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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where Were You When the Mob Came?

A sympathetic account of the 1984 killings fails to investigate the larger political conspiracy.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Published: January 2, 2016 3:56:37 am
Sikhs roits, 1984 sikh roits, indira gandhi, Sikhs The Untold Agony of 1984, Sikhs The Untold Agony of 1984 book review A sympathetic account of the 1984 killings fails to investigate the larger political conspiracy.

Title: SikhsThe Untold Agony of 1984
Author: Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 192  
Price: Rs 399

It has been over 30 years since murderous mobs armed with iron rods, trishuls and kerosene descended on Sikh homes in Delhi, displaying unspeakable brutality and barbarism. Sikh homes and gurudwaras were set on fire, men were stripped of their turbans and burnt alive. Women were forced to watch as male members of their family were dragged out and clobbered to death. Around 3,000 Sikhs died in the riots in Delhi and several cities of north India. It was the worst communal massacre in post-independent India. Small wonder that the victims of the tragedy have not been able to come to terms with their grief. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, with the deft touch of a skilled reporter, takes us through the tragedy and trauma of the victims of the 1984 pogrom in this book.

Shanti, a middle-aged woman, watched from the terrace as a mob besieged a locked house where her husband and three sons, one an infant, were hiding. The mob poured kerosene on the house and set it ablaze. Shanti could hear the agonising cries of her family as they met their terrible end in the inferno. She never recovered from the trauma. Her relatives turned down the suggestion of social workers that she be taken to a psychiatric ward in a hospital for counseling. She killed herself shortly afterwards.

Jasmeet Kaur was only 45 days old when Delhi and the surrounding countryside of Haryana went up in flames in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. She and her family were on the run, taking shelter in different houses in Gurgaon to escape the marauding mobs. Though she was too young to comprehend the horror, and has heard only second-hand accounts of the violence, she continues to feel haunted and nervous. She remains fearful of strangers and constantly retreats into a shell.

In contrast, Nirpreet Kaur, whose father was burnt alive by a mob led by local leaders, has made retribution her lifelong mission. She has become a crusader in the battle for justice for the survivors of the 1984 violence.

Even those who escaped were scarred for life. A volunteer at a relief camp recalls the distress of those unhappy souls who felt they had lost their identity by being forced to cut their hair and discard their turbans in order to save their lives. Every Sikh family still keeps the memory of 1984 alive.

Mukhopadhyay recounts the unending struggle of the Sikhs to get justice and their unsuccessful attempts to reconstruct their shattered lives. The author points out that two government inquiries, the Misra and the Nanavati Commissions, have not been able to bring about closure and ensure that the guilty are punished. Successive governments have failed to press for trials following the publication of the inquiry commission reports. There is skepticism too about the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the Modi government in February this year to probe the riots yet again.

The anger directed at the Sikhs after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards was said to be spontaneous. While Mrs Gandhi’s body was still lying at AIIMS, then President Zail Singh’s motorcade was stoned. But there were elements in the Congress Party who were complicit in instigating the crowds. The police appeared to have tacit orders to look away as the mobs went on the rampage.

Mukhopadhyay traces the turbulent events which deeply wounded the Sikh psyche and led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi. However, what is missing in his sympathetic and moving account is deeper investigation into the role of the guilty. Delhi’s local politicians did not act in isolation. They were spurred on by some unnamed higher authorities, whose identity has never been made public.

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