|Anti Sikh Riots 1984:
Nanavati Report and recalling the gloomy memories of anti Sikh riots in Calcutta.
Gian Singh Kotli is a prominent Punjabi poet, writer and a widely respceted community activitist. His article about Kolkatta riots is quite touching and inspiring. Kotli did his M.A. B.Ed., LL.B. from Calcutta University. He lived and worked in Calcutta for about 35 years. – Editor
Anti Sikh Riots 1984:
The 9th and recent Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission Report on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots has badly let down Sikhs and relatives of the victims of the riots even after 20 years and eight enquiry commissions.
Sikhs all over the world are again raising their strong voice against this injustice as to why the attackers and the instigators behind the brutal murder of at least 4000 innocents Sikhs have not been brought to book. Sikhs have also been raising their protest against the term “riots.” They call it an organized massacre and genocide of the Sikhs as the attacks on innocent Sikhs including helpless children and women were well organized and one sided.
The Sikhs and every right thinking person thinks the present Nanavati Commission Report is sufficiently unfair and incomplete. In downtown Vancouver also about 500 Sikhs organized a meeting on Sunday, August 15, 2005 against the unfair Nanavati Commission Report and expressed their resolve to seek justice for the Sikhs and the victims of the anti Sikh riots.
Everybody’s memory is fresh about the attacks on Sikhs in 1984, when about 4000 Sikhs were dragged from their homes, publicly hunted, butchered and burnt on the roads by pouring kerosene oil on them or putting tyres around their necks in Delhi, Kanpur, Bokaro and other cities. To kill four thousand Sikhs, at least eight thousand, 12 thousand, 16 thousand or even more miscreants are required. One miscreant cannot kill one person on the road by putting a tyre around his neck. What I mean to say is that the attackers and the perpetrators were quite in large number everywhere to commit the heinous crime openly. The authorities could have easily arrested several thousand “sponsored killers” of the Sikhs if they had the intention to do their duty honestly. Moreover their timely action could have saved many costly Sikh lives. After all it is not for nothing that Sikhs have been called the ‘sword arm’ of India.
The Nanavati Report also says, “either meetings were held or the persons who could organize attacks were contacted and were given instructions to kill Sikhs and loot their houses and shops.”
Interestingly enough the attacks organized were simultaneous and similar in nature in different localities and different cities including Calcutta, which was deemed relatively a safe place. There were no recorded immediate deaths in or around Calcutta but the humiliation of Sikhs and the damage to property was quite distressing. Buses, taxies, trucks and shops were broken or burnt openly. Helpless Sikhs had to shut themselves inside their homes, Police Stations or Gurdwaras for three days.
The news of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination by Sikh bodyguards spread like wild fire in Calcutta in the morning of 31st October and by 11 AM, Sikhs began coming home anticipating danger. But the high brains of Police and Intelligence failed miserably to anticipate this and took no preventive measures. I tried to contact Bhowanipore Police Station in Calcutta 26, but there was no response for the whole day. The evening belonged to the hordes of hooligans and a total sense of insecurity prevailed all around. The hoolgans attacked and damaged whatever and wherever they could. Not a sigle Sikh was seen on the road. Several places were vandalised, shops were broken and set on fire.
Sitting in my nearby house I could hear that the gate of my office on Dr Rajendra Road in Calcutta 20 was being knocked ruthlessly and the hooligans were singing the national anthem of India “Bande Matrim, Bande Matrim” to break it. They also wrote on the wall of my house with black paint “Sardar Gaddaar Hain” (Sikhs are traitors). I felt extremely humiliated and emotionally upset. I did no wrong. Why somebody should attack, insult, call us traitors and write something most abusive on my wall. I had always been asserting that the Sikhs, though in meagre minority, were always in the forefront to make more sacrifices than any other majority in the independene movement of India. Absolute insecurity and humiliation was piercing my mind and to feel like aliens and slaves in our oun country was all the more excruciating for me.
That day police was nowhere and the Police telephones were dead. Late in the evening I came to know that military had been called to control the situation. Next day on the evening of November 1, some young men came to me and conveyed the message of a Military officer. I accompanied them to Dr. Rajendra Road where military personnel were standing near their truck. A Punjabi officer wished me Sat Sri Akal Ji and said, “Sardar Ji don’t worry now. If any one tried to create mischief, I will roast him with bullets. We have got the orders.” Later on Sikhs realized that it was due to CPM government led by Jyoti Basu in West Bengal that the situation was dealt with sternly otherwise the results would have been worst than Delhi.
For two days we had to stay home. The only contact with the outside world was through telephone. But the Paarha (locality) youth began going to Sikh houses to assure them that government has controlled the situation.” My ex-student Mohan Singh Grewal, the only international Sikh player of football to play in the most prestigious Mohan Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting clubs of Calcutta, also came to my house to tell me not to feel scared of anything. It is interesting to note that such players are worshiped like gods in football crazy Calcutta.
The sense of insecurity prevailed for several days. My immediate Gujrati neighbour Mr. Himansu Duve and his wife Meena Kumari advised me to keep our ornaments and other valuables in their house in case some fire or attack is there. “We are not afraid of this. That is why we did not move to any Gurdwara,” said my wife Surinder Kaur. Anyhow, on their much insistence and surprise I handed over to them a plastic bag containing my poems, articles and all the academic certificates telling them, “They are more costly than the gold”.
The main concern of all in Calcutta was to normalize situation and restore peace in the area. To this effect a meeting of all faiths was held on November 2 in Northern Park Bhowanipore. Representing Sikh community I spoke on the basis of a most relevent hymn of Bhagat Jai Dev Ji contained in Sri Guru Guru Granth Sahib, which says, “If you seek the path of God and good character then foresake greed and evil inclinations. Do not cast evil eyes on women and grab property of others.” It had a very soothing effect on the listeners as Bhagat Nam Dev Ji belonged to Bengal.
A peace procession by artists, players, doctors, and intellectuals of all communities was also taken out on November 4 from Desh Priya Park (Neta Ji Subhas Chandar Park) in South Calcutta to Minto Park in Central Calcutta. Sisir Kumar Bose nephew of Neta Ji Subhas Chander Bose, Chuni Goswami former Captain of Indian Football Team and one of the greatest footballers of Bengal, Ranjit Malik popular Bengali film star, and myself walked in front of the procession to give it a varied color of peace and unity. It was a full-fledged sigh of relief for the Sikhs to shed fear and come out to join this peace march.
The Punjabi daily newspapers Desh Darpan and Navi Parbhat, which were closed, resumed their publication on 5th November. When I wrote in Navi Parbhat about the ordeal the Sikhs have to go through, I was confronted by some volunteers of a political party blaming me for writing against Congress Party. I made it clear to them that I did not write against Congress or any person. The translator has done the wrong translation for you. I have written in my article, “The locks of my shutter were being smashed and the hooligans were singing the national anthem of Bande Matrim, Bande Matrim. Hearing this I was feeling very much ashamed that the National Anthem of India was being used to break my locks.”
Deevali, the festival of lights, came. I cleaned and white washed my entire house leaving the outside space untouched where the stigma “Sikhs are Traitors” was written. Much to the astonishment of all. I kept this wondrous ‘certificate’ intact for three years.
The most memorable and sweet memory in my mind is that of my friend Mr. O.P. Shah, Editor of The Parlance, Calcutta and the member of Press Trust of India. He did most commendable and untiring service of providing food to Sikhs in Gurdwaras and Police Stations. All these days he was on the road with his team of volunteers. Afterwards he also offered his services including his Jeep and other resources to highlight the atrocities committed on Sikhs by visiting Tata Nagar, Durgapur, Bukaro, Kanpore, Delhi and other cities by holdings press conferences. Press releases of this program were published in daily Desh Darpan and daily Navi Parbhat Calcutta. But the number of required volunteers did not come forward fearing the risk of travel by road. Only O.P. Shah, Bachan Singh Saral representative of daily Ajit Jalandhar in Calcutta and myself were left. The program had to be cancelled at last.
To my extreme surprise a Police officer from Bhowanipore Police Station came to my house in 1987 to give me compensation for the 1984 loss. I told him I did not file any complaint or application for compensation and refused to accept it saying, “Thank God I am safe. I felt extremely dishonoured and I don’t want to take anything in lieu of my honour.”
The attack on Golden Temple Amritsar in June and the organized attacks on Sikhs in November 1984, demolition of Babri Masjid, Gujrat riots in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, are simply a slur on the fair name of our secular country whose praises we have been singing, “Mazhabb Naheen Sikhata Aapas Main Vair Rakhna, Hindi Hain Hamm Watan Hai Hindustan Hamaara. (Religion does not teach enemity. We are Hindustani and our country is Hindsustan.) It is crystal clear that some corrupt persons with vested interests are responsible for tarnishing the fair and secular image of our country. And surprisingly enough the government has remained quite helpless in taking stern measures against such elements and bringing them to book.
Every right thinking person, the Sikhs and the victoms of the 1984 massacre have the right to know who planned “the organised killing” and who are the guilty?
-Gian Singh Kotli M.A.LL.B. Certified Translator, Society of Translator & Interpreters of B.C. Canada. Tel/Fax – 604 3216351
About the author
ਪ੍ਰਿ. ਗਿਆਨ ਸਿੰਘ ਕੋਟਲੀ
Gian Singh Kotli
Tel 604 3216351