On June 4th 1984, the Indian government launched 'Operation Blue star
' against the Sikh separatists, killing 400 people. The attack took place in the holiest place of worship for Sikhs, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. These separatists were advocating for the equality of Sikhs in a majority Hindu nation, or a separate Sikh homeland to be formed.
In response to the governmental organised killings at the Golden Temple, on October 31st 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards at her home in Delhi. Sikhs all over India were raped, tortured, and murdered
in the days that followed Indira Gandhi’s death.
Being the third-generation British-Asian, I wasn’t fully aware of the impact of these atrocities on a community that my parents belonged to. Like many groups who suffer racial discrimination, our tragedies were brushed under the carpet as if it was our fault as victims.
I learnt about the massacre during my Punjabi class, which had become a mundane weekly experience of my teenage life. I remember my attention suddenly being taken by the teacher who was reciting a poem. The poem was written by a victim who had lost her father in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India.
I then went home to ask my mother about the anti Sikh riots, but my requests were hushed, I was told to concentrate on my studies and not to speak too much about it at home.
Later, when I was in my third year of University while I was looking for dissertation topic, a visit to the Sikh holocaust museum in Derby reignited my interest in the 1984 Sikh genocide. After this, I decided to base my research on the psychological impacts of the 1984 genocide on Indian and British Sikhs.
It was important to me to hear first person accounts of the genocide. As part of my research I interviewed five victims who had been either raped, tortured in prison or had lost a family member right in front of they’re own eyes. Many of these interviewees also expressed their remorse at how several young Sikh men had taken up arms against the government in retaliation of the countless injustices that they faced.
The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots had committed no crime, however, at the time, being Sikh was a legitimate reason for rioters to mercilessly kill you. After twenty-seven years, seven investigative committees and two inquiry commissions, none of the perpetrators who were involved in leading and executing the anti-Sikh riots have been arrested or found guilty.
The current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, spoke in the Indian parliament in August 2005, saying, "I apologise not only to Sikh community but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution"
. Although the Indian government has taken responsibility for the attacks against Sikhs, provided some compensation for the victims and their families, the memories of the massacre are hard to forget.
In 2011, India Today
reported an interview with the journalists who covered the 1984 riots, Rahul Bedi and Joseph Mallikan.
"The massacre continued for two long days in houses on either side of a by lane. The killers were so exact and meticulous that they did not even hurry with their job, just took their time to rape, murder and torture them between meals," Bedi said.
Malliakan, who is currently the editor of JEM magazine, says "I saw a Sikh along with his wife dragged out of his tenement, doused with kerosene and set on fire. Those scenes have not left me. There is no closure to it".
Sikhs, being a minority in India, felt that they had lost a sense of belonging in a country that was meant to be they’re homeland. Many people lost their lives and loved ones in that reign of terror. While it’s true that one does not achieve anything by digging old wounds, it is important to recognise the impact of crimes that are motivated by religious, caste, or race differences. The victims who have lost they’re lives in vain are not the only ones effected; they’re generation too carry the burdens of the injustices suffered by they’re ancestors. To be rid of this vicious cycle, we need to create a society that celebrates difference, replaces fear with curiosity and replaces ignorance with knowledge.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Shashwat_Nagpal