November 02, 2009

A call, 25 years ago

Must be 25 years ago today, or one of these days, since that call.

It came from a man who topped the rankings in my college, who later completed a PhD from one of the premier engineering institutions in the USA. A brilliant, gentle, thoughtful man: my friend G. In 1984, we were both living in the USA. He was on his way to his PhD; I was in Texas, trying to cope with my first job. One day in November that year, even while 3000 Indians were being slaughtered in India solely because they were Sikh like him, G called.

"I feel completely betrayed by India," he told me. "I will never go back there again."

I tried. But I had nothing to say. No comfort, no argument, no explanation, no rationalization, nothing. G was unable to comprehend how the land that had given him birth, that had nurtured him and his talents, could have turned against him so completely. Through those crisp November days, he was struggling to come to terms with the thought that had he been in Delhi instead of the USA, he would have been murdered. I could feel his anguish pour through the phone. Yet I could offer him nothing.

Consider what we know about those bloody days in November 1984. A Congress government was in power then, though its head, our PM, had just been gunned down. After the slaughter, various inquiry commissions picked out senior Congress politicians like HKL Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar for their roles in the killing: the commissions found that these men instigated and directed looting, murdering mobs. Cases against Bhagat and Kumar, filed by brave
women widowed in the killing, tried for years to find the light of day, stalled by the pernicious efforts of the very men they sought to bring to justice. Eventually they failed. Bhagat himself, having successfully eluded justice for 21 years, died four years ago.

As far as I can tell, three murderers from that time have been punished. (Their crime was exactly 25 years ago today).

3000 murders, three men punished.

In November 1984, India lost much more than a brilliant young man like G. The loss is compounded with every year, every day, that passes without justice for Indians slaughtered.

A quarter century later, we know well the fruits of that compounding. The massacre of hundreds and thousands of Indians -- take 1984, take Gujarat in 2002, take Bombay in 1992-93 -- is considered no more than part of the landscape. Just as the men who dreamed up and led the 1984 massacre have eluded justice, the men who instigated slaughter in Bombay and Gujarat are free and unpunished. Whichever political party it is, it sidesteps the issue of punishment. Criminals dominate politics everywhere you look, whichever party you pick. They are there because they know well, as Bhagat and company knew well, that politics will protect them from their crimes.

That our own, your own, particular partisan leanings will keep them protected.

And even so, even with all that to bemoan, the saddest thing for me is the profound betrayal I knew my friend G felt, that day in 1984.


A sample of the other writing I've done on the same subject:

Inquiry into inquiry.

See you at 3000.



Sumedha said...

I like all the articles you've written about this, and of course, you're 100% right. There doesn't seem to be a strong enough word to use when talking about this. It's... sad. So frustrating, so tragic, so sad.

Chandru K said...

And let's also not forget that 25 years ago, India lost a democratically elected prime minister through murder, for the first time in its history. Indira was no Pinochet, Marcos, Kim Jong, Zia or Mabutu. The fanatics who shot her weren't doing it for the cause of freedom, democracy, secularism or pluralism. Rather, because their religious sentiments had been offended. India was defiled because of these religious fanatics.

Chandru K said...

While not forgetting what transpired between Oct 31st and November 4th, 1984, let's be mindful of what's happening on November 3rd 2009: a plan for a major terrorist strike against India:

lyas Kashmiri may have risen from the dead. Contrary to the US intelligence' report in September, the chief of Al Qaeda's [ Images ] 313 brigade has survived a drone attack and is currently working on carrying out intensive fidayeen strikes in India, specifically South India.

The Indian Army [ Images ] chief and sources from Indian intelligence agencies have confirmed that India is facing a grave threat from terror outfits. Intelligence agencies believe that Kashmiri has shifted his focus from the US troops to India.

In an alleged interview given to the chief of Asia Times' Pakistan bureau, Ilyas has claimed that he is "hale and hearty" and is reportedly focused on an operation in India called 'Ghazwa-e-Hind', meaning 'Anger against India', and the attacks are aimed at making a point to India that any tie-up with the US will not be tolerated.

Sapathan said...

I don't understand this condemning the violence aspect in a blog. It's trivial and offers nothing new.

The logical thing to do, if you were at all interested in taking this forward would be the following: arguing the relative merits and demerits of the criminal justice system that treats every murder individually even in case of a riot/ massacre.

Now, if you do that and arrive at a possible blanket law that balances the rights of the individual with the deterrence against mob violence, you'd be taken seriously. Else, I don't see why any of your writing should be read at all. Merely condemning the violence is alright for a politician who at least has a few votes to gain. What do you have to gain?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sapathan: what do I have to gain? When I feel angry and frustrated about something, as I do about this 1984 tragedy, I sometimes feel I need to, among other things, give vent to that frustration.

When I do that, I don't stop to think "what do I have to gain from doing this?" Nor do I stop to think "will I be taken seriously?"

Neither of those questions particularly interest me, or are in any way relevant.

Anonymous said...

Kind of OT, so I waited for any relevant comments to get done.

The linked posts reminded me of how I first came across your writing. Have you stopped writing for rediff commentary Dilip?

While VB isnt there anymore, RSreenivasan seems to be back and there's always TVRS and F.Gautier.

Rediff is widely read and often discussed here. It is or used to be a platform that publishes a wide range of views. Pls send your op pieces that way as well.


Anonymous said...


But pls dont go by rediff comment boards. I just sampled some of the disc there- jeez.

Being widely read at that level would not really seem worth it, I admit. Maybe just get more trolls over here.

But if you still think its a good thing to do and rediff doesnt have a problem (they have published you regularly and you are still on their comm list) pls do.


Sapathan said...

I am baffled.

Why is not the single piece of technicality that is essence of all that you have railed against, irrelevant? It seems to me, then, that you don't want villains that are complicated and involve esoteric distinctions in a law book and want simple villains of the Hindu/ Muslim/ Sikh/ Right Wing kind.

Okay, you don't want to be taken seriously, fine. In that case, don't you also owe the people who pay to read serious content in those papers that you get published in some sort of an apology?

Sapathan said...

I did not mean the double negative in the second sentence of the previous comment. But you already knew that.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sapathan, you're a guy who's whole tone speaks of a single-minded determination to find fault, however arcane, and for that, please be my guest.

What technicality are you referring to?

I really have no idea what you mean by complicated vs simple villains and esoteric distinctions. Were 3000 Indians not murdered 25 years ago? Are their killers not largely unpunished today? Is there some extenuating circumstance or justification for this situation that you are alluding to? IS that what this is about? Please explain, because again, I really have no idea.

I didn't say I didn't want to be taken seriously. I said I don't stop to think "will I be taken seriously?" when I write. There's a difference.

And now once again, be my guest. Find fault, however arcane.

Sapathan said...

If I agree with what you have written completely, I'd find no reason to make this comment. And judging by the tone of your reply and extending that analogy further, Web 2.0 should not exist. But let's forget those trivialities.

Yes, there is a reason why people do not get punished. That's exactly what I have been saying all this while and I guess any Indian will tell you in response to your write-ups as well.

That reason is: our criminal justice system does not discriminate between mob violence and regular crime. As you say, if 3000 people were killed, there is no law that deals with one set of people who were unleashing a massacre. Each of those deaths will be treated as murder. And as you'll obviously know, it's so difficult to prove anything beyond the parameters of reasonable doubt in each of those cases making prosecution nightmarishly difficult. Since mob violence makes even lesser things difficult to prove.

Now, write something that deals with this question and does not state the obvious and go for emotional appeal. I'll read.

Though I am not saying I won't find fault.

Dilip D'Souza said...

And judging by the tone of your reply and extending that analogy further, Web 2.0 should not exist.

Eh? Where did that spring from? Some incomprehensible technicality in the last comment, Web 2.0 in this one -- you've got me, pal.

our criminal justice system does not discriminate between mob violence and regular crime ... [etc]


Which is precisely why inquiry after inquiry has named the leaders of mobs, the men who egged them on to commit their crimes. Bhagat, Thackeray, Sajjan Kumar, etc -- none of these men actually killed anyone. Yet the inquiries urge that they be prosecuted.

This is the whole point about, for example, the massacre of those 3000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. I have written plenty of times making this very point, urging punishment of these leaders/instigators.

Please do find fault.

Sapathan said...

I have been begging you to stop stating the obvious and you reply by restating it. You either don't read what others write or you aren't very bright. I'll just think you don't read what I write given I am not very good at it.

If you have an argument on the merits of the dichotomy of this scenario, do illuminate. That is, explain the philosophical distinction between individual liberty and the delivery of justice. And state why a bias towards, say, delivery of justice can outweigh concerns otherwise. Don't ever state random things like 3000 people were killed -- no one disputes that. The only contention is how to draft a systemic response that is not ad-hoc and survives the test of legal logic.

Else, this is just drawing down into restating ad-infinitum.

Dilip D'Souza said...

If asking for justice to be served and criminals to be punished amounts to "stating the obvious", I'll be first in line to state the obvious, every time.

I'm not too interested in philosophical distinctions. As far as I'm concerned, the demand to punish those responsible for the massacre of 3000 people tramples on nobody's individual liberties, no philosophical distinction there that I can see.

Sometimes, too, it's important to keep reminding ourselves of "random things" that "no one disputes", like the fact that 3000 people were killed. Because we must never forget.

Sapathan said...

Okay, I have nothing to add if your self confessed purpose is appeal to emotion and not attempt to think through.

Dilip D'Souza said...

self confessed purpose ...

Not that I expect an answer, but where did I make this particular confession?

Oh, but you have nothing to add. Sorry.

Sapathan said...

The lack of addition is dependent on your confession in your previous comment. With time stamp 11.31 AM.

If you do not, then let me know how you'd approach the dichotomy. I'd be interested.

And I am not even here to engage you in one-upmanship, what with no URL or anything. So, there is no point getting snarky with me.

Dilip D'Souza said...

In my comment with time stamp 1131, I make a confession that my "purpose is to appeal to emotion"?

You could have fooled me. I've scanned that comment over and over in every direction and I don't see that particular confession.

"You already knew that" ... "you also owe the people some sort of an apology?" ... "you aren't very bright" [etc]

You see, I get my lessons on being snarky from you.

And what this all has to do with the 1984 massacre, I have no idea, so I'm going to call a halt on my part in it now.

Sapathan said...

Dilip, scan harder. It was your own confession and with no coercion. It should not be that difficult to find. I still seem to be able to locate it with a minute.

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