1984 & I:by GURMEET KAUR
The Face of Evil
This year, 2009, marks the 25th Anniversary of 1984, when horrendous crimes were committed against the Sikhs in the very land of their origin. To commemorate this sad milestone, we at sikhchic.com have asked our regular columnists, as well as our contributors and readers, to share with us the impact 1984 has had on their lives. We have requested personal stories and anecdotes, as well as an attempt to capture their inner thoughts and deepest ruminations on what 1984 means to each one of them and their loved ones - without going into a litany of facts and figures or a listing of the injustices to date, all of which will invariably be covered with due diligence elsewhere. We intend to present these personal perspectives to you throughout the twelve months of 2009.
The following is the sixth of the series entitled "1984 & I". It is notable in that it describes the personal experiences of the author who lived in a city several hundred miles south of New Delhi - the latter being the main location of the anti-Sikh pogroms. As she explains, such massacres took place in towns and cities across the country.
He loved eating tandoori chicken and goat curry.
We suspected that his wife didn't care to cook meat in her kitchen; perhaps because they were observing Hindus. So he loved to stop by at our home to eat with my Dad; as a neighbour, he was always welcome. He was also the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of our area, and Dad was happy to have a "friend" in the police.
DSP Bhadoria's visits were almost a weekly affair.
Chickens, whiskey, jokes, laughter - loud ones.
I did not particularly care for Daddy's drinking or his meat-eating buddies, because they always stayed late, way past our bed time, literally nibbling on food like mice; picking off the flesh one bone at a time, while my little sister and I waited on them with hot phulke (thin, flat breads) on demand. Mom stood for hours in the kitchen, fluffing them on the gas-stove and tending to other chores in between.
I had a special aversion for this friend of his ... I was a self-converted vegetarian and every chicken killed was a personal blow to my compassion-to-animals philosophy, and Mr. Bhadoria's big belly consumed them in multiples. Besides, I thought that he was taking advantage of his position. How come Daddy was never dining at his home?
On the afternoon of October 31, 1984 - I remember studying on our flat rooftop, under the canopy of the old giant tree that stood next to our home, tall enough and aptly positioned to provide just the right shade for my desk, chair and lamp - my make-shift eco-study-room.
We lived in Indore, a city located in the central part of India, several hundred miles south of its capital, New Delhi. My parents had moved here when I was just a month old.
I heard my buddy, Sapan, calling and waving at me from his third floor apartment porch that overlooked the roof of our single storey house. His body language conveyed a sense of urgency.
I ran to end of the roof closer to his house. A side street separated our homes.
"You don't have to kill her anymore, she is dead. Her Sardar (Sikh) bodyguards roasted her."
I could see him feeling important, delivering a very important piece of news. His tone had a bit of accusation in it, though.
I still remember the enormity of emotions that engulfed me. And I shamelessly admit that pride and relief were some of them. Fear was natural, but an afterthought.
June of that very year - a mere five months earlier - flashed in front of my eyes. I remembered when my maasi (mother's sister) was visiting us from Delhi. All the way from the train station to home, she was silent and could barely hold her tears, her face flushing-hot. As soon as she walked inside, she had let go into a wail.
Words poured out: "Darbar Sahib (a.k.a. Harmandar Sahib or The Golden Temple in Amritsar) was attacked, the army killed thousands of innocent Sikh visitors, the sarovar (the pool surrounding the main shrine) turned red with blood..."
They had heard the news of the army assault on The Golden Temple on the train, as they were headed to Indore to visit us for summer. To add insult to injury, they had to bear taunts from their co-travelers in their train.
For days and days, we talked about what had happened in Punjab. Hurt, humiliated, enraged. We heard the neighbours, schoolmates, newspapers justify the attack and declare victory over the so called "secessionist" agenda of the Sikhs.
"If you have to live in our country, behave yourself, live with your head bowed low ..." a shopkeeper had told me once, after I picked up and paid for provisions.
I had remembered telling Sapan how I felt like taking revenge upon and killing Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, who had ordered the attack on the heart of Sikhism, the Darbar Sahib, alongwith some 40 other gurdwaras throughout Punjab. I was a 15-year-old who wouldn't harm an animal, but Mrs. Gandhi - she was a monster for me.
"Did she have to launch a full scale army attack to get to a few armed men who roamed about freely and even appeared before the media just a few days ago? What happened to intelligence services? Everybody knows that the Darbar Sahib has four doors, and is always open to all. Anyone could walk in and request a meeting with Sant Bhindrawale (the Sikh religious leader accused of rebelling against the government) and his men. [As Harry Reasoner of CBS' 60 Minutes had said, only a few days before!]
"And was it a mere coincidence that she chose to assault us on one of our primary high holidays, the very day we were commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan - who died while upholding freedom of religion, for all? Even on a normal day, the visitors numbered in tens, if not hundreds of thousands, coming in from all over the world ..." - I would argue with him, on and on.
The most important center of the fifth largest religion in the world had been attacked and how adeptly she had managed to plan it, concealing the enormity of it and later trying to justify it, barring the international press and human rights groups from the province way in advance of the assault.
The intentions of the so-called "Operation Blue Star" were clear as crystal to me, even 25 years ago. It was meant to create the semblance of national unity by creating a national enemy. What better than, under the ruse of moving to preserve the "integrity of India", actually consolidating her own political power by launching a war against this enemy?
George W. Bush must have learnt a lesson or two for his war against terrorism from Indira Gandhi. His mistake, though, was that he didn't ban the press outright and conceal his crimes from the world.
I don't think my friend understood my rage.
His sources were the newspapers that would describe Sikhs generically as terrorists, preparing for armed rebellion to declare their homeland free. They also reported isolated incidences of violence against innocent bus travelers, followed by pictures of brave police officers boasting alongside a dead "Sikh terrorist", lying down next to purported "automated artillery".
Yet, my cousins from Punjab would tell me how the police would pick up young Sikh boys and stage fake encounters, kill them and plant weapons on them to make them look like armed terrorists. There were news reports later - but hidden in the back pages - of cars found abandoned with turbans and fake beards hidden in their trunks! The media did not dare to draw conclusions!
Sometimes, our arguments would heat up. I remember beating my friend one day when he lost an argument and resorted to insults. I was taller than most boys my age, athletic and hot-headed. He just liked to test my muscles from time to time; we were still the best of friends.
Dad had come home early, as soon as he read the news in the evening tabloid. A dark cloud hung over our heads. We spent the evening glued to the TV and calling our relatives. The news of "revenge against Sikhs" had started to trickle in, alongside the swearing-in of Mrs. Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi, as the new Prime Minister of India.
The next morning, we were violently interrupted in our breakfast as a loud brick flew in through our living-room window, pelting shattered glass all over.
A mob of about 20 was outside the courtyard gate, hurling bricks and rocks at our home, chanting slogans like "Sikhs are traitors!" "They killed our Mother!" and "Blood for blood!"
The one-time dictator of India who had, only a few years earlier, unilaterally dissolved the government, censored the press ... and had herself, as a result, been charged, convicted and imprisoned for crimes of corruption and seen as a tyrant by Indians and the rest of the world alike, had suddenly become a martyr and the Mother of the nation?
The mob quickly dispersed after a few minutes of terrorizing us.
Daddy quickly got on the phone to call his police-officer friend. Strangely, he was nowhere to be found, either at home or at the police station. Daddy kept calling him through the day and leaving urgent messages.
Finally, the phone rang. I jumped up, anticipating Daddy's friend. But it was not him. The voices were unfamiliar, clear and stern. They addressed me by my name.
"We are coming to your home soon. We will ... you in front of your mother, your father and your brother ... hundreds of us ... before we kill you all".
The language they used made the term "gang-rape" sound sophisticated. I couldn't exactly process all the words, but the message managed to terrorize one who was generally referred to as a "tomboy" and "fearless" - me! Perhaps it was their calm and authoritative tone of voice - conveying that they meant business - that got to me.
Who were they? How did they know it was me who had answered the phone, and not my mom, not my sister? Dad looked at my pale face, my shaking hands, and grabbed the receiver. He heard the last bits and pieces and figured what was going on. He yelled at them; they hung up.
The calls didn't stop throughout the day. Each time, they would tear the already scary silence that had pervaded the space of our cozy home. We had no choice but to answer the phone - in anticipation of help from the Police.
In the meanwhile, after trying him for the hundredth time, Dad got DSP Bhadoria on the line. "I will send you some security", he had said.
The security never showed up. But the mob did.
This time, they came with more bricks, as well as torches, in their hands. They hurled the bricks first, broke more windows, jumped over the locked gate and set fire to our car and the scooter. They damaged the electricity panel outside and cut off the supply into our house. And quickly, they disappeared again. They were probably testing if we had any weapons. We didn't and Dad was regretting not having anything to protect his family with.
We called the fire department, in vain.
As soon as we felt safe, we rushed out to put off the flames with the garden hose. None of the neighbours came to help. The street was quiet and deserted, as if nobody lived in that area. It was getting dark and as soon as the fire was put out, we locked ourselves inside, hoping that it was over, still naively thinking that the police and the fire department would show up any minute to help us.
When the realization occurred that we were on our own, we started cooking up some defence strategies if the mob were to show up again. We knew we wouldn't last long. My sister was only 13, my brother 11. Mom was no good to put up a fight. She had never even raised her hands on us.
Running would be an option, but where to and how far? Why weren't the neighbours worried about us? They surely saw the mob the last two times. Why hadn't anybody called to see if we were okay?
All the while, we were hoping that it was over and the government would act by now. They may be a bit slow, but how could they let an innocent law-abiding family be treated like this? After all this was India, the biggest democracy in the world, a country that boasted its secularity and diversity. A country for whose freedom Sikhs had laid down their lives for centuries, first against the Persian, Turkish and Afghan invaders, and then against the British. A country for whose defence they still fight today and sacrifice in an enormously huge proportion, given their small population ratio.
Little did we know that it was the government who was sponsoring this program against its own people. Later, we were to find out that even the Sikh members of the Armed Forces who were riding the trains that day were dragged out and set on fire.
The sun was starting to set and silence of the dark got scarier. Smoke was seen in the distance and occasional telephone rings chilled our bones.
The calm before the storm did not last long.
They were back before long, over a hundred in number this time around, armed with bricks, torches, metal rods and machetes. We were surrounded from the front and the side. Before we knew, some had jumped the gate, broken the front door open and entered the living room. There was another door that separated the living room from the hallway, that led to the bedrooms on each side and the kitchen towards the center back of the house.
Dad yelled, asking us to jump off the back-wall behind the kitchen's courtyard and to run for our lives, while he rushed to shut the hallway door in order to get us some time.
The rebellious teenager that I was, I refused to leave him. I was his strong warrior, the second line of defence. I joined him as he held the door handle from the hallway side, trying to shut it.
We found the mob already at work on the other side. The three young men leading the mob had got hold of the door and started pulling it in the other direction, trying to get to us. We knew it was over for us. We only wanted to delay them so my sister and brother had a chance, and they needed at least one parent.
Blood-curdling screams of "Kill them! Get them!" filled the space, alongwith the glowing light of the torches, the flashing iron-rods and machetes and, above all, the deviously criminal, shining eyes of the mob. The door went back and forth a few times between us.
It was them, the ones who had called on the telephone. I recognized the tone of the voice, the words, even through all the noise. The struggle went on for a little over a minute.
Then, suddenly, I came face to face with the killers, rapists, plunderers ... The scene comes clearly alive even today as I write, this day 25 years after that dreadful day.
Then, something happened, and our bodies switched to survival mode and, together we seemed to be applying a super-human force ... Dad and I somehow managed to shut the door and latch it closed.
Our hands were bruised and seemed to have become one with the door handle, but the struggle gave my brother and sister just enough time to jump off the wall and escape. My weeping and terrified mother was still desperately trying to climb the six-foot-high wall, but kept falling back over to our side.
We picked her up and literally dumped her on the other side in a split second. Dad and I were working in unison, as if we had coordinated each action to the second and practiced the drill several times beforehand.
The poor thing ... Mom fell flat on her belly. And I, most unexpectedly burst into laughter. We didn't know whether I was laughing at the crisis or whether I had gone insane. But later, to my relief, I learnt that nervous laughter is not an unusual response to a sudden shock or crisis.
The ground was much lower on the other side, where the little hut belonging to the neighbourhood Jamaadaars (toilet-cleaning workers) stood. I jumped over next. Helped my mom, dragging her to the home across the narrow street on the left.
I could see the torch-bearing mob slowly trickling into the side street, but at a safe distance. And then Mrs. Jain flashed out of her darkened house, grabbed us, shut the door, shoving and locking me inside her bedroom. I fell to the floor in exhaustion, and then blacked out.
When I woke up, I remember struggling with Mrs. Jain. I was trying to grab a knife from her kitchen to go back outside in order to look for my brother, sister and Dad. She was somehow prepared for it. Perhaps, because she was familiar with my temperament. A few months ago, I had beaten up her son (who was a couple of years younger than I) for harassing my little brother and messing with his patka (turban). When the door bell rang at our house that day and she appeared with her bruised and bleeding son, Vikas, I knew I was in big trouble.
But an educated and cultured lady that she was, she had brought Vikas to my home for us to make truce. When she saw my torn shirt, disheveled hair and scratched face, she made him apologize, for he had raised hands on a girl! When she left, she had a smirk on her face and I, a blush of embarrassment; she had probably not met a rogue like me, nor I ever encountered a classy woman like her. Vikas and I remained good friends thereafter.
As I waited, a "prisoner" in her kitchen on this fateful day in 1984, for a few hours I did not have a clue as to what had happened to the rest of my family. I only knew that my mother was safe.
Where did they go; was Dad able to jump? Did the mob get them? Those few hours of my life were some of the toughest I can recall. Humiliated, hurt and helpless ... I was crying to be let out. What if they were wounded and needed help?
If someone had killed my family, didn't I have a right to go after them? But who would I go after? Deep down, I knew I could do nothing but wait ... yet, I couldn't sit still. My mouth was dry with screaming and it took Mrs. Jain's whole family to keep me there.
Around midnight, one by one, we all finally were united. All five of us intact, but with some minor injuries.
Dad, who did not get an opportunity to cross over the street, was quickly hidden by the jamaadaars in their hut. Fortunately, the mob didn't expect him to be hiding in a vulnerable, insecure hut or perhaps did not want to venture into the dark shack of the "untouchables".
The mother had stood outside, calmly consoling a crying baby in her arms, pretending she hadn't noticed a thing, when a couple of hooligans came looking for us. A small mud wall separated Dad and them; he could hear them questioning her.
The kids were helped by a Christian school teacher in the apartment complex to the right of our house. They had to jump a couple of walls to get there. We all spent the night at Sapan, my Hindu friend's, home, and watched our home from his third floor porch as it smoldered. Not much was left of our car and scooter.
Apparently, since several of our neighbours ultimately realized that their homes were threatened by the spreading of fire, they finally approached the Fire Department, which then turned up and mercifully put out the flames in our house.
It had taken us five years to build our dream house. Dad was busy running his small transport business, often out of town, so he was always behind in his paperwork. When we moved into this place from a 300-square-foot space, it seemed like a mansion. Most of all, we were happy to be settling down for the first time ever in our own home.
We kids had our own bedroom and spacious bathroom and a king-size bed that we were glad to share. I had even my own racks for clothes and books. There was a small garden in the front courtyard, but most precious of all was the flat rooftop with the shade of the giant tree under which my desk stood; my haven.
All I wanted was a quiet spot to read, and that was it!
Now, in new-found camaraderie, we could see our haven smouldering, with the smoke merging with other smoke clouds emanating from Sikh homes and businesses across the city of Indore.
The city had a decent Sikh population, a cluster enveloping each of the dozen gurdwaras. Guru Nanak himself had visited the city while on his second major sojourn (between 1506 and 1513 A.D.) and a few of those gurdwaras were historical, protecting the places where he had held discourses, enlightening many. They had been established in the 16th century by locals who had been inspired by him.
Now those very places were being attacked by the locals, perhaps agonizing the souls of their ancestors who had played host to the great Guru.
We learnt later that the two senior bureacrats (Collector and Additional Collector) of the city that day in 1984 - one was a Christian, the other a Sikh) were instrumental in imposing curfew across the city, thus bringing the mayhem and violence within control within a day, which was much sooner than what New Delhi, Kanpur and other cities in the Northern India had experienced.
A total of 26 Sikhs were officially reported to be killed by the mob in Indore and surrounding areas. [The real figures in India are invariably higher than "official counts".] Thousands of businesses, homes and automomobiles were destroyed.
No respectable family ever reports a rape in India; hence, none were talked about, although there were plenty of rumours of rape-suicides.
The second day, as news of the curfew order was broadcast, we went back and took a walk through what was left of our house.
The mob had taken everything they could and destroyed the rest. Photographs and sports trophies, the things that mattered to me the most, were burnt or charred. My handcrafted doll that I had made for a craft project was lying there half-burnt, one-eyed, accusing me of desertion.
It was Dad's first home that he owned in his country of refuge - he had fled here in 1947 from the tragedy and mayhem of Partition. It was my last. Refugees and renters - that's what we felt we were in India.
"Make something of yourself, get out of this place. This country does not want us anymore", Dad had said, choking back tears, as I looked at my doll.
The seeds of emigration had indeed been sown. Five years later, I would finish my Engineering degree and apply for graduate school in the United States. One by one, the rest of my family would flee that sad land to join me.
Perhaps he had lost the courage to be displaced again in his lifetime. He was already thrown out of his homeland (West Punjab) when he was a child.
They had arrived in Kanpur empty-handed, along with his extended family - half of them Sikh and half Hindu Bannuwals (of the city Bannu in the Sarhad Province of current-day North West Frontier Province in Pakistan).
A new language, new culture, new country: they had to build their lives from scratch.
I have returned to India a few times since, and every time the plane lands into the inauspiciously named "Indira Gandhi International Airport" at Delhi, the city where thousands of Sikhs were burnt alive, it gives me a queasy feeling.
I want to ask every person in uniform, every taxi driver, every common man on the street: "Where were you in 1984 - in the mob, or hiding in your home, peeping out and watching a neighbour being raped or burnt?"
Then I think of our neighbours - the Jains, who took us in, the Shahs who sheltered us for the night, perhaps risking their lives ... and I stop myself.
Till today, I have not had the heart to visit my birthplace, Kanpur. It was in Shastri Nagar, Kanpur (in Uttar Pradesh Province) that three of my paternal cousins - Harjinder, Bhupinder and Khalsa, aged 30, 25 and 20 - were dragged out of their homes and torched alive, right in front of the eyes of their widowed mother who had raised them singlehandedly through extreme circumstances. Their young wives and a little daughter, too, were made to watch the massacre.
The three months that followed November 1984 in that home in Indore were some of the most humiliating days of my life.
A couple of the thugs from the mob rode by on their bicycles every morning, and again in the evening, perhaps heading home from work, right on the street in front of our house. At times, they would run into me and they would utter the same words I had heard on November 1. Their eyes would brighten up with cruel delight as I would squirm, enraged.
I didn't speak about them to my parents. I knew it was pointless. I did not want to bother them; they were already burdened, rebuilding our lives and livelihood. Besides, who could they complain to? The police?
We had heard by now of how the mob leaders were given positions in the government. Some, clearly identified as criminals, were appointed cabinet ministers in the national government.
How could one seek justice from the very criminals who had committed the crimes? I would often fantasize about killing them, but somehow managed to tough it out for three months.
I jogged a lot and joined judo school instead, taking my wrath out at the opponent on the mat. Two years later, I would win the state championship.
"Deal with it!" I told myself.
We did go to court. The day our case was dismissed for lack of evidence, we all decided that it was time to move on and that pursuing justice was useless.
"Learn a lesson and look forward" has been the motto of my life from then on. I have become real good at running away from negativity.
By February of 1985, four years after we had moved into our much-loved home, we had fixed the damage, repainted it ... and then, said goodbye to it. We rented a small apartment in a Sikh neighborhood which had stayed safe during attacks.
There was a little gurdwara in the neighbourhood and as soon as the residents had heard the news of violence elsewhere on November 1, 1984, they had gathered and organized themselves. They had made a human wall around the neighbourhood and would man it for the next three days and nights. They were a bunch of truckers, ex-armed services men, etc., and hence managed to muster a good bit of arms and hardware, including traditional Sikh artifacts from the gurdwara, to keep the mob at bay.
We were back to crummy quarters, about 500-square-feet of space that we could afford. I would spend the five years of my college studying on the rooftop in the hot scorching sun ... without the shade of my tree.
Nonetheless, it felt safer, with fellow Sikhs around and the shade of the gurdwara - incidentally, built in memory of Guru Arjan.
This is where my longing to connect to my roots began. To be a Sikh had slowly started to have meaning.
Guru Arjan's life and martyrdom itself has a lesson for anyone that is looking for any answers and I was begining to see it - "Tera kiyaa meetha laage, har nam padarath nanak maange" - "Sweet is Thy Will, O Lord, All Nanak asks for is the Gift of Thy name".
My mom, sister and brother hated the move, for this was far away from the "cosmopolitan" neighbourhood and the good school district we used to live in. They resisted and tried to convince us, saying it was a once-in-a-lifetime incident, but failed to convince the two of us.
My mother was particularly afraid of us falling behind in our education and picking up "uncouth language" from the children of the neighbourhood's truck drivers.
It was my Dad and I who couldn't live in our former "educated" and "civilized" neighbourhood home anymore, because we had come face to face with the worst of humanity. If we were to have faith in the goodness of Man again, we needed to seek it elsewhere.
My Dad needed to get away from his "friend" in the Police, and I from those evil eyes.
February 5, 2009
Conversation about this article
1: Amitoj (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), February 06, 2009, 2:13 AM.
The Sikh community needs to find ways to express their resentment and anger over what happened. Publication of this "1984 & I" series of articles is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done before the memories of the victims or witnesses fade away with the passage of time. Feelings not expressed are feelings lost and unknown to the rest of us. Anger and revenge has accomplished little to address the horrific trauma suffered by the community. The film "Amu" expressed the trauma in a sensible manner by focusing on the pain of a single person rather than showing only violence. It is sad that the majority of the Sikh community in India has decided to 'move on' and adopted a pragmatic approach of re-building their lives and relations without demanding any real justice. Having sacrificed so much for the land that is part of the subcontinent, the community deserved a fair chance at justice. However, the truth remains that crimes against the Sikh community were committed in broad daylight and the monsters were never brought to task, in fact some were rewarded. The violence was not a spontaneous outburst of anger but a planned, methodical and surgical one-sided affair; at least that is what seems like from the numbers of those killed /injured in such a short period of time. The chances of these perpetrators of these horrific crimes being punished by the Indian justice system are slim, because few individuals outside the Sikh community are really concerned about what happened so long ago. The blame lies with Sikh community as well, for not being alert, even after what happened during the Partition of 1947. The need for education and awakening within the community is dire. Resources are few and leadership is simply missing. What must be done? Who will do it? Tough questions and ever elusive answers. To leave it to a higher authority will not do. The community must get together and come up with a constructive plan to remember this horrific event. Creation of literature, films, documentaries, memoirs, verbal histories are good options. Building of a museum is another (the museum at Anandpur Sahib with life-size paintings is a good example). Something, something to remind us 'Never Again!', lest this dark abyss of memories lost is filled with more violence thrust upon the community. Has the lesson been learned since 1984, who knows? Do we have to really wait till the man-eater goes on the prowl again and attacks again? Maybe then we will become alert, maybe, maybe ...
2: Mai Harinder Kaur (Seattle, U.S.A.), February 06, 2009, 1:40 PM.
Amitoj - We who were there, our memories will never fade away, if we live for a thousand years. The danger is that we will die with our stories left untold. These are harder to tell than anyone who has not been through these things can imagine. I identify with Gurmeet Kaur ji who wrote this. I was a youngish woman of 32 who chose to stand and fight beside my husband, son and other relatives. My sister/cousin, Suni, my dear mother-in-law and I have written our stories in our blog. If you or anyone else wishes to read them, links to the various posts can be found at: http://roadtokhalistan.blogspot.com/2007/08/our-stories-from-1984.html. When I have told about what happened to us, the reactions are predictable: older Sikhs get tears, younger Sikhs get very serious, still younger Sikhs are astonished because they had no idea of what actually happened; young Hindus apologise, older Hindus squirm and, if they say anything at all, it's "Well, I didn't do anything like that"; everyone else seems to have one of two reactions, either interest and sympathy and wondering why they had never heard these things, or a suggestion that "That was a long time ago, get over it!" Of course, we will never "get over it." Those of us who are able have learned to live with it, but it will always be a part of us. In those few days, a naive Sikh-Canadian woman on holiday in India became a warrior princess; she was unable to save the lives of husband, son, brothers, cousins, friends, but she did fight and she is able to keep their memories alive. And she did learn the truth of the statement "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."
3: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), February 06, 2009, 3:35 PM.
History is a narrative and constructed by historians from narratives like this. With time, evidence degrades, while witnesses die or disappear. Years, even centuries hence, historians will find contemporary oral history irreplaceable. This project is a powerful way to preserve a critical slice of the present for the future.
4: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), February 07, 2009, 6:47 PM.
Gurmeet, you are a warrior princess. Let no one ever underestimate the strength of a Kaur - from the ashes she rises, stronger than before.
5: Raj (Canada), February 08, 2009, 2:04 PM.
After every "ghalughara" or holocaust, did we learn anything? Unfortunately, not much. The parameters under which these events happened still exist and keep us vulnerable. Remember, we had a kingdom once? It was at par with countries like Britain, France and U.S., and we lost it. Then we became one of the three religions. Then we opted out when it came to getting our fair share. Now, we're the twenty-second linguistic group. Nobody cares, our stories are never told, our point is never brought forward on the world stage. Our leaders signed our "extinction papers". The spectre of disappearing from the face of this earth is real. Sadly, we ourselves appear not to care about that either. [Editor: Let's not wait for 'them' or 'us' to do something. Each one should simply forge ahead and do his or her bit. The rest will fall into place.]
6: Moninder Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. ), February 09, 2009, 10:41 AM.
" Raj bina nahin dharam chale hai, raj bina sab dalle malleh hai!"
7: Irvinder Singh Babra (Canada), February 09, 2009, 10:50 AM.
Brilliant writer that she is, Gurmeet Kaur, such personal Sikh activism is best for her non-fiction book ahead. Her care and concern for the Sikhs everywhere should transform for the next 25 years about the Sikhs everywhere. A kind, helpful and marvellous people that 99% Sikhs are, they should be presented with a stimulating plan for the future than the past-centric, painful and disturbing scenes of 1984. Such a plan can also emerge from her in America now, rather than in Delhi.
8: Claudia Gaspar (Sao Paulo, Brazil), February 09, 2009, 12:19 PM.
Very Dear Gurmeet: You know the limits of my strength. My health isn't good, even though many think that my strength is great because my inner convictions are still strong and because, as soon as an action or an issue creates injustice or falsehood, I recover my full energies, however briefly. Forgive me for talking so much about myself, but this is to explain to you and to all who would deem it useful, who by happenstance read my humble comment. About this crushing, 25-year old unending drama surrounding the 1984 genocide of Sikhs, my thoughts extend beyond the contemporary dramas. It is impossible for me to speak about your new article with all the care that is required, not only because of its fundamental subject, but also because of the amazing, brilliant and scrupulous scholarship on which each argument is based, as I noticed while going through it. I will do my best so that soon, true historians with your same passion for truth will set out to debate it with you. The insults against Sikhs I feel as they're targeting me. The 1984 events have been lingering without the Indian government's showing any remorse so far or pursuing the justice due. In this letter, I want to make public two convictions: one, in a few words, concerning your person; the other (still imperfectly expressed) concerns how my life has led me to conceptualize the succession of recent historical events vis-a-vis Sikhs, which I view with sadness. Such is the admirable faith of a people, the brothers and sisters I identify with myself, that has been brutally suppressed and not being able to voice conveniently the call to the mission of the Gurus for nobler greatness. About you and your work, a few words suffice. You are one of those human beings who will never cease to be tormented by a devouring thirst for the Absolute, until faced with Infinite Love.
9: Parvinder Singh (Alpharetta, U.S.A.), February 09, 2009, 1:18 PM.
It must have been very painful to relive those crushing memories again. These incidents have a huge impact on any individual's life and even more, probably a life-long scar, if you witnessed it at a very young age of your life. Well writen.
10: Tejwant (U.S.A.), February 09, 2009, 2:50 PM.
Gurmeet: To say that I feel your pain would be an insult to the agony you and your family went through. To say that it was a horrible thing that happened does not suffice either. All I can say is that these genocidal events lapidated you into a diamond that can never be duplicated. And its sheen is not blinding but eye-opening, thanks to the true Lapidarian - Ik Oankaar. Thanks for making me part of your family by sharing this.
11: Paul (New York City, U.S.A.), February 09, 2009, 6:26 PM.
Great writing. However, the story is marred by the ref to G.W. Bush. It's plain wrong to even compare the two people. The fact is that Sikhs are a great part of the American story and her comment ruined it for me, though I still admire and respect the Sikhs for their rich heritage and their much respected past. R.I.P. to all the Sikhs who perished ... An American friend.
12: Amarjit Singh Duggal (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 09, 2009, 6:53 PM.
Very well written. Since I know you personally, I know for sure, you still feel that pain. And so do I, as my migration to the U.S. was also triggered by the Delhi pogroms. Mrs. Gandhi was gunned down by insiders, there is no question about it. Government has apologized, and has tried to compensate people only in Delhi and Punjab, not considering that thousands of those who fled to other countries also deserve to be compensated as well. That is the first balm they can use to lesson the pain. The second is a Commission that will look into this whole issue of torture during the Punjab "crisis" and the Delhi carnage. Separating these two issues will not solve the problem, I can guarantee you. It is difficult, but at least a sincere attempt should be made. We are a very old civilization, we should not hesitate in taking on difficult and impossible tasks. A "Truth and Reconciliation" type Commission, recommended by many honourable and notable people is the only answer to extinguishing the flames. And that is where I will stop. Thank you, Gurmeet, for the courage and taking time out to write some thing which is still burning. It is good to let it out; keeping it inside is more harmful. Also, all of you out there, do not forget that there is One Supreme Being out there, who is mother and father to all of us. Regardless of what the present-day 'powerful' can do, the day will come when all have to answer for their deeds, and grand or great grand children of sinners will pay for the crimes of their 'fathers'. Whosoever that may be. Keep the faith alive.
13: Sukhwinder Singh (India), February 10, 2009, 8:00 AM.
30,000 Singhs and Singhnis were martyred in the Great Holocaust of the 18th century, but within six months the Khalsa gathered at Amritsar and was rebuilding Darbar Sahib. The 1984 genocide, though, will remain engraved in our minds for all times to come, but then it also instilled in us ChardiKala of which Gurmeet Kaur is an epitome. Unlike many weak hearted who took advantage of the situation and let go off their Sikhi Saroop, there are many others who made their resolve stronger to serve the Panth by living in Gursikhi and passing on the great values to the coming generations. Bhenji, we salute you for your courage, faith and being a true daughter of Guru Gobind Singh.
14: Hardeep Singh (Alpharetta, U.S.A.), February 11, 2009, 11:43 PM.
A very sorrowful and painful fact of life, penned and projected truly and consciously on paper. Straight from the soul. I can feel and relate to the agony and distress this incidence has caused in your life and in the lives of many individuals who experienced and witnessed the naked Dance of Death and the Devilry of Humans, during these pogroms. The pogroms of 1984 - crimes organized by the government, politicians and police - shattered the souls of Sikhs and also many non-Sikhs. Many of us lost trust and faith in the socio-political system of the very land for which Sikhs had done so much. Furthermore, a question which comes to my mind again and again every time I hear or read about 1984, is that can 1984 repeat itself? And, as far as we know the untamed Devil in humans, it can and it will. Now, the next question is, what should we do to stop it from happening again, what are we doing to tame this devil? Two things which I strongly feel, we as an individuals and as a community should do, are: 1) By proactively participating in building a morally and fundamentally strong socio-political system in the country we live in. 2) By raising ourselves and our future generations on Faith-based lives, thus strengthening our psychological and physical stamina. Furthermore, we all who faced and directly felt the pain of 1984 should make every effort to document our life-altering experiences, for the use of future generations as a learning tool.
15: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 12, 2009, 3:34 PM.
Thank you, everyone, for the heart-warming comments. Hardeep Singh nailed the thoughts for looking forward. In addition to the documentation and investment in socio-political and spiritual strength, we as a nation need to invest in our younger generations so that that in the next few years we create a wave of leaders in High Visibility Positions (Public Service, Diplomacy, Publishing, Journalists, Film Directors, Investment Bankers, Political Analysts, etc.) - Leaders who have the strength to stand by their spiritual principles, do the right thing by all, not forgetting their own history and people. When the world will be able to see Sikhs serving in every kind of position and doing great things, crimes such as 1984 will take on a global significance. We have to learn from the Jewish survivors of their 20th century holocaust. One of the first things they did was invest in Education Funds, identifying the potential in the community and directing them to "highly visible" and "impactive" careers. The Funds supported a full range of services top-notch primary education, counselling for advance education, mentorship, progress monitoring and providing them with the support: spiritual, financial, career connections. All that was needed. And we see the results. Today they have thousands of educational programs, ranging from mentoring to scholarships to interest free loans on both global and regional bases all around the world. Education of our own is the single most important thing we need maximum and strategic investment in; not just the gurdwara buildings and elections. Paul from New York, I am sorry you don't like me comparing Indira to Bush; but an innocent killed anywhere is a crime against entire humanity. A Sikh speaks against injustice for all, not only for her own, and that's what I did. The innocent (non combatant) lives lost in Iraq war are close to one hundred thousand; with many times more crippled, maimed and orphaned and yet there are likes of General Tommy Frank who insist that "We don't do body counts" whilst our so-called 'world-class' media continues to pay homage to a lop-sided perspective.
16: Nihang Khalsa (Indore, India), February 13, 2009, 12:42 PM.
I went through this blood curdling experience of yours. There is a mixture of all emotions: tears, fear, anger, frustration. Things have changed and you have gone ahead in life which is the good part of life. I moved to Indore seven months ago and reside near LIG Chouraha. There is a Gurudwara Sahib there ... I think you were in another area. Which part of Indore did you reside in?
17: Shelby Steinhauer (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 13, 2009, 10:15 PM.
Gurmeet: It has been enlightening getting to know you this year, and yet we barely know each other. Thanks to you (and Angad), I have learned so much about the Sikhs and your beautiful religion and history. Your beliefs and your struggles as a people resonate deeply for me as an American Jew. I, too, have spiritual roots in a distant land, and yet America is my home. I live in a largely Christian nation, and yet I have my own Jewish identity. As a people, Jews have been reviled, scapegoated and murdered for the past 2,000 years, often with impunity. And yet, somehow, we rise from the ashes and we go on. We spread our wings and make our homes among strangers. We defy those who would deny us the right to exist. Even those born into the relative comfort and safety of America still feel the sense of urgency to survive that must be imprinted on our very souls. The Sikhs appear to possess the same remarkable resiliency. Perhaps it is because both the Sikhs and the Jews have a message that the world desperately needs to hear, that there is one God for all and that we are all equals in his eyes, that we are here to serve and to make of our lives a living prayer, an offering of peace. Judaism teaches that we have come into this life to repair a broken world. Your personal history and the heartbreaking depth of your pain is a shattered piece of that broken world. I pray that we may repair the world in a small way by telling our stories, by listening to each other, and by reaching out in friendship. Please know that I am thinking of you and your community during this year of remembrance.
18: Arvinder Singh Kang (Oxford, MS, U.S.A.), February 14, 2009, 5:55 PM.
Gurmeet ji: You have given an exemplary vision of what Sikhism should be - like a Phoenix, rising from the ashes and soaring high in the skies. 1984 was neither the first nor the last time that a minority was tyrannized and vilified. Sikh history is filled with bloody pages of oppressions by outsider and betrayals by the insiders. However, the chardi-kalaa spirit is what has lead us through the times of likes of Mir Mannu (Mannu saadi daatri, asin mannu de soe; jeon jeon mannu vadh da, asin doon savaaye hoye). The likes of the dogra, Gulab Singh (who was the key player in the doom of Sikh empire), Zail Singh (who was the president of India when Sikhs were being butchered nation wide) and Kuldip Brar (who stormed the Golden Temple), each one of them let us down. As we look forward, its very important that we document our past. Let the truth be known and the truth will set you free. The Sikh Reference Library was destroyed, the Internet can never be. Kudos to your efforts. You are Bhai Vir Singh's Sundari ...
19: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), February 20, 2009, 3:55 PM.
I agree with all of Amitoj's views, which is the very first comment to this article. All the articles I have read teaches me two things to me, at the veryleast - that Sikhs need to unite (which, I see, hasn't happened yet) and we should always be ready for another such holocaust. "Ehei mor agya suno pyaare, bina shastar kesham diyo na deedare". My fellow Sikhs, I request you to please help other Sikhs. We have been taught to help humanity, but must not neglect helping our fellow Sikhs - "charity begins at home!" And, please be ready - by being Amritdhaari and wearing the kirpan. If a Sikh swears at you, say 'I am sorry, Brother!". If he hits you, tell him he can hit you once more. But, never hit a Sikh back. 1984 was one event wherein there was huge damage done to Sikhs. But since I was a little child, I have grown up with jokes made on Sikhs ... tTeasing '12 baj gaye' and all the crap. I pay my respect to the person who has decided to consolidate all of these 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom stories. However, I would like to put forth these suggestions so that we can share our daily struggle of being a Sikh and conserving the identity and pride of the Sikh Faith.
20: Esher Singh (Hyderabad, India), February 22, 2009, 6:11 AM.
It is very important to record history, which very few dare to do. And that you have done. It keeps the memory refreshed as to all that has been done to us Sikhs, and what more could come in the future. We should jointly work on how it can be stopped and to educate the masses about who and what the Sikhs truly are.
21: Annemarie Colino (Seattle, Washington State, U.S.A.), March 13, 2009, 7:12 PM.
Thank you for sharing this with me. I admire how you have dealt with this terrible violent experience and your courage to share it. It's so important that your story and the truth about this hidden part of history is shared.
22: Indu Das (Maryland, U.S.A.), October 04, 2010, 12:54 PM.
Hi Gurmeet: So sorry to read your chilling story. We were little kids around your age in a tiny little city of Bihar with not much of a Sikh population. We used to hear all these stories through our parents and elders and used to wonder if a civil war was erupting in the country. It's really sad that the govt. didn't do much to protect its citizens or put those responsible behind bars or even properly apologize for the massacres.
23: Abhijit (U.S.A.), October 06, 2010, 7:17 PM.
I don't know how to apologize that this happened in our country of India. All I can say is I feel really sad and sorry. I cannot even advise you to move on as I would not if I were in your position. May God give you peace.
24: Sandipan Roy (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 06, 2010, 7:45 PM.
Gurmeet - an excellent write up! May God bless you, dear!
25: A.S.D. (U.S.A.), October 06, 2010, 9:20 PM.
Gurmeet - Excellent write up. No one in this world deserves to go through what you have.
26: Amit Shah (India), October 07, 2010, 4:16 PM.
Gurmeet ... I'm teary-eyed reading your story and experiences. No one should have to go through this. Ahinsa Parmo Dharma!
27: Divya Jaroni (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.A.), November 01, 2010, 2:25 AM.
My Dearest Ruby: Reading your story brought back to life those days of October 1984, and those days we spent studying and playing together in that same house that eventually brought so much grief and life-changing moments in your life, my life. I still remember being so afraid for you and begging my mother to do something about it. I remember the moment we got news ... I had started pacing back and forth in my house, horrified for you and your family. We went around town, to every police station in the area, in Ramesh Bhaiya's rickshaw to see if we can find out anything about you. I did not want anything to happen to my best friend. I was terrified and I remember that feeling, which still sends shivers down my spine. So, I can only imagine what an impact it must have had on you. I can only wish that this can all be wiped away ... but alas! My sincerest wish for you today is that you hurt NO MORE. Know that you are loved, by me and many more, and may God bring you peace. What was done to you and your family and thousands of Sikhs in India is unforgivable, but please find comfort in the fact that there are people who love you and care about you. Humanity is still alive. Surprisingly!