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La Noche Triste


Pav Singh’s 1984: India’s Guilty Secret and the continuing Sikh night of sorrows.

indo 4

Is catastrophe a precursor to genocide or is genocide a spontaneous outburst of violence- essentially a riot? The misnomer of riot to veil genocide is nowhere more evident than in the Indian state’s treatment of the anti-Sikh pogroms of November 1984. Whereas the political-cum-social discourse of the majority community has condensed the event into the misbranded Delhi Riots, for the survivors they were a well-executed genocide. It is axiomatic that justice delayed is justice denied; Pav Singh in his 1984: India’s Guilty Secrethowever goes a step further- on the basis of the survivors’ accounts which he recounts lucidly- Singh contends that November was by no means a riot. It was the culmination of a long drawn out plan to inflict such wounds on the Sikh psyche that the community would never again agitate for civil rights in the Indian union, and assimilate into the greater neo-Hindu political fold (Hindutva). Radical, in scope, 1984 has swiftly dethroned existing analyses of that apocalyptic November and portends change in the global perception of genocide.  

1984, from the onset, does not exercise restraint. It is vivid in it’s recounting of the horrors which the Sikhs faced in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indra Gandhi’s assassination. Whereas the mass rapes of Sikh girls and women have often been downplayed in the works of Khushwant Singh and Nayer, Pav Singh elects to focus on how it was employed as a tool to humiliate Sikh males before they were doused in kerosene and set on fire. His almost calm narration of events is enough to render even the most staunch of readers chilled. A fourteen year old boy is forced to witness the gang-rape of his mother; a whole family is hurled out of their residence to witness their daughters being stripped nude, urinated upon and then raped by hordes of mourners (as consecutive political accounts would refer to the culprits). Sikh males are set alight whereas groups of Sikh women are rounded up and held outside Delhi in a semi-concentration camp where they are continually violated. The myth that only Sikh males were targeted is effortlessly effaced by Pav Singh who dedicates an entire chapter to the sexual atrocities suffered by Sikh women. The attitude of doctors, police, and general society towards the victims of rape are also scrutinized. Elements of all three would be instrumental in evicting victims from aid camps and returning them to their prior locii which, in most cases, would be in ruins. The fortunate would escape; the unfortunate would once again fall into the hands of their violators. 

Another complex facet, of the November pogroms, which has hitherto been obscured is what happened to the Sikh policemen and military personnel in Delhi? 1984 unabashedly substantiates, based on official documentation, how all Sikh serving personnel in Delhi were ordered to take leave in the early hours of November 1st ’84. Most would have had no idea, other than that Indra Gandhi had been gunned down by her Sikh bodyguard duo the night before, of the inferno which awaited them outside their official precincts. Weaponless, they would have walked straight into effective death traps. Military personnel, serving or otherwise, would have fallen prey to armed mobs on the nation’s railway network. Were Sikhs only targeted at train stops? Pav Singh systematically exposes this canard, again relying on official documentation, to evidence that at least forty-six unauthorized train stops were made which allowed assembled mobs to slay all Sikhs on board.  

For Sikhs, the primacy of Pav Singh’s work hinges on three crucial factors:

1.) It effectively refutes the misnomer of riot.

2.) Whilst paying tribute to the few brave souls who risked life and limb to save Sikhs, it also depicts the callousness of politicians, police and neighbors who betrayed the Sikhs by rendering them defenseless in the face of bloodthirsty mobs.

3.) It refutes the theory of Delhi Riots. Detailed maps provide evidence of sanguinary pogroms executed in Gujrat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal and Agartala. 

Candid, impenitent and critical- Pav Singh’s 1984 is radical in it’s approach to the November pogroms. Though sections of the Indian media are criticizing Singh, his work should be judged with impartiality; India’s Guilty Secret not only recounts the atrocities inflicted on the Sikhs, but also exposes the political/social cohesion via which the events of November ’84 transpired. The theory of Nanak Jayanti, an alleged rumor which posits that the pogroms were intended for execution on the birth celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (founder of the Sikh faith) for maximum damage, is also analyzed by Singh. Victim statements are taken into account which depict the conditions outside Punjab in the aftermath of the ill-construed Operation Bluestar. Sikh businesses and residences were often transcribed with a symbol in the lead-up to November; on the night of 31st October teams were employed to scour several cities in a mission to place this S on all Sikh locations. On the 1st of November the grim significance of this symbol would become transparent as mobs  marched on all such identified locations.  Nanak Jayanti, caught out by Gandhi’s demise, had been implemented earlier to teach the troublesome Sikhs a bloody lesson.   

What of the judiciary and the aftermath? Singh, in a brief list, provides an exposition of all the failed commissions which attempted to tackle November ’84 but failed to provide even token justice for the victims. He ends on a poignant note; the survivors of ’84, forgotten by all, are shown as suffering from the trauma of the atrocities inflicted upon them. The state is continually failing in it’s mandate to provide them justice; the social discourse veils their trauma whereas the same ideology which preyed upon them is today gaining ground nationwide. Justice delayed is justice denied, justice denied is justice perverted.   



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