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Book Review of “I Accuse: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984”
By Jarnail Singh, Penguin/Viking | 165 pages | Rs 350

Public memory is short but what happened in October-November,1984 with Sikh in Delhi and other parts of India is not only unfortunate and shameful but is a scar that we as a nation, or society at the least, projected to be civilized and humane, should not and must not, be so hasty to wipe out of our collective memories.

The book under discussion is a detail account of not only what happened after assassination of Indira Gandhi by her body guards in terms of massacre but also its aftermath, long-term impact on Sikhs especially youth and pattern of denial of justice. Written by Jarnail Singh, the Journalist who hurled the shoe on P. Chidambaram to make the deaf hear and act is a book, which will take on a journey beyond mere numbers and facts and tell you the spine chilling stories.

I Accuse

Unlike When A Tree Shook Delhi, a book on the same topic, which basically talks about the legal battle for justice. This book talks about the sufferings of the victims, survivors and also explores, what has transpired in these 25 years. Basically, “nothing has happened in 25 years. There have been 11 commissions and committees. Hearings are still going on. Witnesses are dying. It has become a mockery of justice”, he insists.

Memories of an adolescence: The book starts with personal experience of the author as 11 year old boy, residing in Lajpat Nagar of South Delhi. “When the noise of the mob began to get louder, Mother told us to climb up to the oltee, the small space at the head of staircase, and hide there. Usually we only went up there while playing hide-and-seek – and we were always scolded for it; but today we were actually being told to do so. For a longtime my two brothers and I- we were… It was suffocating up in the attic. Mother had been too distracted to give us any food and we had not even had our breakfast that morning… “, he recalls. (p. 9-10) “The Park was our life. All three of us went to play and we found the other kids in the park were in the middle of the game of touch ball- where you have to hit the other players with the ball. The ball used to cost just fifty paise but the hits really hurt. The three of us took a while to realize that we were being hit hardest and most often. It dawned on us that the other boys were making us targets. It was not a game; it was a form of making us scapegoats. None other children were being treated that way.”, he notes. (p. 16)

Massacre not Riots: “The events following Indira Gandhi’s assassination were not riots, though that is what they are commonly called. Riots break out between two factions in confrontation with each other and both suffer the damage in greater or lesser degree. This violence was well organized. An estimated 5000 Sikh died across the country, but there is no record of even member of the mob being killed or charged.” he explains. (p. 25) He further notes, “The pattern in which the violence occurred, forced the Nanavati Commission to say, ‘The massacre was organized and carried out with precision’.” (p. 28)

Poisoning Generation Next: It is really heart rending to learn that, how deliberately children of widows were trapped in to drug addiction. The books notes, “…more than 200 young men have lost their lives to drugs.” (p. 120) The book further notes,” With fathers dead in riots brothers lost to the drug habit and helpless mothers, some girls have been forced to take prostitution. These innocent are being taken advantage of. Jagdish Singh admits that he knows that five to ten girls from their colony are fully in to this trade and there are probably at least fifty to sixty more.” (p. 124)

Protector or Partners in Crime?: On the role of Police and other forces, which are considered to be protectors, Singh documents, how these forces worked hand in hand with mob and the planners of the massacre. “The job of the police during the three days of violence that gripped Delhi was, one, to scatter the Sikhs wherever they were collecting and two, to give the mob orders to attack, after seizing the Sikhs’ weapons. As so many of the affidavits recorded by the commissions of enquiry set up to investigate the violence of 1984 have note, this pattern was followed all over Delhi. First a crowd would gather and attack a gurdwara. If there was any resistance, the police would come to the help of attackers.” he sites. (p. 27-28)

Media Bias: The author was shocked and got disappointed to learn the role of Media during the days of massacre as he writes, “…(I)t was saddening to note that the newspapers of those critical days seemed as if they were asleep. Except for the Indian Express and the Hindi language Jansatta, owned by the same group, there was nothing on the violence in other major publications. One could not make out from these newspapers that on 31 October and 1, 2 and 3 November, 3000 Sikhs had been killed in national capital”. (p. 143) And he raise some unanswered questions, “Why was this so? Why did the national print media, which independent, do this? Murders in Delhi are widely covered, why not such a big massacre was reported. … (D)id some bias exist against the Sikhs in the media or was it because the media did not understand them ” ? (p. 144)

Lucid in language, packed with arguments and documents and full of emotions. With a short foreword from Khuswant Singh, in which he concludes, “It is a must read for all those who wish that such horrendous crimes do not take place again”.

Reprinted from TwoCircles.net, January 15, 2010