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Fading Memories, Merging Events – 1984 The Saga

Only a few days from today, October 31, beckons us as the day that promised to live in our memories forever.

Only a few days from today, October 31, beckons us as the day that promised to live in our memories forever.  But I had already paid my respects to the events that orchestrated such a senseless attack on the Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) of the Sikhs by the Indian Army in early June of 1984.  And now memories were blending and fading.

A few dreary months later in 1984 the saga of destruction and looting by the army had barely taken a breather, and there had been no moves towards an honest inquiry to build bridges with the valiant Sikh citizens for justice - when Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister who was responsible for the ghastly attack of June, met her maker at the hands of two Sikhs on October 31.  On the worst days of November 1-4, the government unleashed an initiative to destroy Sikhs in a pogrom ramped up several ghastly degrees.  

Briefly, India, the government of a free people, abandoned all national or international dictates and mounted, not just an India-wide response of arbitrary destruction and killings of Sikhs but a world-wide international campaign of vilification against them, where Sikhs were pronounced guilty just by their identity, not by any inquiry or evidence.

I am aware that these are heavy-duty charges I am making.  No government in a free democratic society should ever face them. An honest accounting is mandated

I will not recount the details.  They are in the public record; today I merely list them so that they do not slip from their peremptory hold on time and memory. They are well-documented, not at all by the Indian government, but by honest Indian citizens.  The first reports were the products of non-Sikh, Hindu, legal scholars and icons – Citizens for Justice

Remember that these were pre-Google days, yet within six hours well-armed mobs had appeared in cities across the vast nation, their agenda clearly laid out.  In the India of 1984 the Web did not exist.  There were no lists of Sikh-owned property, or houses; arms were not easily or legally accessible in the open market – licenses and registrations were required; trucks to transport mobs of hoodlums to their targets were not available without bureaucratic paperwork that took days, if not weeks and months; similarly, for kerosene for burning houses and arson.

Yet, within only six hours, armed gangs of non-Sikh hoodlums surfaced in Sikh neighborhoods across India.  Let us not forget that India — a large country, almost a Continent, boasts perhaps the third or fourth largest army in the world, also a massive police force. More than 100 cities in 26 states were simultaneously affected! The vast Indian bureaucracy has rarely shown such clear-headed efficiency and competence.

The gangs did what gangs do. They dragged Sikhs – people who had protected the country throughout history with exemplary bravery and loyalty, chopped their turbans and hair, burnt them alive with tires around their necks, or shot them dead.  They pulled them from buses and trains and killed them publicly en masse. They raped their women and what did the vaunted police and army do?  They were either not deployed or they stood by gawking at the spectacle.

And the government? After the Prime Minister’s death her son Rajiv succeeded her without the benefit of any election, experience or competence. His first speech was a memorable one which he used to justify the killings of Sikhs across India without evidence or trial.

Finally, years later, the government conceded that over 2,700 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone. The low numbers remain contested by credible observers, not to mention the many that became homeless. They branded the events as Anti-Sikh Riots. That inaccurate term continues to be used; the government spokesmen forget or never learned that rioting implies the element of spontaneity where both sides participate in the mayhem, and there is no evidence of that at all. It may be attempted genocide but certainly not a riot. This continues to be ignored.

But India is, and remains, a democratic republic.  Some vociferous protests largely by Sikhs, but aided by many non-Sikhs as well, resulted in an Inquiry Commission led by a senior Justice.  The result — zero!  Several (12 or more by some reckoning) governmental Inquiry Commissions have taken their turn with varying but consistently fictitious results.  Occasionally government spokesmen surface to publicly haggle over what, if any, compensation would be appropriate for such massive injustice. Results still zero.

Yet passion for justice burns like the eternal flame.  A Truth & Reconciliation Commission that many countries have found useful in similar situations would be a sensible beginning to get the past behind us.  

- Please go to www.1984SikhGenocide.org to add your name to the list.  This is the least we can do to preserve our memories that are the foundations of history.

By I.J. Singh & Neena I. Singh

IJ Singh

Dr. I.J Singh has a probing mind and a wry sense of humor. His prolific pool of essays poke, provoke and ultimately force the reader to think more deeply. His work has graced SikhNet's pages for some time.

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