Beyond the pain
Between the lines ~ Kuldip Nayar
Some memories do not fade, however old they become. It is really the pain that accumulates because of disappointment and helplessness in not finding justice. I realised this the other day when an old Sikh friend of mine called me from Faridkot in Punjab and started crying over the telephone. He asked me again and again why the government did not take action against the 1984 anti-Sikh rioters, some of whom he complained were still roaming free. The simple answer that I gave him was that when protectors become predators, punishment is negated. This is what happened in November 1984, when 3,000 Sikhs were killed or burnt alive in broad daylight. The then Congress government was reportedly accused of being part of the pogrom. Hence, whatever little action taken was perfunctory, not meant to bring the culprits to book.
There was the Justice Ranganath Mishra report and some other assessments. But they talked more about the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi than the killing of the Sikhs. The only worthwhile probe was conducted by Mr Justice Nanavati. But he too did not go deep enough and did not apportion blame to anyone specific. Even when, in an interview, I tried to pin him down to name the person behind the carnage, he merely said: “You know who he was.” I think the naming of the guilty was important to punish them. Had the law taken its course, the killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 would not have taken place because the rulers and their associates would have learnt the cost of complicity. Yet we must know why the Sikhs, as a community, were targeted and what was the motive behind it.
I still think that there is a necessity to appoint a Truth and Conciliation Commission like the one the South African government had when the blacks assumed power under Mr Nelson Mandela. Several white men appeared before the commission and gave gory details of what they had done by resorting to untoward and illegal methods to keep the blacks suppressed. The whites admitted the abominable role they had played. None was punished because the very nature of the commission required true confessions to avoid punishment. Similar confessions are required from the Congress leaders and the authorities of those days. Only then will we be able to reconstruct the tragedy, particularly the participation of the top leadership in the party and the government.
“This is happening because Sikhs represent only two per cent of the country’s population,” said a young Sikh at Jantar Mantar, adding that even Muslims had met the same fate in Gujarat although comprised 17 per cent of the state’s population. His note of helplessness struck me more than his pessimism. His is a telling remark on a polity that takes pride in being democratic and adherent to a secular Constitution.
Eighty per cent Hindus can brush the criticism aside as most of them usually do. Yet the fact remains that the taste of democracy goes sour if minorities feel that they are not getting their due. I must admit that the thoughts and conversations I have shared with Muslims tell me that they find the millstone of Partition still hanging around their neck even after 65 years of Independence. However, some confidence is beginning to build.
In a speech, Jamia Millia Vice-Chancellor Mr Najeeb Jung, said a few days ago: “…There is a need to understand Muslim concerns and address them to give the community greater confidence, and ensure its greater involvement in the national mainstream. Two committees appointed by the government, both chaired by retired judges of the Supreme Court, have submitted reports underlining the weak economic and educational standards of Muslims, their inadequate representation in government jobs as compared to their population, and suggested means to address them. The Government of India is making the right noises and there is hope that some positive steps will be taken to improve the lot of Muslims. Muslims themselves have realised their political power. In almost one third of seats in the Lower House of Parliament Muslim vote can make the difference between winning and losing. Muslims have gradually understood the value of tactical voting, and their sheer numbers will also gradually force the government to take them more seriously than (it had) in the first 30-40 years of Independence.”
On the other hand, Sikhs, who consider themselves close to Hindus, are beginning to feel that the relationship does not mean anything if the Hindu community gets worked up as it did in 1984. Maybe, there is a bigger lesson in the tragedies of Operation Blue Star and the killings. Only by delving into them can we understand the killing of General AS Vaidya or the attack on Lt-Gen. KS Brar who led Operation Blue Star against insurgents hiding in the Golden Temple.
Whatever the reason, it does not lessen the sanctity of orders given by the elected government to Army commanders who are duty bound to carry them out faithfully, whatever their predilections. It will be a sad day when the military questions the orders of rulers backed by Parliament.
However, the role of the Army takes me to the theatrical posturing of its retired chief, General VK Singh. There is something called propriety which he has thrown to the winds and has come down to level of urchins by asking that Parliament be gheraoed. I am shocked that Gandhian Anna Hazare, who shared the platform with him, has not realised the harm he has done to the movement he had initiated to restore the country’s value system.
While one is itching to join politics, the other, Lt-Gen. KS Brar, a Sikh, is facing the fallout of political rulers’ orders. The real question is not political but human. The Sikhs are voicing their grievance against non-rehabilitation of the victims’ families. “I have been living the horror everyday for the past 28 years. My entire family, including my husband and two sons, were mercilessly killed by the rioting mob. I recount my story every year to the media, but what difference has it made? Have I got justice?” says Surjeet Kaur, one of the victims.
True, one should move on. It is easier said than done. But punishment to the guilty will serve as a balm. The government has to initiate steps that would instill confidence in the Sikh community which should not feel helpless or abandoned.
Kuldip Nayar is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human right activist and author, noted for his long career as a left-wing political commentator.