Remembering ’84: Our Rhyme and Reason

Today we remember twenty seven years since June 1984.

We remember twenty seven years since Indira Gandhi sent the Indian Army tanks and artillery to the Darbar Sahib Complex and forty one Gurdwaras across Punjab on the shaheedpurab of Guru Arjan Dev Ji.

We remember twenty seven years since bodies lined the hot marble of the parkarma. Though Government reports indicate 493 civilian deaths and 83 army casualties, eyewitness accounts suggest the numbers were much higher since 10,000 pilgrims and 1300 workers were unable to flee the Darbar Sahib complex on this day.

We remember twenty seven years since books, manuscripts and other documents have been reported missing from the Sikh Reference Library numbering 10,534. The library which was intact on June 6th had been burnt down by June 14th. In April 2004, many of these writings, which included handwritten manuscripts were reported to be in the hands of the Union Government where they remain today.

We remember twenty seven years since the events that spurred the November 1984 pogroms and the government lead counter-insurgency in Punjab which left a generation of 25,000 missing.

We remember twenty seven years since Sikh women (and men) learned too well that coercion does not just come from tanks and artillery – that sexual violence can be a systematic and deliberate weapon of the State.

We remember twenty seven years since Punjab was left a political climate that hid the state’s impending agrarian crisis and its interrelated manifestations of farmer suicides, drug addiction and gendercide, even when reports as early as the 1985 Johl Report warned that the farming sector was faltering and the real need to diversify crops from the standard wheat-paddy rotation.

We remember the impact this had on the Sikh Diaspora, the communities New York, California and Canada, and the tireless nights many of our fathers and mothers spent out, mobilizing themselves even as recent immigrants with young daughters and sons.

We are a community that is well versed in Remembrance.

Not just because of 1984, but because our Guru reminds us that Remembrance is the highest way of becoming One with the Divine.

As Guru Arjan Dev Ji writes in Raag Maajh: Ooch athhaah baea(n)th suaamee simar simar ho jeevaa(n) jeeo | Highest of the High, Unfathomable, Infinite Divine Master: continually Remembering You in deep meditation, I live. ||1|| (Panna 99)

Our Guru Ji encouraged us to be self-reflective in this act Remembrance, that Life is found through Remembrance.

Each year, as we approach June, I am reminded by my brothers and sisters to Remember ’84 (or on other days to NeverForget84), through vigils, through poetry, through testimonials, and even through ardas. But recently I really started asking myself this question:

What does it mean to Remember?

I say this because, I do believe Remembrance can hold tremendous power when it has a rhyme and reason. A vision.

Take the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda for example. The memorial serves as a burial ground for the 250,000 who died in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. But this act of Remembrance has transcended the Rwandan community alone and is a remarkable statement against any form of genocide committed. The center includes an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence across the world, and in the first three months of the Centre’s opening, over 7,000 international visitors visited the center out of the total 60,000 visitors.

But I also say this, because while memory is important, I am also reminded that Remembrance is not an end in itself.

In a scathing recollection called ‘The Holocaust in American Life,’ historian Peter Novick describes the phenomenon ‘Victimization Olympics,’ whereby the process of Remembering can leave a community in memory and memory alone, perhaps not reaching the potential of memories to move beyond a reiteration of what is known.

It is indeed helpful to understand why we Remember. Most of us have heard that all too familiar Milan Kundera quote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

But today Langa(r)eaders, today we want to hear from You. Twenty seven years later We Remember. We Remember. We Remember. But why do we Remember ’84?

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25 Responses to “Remembering ’84: Our Rhyme and Reason”

  1. Blighty Singh says:

    I was among the 50 to 75,000 Sikhs remembering 1984 in Central London yesterday. It was a sight to see. Truly remarkable. The march ended in Trafalgar Square where not only did members of parliament of one of the ruling coalition parties promise to fight for justice for the Sikhs but also….slap bang in the middle of one the world's tourist hot-spots….visitors from all over the world became interested in the first time….and found out for the first time…about the atrocities committed against Sikhs. Honestly, it was truly remarkable. Its like the memory of 1984 is getting stronger and stronger each year. I mean this was a nagar kirtan……this wasn't basakhi or anything……and yet around 50,000 turned up simply to remember the shaheeds. Truly amazing.

  2. Naseeb Kaur says:

    I remember so other minorities in India don't suffer the same fate. What happened to the Sikhs in Punjab in the '80s and '90s should not happen to any human being, and so I use this pain as my strength to speak out for all the people who are marginalized.

    I remember so that we can build a memorial in Punjab for all victims of state violence in India.

  3. Sundari says:

    I remember because injustice to any one community is an injustice to all of humanity. Whether 10 years go by, 25 years or even 50 years, memories remain. The events of 1984 will forever be part of the Sikh consciousness and with each passing year, the qaum works to negotiate the past with the future. Panjab and diasporic communities are plagued with tragedies that need to be addressed – alcoholism, farmer suicide, gender inequity, and violence. How can we use the memory of 1984 to give us the strength and perseverance to overcome these challenges to our panth today…

  4. Kanwaljit Singh says:

    Guru reminds us that Remembrance is the highest way of becoming One with the Divine.

    Correction.. Remembrance of God is the highest way of becoming one with Divine. If we remember just 1984, the pain, the injustice, the murders, you know what we are becoming one with!

    Let us accept it, with all the factionalism in our religion, younger generation going astray and losing connection with Sikhi, we cannot get Justice. We need to believe in Guru, listen more Gurbani, get balance and peace within our mind and train one and all with Shastra Vidya. We have to strive again for the pinnacle of Sikh glory, which doesn't come by marches, loudspeakers, car bumper stickers or t-shirts. Glory comes to those who have Guru ka Gyaan, Gur-Prasaad. Remember, the question is not just of justice now, but the very survival of Sikh Kaum. There is no time to waste. To survive we need to have support and influence at the highest level of ruling politics, that can only be done if we ourselves go in and contest elections. Are we good enough that all populace, Sikh and non-Sikh would choose us to be the leader? Can we prove the worth of title Sardar?

    Remember without virtue, no one can sustain their rule.

    Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
    Waheguru ji ki Fateh

  5. Harvinder Kaur says:

    @Kanwaljit, you write, 'We have to strive again for the pinnacle of Sikh glory, which doesn't come by marches, loudspeakers, car bumper stickers or t-shirts. Glory comes to those who have Guru ka Gyaan, Gur-Prasaad.'

    I do not believe that the two are mutually elusive, especially as a Sikh since we should be striving for 'Miri' and 'Piri' together. I do believe that Guru's Gian is the highest of the high, but we need be engaged in this world while on the path of seeking this Gian from our Guru, in actively decorating ourselves in saintly qualities for Waheguru.

    The center of our life is and always should be the Almighty, but, to me this also means speaking up, bringing people together in protest, petitioning, and standing in solidarity with other communities that have faced the same fate as our own.

  6. Slackersingh says:


    Some posts have been deleted. May I ask why?

  7. Blighty Singh says:

    "I'm not a Hindu. Former Sikh turned atheist." Umm….I'm a former drinker turned teetotaler and funnily enough, I don't feel the need to revisit pubs or drinking dens so………what are you even doing here, if not to talk out of your arse ?

  8. Jodha's sister says:


    I think what most people find irritating about your statements is how you seem to indicate that by virtue of your atheism you have a greater ability for critical thinking (i think you stated so in one of the comments that were deleted by the ADMIN). This line of thought appears to recur in your statements.
    Since you are an open minded, critical thinker I would suggest if you are Punjabi speaker you should listen to Bhindranwale's tapes, in chronological order, you should try to listen to how the events unfolded, which incidences sparked the non-violent protests for over two years involving 100,000s Sikhs right up until June 1984. Once you understand and get over the idioms that Jarnail Singh uses you will find he too was quite a critical thinker and perhaps understood more than most the colonial strategies adopted by the State.
    Increasingly I do not buy into the post-Enlightenment paradigm that we should be compartmentalizing our lives and politics. So therefore Sikh history involving a Sikh place of worship and a Sikh leader are all parts of Sikhi to me. Perhaps it is for this reason people on this blog are curious about your interest or perhaps trolling activities, they too see this as part of their Sikhi.

  9. Jodha's sister says:

    Baba Deep Singh was a leader of a seminary called Damdami Taksal, so was Sant Bhindranwale. Hence the comparisons. Just as Baba Deep Singh and other such GurSikh were political so was Sant Bhindranwale. In Sikhi we do not have saints in the western Catholic sense. No one claims that religious leaders in Sikhi should not have a political voice, indeed they would not be fulfilling their Sikhi if they did not have a political voice and did not fight injustice: Sant-Saphai.

    There were tens of thousands of people who marched on Darbar Sahib when news spread that it was going to be attacked. These people, unarmed civilians, were met with machine gun fire from helicopter gunships from the Indian Army.

    No State has banned literature or even the image of Bhagat Puran Singh however the GOI has done so wrt Sant Bhindranwale, hence the show of resistance with all of the imagery, this show of imagery is also alive and well in Punjab.

    You seem to understand little of the historical context of Sant Bhindranwale, you know little of how Sant Kartar Singh (predecessor to Sant Jarnail Singh as jathedar of Damdami Taksal Mehta) led civil protests against the imposition of the Emergency Laws of Congress (I) in the early 1970s, how Sant Jarnail Singh continued this as well as a lot of social activism in combating a lot of the problems that now have a hold on Punjab (such as drug and alcohol abuse).

    Also in you do not wish to address how 40 other Gurdwarae were attacked in those sames days of June 1984, I have spoken to eyewitnesses, there were no "terrorists" in these historical Gurdwarae, the Indian Army entered the Gurdwarae, and then the eyewitnesses watched municipal trucks loaded with bodies leaving.

    So when you read the books by Joyce Pettigrew or Ram Narayan Kumar did you think they were just the pro Sant Jarnail Singh faction?

  10. Faizan says:

    What was the reason of conflict in 1984 that lead to military operation ?

  11. Laney Yoga says:

    Hello I just thought I would tell you that I enjoyed checking out your blog and to wish you all the best with it in the coming years – Laney Yoga