The lessons, unlearned, of 1984

I did not witness the violence of June 1984 or November 1984. I was born in 1990 but I grew up listening to stories of killings, lootings, disappearances and rapes in June and November 1984. Parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents would often vent out their frustration at injustices meted out to Sikh community, the rampant impunity for perpetrators and the electoral gains that Rajiv Gandhi made because of the pogrom. They would remember relatives and friends who got killed because of the violence.

A part of me refused to believe them because my school textbooks told me about the secular values of our Constitution and our nation. The textbooks won’t talk about Bhagalpur, or Nellie or 1984. Then 2002 happened. This was also the time when 24×7 news channels had just entered the Indian media industry. The genocide of Gujarat was playing on screens in our homes and the chief minister of the state was clearly facilitating and instigating it. Those were horrifying days. I was twelve then and the child in me realized that I was lied to. The state’s secular ethos goes for a toss when elections are at stake. It perpetuates violence on its own citizens because they belong to a religion that happens to be in the minority. Its agents are complicit, yet untouchable for mass murders. These agents will eventually be awarded for successfully overseeing the implementation of genocides. If Rajiv Gandhi was electorally awarded in 1984, then 2014 was no different. It’s peculiar how I keep getting lessons in my own community’s history by watching Gujarat 2002 unfold over the years.

I am not much of a believer but somehow the beginning of June and November every year brings out the Sikh in me through an identity of a shared sorrow. For three decades now, we’ve mourned alone but then some people suddenly remembered what happened in November 1984 because they needed it to counter 2002. The point wasn’t that genocide was committed on the Sikh population all over the country in 1984 and justice needs to be done. The point was that the nation has allowed it before and it should be allowed again. Genocide perpetrators should lead the nation. Our loss and tragedy was reduced to a mere political counter-point to justify similar killings years later. The Prime Minister and his bhakts made a mockery of our grief.

Their confusion on seeing the number of Sikhs in anti-Modi protests in US and the people’s court organized by “Sikhs4Justice” wasn’t surprising, for we were seen as a minority without any agency. I had left US by then but I would have participated in those protests had I been there. I wouldn’t have been standing in solidarity or doing a favor to another community. I would have been standing for my own self because Gujarat 2002 was my tragedy too. The perpetrators might change from Tytler to Modi but our fight is not against few men. Our fight is against communal hatred and violence. It’s a fight against a system that provides impunity to the perpetrators and awards them.

A fresh round of compensations has been announced for victims of the 1984 pogrom. Victims don’t want compensation. They want justice and justice includes an end to such happenings in future. The Prime Minister recently tried to show some sympathy to the victims of 84’ genocide, this happened while Trilokpuri was still burning after the recent episode of communal violence. The timing and location of the same only reinforces the belief that communal hatred will continue to be an (un) official policy of the ruling party as has been witnessed from the rise in communal tensions all over the country. Any show of sympathy in such a scenario is a pretense and only deepens the unhealed wounds of communities affected by communal pogroms in India. 84’ is not the only dagger that pierced the heart of India. Every single incident of communal violence since then has wounded the idea of Indian nationhood. As a Sikh, I would request the Prime Minister and his party members to stop ridiculing our grief by manipulating it for political gains. Instead do something to check the rising communal polarization in the country ever since the ruling party has come to power in the center. The BJP has long opposed the Communal Violence Bill on rather communal grounds. How then does the Prime Minister think he will stop more such daggers from piercing the heart of India, or does he not want them to stop?