A docu on the anti-Sikh riots recalls the traumatic experience that the victims underwent

At the beginning of 1984, When the Sun Didn’t Rise , Teenaa Kaur says she inherited anger from her mother who has angry at Teenaa’s uncle being dragged out of a train and his hair being cut in the Delhi riots of 1984. He lived, but the loss of his identity sent him into a depression.

When a grown-up Teenaa struggled to make a life in Mumbai, she could not but wonder how Sikh women who had lost their husbands and family in the Delhi riots picked up the pieces of their life. “Many were barely literate, their husbands dead, savings gone, and after all that trauma had to survive.”

1984, When the Sun Didn’t Rise was screened in the Long Documentary competition section at the 10th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala here on Sunday.

Teenaa was doing research about the violence against Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and all that found expression in a feature film screenplay that didn’t get made though for lack of takers.

She says that but for Amu , a film by Shonali Bose, and some amateur films made by members of the Sikh community and uploaded on YouTube, the 1984 incidents have been largely ignored in the visual format. “People had started forgetting about what happened. Only a few members of the Sikh community remembered it. It was painful, and it was convenient to forget it and move on.”

Teenaa then started working on the documentary. “I wanted the incidents to be remembered in the history of India so that discrimination on the basis of identity does not happen again.”

Getting the women to open up was not easy. “I wanted to connect with them, get them to trust me so that I could tell their stories.”

Talking to the widows made her realise that they were very strong women who were capable of living with their memories and still take care of their families. She came to understand that the widows had only other widows for company. They had got material help, but rarely any empathy.

Teenaa also found herself being sucked into their accounts. “I found it difficult to separate myself from them. I had to pull myself out of their stories and become a filmmaker. This took a long time.”

The film-maker reveals how it took almost two years to document one widow’s story. “Every time, she talked about the 1984 incidents she would fall ill, and her family was against it. I would wait outside her house and wait for her to be ready – emotionally and mentally – to talk to me. And I could understand because it was disturbing even for me to hear their accounts.”

These vivid and searing accounts form the core of Teenaa’s documentary.

The documentary also dwells on the consequences of the violence, even on youth and young children who find it difficult to negotiate their memories of what happened. The film, which was made over five years, received the Busan International Film festival’s Asian Network and Documentary Fund.