“Amu” : India’s Wakeup Call to the 1984 #Rapes and Killings of #Sikhs
by Rita Banerji
In December 2012, when the social media was abuzz with news of the Delhi rape protests, our campaign received several messages asking why India had been totally silent on the 1984 mass rapes and killings of Sikhs in Delhi.
This is a reference to an episode in 1984, when following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, for four days there were unchecked and organized attacks on Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of India. Since the Sikhs are a tiny community, 2% of the population and easily identified by the turbans and other clothing, they became an easy target. More than 4000 Sikhs were killed, hundreds of women were gang-raped, and homes and businesses burnt down.
A report from the CBI, (India’s Central Bureau of Investigation) shows the massacre was sanctioned and organized by the police and the central government which then was headed by Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi. Voters lists were used to locate Sikh homes and shops, which were marked with a ‘S.’ Lynch mobs amply armed with weapons and gasoline etc. would then descend on these ‘targets’ to rape and kill. The organized rapes and violence on Sikh women in rural Punjab continued even after 1984. They were known as “Shuddi Karna” (cleansing) a reference to ethnic “cleansing” through rape! As Human Rights Watch observes, 29 years on, the Government of India has still not prosecuted those responsible. Indeed among them, politicians from Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress party, the ruling party now headed by his widow, Sonia Gandhi have been predictably acquitted! [In September 2013, a U.S. court served a summon to Sonia Gandhi on charges of shielding politicians responsible for inciting rape and murder of Sikhs in '84]
However, as the comments left by Sikh women on our site pointed out: India has been oddly, and unforgivably silent on the rapes and killings of women during the 1984 Sikh massacre. Even intellectual ‘liberals’ in India who’ve angrily condemned a similar, state sanctioned rape and mass massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, have been silent on the 1984 Sikh pogrom.
What I find most alarming is how the younger generation in India, those who were too small to remember 1984 , or were born later, seem completely oblivious to this chapter of India’s human rights record! How can a nation have forgotten something like this, so soon?
The film Amu is a wakeup call to India’s amnesia. It is the story of a 21-year-old Indian woman, Kaju, who grew up in the U.S. and who while visiting her relatives in India, stumbles upon a dark secret from her past. She discovers that she was adopted, something she was not informed of. As she delves deeper for an answer she learns about the 1984 Sikh massacre, and the relevance it had to her life and adoption.
This film struck a personal chord in me for a number of reasons. For one, there’s a strong emotional affinity since my childhood was spent in small towns in Punjab, among Sikh neighbors and friends. Secondly, I experienced an odd parallel with Kaju’s process of uncovering the truth about 1984.
When the 1984 pogrom happened my family had left Punjab, but there were sporadic attacks taking place all over India. I was 16 then, and I remember school was shut down early and we were all hurriedly sent home. We were told that Hindus and Sikhs were fighting, and that there were “riots” everywhere, a term that is still officially used by the government to mask the fact that it was a targeted massacre. There was of course no internet then, and only one television station in India that was owned and controlled by the government. Even as I now go back and look through the newspaper archives, trying to figure out how I could not know then what I know now, I realize that even the print news in India was vigorously censored.
In fact the film ‘Amu’ even though released in 2005, was strongly censored. On the DVD cover of my copy of ‘Amu’ it says “The Indian Censor Board cut crucial lines of dialogue in the film indicating the government’s complicity in the genocide and gave it an ‘A’ certificated on the grounds that “why should young people know a history that is better buried and forgotten.””
Indeed, it frightens me to think that I could have been one of those on whom the government cast a sleeping spell. Two years after the Sikh massacre I left for college in the U.S. and when I finally returned there was yet another similar state sanctioned pogrom of another minority group. It was the 2002 mass rape and massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. I was horrified and in disbelief that something like this could happen in India, till an elderly gentleman informed me that this had happened before in — 1984!!
Still, there’s one particular scene in ‘Amu,’ that haunts me and leaves me with a question. It’s of the woman who had been raped, and commits suicide. And I wonder how many more women there were like that in 1984 and even later when the rapes of Sikh women continued? Where rape is a frequently used patriarchal weapon of violence against women, women who are raped are often victimized twice in India. Once by the men and systems who attack them. And once by the men of their own community who regard raped women as ‘contaminated’ sexual objects. In communities like the Sikh community the discarding of rape victims through murder or suicide was considered an ‘honorable’ act. Recently I read an article by an elderly man, who talked about how proud he was of his sisters who offered their necks to their father for beheading!
What I do hope for, is just as there are witnesses who have courageously come forth to testify against politicians and other people who incited attacks and killed in 1984, there will also be women who will be brave enough to testify against their rapists. And the rest of us in India, and the world, must wake up and support them every step of the way till justice is done!
To mark 100 years of Indian films, we are inviting people to submit reviews for our “Gender in Indian Films @ 100″ film review series. To make a submission click here. To read previously published reviews click here.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies,‘ is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji