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1984 - 1995 : Time for a De-brief

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1984 - 1995 : Time for a De-brief

Rear-Admiral Satyindra Singh, AVSM (Retd.)

Noted commentator, Vir Sanghvi, currently Editor of the popular weekly, Sunday, recently assessed Mrs. Gandhi뭩 legacy thus: "She did a lot of damage (to Indian polity).... In retrospect it seems clear that she either destroyed or subverted most of the institutions of Indian Democracy. She destroyed the powers of state chief ministers and damaged the federal structure. She pressurised the judiciary and sapped its independence by appointing mediocre judges, and transferring to inconsequential and uncomfortable outpost judges who dared to assert their independence. She damaged the independence of the bureaucracy by calling for a 뭖ommitted civil service? She politicised the army by using it for civilian purposes and by manipulating promotions." He concludes, "I feel tremendously let down. I came back to India with great hopes and a sense that good would prevail. But what I encountered was a cynical leader whose only concern was political survival". Another political scientist, Rajni Kothari is quoted in Pranay Gupta뭩 1985 book : "Vengeance - India after Mrs. Gandhi"... the politics that she pursued to achieve her goal left deep scars in the country뭩 communal, regional and political framework.?

The nation is aware, but strangely silent, about the savagery indulged in by her cohorts and party in power in the wake of her assassination. Thousands of helpless, men, women and children, including serving defense personnel, who were pulled out of running trains, were butchered by rampaging mobs. We have had any number of committees, commissions and judges making recommendations to render justice, handing out the severest strictures on a partisan and criminalized police force. Throughout the carnage, Delhi뭩 policemen either made themselves scarce, or stood by while mobs set fire to defenseless human beings. Some participated in the orgy of violence. I recall in the Lajpat Nagar area in Delhi, on November 1, when a group of concerned citizens tried to organize a peace march in support of Hindu-Sikh amity, a police jeep blocked the way and police officials demanded to know if the marchers had official permission. In Trilokpuri, scores of witnesses have testified that policemen were seen supplying diesel oil and petrol to arsonists. These are but a few examples of the perversity of those in majority and in power.

On October 31, Miss Payal Singh, a writer and several other Sikh friends and relatives boarded a train at Calcutta and were headed for Delhi to attend a wedding. At eleven o?clock the next morning, the train reached Ghaziabad; Delhi was still many miles away. "That was the beginning of two harrowing hours for us, when we were suspended between life and death," Payal Singh wrote in the Illustrated Weekly of India.

This is what she said in her extraordinary account : "A bloodthirsty mob, almost like a pack of hungry wolves hunting for prey, went from coach to coach in search of Sikhs. In a frenzy of madness, the mob, armed with iron rods and knives, brutally dragged out Sikhs, burnt their turbans, hacked the men to death and threw them across the tracks. Even the old and feeble were not spared. The barbaric mob, totally devoid of rationality, declared that women would be spared. But in what sense were they spared? After all, what can be more torturous for women than seeing male members of their family hacked to death in front of their eyes? The main doors of our coach were locked from inside. And we waited with bated breath. The mob, hell-bent on destruction, was not to be deterred." When Payal Singh뭩 train reached Delhi at three o?clock that afternoon, its surviving Sikh males helped carry out corpses from compartments. By then other trains were also arriving in Delhi from northern Indian cities. Scores of Sikh lay dead in them. "Their bodies had been battered," Payal Singh said later. "Those Sikhs were innocent people who had done nothing. Except for being Sikhs - and travelling to Delhi on that fateful day."

Over the next four days, more than three thousand Sikhs died at the hands of these mobs in Delhi. Most died gruesome deaths: they were often burnt alive, or were hacked to pieces while female members of their families were stripped and made to watch. Prepubescent boys were castrated by mobs. The carnage spread to neighbouring states as well. In Uttar Pradesh, more than a thousand Sikhs were reported killed in cities such as Kanpur, Lucknow, and Ghaziabad. In Haryana, the death toll exceeded a hundred. In Bihar, the toll rose to three hundred. Many Sikhs were also slaughtered by well-armed mobs in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The Congress party ruled in most of these states.

Pranay Gupte뭩 book had a touching piece on his visit to Amritsar: "Inside the Harimandir, the prayers were for peace and brotherhood this morning, as they are every day of the week. Priests chanted hymns in front of the Holy Granth Sahib - which lay covered with burgundy silk shawl. There was a powerful fragrance of incense. I followed Ahuja (Gupte뭩 friend) in circumambulating the inner shrine, then I knelt in front of the Granth Sahib, and applied my forehead to the floor. A hand touched my head. I looked up. It was a Sikh priest blessing me. I rose, and he handed my some marigold. There was a gentle smile on his face.

"Ahuja and I walked up to the balcony of the Harimandir. I looked out at the Golden Temple courtyard, and beyond it toward an entire residential block that had been razed during the 1984 June military operation. So much history here, I thought, so much violence, and now what? Will Sikhs and Hindus ever again worship here without mutual suspicion? Will they intermarry with the same zest and enthusiasm? Will the Punjabi Hindu families, those who had traditionally converted their eldest sons to Sikhism continue the practice? Or will Sikhs now be a besieged minority in a country for which so many had shed their blood and perished in battles over the years? Ahuja and I looked at each other, as if the same thoughts rushed through our minds, but we said nothing to each other. What was there to say?

"We started the parikarma again. On the way, Ahuja lingered near a blackboard on which was written in chalk the daily quotation from the Granth Sahib, which serves as Sikhism뭩 bible. The script was Gurmukhi, which had been devised by Guru Nanak뭩 successor, Guru Angad. It was one of the very first steps toward establishing a separate Sikh identity."

"This world is a transitory place," the quotation read. Some of our compatriots have already gone, and some day the rest of us also have to go. This world is only a temporary abode. "It was an astonishing quotation to have put up at a time of such crisis, I thought. It was freighted with humility and fatalism. I wished I could have broadcast it to those Hindus in Delhi.

"We climbed the stairs that led away from the parikarma. A fresh hymn was being broadcast, now sung in Punjabi by a granthi. He sang softly at first, then his voice rose clear and sharp.

"If God is with me, came the granthi뭩 words, what do we have to fear? - Nothing."

And lastly, we have all read, in our history books, that it is the invaders who came from the North West who not only plundered and killed and forcibly converted and ruled - for centuries - but also destroyed and vandalised our places of worship. But how does one explain that the native majority who 뭙pitomises?the virtue of 뭪olerance?according to their own frequent proclamations, in 1984 desecrated and destroyed nearly three hundred gurdwaras in Delhi and other places (including one in my own colony)? These have been common place of worship for Hindus and Sikhs both. Even the holy shrine of Sis Ganj Gurdwara at Chandni Chowk - the spot which earlier witnessed Nadir Shah뭩 massive killings - where Guru Tegh Bahadur had been martyred, was in siege in 1984, the Guru who is called Hind-Di-Chaddar - India뭩 robe of honour.

When a wound is not healed, when basic justice is denied - it festers and when festering is not taken notice of, gangrene sets in, with surgery as the only remedy. Let us learn from history - particularly, our majoritarian secularists - for history is a cruel stepmother and when it strikes, it stops at nothing.

Thanks for reading...

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