.....Sikhtoons Home.....Contact..... Tell a Friend

1984: Not a Novel by Orwell or Murakami
By Vishavjit Singh in New York, October 31 2012 (Special slideshow at the end of article)

Oct 31st marks the 28th anniversary of a chain of events that followed the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

On this last day of October I was to listening cricket commentary from a match across the border in Pakistan at my school in New Delhi. The broadcast was abruptly interrupted by an emergency announcement. The Indian Prime Minister had been shot.

The news spread like fire. The assassins were identified as the leaders own bodyguards. They were Sikh. Within the hour we were on buses heading home.

At home we waited for my father. He got in late afternoon bringing news of mobs coalescing in parts of city targeting Sikhs in turbans and beards.

Next morning we woke up to a self imposed curfew. Once in a while out of boredom and frustration we peeked out from the cracks in the curtains of our bedrooms. All was quite through late morning hours. We spotted two policemen with long arm lengths guns pointing their weapons. We could not see the intended targets. Nevertheless this gave me a sense of safety.

An hour later we heard a slow rumble that kept getting louder. Another peek through the bedroom window and as far as the eye could see was a long stream of men armed with rods and bars walking past our alleyway. They were being managed by the same policemen I had seen earlier. My heart sank.

The mob disappeared. Hours passed by. My Hindu friends came out to play a game of cricket in the playground facing our apartment building.

And then men started streaming back in direction opposite to the mob earlier in the morning. All had hands full of merchandise. Sacks, cans, bags full of looted bounty. They seemed satisfied and harmless.

My father made the fateful decision to walk out on our balcony. Me and my brother followed. All three of us with hair tied in buns of top of our heads without our turbans. Still very recognizable as Sikhs.

We spotted a man in the distance fiddling with his flip flops. He spotted us. Then hell broke loose. He started cussing us. We rushed in and within minutes a mob had surrounded our apartment building. We could hear men seeking revenge on us. My parents huddled us in a circle to read prayers from the Sikh holy scriptures. We prayed to escape death. And escape we did.

Thanks to quick witted thinking of my friends playing cricket through this melee. I could hear them talking to the mob. Somehow they were able to reason with the mob about some salient facts. The building we lived in was owned by the government. To get to us would require destroying property owned by the very government that had provided them police escort. We were saved.

Thousands would not be this lucky. For the next three days we saw news broadcast of people walking past the body of the slain leader. Slogans in Hindi rang aloud in the background, “With blood we shall avenge blood”.

News reports of Sikh men and boys being burnt alive in parts of Delhi and cities across the country were coming in. Kerosene and gasoline were the fuel of choice. Some victims had rubber tires shoved down their mid riff and then set on fire. Sikh women fell prey to sexual violence. Countless Sikh owned businesses, residences and places of worships were gutted down.

After three days the violence came to an end. My first visual of the carnage was the cover of a magazine with three bodies burnt beyond recognition. The magazine issue was pulled off the shelves as soon as it came out.

The slain Prime Ministers son, Rajiv Gandhi was appointed as the new leader of the nation. On November 19th he addressed the nation. He offered the following famous words to explain the violence, “When a big tree falls, the earth does shake a little”.

Sikhs cleaned up exceptionally well after the carnage. After a few short weeks I could not see any vestiges of violence. There were few calls for justice. No commemorations would take place.

As an act of protest my parents voted for the first time in their lives in December for the opposition party. The ruling Congress party came to power with the largest mandate ever.

There were no external cues to build on the memory of these attacks. I moved on.

Until the planes struck on 9/11. Experiencing this violence only a few miles north of New York City, I could not help but re live the memories of innocent lives reduced to ashes in 1984.

Months later as I tried to make sense of the terrorist attacks and being a target of the ensuing hate crime wave, I discovered an outlet for my frustrations. Creating editorial cartoons became my constant refuge in making sense of the Sikh experience.

For the past ten years I have captured memories of 1984, its perpetrators and their amazing escape from justice within the flatland of lines and curves.

Twenty eight years later I ink these memories again while most Sikhs around the globe will choose not to mark this day. No matter how far in time and geography they are from the fires of 1984, the fear lives on, the invisible force of terror still burning in our lives.

<< Previous Next >>

Copyright © 2012 Sikhtoons.com | All rights reserved.