According to the famous Czech writer Milan Kundera, “the first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was... The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
We are continuing the same struggle today. After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for three days the well-organized mob with explicit instructions from the federal government went to loot, destroy, rape, eliminate every identifiable Sikh in India. Iron rods, crow bars, kerosene, and firearms were provided to the mobs.
Voter lists, ration lists, and school registration lists were used to identify and track Sikhs, Gurduaras, and Sikh businesses. Slogans like “blood for blood” were shown repeatedly on state controlled television. Rumors were circulated about the violence against Hindus in Panjab to incite hatred against Sikhs in India.
Sikh soldiers were disarmed and confined to barracks while the army was deliberately kept outside Delhi until 11/4. All this occurred in the presence of police who ignored the violence and at times aided in it. The police officers who deviated from this order were neutralized. And records were manipulated to destroy the paper trail in order to protect the criminals from prosecution. For the Sikh victims, the police refused to record FIR (First Information Reports) or falsified them.
According to NY Times, there was a complete censorship of the press. The relief measures were inadequate. VM Tarkunde, retired justice of the Indian Supreme Court, stated “Two lessons can be drawn from the experience of Delhi riots. One is about the extent of criminalization of our politics and the other about the utter unreliability of our police force in critical situation.”
According to the government data the number of Sikhs killed in Delhi was 2733; HS Phoolka, Delhi high court lawyer, estimates 4000; Affidavits have been filed for 5015; Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi, estimates 10,000. These estimates are just in Delhi while the killings occurred throughout India.
Rajiv Gandhi justified the Sikh murders, rapes, loot and arson by saying, “When a great tree falls, earth trembles.” The result of the violence against an easily identifiable minority was winning 414/533 seats in the Parliament for the Congress Party of India.
Even the opposition party, Sangh Parivar, stated that the Sikhs invited the attacks. There have been 11 commissions and inquiries but no high level politician or law enforcement official has been convicted despite eye witness accounts and abundant of evidence. On the other hand, the perpetrators were awarded cabinet positions, governorships, and high positions in political parties.
The lack of accountability against the organizers of the Genocide paved the way to the violence against the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Pogroms will continue to occur in India unless the state acknowledges and records these violations in a transparent and honest manner. And move towards cleansing itself of the people and institutions that perpetrate these crimes and also address the survivors' rights to knowledge, justice, and reparation.
I, as a survivor of the Sikh Genocide of 1984, wait for the day when the citizens of India will demand and display the very ideals of unity, justice, and healing as the citizens of America illustrated after the Wisconsin massacre in 2012.
Let’s not forget the killings of innocent people no matter where they occur. Instead, we ought to remember, revive, and respond like our fathers and mothers did. They sought inspiration from within and channeled their energies towards discovering their role in pursuit of justice.
Dr. Pritpal Singh is a Physician Executive with Cigna where he serves as a Mentor to Health Management teams by providing clinical insight, educational support, and health care solutions strategies. He lives in Dallas where he is regularly speaks at local educational, religious, and social forums. Pritpal is a board member of South Asia Democracy Watch and Sikh Research Institute.