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The Lament of the First-Born Innocents: another Jallianwallah Bagh

August 22, 2005

It was O V Vijayan who told me about the lament of the first-born innocents: what he called in Malayalam kadinjool-pottanmarude muravili in his under-appreciated masterpiece The Path of the Prophet. It is a heart-breakingly apt phrase, which OV's penetrating insight as a great novelist made vivid and immediate. For the Sikhs were the ones who always fought the most valiantly for Mother India, as OV said of the martyrs of the Independence struggle (translation from Malayalam mine):

As far as the eye can see, gallows, hundreds and thousands of them; and on them, smiling, hanged martyrs, Sikhs! Merchants, hedonists, yet they paid the price for freedom. They loved India deeply.

I write this on India's Independence Day, remembering the sacrifices made by thousands, millions, and none more than Sikhs. I wrote years ago that I, a solitary Indian, thanked them from the bottom of my heart (see my 1998 column Remember Jallianwallah Bagh for what they have done for our country, martyrs from Kartar Singh Sarabha to Bhagat Singh. I was unhappy at what our country had done to them then, and I am disappointed again at what our country has done, in the wake of the Nanavati Commission report.

The events in 1984 were a cross between the Kristallnacht and the Moplah Rebellion/Direct Action Day. A defenceless, non-retaliating, unarmed ethnic/religious group was deliberately targeted (as Jewish businesses were, in a planned pogrom in Germany) and 10,000 of them were killed (as Moplah Muslims did to Hindus in Malabar in 1921, and Muslims in Calcutta did to Hindus in 1946).

See you at three thousand

Gangs of fascist goons deliberately targeted Sikhs especially in Delhi and burnt many of them to death by 'necklacing': putting tires around their necks and igniting them. The death toll, according to official records, was over 3,000. But activists regularly inflate official numbers by a factor of 3-4x. For instance, in the Gujarat riots of 2002, the official numbers say 790 Muslims were killed along with 250 Hindus, and activists claim 2,000 Muslims died. By the same token, 10,000 Sikhs may have been killed, and even in sheer numbers, as a percentage of the minuscule Sikh population, this is very high.

Although I am disappointed by the weak findings of the Nanavati Commission, I appreciate the context in which the report was written. I am reminded of the classic film Z by Costa-Gavras, based on real-life events in Greece. A fascist right-wing conspiracy murders a leftist candidate for President, and a judge of great integrity and courage unravels the plot and sentences many of the perpetrators to jail. However, witnesses begin to die mysteriously in 'a car accident' and 'by leaping to death from a tall building while in police custody'; there is a right-wing coup d'etat; the judge is fired, and the letter 'z', which means 'he is alive' in Greek, is banned.

Justice Nanavati may have remembered the salutary story of the Greek judge while writing the report, for the Indian State has been known to act as a fascist leftist state. There is sufficient evidence in the report to file a case in the International Criminal Court. The South Africans have their truth and reconciliation commission; Bosnian, Rwandan and Chilean perpetrators of genocide are being tried for crimes against humanity; so there is sufficient precedent.

That the Indian State and its leaders did nothing to prevent this genocide puts them in the dubious company of well-known mass murderers: Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, imperial Britons who caused 30 million Indians to die in famines (see Great Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis), crazed medieval war-mongers like Tamurlane. The great reluctance of the accused and friends to admit some measure of guilt is a damning indictment of the ethics of the rulers of the Indian State.

A crime worse than Modi's

There are two concepts in ethics: the teleological and the deontological. The first holds the utilitarian view that the greatest good of the greatest number is the objective, damn the small fry that may get trodden on. This was the approach chosen by Americans when the opening up of the prairies caused the near-extinction of the Native American. And by the Han Chinese, in their ongoing extinction of the Tibetans.

The deontological perspective holds that any policy or act must be analysed from the perspective of the most powerless person affected by it. The Sikhs, surely a numerically small (thus uninteresting as a vote-bank), easily identifiable and powerless group, suffered greatly from the events of 1984. Therefore, from a deontological perspective, this was a crime. Heads need to roll in exemplary punishment, the heads of perpetrators and friends in high places, not sacrificial lambs at lower levels. Never again must something like this happen.

Let us also not forget Sikh terrorism and violence against Hindus in the Punjab. Let us remember that this was courtesy Pakistan's ISI, which had latched on to Sikh separatism as a low-cost way of hurting India. Yes, the very same ISI with whom India is now engaging in wonderfully Orwellian 'peace talks'. Let us also remember that there was an attempt to divide-and-rule the Sikhs, and let us learn from these huge blunders.

The 1984 pogrom only differs slightly from the imperial Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919, a day that will live in infamy. The colonialists then proved beyond doubt that they were mere predators who did not give a damn for the people of India. An unarmed crowd celebrating a Spring festival in a walled garden with only one exit; old people, women and children; 1650 bullets, 1579 casualties: a crime against humanity. The criminal officer in charge, one General Dyer, was felicitated by the British Parliament.

The Congress has lost its moral compass

If the Indian State allows the perpetrators of 1984 to similarly go unpunished, in effect it condones another Jallianwallah Bagh. In that case, one wonders if India has become independent yet, or is still a colony run for colonisers by colonisers.

The vacuous Action Taken Report from the Indian government shows little or no action was taken; if nothing more is done, it would strengthen the suspicion that the Indian State is a predatory State. One would have to wonder if it is a democracy or a kakistocracy, rule by the very worst.

Comments welcome at my blog

Rajeev Srinivasan

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Number of User Comments: 25

Sub: Only Super Power can judge!

While I admire and highly respect Sikhs for their sincerity, courage and sacrifice displayed in defending our mother land at crucial times, I cannot forgive ...

Posted by B.Gautam

Sub: well done Rajeev

Well done Rajeev, we would never allow Pseudo rhetoric to succeed. We serve Mother India

Posted by fuehrer

Sub: Good policy, boys!

Yes, only post secular responses, especially absurd rants by semi-literate people. I have noticed this is standard for Rediff's editors who censor the responses. Thank ...

Posted by secular fundie

Sub: Speak like a moron congvalla

Its your right to speak what you think. But that is always be the truth. May be something too far or in the middle. Your ...

Posted by Anger

Sub: All must be equal before law

What is the point of question of equality. Crime is a crime and rule of the land must take charge. Else there is no question ...

Posted by Anger


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