Book Review – I Accuse-: the anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 by Jarnail Singh

I Accuse-: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984I Accuse-: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 by Jarnail Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember the journalist who threw a shoe at P Chidambram at a press conference a few years ago? That journalist, Jarnail Singh, is the author of this book. He was just an 11 year old kid, a resident of Lajpat Nagar, when he witnessed the vicious violence against the Sikhs in Delhi in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Many books have been written on the incident and the long pending justice that is still awaited by its victims and survivors more than 30 years later. I have not read most of those books, but there is something very emotional and personal about this one. For Jarnail Singh, this is too close to heart. The narration of first person accounts is simple but direct. It is difficult not to picture the carnage, the brutality and inhumanity of the unimaginable attacks. Men turned to monsters.
More than 30 long years later, the victims’ families continue to live in the long shadow of the attacks , their lives upended, their futures ruined, relegated to peripheral rehabilitations, survivors still struggling to survive, though many have succumbed.

The administration’s evident involvement and yet painfully slow and reluctant action to bring justice is outrageous. Khushwant Singh writes in his foreword to the book, that it is a must read for all those who wish that such horrendous crimes do not take place again.
And yet we see more examples of the same things happening today. Human life continues to hold little value in the face of what is manufactured belief, asserted boundary, wrenched legitimacy.


Reading about the history of the Sikhs

Ever since I was a child, I have seen a lot of emphasis being laid on the faith I was born in (as I am sure every child is). This emphasis of course comes from within the family who always imbibed in the children the importance of respecting one’s faith and following certain traditions. While there were no issues with the respect part of it, for me, it was the traditions that were hard to follow.

Till I was young enough and not bothered about the “whys”, “whats” and “whos” of my faith, it didn’t really matter why we did the things we did, or dressed the way we did. But as I grew older and started questioning things in my head – I realised that a lot of it did not make sense to me. For me it was a ritual to be learnt by heart and then to be acted upon. It was the “done” thing.

So naturally – I felt like it was being forced on me and my reactions to it became rather stubborn. I would go through the motions but only so that they were done and over with. Never understood a word of the hymns and prayers that I heard at a Gurudwara – hence never really connected to the concept of God through a visit to a place of worship or through the singing of hymns. We also never had a conversation about God and why this is how we worshipped him (or that it was ok to not have to workship him this way) – it was more like an instruction and code of conduct that one had to follow and do it sincerely too.

I think when you are a teenager, rebellion comes as a biological side-effect – – and I almost started detesting the idea of God. Most references to God were either in terms of a reward if you were good and punishment if you were bad or forced prayer, which did not sit well with me at all! My whole problem was that who is this “God” person and why am I pushed to hold him in such awe! Took a while for me to make the connect 😉

But I got a little wiser as I grew up 🙂 and discovered or figured out my own communication and relationship with God, which was a bit of a relief since I had also passed through this utterly confused phase of wondering if was a non believer even.

Since that was sorted – – what remained was my absolute lack of knowledge about my “community”. I had never been concerned about where I belonged and what our history was – – which led to an attitude of complete ignorance from the knowledge point of view as well.

I think my biggest fear of not asking to be told about our history was the idea of being preached rather than being imparted with knowledge. Also about only getting a peppered and somewhat one-sided view of incidents and persons – – or maybe because no one knew the whole thing from beginning to end to be able to put it into perspective for me.

What I was looking for was purely historical background. The facts. And that is where this book came in – – A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh. Some people were surprised to see me read it – – and thought I finally realised what I had been avoiding all this time. But this was not the reason as I have stated above, but more the need to get the picture straight in the historical perspective.

I just finished the first volume which spans from the emergence of Sikhism to the end of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (while reading I realised how little or nothing I knew about this man and why he was such an important figure in the history of India as well. Gladly, now I do know his significance.)

Though it will take me a while to get the sequence of events and successions correctly committed to memory – the book explains very well the course of events that took place and the influences that led them to be. The author has left no gaps in cross confirming every piece of information shared through various texts, scriptures and writings of the time to convey the most accurate details possible. Written in a very text book fashion – there was a point in the book when I was overwhelmed by the number of battles that took place during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But overall it helps to give a picture of how the British was then begining to inch their way into India.

After reading about the period that was the rise and establishment of the Sikhs – I realise that though it came into being through the preachings of Guru Nanak and was carried forward by the following 9 Gurus – it was the people who chose to follow or convert to this faith and accept it. And as the years passed, they evolved as any other community would have and responded to what the situation demanded at that point in time – whether is was by conduct, physical appearance or ethics and beliefs.