Crowdfunding Countercurrents

Submission Policy

Popularise CC

Join News Letter




CC Youtube Channel

Editor's Picks

Press Releases

Action Alert

Feed Burner

Read CC In Your
Own Language

Bradley Manning

India Burning

Mumbai Terror

Financial Crisis


AfPak War

Peak Oil



Alternative Energy

Climate Change

US Imperialism

US Elections


Latin America









Book Review

Gujarat Pogrom

Kandhamal Violence


India Elections



About Us


Fair Use Notice

Contact Us

Subscribe To Our
News Letter


Search Our Archive

Our Site






The Ghosts Of 1984

By Priyanka Dass Saharia

20 June, 2014

“It was around 10 in the morning. We were in AIIMS that day, 31st October, 1984. My mother-in-law had her checkup and we’d gone for an appointment”, recalls Mrs Paramjit Singh (name changed), 60 years, a resident of Model Town. She remembers the morning to be calm; “the calm before the storm” in a usual day at the hospital, the scene fast changing as noon proceeded.

“There was a huge crowd, something had happened” she says clearly recalling the low usual buzz to quickly taken a pace of agitated hustle-bustle. “Indira Gandhi had been shot by her bodyguard”, the news went viral as the agitation increased.

As the family sped via the Akbar Road to Connaught Place, there was a palpable environment. It was the call of the uprisings ahead. The family reached home safe and the news filtered through the All India radio about the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. She was finally declared dead in the evening. That was the ignition point of the explosive riots of 1984.

“The first destructions to happen were the taxi rampage. The drivers were dragged out, and beaten brutally. We could see a trail of smoke erupting from Azadpur where we learnt that a factory was burnt”, she remembers with a chill down her spine.

“Model Town was a safe haven though”, she asserts quickly. The lady remains a proud resident of the area having lived here for 40 years of her life. “The people here were rich and wealthy and could see beyond the madness of the agitations. The Hindus took it upon themselves to protect the Sikhs. They told us that they’d help us hide in their homes and almirahs and advised us to keep pots with pebbles and water in case our houses were lit”, she believed that the collective communitarian spirit helped the locality to keep its inhabitants safe and sound.

“My husband was into printing and book binding business. He informed us of how a man was fed petrol and a burning matchstick was thrown into his mouth. His stomach burst into flames” were her words through shivers and shudders. “If these Hindus helping the Sikhs were caught they would be beaten too. The measures were brutal with rubber tyres tied around the necks and the men were dragged. More than 2300 were killed, I heard” she muttered.

She recalls the tragic tale of an acquaintance in Karol Bagh, “The sons and the father had gone to get cash from the shop and the shop was burnt by the mob. No one remained except a diamond ring was found later”. She sketched the spatial dynamics of the revolt, where the mob targeted pockets of Sikh communities located at various parts of the city. “The most badly hit was Vasant Vihar which had a huge Sikh community living there, while the ones at Model Town were relatively safe” she recounts.

“The barbers here were having a field day. They charged 500 rupees for a haircut as everyone was going and getting their hair cut for fear of giving away their Sikh identity in the public” she adds on a relatively lighter note. But the memories were painful and it seemed evident from her recollections.

“I believe that it is the poor and the needy that resort to these means of violence. They are in need and when a person is in need he can even eat off the road. These sections of people are brainwashed and though most do know the madness behind it, they do it for the money that they get in spreading violence from communal groups” she adds after much thought.

The sporadic violence continued for 3 days calling in mass destruction of property and genocide. “People were lynched and murdered in the worst possible ways that one could imagine” she says with tears in her eyes. But I am proud of the way Model Town residents kept their unity intact and saved the place.”

Most of the victims were men and the narratives on the progrom forgot to capture the subjective lived experiences of the widows of these unfortunate in the face of a worrying future of isolation and agony that they were left behind with.

Who is to be blamed for these riots? In the threat to national unity, the State takes punitive measures to align these “deviant” groups through coercive means as such, which apart from border lining the character of a totalitarian regime, involves gross human rights violation. Till today, the residents of these Sikhs pockets (Trans-Yamuna cities in Delhi and Punjab) are fighting cases against their lost relatives. The damage to the psychological framework of the children who were witnesses to these murders of their families often remains a constant reminder of the alienation from the nation state in their future years in the formation of an “Indian” identity. “The mother who killed her own children” were the words of a Sikh taxi-driver.

Punjab, though portrayed as a prosperous “Bread Basket of India” has been an experimental guinea-pig for the Green Revolution which left many scars on the Agrarian Community. The people left unemployed had to tackle the added emotional burdens of injustice meted out to them post the riots when their families were murdered and many got no remuneration or justice. The psychological stress with structural incapacities of the state to provide employment leaves the men experimenting with drugs in the face of a shattering sense of self, especially the “masculine” self.

The Indian State has been quick to harness economic benefits from its regional pockets but does it ensure an equal protection of their cultural, social and legal rights. Several Congress leaders were under the radar for allegedly inciting mobs towards communal violence which probably explains the silence of the legal machinery of the nation behind these riots. Courts relied on fabricated and manipulated statements made by the police rather than words of living witnesses of the massacres.

“The ghosts of the 1984 riots are not going away just yet. Vigorous efforts are under way to resurrect them” asserts Chander Suta Dogra. The Sikh Diasporas across the globe have played an instrumental role in the dissemination of the human rights violation aspect in the progrom. On the 29th anniversary of these riots last year, a United States-based human rights advocacy group called the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) submitted a petition to UNHRC to recognize these killings as “Genocide” under Article 2 of the U.N. Convention on Genocide. The failure of the State and its judiciary to provide justice has been internationalized as the “pathology” of a modern nation state, with Sikh Diasporas across the globe mobilizing support on the grounds of a common cause to garner justice for the victims and the families.

The politicians at home dismissed these reactions as “cheap attempt to get publicity” and wrote the issue off as something that doesn’t resonate with the picture in Punjab today. But the truth remains that till today, the Sikh identity retains the taints of the 1984 riots where the nation state failed to protect their interest and people marginalizing them on the lines of culture and religion. How does the nation state hope to carry out a successful plan to integrate the diversity in a common national imagination with such ineffective and unjust judicial system?

The problem with the matter is the lack of engagement from the collective Indian community to fight for the cause. It always remains the “Sikh problem” and therein lays the lack of connection as a national community. One attaches the identity of one’s religion, region, and ethnicity to any political upheaval that takes place in India, which is ironic for a constitutional framework which has time and again reasserted the unity as a nation to be foremost in their agenda. The diverse mass fails to identity to problems as an “Indian” and hence the apathetic indifference to political issues like the “Northeast Ethnonational problem” or “The Punjab Khalistan problem” or the “Kashmir issue” where the narrative is framed in a manner which fails to stretch beyond regional identities and bring about the horizontal comradeship that is required of a nation state with a diversity as ours to work out effective solutions. It’s a largely pan-Indian problem which fails to be portrayed as such for people fail to rise above their regional and ethnic/religious identities to cohesively formulate a national consciousness to identity the issue at hand as a “national” human rights problem which violates constitutional norms.

“Blood for blood” was the common slogan during the riots, where even the best failed to tease out the mindless madness behind the killings in a fit of communal fury from the underlying political cause that gave rise to the assassination in the first place. An annihilation of regional/religious identity is not something that shapes a strong national ethos but one needs to unpack the modular ways of thinking and reformulate the lines along which “secularism” is defined at the wake of these progroms. Many have often argued how “Secularism” is a garb of the normative ends that politicians at play want to attain by fueling communal fires as such. The “bleeding Punjab” or the “torn apart Gujarat” remain testimonies to the destruction that people at power, the ones “to rule” can be capable of, by channeling the energies of “the ruled”, the subaltern masses in an attempt to thrive on the divisive politics and political mobilizations that has helped many Indian leaders to keep their positions intact.

As I finished my cup of coffee and headed for work, Mrs Paramjit Singh shed a tear and said, “Rhongte khade ho jaate hai aaj bhi, yaad kar ke …”

Priyanka Dass Saharia is a final year masters student of Sociology in Delhi School of Economics. Email: [email protected]


Share on Tumblr



Comments are moderated