Prime Edition

Justice delayed doesn’t have to mean justice denied

Brajesh Samarth, Hindi lecturer at Stanford University, talks to Abhimanyu Singh about his upcoming documentary, Delayed Justice, about the 1984 riots against the Sikh community.

ABHIMANYU SINGH  15th Aug 2015

Brajesh Samarth.

Q. What prompted your interest in the riots of 1984 that took place in Delhi and elsewhere in the country? You have spoken of having a personal connection to the subject. Could you elaborate on that? Were you witness to the massacre as well?

A. I have always been interested in the Indian diaspora, and how this displacement negotiates, re-imagines and re-creates identities.

After my PhD, I moved to California to teach at Stanford University. I decided to document the Sikh diaspora in Northern California, which is the oldest Sikh settlement in the US. During one of my visits to a gurdwara I found a group of elderly Sikhs, about 25-30 people, sitting under a tree, sipping tea and conversing in Punjabi. I explained to them my idea to make a documentary on Sikh diaspora, and one of the elderly Sikhs told me, "You must make a movie and tell the Indian government we are not terrorists." Initially, I simply wanted to document the flourishing Sikh community in Northern California and analyse how their religious and cultural identity contributed to their success. But the group of elderly Sikhs I sat with hardly talked about how they came to a new country and started from scratch. Instead, I heard stories of displacement, of the horrors of Operation Blue Star and the 1984 Massacre. This inspired me to work harder and delve deeper to understand the state of the Sikh diaspora.

It was not the first time I had heard such stories. I was about 13 years old when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, sparking the anti-Sikh riots. I lived in a neighborhood in Jaipur that was highly populated by Sikhs who fled Pakistan after the 1947 Partition. I heard many stories from my elderly Sikh neighbors about how they survived the violence of the Partition in stark contrast with how diverse communities co-existed happily before the Partition. These Sikh families were now quite settled socially, economically and emotionally in Jaipur. However, when anti-Sikh riots started in 1984, they feared for their safety. We would hear, from time-to-time, of Sikhs being beaten and dishonoured, their turbans removed and being called traitors. Many of my Sikh neighbours decided to move to different parts of India, some even left the country. A couple of my very close friends moved to Canada, England and the US.

Q. How long have you been working on the documentary? Are you speaking only to Sikh families who had left India at that time or do you plan to also speak to survivors who remained in India? When do you expect it to be ready for screening, and will it be shown in India?

A. I have been working on this documentary for almost two years now. As a researcher, I very well understand the importance of studying each and every aspect of the subject matter before I document it. I have visited gurdwaras, observed activities, documented social gatherings and listened to many stories from the Sikh community, told by all genders and ages. I have talked with scholars, scientists, doctors, engineers, students, housewives, store-owners, retired and elderly community members, people directly or indirectly affected by the anti-Sikh riots. In addition to that, we also plan to meet those accused of participating in anti-Sikh activities.

It is very important to acknowledge that India could not provide enough security to the Sikh community when these killings took place. If we want to claim India to be a democratic country and if we want to be proud of our secular roots that bind all religions together, we need to understand that shutting down the voices or ignoring them is not the answer to the problems.

We will be working with the survivors in India, and outside India, wherever they are, and if they're willing to participate. Image 2nd

We have prepared our first trailer and our second trailer is almost ready to be launched. We hope that the documentary will be ready by the end of 2016. It needs funding and we are looking for genuine sponsors who want to help this cause.

Q. A recent documentary of the 16 December rape case was banned in India. Do you feel certain the same fate will not befall your film, considering the sensitivity of your subject matter?

A. It is an interesting question, and I agree with you that it could happen to our documentary as well. However, I have enough faith in the Indian government that they will understand the severity of this matter and accept the fact that this unfortunate incident took place in the land of Buddha. And this is the right time to resolve this issue. It is the responsibility of the Indian government to apologise, condemn the perpetrators of the massacre and rectify the aftermath of 1984.

Q. What, in your opinion, would be the best way forward to deal with the wounds of 1984, for the Indian state and majority community? How might a closure be achieved?

A. It is very important to acknowledge that India could not provide enough security to the Sikh community when these killings took place. If we want to claim India to be a democratic country, and if we want to be proud of our secular roots that bind all religions together, we need to understand that shutting down the voices or ignoring them is not the answer to the problems. The government should establish institutions or bodies that can reach out to the victims and the community and start programmes for reform and justice.

At the same time, our Indian society, minorities and major communities, must come forward to accept that they failed to protect their fellow Indians. And society must sincerely move forward to demand justice. The efforts to achieve justice should be collective. As long as we consider it only a Sikh concern, we will find no closure.

 
Newer | Older

Creative-for-SG


iTv Network : newsX India News Media Academy aaj Samaaj  
  Powered by : Star Infranet