Search This Website


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Remembering 'Daar ji' and the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984: Twenty five years after Operation Blue Star

(C) Indscribe

A quarter century has elapsed since the horrific anti-Sikh riots had engulfed parts of North India including Delhi. Though it seems ages ago, but to my mind, it's still fresh.

I was eight when the anti-Sikh pogrom shook the nation due to the Congress' disastrous policies and its mishandling of the Punjab issue. [A couple of months later I was witness to the biggest industrial disaster of the world--the gas tragedy in Bhopal.]

Circa 1984: The All India Radio blared news about skirmishes between militants and police in Punjab on a regular basis. Just two years ago the grand Asiad had excited Indians and TV was slowly becoming a part of every urban household.

Fortunately or unfortunately there was no concept of live TV news. As a result, the images of neither the damage to the Golden Temple during the army operation nor the widespread carnage in national capital could be seen in rest of the country.

My first memory is fire in the building behind my house. A tent house owned by a Sikh was set afire and the flames had spread to the entire structure. It was a horrifying scene but youths seemed enjoying the sight.

The middle-aged Sikh gentleman in our locality had got a haircut to avoid the gazes. And there were groups of youths on the prowl. In Gwalior, the situation was even worse. The eateries and dhabas run by Sikh refugees were either ransacked or burnt.

In Rae Bareli, Kanpur, Hardoi and other neighbouring districts in UP which I passed through a few days later, the talk on the streets would be like--'we saw a Sikh driving a truck in that direction' or 'at that place a Sikh family was cornered' and 'taught a lesson'. And this was the situation hundreds of kilometers away from Delhi, where the real massacres took place.


My worst experience was seeing the trauma of 'daarji' [my father's friend] and his family. His son called him 'daarji' [shorter version of Sardarji]. He was born and brought up near Lahore. After partition, he had migrated to Indian Punjab and later came to Central India.

When we visited his home soon after the riots, the entire family was huddled in a room on the backside, almost scared to death. Their house was attacked thrice in a week--all by 'civilised', educated neighbours and local boys.

They were so scared that only when the policeman deployed at their residence yelled a couple of times, they came out and opened the door of the backyard to let us in. They were all shaken. He tried all contacts when his house was targeted, but to no avail. Friends had stopped taking calls and even a senior police official close to him, hadn't been enthusiastic about providing security.

After repeated attacks, the family had run to a gurudwara and took shelter. When they returned, they would rarely venture out. Their trauma was all the more worse because like most of the Hindu families in Punjab, they also had both Sikhs and Hindus in the same clan.

In many Hindu families, the eldest son was asked to follow the path of Sikhism. So 'Daar ji' became a Sikh, while his brothers remained Hindu. Outside Punjab, it was not widely known and people often expressed surprise.

I can never forget their faces--the couple breaking down every now and then, the pale horror-stricken faces of their daughters. Especially, when he would cry and say--'Unhon-ne Guru Granth sahab ko jala diya, sab se zyaad to usmein Ram ka hi naam likha hai' [They set fire to the Guru Granth Sahib, that mentions the name of Lord Rama most].

Time is a great healer. 'Daar ji' kept getting promotions and was attached to Chief Minister's office. But he could never come out of the trauma fully. The anti-Sikh pogrom in which thousands of innocents were killed, was shamelessly concealed by the state-run Doordarshan and Akashwani.

First, the last rites of Indira Gandhi were turned a national spectacle. Who didn't watch Amitabh Bachchan standing by the side of the handsome Rajiv Gandhi, as he lit the funeral pyre.[Incidentally, Amitabh's mother Teji was also a Sikh]
Then elections were announced. Soon the TV was suddenly showing movies through out morning. In those days it was too tempting and I recall watching flicks of Raj Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar, Rajesh Khanna and lot of other stars.

Then, there were no CD-DVD players or cable TV and the movie bonanza kept the citizens hooked. The atmosphere was euphoric. Rajiv had heralded a new era. Sikhs, the protectors and defenders of Hinduism, had been suddenly been turned into villains.

The sorrow of the widows and the cries of orphans didn't matter then. After all, 'a tree' had fallen and the 'tremors' had to be felt. Who expected justice in that atmosphere? Was it the misdeeds of two guards for which millions paid the price. Or it was the Congress' policies that turned the hero of Bangladesh war, Major General Shahbeg, to turn a rebel and die fighting against the same army?

To whip up passions and win elections, the communal and linguistic cards were played time and again in Punjab. A couple of years after the carnage, the demand for justice was raised forcefully. Some families did get compensation. Militancy again got a filip and it took many years before normalcy was restored in Punjab though the communal harmony and bonding in the society was severely affected by then.

However, the big fish remained scot-free. One wonders if such horrors were possible if there was 24/7 television then. Nobody knows. Though AIR and DD had 'managed' the situation too well for the Central government then, still there were many rebellions in army camps across India, that were not reported then.

It could have been far worse for the integrity of the nation or the deteriorating situation may have been controlled much earlier. It was later said that the anti-Sikh violence could be the last major communal conflagration of such magnitude in independent India. But in live TV age, there was the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, once again reminding us about the mob mentality in us [our society].

Those who won't dare to take a step for for others or speak a word in ordinary times, turn killers when they are part of mob and they suddenly have their sight on the greater common cause. Software, Sensex and Swanky SUVs are fine but no society can claim to be truly progressive until it remains unrepentant and fails to learn lessons from the past.

In a way 1984 seems distant past. In a way it's yesterday.


Amit J said...

Although the Anti-Sikh riots were(and still are) a matter of shame for our country,what is heartnening to see is the way the Sikh community re-emerged after the riots.Today,you have a movie called 'Singh is King' which glorifies the community.The point is,the way the community branded itself did it a lot of good.
The Muslims in India can learn from this.I feel a big part of their problems can be solved if they improved their image.Another shining example is the Parsis.I think the Muslims should use large scale 'Gandhian' measures to start dialougue with people who view them with most distrust.For eg,take a procession out on the streets of Ahmedabad and give flowers to each businessman.The community must remember that they must grow 'inspite' their so called leadership,not because of them

!!! said...

Its not correct to label the 84 riots on Sikhs as Hindu attack. Because riots were orchestrated/led by Congress-leaders/workers of all religions - hindu/muslims/christians alike. On the contrary, right wing RSS groups worked to protect sikhs in Delhi during 84 riots - a fact publicly well acknowledged by Sikhs in Delhi as also the root grounding for collaboration between Akali's and BJP.

Sandeep Monga said...

Dear Adnan,The 1984 riots were again apolitically engineered pogrom.I remember staying up all night and keeping a watch so that no one could harm oue sikh neighbours,and you are absolutely right Hindus used to make their eldest son a sikh.I am a Punjabi so I know it all the more but 1 point,it was not just 1 community that attacked the sikhs,mostly it were the people from slums who did this or outsiders and from all the communities,it was very rare to see next door neighbours do this.Punjab problem was never a punjabi problem.We Punjabis had no bad blood between us.It was created by Indira Gandhi & it consumed her itself. Media with the exception of The Indian Express was pro congress,as it is still and never reported it properly.Gujrat was widely reported because it was ruled by BJP,while they want to avoid Bhiwandi & Neelhi as The states were ruled by Congress.

indscribe said...

@ Amit bhai: You are right. Congress tried to wash away the sins by the elevation of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.

@ !!! : Nowhere I wrote that it was Hindu Vs Sikh. Congress leaders, goons, anti-socials and unemployed youths of mohallas, were all part of it.

@ Sandeep Ji: Correct. Just a year ago the Moradabad riots, Neilly and later Hashmipura-Maliana were not reported. Once again it was Indian Express that had written about these incidents.

jay said...


@ Amit J, Making a movie "Singh is King" is not a sign of progress, and i dont think govt made this movie and the justice was served. And kindly dont suggest Muslim community about what they should learn. What has Hindu community learnt? If the justice was done in 1984, Gujarat incidence would have never happened. Saying sorry serves no purpose. How many Hindu groups have come in millions and protested that justice must be served, whether a musim/sikh/christian or Hindu gets killed for religious hatred? For that matter, Muslims have been a shame too,of course taking arms is no answer to anything, but how come Muslims weren't marching in front of supreme court to give justice and not move unless justice is given in 1984, 2002? Muslims have also shown a great apathy to Sikh carnage in 1984. India will be mature country when Hindus will protest when any muslim/sikh is killed and muslims will protest when any Hindu is killed, or one community saving the other; till then we will all be hindu/muslim/sikh/christian etc and not be INDIANS.
I being a Sikh can say that NOTHING has been done. 25 years and no justice?

@Sandeep, well, many Hindus say that Sikhs came out of Hindus and all that, nobody is protesting it. They do it, so they can prove closeness and remind Sikhs they were Hindus once, but does that serve the purpose of providing justice? And then they claim they saved many Sikhs around their neighborhoods, well, we have save the whole country for centuries and we will still do at any cost; but country has its obligations to people as well.

I dont mean to disrespect anybody but denial/inaction/apathy is a bad tool.

jay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Balajee Diwakar said...

Dear Indscribe,

Very well written commentary on the days following aftermath of Indira Gandhi's death. In my view, we have still not given justice to all large scale massacres carried out in India be it 84 riots or 02 Gujarat riots.
At community level we must grow up and forgive and forget, but the individuals who committed the crimes have not been punished. Till the perpetrators of violence are punished, the people will not have complete faith in Indian system. Rule of law must prevail for prevention of future massacres.

How Do said...

in all honesty, i cannot respond to this post because it hits too close home. All i can say is Thank you for writing about it.

Anonymous said...


justicefordalits said...

good one

Hicham Maged said...

It is sad to see this much of misunderstanding and stereotypes everywhere, espcially when politicians involves as usual for short-run benifits.

Truth said...

its very sad and condemned...this happen in congress ruls from years...like tragetted 50000 hindi speaking peoples in punjab by khalistani 1980's -84.... or thousands killed raped looted and According to the National Human Rights Commission, about 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to leave Kashmir. But Kashmiri groups peg the number of migrants closer to 500,000....,since the end of 1989 and till now they are not been settled/allowed to go back there.January 4, 1990. Aftab, a local Urdu newspaper, publishes a press release issued by Hizb-ul Mujahideen, set up by the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1989 to wage jihad for Jammu and Kashmir's secession from India, asking all Hindus to pack up and leave. Another local paper, Al Safa, repeats this expulsion order.They have been forced to live the life of exiles in their own country, outside their homeland, by unleashing a systematic campaign of terror, murder, loot and arson....

Anonymous said...

Its a black mark on the face of India. Sikhs have been at the forefront in protecting India and the fight for independence in spite of their lower population. Sikhs are patriots and god fearing. Gandhi and congress tried to divide and rule in punjab and it back fired. Not a single person has been brought to justice and then they murdered 1000's of youths in punjab by the police. Shame on you India...trust me this is not going to go away.

Priya Kohli said...

Article is written with an objective to divide Hindus and sikhs

indscribe said...

PRIYA JI: They were rioters and this article is against them, against those who commit mindless violence.

A CONGRESS wala would feel that this is against Congress. These are remembrances.

These things are important to write so that people don't forget. People may find things inconvenient but if you don't want to draw lessons from history, you are either naive or escapist.

Of course, if someone has guilt in heart, they will feel it shouldn't be 'raked up'.