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1984 riots: Justice delayed

chandigarh Updated: May 19, 2013 13:38 IST
Khushwant Singh

During my voyage to the West in 2005 for my first book, Sikhs Unlimited, I got a shocker listening to some of the views a section of the American Sikhs held about their motherland, India.

Even though it had been almost one and a half decades since terrorism in Punjab had been quelled comprehensively, a few not only held a very rabid anti-Indian government stance, but a section still thought Khalistan was a masterpiece of an idea and feasible.

Also, in the same travel, the other observation was that post 9/11, the West, especially America, had become very unsafe for the Sikhs. No, I was not comparing the two situations, but the position on the ground was that Sikhs were being assaulted; even killed by ignorant white supremacists, who were mistaking the Sikhs for Arabs because of their turbans and flowing beards.

Being a community that has a natural instinct for survival and enterprise, I was suddenly interested in examining how the Sikhs were grappling with this particular challenge.

While one of the most significant outcomes of these circumstances was the rise of Sikh activism in America through Sikh advocacy organisations like SALDEF, United Sikhs and The Sikh Coalition; the other noteworthy observation was the dual policy adopted by the radical elements who thought India as the Sikhs' worst enemy.

In 2005, anybody who travelled to the West would agree that for brown-skinned people the safest bet was to identify himself as an Indian.

Given the euphoria around India as one of the emerging economies of the world - even Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were using this ploy freely to safeguard their interests.

Similarly, the pro-Khalistan folks when confronted with a racist situation would in an instant announce -'Hey, I am not an Arab, but a Sikh from India.'

Not only would they use this line frequently when fearing a physical assault, but they took full advantage of their Indian roots to enhance their business, since Indians, over the years, (in the era of the IT boom) had also carved out a reputation of being more hardworking, honest and professional than their educated Asian peers.

"I concede that these radicals are double-faced," said the California-based doctor who had got into a heated argument with me after I had accused him of being a lunatic expatriate who was divorced from the mood for peace in Punjab. For someone who had never visited India or Punjab in long, to spew such hatred was an unacceptable point of view.

"Sir, before you leave, answer my question," he exclaimed, hinting that it was time I got out of his house.

"How do you justify the 1984 anti-Sikh riots? Where countrymen kill fellow countrymen? Where a government sponsors a pogrom?"

My head hung in shame as I walked out of his drawing room.

2) When the earth shook
One of the most-discussed events this fortnight has been the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

In one such discussion in the bar of the Hoshiarpur Services Club, a Sikh gentleman, while venting his anger against the acquittal, asked me the following question: "Mahatma Gandhi was a much bigger banyan tree than Indira Gandhi - why didn't the earth shake on Gandhi's assassination and only shook on Indira Gandhi's death?" Any answers?

The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.

He can be reached at singhkhushwant@hotmail.com