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1984 Why 1984 Still Matters?

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Mar 23, 2010.

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  1. Admin Singh

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    Why 1984 Still Matters – the furore around Sonia Deol’s BBC documentary

    At the start of this year BBC 1, Britain’s premiere TV channel, highlighted the importance of 1984 to the Sikh psyche with a film documenting the personal journey of a British Sikh woman, journalist Sonia Deol. The reaction from many Sikhs has been hostile and vocal. Did the programme insult the faith, demonise its leaders and miss a massive opportunity to set the record straight as some have claimed? And even if it did, does the presenter deserve the vitriolic response resulting in her deleting her facebook page to avoid any more abuse?

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the programme, the response to it shows the level of concern still in the community to the tragic and horrific events of 1984. However, some of the criticism has been purely personal and deeply unpleasant and does nothing to redress the balance or aid the causes that those who are angry care about.

    To discuss the programme in any detail requires much deliberation. And that in a sense is why the programme should be applauded: the issues covered were of such enormity and complexity the programme makers should be congratulated for daring to cover them at all in the first place – and to try and do so within an hour slot is a task of great difficulty.

    And the fact that many younger Sikhs, as well as the wider non-Sikh public more generally, have discovered a whole chapter of their own community’s history in some depth and breadth, I think shows that the BBC has provided a much needed service..

    Those who criticise on specific issues such as the portrayal of Bhindranwale have their own points to make. But they seem at times illogical.

    For example being upset at his portrayal wearing a turban and bearing arms when ..that is how he appeared in numerous occasions..no-one dressed him up or doctored pictures of him...and there are innumerable Gurdwara in the west where he is portrayed exactly in this manner in photographs, posters and paintings...so where’s the offence? You can’t praise him as a ‘soldier saint’ on the one hand and then cry foul when that is the image of him one sees on tv.

    I would also say that those who are convinced of their own arguments, absolutely, and without doubt, are not going to appreciate any attempt to see the issues from all sides and hear all voices.

    Having said that, no serious attempt was made by the film to look into Sikh grievances before or since 1984 – apart from asking a teenage market stall boy about them! And only a non-speaking ‘walk-on’ part for the one-man champion over 25 years of the survivors of the Delhi genocide Supreme Court lawyer, HS Phoolka. Incredibly poor, biased even some might say...

    And by looking essentially at a snapshot of 1984, albeit with some background on Bhindranwale, the programme didn’t really contextualise adequately. Yes, they very clearly brought out how Bhindranwale was sought out and promoted by a vindictive Indira Gandhi who was looking to pay back the Akali Dal Party for singularly daring to stand up to her despotic state of emergency and direct rule – something which ultimately led to her own downfall and terrible consequences for thousands of innocents.

    To bring that fact out, and how and why, it would seem that Bhindranwale later turned away from her, is in itself an important issue to shed light on – assuming you believe it and I’m inclined to. Gandhi unleashed a whirlwind of destruction that engulfed all of Punjab and India, the magnitude and criminality of which hasn’t really been understood and which sadly resonates – clearly – still to this day.

    But they didn’t acknowledge fully how that vindictiveness had led to a growing division in Punjab not just as she had maliciously hoped for, politically between some Sikhs, but also between Sikh and non-Sikh. The run up to 1984 and the decade after were terrible times in Punjab with massacres and abductions of innocent people – Sikh and Hindu – by ‘militants’ and police alike.

    Who these militants were in actuality is still a matter of conjecture. What is desperately sad is the fact that it is almost impossible to suggest in some circles that maybe, just maybe, some of the militants were just that: militants, not government agents dressed up, but active, violent separatists who sought civilians as targets to maximise terror amongst those who they wished to be separated from. I don’t know for sure, but it isn’t beyond the bounds of feasibility.

    Equally it is hard to find voices willing to openly suggest that the militants or Bhindranwale and his supporters – and I recognise you cannot necessarily equate the two – were in fact not representative of the mass of the Sikh populace then or now, in India or abroad, and that they had no overwhelming popular support.

    I recall reading at the time of my own ancestral village, Kila Raipur, suffering a massacre of over 70 people at the train station where non-turbaned men and others were machine gunned for no other reason that they did not appear to be the right kind of Indian.

    Similarly the police and state apparatus saw the whole Sikh, predominantly the rural Sikh, population as the enemy. Extortion and criminality from all directions were rife. Police saw almost any turbaned youth as targets to be eliminated often in ‘encounters’ aka state executions and disappearances.

    The human rights abuses of that time haven’t ever been fully documented or reported on. International human rights groups and media were banned from the region whilst much, although not all, of the Indian media played its part in siding with the state in obscuring and misreporting.

    None of this was highlighted in the programme giving it a lack of depth or full context. And the accusation of bias combined to the fact that the film’s location manager is himself a loyal Congress member makes these omissions even more disturbing.

    Additional to that lack of contextual depth was the lack of pointedly mentioning that the date chosen for the military attack on the Darbar Sahib complex would inevitably lead to the maximum civilian casualties and insult to the faith, being as it was executed on one of the four most holy days in the Sikh calendar.

    The date had even more deadly resonance as it was the day of the martyrdom of the temple’s founder the fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the first Sikh to be martyred for spurious reasons but in reality for his success at bringing converts willingly from all faiths and castes.

    And that it coincided allegedly with military attacks on over 30 or more other Gurdwara across the state and most certainly the wilful destruction of Sikh manuscripts and other irreplaceable heritage complete with a media blackout – and the subsequent mutinying of several Sikh army units.

    An incredible state of affairs, which deserves full exposure and understanding in order to fully comprehend what was being undertaken by a democratic state on its own citizens – nothing less than a premeditated and wide-ranging military attack, not on a few ‘militants’ but on a whole community, replete with human rights atrocities. And of course there is the story of the second government attack on the Harmander Sahib complex in 1986 which was left unmentioned.

    As the story moved on to covering otherwise admirably the personal tragedy of the Delhi genocide, the programme incredibly failed pointedly to bring out the core issue, of which there is unequivocal agreement on, and evidence of, namely that the massacres were a pre-planned, politically motivated and organised, state-supported genocide.

    Police looked on as if unable to stop or actually took part in the killings, the army was deliberately held back and refugee camps were erected late and then dismantled with damnable haste, leaving survivors without shelter, food, water or medical aid.

    It was state sponsored genocide. Not a spontaneous riot. Why the filmmakers didn’t even allude to this most critical of facts? Was the BBC too fearful and cowed to speak that truth?

    It was not Hindu versus Sikh, but a ruling party directing and arming mobs to hunt down and kill its citizens, in a democratic state – and in the capital of that state. Beyond belief...and it would seem after only some 25 convictions in as many years, beyond recrimination or justice. Impunity rules OK?

    Again, merely a ‘walk-on part’ for HS Phoolka is unforgivable in this story. Here is the man who would have, and does unequivocally and fearlessly raise this issue. Why was his voice not heard?

    Some have criticised the interviewing of Mark Tully and General Brar as being one-sided. However I think both interviewees gave us critical insights. Tully on the role of Indira in seeking out Bhindranwale and therefore, in setting in motion causing her own downfall and the wider bloodshed, and Brar for the final impassioned question Sonia asked him, after having pursued him admirably over the lack of warning to pilgrims to evacuate (they could have sealed the precincts in any case or taken action months before had they had any desire to save innocent lives).

    Brar is asked finally, was the attack on the most holy of holies and the attendant loss of life worth it? The now retired commander, himself a Sikh, visibly faltered and in a trembling voice, said ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know’. How time has shaken this previously adamant General of the righteousness of his actions. If some seek his death as revenge, I can only say that looking at the lost man on the screen, his punishment has already come to him.

    More generally, I’d say that the ‘personal journey into her faith’ concept was a somewhat trite vehicle for telling the tale of 1984 but in today’s touchy-feely media age, it’s not entirely surprising – the human element, or an attempt to portray one, is paramount.

    However, did it add to the accounts of pilgrims who lost loved ones or the plight of the Delhi widows? I’m not sure. I can’t help but think it actually did the opposite but perhaps others feel differently and perhaps many viewers will have been touched by Sonia’s own distress when hearing these stories first hand.

    But in doing a ‘personal journey’ style treatment, the makers left the horrors of 1984 far behind as in the end the journey ended with, naturally, the subject of the film, Sonia, debating how much further she could or would go into becoming a more devout Sikh. To me this jarred somewhat with the personal stories which were heard of survivors of the carnage and left them almost as not being central to the issue, which I rather think they are.

    But to be fair in doing so the programme touched upon another huge topic, namely that of the religious and cultural identity of diaspora Sikhs (and other south Asians too) and the ongoing debate, which is yes, often very personal, about how you navigate between one’s different cultural, religious and regional identities in a host culture which is often far from understanding or sympathetic to your predicament and in which it can be easier to go with the flow.

    All in all, when all’s said and done, when all the ranting and cursing by some has died down, we should be grateful to some extent to Sonia and co. for doing what they did – but with criticisms as I’ve mentioned. Overall a service has been rendered, the story has in part been retold, horrors rightly depicted and memories stirred. It would be an impossible job to please everyone with such a programme but despite its shortcomings and failings it has brought the issue to the fore in what has been the most significant (only?) programme on the issue in 20 years or more.

    Sikhs must now wrestle with the question of where the community goes now. Many raise the slogan ‘never forget’, others less comfortable with the memories, including the producer, speaking on the Sikh Channel prior to the programme’s airing, say ‘move on’.

    But I would say that there is a third way here. It is one which says not just ‘never forget’ but also ‘never again’, and calls for India to clean up its human rights record and become a proper functioning democracy. That is something that can only be done once justice is served on the accused in the 1984 genocide in Delhi and appropriate compensation given to the survivors.

    If the powers that be were really smart they would ensure that now, after 25 long painful years – and eleven commissions and committees of enquiry – that this now happens. Then the claim by some that Sikhs cannot ever be safe or receive justice within India has less basis and the potential for further conflict dissipates.

    Currently in Delhi, a senior politician, Sajjan Kumar, and others widely considered to have been complicit in the killings are now undergoing charges, thanks again mainly to the efforts of HS Phoolka. We can only hope that closure and justice for the survivors and the community as a whole is at long, long last, not far away.

    Harbakhsh Grewal is a political and communications consultant. He also blogs on Punjab Heritage News.
     

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  3. ac_marshall

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    The most IRONICAL part is that those who instigated the so called terrorism are free birds within India. The government itself shields enemies of humanity like Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. Being a close friend of one of the victim's kin, my observation is that the violence in Delhi in 1984 was not a "COMMUNAL RIOT" but a ruling party sponsored "POGROM". Many (majority) Hindu, Jain neighbours shielded their Sikh brothers with who they migrated from Pakistan during the early days of partition. Similarly, while terror was on prowl in Punjab many (majority) shielded their non-Sikh brothers around them. Even today, they live in peace, harmony and love for each other.

    As mentioned one of the posts on SPN, majority of Hindus have high respect for Sikh Gurus and consider "Harmandir Sahib" as their place of pilgrimage. Many Sikhs also respect Hindu Dieties as spiritually higher beings/Lords though not as God. Moreover, Sikh Gurus never disputed the existence of Hindu Lords Rama, Krishna, etc but taught that they were also created by one eternal "Wahe Guru". Considering these facts I just don't find any rationale for communal hatred that would lead to riot among the people of the two communities. This is my observation as a non-Hindu and a non-Sikh.

    As can be observed from this article, the congress played the British Empire tactic of divide and rule in Punjab. It needed a religious colour to woo Sikhs who voted for Akali Dal in elections. This gradually emerged into support for extremism by sponsoring local misguided youths and to show that Akali Dal was incapable of ruling Punjab with peace and harmony. The reliogious colour was then over played, went terribly wrong and back fired miserably.

    While the back fire started, it was the opportunity that Pakistan awaited to amplify terrorism in India as it had spearheaded in Kashmir.

    The outcome of this dangerous and cheap political gain is well known. A decade of bloodshed in cities boiling in violence with innocent common men stuck in the cross fire.

    This tactic of Congress has been tried at various parts of India but didn't work as it did in Punjab. An example is Tamil Extremism in South India.

    I wonder when will the people of India wake up to the facts!
     
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  4. spnadmin

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    It does not seem all are "free birds" any longer. One today has been charged in the US and the case accepted by the US Court Southern District of New York. "Nath" is being brought up on civil charges.

    This is a civil case so his physical freedom is not endangered. But the move on the part of Sikhs for Justice who brought the case is bold.

    http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/hard-...against-indian-minister-kamal.html#post124160

    The question I have is whether Nath has left the US and is back in India. No matter what, this will call international attention to the fact of wrongs not righted.

    "According to SFJ attorney Pannun lawsuit against Kamal Nath has been filed under ALIEN TORT CLAIMS ACT(ATCA) AND THE TORTURE VICTIM PROTECTION ACT (TVPA) because of the failure of the Indian government to enforce human rights protections and hold violators accountable."
     
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  5. spnadmin

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    The story has also now been covered by Times of India

    Filed from New York,

    Kamal Nath summoned by US court for alleged role in anti-Sikh riots

    PTI, Apr 7, 2010, 12.25pm IST


    NEW YORK: Road transport and highways minister Kamal Nath has been summoned by a US federal district court for his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots based on a case filed by a Sikh outfit.

    In the civil case filed under the Alien Torts Claims Act, the petitioners sought compensatory and punitive damages for several allegations including crimes against humanity, degrading treatment and wrongful killing.

    However, Nath, who is incidentally here on a visit, said he was "surprised and appalled" as the case has been filed 25 years after the anti-Sikh riots in India.

    "I really have no clue about it. I don't have a basis and I don't know the authenticity. I don't know the validity. It was for the first time that I saw it," Nath said when asked to comment on the case.

    Nath has been served a notice and has to respond within 21 days failing which the court will give a default judgment on the matter.

    The minister said that he would have to study the matter further.

    "A piece of paper was given to me. I will have to see what the piece of paper is all about," he said.

    Nath stressed that he had never been charged in any court and questioned why these allegations were being raised more than two decades after the tragedy and that too in a foreign land.

    "Nobody has ever charged me in India. But if the United States charges me 25 years later for something that has happened in India...well it just reflects on the authenticity," he said.

    "For the last 25 years I wasn't involved...suddenly in 2010 I get involved...There was nobody who stood up and said that he was a victim or that I was in any way connected. So I'm surprised and appalled."

    The case has been filed by two Sikhs, Jasbir Singh and Mahinder Singh on behalf of the New York based organisation, Sikhs for Justice.

    Their attorney Gurpatwant Pannun claimed Jasbir lost 24 members of his family and Mahinder, who was two-years-old then, lost his father.

    "In India it is impossible to hold human rights violators," Pannun said.

    The Sikh group said that they are acting now because they have given up hope for action to be taken in India.

    "We waited for all these years because commissions were being set up...there was hope but because of his position Kamal Nath has successfully avoided justice for 25 years," said Pannun.

    ____________________________________________________

    One can also read related coverage at Ghost of anti-Sikh riots back to haunt Kamal Nath - dnaindia.com
     
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  6. jasvinder121

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    The reason it still matters is because All the culprits who burned Sikhs alive ,raped women and burned their houses are given full protection(Z+ security) and reawrds in the form of cabinet ministry by the congress Govt.

    I don't understand why these mass murderers are so dear to the congress party.
     
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  7. ac_marshall

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    Moreover, it is a matter of big demerit that the world's largest democracy could not deliver justice to thousands of innocent defenceless common men. Perpetrators still evade justice by projecting their deliberate massacre as "Communal Riot" which everyone knows is not true and the ruling government still favours the perpetrators.:}--}:
     
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  8. spnadmin

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    There is an explanation for this -- go back in history to ancient kingdoms and modern dictatorships. The perpetrators "know" "have the goods on" a lot of other people. The saying is, "They know where the bodies are buried." One takes a risk when pursuing people like that too too vigorously because an untold number of other ugly facts can come out -- some perhaps not even related to the atrocities of 1984. Eventually it comes to the point where truth cannot be ignored, but until then political blackmail rules.
     
  9. gursikhi.jeevan

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    1984 matter today and it will still Matter in future. Injustice cannot be forgotten. Specially where the guilty have not been punished. Khalsa will rise soon once again and justice will be served. All Sikhs need to do is maintain their identity and walk on the path of SGGS ji.
     
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