As I recollect the events of those days of 1984, I hardly remember anyone condemning the riots at that time, not even our elders. Rather I heard a few of them (persons, who generally claim to have ‘seen the world’ and supposed to be acting in a more responsible manner) merrily recounting the acts of insult, injury and violence inflicted upon the members of the victim community by the rioters. I only remember my father (though I don’t recall the context now) saying something like – “Suppose such a terrible thing had happened to our close ones, would it still be appearing alright to us?”
As the things began to normalize, various resident groups, imitating the news-clippings appearing on Doordarshan every day, started taking out peace processions. My younger cousin and I too participated in one of those Shanti Marches taken out by the members of the local resident welfare association. Some of the participants were the very people who, only a week ago, were spreading the rumor of overhead water-tanks being poisoned by the members of victim community. What a sham. On our way back, we overheard somebody from the family of the local boy accompanying us asking – “टीवी वाले आए थे क्या?”
As I have already mentioned, all sorts of rumors were floating around during those days. The most vicious one was the rumor about the armed forces (who were called in within two days of rioting to maintain order) having mocked the ‘under performance’ of rioters saying – “अगर उन्हे इतना टाइम मिला होता ना…”. Few others like – “पंजाब में उन्होने इससे भी बुरा हाल किया है” were equally virulent and part of the evil designs engineered to victimize the community further.
Knowingly or unknowingly, people were grossly indulged in spreading all sorts of misinformation and inflammatory statements by sharing them further without verifying their authenticity or trying to understand the evil intentions behind them. Just about the same thing we are witnessing today; only the means have changed, which are more sophisticated and lethal now.
Impressionable young minds were bound to be affected by such reckless behavior on the part of our elders (which was even more damaging considering its future effects). One of my friends in the neighborhood commented – “See we even made one of them the President of India, still what they’ve done to us”. Who were these ‘we’ and ‘they’ and who had filled their minds with such divide?
I remember one of our school teachers, referring to the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, once observed “मकड़ी खुद अपने जाल में फँस गई” (spider got caught in its own web). The boy sitting next to me, immediately whispered in my ear “सरजी जनता पार्टी के होंगे” (Sirji must be a Janata Party supporter). In those days, we children knew only about two political parties – one was Congress and the other was Janata Party and, for us, ‘Janata Party’ basically meant the party in the opposition.
I find one more incident worth mentioning here. It was a few weeks after the schools reopened as the situation normalized. One evening, while leaving the school, as we reached the cycle stand near outer gate, one of my classmates realized that his cycle keys were missing. Junior wing classrooms were located in a separate wing behind the main school building, which was the most neglected part of the school complex. There were no guards; the classrooms were in sheds with no electricity connection and the boundary wall was damaged at various points. Since it was mid-December and already getting darker, my classmate asked me to accompany him back to the classroom to look for the missing keys.
As we entered the classroom, we found one slenderly built Sikh boy rummaging through the desks. He wasn’t wearing uniform so we gathered he was an outsider from the nearby locality. Even though he was alone, still for no apparent reason, we were a bit scared of him. We had a quick look at the surrounding area of our desk and left the room hurriedly. The boy however followed us hurling some Punjabi abuses on us; and finding a soft target in me (I was physically very weak then), he started pushing and kicking me till we got out of the complex without putting up any resistance.
“Perhaps they need to be taught a lesson again” muttered my classmate scornfully as soon as we got out of the trouble. As for me, honestly, I was too scared to be angry or anything; and whatever ill-feeling I would have been having for that Sikh guy, got vanished as soon as those hateful utterances were made by my classmate. I thought that the act of that Sikh guy was nothing as compared to what he might have gone through during those horrific days.
If a school boy could have realized the pain of the victim community, at that age, why couldn’t our elders. Why, instead of condemning the riots, many of them allowed themselves to be played in the hands of the perpetrators, indulged in spreading all sorts of misinformation and rumors to justify the heinous acts of rioters and to vilify the community of the victims.
Sometimes I really wonder why we the common man always fall prey to such political machinations. Why can’t we simply act human?