New Delhi, 1984. New York, 2014.
In my parent’s bedroom is a framed photo that seems a bit out of place. The small image has an aged yellow tint and displays my father at the young age of 24, standing proudly atop the GB Pant Hospital in New Delhi, India. He looks just as I do now. Tall, skinny, his not-yet full beard kept neatly on the sides of his jaw as he sports a clean pair of glasses and a neat turban matching his shirt. Writes Manmeet Singh Gujral.chandigarh Updated: Nov 01, 2014 17:17 IST
In my parent’s bedroom is a framed photo that seems a bit out of place. The small image has an aged yellow tint and displays my father at the young age of 24, standing proudly atop the GB Pant Hospital in New Delhi, India. He looks just as I do now. Tall, skinny, his not-yet full beard kept neatly on the sides of his jaw as he sports a clean pair of glasses and a neat turban matching his shirt. That year (1984), my father was in his medical residency pursuing a specialty in anesthesiology. His eyes shine of dreams of the success that would come from his hard work in the future. However, what could not be captured in the photograph is what my father had seen in that year, 1984.My father was in the heart of it all, the capitol of the nation, New Delhi. He was staying in a hostel with his close friends who were also completing their residency. "I vividly recall when Indira Gandhi was killed" he told me. "I remember going up to the top of the Irwin Hospital and watching as her funeral procession marched through the streets. Scattered around the procession was smoke coming from small random spots around the city." The smoke my father saw emanated from the burning of Sikh homes, businesses, and people. The mobs that were causing those fires that popped up throughout New Delhi in front of my father’s eyes were far from random, but systematic and deliberate. The police cooperated with the mobs and allowed them into Sikh homes and watched as they killed the innocent Sikhs and torched their homes, showing no clemency to the elderly or the young. My maternal grandfather, who was visiting and had immigrated to America some years prior, was forced to cut his hair in order to safely flee the country, for had anyone seen his turban and unshorn hair, he would have been killed on sight.
Thirty years have passed since 1984. Allegations have come and gone about the riots, many of which seem to link the riots directly to the Indian government and seem to die down as they get lost in the bureaucratic process. My father and mother have lived in the United States for the majority of their lives, yet little is forgotten. My father has spent a large amount of time working on documentaries and activist efforts focused on receiving justice and acknowledgement of the events that took place in 1984. Though, as time passes, it seems the attempts have become less and less effective as the generation directly affected by the events is aging and many want to forget, for their own peace of mind.
Perhaps I am stubborn or unwise when I say that I simply do not want to forget. Though I was far from present during 1984, the events that took place that day are closer to home than many could imagine. I have seen my fair share of discrimination. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Sikhs have faced discrimination, slurs, and have even been subject to violent and murderous hate crimes. It is through the prejudice and ignorance I see today that I find myself searching for a remedy and yearning to act. As thoughts of the past violence in India flash through my father’s mind, very real events of violence flicker on my computer screen involving young Sikhs. I am restless.
The fundamental issue is that ignorance and misunderstanding lead to bigotry and hate when left unattended. To eliminate ignorance is a hefty task that is thought of as time consuming and difficult, if not impossible. Yet, we must try. One approach is to educate others to avoid generalisations. Simply put, not all Germans today have Nazi sentiments, not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi, and not all Indian government members planned 1984.
Though it is easy to get caught up in the sensationalism of the newest crusade, I urge each person to take a step back and follow his or her own religious beliefs, rather than enforce them. I am a full and active supporter of all campaigns pursuing justice for Sikhs affected by or killed in the events of 1984. Despite this, I believe the most potent statement to those covering up the events of 1984 is the pursuit of excellence as a student and a citizen, all the while maintaining uninhibited and devout practice of my religion. The blood spilt in 1984 and the hate many face today will not be in vain. Sikhism lives on through me.
(The writer is a student at Darmouth College, New Hampshire, US. Views expressed are his personal)