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Sikhism Book on 84 riots

Discussion in 'Book Reviews & Editorials' started by kds1980, Nov 11, 2007.

  1. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    HindustanTimes ePaper

    The ground beneath the tree Book of the week
    Finally, a book provides us facts about the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs in Delhi
    Lalita Panicker

    I T WAS in 2005, when the Justice G.T. Nanavati report on the 1984 Sikh riots was tabled, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "Twenty-one years have passed… and yet the feeling persists that somehow the truth has not come out." Journalist Manoj Mitta and lawyer-activist H.S. Phoolka make a valiant attempt to remedy this. But the reader is still left with many questions. There is a remarkable wealth of detail that the authors have painstakingly unearthed about one of the most chilling State-sponsored pogroms in independent India.

    While in popular perception, politicians like Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat, all Congress worthies, played a despicable role in the systematic slaughter of 3,000 Sikhs over three days, the role of people like the then Home Minister P . Narasimha Rao .V is little known. The book brings out in stark detail the criminal negligence on Rao's part to act while murderous mobs roamed the capital's streets, including the gracious boulevards of Lutyens' Delhi, killing at will. Rajiv Gandhi remains in the book a distant hazy figure, who after making the unpardonable justifica tion that the earth will shake when a mighty tree falls of the riots, retreats into the background.

    The book does a singular public service in highlighting the reprehensible role played by the Delhi Police in carrying out the wishes of their political masters. It is also clear from the narrative that there was no outpouring of anger or sympathy when the imperious Prime Minister fell to her assassins' bullets. The Congress was determined to milk it for what it was worth and connived to organise lumpen elements in Sikh-dominated localities with the promise of immunity and money to carry out the pogrom. The fact that the two major and other independent inquiry panels set up to look into the carnage were not intended to arrive at the truth but to absolve the big fish in the Congress of guilt is made clear as crystal.

    The authors also bring out into the open the fact that amid the killing, what went unreported were the many cases of sexual violence visited on Sikh women. Gurdip Kaur's story is heart-rending. Her three young sons and husband were murdered in front of her, but not before eight of the crazed mob raped her in front of her third son. Thereafter, he too was set ablaze alive. The systematic manner in which the mobs operated is also brought out for the first time. The first wave would beat and wound; the second would burn the injured and dead so as to leave no trace of their heinous crime.

    Phoolka's account of his own personal sacrifices in pursuing the truth is an eye-opener that makes you marvel that such people still exist in an uncaring world. His hopes and eventual disappointment at the outcome of the Nanavati probe that was to have set right the lapses of the Misra inquiry are poignantly described. Mitta's intellectual rigour is evident in the section of the book that he has shepherded in that he has strictly adhered to the facts.

    Having said that, the dry manner in which the book is written fails to bring out the real horror of the vengeful cycle of violence wreaked on an innocent community This is a story that was written . in the spectral colours of death, yet much of it sounds curiously sanitised. What, for example, happened to a gener ation of fatherless or orphaned children? Where are many of the survivors today? Are they still in camps? What are the psychological traumas they suffered or suffer? Did the authors make any attempt to contact those named in the many affidavits but got off scot-free? Where are the judges today who risked all to get at the truth? And, above all, where are the stories of those brave nonSikh neighbours who courted death to protect their compatriots? These would have made this commendable effort more holistic.

    They say pictures speak louder than words. Here again, the book fails to deliver, for the photographs do not do justice to the maelstrom of violence that the victims endured. But Phoolka and Mitta have done a signal service in resurrecting a tragedy the like of which should , never have taken place in a functioning democracy It gives hope that such histo . ries written in blood are not forgotten and that the voice of the voiceless will continue to haunt the guilty long after the crime, as Jagdish Tytler found to his dismay when he was forced to resign 22 years later. It is a good beginning to revisit 1984 and it can only be hoped that there is more to come on this subject.

    lalita.panikkar@hindustantimes.com When a Tree Shook Delhi Manoj Mitta & H.S. Phoolka ROLI Rs 395, PP 221
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