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Frozen frames from when Delhi burned
NIDHI GUPTA  10th Nov 2012

Ram Rahman’s photograph of one of the survivors at Trilokpuri in 1984

ast week, 49 year old Sukhwinder Singh stood in the courtyard of the Bangla Sahib gurudwara, gazing at a black and white photograph of a man driven mad by anguish and loss, ready to tear his hair out. The picture, photographed in Trilokpuri by Ram Rahman, reminded him of his own narrow escape that year, when he and his brother hid from angry mobs in a trunk in a "Muslim factory" on New Rohtak Road. He took off his turban to show the bald, raw patch of skin where they hung a burning tyre when they were spotted on the road the next day. "No eye-witnesses should remain alive, they said, and so they finished off my brother," he stammers to a circle of people listening closely now. His case was closed earlier this year without any convictions.

The gurudwara, usually an oasis of calm in the hectic madness that is Connaught Place, was abuzz with conflicting emotions. A travelling photography and art exhibition depicting the aftermath of the 1984 riots had visitors, young and old, gripped with shock — here was hung upon walls the stark evidence of a carnage that took place 29 years ago, and whose victims seek justice till date.

The exhibition, which was first mounted in the Jallianwala Bagh in October, has travelled through Jalandhar, Patiala, Ludhiana, and to Delhi. Initiated by advocate H S Phoolka, and organised by Forgotten Citizens, to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the incident, the exhibition seeks to spread awareness. It included photographs by Ram Rahman, Sandeep Shankar, Ashok Vahie, besides artworks by Arpana Caur, Vivan Sundaram, and Sushant Guha. Also on display were affidavits filed by some of the victims and long lists with names of people who died in the communal crossfire.

The images of a riot-ridden city — a burning Connaught Place, charred vehicles, homes destroyed, dead bodies strewn on roads, a Sikh man being beaten up, a woman holding her dead husband’s finger, another displaying an entire neighbourhood of widows — are horrifying to say the least.

The images of a riot-ridden city — a burning Connaught Place, charred vehicles, homes destroyed, dead bodies strewn on roads, a Sikh man being beaten up, a woman holding her dead husband's finger, another displaying an entire neighbourhood of widows — are horrifying to say the least, even to those who weren't born at the time. "In Gujarat, there were only about 1,000 casualties. In 1984 there were over 10,000 people who passed away, and yet, in 28 years there has been no discussion. If Salman Khan can be jailed for 6 months for killing a black buck, what are we, dogs and cats?!" demanded journalist Jarnail Singh, part of the organising group.Image 2nd

It is the politics of fear and silence that this exhibition has sought to address primarily. Technology was a huge facilitator in Gujarat, says Rahman. "They were telecasting the riots almost live in 2002. Mobile phones too helped in pin-pointing the location and actions of the aggressors. None of this was possible in 1984. During the Babri Masjid incident too, there was a deliberate attack on photographers. The simple fact that there are very few pictures of 1984 shows how much state suppression has gone into the makings of this unjust history," he says.

The exhibition which concluded in Delhi was followed by a protest at Jantar Mantar on 3rd November, 2012. Activists including Teesta Setalvad, Prashant Bhushan, advocate Phoolka, and many more signed a petition to the government demanding, among other things, speedy convictions and deliverance of justice. There are those, even from within the community, who argue for letting the past rest. "But how can you ask people who have suffered this loss to forget? If there's no justice, we are worth nothing as a society too," states Rahman.

 
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