Punjab Journal: “’47 to ’84”

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Jalandhar bus stop

by Diditi Mitra

Posters of the film 47 to 84’ were difficult to ignore if one was traveling in Punjab in the summer of 2014. The title charts the violence experienced by Sikhs from the Partition, discussed in one of our previous posts in this series, at the time of Indian independence in 1947 and connects it with the violence inflicted upon Sikhs when the Indian army attacked Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, on June 6, 1984.  Harmandir Sahib, also known as Darbar Sahib, is the holiest place of worship for Sikhs. It is troubling to note that this attack occurred during commemoration of the martyrdom of the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev.


Harmandir Sahib, Golden Temple. Source: www.bestphotostheworld.com

It was believed that the Golden Temple was harboring Sikh terrorists” who were fighting for Khalistan, a separate Sikh state.

Over 125 other Sikh shrines were simultaneously attacked. On the false pretext of apprehending a handful of militants’ lodged inside the Golden Temple, the Indian army unleashed a terror unprecedented in post-independence India. It took the use of Vijayanta tanks to win the fight for the army. These let loose a barrage of highly explosive shells, which destroyed the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs.”

And, the horror faced by Sikhs on that fatal day of June 6 1984 was actually not the end of it. Assassination of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, by his Sikh bodyguards on 31 October, 1984 — a killing that has been associated with Operation Bluestar, or shaka neelataara, to raid the Golden Temple — resulted in organized violence against Sikhs.


Violence on Sikhs in 1984. Photo: Deccan Chronicle

The carnage lasted only 4-5 days, October 31 to November 4, but it traumatized a community for years to come. Sikhs were burnt alive with tires around their necks, women were raped, Sikh stores were looted/destroyed. This systematic assault, and not a riot which is incorrectly used to suggest a spontaneous and unorganized eruption of violence against Sikhs, was carried out with full support of the state machinery. Click here to read the story of one of the survivors of this pogrom, Amarjit Singh Walia. He also lived in Daltonganj, Bihar - a place that has generally not received attention in this context.

Such is the fate of minority groups everywhere — one person’s actions are generalized onto the entire group and then treatment for the other” group follows accordingly.

To get a glimpse of the traumatizing results of this pogrom, one has to only watch the documentary film Widow Colony. Here’s a clip from the documentary.

Notably, the call for Khalistan was heard prior to independence. Sikhs, like Muslims, desired a separate Sikh nation. They were apprehensive at being part of Hindu majority independent India. Additionally, while not a separate state, demands were made by Sikhs for greater autonomy which led to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973. The promises made in that resolution were not honored by the Indian government either.

Which nation shall I call my own now?” reads the Punjabi subtitle of the film 47 to 84 — a question that I suppose Sikhs have been asking ever since. Click here to view a trailer of the film.

The year 2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the attack on Darbar Sahib. This film, and a few others that were released around the same time, was perhaps a way to lend voice to the injustice and the trauma endured by Sikhs — voices that the Indian state continues to silence.

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(Go here for the first post in the series)