Will the Sikh community ever receive closure for the 1984 Sikh massacre in India?

Today, June 1st, 2017 marks the 33 year anniversary of operation bluestar, which led to the attempted genocide of the Sikh people of India.

Over a three day period, October 31 – November 3 1984, approximately 3000 Sikhs were brutally murdered, Sikh women and girls were raped and the homes and businesses of the Sikh community were burned down in India. Yet, the Indian government to date still fails to acknowledge and pursue justice for the victims of the massacre. According to Graff & Galonnier, the massacre followed after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, by her two Sikh bodyguards. On the other hand, according to Singh (2009) the Delhi massacre was caused by Operation Bluestar that took place five months before the killing of the PM Gandhi. Operation Bluestar was comprised of the Indian army attacking the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar Punjab. The attack consisted of over 150,000 Indian army soldiers being sent to find a single man that was hiding within the confines of the Sikh Temple. Suggesting, Operation Bluestar was not about this lone man, but an attempt to terminate the sanctuary of the Sikh community.

What is interesting to note is the silence behind this massacre is not something new for the state of India. Rajeshwari (2004) lists over 100 communal ‘riots’ from 1947 to 2003, with deaths reaching far above 10,000 in addition to over thousands of gender-based violence victims. Scholars such as Butalia (2000) and others believe the violence that had arisen during the partition of India has manifested itself within other communal ‘riots’ in Indian history. D’Costa (2011) argues the partition of India, created the initial base of trauma in India. This trauma has led to the reconstruction of Indian identity that has played a pivotal role in the communal violence that exists today. The unanswered communal tension from partition has developed a profound infused anger within the Indian identity. Yet, silence is how the government of India chooses to deal with these communal ‘riots.’ In many of these massacres the government authorities, were culpable in either participating themselves, or turning a blind eye or minimizing the massacres to mere communal ‘riots.’

On a larger-scale breaking the silence behind the Sikh massacre of 1984, and the others will give the nation and its citizens’ closure from the trauma of war and rape. In turn, may assist in re-constructing the divide between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. The attacks against the Sikhs in 1984, the Muslims in Bihar 1989, later the Ayodhya riots and the attacks against the Muslims in Gujarat in 2001 and so on indicates that partition, most certainly is not over.

However, is it really an issue between religious ideologies? Our worlds are socially constructed through the discourse of our state, community and family. Thus, when particular groups are marginalized within society and their voices are silenced, this changes the collective history. D’Costa (2011) argues failing to acknowledge historical injustices, such as the 1984 Sikh massacre or other communal violence, results in the silencing of its citizens. Thus, by neglecting to recognise the broader effects of muting certain citizens of a state, have detrimental effects on nation building.

In short, communalism is not a product of religion but is a by-product of politics. Through political exploitation, religion [as religion has a powerful emotional appeal] is used to incite violence and marginalize certain groups within society. Thus, communal ‘riots’ are not about Hindu, Sikh and Muslims learning to co-exist, but are about power and domination. This is about acknowledging the current and historical injustices people have faced based on their religion, ethnicity, gender, caste, and class or combination of them all.

Sunny Mangat

Twitter @mangat_sunny