In 1984, I was residing in New Delhi and have seen the barbaric and horrifying hounding of Sikhs during the rioting. Rightfully described as a genocide, the ghastly targeting of Sikhs had continued for days at a stretch with the cops standing as mute spectators, as though they’d been well directed by the top brass to let an entire community be hounded, looted and killed.
Though decades have passed, there’s no closure; Justice is still awaited. It’s only through a few writers and activists that focus remains on the haunting tragedy of 1984. And one of the writers is Vikram Kapur who has been writing ever so persistently on the 1984 riots and the aftermath.
In 2002, he wrote a novel Time is a Fire based on the pogrom and in 2016, he had edited an anthology titled 1984 in Memory and Imagination (Amaryllis). He is now out with a novel titled The Assassinations: A novel of 1984 (Speaking Tiger).
His new novel is a well-crafted story that centres around a Sikh and a Hindu family, in the backdrop of the surcharged communal atmosphere of 1984. As the violence had spread out, not just forms were hacked but also emotions and much more along the strain. The injustices had affected and dented the very lives of hundreds of innocents. The central character in this novel, to quote from it, “Prem Kohli, the handsome, ambitious son of a Sikh refugee has the world at his feet. A glittering career ahead, and he has just got engaged to his college girlfriend, Deepa, overcoming her father’s reservations about Hindus and Sikhs intermarrying. But, while Deepa remains occupied with their marriage plans, the Indian Army enters the Golden Temple. Prem cannot contain his rising anger at the desecration of the shrine and at the people around him who shrug it off as ‘teaching a lesson’ to the Sikhs. He begins growing out his hair and beard, and visiting the gurudwara regularly, where he learns about the militancy in Punjab. Matters come to a head a few months later, when prime minister Indira Gandhi is
assassinated and anti-Sikh riots break out all over Delhi, as Prem is caught up in a vortex of violence and hate that threatens to engulf all of their lives…”
When Vikram is asked why he, as a Hindu, feels so very strongly about the anti — Sikh riots, he minces no words — “The celebrated Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib, wrote: ‘Lest we forget:/It is easy to be human, very hard to be humane.’ The events of 1984 are, if nothing, a testimony to human baseness where the desire for revenge and an obsession with narrow religious identities trumped the egalitarianism on which a democratic, pluralist India is based and without which it cannot succeed. That, however, is not possible unless we rise above the baseness seen in 1984 and embrace the humaneness to which Ghalib refers. Certainly India needs just as generous a dose of it now as it did in 1984.”
To further quote Vikram from his earlier book on the anti — Sikh riots — “The tragedy of 1984 is not behind us…to this day struggle goes on to deliver justice to the victims of the mass murder following the assassination. Rather than entering the garbage heap of history, the ‘corpse’ of 1984 continues to show signs of life. It has become a testament to the Nobel Prize- winning American author William Faulkner’s words: ‘The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.’”
Yes, its about time for a collective cry for justice. In fact, each time a riot or pogrom is made to take place by the ruling political mafia against any community, there’s to be collective outcry for justice. After all, humans are killed and ruptured and tortured!