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 theKigali 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 Centres 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 ofmemory againstforgetting.

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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24 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.

    • I AM THE SWORD! says:

      @Blighty Singh – This is a marvellous turnout, but consindering there are estimated to be 600,000 SIkhs in the UK, this was still the minority. When will the men put down their pints of beer, and the women to swtich off Zee TV and join the Panth [like they have done in the Middle East] ? what will it take…

      FATEH JI!

      • Blighty Singh says:

        Accoring to the census there is just something over 300,000 Sikhs in the UK. So if you think about it….something like 1 in 4 Sikhs in the UK turned up on Sunay to remember 1984. One in four !!!!! Can you even imagine that ? In India only one in a million sikhs bothered to rally. In America only one in three thousand sikhs bothered to remember. In Canada only one in 5000 sikhs bothered. And yet…..in the country with arguably the highest number of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation western born sikhs. The country with the lowest number of new immigrant Sikhs…….an amazing 1 in 4 of the Sikhs gave up whatever they were supposed to do. Gave up work. Gave up studying even though it is exam time…..gave up everything to let India know that the Sikhs will never forget. I think this is a time to salute the UK sangat, my friend. Not a time to criticise it.

  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:

    Hmm…

    Some posts have been deleted. May I ask why?

    • Admin Kaur says:

      Readers are free (and encouraged) to discuss whatever relevant issues they want. Just maintain some respect for each other and the rest of the readers

      • Slackersingh says:

        Fair enough. Still, I thought I had a relevant point in there. I guess the -4 rating on my original comment speaks volumes about the general slant of readers perusing this blog and does not require any further comment.

        Thanks

      • Slackersingh says:

        Perhaps it may have had something to do with exposing the poster BK for the bigot that he is by referring to me (incorrectly, as it were) as a “Hindu Fool”? I for one find holding someone to account for such rhetoric to be a very relevant issue, especially from a frequent poster who projects himself to be a wise, humble Sikh. Something tells me that had I not responded in kind to his comment that you would have LEFT the disparaging comment made by him AS IS.

        [Admin Note: that offensive comment was deleted as soon as we saw it, sorry we’re not able to monitor the blog 24/7]

        • Bik says:

          Your own comments referring to Santji as a clown are proof enough of who and what you are. What is it with Hindus pretending to be Sikhs on the net? I'm sure a psychologist would be better able to give an answer then me.

          • Slackersingh says:

            I'm not a Hindu. Former Sikh turned atheist. And the very fact that you refer to him as an infallible "Saint" tells me how much of a sycophant you are and how much of a joke religion is. I find it very funny how you automatically presume that anybody who does not worship that con-man could only be a NON-Sikh. I guess I didn't see the part where it was added to the Rehat Maryada that "You must accept Bhindranwale as a saint" in order to be considered a Sikh.

          • Bik says:

            So you're a 'former Sikh turned atheist'.. so tell me why should Sikhs even waste their time reading or entertaining your views? I know I've wasted a few minutes, I'll never get back so please do us all a favour and expound your atheist-mat on some anti-religion forum where they might actually give a proverbial.

          • Slackersingh says:

            Seems I've hit a nerve. For the record, I commented on the 1984 storming of the temple in a HISTORICAL context. I further went on to comment about a HISTORICAL figure, Bhindranwale. Just because he happens to be a SIKH and YOU think he's a saint has NO bearing on the argument. Even if I were still a Sikh, I would still hold the same view. Would my view then be more 'legitimate' according to you?

            If you're getting this flustered when I disagree with you regarding a mere HISTORIC figure, I can't wait to see what happens if we ever butt heads over an actual religious matter :-)

            "Why should Sikhs even waste their time reading/entertaining your views?" –> For the same reason, time and time again, where us secularists/atheists have had to entertain the views of the religious. Heck, if we didn't "waste our time entertaining" your Sikhi views, we wouldn't have let you convince us into letting you walk around with a "symbolic knife" in our secular society now would we :-). It seems to me that the whole "respecting others views" is always fine and dandy whenever it works in your favour huh sweetheart.

            Finally, nobody is asking you to entertain my views. Feel free to skip over them if they offend you. And last I checked, you don't speak on behalf of all Sikhs. There are some Sikhs out there who don't mind being challenged or being disagreed with :-)

          • Bik says:

            Well your post where you insulted Sant Bhindranwale currently has a -7 rating. So seems like most people here don't agree with your bukwas. Why's a manmukh loser like you hanging around a Sikh forum?

          • Slackersingh says:

            Please see the recent post below from this manmukh loser and his bukwas :-)

            And the fact that my original post has a negative 7 rating is irrelevant. Hell, I could go to a flat-earther forum and get a +100 post rating talking about how the earth is flat. Does that have any bearing on the veracity of the post? Hardly. If anything, it speaks volumes about the intellect of the people who give it positive ratings in the first place :-)

            "Manmukh Loser" —> Haha, wow. No rebuttal required. If thinking critically and daring to take an opposing view makes me a manmukh loser, then I`ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops.

          • Bik says:

            Did you think critically and rationally to come up with the conclusion that Santji was a 'clown'? Seems like people like you can't take a dose of their own medicine!

  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 ?

    • Slackersingh says:

      Lets just get to the crux of this dispute: you're angry because I don't hold Bhindranwale in high regard as you do. I've realized that me being an atheist is being held up as a straw man argument. If you'd like, I can actually refer you to Sikhs who have an even lesser view of him than I do. But, since they don't follow the gospel of Bhindranwale, they're probably not true Sikhs anyways, correct? Lets be honest, I'm only talking out of my "arse" because I am holding a view contrary to yours.

      Also, if I were to turn your fatuous logic back against you (and actually use it in the CORRECT contextual framework), it would mean that because you are now a non-drinker, any opinion you EVER had (or currently do have) on ANY person who ever was a DRINKER would be automatically invalidated/negated. And once again, your "revisiting pubs" analogy doesn't work either since the post that I responded to was not an explicitly religious one. This BLOG is not an explicitly religious blog. It comments on various social issues as well. Heck, 4 out of the 5 tags shows that this post has a more historic/humanist slant to it if anything. I know you may not want to believe it, but us immoral atheists can be concerned about human suffering/injustice too ya know :-O

      Bottom Line: I'm free to view this blog as I deem fit. So far, I've only actually even commented on this post and one other one, both of which had nothing to do with Sikhi. And FYI, there are quite a number of Sikhs who frequent atheist forums as well. Since they're on your side though and expressing YOUR views, something tells me you wouldn't be as quick to admonish them and ask what business they have being there. Bottom line: when atheists express their views, it's considered inflammatory. When the religious ilk do it, it's considered enlightening/educational.

      Thanks

  8. Jodha's sister says:

    @Slacker

    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.

    • Slackersingh says:

      My dear, you just don't get it do you. How can you honestly say that what irked BK/Blighty was the "critical thinking" jab? From the very start my comment stating that I despise Bhindranwale is the one that set them off. They then proceeded to make comments to the effect of "well, this can't be a SIKH who is saying it", thus implying that all Sikhs are cut from the same cloth and feel that Bhindranwale was some sort of deity. Please. He's the Che of Punjab. Just like Che, people want to romanticize the cause while conveniently glossing over the nasty stuff.

      "Saints" do NOT claim to be apolitical and then DELVE into political matters.
      "Saints" do NOT solicit murder and arbitrarily decide who is guilty/not guilty
      "Saints" do NOT call for the murder of reporters who print unfavourable stories about them
      "Saints" do NOT hole themselves up in places of worship filled with innocent people when they can hide elsewhere (and no, before you cry foul, that is not condoning the actions of the Indian gov't!)
      "Saints" do NOT PRAISE the murderers of others

      Call him what you want, but a Saint he ain't. And I find it rather quaint (wow, I'm doing a Cat and the Hat thing here!!) that you don't refer to him as 'Sant Ji' in your posts yourself, deviating from the view held by your UK buddies. No obeisance paid to his holiness? How DARE you disrespect him in such a manner. Blasphemy I say!! :-O I, for one, just choose to take my blasphemy a step further and refer to him as a….well, you know ;-)

      I understand that the prelude to 1984 was a messy affair. But everyone paints it in black and white with Bhindranwale as a man of strictly pure intentions. That he was a simple man with no ambitions whom destiny just happened to thrust into the spotlight. That the road to the temple being stormed was totally inevitable. That is why any source which depicts him in an unflattering light is automatically dismissed as being "Indian Gov't Propaganda". Any attempts made to discredit the "propaganda" are half a**ed at best themselves and at worst, done using sources which are EQUALLY as unreliable yet championed as being anything BUT. Hell, if I were to read just the sources which are trumpeted by the Pro-B faction, you would think the man was Jesus and the ten gurus rolled into one.

      It is because Bhindranwale died during the storming that people erroneously elevate him to the status of someone like Baba Deep Singh. Ridiculous!! Hell, if you presented the Sikhs of today with the same ultimatum which BDS put forth when going to reclaim Harmandir Sahib, people would volunteer in DROVES because there would be no ambiguity as to the justness/PURITY of the cause for which they were willing to die. If the moral integrity of the events leading up to the 1984 storming were of such caliber, the Indian army wouldn't have even be able to get within FIFTY FEET of the complex, because there would have been so many people standing outside willing to die for Bhindranwale. But no, that wasn't the case. He and his cause gained more support FOLLOWING the storming whereby Sikhs worldwide were undoubtedly angrier about the attack against Harmandir Sahib itself more than anything. Had Bhindranwale died out in some field we would not be having this conversation right now.

      Basically, people are blinded by the circumstances under which he died. Those circumstances in turn conferred an undeserved level of respect upon him which is so steadfast that any questioning of it is akin to treason. If people are going to proclaim him as this glorious messiah, then they'd better be ready to back up such a grand claim. Attaching the word "Sant" in front of him should not (and will not) make him immune to criticism, plain and simple. As I've asked before (coincidentally, in that very same deleted post that you referenced), why the heck do more adolescents OVERWHELMINGLY know more about (and hold in a higher regard) Bhindranwale than they do Bhagat Puran Singh? (Rhetorical question, btw) Food for thought.

      "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. "

      That is your choice. Good on you. But as stated above, when you are too liberal in associating one Sikh related event with another, you're liable to confer a level of credibility to an individual/event undeserving of it just by virtue of affiliation (see the BDS thing above)

  9. Jodha's sister says:

    @Slacker
    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 ?

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