Our Beacon Forum

Why We Remember 1984
By:Harmeet Kaur
Date: Thursday, 11 June 2009, 1:18 am

Why We Remember 1984
Posted by Reema in Sikhi on 06 9th, 2009

Joint post by Mapleleaf Sikh, Sundari, Jodha, Camille, Phulkari, RP Singh, Reema

It has been 25 years and we remember.sikh_sangat_at_akal_takht_after_1984.jpg

On this day we remember; in this week we remember; in this month we remember; in this year we remember. On June 6th we stopped to remember the recent chapter in the history of the Sikhs.

When the topic of 1984 is brought up, most Sikhs have one of two reactions. For many, it strikes a deep chord. It awakens a memory of what Professor Tatla calls a “critical” event, one of those rare instances that shapes lives far beyond the incident’s physical reach. It is an event that every Sikh knew, even at the time, had marked the fabric of Sikhs’ history and set off a sequence of events that would stay with us indefinitely.

For others, it involves resurrecting the tragic shadow from the past that they would much rather leave behind and forget. They say, “Let’s focus on the future.” “What’s done is done, and we must live in the present and look forward. Memories of the event only serve to create additional hatred and anger.”

We, at TheLangarHall, choose to remember.

We do not hold onto fear, anger, or hatred. We understand that time does not stop. Guru Gobind Singh Ji often spoke in the future tense. We look to the future as well.

However, to look forward, we do not need to forget the past. In Ardaas, along with Asa Ki Vaar that is to be done as a “community,” we share and take inspiration from Sikh sheroes and heroes.

In order to move forward with dignity, we seek justice and truth, to expose the events of 1984 and state-terrorism in the subsequent decade. We criticize and scrutinize our own roles and failings so that we may learn a lesson from this chapter of our history. We celebrate and decide our own heroes and sheroes, without seeking approval from anyone else.

This is our history. This is our truth. It must be recorded. Atonements and reparations must be made. We will write our own history, unlike many Sikhs in the past. We hold pens and no longer are forced to live in the Lakhi Jungle. We will not let others write our history. It is our history; it is about us, by us, and our perspectives will be heard.

[For background information on events leading up to Operation Bluestar, see chronology and resourceson Ensaaf's site.]

Below, we share with you, why each of us individually remembers.

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Thomas Friedman writes about judging a community or nation not by its economic output but rather its quotient of dreams versus memories. For the Sikh nation, our memories have cut so deep, it has been difficult to focus on the future as we have not yet reconciled the past. Let there be no doubt that we must document and honour the past. We must continue fighting to rectify past injustices. However, with a new generation of Sikh youth born after 1984 quickly finding a foothold in the dynamics of the diaspora, fixating exclusively on 1984 will not move the panth forward. We must learn to dream again. What do we as leaders of the panth want to be when we grow up? What are our hopes and dreams for Sikhs around the world? What is our vision for the panth in 2034? 2084? How will we get there? Where do we begin?

It’s questions like these that has led to the creation of The Langar Hall. The best way for us, the TLH bloggers, to honour the memory of 1984, will be to continue inspiring the Sikh panth to dream, discuss and take collective action.

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I remember ’84 as a catalyst and a source of inspiration. It caused my parents to move to the US, shaped my intellectual/professional ambitions, and continues to remind me of the urgency that moves many lives today, even if I have since become insulated. I was three in ‘84, and still living in East Delhi. I don’t remember the disaster of November as it unfolded (either I was too young, or my memory has decided to let it go) but the details that my parents have shared since are deeply embedded. My dad’s colleagues told him in the late morning that he should leave work early and go home to safety, that they had heard rumors that Sikhs weren’t safe in Delhi that day. My chachaji, who lived with us at the time, was also out that day with friends when he heard rumors of the same. Both made their way home on motorcycles. After finally confronting his own memories not too long ago, my dad admitted the horrors he saw on the streets that still make him as angry as if they happened yesterday. My chachaji was chased by a “mob.” Luckily, both escaped and made it home safely. Our neighbors, who were Hindu and close friends, hid us. When the mobs came to our enclave, inquiring about Sikhs, they were sent away, keeping our secret safe.

When we moved to the US, we never discussed it. I only learned about it in college through research- conversations that pointed to books, news reports, and conferences. Through academic pursuits and internships, I learned about my own history along with more widely studied incidents of mass violence. Realizing that the benevolence of neighbors and initiative of my parents were all that separated my childhood luxury and privilege from an entirely different and far more difficult life, I felt incapable of inaction.

Today, it stands as a reminder that minorities must develop skills to become self-reliant, and come to the aid of other similarly situated communities. “A tiny two-percent minority like the Sikhs are the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the bellweather that can point to how the winds of Indian democracy are blowing.” [Cynthia Kepply Mahmood, Sikhchic] The systematic abuse of human rights that violently began with Operation Bluestar in Punjab has become a model for the Indian state’s handling of national security issues decades later and emboldened nationalist organizations that deprive religious minorities of equal protection.

What the Indian government of ‘84 sought to destroy, it only inflamed. Today ‘84 is a reminder to stand up for the rights of others, as well as my own community.
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As with any tragedy, injustice to one group is an injustice to all of humanity. Guru Nanak Dev Ji said, “Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living.” We are living the truth and as defenders of humanity, we stand up and choose to be heard.

My first memory of 1984 is Mark Tully’s voice. As a BBC correspondent, Mark Tully reported on the Indian army’s storming of the Darbar Sahib. I remember listening to his reports as a young child and simultaneously viewing the growing apprehension on my parents’ faces. My father had always had a strong interest in the politics of Punjab and often hosted Sikh leaders from Punjab at our home. However, after 1984, my mother also transformed into an activist. They joined with their friends and participated in marches and protests which were organized all across the UK. Sikh women stood alongside their husbands, many of them pushing strollers or holding the hands of their young children. This was an issue that affected the Quam and ne thing was clear, the events of 1984 mobilized two generations - our parents and in turn, their children.

One of my most inspiring memories was learning about human rights activist, Jaswant Singh Khalra. Jaswant Singh Khalra did not only continue to remember the events of 1984 while he was alive but he stood up and defended the rights of all. If there is anything that resonates with me about the post-1984 events, it’s the need to not only hold onto memory but to act upon it. Something he said in one of his final speeches still resonates with me today, “the khalsa was inaugurated to protect the human rights, the human rights of the world. And if you cannot protect your own human rights, you will not be able to give any definition of the Khalsa in the world. I request you, please don’t just learn how to take from the Guru, learn how to fulfill the instructions given to you by the Guru also.” With young Sikhs only beginning to learn about these tragic events - the seed has been planted, the activism is growing, and it is now clear that we will continue to remember and act for generations to come.