Gurpreet Singh: New novel explores India's anti-Sikh massacres of 1984

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      This past Sunday (November 19) Vikram Kapur’s novel based on the anti-Sikh massacre was released in New Delhi.

      The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984 was unveiled by famous Indian journalist Hartosh Singh Bal at an event held at the city’s Habitat Centre.

      The ceremony coincided with 33rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogrom across India following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

      The massacre of Sikhs came nearly four months after Gandhi had ordered a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex in the city of Amritsar to flush out extremists who had fortified the place of worship.

      The military operation left many pilgrims dead and enraged Sikhs all over the world.

      In November of 1984, thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered by mobs instigated by leaders of Gandhi's so-called secular Congress party following her murder.

      No senior leader involved in the bloodshed was ever convicted. Bal, political editor ofCaravan magazine, has written extensively on the subject.  

      Bal and Kapur held a public conversation on the issue, which was followed by questions from the audience.

      Among those present were renowned Punjabi author Ajeet Caur and her daughter, prominent painter Arpana Caur. The mother and daughter have kept the issue of 1984 alive through artistic expression.

      Former chief election commissioner Manohar Singh Gill was also in attendance. Ironically, Gill is associated with the Congress party.

      Though New Delhi alone witnessed more than 3,000 murders during 1984, no prominent Sikh leader was present.

      Kapur, an associate professor of English at Shiv Nadar University, revealed that he will donate all the proceeds from the sale of his novel to the victims’ families.

      Despite being a Hindu, Kapur is passionate about the subject and wrote a previous book, 1984 in Memory and Imagination, on what happened in 1984.

      During his discussion with Bal, he acknowledged that being born and brought up in a secular environment by his family, he was pained with the events of 1984.

      He insisted that 1984 is more relevant today because of growing religious sectarianism under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government.

      The Assassinations is the story of two families, one Hindu and another Sikh. It revolves around the relationship between a Sikh man and a Hindu woman who fall in love during 1980s when social ties between the two communities are strained because of Sikh militancy and the brutality of the Indian state.

      The hero, Prem Singh, becomes a militant after enduring violence targeting the Sikh community.

      The novel powerfully depicts the alienation of the Sikh minority and their mistreatment by fanatical Hindus and the government, notwithstanding the empathy of Punjabi Hindus toward their Sikh compatriots.

      Through the character of Prem Singh’s would-be father–in- law, Kapur portrays the dilemma of Punjabi Hindus, who despite all their anxieties about the Sikh separatists, feel sorry for state-sponsored violence against ordinary Sikhs.  

      The story also puts in perspective the efforts of Sikhs who fled to countries like U.S. for safety and who keep the horrific memories alive in the absence of justice.

      Speaking Tiger Books
      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.