://www.openthem article/books/ riot-and- wrong#>

There are two anniversaries so deeply etched in my mind that every year when
they come around, I recollect with pain what happened on those days. One is
31 October 1984, when Mrs Gandhi was gunned down by her two Sikh security
guards. The other is the following day, when the ‘aftermath’ consummated
itself: frenzied Hindu mobs, driven by hate and revenge, killed nearly
10,000 innocent Sikhs across north India all the way down to Karnataka. In
1989, Mrs Gandhi’s assassin, Satwant Singh, and Kehar Singh, a conspirator,
paid the penalty for their crime by being hanged to death in Tihar jail.
Twenty-four years later, the killers of 10,000 Sikhs remain unpunished. The
conclusion is clear: in secular India there is one law for the Hindu
majority, another for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs who are in minority.

31 October 1984: The sequence of events remains as vivid as ever. Around 11
am, I heard of Mrs Gandhi being shot in her house and taken to hospital. By
the afternoon, I heard on the BBC that she was dead. For a couple of hours,
life in Delhi came to a standstill. Then hell broke loose—mobs yelling
‘khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ (we’ll avenge blood with blood) roamed the
streets. Ordinary Sikhs going about their life were waylaid and roughed up.
In the evening, I saw a cloud of black smoke billowing up from Connaught
Circus: Sikh-owned shops had been set on fire. An hour later, mobs were
smashing taxis owned by Sikhs right opposite my apartment. Sikh-owned shops
in Khan Market were being looted. Over 100 policemen armed with lathis who
lined the road did nothing. At midnight, truckloads of men armed with cans
of petrol attacked the gurudwara behind my back garden, beat up the granthi
and set fire to the shrine. I was bewildered and did not know what to do…

…Around mid-morning, a Swedish diplomat came and took my wife and me to
his home in the diplomatic enclave. My aged mother had been taken by Romesh
Thapar to his home. Our family lawyer, Anant Bir Singh, who lived close to
my mother, had his long hair cut and beard shaved to avoid being recognised
as a Sikh. I watched Mrs Gandhi’s cremation on TV in the home of my Swedish
protector. I felt like a Jew must have in Nazi Germany. I was a refugee in
my own homeland because I was a Sikh.

What I found most distressing was the attitude of many of my Hindu friends.
Only two couples made it a point to call on me after I returned home. They
were Sri S Mulgaonkar and his wife, and Arun Shourie and his wife, Anita. As
for the others, the less said the better. Girilal Jain, editor of *The Times
of India*, rationalised the violence: the Hindu cup of patience, he wrote,
had become full to the brim. NC Menon, who succeeded me as the editor
of *Hindustan
Times*, wrote of how Sikhs had ‘clawed their way to prosperity’ and well
nigh had it coming to them.

Some spread gossip of how Sikhs had poisoned Delhi’s drinking water, how
they had attacked trains and slaughtered Hindu passengers. At the Gymkhana
Club where I played tennis every morning, one man said I had no right to
complain after what the Sikhs had done to the Hindus in Punjab. At a party,
another gloated, ‘*Khoob mazaa chakhaya*—we gave them a taste of their own
medicine.’ Word had gone around: ‘Teach the Sikhs a lesson’.

Did the Sikhs deserve to be taught a lesson? I pondered over the matter for
many days and many hours and reluctantly admitted that Hindus had some
justification for their anger against Sikhs. The starting point was the
emergence of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as a leader. He used vituperative
language against the Hindus. He exhorted every Sikh to kill 32 Hindus to
solve the Hindu-Sikh problem. Anyone who opposed him was put on his hit list
and some eliminated. His hoodlums murdered Lala Jagat Narain, the founder of
the *Hind Samachar* group of papers. They killed hawkers who sold their

The list of Bhindranwale’ s victims, which included both Hindus and Sikhs,
was a long one. More depressing to me was that no one spoke out openly
against him. He had a wily patron in Giani Zail Singh, who had him released
when he was charged as an accomplice in the murder of Jagat Narain. Akali
leaders supported him… Bhindranwale, with the tacit connivance of Akali
leaders like Gurcharan Singh Tohra, turned the Golden Temple into an armed
fortress of Sikh defiance.

He provided the Indian government the excuse to send the army into the
temple complex. I warned the government in Parliament, and through my
articles, against using the army to get hold of Bhindranwale and his
followers as the consequences would be grave. And so they were. Operation
Bluestar was a blunder of Himalayan proportions. Bhindranwale was killed but
hailed as a martyr.

Over 5,000 men and women lost their lives in the exchange of fire. The Akal
Takht was wrecked.
Symbolic protests did not take long coming. I was a part of it; I
surrendered the Padma Bhushan awarded to me. Among the people who condemned
my action was Vinod Mehta, then the editor of the *Observer*. He wrote that
when it came to choosing between being an Indian and a Sikh, I had chosen to
be a Sikh. I stopped contributing to his paper. I had never believed that I
had to be one or the other. I was both an Indian and a Sikh and proud of
being so. I might well have asked Mehta in return, ‘Are you a Hindu or an
Indian?’ Hindus do not have to prove their nationality; only Muslims,
Christians and Sikhs are required to give evidence of their patriotism.. .

Anti-Sikh violence gave a boost to the demand for a separate Sikh state and
Khalistan-inspired terrorism in Punjab and abroad… The killings went on
unabated for almost 10 years. It is estimated that in those 10 years, over
25,000 were killed. Midway, the Golden Temple had again become a sanctuary
for criminals. This time, the Punjab police led by KPS Gill was able to get
the better of them with the loss of only two lives in what came to be known
as Operation Black Thunder (12-18 May 1988).

The terrorist movement petered out as the terrorists turned gangsters and
took to extortion and robbery. The peasantry turned its back on them. About
the last action of the Khalistani terrorists was the murder of Chief
Minister Beant Singh, who was blown up along with 12 others by a suicide
bomber on 31 August 1995, in Chandigarh.

It is not surprising that with this legacy of ill-will and bloodshed, a
sense of alienation grew among the Sikhs. It was reinforced by the
reluctance of successive governments at the Centre to bring to book the
perpetrators of the anti-Sikh pogrom of 31 October and 1 November 1984. A
growing number of non-Sikhs have also come to the conclusion that grave
injustice has been done to the Sikhs.

Several non-official commissions of inquiry—including one headed by retired
Supreme Court chief Justice SM Sikri, comprising retired ambassadors and
senior civil servants—have categorically named the guilty. However, all that
the government has done is to appoint one commission of inquiry after
another to look into charges of minor relevance to the issue without taking
any action. The Nanavati Commission has been at it for quite some time: I
rendered evidence before it in 2002. It has asked for a further extension of
time, which has been granted till the end of 2005. The only word I can think
of using for such official procrastination is ‘disgraceful’. ..

…The dark months of alienation are over; the new dawn promises blue skies
and sunshine for the minorities with only one black cloud remaining to be
blown away—a fair deal to the families of the victims of the anti-Sikh
violence of 1984. It was the most horrendous crime committed on a mass scale
since we became an independent nation. Its perpetrators must be punished
because crimes unpunished generate more criminals. [from glz 16/9/09]

Though many  individuals, media persons and political leaders strongly condemned  Jarnail Singh´s  action of hurling shoe at  Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram,  yet many Sikh leaders and organizations hailed his action claiming tt reflected the Sikh sentiments/Sikh Psyche. Media reports for the last week have been depicting different views on the episode.

It is true that  generally a Sikh “hero” including martyr, had been  branded a “rebel”, “traitor” , ” law-breaker”,  “kaafir”  etc by  the contemporary ruler. A Sikh can see his house burning, but not his holy shrine. Even when numerically Sikhs were in  a microscopic minority during 18th century, they had been making supreme sacrifices to protect their Sri Harmander Sahib and to defend their faith.

Lepil Griffin, a British scholar described the Sikh character as under, ” The Sikh is always the same in peace, in war, in barracks, or in the field; ever genial, good tempered and uncomplaining, a fair horseman, a stubborn infantry soldier, as steady under fire as he is eager for a charge. However when his self-respect or the honour of the womenfolk is at stake, he becomes desperate and will stop at nothing short of murder, He does not pocket an insult, bides his opportunity for revenge and becomes quite unmindful of consequences, When aroused, he has the fury of ten elephants. It is difficult to check him. He becomes excited, loses his mental equilibrium and does not care for the consequences of his action. You may break him, but you cannot bend him. When he is in a desperate mood, he responds only to tactful handling, sympathetic treatment, and persuasion, Any coercive measure taken against him, hardens his mood of desperation. Handled in tactful

measure, he easily forgives and forgets, and is ready to side with erstwhile enemies.



Ludhiana (India) glz 15/4/2009

Sikh riots
Many Small Trees Grow
When justice is slow, try conquering hate with love

H.S. Phoolka
In 2009, it’s difficult for young people to
conceive of a time when no member of the Sikh
community was safe in any corner of our sprawling
capital. But this was the terrible reality of
November 1-3, 1984. Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora,
the legendary war hero, could not sleep under his
own roof on those nights; he took refuge in the
home of I.K. Gujral. The eminent writer Khushwant
Singh found shelter at the Swedish embassy;
Justice S.S. Chadha, a sitting judge of the Delhi
High Court, had to move to the high court complex.

I, only a young, budding lawyer at the time, was
even more vulnerable to the mobs roaming the
streets, baying for blood after Indira Gandhi’s
assassination. Miraculously, I escaped them on
the evening of October 31, but on November 2, my
house was attacked. Thanks to my Hindu landlord,
who hid us in his storeroom, my pregnant wife and I were saved.

I was lucky, but nearly 4,000 of my fellow Sikhs
were not. (Though the official death toll in
Delhi is 2,733, in 1985 we submitted a list to
the Ranganath Misra Commission, of 3,870 persons
killed.) The worst affected was Delhi’s east
district where, according to official figures,
over 1,200 Sikhs were killed on November 1 and 2.
Where was the police, you might ask. Well, the
police made 26 arrests here, but, unbelievable
though it may sound, those arrested were
Sikhs­members of the very community being
targeted and slaughtered by the mobs! Logbook
entries and evidence from the police control room
later showed the police only went to places where
they got information of Sikhs defending
themselves. For three days, mobs killed, looted
and raped openly and not one member of a mob was
arrested for the first two days. The arrests
began only on November 3, when the government
decided to control the violence­and within hours
the situation was under control.

A glaring example of the police-mob connivance
was at Pusa Road in the Patel Nagar area, where a
Mahavir Chakra awardee, Group Captain M.S.
Talwar, fired at a mob that had set his house
ablaze. The police failed to come to his rescue
despite repeated calls, but after he fired at the
mob, police and army arrived, led by the
commissioner of police, arrested Talwar and
jailed him for over two weeks. Not a single
member of the mob was held. When I asked the SHO
of the area, who appeared before the Nanavati
Commission, why no one from the mob was arrested,
his answer was, the police was outnumbered. How
two truckloads of soldiers and policemen were outnumbered remains a mystery.

The year marked the beginning of political
parties complicit in the mass killing of citizens
winning elections with a thumping majority.

That very month, as a junior lawyer, I began
pursuing cases relating to the carnage and have
been pursuing them since. They are unlike any
other cases I have handled, in that, for years
they were simply not allowed to proceed.
Extraordinary though it sounds, a single FIR was
filed for 292 murders committed at different
places at different times between November 1-3,
1984. This (FIR 426/1984) was registered on
November 3 for the killings in different parts of
Trilokpuri, one of the worst affected areas. Over
a decade later, in 1995, thanks to an order by
Justice S.N. Dhingra, who was then additional
sessions judge, the challans were split, and this
one FIR was divided into 50 different cases. Only
after that did some of these cases lead to
convictions. Until 1995­that is, for all of 11
years­there had been only two convictions in the Delhi carnage cases.

In 2002, we saw a repeat of 1984 in Gujarat, but
due to the Supreme Court’s promptness in
appointing an independent special investigation
team, cases could not be covered up so blatantly.
In the case of the 1984 carnage, out of 2,733
officially admitted murders, only nine cases led
to convictions. Just over 20 accused have been
convicted in 25 years­a conviction rate of less than 1 per cent.

One of the basic principles of criminal
jurisprudence is that punishment to the guilty
should act as a deterrent for the future. Does
such an abysmal rate of conviction and punishment
serve to act as a deterrent or does it send out
the message that one can get away with committing
heinous crimes? Think: if the guilty of 1984 had
been punished, perhaps the Gujarat carnage would not have happened.

The year 1984 also completed the evolution of a
certain brand of politics of violence­belonging
to the ruling party led murderous mobs. It saw
the beginning of a disturbing trend of political
parties complicit in the mass killing of citizens
winning elections with a thumping majority­Rajiv
Gandhi’s Congress in December 1984, the Shiv Sena
in Mumbai in 1993 and Narendra Modi in Gujarat, in 2002.

It was primarily due to the active role played by
the media that official connivance in the
killings was highlighted in Gujarat 2002. Nothing
of this sort happened in 1984. Barring
exceptions, the voice of the media was subdued.
But recent media responses to the 1984 riots, and
equally to the situation in Gujarat after Godhra,
have been encouraging. In 2007, my book When a
Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its
Aftermath, co-authored with senior journalist
Manoj Mitta, received tremendous response­there
was hardly a newspaper or magazine that did not
review it favourably. The Congress party,
however, maintained a studied silence, despite
all the damaging disclosures in the book. Given
its own dubious record, it is no surprise that
the so-called secular party could not muster the
will to pass the Communal Violence Bill promised
in the Common Minimum Programme of 2004.

Having pushed our justice system to its limits
over two-and-a-half decades, my associates and I
have decided to observe the 25th anniversary of
the massacre with a life-affirming gesture. In
July this year, we initiated a massive tree
plantation programme across Delhi as a tribute to
those killed in 1984. We plan to plant and tend
25,000 trees in Delhi through Gyan Sewa Trust, a
registered charity. The 1984 killings were meant
to teach a lesson to the Sikh community. The
lesson we seek to impart in turn is to respond to
hate with love, death with life. We trust the
trees we have planted will not only help us
remember the victims of 1984 but also prevent the
recurrence of such a terrible crime on any community.

To see pictures please click on the line below :

http://www.outlooki article.aspx? 262278

The Rediff Special/Poonam Muttreja

February 15, 2005

The Justice Nanavati Commission submitted its report on the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s [Images] assassination to Home Minister Shivraj Patil last week.

Poonam Muttreja is one of the founders of Dastkar, the movement of Indian craftspeople. She co-founded the Nagrik Ekta Manch to help Sikhs victimized by the 1984 violence.

This is the first of a three-part series in which she recalls one of the most shameful phases in Independent India.

When I heard about Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination (on October 31, 1984), I switched on the radio. I heard one sentence repeatedly: her Sikh security guards had killed her. It bothered me. I feared that if the radio announcers kept repeating ‘Sikh,’ it would add to the tension. As it is, the insurgency was prevalent in Punjab at the time. Saying the guards were Sikh would aggravate the tense atmosphere, I felt.

I was shocked by the attack on Mrs Gandhi. A friend, Ravi Chopra, a well-known social activist, and I went to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where Mrs Gandhi had been rushed. We were told she is either dead or may soon die. We then went to Connaught Place where, outside a newspaper office, we heard her death being confirmed. A huge crowd had gathered. Someone in the crowd said, “The Sardars are distributing sweets.”

Rumours create havoc in the mass psyche. Another rumour that started going around was that Sikhs had poisoned Delhi’s water supply.

I was afraid that such rumours would spread and lead to violence. About four hours after Mrs Gandhi’s death, we saw some people on the Safdarjung flyover in south Delhi stopping vehicles with Sikh occupants. I was living in the Munirka area, which is on the way to the airport. I alerted my Sikh neighbours. I told them to remain indoors.

The next day, November 1, my maid, who lived in Munirka Village, told me that the night before she had heard local goons and Congress workers talking about ways to take revenge. A little later, I saw a gang of hoodlums coming in our direction from Munirka Village. I asked them where they were going. They replied they were going to the Sikh-managed Guru Harikrishna Public School to avenge Mrs Gandhi’s death.

I called a police officer from nearby Vasant Vihar and informed him about a gang on its way to burn a public school. I told him to rush to the spot and said I would stop the gang from damaging any property until the police arrived. The police came. But after talking to the gang leaders, they told me, “You are not assigned to maintain law and order.” They asked me to go home.

Ten minutes later, I could see the police had left and the gang was marching on towards the school. I called Nandita Haksar, a well-known lawyer-activist, who lived in my area. Before we could reach the school, the mob had set the building on fire.

We brought the people from the building to my home. Because the Vasant Vihar police station officers were not cooperative, we went to the Hauz Khas police station. They said they were busy with security arrangements for Mrs Gandhi’s funeral where many international dignitaries were expected.

Then the officer on duty asked me, “Are you a Hindu or not?” I was shocked. I could not believe the police could behave like that. I noted the name and designation of all the police officers.

Soon, Delhi was in flames. We learnt that a lot of looting was going on. We saw mobs on the streets, many of them harassing women.

The killing and looting had to be stopped. We desperately needed volunteers to express solidarity with the Sikh community.

We used to support the Opposition and fight the ruling Congress over many social issues. So we did not know anyone well in the Congress. We went to meet George Fernandes [Images] (later, defence minister in the Vajpayee government), who was then leader of many labour unions. He was not around. His party workers were not helpful. We also went to the Left unions’ office. They were unable to spare their cadre. They were busy debating the political impact of the assassination and the political future of the country.

If you forget ’84 riots, be ready for another one

We needed people to stop the violence. We were not afraid of confronting the rioters but we needed many more hands. Then we went to Swami Agnivesh, a prominent social activist. He came with us.

In the Lajpat Nagar area, large-scale looting was spreading. We were surrounded by the mob at one corner. Swami Agnivesh stood on a stool and asked people to exercise restraint precisely because they were Hindu. He said as true followers of Hinduism, which teaches tolerance, we should not loot or kill. The impact of a saffron-clad sadhu on that crowd was magical. Tempers cooled.

But by then the riots had spread wide. There was no way the police could handle it alone. As human rights activists, normally, we are against army action. But we hoped for the Indian Army to arrive that day. Many of us — designer Rajeev Sethi, my husband Shiv Kumar, Ravi Chopra and numerous others — were out on the streets of Delhi that day in 1984. We could not see anything but smoke.

Late at night on November 1, we got a call from Jahangirpuri. We witnessed a ghastly scene when we reached the area. Burnt hair of Sikhs, burnt bodies in their homes in the basti (slum). The magnitude and tragedy of the event hit us straight, in the face.

As told to Sheela Bhatt

While we watched the aftermath of the hatred and violence in Jahangirpuri, the enormity of the tragedy hit home. We spoke to people and got to know that local policemen and Congress workers from Haryana and the neighbourhood had ganged up against the Sikhs in the basti. Not all of them, but some of them.

A combination of different types of people murdered the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Local ruffians were involved in a big way. On the night of October 31, those ruffians instigated migrant labourers to loot Sikh homes because ‘they have killed Mrs Gandhi.’

Later, the mob was provoked to kill. Poor migrants were told the Sikhs would kill them for looting their shops and homes. We were told voters lists were scrutinised overnight to identify Sikh-owned properties. Sikhs living in Hindu-owned homes were spared. Sikh-owned homes were burned.

I don’t think any one organisation or group coordinated the violence. The victims told us that Congress workers were also in the rampaging crowd. We prepared a list of the goons and gave the information to human rights activists. It was included in a special report they published.

Many victims quoted in newspapers alleged that Congress leaders like H K L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Lalit Maken and Jagdish Tytler were part of the crowds that stood by and watched the riots. Some said they stood alongside local ruffians. No one we talked to saw them exhorting the mobs to kill. Nevertheless, they were reported present and watching.

Most Sikhs were dazed. They had no inkling this kind of violence was possible. Some 3,000 people were killed. Many of them in resettlement colonies around Delhi, from where Bhagat fought the election.

The police were passive and clearly protecting the rioters. When Sikh women went to police stations to register complaints, they were asked for Rs 500 as bribe. But the issue went beyond corruption at a time of such horror and despair. The police were complicit in the violence, they supported the mob.

The catastrophe cannot be called Hindu versus Sikh riots. It was not the result of Hindutva politics. Many of the survivors spoke of how they were protected and saved by Hindu friends and neighbours. In most cases people from other areas came to murder the Sikhs. There is no truth in the version that Hindus ‘spontaneously’ decided to riot.

There were cases of rape too. At one place, we saw a woman sitting in front of her husband’s still-bleeding dead body. Two plates of food were scattered nearby. She told us October 31 was their wedding anniversary. She had cooked paneer and kheer to celebrate. Her husband scolded her for making kheer when Mrs Gandhi had died. He didn’t eat it. Within a few hours, he was killed. His widow kept telling us that Sardarjis considered Indiraji nothing less than a goddess.

There was a feeling of shame among Sikhs. Many told us they didn’t approve of the assassination. We came across many Sikhs who refused to accept any charity. No Sikh came to us asking for help. We went to them, they didn’t come to us. Our volunteers spoke about feeling odd to hand them anything. The Sikhs were so ashamed of accepting any help even in a crisis. It was not guilt; it was shame. And a sadness that had taken over their lives.

As a Punjabi, I identified more with Sikhs than other Indians. The riots moved me deeply. Twenty years ago, lawyers and human rights activists who could fight for justice — as they are now doing for the victims of the Gujarat riots — were not around so much. The Punjabi community helped the victims in economic terms and with finding jobs. In Gujarat, Muslims have even faced an economic boycott. We didn’t ask any politicians, culpable as they are, for any help. We took help only from citizens. People came out to help so overwhelmingly that we got whatever was required.

Many forgot that Sikh women wear the salwaar-kameez. People mistakenly sent saris for the widows. Overnight, Fabindia’s owner John Bissell got 400 salwar-kameez suits stitched for Sikh women. Hari Nanda of Escorts told us, “This reminds me of Partition. Let there be no more partition of India. Ask whatever you want but let there be no divide between Hindus and Sikhs. Heal the wounds.”

We opened a refugee camp in the Shahdara locality. Around 3,000 families were brought here. Overnight, 700 people became volunteers. Most of them were young, and shocked more upon hearing from the victims about the role of police than about the rioters. Their perception of the police as protectors was shattered.

The camps faced many problems. Numerous extremists came to recruit young people. We refused to talk to them because we are anti-violence. We were pro-Sikh but we were pro-people first and against any kind of force. A suspected terrorist was in police custody and some members of the Nagrik Ekta Manch wanted to defend him. I refused to support this because I believe that helping potential or suspected terrorists requires deep engagement with the issue and I didn’t know enough about the situation in Punjab.

We don’t have documentary evidence but often pimps would come to the camps to take away women to work in the sex trade. Many young widows were forced to marry their husband’s younger brother. In the camps, victims spoke to other victims and stories of violence were exchanged. The children became even more fearful hearing such stories over and over.

Through all this, the Sikh community’s concept of biradari (bonding) worked wonderfully. The bonding survived the bloodshed. In the camps it was difficult to tell if they were real brothers or distant cousins. Those who were unhurt came out to protect and rehabilitate the others. Langarwalas (holy men who give food to the needy) arrived the very next day. They called the widows their sisters and fed them.

In all the camps victims and volunteers both felt that ‘our own people did this to our own people.’

We kept telling the media, and I would like to repeat it, that these were not Hindu-Sikh riots. It was a politically motivated event. Hindu masses didn’t participate in the violence. Criminals, politicians and the corrupt police did. We tried to send out this message loudly and clearly.

As told to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt

The Rediff Special

February 18, 2005

The Justice Nanavati Commission submitted its report on the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s [Images] assassination to Home Minister Shivraj Patil last week.

Poonam Muttreja is one of the founders of Dastkar, the movement of Indian craftspeople. She co-founded the Nagrik Ekta Manch to help Sikhs victimised by the 1984 violence.

This is the concluding part of a three-part series in which she recalls one of the most shameful phases in Independent India.

When the riots broke out, we performed the role of firefighters. When rehabilitation work started, our work got over. After that my father would say that the Nagrik Ekta Manch has turned into the Never-Ending Meeting! Political manoeuvring had started by then and no one was ready to work long-term. The NEM was dissolved but individual activities continued.

‘I haven’t absolved Congress: Justice Nanavati

I believe that the people who were wronged in 1984 didn’t get justice. I participated in the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission that investigated the riots. I was a strong witness; I had my affidavit with all the names and facts before the commission. I took the help of (lawyer) Nandita Haksar to prepare it. Haksar, (social activist) Smitu Kothari and I were among key witnesses before the Commission.

But when I appeared before the Commission, I was disappointed. Whenever I named any guilty police officer or politicians, they said, “You are getting emotional.” After that, I felt the Commission was an eyewash.

About eight years after the riots, I was called before the Jain Commission (set up to investigate Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991). I was asked only one question: Can you recognise all the people you have named in your affidavit? They trapped me. After eight years there were good chances I may not. So I said I may not be able to recognise them. They asked me to leave.

The biggest shock of all came when H K L Bhagat won the 1984 election with the second highest majority after Rajiv Gandhi. We had campaigned against him. But he won. How do you explain this? Sikhs were not stopped from voting but still Bhagat won. People started telling us, “You build wells and help the poor. Politics is for strong people with muscle power and not for us.”

We won’t forget many lessons from 1984.

First, the media should not knowingly or unknowingly contribute to the violence. For the first few hours after the assassination, if there had been some restraint in identifying the names of Mrs Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards, it might have helped.

Second, the press reported Rajiv Gandhi making this statement: ‘When a huge tree falls, the earth shatters.’ I think this was a very immature statement, if not downright communal. I don’t think Rajiv Gandhi understood the political implications of his statement. And how it encouraged Congressmen to legitimate the violence.

The third lesson is that when such events occur, every citizen should take charge. How do I contribute to stop violence in my street? If this awareness and commitment exists, then the violence can be controlled faster. We perhaps cannot completely stop violence in our society but we can be effective in making sure it does not escalate. Every citizen should vow that in any such situation he or she will do his or her bit to reduce the violence.

Lastly, I don’t think the Congress party has learned any lessons from 1984. What can they have learnt when the Sikh victims are still to get justice? Ours is a non-caring society in which it is difficult to get justice. Gujarat has been completely shattering for me.

After 1984, the Sikhs also got a lot of respect and compassion. But in Gujarat not many Hindu volunteers rushed to help the Muslims. The 1984 riots didn’t mobilise large sections of Hindu society against Sikhs. But in Gujarat the division is very worrying.

If the Hindu-Sikh divide had deepened, 1984 could have paved way for another Partition. If large numbers of Hindus had supported the violence against Sikhs, the communal divide would have been worrying. But the Sikhs are back on their feet now. Their rehabilitation is not yet over, they didn’t get justice from the legal system, but Hindu-Sikh tension is not present today. And perhaps that one fact should be something to be thankful about.

As told to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt


Those Who Remain …

These are extracts from a report by Nagrik Ekta Manch volunteers who worked amongst the riot victims who had taken refuge in Nanaksar Ashram, situated beyond Timarpur, north Delhi.

* Names of the victims have been changed to protect their identity.

No. 26 (January-February 1985)

[go to]



         Dr Modi & Mr Hyde

Rajdeep Sardesai

Email Author

November 08, 2007

First Published: 20:50 IST(8/11/2007)

Last Updated: 20:58 IST(8/11/2007)


On the very day that Lalu Yadav marched to the Prime Minister’s residence demanding Narendra Modi’s arrest in the wake of the Tehelka sting exposé, a small group of Sikh widows were protesting at the capital’s Jantar Mantar on the 23rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh riots. One eye on the TV cameras, the other firmly on the Muslim vote, Lalu was making the headlines. The widows were yesterday’s story. While the 2002 Gujarat riots have become a cause celebre for the secular establishment, 1984 has never quite acquired the same profile.

On the face of it, the anti-Sikh riots were far more horrific than the post-Godhra violence.  More than 2,700 people were killed in 1984, as per the official death toll; in Gujarat, it was a little  over a thousand. The 1984 riots have seen just 13 convictions; in Gujarat, the fast-track courts have already convicted more than 15 persons in different cases. The 1984 riots occurred in several high security areas in the heart of the national capital; the 2002 violence spread more thinly to parts of rural Gujarat as well. As a powerful recent book, When a Tree Shook Delhi, confirms, senior Congress politicians, including Union ministers, were actually present on the streets, allegedly leading the mobs in 1984; in Gujarat, the direct evidence against Modi’s cabinet members is still based principally on police phone records. While then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did make some token attempt to distance himself from the Gujarat rioters, it took a Sikh Congress PM in 2005 to finally accept that 1984 was a “national shame”, and that the truth had never come out. Rajiv Gandhi’s statement that “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” is recorded history; Narendra Modi’s “action-reaction” comment was officially denied.

Why then is Modi such a hate figure today for the secularists while Rajiv Gandhi, then Home Minister Narasimha Rao and the entire top Congress leadership have escaped public censure? The answer might unlock not just the Modi enigma, but also the content of Indian secularism, and perhaps indicate just how much India has changed in the last two decades.

Firstly, in 1984, the Indian judiciary was perhaps a little less adversarial towards the politician than it is today, and certainly less proactive in driving the political agenda. There was no Supreme Court as willing to directly indict the political leadership as it is today — Modi was likened to Nero by former Chief Justice V.N. Khare; in 1984, the Supreme Court would have probably seen such a remark as a transgression of judicial authority.

Secondly, human rights activists were perhaps far less organised in 1984 than they are today. The ability to create a sustained moral and legal pressure on the system, to network with other NGOs and to cultivate the media is perhaps far greater now than it was in 1984, although many groups like the PUCL and PUDR as well as the Nagrik Ekta Manch did embark on processions and fact-finding missions. A Teesta Setalvad can actually become a rallying point for those seeking justice in a manner that was perhaps not possible 23 years ago.

Thirdly, and most crucially, the 2002 riots were the first in the age of round-the-clock ‘live’ television. Gujarat was India’s first television riot. There was remarkable journalism done in the 1980s (as also after Ayodhya), but somehow, the power and sanctity of the written word cannot match the impact and immediacy of the television image. Whether it was the visuals of street carnage five years ago or the voices of Sangh parivar footsoldiers bragging about their ‘achievements’ with chilling candour, the audio-visual image has the ability to confirm, even magnify, the gravity of the crime in a way that, at times, even the finest prose cannot. The television camera reduced the mental and geographical distance between the Gujarat riots and a national viewership in a manner that the newspaper in 1984 could not. It also, especially in the context of a paralysed political class, became the ‘real’ opposition, questioning and challenging the Gujarat government’s claims to be a non-partisan upholder of the Constitution.

Ironically, what the dramatic television images also did was transform Modi into a larger-than-life figure. From a relatively anonymous pracharak who had never fought an election, he was now either the hero or villain of hate politics, depending on one’s ideological leanings. Modi, in fact, brilliantly used the media exposure to create the spectre of a confrontation between himself and the so-called ‘anti-Hindu’ English language media. The sharp rhetoric in public speeches, the intimidatory tone towards journalists and even the recent walk-out from an interview were designed to position himself as a macho hero who was being targeted by an ideological media. Indeed, by pigeonholing the non-Gujarati media in particular as ‘enemy number one’, Modi was able to cultivate a sense of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ within his core constituency. As a result, far from being apologetic about the post-Godhra violence, he was almost dismissive of the criticism. This seeming lack of remorse at the violence has only added to the polarisation: the critics demonised him, and his supporters valourised him as a Hindu hriday samrat.

In a sense, Modi has become symbolic of the Hindu-Muslim faultlines that exist in our society, a symbol of the darkness within.

——————————————————————————– Monthly                                                                       Issue No.3, August 2002 

The Ghost of Indira Gandhi

by Amitav Ghosh

17 July 1995

Copyright © The New Yorker


Amitav Ghosh is Distinguished Professor at Queens College, New York. Dr. Ghosh has authored several books and literary essays. –Editor

Nowhere else in the world did the year 1984 fulfill its apocalyptic portents as it did in India. Separatist violence in the Punjab, the military attack on the great Sikh temple of Amritsar; the assassination of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi; riots in several cities; the gas disaster in Bhopal – the events followed relentlessly on each other. There were days in 1984 when it took courage to open the New Delhi papers in the morning.

Of the year’s many catastrophes, the sectarian violence following Mrs Gandhi’s death had the greatest effect on my life. Looking back, I see that the experiences of that period were profoundly important to my development as a writer; so much so that I have never attempted to write about them until now.

At that time, I was living in a part of New Delhi called Defence Colony – a neighborhood of large, labyrinthine houses, with little self-contained warrens of servants’ rooms tucked away on roof-tops and above garages. When I lived there, those rooms had come to house a floating population of the young and straitened journalists, copywriters, minor executives, and university people like myself. We battened upon this wealthy enclave like mites in a honeycomb, spreading from rooftop to rooftop. Our ramshackle lives curtailed from our landlords of chiffon-draped washing lines and thickets of TV serials.  Amitav Ghosh


I was twenty-eight. The city I considered home was Calcutta, but New Delhi was where I had spent all my adult life except for a few years in England and Egypt. I had returned to India two years before, upon completing a doctorate at Oxford, and recently found a teaching job at Delhi University. But it was in the privacy of my baking rooftop hutch that my real life was lived. I was writing my first novel, in the classic fashion, perched in garret.

On the morning of October 31, the day of Mrs. Gandhi’s death, I caught a bus to Delhi University, as usual, at about half past nine. From where I lived, it took an hour and half; a long commute, but not an exceptional one for New Delhi. The assassination had occurred shortly before, just a few miles away, but I had no knowledge of this when I boarded the bus. Nor did I notice anything untoward at any point during the ninety-minute journey. But the news, traveling by word of mouth, raced my bus to the university.

When I walked into the grounds, I saw not the usual boisterous, Frisbee-throwing crowd of students but a small group of people standing intently around transistor radio. A young man detached himself from one of the huddles and approached me, his mouth twisted into light tipped, knowing smile that seems always to accompany the gambit “Have you heard…?”

The campus was humming, he said. No one knew for sure, but it was being said that Mrs. Gandhi had been shot. The word was that she had been assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, in revenge for her having sent troops to raid the Sikhs’ Golden Temple in Amritsar earlier that year.

Just before stepping into the lecture room, I heard a report on All India Radio, the national network: Mrs. Gandhi had been rushed to hospital after her attempted assassinations.

Nothing stopped: the momentum of the daily routine carried things forward. I went into a classroom and began my lecture, but not many students had shown up and those who had were distracted and distant; there was a lot of fidgeting.

Halfway through the class, I looked out through the room’s single, slit-like window. The sunlight lay bright on the lawn below and on the trees beyond. It was the time of year when Delhi was at its best, crisp and cool. Its abundant greenery freshly watered by the recently retreated monsoons, its skies washed sparkling clean. By the time I turned back, I had forgotten what I was saying and had to reach for my notes.

My unsteadiness surprised me. I was not an uncritical admirer of Mrs. Gandhi. Her brief period of semi-dictatorial rule in the mid-seventies was still alive in my memory. But the ghastliness of her sudden murder was a reminder of the very real qualities that had been taken for granted: her fortitude, her dignity, her physical courage, her endurance. Yet it was just not grief I felt at the moment. Rather, it was a sense of something loose, of a mooring coming united somewhat within.

The first reliable report of Mrs. Gandhi’s death was broadcast from Karachi, by Pakistan, at around 1:30 PM. On All India Radio regular broadcast had been replaced by music.

I left the university in the late afternoon with a friend, Hari Sen, who lived at the other end of the city. I needed to make a long-distance call, and he had offered to let me use his family telephone.

To get to Hari’s house we had to change buses at Connaught Place, that elegant circular arcade that lies at the geographical heart of Delhi, linking the old city with the new. As the bus swung around the periphery of the arcade, I noticed that the shops, stalls, and eteries were beginning to shut down, even though it was still afternoon.

Our next bus was not quite full, which was unusual. Just as it was pulling out, a man ran out of the office and jumped on. He was middle-aged and dressed in shirt and trousers, evidently an employee in one of the government buildings. He was a Sikh, but I scarcely noticed this at the time.

He probably jumped on without giving the matter any thought, this being his regular, daily bus. But, as it happened, on this day no choice could have been more unfortunate, for the route of the bus went past the hospital where Indira Gandhi’s body then lay. Certain loyalists in her party had begun inciting the crowds gathered there to seek revenge. The motorcade of Giani Zail Singh, the President of the Republic, a Sikh, had already been attacked by a mob.

None of this was known to us then, and we would never have suspected it: violence had never been directed at the Sikhs in Delhi.

As the bus made its way down New Delhi’s broad, tree-lined avenues, official-looking cars, with outriders and escorts, overtook us, speeding toward the hospital. As we drew nearer, it became evident that a large number of people had gathered there. But this was no ordinary crowd: it seemed to consist of red-eyed young men in half-buttoned shirts. It was now that I noticed that my Sikh fellow-passenger was showing signs of anxiety, sometimes standing up to look out, sometimes glancing out the door. It was too late to get off the bus; thugs were everywhere.

The bands of young men grew more and more menacing as we approached the hospital. There was a watchfulness about them; some were armed with steel rods and bicycle chains; others had fanned out across the busy road and were stopping cars and buses.

A stout woman in sari sitting across aisle from me was the first to understand what was going on. Rising to her feet, she gestured urgently at the Sikh, who was sitting hunched in his seat. She hissed at him in Hindi, telling him to get down and keep out of sight.

The man started in surprise and squeezed himself into the narrow footspace between the seats. Minutes later, our bus was intercepted by a group of young men dressed in bright, sharp synthetics. Several had bicycle chains wrapped around their wrists. They ran along beside the bus as it slowed to a halt. We heard them call out to the driver through the open door, asking if there were any Sikhs in the bus.

The driver shook his head. No, he said, there were no Sikhs in the bus.

A few rows ahead of me, the crouching turbaned figure had gone completely still.

Outside, some of the young men were jumping up to look through the windows, asking if there were any Sikhs in the bus. There was no anger in their voices; that was the most chilling thing of all.

No, someone said, and immediately other voices picked up the refrain. Soon all the passengers were shaking their heads and saying, no, no, let us go now, we have to get home.

Eventually, the thugs stepped back and waved us through.

Nobody said a word as we sped away down Ring Road.

Hari Sen lived in one of New Delhi’s recently developed residential colonies. It was called Safdarjang Enclave, and it was neatly and solidly middle-class, a neighborhood of aspirations rather than opulence. Like most such suburbs, the area had a mixed population: Sikhs were well represented.

A long street ran from end to end of the neighborhood, like the spine of a comb, with parallel side streets running off it. Hari lived at the end of one of those streets, in a fairly typical, big, one-storey bunglow. The house next door, however, was much grander and uncharacteristically daring in design. An angular structure, it was perched rakishly on stilts. Mr. Bawa, the owner, was an elderly Sikh who had spent a long time abroad, working with various international organizations. For several years, he had resided in Southeast Asia; thus the stilts.

Hari lived with his family in a household so large and eccentric that it had come to be known among his friends as Macondo, after Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical village. On this occasion, however, only his mother and teenage sister were at home. I decided to stay over.

It was a bright morning. When I stepped into the sunshine, I came upon a sight that I could never have imagined. In every direction, columns of smoke rose slowly into a limpid sky. Sikh houses and businesses were burning. The fires were so carefully targeted that they created an effect quite different from that of a general conflagration: it was like looking upward into the vault of some vast pillared hall.

The columns of smoke increased in number even as I stood outside watching. Some fires were burning a short distance away. I spoke to a passerby and learned that several nearby Sikh houses had been looted and set on fire that morning. The mob had started at the far end of the colony and was working its way in our direction. Hindus or Muslims who had sheltered Sikhs were also being attacked; their houses too were being looted and burned.

It was still and quite, eerily so. The usual sounds of rush-hour traffic were absent. But every so often we heard a speeding car or a motorcycle on the main street. Later, we discovered that these mysterious speeding vehicles were instrumental in directing the carnage that was taking place. Protected by certain politicians, “organizers” were zooming around the city, assembling the mobs and transporting them to Sikh-owned houses and shops.

Apparently, the transportation was provided free. A civil-rights report published shortly afterward stated that this phase of violence “began with the arrival of groups of armed people in tempo vans, scooters, motorcycles or trucks,” and went on to say,

With cans of petrol they went around the localities and systematically set fire to Sikh-houses, shops and Gurdwaras…the targets were primarily young Sikhs. They were dragged out, beaten up and then burned alive…In all the affected spots, a calculated attempt to terrorize the people was evident in the common tendency among the assailants to burn alive Sikhs on public roads.

Fire was everywhere; it was the day’s motif. Throughout the city, Sikh houses were being looted and then set on fire, often with their occupants still inside. 

Sikh woman weeps after her husband was burned to death.


A survivor – a woman who lost her husband and three sons – offered the following account to Veena Das, a Delhi sociologist:

Some people, the neighbors, one of my relatives, said it would be better if we hid in an abandoned house nearby. So my husband took our three sons and hid there. We locked the house from outside, but there was treachery in people’s hearts. Someone must have told the crowd. They baited him to come out. Then they poured kerosene on that house. They burnt them alive. When I went there that night, the bodies of my sons were on the loft – huddled together.

Over the next few days, some 2,500 people died in Delhi alone. Thousands more died in other cities. The total death toll will never be known. The dead were overwhelmingly Sikh men. Entire neighborhoods were gutted; tens of thousands of people were left homeless.

Like many other members of my generation, I grew up believing that mass slaughter of the kind that accompanied the Partition of India and Pakistan, in 1947, could never happen again. But that morning in the city of Delhi, the violence had reached the same level of intensity.  Gurdwara set ablaze.


As Hari and I stood staring into the smoke-streaked sky, Mrs. Sen, Hari’s mother, was thinking of matters closer at hand. She was about fifty, a tall, graceful woman with a gentle, soft-spoken manner. In an understated way, she was also deeply religious, a devout Hindu. When she heard what was happening, she picked up the phone and called Mr. And Mrs. Bawa, the elderly Sikh couple next door, to let them know that they were welcome to come over. She met with unexpected response: an awkward silence. Mrs. Bawa thought she was joking, and wasn’t sure whether to be amused or not.

Toward midday, Mrs. Sen received a phone call: the mob was now in the immediate neighborhood, advancing systematically from street to street. Hari decided that it was time to go over and have a talk with the Bawas. I went along.

Mr. Bawa proved to be small, slight man. Although he was casually dressed, his turban was neatly tied and his beard was carefully combed and bound. He was puzzled by our visit. After a polite greeting, he asked what he could do for us. It fell to Hari to explain.

Mr. Bawa had heard about Indira’s assassination, of course, and he knew there had been some trouble. But he could not understand why these “disturbances” should impinge on him or his wife. He had no more sympathy for Sikh terrorists than we did; his revulsion at the assassination was, if anything, even greater than ours. Not only was his commitment to India and the Indian state absolute but it was evident from his bearing that he belonged to the country’s ruling elite.

How do you explain to someone who has spent a lifetime cocooned in privilege that a potentially terminal rent has appeared in the wrappings? We found ourselves faltering. Mr. Bawa could not bring himself to believe that a mob might attack him.

By the time we left, it was Mr. Bawa who was mouthing reassurances. He sent us off with jovial pats on our backs. He did not actually say “Buck up”, but his manner said it for him.

We were confident that the government would soon act to stop the violence. In India, there is a drill associated with civil disturbances: a curfew is declared; paramilitary units are deployed; in extreme cases the army marches to the stricken areas. No city in India is better equipped to perform this drill than New Delhi, with its huge security apparatus. We learned later that in some cities – Calcutta, for example, the state authorities did act promptly to prevent violence. But in New Delhi – and much of North India – hours followed without a response.

Every few minutes we turned to the radio, hoping to hear that the Army had been ordered out. All we heard was mournful music and descriptions of Mrs. Gandhi’s lying in state; of coming and goings of dignitaries, foreign and national. The bulletins could have been message from another planet.

As the afternoon progressed, we continued to hear reports of the mob’s steady advance. Before long, it had reached the next alley: we could hear the voices; the smoke was everywhere. There was still no sign of Army or police.

Hari again called Mr. Bawa, and now the flames visible from his windows, he was more receptive. He agreed to come over with his wife, just for a short while. But there was a problem: How? The two properties were separated by a shoulder –high wall, so it was impossible to walk from one house to the other except along the street.

I spotted a few thugs already at the end of the street. We could hear the occasional motorcycle, cruising slowly up and down. The Bawas could not risk stepping out in the street. They would be seen: the sun had dipped low in the sky, but it was still light. Mr. Bawa balked at the thought of climbing over the wall: it seemed an inseparable obstacle at his age. But eventually Hari persuaded him to try.

We went to wait for them at the back of the Sen’s house – in a spot that was well shelterd from the street. The mob seemed terrifyingly close, the Bawas reckless in their tardiness. A long time appeared before the elderly couple finally appeared, hurrying towards us.

Mr. Bawa had changed before leaving the house: he was neatly dressed, dapper, even a blazer and cravat. Mrs. Bawa dressed in salwar and kameez. Their cook was with them, and it was with his assistance that they made it over the wall. The cook, who was Hindu, then returned to the house to stand guard.

Hari led the Bawas into the drawing room, where Mrs. Sen was waiting dressed in chiffon sari. The room was large and well appointed, its walls hung with a rare and beautiful set of miniatures. With the curtains now drawn and the lamps lit, it was warm and welcoming. But all that lay between us and the mob in the street was a row of curtained French windows and a garden wall.

Mrs. Sen greeted the elderly couple with folded hands as they came in. The three seated themselves in the intimate circle, and soon a silver tea tray appeared. Instantly, all constraint evaporated, and, to the tinkling of porcelain, the conversation turned to the staples of New Delhi drawing-room chatter.

I could not bring myself to sit down. I stood in the corridor, distracted, looking outside through the front entrance.

A couple of scouts on motorcycles had drawn up next door. They had dismounted and were inspecting the house, walking in among the concrete stilts, looking up into the house. Somehow, they got wind of the cook’s presence and called him out.

The cook was very frightened. He was surrounded by thugs thrusting knives in his face and shouting questions. It was dark, and some were carrying kerosene torches. Wasn’t it true, they shouted, that his employers were Sikhs. Where were they? Were they hiding inside? Who owned the house – Hindus or Sikhs?

Hari and I hid behind the wall and listened to the interrogation. Our fates depended on this lone, frightened man. We had no idea what he would do: of how secure the Bawas were of his loyalties, or whether he might seek revenge for some past slight by revealing their whereabouts. If he did; both houses would burn.  Sikh man being beaten to death.


Although stuttering in terror, the cook held his own. Yes, he said, yes, his employers were Sikhs but they had left town: there was no one in the house. No, the house didn’t belong to them; they were renting from a Hindu.

He succeeded in persuading most of the thugs, but a few eyed the surrounding houses suspiciously. Some appeared at the steel gates in front of us, rattling the bars.

We went up and positioned ourselves at the gates. I remember a strange sense of disconnection as I walked down the driveway, as though I was watching myself from somewhere very distant.

We took hold of the gates and shouted back: Get away! You have no business here. There’s no one inside! The house is empty!

To my surprise, they began to drift away, one by one. Just before this, I had stepped into the house to see how Mrs. Sen and the Bawas were faring. The thugs were clearly audible in the lamplit drawing room; only a thin curtain shielded the interior from their view.

My memory of what I saw in the drawing room is uncannily vivid. Mrs. Sen had a slight smile on her face as she poured a cup of tea for Mr. Bawa. Beside her, Mrs. Bawa, in a firm, unwavering voice, was comparing the domestic-help situations in New Delhi and Manila.

I was awed by their courage.

The next morning, I heard about a protest that was being organized at the large compound of a relief agency. When I arrived, a meeting was already underway, a gathering of seventy or eighty people.

The mood was somber. Some of the people spoke of neighborhoods that had been taken over by vengeful mobs. They described countless murders – mainly by setting the victims alight – as well as terrible destruction: the burning of Sikh temples, the looting of Sikh schools, the razing of Sikh homes and shops. The violence was worse than I had imagined. It was decided that the most effective initial tactic would be to march into one of the badly affected neighborhoods and confront the rioters directly.

The group had grown a hundred and fifty men and women, among them Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu ascetic; Ravi Chopra, a scientist and environmentalist; and a handful of opposition politicians, including Chander Sekhar, who became Prime Minister for a brief period several years later.

The group was pitifully small by the standards of a city where crowds of several hundred thousand were routinely mustered for political rallies. Nevertheless the members rose to their feet and began to march.

Years before, I had read a passage by V.S. Naipaul, which had stayed with me ever since. I have never been able to find it again, so this account is from memory. In his incomparable prose Naipaul describes a demonstration. He is in a hotel room, somewhere in Africa or South America; he looks down and see people marching past. To his surprise, the sight fills him with an obscure longing, a kind of melancholy, he is aware of a wish to go out, to join, to merge his concerns with theirs. Yet he knows he never will; it is simply not in his nature to join crowds.

For many years, I read everything of Naipaul’s I could lay my hands on; I couldn’t have enough of him. I read him with the intimate, appalled attention that one reserves for one’s most skillful interlocutors. It was he who first made it possible for me to think of myself as a writer, working in English.

I remembered the passage because I believed that I, too, was not a joiner, and in Naipaul’s pitiless mirror I thought I had seen an aspect of myself rendered visible. Yet as this forlorn little group marched out of the shelter of the compound I did not hesitate for a moment: without a second thought, I joined.

The march headed first to Lajpat Nagar, a busy commercial area a mile or so away. I knew the area. Though it was in New Delhi, its streets resembled the older parts of the city, where small cramped shops tended to spill out into the footpaths.

We were shouting slogans as we marched: hoary Gandhian staples of peace and brotherhood from half a century before. Then, suddenly, we were confronted with a starkly familiar spectacle, an image of twentieth century urban horror: burned out cars, their ransacked interiors visible through smashed windows; debris and rubble everywhere. Blackened pots had been strewn along the street. A cinema had been gutted, and the charred faces of film stars stared out at us from half-burned posters.

As I think back to that march, my memory breaks down, details dissolve. I recently telephoned some friends who had been there. There memories are similar to mine in only one respect; they, too, clung to one scene while successfully ridding their minds of the rest.

The scene my memory preserved is of a moment when it seemed inevitable that we would be attacked.

Rounding a corner, we found ourselves facing a crowd that was larger and more determined-looking that any other crowds that we had encountered. On each previous occasion, we had prevailed by marching at the thugs and engaging them directly, in dialogues that turned quickly into extended shouting matches. In every instance, we had succeeded in facing them down. But this particular mob was intent on confrontation. As its members advanced on us, brandishing knives and steel rods, we stopped. Our voices grew louder as they came towards us; a kind of rapture descended on us, exhilaration in anticipation of a climax. We braced for the attack, leaning forward as though into a wind.

And then something happened that I have never completely understood. Nothing was said; there was no signal, nor was there any break in the rhythm of our chanting. But suddenly all women in our group – and the women made up more than half of the group’s numbers – stepped out and surrounded the men; their saris and kameezes became thin, fluttering barrier, a wall around us. They turned to face the approaching men, challenging them, daring them to attack.

The thugs took a few more steps toward us and then faltered, confused. A moment later, they were gone.

The march ended at the walled compound where it had started. In the next couple of hours, an organization was created, the Nagrik Ekta Manch, or Citizen’s Unity Front, and its work – to bring relief to the injured and the bereft, to shelter the homeless – began the next morning. Food and clothing were needed, and camps had to be established to accommodate the thousands of people with nowhere to sleep. And by the next day we were overwhelmed – literally. The large compound was crowded with vanloads of blankets, secondhand clothing, shoes and sacks of flour, sugar and tea. Previously hard-nosed unsentimental businessmen sent cars and trucks. There was barely room to move.

My own role in the Front was slight. For a few weeks, I worked with a team from Delhi University, distributing supplies in the slums and working-class neighborhoods that had been worst hit by the rioting. Then I returned to my desk.

In time, inevitably, most of the Front’s volunteers returned to their everyday lives. But some members – most notably the women involved in the running of refugee camps – continued to work for years afterward with Sikh women and children who had been rendered homeless. Jaya Jaitley, Lalita Ramdas, Veena Das, Mita Bose, Radha Kumar: these women, each one an accomplished professional, gave up years of their time to repair the enormous damage that had been done in a matter of two or three days.

The Front also formed a team to investigate the riots. I briefly considered joining, but then decided that an investigation would be a waste of time because the politicians capable of inciting violence were unlikely to heed a tiny group of concerned citizens. 

Mob rampage through the streets of Delhi, November 1984.


I was wrong. A document eventually produced by this team – a slim pamphlet entitled Who Are the Guilty – has become a classic, a searing indictment of the politicians who encouraged the riots and the police who allowed the rioters to have their way.

Over the years the Indian government has compensated some of the survivors of the 1984 violence and resettled some of the homeless. One gap remains: to this day, no instigator of the riots has been charged. But the pressure on the government has never gone away, and it continues to grow: every year, the nails hammered in by that slim document dig just a little deeper.

That pamphlet and others that followed are testaments to the only humane possibility available to people who live in multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies like those of the Indian sub-continent. Human-rights documents such as Who Are the Guilty? are essential to the process of broadening civil institutions: they are weapons with which society asserts itself against a state that runs criminally amok, as the one did in Delhi in November of 1984.

It is heartening that sanity prevails today in Punjab. But not elsewhere. In Bombay, local government officials want to stop any public buildings from being painted green – a color associated with the Muslim religion. And hundreds of city’s Muslims have been deported from the city slums – in at least one case for committing an offense no graver than reading a Bengali newspaper. It is imperative that government insure that those who instigate mass violence do not go unpunished.

The Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan, in a remarkable essay called Literature and War (published last year in the collection Sarajevo, Exodus of a City), makes a startling connection between modern literary aestheticism and the contemporary world’s indifference to violence:

The decision to perceive literally everything as an aesthetic phenomenon – completely sidestepping questions about goodness and truth – is an artistic decision. That decision started in the realm of art, and went on to become characteristic of the contemporary world.

When I went back to my desk in November 1984, I found myself confronting decisions about writing that I had never faced before. How was I to write about what I had seen without reducing it to a mere spectacle?

My next novel was bound to be influenced by my experiences, but I could see no way of writing directly about those events without recreating them as a paranoma of violence – “an aesthetic phenomenon,” as Karahasan was to call it. At the time, the idea seemed obscene and futile; of much greater importance were factual reports of the testimony of the victims. But these were already being done by people who were, I knew, more competent than I could be.

Within a few months, I started my novel, which I eventually called The Shadow Lines – a book that led me backward in time, to earlier memories of riots, ones witnessed in childhood. It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of such events and their effects on the individuals who live through them.

And until now I have never really written about what I saw in November 1984. I am not alone: several others who took part in that march went on to publish books, yet nobody, so far as I know, has ever written about it except in the passing.

There are good reasons for this, not least the politics of the situation, which leave so little room for the writer. The riots were generated by a cycle of violence, involving terrorists in Punjab on the one hand, and the Indian government on the other. To write carelessly in such a way as to endorse terrorism or repression, can add easily to the problem: in such incendiary circumstances, words cost lives, and it is only appropriate that those who deal in words should pay scrupulous attention to what they say. It is only appropriate that they should find themselves inhibited.

But there is also a simple explanation. Before I could set down a word, I had to resolve a dilemma, between being a writer and being a citizen. As a writer, I had only obvious subjects: the violence. From the news report, or the latest film or novel, we have come to expect the bloody detail or the elegantly staged conflagration that closes a chapter or effects a climax. But it is worth asking if the very obviousness of this subject arises out of out modern conventions of representations: within the dominant aesthetic of our time – the aesthetic of what Karahasan calls “indifference” – it is all too easy to present violence as an apocalyptic spectacle, while the resistance to it can as easily figure as mere sentimentality, or worse, as pathetic or absurd.

Writers don’t join crowds – Naipaul and so many others teach us that. But what do you do when the Constitutional authority fails to act. You join and in joining bear all the responsibility and obligations and guilt that joining represents. My experience of the violence was overwhelming and memorable of the resistance to it. When I think of the women staring down the mob, I am not filled with writerly wonder. I am reminded of my gratitude from being saved from injury. What I saw at firsthand – and not merely on that march but on the bus, in Hari’s house, in the huge compound filled with essential goods – was not the horror of violence but the affirmation of humanity: in each case, I witnessed the risks that perfectly ordinary people were willing to take for one another.

When I now read descriptions of troubled parts of the world, in which violence appears primordial and inevitable, a fate to which masses of people are largely resigned, I find myself asking: Is that all there was to it? Or is it possible that the authors of these descriptions failed to find a form – or a style or a voice of a plot – that could accommodate both violence and the civilized, willed response to it?

The truth is that the commonest response to violence is one of the repugnance, and that a significant number of people everywhere try to oppose it in whatever way they can. That these effects so rarely appear in accounts of violence is not surprising: they are too un-dramatic. For those who participate in them, they are often hard to write about for the very reasons that so long delayed my own account of 1984.

“Let us not fool ourselves,” Karahasan writes. “The world is written first – the Holy Books say that it was created in words and all that happens in it, happens in language first.”

It is when we think of the world the aesthetic of indifference might bring into being that we recognize the urgency of remembering the stories we have not written.


Samuel Huntington in his 1996 [d. Dec 27 2008] ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ theorized that competition and conflict among religious traditions was inevitable in the post cold war world – shift being to religion as divider from ideological division [socio-political]. He is said to have said in 2007 that ‘my argument remains that cultural identities, antagonisms and affiliations will play a major role in relations between states.’ Possibly this division does percolate across state boundaries as within such boundaries – terrorism and pogroms like the 84 Delhi and 2003 Gujrat are a violent manifestation of the same divide.

Pope Benedict in his message for Christmas, 2008 said that the world is in need of authentic solidarity otherwise our world will fall apart if people [and nations] only worry about own interests. Presently the basics needed for survival elude so many.

‘We are all commanded by our faiths to seek justice in the world, in a community of free and equal persons. In this search, conscience is given to every person as a moral guide to the ways of truth among us all.[1]’ Sikh theology suggests very strong markers for equality and justice in society. Fairly detailed analysis has been done in my other papers on peace and harmony in society as also on Sikh resistance.

EXTRACTS: THE DELHI RIOTS, UMA CHARAVARTI & Nandita Haksar, Lancer International, New Delhi, 1987

Events preceding November 84 and following it have led to a situation in which we are being forced to think in terms of Sikhs and non Sikhs. Historical understanding itself is being recast and we are now faced with a situation when heroes like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who had not the slightest trace of communal identity are being appropriated by the Sikhs and Hindus respectively. [p. 10]

We ourselves saw the charred remains of the corpses [of Sikhs killed], the burnt out shells of houses, and the 50,000 uprooted and terrorized people huddled together in the relief camps —– For many middle class citizens in Delhi it was the first time that they were exposed to the realities of mob frenzy and organized violence. [p. 13]

The varied range of emotions from fear and insecurity to bitterness, suspicion, and anger, among the Sikhs are being kept alive by the daily taunts, remarks, and indignities that many Sikhs faced immediately after the carnage often without being able to do any thing about it. It might be a young man deliberately blowing smoke into the face of an old Sikh passenger, or a Sikh Professor being accosted by strangers and suddenly asked to state his view on Khalistan —- [p. 25]

A Professor of English told us that what worried him about the post November carnage situation was not the bitterness which the Sikhs were feeling but the communal feelings of the Hindus, and the ‘violence of their speech.’ [p. 26]

An infinitely more serious dimension of the aftermath of November is the deep seated anger of some of the Sikhs, and the feelings of revenge especially evident in children of the victims [p. 28]—- Continuous interaction with the work of rehabilitating the widows of November killings, many of who are now housed at Tilak Vihar, reveals the same pattern. The women live with the fear of a repetition of attack upon them and also harbor feelings of revenge. Some of them even consider taking revenge against those who attacked them once their children grow up — while only a small number of people may be involved in acts of vengeance there appears to be a fairly widespread approval for the idea of vengeance among the victims — old Phanda Singh who lost his adult sons in the Trilokpuri massacre – despite his severe losses he denounced any kind of terrorist activity [p. 29] — A larger political awareness in dealing with the riot victims is actually being attempted by some reflief workers who have tried to discuss the whole question of revenge with the Sikh widows. After a while some of them recognized that feelings of revenge will only end in violence and so it will go on, endlessly.[p. 30] — The November carnage did throw up a unique response from the citizens of Delhi , some of whom have continued to work at defusing the tensions — It is unfortunate that the enthusiasm and involvement of the post November days could not be sustained, but the concern of some students, teachers and others has remained. [p. 31]

Nanki Bai lost 14 members of her extended family – mostly women and children who had hid in a room – rioters tore open the ceiling, poured kerosene through the hole and set it to fire- those trying to escape were stoned and pushed back into the burning room. She ‘talks obsessively of her Sardar who was burnt alive. She feels guilty that he died on an empty stomach. He had not eaten anything because he was mourning Mrs Gandhi’s death.’ Pp. 33] — Nagrik Ekta Manch and some Christian Organisation – gave us ata, blankets and soap [at the time of riots] — Gurdwara is giving us something and the Sardars are of course trying to do something [interviewed May June 85, p. 51]

The victim stayed at Sadar Bazar camp run by the Gurdwara Sis Ganj which was closed on 25/11. The victim then looked for a rented place but could not get it and five months later moved to Tilak Vihar.


Phanda Singh, a Labana Sikh came from near Shikarpur in Sindh to Bombay and settled in Rajasthan. He later came to Delhi because the land got divided and yield was low. He was resettled in Trilokpuri during the Emergency. The attackers included Churas, Muslims and Banias [p. 76]. Longowal when he came said we must make aman [peace] – p. 79

Gaurav brought 25 students from the University who brought rations and took turns at guarding [interviewee Jaspal Kaur, student, p. 145]

A lot of people in the mob were intoxicated [p. 155]. Interviewee Gurmeet Singh Gill who was an ex Air Force was taken by an Air Force friend to Chandigarh.

Parkash Kaur, a Punjabi teacher in a College said that some time children threw rotten vegetables and stale food into the angan [p. 166].

Amrita Singh was a class XI student in a good school said that Hindus were happy about Bluestar [p. 205] and even those who had given Sikhs shelter felt Sikhs had to be taught a lesson [p. 215 top]. Camp was held by Dr Veena Das and Dr Mita Bose. —————–?????????

Kamal Jeet Singh a first year Psychology Honors student volunteered at TACET, Transactional Analysis Center for Educational Training where psychologiacal rehab was offered to victims. He was also a volunteer at Jahangirpuri [p. 250]. Victims seemed to have one syndrome – collect money from wherever you could get it. Wondered how a neighbor could kill a Sikh neighbor [p. 238-9]. He felt the victim kids could turn militants or depressive as against getting other psychological disorders [ p. 254].

Ravi Chopra, a scientist who studied in the US and was working for Society for Rural, Urban, Tribal initiative presented some interesting views in his interview [pp.594+]:

  • ‘what they are really saying is that ‘we should be allowed to rule Punjab, no matter what’ — I am referring to the Jat Sikhs. But in my mind I also equate it with similar expressions of the middle peasantry in other parts of the country, whether it is Charan Singh or someone else. Charan Singh has exactly the same position. Or Chimanbhai Patel, or other sugar barons of Maharashtra.’
  • After getting news from the Statesman reporter in the paper’s office that India had been killed by Sikh security guards, Ravi went to Krishna Kant’s house where he says he, Krishna Kant and his son were isolated in the family. All others felt Sikhs deserved to be beaten up – this in a family that had been so close to MK Gandhi
  • When he was at Press Enclave on the 1st, Poonam and Alok Mukhpadhaya showed up and said they were going to meet at Sumanto’s place and asked him to join them. They said there has been an orgy of violence and Sikh killing, looting and burning and they were going to decide what to do. Even though Ravi did not know these people and was not sure if any intervention is needed, he went along with them.
  • Poonam had been witness to what happened in Munirka. Ravi Nair had a lot of news similar to what Poonam saw and felt that we had to intervene somewhere. So they decided to meet at Lajpat Bhavan around 4 pm.
  • Agnivesh started to make a very impassioned appeal to people to not stand by and do nothing but to throw looters out but looters reorganized and started heckling the Swamy.
  • His evidence seems to convey that Arya Samajis wanted the violence to continue though they were worried that Agnivesh should not get hurt or some thing trying to intervene.

Kids could turn militant or depressive or other kinds of psychological problems [p. 254 top].

Namratta [Sociology Honors II yr student from Wellham school, a Sikh]:

  • Involved in relief work by Delhi University – visited widows in Sultanpuri who she found were from Alwar and spoke Rajasthani
  • participated in a street play on communal riots created and enacted by Dramatic Society of Miranda House that was taken to several colleges & schoolsin Jan 85 showing 84 riots as a fall from secularism ideals.
  • People in Punjab feel safe; we are not yet we cannot suffer another move
  • Public announcer going round at night – you can drink water [p. 264]
  • Relief effort was started by PG students; others join in and some teachers too and did peace marches

Gurbachan Singh IFS, retired in 1981, member of Citizens Commission with Sikri – chose not to join Sikh Forum. 5 of them met at Patwant Singh’s house at 4 pm on 31st – Arjan,Aurora, Maharaja of Kapurthala, Brig Sukhjit Singh, self & Patwant Singh. His son and daughter in law and wife joined Nagrik Ekta Manch.

Water poisoning message sent by Police officer [p. 291] Opposition parties did not condemn [p. 296-7].

Balwant Singh [Granthie] moved on the 3rd morning moved to Singarpur Gurdwara where about 500 had taken refuge [p. 88].

Note – copy pp. 216-19, 222, 223, 190-95


‘I got clean chit in BJP rule too’

3 Apr 2009, 0059 hrs IST, Abantika Ghosh, TNN

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

new delhi : Barely hours after the CBI clean chit in a case related to 1984 riots the second for him Jagdish Tytler should have been a 

relieved man. He was instead bitter as he spoke to Times City about the “long conspiracy” to “defame” him in which he claims, the media played a pivotal role.

* On way to possible relief, how are you feeling?

It is very difficult to explain what I am going through. Nobody understands but after 22 years of fighting false charges I am thankful to god. I knew from the very beginning that the affidavit was full of lies, why else would somebody file an affidavit 22 years after the incident happened. I was not even in Delhi on the day of the first incident and was in a TV studio on the second day. But the media hyped that conspiracy to such a level that it dragged on for so long.

* Whose conspiracy was it? People in your own party have at times tried to rake up the 1984 riots.

It is the natural reaction of the weak against the powerful. All this is a very big game. Speak to any of the protesting women, ask them where they were on the day of the riots and you will know that none of them were even near the areas in question. There is not a single person from my constituency either. It is all staged.

* Did some of your own party colleagues too fan the fire?

No absolutely not. All this is a closed chapter for me. I just want to move on.

* There are insinuations being made by some sections of the Sikh community that the clean chit is doctored. Your reaction?

That is rubbish. I was once given a clean chit by the agency when the Vajpayee government was in power. Does that mean Vajpayee was in league with me?

* There have been three elections since the riots. What kind of questions do you face when you go to your voters?

I won all those elections. Nobody has ever asked me anything about this. Why should they, I had actually saved people during riots. My wife and I slept in the drawing room because the house was full of Sikhs we had saved. Everybody knows that. My immediate neighbours are Sikhs.

* Have you ever felt any distrust with the community?

No. I have never ever lost from Sikh-dominated areas places like Roopnagar, Vijaynagar, GTB Nagar and the community treats me as one of their own. I just got a call from Timarpur saying some 5,000-6,000 Sikhs want to felicitate me. Last elections I had polling agents from the community and all of them worked their hearts out for me.

Incidentally your constituency North East Delhi has one of the lowest Sikh voters of Delhi and your adversary is a Sikh. What are you going to talk about?

Development and only development.


Can Sikh anger singe Cong in polls?

3 Apr 2009, 0059 hrs IST, Abantika Ghosh, TNN

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

new delhi : Soon after the news of CBI clean chit to Congress MP Jagdish Tytler trickled in, enraged members of the Sikh community staged a 

massive protest outside the All India Congress Committee office on Thursday morning. Moments later, a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee threatened to commit self-immolation on Friday. However, many political analysts see these protests as only representative and not a major factor impacting election results. They point to the percentage of Sikh voters in the city a measly 3.6%.

The biggest say Sikhs are likely to have during the coming elections is in West Delhi where the community has just a little above 9% voters. In fact, political analysts go to the extent of saying that even in Punjab the clean chit may not spark a discontent because the “political machinery there has cooled”.

Points out Dipankar Gupta, professor at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University: “In West Delhi, as per the Assembly election results, Congress’s vote share was a percent odd less than that of BJP. If the entire 9% Sikh population in the seat comes out and gives a consolidated vote against the party that would make a significant impact. But I doubt whether that is really going to happen. As for Punjab, I have been there and people have other things on their minds. Actually they were not even affected the way Delhi Sikhs were during the riots.”

Not everybody agrees. Many feel that the fact that Sikhs are concentrated in pockets in the city make them capable of turning elections something that political parties cannot ignore. Says Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow Centre for Study of Developing Societies: “There is no doubt Congress has carried the taint of massacre of Sikhs in 1984. With passage of time, specially with a Sikh PM who has apologised in Parliament on the question, the anger of the community and their antipathy to the Congress has subsided. Perhaps that is precisely why the protests have acquired a political edge.”

The city saw sporadic demonstrations throughout the day. Though DPCC chief J P Aggarwal dismissed the Sikh protests in front of 24 Akbar Road as “political gimmick”, it did for a while turn violent with protesters rattling police barricades. For a brief period there was talk of using water cannons before the protesters dispersed on their own. “No community ever protests as a whole. Tytler had proclaimed from the very beginning that he had no involvement and now he has been vindicated. This will have no impact whatsoever on the polls,” claimed Aggarwal even as BJP leaders claimed otherwise.

Kuldeep Singh Bhogal, a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar, has threatened to immolate himself with four others in front of the prime minister’s residence on Friday. “Five of us will start from Bangla Sahib Gurdwara after doing ardas and then set ourselves on fire. The prime minister had apologised for the riots in Parliament. Yet the clean chit comes and that too two days after Tytler boasted about how he will be let off. It’s a sham.”


CBI ignored other witnesses: Jasbir

3 Apr 2009, 0058 hrs IST, Smriti Singh , TNN

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

new delhi : The key witness in the anti-Sikh riots case, Jasbir Singh, on Thursday claimed that the CBI didn’t record the statements of two 

more witnesses in the United States. Talking to Times City from California in the US, he said that two more people Chain Singh and Rishab Singh were present on the fateful day and were willing to depose against Congress leader Jagdish Tytler.

Singh alleged that even though his lawyer informed the agency about the two witnesses, the CBI did not pay heed to their request and ignored their repeated reminders. “While the CBI was in the US, my lawyer told them about these two witnesses and also gave their affidavits and letter. However, the agency never reverted. We even sent mails but in vain,” Singh said.

According to Jasbir, Chain Singh and Rishab had seen Tytler inciting a mob. While Chain Singh was an employee with Pulbangash gurdwara, Rishab was a local taxi driver. “Both of them moved to California soon after the incident. They still live here and are willing to testify,” he said.

Rubbishing the claims of the CBI that they could not trace his host Suchcha Singh, Jasbir said: “They told me they had Suchcha Singh’s statement. But when I asked them to show me his picture so that I could identify him, they refused. Now they say they could not trace him. The probe is so shoddy.”

Jasbir alleged that the CBI grilled him for 14 hours and later told him that the statement was not enough. “Unhone kahaa isse kuch nahi nikalne wala (CBI said nothing will come out of it),” he said.

Another witness, Surinder Singh, on Thursday also lambasted the CBI’s claim of insufficient evidence. Surinder, who had come to the Karkardoma courts to attend the hearing, said that CBI was just trying to botch up the case. “In my statement, I told them I saw Tytler inciting a mob of 250 people against Sikhs. It was late in the night and I somehow managed to hide myself,” he said. Surinder Singh, head priest of Gurdwara at Pulbangash, said that Tytler has got away because of the shoddy probe by the CBI. “Despite so many witnesses, CBI still could not file a chargesheet. This shows they are part of a cover-up exercise,” he said.


Why leaders aren’t nailed in riot cases

3 Apr 2009, 0059 hrs IST, Manoj Mitta | TNN , TNN

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

NEW DELHI: Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani was the first minister anywhere in the country to be arrested in connection with communal violence. When 

Tytler resigned from the Manmohan Singh government in August 2005, he was the first minister to have been forced to do so for being indicted by a judicial probe into communal violence.

If the 2005 indictment by the Justice G T Nanavati Commission did not translate into a trial against Tytler, it was because the CBI claimed in the court that there was no evidence to corroborate the allegations made against him by solitary witnesses to two separate instances of his alleged involvement in the massacre of Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

If Kodnani, on the other hand, is currently in police custody for her alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, it is thanks to the independence displayed by a Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team. The success of this ad hoc body underlines the failure of regular law enforcement agencies (CBI or local police) in communal violence cases involving political leaders.

Legally, though, the case against Tytler is still alive. For, the CBI’s clean chit is not binding on the trial court. It is open to the court to reject the CBI’s recommendation to close the case. The court exercised this option in December 2007 when the CBI had first filed a closure report in the same case claiming that one of the crucial witnesses, Jasbir Singh, was untraceable.

The court had then directed the CBI to conduct further investigation as it turned out that Jasbir Singh was available in the US and was willing to give his testimony from there. In its second closure report filed this week, the CBI claimed that Jasbir Singh and the other witness, Surinder Singh, proved to be too unreliable for it to base its charges on their testimonies.

Riot victims in turn contended that the agency was suppressing the corroborative evidence. They also alleged that the CBI’s clean chit was timed to legitimize the Congress party’s decision to field Tytler as a candidate in the current election. It remains to be seen whether the court will again reject the closure report on April 9, the next date of hearing.

Whatever the outcome of the Tytler case in the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the carnage, the big picture is that for the 2,733 Sikhs officially admitted to have been killed in Delhi alone, the legal system has so far imposed punishment on just 13 persons in six murder cases. In all other cases, the police have either accepted closure reports or acquitted the accused, including Sajjan Kumar, another Congress candidate in this election.

Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were among the political leaders indicted by the Nanavati Commission, which conducted a re-inquiry into the 1984 riots as the first probe by Justice Ranganath Misra was widely denounced as a whitewash. The first time any judicial inquiry indicted prominent political leaders was the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission which recommended action against Bal Thackeray and Madhukar Sarpotdar of Shiv Sena for their involvement in the Bombay riots of 1993


Judge scotches rumours, says he’s not afraid

3 Apr 2009, 0100 hrs IST, Smriti Singh 

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

NEW DELHI: Dragged into a controversy over stray remarks that he was “afraid of hearing the (Tytler) case,” Additional Chief Metropolitan 

Magistrate Rakesh Pandit on Thursday said he was not afraid of anyone and had cancelled his leave.

ACMM Pandit, who has been hearing the 1984 Sikh riots case involving former union minister Jagdish Tytler for the past six months, was on leave on March 28. As a result, the CBI had to file its final investigation report in the court of the link metropolitan magistrate. This had raised some eyebrows.

Referring to the “rumours”, ACMM Pandit said: “I was on leave during the last hearing and there was some talk that I went on leave to avoid hearing the case. In fact, I was planning to go on further leave, but now I want to state that I have cancelled my plan to hear the case.”

The judge’s statement, which came as a surprise to all present in the courtroom, was immediately responded to by senior counsel H S Phoolka, who was appearing for Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. Phoolka said he had full faith in the judge.

But Phoolka, the riot victim’s counsel, then alleged CBI’s collusion with Tytler. “The CBI seems to be hand-in-glove with the accused who claims he has been given a clean chit,” Phoolka said.

Raising objections over an alleged leak of the report, Phoolka said, “Even before the victim or the court could go through the report, the accused had all the details. He (Tytler) told everyone that he had been given a clean chit. It shows the shoddy attitude of the CBI.” Stating that Tytler’s conduct amounted to “contempt” of court, Phoolka requested the court to take strict action.


‘People might turn less violent when empowered’

3 Apr 2009, 0000 hrs IST

 Print   Email   Discuss  Share  Save  Comment Text:

In Firaaq, a middle-class housewife, two best friends from two communities, a secular couple, a saintly musician, are all trying to come to terms 

with the sectarian riot that ripped Gujarat in 2002. Debutant director Nandita Das is exploring the prejudices and ambivalences evoked in such dark times. Das spoke to Ratnottama Sengupta:

As actor and now director, you’ve experienced partition, riots, terror acts. Are they different shades of the same colour?

Yes and no. They all use identity politics to divide people, but there are differences too. A riot may be politically motivated or a spontaneous outburst of violence. A terrorist wants to create panic and division, religion is only a pretext. People are divided in the name of caste, region and language too, as Raj Thackeray is doing. But we can’t assuage our responsibilities, our prejudices, the violence within. We must understand why we fall prey to such politics.

Why have three directors, Rahul Dholakia, T V Chandran and you, focused on the Gujarat riots?

While Parzania (Dholakia) and Vilapangalkappuram (Chandran) are set during the riots, Firaaq is set a month later, when there is a false sense of peace and normalcy. Garam Hawa, Tamas, Earth all portrayed partition, perhaps because we’ve not learnt our lessons from history. And despite similar settings, they tell different stories. Firaaq isn’t pointing fingers but asking questions for which we must find our own answers.

Sensitive film-makers respond to happenings around them as we can’t wish them away. If a wound has not healed we must engage with it. Else, it may turn malignant.

You’ve acted in plays and films about violation of various human rights. Any insights into what leads to such madness?

I’m myself amazed how anger or revenge is seen as a natural emotion while compassion and empathy are not. Why are positives seen as cliches and negatives as being human? Globalisation, economic disparity and divisions of various kinds also create frustrations. And that powerlessness, the suppressed fears and failings come out in violent ways. People might turn less violent when they feel empowered

Increasingly newspaper headlines are becoming subjects of mainstream cinema. Will meaningful entertainment make viewers more thoughtful citizens?

While films can’t create revolutions, they can create a thought process, an attitudinal change that can have lasting impact. For, we are what we are because of subconscious influences. My own sensitivity has resulted from the roles I’ve played, my human rights work, directorial experience…

Will you continue to direct or return to acting?

Both have challenges but the energy and focus required for direction is so consuming that I can’t direct one film after another. I’ll surely want to tell stories that stir me, so I will direct, but after a while. Meanwhile, I’ll act, and catch up on sleep! 



There was build up of Sikh militancy pre 84. The year 84 however turned out to be an epic year. In Jun there was Operation Bluestar in which Akal Takht was destroyed and the Golden Temple damaged much to the consternation of Sikhs. A concomitant media campaign was unleashed tainting Sikhs as terrorist and the entire Sikh community in the Country was stereotyped as suspect.

Post 84 the militancy curve in Punjab rose sharply and youth alienation peaked. On the other hand post the Delhi pogrom against Sikhs after the killing of Indira Gandhi, Sikhs in Delhi were not involved in any militant acts, terrorism or violence – nor were they engaged in such activities before.

Factors could be:

  • Fear of reprisals
  • Khatri- Jat differential response
  • Khatri-Hindu family links
  • Historical Sikh tendency for limited animosity towards Hindus unlike relatively sustained mistrust of Muslims
  • Proactive influence of sangat, Gurdwaras, Babas, Patwantai [honorable] Sikhs, Media, Peace Organization, Sikh Forum, Nishkam, other Relief Agencies, Parents, families, friends, schools, neighbors et al.

My attempt would be to examine the variety of factors that may reflect on the uniqueness of Delhi Sikh response and help to identify the related influences – for example:

  • Any suggested inference from the ‘coming of age’ curve of Delhi victim family kids and the rising militancy curve in Punjab
  • Successes, failures, drifting, drug abuse, petty crimes, anti social behavior by Delhi kids
  • Profile of victims: sex, age, education, economic status, caste, profession of victims and families
  • Rehabilitation, development of bread earners, homes, incomes, social support to facilitate continued stable family structure
  • Internal leadership profile of victims, language and communication skills, clarity of needs and objectives


I explored the possibility of a picture gallery on the side lines at WPR. Nishkam were quite enthused and even brought Rema Anand over to whom I explained my broad idea including some thing like:

  • Collage
  • Photo gallery about aesthetics of Sikh worship, expressions of Sikh piety, Brave spirit and its memorializing, traditional Sikh crafts
  • Video on Sikh social responses, Gurmat Sangeet, Buoyancy among Sikhs or any such theme


In the initial relief work the Government did not do any thing. More visible seva was by Sikhs like Bhai Mohan Singh and Gurpreet Singh who carries supplies for the victims in their cars and were often seen personally distributing them to the victims.

Common Sikhs also helped – Bassi volunteered in one of the camps for some time. Nagrik Ekta Manch was also active in initial relief efforts ———- get more information on them, members, affiliations, inter religious character etc. During the meeting with widows it came out that persons associated with Nagrik Ekta Manch included Fernandes, Jaitley, college and school volunteer boys and girls.

S Delhi Sikhs sank ojhal pahad? Those who suffered did not identify any perpetrator of Congress. DSGMC mostly rebuffed because of Congress alignment. Could arrange to meet with Kashmira Singh and Joginder Singh of Krishna Park.


  • No day care centers
  • All kids went to Government schools
  • Guru Harkrishan Public School did not admit any victim kid
  • One of the kids started saria work after 5th class
  • Eh naukri mere maan hai – Surendre Kaur
  • Kids who went on to drugs were those who took to driving scooters
  • Nishkam was even monitored by Intelligence agencies initially [KSS] – found teaching Gurmat, peace
  • Maternal influence may have influenced spoiling of boys [KSS] – few were left
  • Danga among Hindus and Sikhs in 86, 87, 89 because of retaliation against Muktsar killings and as reprisal 2 Sikhs killed here
  • Message of mothers – shant rahau
  • Kids could not be sent to schools because of risk – mothers working, no help or support
  • Drugs due to external influences especially to drivers who were out all day with other drivers who may have been on drugs or peddling them
  • Young people were getting organized by 86 and they were assertive when Police firing killed 4/5 in 86. Sikh protested but no revenge, no vandalism
  • None was afraid – Delhi Sikh is not afraid
  • Six to seven kids committed suicide
  • Women complained that Sikhs do not consider us Sikhs [KSS said Nishkam never made any distinction because of zaat] – victims confirmed no bhed bhao by Nishkam.

NISHKAM [17/1/09 – Interview Kulvinder Singh Sawhney & Dr Jatinder Singh Chauhan of Nishkam]

The association was formed post operation Bluestar in Sep 84. The first President of the organization was Harbhajan Singh. There was some concern in the official circles about their objectives and they were the subject of a police enquiry. Initial name was National Sikh Welfare Council but the word national was not allowed because of their only local presence – name Nishkam was then adopted. The Punjab problem was a manifestation of youth unrest due to lack of education and employment.

In Delhi, in the initial days after the pogrom there was extreme sense of fear in the minds of women who had lost their husbands and family members. Around 8/10 November met the families in Block A-3 in Sultanpuri where 80 Sikhs were burnt alive. They had tried to battle the intruders for 18 hours. Hairs of kids left were cut. The families looked totally aghast. In F Block, the Sikligars used their own made iron weapons and were better able to defend themselves.

The affected families were mostly resettled from other parts and were Sikligars or other ST Sikhs. They had been allotted 25 square yards land by the Government on which they had built their tenements on their own.

The earliest Relief Funds were created by B G Verghese, Indian Express Relief Fund and another by Ajit. Initially the victim families and other Sikh families in these colonies only could get closer to one another for safety and support. Some families moved or were taken to Relief Camps.

Initial Relief by Nishkam was provided in Mongol Puri and Sultan Puri. In March 1985 the families were moved to Tilak Vihar where they continued to provide them service. It is not to be concluded that there was any durable connection between the Relief agency and the families served though there was reasonable continuity of relationship.

700 widowed families moved into Tilak Vihar. They were allotted 1 ½ room flats against their old hutments and had topay extra if that was inadequate. DSGMC started giving them an allowance of Rs 250 per family per month. Help given by Nishkam included care by a Doctor, Beds, ceiling fans and helping kids with school admissions.

After K K Mathur, Chief Secretary, Delhi Administration visited Tilak Vihar and found Silai Center of Nishkam working and all others closed, Nishkam was invited to join the Rehabilitation Committee of Delhi Administration. In various discussions Nishkam pleaded that while for refugees from the West Punjab the Government had had to write off Rs 5 crores, they had written off Rs 131 crores for the evacuees from East Bengal and they still remained unsettled compared to the Punjabis.

Eventually the Government agreed to the families not having to pay for the flats. Thus they were able to use any monies they got from the sale of their plots or houses as left for their family needs.

Tilak Vihar had 700 widowed and 200-300 affected families. Other colonies where the families were resettled included Sangam Park

[near Gurdwara Nanak Piao in N Delhi]

, Raghbir Nagar [west Delhi] and Garhi [near Saket in S Delhi].

Almost all the widows and other affected women were illiterate. The problem of putting them to work was partially resolved when after considerable lobbying the Government agreed to lower the recruitment criteria for peons in the Public sector and some of them got employed in that capacity in 86/7.

Sukho Khalso Senior Secondary School agreed to admit kids from the victim families in the absence of school leaving certificates and accommodated about 300-400 kids. Total of around 700 kids were admitted in that school. Nishkam also started Punjabi classes and tuitions for the kids to keep them after [or before] school hours. They also started kirtan training for them and gradually Typing Center and Computer Center were also added.

Land allotment to Nishkam was made in 1988 and the building constructed between 1989 and 1993 as funds became available. Their effort was to provide education, vocational training and outdoor medical help to the victim families and others. As a voluntary organization they were expected to be non discriminatory and they tried to be that.

In a conversation on 24/1/09 KSS said that political leaders exploited victims and DSGMC set up a relief camp initially where 250-300 victim families took shelter. They were thus involved with relief efforts but not with rehab.


I was accompanied by Jogendra Singh, Kashmira Singh, _____ Singh [Nishkam scholarships administrator]. We were received at the outskirts of Meerut by Harbhajan Singh who is the Nishkam co-ordinator in the area. He is an activist employee who takes care of the Nishkam initiatives in the area and looks out for opportunity.

He took us to a house in Meerut that has been donated by a family and where on the ground floor a volunteer doctor and a dentist have offices. Their rates were posted and seemed very reasonable and in fact cheap. The upper floors were available for Nishkam and other activists from Mata Gujri Trust to stay. The property belonged to a Hindu family where the matriarch gave the place away much to the chagrin of her grandson, no more living, to the Sikhs.

In all our subsequent stops we found Hindu involvement and donation of land and even money to Sikhs for resettlement, building Gurdwaras and possibly in several other ways to make them feel a part of the society. This needs further study. 


From Times of India, Delhi, Dec 24, 2008

War Dead

Year           India  Pakistan

1947/48      1104     1500

1965           3264     3800

1971           3843     7900

Kargill         522       699

Total          8722    13896

Cost of Mobilization [Operation Parakram – 2001-02

                                                 India      Pakistan

Troops deployed                    700,000   300,000

Cost [Dec01 to Jan 02]  $ 600 million   $ 400 million

Total cost                       $ 1.8 Billion    $ 1.2 Billion

India Today Article

That blood does not sleep in some cases is so evident from an account published in India Today of October 13, 2008 that features interviews of three of the suspects in the Delhi bombings of Sep 13, 2008 by their Principal Correspondent, Mihir Srivastava. The blasts caused 25 deaths and left 200 injured.

Saquib Nisar, Zia-ur Rehman and Mohammed Shakeel, all in their twenties, are college students. Extracts from their interviews are;

  • Rehman – ‘I have no regrets about what I did – it is a jihad , it’s a war – it is against Maharashtra for ignoring the Srikrishna Report; it is against what happened in Gujarat – there will be thousands willing to join the jihad.’
  • Saquib – ‘Why did you do it?’ ‘For Allah. It is jihad for Allah – we lead a normal life of a student, beyond suspicion – it is difficult to be a Muslim in India – some times you have to adopt evil to prevent a bigger one – what will they do with me’ as he cries silently.
  • Shakeel – ‘If you follow things that are happening in the world. Also in India, Muslims are not welcome – it’s the name of Allah that they want to soil, and that is not acceptable – a handful of Allah ke bande were able to paralyse the economic life of such a big country by targeting metros and nothing much could be done about it. We gave back what we were getting from them.’

Rajiv Gandhi’s statements from Sikh Forum publication:

  • When a giant tree falls, the mother earth underneath shakes – Public Meeting on Nov 19, 1984
  • Extremist elements had assassinated Mrs Indira Gandhi and then attempted wide spread communal violence to create disorder and division in the country – speech at Khagaria on 12/2/84.
  • Leaders and men of other parties were also involved in the violence. The assassination obviously sparked off wide spread resentment involving people irrespective of their politics – Hindustan Times, Dec 18, 1984.

Sightings  1/15/09

Suicide, as historian of religion David Chidester reminds us in Salvation and Suicide, his seminal study of the People’s Temple, is frequently a religious act, invested with religious motivations and following a religiously understood logic.  The Jewish zealots at Masada, for instance, facing death (or, worse, torture, rape, forced conversion, and slavery) at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE took their own lives as a way of escaping with their religious identity and dignity intact. 


Samuel Huntington in his 1996 [d. Dec 27 2008] ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ theorized that competition and conflict among religious traditions was inevitable in the post cold war world – shift being to religion as divider from ideological division [socio-political]. He is said to have said in 2007 that ‘my argument remains that cultural identities, antagonisms and affiliations will play a major role in relations between states.’ Possibly this division does percolate across state boundaries as within such boundaries – terrorism and pogroms like the 84 Delhi and 2003 Gujrat are a violent manifestation of the same divide.

Pakistan’s biggest strength is its perceived fragility – weakness can be made to become a strength if the other party gets scared that the failure of the aggressor may hurt more than dispensation of justice would demand. This is a strong political weapon that is often used even at individual levels – GD Verma ‘some times pretending to be a fool helps get things done than showing that you know.’

Pope Benedict in his message for Chrismas, 2008 said that the world is in need of authentic solidarity otherwise our world will fall apart if people [and nations] only worry about own interests. Presently the basics needed for survival elude so many.

‘We are all commanded by our faiths to seek justice in the world, in a community of free and equal persons. In this search, conscience is given to every person as a moral guide to the ways of truth among us all.[2]’ Sikh theology suggests very strong markers for equality and justice in society. Fairly detailed analysis has been done in my other papers on peace and harmony in society as also on Sikh resistance.

WPR, 26/11 etc.

The theme of this WPR identifies ‘Building Peace in Pursuit of Justice’ as a crucial area for discussion [and action]. This paper presents a case study of one such outcome that a Sikh intervention resulted in. The problem, its genesis, responses and the meandering but eventually significant contribution to help sense of victimization, desperation, injustice and societal apathy to dissipate rather turn into a festering sore spreading violence, hatred and alienation among the growing kids in the victim families.

We all experience some unfairness in life. This unfairness lives in us as hurt engulfing our feelings and getting amplified by our imagination and fears. Disharmony is due to our operating from inner hurt.

It is by releasing divine vibrations to those around us that we can counter negativity and establish peace and harmony in others.

Once I realized the amount of love that surrounded me I wept with gratitude, said Michael Rudder, a victim of 26/11.

The question that victims of all such attacks face is why is it happening to us? Why is everything collapsing? Is there any hope?

The more we react, the more anger and hate we spread. We create our own reality – if we create one free of hate, we live without hate and fear.

Compassion and forgiveness like that of Balbir Singh Sodhi’s wife can be liberating and may also help reduce hate and fear among others that caused the original violent act to be committed – though I am not sure if the experience in Arizona post this forgiving was to inspire confidence in efficacy of one such gesture.

Purpose of human life is union with the divine – it is a process though the success is an act of divine grace and not recompense for the effort. The process is to learn from every experience, to grow and not to sink in fear, panic, anger and frustration.

MJ Akbar

Blood does not sleep, stays awake as nightmare

11 Jan 2009, 0059 hrs IST, M J Akbar

Saladin, the greatest of Muslim warriors, died of fever and old age on the morning of March 4, 1124. He was the iconic believer. Malcolm Lyons and D E P Jackson write in Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War, “The imam Abu Jafar and al-Fadil were with him on the morning of March 4 — On his last visit to Jerusalem, the holy city he had restored to Arab rule, in September 1123, he gave his fourth son, Abu Mansur al-Zahir, some immortal advice. As his son was about to leave, on October 6, Saladin kissed him, rubbed his hair fondly and said: be chary of shedding blood, “for blood does not sleep”. He added, addressing his attendant emirs, “I have only reached my present position by conciliation”.

Nine centuries later, blood has still not slept in that land. It keeps awake as a nightmare. No region in modern times has refused conciliation and invested as heavily in a nightmare.

Blood neither sleeps nor ceases; most cruelly, it does not discriminate between child and man. There is nothing new about war. But there is something new about the war raging on the sands of Israel and Palestine. Once, blood was lost on a battlefield, with honor. Blood is now spilt on the street. Civilians are no longer exempt from the havoc of war. Both sides target them, relentlessly. The difference is this: the Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians are crackers, pinpricks, compared to the overwhelming, bellicose firepower of Israel. Of all the images shivering into our consciousness from Gaza, none is more searing than the faces of children who have lost their laughter. Israel is building the foundations for war in 2025: children who are five today will be adults then. Blood will not sleep.

Israel has every right to protect its citizens, but there are grave dangers in a disproportionate action that punishes a population for the actions of a government. It is only the insecure who over-react, but why would Israel, with its overwhelming military superiority, feel vulnerable? Perhaps, after throwing a chain around Gaza and delivering maximum punishment, time after time, it is unable to deal with the persistence of defiance.

Defiance is courage, and courage is admirable, but courage is not victory. Victory too needs a definition, and it cannot be imposition. It must be justice, and equity demands that Palestine and Israel accept that neither will disappear. Both are nations. Facts demand peace, but fear engineers an essentially unequal war, its story told in cold statistics of dead, dying and destruction.

There is more than one reason why Palestinians are still in refugee camps and Israel is a regional superpower.

Gaza is imprisoned in two concentric circles. Only one is the blockade by Israel. The larger circle is a noose placed by cynical Arab ruling cliques who feed off Palestine’s despair to perpetuate their own survival, using the alibi of conflict. When there is rage on the Arab street, as now, there is silence and wordplay in the Arab secretariat. Organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah have filled a vacuum created by military incompetence and pathetic governance. That is their appeal to Muslims beyond their borders.

Poor governance has created a knowledge deficit; and knowledge is the key to strength. An Arab friend sent me some startling statistics; the email was captioned ‘A time for introspection’. Here are just a few: there are only 500 odd universities in the Muslim world. The United States has 5,758 and India has nearly 8,500. Literacy in the developed world is 90% against 40% in the Muslim world. If you removed Turkey from the list, the comparison would look grimmer. High tech goods and services constitute only 0.9% of the exports from Pakistan, and 0.3% from Algeria. They add up to 68% of Singapore’s exports.

Men die for two diametrically opposed reasons: when they value what they seek to defend, and when there is nothing worth living for. Israel has created a state worth defending. The Palestinians must be given something to live for.


SIKH FORUM [discussion with R S Chhatwal Jan 11, 2009]

The number of kids involved was around 4000.

Sikhs in the most affected colonies were from among the ST/SC class – mostly poor immigrants from Sindh who had been resettled in these settlements by Sanjay Gandhi. A lot were Sikligars – traditional lohars, artisans and the like.

Sant Harchand Singh Longowal addressed an overfilled Sapru House audience in 1985 where he exhorted that Hindus were not the enemies who had perpetrated this pogrom but that it was the work of some who were encouraged by the Congress and Govt.

Sikh Forum used to organize several meetings with the victim families in the early stages where they were told that Hindus as a group had not joined in the pogrom. They held such meetings in Punjab also.

Most of the middle class Delhi Sikhs had migrated from West Punjab and were non Jats – mainly Khatris & Aroras. The victim Sikhs were also non Jats – ST/SC.

Media at the time was not too powerful but whatever it was tended to be unsympathetic to or blatantly anti Sikh.

Will try and organize meetings with kids and families, lead persons among Sikhs and others, data about curve of militancy and curve of coming to age [from Phoolka or from Jaskaran’s work], and other data as per my list.


We will keep the list on the Homepage of throughout the 12 months of this year of the 25th anniversary of the 1984 tragedies, and then continue to present it permanently in our archives.


Twenty Years of Impunity: The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India, by Jaskaran Kaur, Nectar Publishing, U.K., 2004. ISBN 0-9548412-0- 4.

The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh Diaspora, by Brian Keith Axel, Duke University Press, U.S.A., 2001, 312 pp. ISBN-10: 0822326159, ISBN-13: 978-0822326151.

Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case Study of Punjab, by Gurharpal Singh, Macmillan, London, 2000.

Death Squad: Anthropology of State Terror, by Jeffrey Sluka, University of Pennsylvania Press, Pennsylvania, 1999.

Politics of Genocide, Inderjit Singh Jaijee, Ajanta Books, New Delhi, India, 1999.

Struggle for Justice – Speeches and Conversations of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, edited & translated by Ranbir Singh Sandhu, Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, Ohio, U.S.A., 1999.

Fighting for Faith & Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants, by Cynthia K. Mahmood, University of Pennsylvania Press, U.S.A., 1996, 314 pp. ISBN-10: 0812233611, ISBN-13: 9780812233612.

Truth about Punjab:, S.G.P.C. White Paper, by Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, Punjab, 1996.

The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard voices of State and Guerilla Violence, by Joyce Pettigrew, Zed Books, London, 1995. ISBN 1856493563.

Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada, by Zuhair Kashmeri & Brian McAndrew, Lorimer Books, Toronto, 1989, 151 pp. ISBN-10: 1550282212 , ISBN-13: 978-1550282214.

Essays in Anguish: A Canadian Perspective on the Punjab Crisis, Preface by Sheldon Gordon, Sikh Professional Assoc. of Canada, Toronto, 1989, 77 pp.

Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab, by Citizens for Democracy/ U.S. Edition, Sikh Religious and Educational Trust, Dublin, Ohio, 1986. [Reportedly banned by the Govt. of India – a sure sign that it may have truthful things to say!]

Black Laws: 1984-85, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi, 1985.

Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle, by Mark Tully & Satish Jacob, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 1985, 238 pp.

The Assassination & After, by Arun Shourie, Prannoy Roy, Rahul Bedi & Shekhar Gupta, Roli Books, New Delhi, 1985, 160 pp.

Vengeance: India After the Assassination of Indira Gandhi, by Pranay Gupte, Norton, New York, 1985, 368 pp. ISBN 0-393-02230- 7.

Who are the Guilty, [ * * * * * ] by Rajni Kothari & Gobinda Mukhoty, People’s Union for Democratic Right (PUDR) & People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), New Delhi, 1984.

Truth About the Punjab Tragedy, Sikh Cultural Centre, Calcutta, 1984, 22 pp.

Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar & After, by Kuldip Nayar & Khushwant Singh, Vision Books, India, 1984, 192 pp.

Bhindranwale: Myth & Reality, by Chand Joshi, Vikas Publishing, New Delhi, 1984, 168 pp.


We Remember, by I.J. Singh [Click here:

<http://sikhchic. com/article- detail.php? id=688&cat= 12>http://sikhchic. com/article- detail.php? id=688&cat= 12]

Witness, by Michael Singh [Click here:

<http://sikhchic. com/article- detail.php? id=692&cat= 18>http://sikhchic. com/article- detail.php? id=692&cat= 18]


Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, by Anita Rau Badami, Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2007, ISBN 0-676-97605- 2.


MY MOTHER INDIA * * * * * Director: Safina Kaur Uberoi. Australia, 2001. English. Colour. 52 min

It is no wonder that Safina Kaur made a film about her family: she has a Sikh father from India who collects kitsch calendars, an Australian mother who hangs her knickers out to dry in front of the horrified Indian neighbors, a grandfather who was a self-styled guru and a fiercely man-hating grandmother.

What begins as a quirky and humorous documentary about an eccentric, multicultural upbringing unfolds into a complex commentary on the social, political and religious events, starting with the tragedy of Partition in 1947, and leading up to the anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 India, which tore this family apart. This is a powerful tale of love and hate, exile and belonging, loss of identity and return of faith.


AMU * * * * * Director: Sonali Bose. U.S.A, 2005. English. Colour.

This is the story of Kaju, a twenty-one-year- old Indian-American woman who returns to India to visit her family and discover the place where she was born. The film takes a dark turn as Kaju stumbles against secrets and lies from her past. A horrifying genocide that took place twenty years ago turns out to hold the key to her mysterious origins.

“… not a Bollywood product …”

HAWAYEIN * * * * Director: Ammtoje Singh Mann. India, 2003. Hindi. Colour. 2 hr 55 min

The year is 1984. In New Delhi, India. A love story is interrupted by a sudden turn of events: the radio blares out news of Mrs. Gandhi’s assasination stemming from her storming of The Golden Temple of Amritsar a mere five months earlier.

The city and the country turns ugly. Mobs, led by political leaders belonging to the government in power, scour the streets identifying Sikhs and their households and murdering their innocent residents in cold blood in the tens of thousands, in cities and towns across the country. While the police, the military and civic authorities look on and do nothing.

The film explores the further spiral of violence unleashed through a strengthening freedom movement for an independent Khalistan, and through attrocities committed by the police and the military in an attempt to terrorize the population into submission, and the resulting free-for-all at the hands of a variety of unsavoury elements.

Note: Director Ammtoje Singh has also produced an accompanying documentary wherein he explains how the 1984 pogrom scenes were researched for the production of the film.

January 16, 2009

http://www.sikhchic .com/article- detail.php? id=694


December 2008


The stories that follow are just a few examples of dedicated work undertaken by members of Religions for Peace from 1 October through 31 December 2008. Additional remarkable work has been undertaken by regional and national inter-religious councils and groups around the world.


Religions for Peace Sri Lanka pledged to work with the Sri Lankan government, opposition parties, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to address the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn north. In addition, the religious leaders met with Sri Lankan President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa on 25 November 2008 to discuss the unbearable conditions of civilians trapped in heavy military operations in the north.


Decades-long strife—between Muslim rebels in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippine archipelago and the government of the otherwise predominately Christian Philippines—has escalated since a 2001 cease-fire agreement. More than ninety religious youth leaders from sixteen Asian countries promoted peace and collaboration in Davao , the Philippines on 12–15 October 2008. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, and indigenous communities were represented. Religions for Peace organized the youth meeting in collaboration with the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, and the Religions for Peace Philippines Youth Network.


After the murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on 23 August 2008, more than fifty people are confirmed to have been killed in violence directed against the Christian minority in the state of Orissa , India . Maoist groups have claimed responsibility for the murder, but extremist Hindu nationalists have targeted Christians claiming they were behind the killing.


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 Gan dhi, 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.

[1] Extract from resolution adopted at the Third World Conference of Religion and Peace, Princeton, 1979 in Harnam Singh Shaan, Studies in Sikhism, Jul-Dec 2007

[2] Extract from resolution adopted at the Third World Conference of Religion and Peace, Princeton, 1979 in Harnam Singh Shan, Studies in Sikhism, Jul-Dec 2007


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.