HONOURABLE SIKHS IN DISHONOURABLE INDIA. The unbearable burden of memory

Date: 8/13/2005


The unbearable burden of memory/// RAVINDER KAUR/// Posted online: Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 0000 hours IST http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=76144/// The Nanavati Commission report and the government’s ATR have raised a sufficient amount of dust and debate over the lack of justice to the victims of the pogrom against the Sikhs in 1984. The enormous amount of time that has passed between the events and the purported delivery of justice, still denied, is an insult to the victims, to the idea of India and to the idea of human rights. Individual Sikh voices, of judges, activists, victims have been heard; not too many Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Dalit voices have joined the protest against justice being delayed yet again. /// There is also a notion that the Sikhs do not look back; they want to forget (if not forgive) and move on. That if they overcame the great dislocation and loss of Partition, they will forget this too. While several family members and descendants of the victims have expressed, in media interviews, just such a wish to move on, it appears to be more out of weariness and the hopelessness of fighting a powerful political dynasty leading a national party, whose senior leaders, many of them Sikhs, until yesterday, did not have the will or the desire to take a stand. Manmohan Singh’s speech in Rajya Sabha could be the first step towards a healing process./// However, the acceptance of this stereotype of the ‘‘earthy’’ and ‘‘industrious’’ Sikh’s wish to move on, without proper closure, in the form of punishment to those who are known and proven to be guilty, is merely a convenient excuse. All along, there has been the feeling that the Sikhs have forgotten 1984, forgotten the demand for Khalistan, the terrorism and the army brutalities (reports on the number of missing due to police action lie gathering dust in NGO offices), and have integrated again, gone back to their love for the here and now, and to the business of producing India’s grain and being the ever-ready target of popular jokes. Evidence of this is the fact that you still find Sikhs all over the country speaking the local language (Telugu in Hyderabad, Bengali in Calcutta); they have not ghettoised themselves, they have not found themselves an Israel. /// Are the Sikhs different from other human beings? Do they have no need for memory? Are they to be denied a right to memory? And searing memories there are. I was away from India at the time but the palpable fear touched me — fear for my brothers with their long hair, for my father, the vice-principal of a Sikh college — I wept with fear for them, with outrage, with unhappiness. This is how we were being treated in our own country, now where would we go? A few years later, my heart turned over on seeing a young Sikh boy begging on the street. I wanted to tell him: be proud, don’t beg, we are not known for begging, do anything to keep body and soul together but don’t destroy a much cherished stereotype of the Sikhs. My family’s fate was nothing compared to families whose members were burnt alive, whose young boys and men were killed so brutally that you wonder, together with other victims — Dalits who suffer upper caste atrocities, women who suffer male atrocities — how little it takes to turn us into inhuman brutes. The memories of the survivors of the pogrom are etched on their faces, in the fear hidden in their hearts that at any moment the friendly neighbour could turn into a perpetrator of violence; in destroyed homes and livelihoods, in the fearful sales of property held outside the state of Punjab, in the looks given by immigration officers every time they saw your Sikh name on the passport and in countless other social transactions. I think it is these memories that need to be respected and this fear that needs to be addressed. These memories need to be given their due place, the humanity of the victims needs to be restored. And that can only be done by punishing the guilty. /// This punishment of the guilty is not vindictiveness, it is not revenge. It is a necessary act in any civilised society, a society which claims to be governed by the rule of law. Unless this happens, no citizen of this country will feel safe from the possibility of politically instigated, vindictive violence. Every petty and not so petty thug politician feels that he or she can get away with organising a riot here, a brutal beating up of workers there. If the guilty are not brought to book, however high and mighty they may be, we cannot call ourselves a ‘‘modern’’ or a ‘‘civilised’’ society. /// While the rest of the world debates whether America should apologise for Hiroshima or Nagasaki or whether the Japanese should apologise to the Koreans and the Chinese, and while the Jews successfully keep memory of the gruesome holocaust alive, hopefully alerting the world that never should this be repeated, our leaders were taking time to figure out ways to bury ‘‘the report’’. Does it take away so much from both the leaders of the Congress at the helm of affairs today, to admit to the wrongness of the violence, to the involvement of party cadres, and to apologise for it? Maybe such acts would bring the closure that a thousand commissions or a few ‘‘action taken’’ steps may never be able to achieve. /// The writer is an associate professor at IIT, Delhi /// .......................000000000