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1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom The Digital Revolution For 1984?


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Two years ago, I attended the 2009 Jakara Youth Conference with my wife, Sona Charaipotra, where the theme was “1984: Reflect. Respond. React.” Jakara has managed to do what many Sikh organizations, camps, and Gurdwaras have failed to do: to bring together Sikh youth of all backgrounds, to engage them in intellectual discussion of things relating to Sikhism, and to foster the spirit of activism. Part of the strategy for 2009′s conference (I haven’t attended any others) was active participation, rather than just lectures (which played an important role). The focus was on discussion and analysis. And the brains behind this great pedagogical method was Ajeet Singh Matharu, who designed all of the lesson plans and trained the faciliators. (He was Sona’s group facilitator.)

On the last day of the conference, a speaker at one of the panel discussions said something ending with the words, “in 2084,” which drew chuckles from the audience. He quickly clarified that he hadn’t meant it as a joke. The implication was clear: how will 1984 be remembered once all of the eyewitnesses, villains, and perceived heroes have gone, and all we’re left with are “facts,” censored news footage, a few sentimental movies, and a handful of books of questionable authority? What will our generation and the generations after us have contributed towards the memory of 1984? It is June 8 today, and the observance of the memory of Operation Bluestar has ended. Now what? There is a lot of talk about never forgetting, and about justice, but at this point, what exactly does that mean? What is it we are trying not to forget? And what does “justice” mean? What will that word mean in another 25 years? In 50 years? In 100?

Jodha recently wrote a post titled, “Update: #Neverforget84,” encouraging participation in a Twitter movement to spread awareness of “the events that unfolded during Operation Bluestar in 1984.” The concept is simple: instead of updating everyone on Twitter about how much pie you’re eating or your precise location every ten minutes, use the hash tag #Neverforget84 on your updates to create awareness of Operation Bluestar.

The idea for this mini-movement is based on the revolution that took place in Egypt, where marches and protests were all organized through Twitter updates by a single mother and a handful of helpers. While I think this is a great stepping stone, I would really like to see this mini-movement go beyond a few days in June, or a few days in November, and become a full-fledged movement. In the last few days, there were 25,000-35,000 Sikhs who showed up to a Rememberance March in London alone. For the past 30 years(!) the Yuba City Nagar Kirtan has drawn tens of thousands of people every autumn, and Yuba City’s Sikh Day Parade drew a whopping 70,000 people last year. There are 27 million Sikhs worldwide. Imagine the possibilities if even 5% of them had a Twitter/Facebook account and were even mildly engaged in a systematic movement.

There was a comment on Jodha’s post, “Update: #Neverforget84,” that I found interesting, although it was a bit obnoxious and not very eloquently written. The gist of it was that Sikhs in India have “moved on,” and it’s only Sikhs outside of India that really care about the events of 1984. I don’t think it’s that they have moved on, but I do think there has been an active effort to try to forget, especially when they’ve seen several commissions outdo each other on incompetence and deliberate misuse of power. When I first told a cousin of mine that I was researching 1984 for a novel I’m working on, his immediate response was “you N.R.I.s all live in a time warp.” It was a bit off-putting, and I initially tried to argue that this wasn’t true about me, but I quickly realized he was right. All of my research, and indeed the story I had in my head, was set in an India that didn’t resonate with many Indians still living in the country today. An India where the jean-pent was the most coveted item from America, Doordarshan was the only television station, and the events of 1947 and 1984 were a fresh injury.

An example he gave to drive home his point was with the widow colony on the outskirts of Delhi. According to him, whenever “N.R.I.s” visit the widow colony via private car, they all ask the same tired questions of the widows. “What happened in 1984? What should the government do to help you today?” For the millionth time, the widows narrate how their husbands were slaughtered in front of them, and how difficult it was raising their children by themselves without family or government support. But nobody ever asks about their children, now in their late 20s and early 30s, many addicted to drugs, many involved in prostitution. His point was that we “N.R.I.s” are ignoring the after-effects of 1984, the ethos of a more modern and “progressive” India and Indians, solely concerning ourselves with rehashing facts that an entire generation is fully aware of.

I see his point and think 1984 framed in a modern context within India and outside of it should be addressed, but not at the expense of ignoring history. On a sidenote, the Gujarat “riots” took place under the watch of this reputedly more progressive and modern India, complete with video clips, 24-hour news footage, and an undercover investigation with damning evidence through hidden and overt video cameras. The result? Exactly the same as 1984: absolutely no repercussions for the guilty. The perpetrators were never brought to justice and a commission was propped up, who found — lo and behold — that nobody was guilty. But don’t worry, another commission is being set up as we speak. There are many Sikhs who know bits and pieces of what took place in 1984, but not what the movement was all about, or even what took place before 1984, and thus, they have reduced it to a Hindu versus Sikh situation. There are also those who believe the Delhi pogroms were riots where emotion simply spilled into violence that the government, police, and Army just couldn’t control until Day Three. And then there are those who are completely clueless. Yep. Even in India.

What I found truly impressive about the revolution that took place in Egypt was how it unified every single person in that country, regardless of the clothing they wore, how religious they were, the type of Islam they practiced, their political backgrounds, and even if they belonged to a different religion altogether. They all unified as Egyptians and had a tangible goal that would affect all of them.

So my questions for you to think about are not easy. They are questions I don’t have an answer for myself.

Organizations like Jakara and Saanjh have managed to unify North American Sikh youth and young professionals, who willing attend the conference/retreat and have merged short-term activism with awareness and/or analysis of issues affecting the Sikh quam. But can this be translated to a digital revolution of sorts? Can a digital revolution even take place that combines two ideologies: creating awareness through dissemination of information (facts, stats, etc) and also engaging in some form of activism with a forseable goal?



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