1984, 1992 and 2002: an awakening to the reality

On the 31st anniversary of 1984 riots, here is the insightful post Lalita Ramdas has written on her facebook wall in response to Sifar’s poem that Sanjiv Bhatt shared on the occasion.

Thirty one years ago today – from our Ankur office in Hauz Khas, Delhi – we watched the spirals of smoke rising across the capital …..Indira Gandhi assassinated – Sikhs being pulled out of their vehicles and attacked mercilessly.

Our initial worry was about our own women teachers – some of them Sikh – who had to travel long distances to reach home. Those were the days before cell phones – and hardly any land line connections either.

I made it home to the relatively secure part of Lutyens Delhi – Lodi Estate – and the nightmare that began did not end till many many weeks and months later. In some ways – it has never ended. As the news spread about the killings – the marked houses – the inaction of the government and the refusal to call out the army.

delhi_sikh_riotsSo it was an army of citizens – of students – of academics, of activists, of housewives – who fanned out across the worst hit areas – we broke curfew – found our way to Trilok puri and all those areas from where terrified families were fleeing – having seen their men folk being brutally attacked – burning tyres thrust over them – burnt alive – women hunted down – raped –

And the story of an amazing coming together of civil society who called ourselves Nagrik Ekta Manch [NEM] and who found a home and support through the HQ of the Servants of the People Society in lajpat Nagar.

“When banyan tree falls the earth will shake …..and banyan trees have continued to fall or been felled…..” we were told

And the earth of this ancient land continues to shake.

I was 44 – a naval wife – whose husband was out at sea commanding the eastern fleet in Visakhapatnam …..no communication – what should I do? Most of my friends in the service advised me to stay away – stay home – it was not safe.

But I could not stay home – and along with other activist friends and mainly an army of young people who just abandoned their homes and colleges – we had our first bitter taste of communal violence – blind rage – egged on by relentless and amoral politicians.

Somehow we did what we had to – went into burning and smoke filled homes – rescued terrified women and children – took them to camps at Nanaksar – Farsh Bazaar – healed – tended – listed and noted down names, stories, horrific accounts – which eventually became the basis of the PUCL-PUDR report Who Are the Guilty?

With disbelief and anger I would take or send food and provisions to two Sikh families – holed up in their homes – one in Rabindra Nagar – a naval commander, the other a senior Lt Gen in the Army – Gurbir Man Singh on Lodi Road.

We had gone mad and on a rampage – and we deliberately delayed calling out the army. As indeed we did 18 years later in Gujarat in 2002 – when thousands of muslims were equally and brutally slaughtered .

I called for help from the Navy and went off across the Jamuna to Mayur Vihar to rescue another Sikh Navy family – close friends– and brought them home in a jeep hidden under blankets and potato sacks to save them from mobs baying for blood.

And we faced Trishul wielding angry mobs during our peace marches through Bhogal and other areas –when it was we women who silently held hands in the frontlines – together with the saffron clad Swami Agnivesh – and the men quietly stepped back into the back of our group. Amitava Ghosh – then at Delhi University – later described this in an article in the New Yorker.

And night after night about twenty young people would camp in the Admiral’s Lodi Estate home – staying awake till the wee hours – making sure we recorded every last eye witness account.

And it was a logical outcome that I decided to testify before the Justice Ranganath Mishra Enquiry Commission – stating the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ……this against the advice of all my husband’s colleagues in the service – ‘Mam – you have to think about his career”.

But it was Ramu Ramdas who said to me over a phone call from Vizag – you must follow your conscience – and if you feel you must testify, go ahead and do so. This is much more important than me or my career.

And this is the same man – Admiral L Ramdas, who the Bhaktas and the trolls on FB, on Twitter and in many of the web blogs, journals and newspapers that have carried his open letter to the President and Prime Minister, are asking where he was in 1984? And demanding shrilly that this Desh Drohi be tried as a traitor and Hung by the neck in public!

They dare to ask what he was doing when Kashmiri Pandits were under siege – without bothering to find out about the letters to former PMs and presidents – the fact finding trips to Gujarat in 2002 and to Kashmir and to Pakistan …..as part of his belief that it was only when we dialogued with our neighbours that a lasting peace might be built.

Babri Masjid was demolished during the time he was still in uniform in 1992 – and yet he advised and pleaded with the PM – Narasimha Rao and then Scientific Advisor, Abdul Kalam that the Government must take action. Alas the leadership dithered– the masjid came down – and there followed the inevitable chain of action and reaction. We are all still paying the price.

And it was in the same spirit of unflinchingly standing up for the truth and for our constitutional promises to all our citizens -that Ramdas was part of an interfaith group that visited Godhra and Ahmedabad under the leadership of that amazing peace activist, the late Km Nirmala Deshpande. Their reports and recommendations are all available in the public domain – as also his letter to the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. My own visit to the relief camps of Ahmedabad brought back similar memories of 1984.

These were just some of the series of events that we have lived through – both in the political and the personal dimension.

We have seen the decent and the broad minded as indeed the venal political face of the state. And for me personally it was 1984 and 2002 which was the eye opener which made me realise that it must be we the people who will have to fight to uphold the constitution and the interests of our people –both minority and majority communities – especially those at the bottom of the social, economic and caste pyramids.

I hope this will be shared together with all the other stories and tales – so people from other worlds than ours and much younger – the digital generation who are so smug and judgemental – might be willing to pause, reflect and figure out their positions and their comments that come so easily in this electronic era of likes and bytes…..

But thank you Sanjiv Bhatt for loosening up the floodgates

Lalita Ramdas – Bhaimala Gaon, Alibag.




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