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1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom How Does A City Descend Into Savagery?

Discussion in 'Sikh History' started by Aman Singh, Nov 14, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    How Does a City Descend Into Savagery?<small>
    by SHEKHAR KAPUR</small>

    <!-- <small>November 11th, 2009</small>-->
    Moved by renowned journalist Rahul Bedi's recent recollection of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur has come out with his own memories of the 'savagery'.

    Shekhar Kapur is the internationally acclaimed film Director of award-winning films such as Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and The Bandit Queen.

    November 2, 1984: I am editing my film. My assistant keenly looking over my shoulder. Gentle boy, who was shy and spoke so softly. Sensitive and very diligent and caring. Another assistant walks in. Whispers in the boy's ears, and the boy looks a little startled and walks out. Unusual, as he would have normally asked for permission to go, or at least excuse himself. 20 minutes later I walk out to get some fresh air.

    The editing room was in Pali Hill in what used to be Nasir Hussain's bungalow. Raj was sitting on a parapet with a completely blank look on his face. The other assistant staring at me helplessly.

    Raj has been told that most of his extended family had just died. Killed in the pogroms following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Not just killed, the women dragged out and forced to watch the men folk being burned alive, and then the women and children slaughtered. Raj just sat there. Non comprehending. There was no words of solace or comfort you could give. As my other assistant described the events, I just sat their disbelieving,
    For how does a city descend into savagery? A city I was brought up in - my own Sikh friends hiding with their families in safe houses to save themselves from the mad slaughter frenzy that was spreading so fast through the city. And the police and the government stood by either helplessly or completely complicit in the gruesome killing. I have to keep reminding myself this was 1984 - not a moment in bygone history.

    So as we remember 25 years since then - we must remember the aftermath and ask - how is it that civilization reveals such an ugly side so quickly ? Are we basically savages living behind a veneer of controlled social behaviour ? Is this not the same savagery that we descended into later in Gujarat?

    I read today the following account by a very respected journalist called Rahul Bedi and the memories flooded back. Please brace yourself before reading it, and if any of you have memories of that event, please write in.

    It's important we remember ...

    It was a sight I will never forget in my life. Two alleyways in Trilokpuri, Block-32, littered with bodies, body parts, hair and blood.

    It was around 7 p.m. Nov 1, 1984, and there was no light. The only illumination was from the headlights of my car. Nobody was alive and there was absolutely no sound. It was like a bizarre science fiction movie.
    It was impossible for us - Joseph Maliakan and myself of the Indian Express and Alok Tomar of Jansatta - to keep our feet on the ground without stepping on something. We literally had to tiptoe through this massacre, through this carnage in east Delhi.

    When we walked down the narrow 100-metre-long street, we found a young woman, a polio victim, sitting at the entrance of her house. She was just sitting there silently and all around her, in front of her, behind her, beside her on either side, there were piles of bodies.

    Her entire family was butchered but she was completely emotionless. She had no tears, she had no hysteria, she was just silent.

    We then heard a sound of an infant who must have been a few weeks old. We handed him to the police.

    We also saw a young Sikh, who had been stabbed the previous day, lying underneath a body. He had managed to tie his turban around his stomach, but by then had bled for at least 24 hours. We shifted him to the police van standing nearby. He later died.

    We were there for about one or two hours and it was horrendous. It was just like some place where you slaughter animals except in this case they slaughtered innocent Sikhs - 320 of them in these two very very narrow lanes.

    There was hair lying all over the place, there was blood, there were fingers, arms, legs and heads.

    These alleyways were populated by poor Sikh families whose basic trade was to weave beds and chairs.

    Earlier in the day, when we tried to come here, we were chased away by the crowd which threatened to kill us. I got information about the killings from a young man, Mohan Singh, who had come to my office looking completely shattered.

    We didn't really believe him because his account was so fanciful and bizarre. But a few hours later, we were to realize that even his words were not enough to describe the horror, the cruelty and the carnage that had gone on there.

    Later it transpired that the butchery had taken place casually over two days because people used to come, kill and go back to their homes. They used to have their food, take rest, come back and start killing again.
    It was very very cold, very cynical and calculated in one way and in another way it was completely barbaric and brutal.

    We went back completely dazed and shocked. I have never seen anything like that in my life in a so-called civilized city which is the capital of India.
    There were just two police officers there. They had no explanation and were completely silent.

    When I went back to Trilokpuri the next day, Nov 2, they had cleaned up the bodies, killing the evidence. There was no police there and there were just a few Sikh families that were given shelter by locals, who were fearful of their own lives.

    For three days this carnage raged unchecked. Besides east Delhi, there were similar scenes in west Delhi, Chandni Chowk in the old quarter and in central Delhi. If police had been marginally vigilant and opened fire, the crowds would have dispersed. I don't think there were any instances of anyone opening fire.

    The fact is that the state was complicit for the first time in independent India's history in participating in a very calculated ethnic cleansing programme.

    Those three-four days, I think are one of the biggest blots on the Indian establishment.

    [Courtesy: Shekhar Kapur's Blog. Rahul Bedi was one of the first journalists to reach Trilokpuri after the pogroms broke out. He spoke to Mayank Aggarwal.]
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  3. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Oct 6, 2006
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    Descending into savagery is easy for us. Savagery is the natural state
    of our species. We are, after all, a predator species and - nowadays at
    least - we ourselves are our favourite prey.

    We have to fight constantly, as a group, to retain any semblance of
    civilisation we may have. Why else the need for laws punishing us for
    killing, raping, mayhem and the like? If we were really civilsed such
    laws would be unnecessary. Not too long ago, my husband was saying
    that we live in such evil times when certain sexual crimes are being
    committed; they didn't do such things in the olden days. I pointed out
    to him that such things are prohibited in the Jewish/Christian Bible as
    well as the Manu Smriti. Obviously these crimes were prevalent enough
    that we needed strong taboos against them.

    We also need our various religions to teach us , both individually and
    societally, how to rise above these impulses we all have which are
    holding us back, which at bottom are our old enemies that we are so
    attached to, the Five Thieves, greed, lust, anger,attachment and ego.

    This raises the question of what will happen when those laws are not
    enforced. This is a very, very, extremely dangerous situation. When
    people see that such crimes go unpunished, it is natural that some -
    maybe many - will see no reason to keep control of these violent
    impulses. The result could be even more catastrophic than it was in

    I think most of us have evolved to the point that it would take an
    extraordinary set of circumstances for us to descend to such savagery,
    but let us not kid ourselves; each of us - except those few mukhta
    among us us - still have a wild reptilian brain that - coupled with our
    intelligence as human beings - can break lose and wreak havoc. I saw
    this in myself when I killed, with great relish, the murderer of my son.
    It was, of course, a justified, righteous killing on my part, but still...Did
    I have to enjoy it so much? And do I really have to relish the thought
    of Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, et al, with burning tyres around their
    necks, in agony, while I stand by watching, jeering? This is a side of
    myself that, frankly, scares me. A part of myself that I share with the
    rest of my species.

    Each of us possesses a reptilian brain, violent, survival-at-any-cost,
    reactive. Only those very few mukhtay among us have tamed and made
    friends with that side of our nature. The rest of us need to guard
    against it, keep it under control whatever the provocation. Whatever
    we wish to believe about ourselves, scratch the civilised human and a
    savage is not far below the surface. I believe that only by reaching out
    and beyond our own inclinations can we hope to tame these evil,
    destructive impulses. But we are not off the hook. With the kirpaa of
    Vaheguru, we can do it.

    God (by whatever name) has graciously sent messengers to different peoples
    at different times. We have the instructions. It is up to us to follow them. Or not.
    It is up to us. There is hope, if we are willing to work at it and grow and rise above.

    As far as I know, we are the only species called upon to rise above
    itself. God (by whatever name) has graciously sent us various
    messengers to teach us how. I pray we listen and learn and grow.

    Please notice, I do not call malicious actions "animal." Animals just are
    what they are and do what they do. Their actions that we do not like
    are for food or to protect themselves and their young, not from hatred
    or anger.
    • Like Like x 2
    #2 Mai Harinder Kaur, Nov 16, 2009
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2009
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