Some memories do not fade, however old they become. It is really the pain
which accumulates because of disappointment and helplessness in not finding
justice. I realized this the other day when an old Sikh friend of mine
called me from Faridkot in Punjab and cried on the phone. He asked me again
and again why the government did not take action against the 1984 anti-Sikh
rioters, some of whom he complained were still roaming free.
The simple answer which I gave him was that when protectors become
predators, the punishment is negated. This is what happened in November
1984, when 3000 Sikhs were killed or burnt alive in broad daylight. The
then Congress government was reportedly accused of being part of the
pogrom. Hence whatever little action taken was perfunctory, not meant to
bring the culprits to book.
There was the Chief Justice Ranganath Mishra report and some other
assessments. But they talked more about the assassination of Mrs Indira
Gandhi than the killing of the Sikhs. The only worthwhile probe was that of
Justice Nanavati. But he too did not go deep enough and did not apportion
blame to anybody specifically. Even when, in an interview, I tried to pin
him down to name person behind the carnage, he merely said: “You know who
I think the naming of the guilty was important to punish them. Had the law
taken its normal course, the killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 would
not have taken place because the rulers and their associates would have
learnt the lesson for complicity. Yet we must know why the Sikhs, as a
community, were targeted and what was the motive behind doing so.
* *I still think that there is a necessity to appoint a Truth and
Conciliation Commission like the one the South African government did when
the blacks assumed power under Nelson Mandela. Several white men appeared
before the commission and gave gory details of what they did by resorting
to untoward and illegal methods to keep the blacks suppressed. The white
admitted the abominable role they had played.
None was punished because the very nature of the commission required true
confessions to avoid punishment. Similar confessions are required from the
Congress leaders and the authorities of those days. Only then would we be
able to reconstruct the tragedy, particularly the participation of the top
leadership in the party and the government.
“This is happening because we are only two percent in the country,” said a
young Sikh at Jantar Mantar, adding that even the Muslims met the same fate
in Gujarat although they were 17 per cent. His note of helplessness struck
me more than his pessimism. His is a telling remark on a polity which takes
pride in being democratic and adherent of secular constitution.
The 80 per cent Hindus can brush the criticism aside as most of them do.
Yet the fact remains that the taste of democracy goes savour if the of the
minorities feel that they are not getting their due. I must admit that the
thoughts and conversations I have shared with the Muslims tell me that they
find the millstone of partition still hanging around their neck even after
65 years of independence. However, some confidence is beginning to build.
In a speech, Jamia Millia vice-chancellor Najeeb Jung, said a few days ago:“ …There is need to understand Muslim concerns and address them to give the
community greater confidence, and ensure its greater involvement in the
national mainstream. Two committees appointed by the government, both
chaired by retired judges of the Supreme Court, have submitted reports
underlining the weak economic and educational standards of Muslims, their
inadequate representation in government jobs as compared to their
population, and suggested means to address them. The Government of India is
making the right noises and there is hope that some positive steps will be
taken to improve the lot of the Muslims. The Muslims themselves have
realised their political power. In almost one third of seats in the lower
house of Parliament Muslim vote can make the difference between winning and
losing. The Muslims have gradually understood the value of tactical voting,
and their sheer numbers will also gradually force the government to take
them more seriously than the first 30-40 years of Independence.”
On the other hand, the Sikhs, who consider themselves close to Hindus, are
beginning to feel that the relationship does not mean anything if the Hindu
community gets worked up as it did in 1984. Maybe, there is a bigger lesson
in the tragedies of Operation Blue Star and the killings. Only by delving
into then would we understand the killing of General A.S. Vaidya or the
attack on Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar who led the Operation Blue Star against the
insurgents entrenched in the Golden Temple.
Whatever the reason, it does not lessen the sanctity of orders given by the
elected government to the army commanders who are duty bound to carry them
out faithfully, whatever their predilections. It would be a sad day when
the military would question the order of rulers backed by parliament.
However, the role of the army takes me to the theatrical posture of the
retired General V.K. Singh. There is something called propriety which he
has thrown to the wind and has come down to level of urchins asking for
gehraoing parliament. I am shocked that Gandhian Anna Hazare, who shared
the platform with him, has not realized the harm he has done to the
movement he has initiated to bring back the value system.
See the comparison between the two. One is itching to join politics while
the other, Brar, a Sikh, is facing the fallout of political rulers’ order.
The real question is not political but human. The Sikhs are voicing their
grievance against non-rehabilitation of the victims’ families. “I have been
living the horror everyday for the past 28 years. My entire family,
including my husband and two sons, were mercilessly killed by the rioting
mob. I recount my story every year to the media, but what difference has it
made? Have I got justice?” says Surjeet Kaur, one of the victims.
True, one should move on. It is easier said than done. But punishment to
the guilty will serve as a balm. The government has to initiate steps that
would instill confidence in the Sikh community which should not feel
helpless or abandoned. *EOM*