The question uppermost in my mind as I finished reading Jarnail Singh’s book “ I Accuse...The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984” was, “How can all checks and safeguards of a democracy fail so completely at the same time in the capital city of the largest democracy in the world ?” Or, to quote the book cover note, “Why did the state apparatus allow it to happen?”
The guardians of the constitution: the President, the Parliament, different branches of the administration, the judiciary, the media – all abdicated their responsibility for three days from 1 November to 3 November 1984.
President Zail Singh felt that he had “no right to intervene.” Delhi Police Commissioner Subhash Tandon said that he was “not informed” even though he was seen with crowds attacking Gurdwara Rakab Ganj. Home Minister Narsimha Rao remained silent. Lt Governor P G Gavai thought everything was under control and did not consider it necessary to call in the army. To the President he said, “If the army is called in, the situation is going to get worse.” A magistrate refused to sign an order to control mobs with force if necessary, even as Sikh properties and people were being burnt in his neighbourhood.
Senior Congress politicians like Rajpal Saroj held private meetings on the evening of 31 October to make all arrangements right up to the finer details about distributing kerosene and a white inflammable powder to set the victims alight. Delhi transport and Police support was enlisted.
Doordarshan, the only TV station, played its part by repeatedly showing Indira Gandhi’s body kept in state at Teen Murti Bhawan, alternating with scenes of mobs shouting “khoon ka badla khoon” (blood for blood in revenge).
According to this vivid account, all branches of government conspired to encourage violence against one Indian community – the Sikhs. The book is based on inquiry commission reports over the years, eye-witness evidence, horrific personal experiences (mainly of Sikh women) and how, even to this day, they continue to be denied justice and suffer in poverty.
Jarnail Singh was an eleven year old school kid in Delhi in 1984 and sufficiently aware of what was going on. Despite much hardship at home, he became a successful journalist. He grew up in Delhi during this period and interweaves own autobiography with the main theme of the book. He is now out of a job because he threw a symbolic shoe at political untruths and cover-ups, with an impact which shook and shamed a whole nation. As a dedicated Gursikh, following in the footsteps of Guru Nanak Sahib, who did not hesitate to call the ruthless invading Babar a tyrant (jaabar), Jarnail Singh could no longer remain silent, no matter what the cost to himself and his family.
The main media focus on 31st November 1984, was the assassination Indira Gandhi who had sanctioned army invasion of Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple complex), the holiest shrine of the Sikhs only five months before. Thousands of innocent civilians paid with their lives during that military invasion of civilian targets in peacetime.
However, by contrast, during these three days of slaughter of thousands of fellow Indians in the first week of November 1984, in Delhi and elsewhere, they were denied army protection despite repeated requests on behalf of the victims. General A S Vaidya confirmed that “by 31 October midnight, a brigade from Meerut had reached Delhi.” Both, Home Minister Narsimha Rao and Lt Governor P G Gavai, either refused to call in the army or did not bother. Writes the author, “But this was happening in Delhi, not in some remote and inaccessible part of the country. Why did it take two days to call in the army – two days during which Sikhs were being killed and their properties looted ? The Nanavati Commission report puts the number of Sikhs killed in Delhi at 3000.”
Then, as soon as the world media with its TV cameras and reporters arrived for the funeral of Mrs Indira Gandhi on 3rd November, this fire started on 1 November, was extinguished with the same efficiency as it had been started. It was as if nothing had happened!
A failure of such magnitude in a country accounting for one fifth of humanity becomes a legitimate concern of all in the ever-shrinking global village. Not only that the whole system failed for thousands of Sikhs in India’s capital city Delhi and many other cities, but that it worked most ruthlessly against them as a relentless killing machine for those three days.
Jarnail Singh has highlighted November 1984, as a running sore for the Sikhs and right thinking Indians. He is not proud of his shoe throwing act and has gracefully accepted his job loss as a journalist. Whilst Sikhs with a nationalist agenda throng around him for photo opportunities, the so called “moderate Sikhs” admire his guts but keep away. In short, the author, the “shoe throwing” Jarnail Singh has become an icon in the Sikh diaspora. He is articulate, well versed in Gurbani and holds the attention of the Sangats in gurdwaras. He is almost certainly above Indian party politics or the Sikh internal “jathebandi” divides.
The book is written in a user friendly style for a wide ranging readership. The underlying message seems to be that the Sikhs should forgive if they are allowed to, by a system which, as yet, remains unrepentant; but Sikhs should not forget. My impression is that the Sikhs would very much like to forgive, but are continually being denied good reasons for being able to do that by a system, which seems to have lost its democratic moorings. The recent “clean chit” to one of the alleged leaders of this pogrom, Jagdish Tytler, who was promoted to a ministerial position in the Congress government soon after the massacre, adds insult to the injured Sikh psyche.
And so, the world, except for the occasional world media report coinciding with related Indian court cases, CBI and inquiry commission reports over the years, continues to sweep the massacre of a minority in the biggest democracy in the world, under the carpet, while the victims still await justice after 25 years.
Finally, one can but agree with Khushwant Singh when he writes in his foreword, “Jarnail Singh’s “I Accuse...” is a shocking book that should shame every citizen of India.... I Accuse ...opens wounds which have not yet healed. It is a must-read for all those who wish that such horrendous crimes do not take place.”
© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)
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