Delhi descends into savagery : a personal experience

Hi Shekhar,
I was in West Delhi at that time and was around 6years old. Although I was very young at that time, I can almost clearly remember everything that happened.
I was suffering from chicken pox and my little brother was only 4 years old. My dad had an accident earlier and had a plastered leg. My mom was the only person who was taking care of my dad in bed, myself and my little brother. My little brother wore patka and we also had a ‘Khanda’ outside our house. My mom didn’t know what to do and just hung a sheet outside to cover it. She could hear the crowd going to each street one by one and doing the killings and loots. She could see our local Gurdwara on fire from the roof. Since my dad was always in the front room…she moved him to the back of the house along with us, without thinking that once they are in the house, we can easily be found at the back too.
I remember vaguely seeing her rushing up on the roof to see what was going on and to come and try to take care of us. The loud noises could be hear and she could see smoke and fire around us in different streets.
It was lucky for us that once the mob got to our street they decided to go to the other streets first which had more Sikh houses and leave our street for last, as we only had a couple of houses where Sikhs lived. As they went further up, there was a family where one of their relative, who was visiting from US, had a pistol. And as he fired in the air the mob ran away. Due to that one person, my family was left unharmed. I do not know who that was, but wherever he is, I would like to take this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.
Lot of lives changed after that incident! I went back to school and found my friends crying all the time as there families were killed, and the horror stories I heard and the people I saw, when I visited my doctor, will stay with me forever!
Just thought I would share my experience on this day!
My prayers are with all those families that suffered losses during the riots in 1984.
P.S. I would also like to add that one thing I noticed after the riots was that all the Sikhs who suffered during the riots, lost there business there families, have come out to be even more successful and have been flourishing even more. Which shows that history repeats once again…every time an attack has been made on Sikhs they have come out of it even more stronger and flourishing!

Delhi descends into savagery

2nd November 1984
I am editing my film. My assistant keenly looking over my shoulder. Gentle boy, who was shy and spoke so softly. Sensitive and very diligent and caring. Another assistant walks in. Whispers in the boy’s ears, and the boy looks a little startled and walks out. Unusual, as he would have normally asked for permission to go, or at least excuse himself. 20 minutes later I walk out to get some fresh air. The editing room was in Pali Hill in what used to be Nasir Hussain’s bungalow. Raj was sitting on a parapet with a completely blank look on his face. The other assistant staring at me helplessly.
Raj has been told that most of his extended family had just died. Killed in the riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Not just killed, the women dragged out and forced to watch the men folk being burned alive, and then the women and children slaughtered. Raj just sat there. Non comprehending. There was no words of solace or comfort you could give. As my other assistant described the events, I just sat their disbelieving,
For how does a city descend into savagery ? A city I was brought up in – my own Sikh friends hiding with their families in safe houses to save themselves from the mad slaughter frenzy that was spreading so fast through the city. And the police and the government stood by either helplessly or completely complicit in the gruesome killing. I have to keep reminding myself this was 1984 – not a moment in bygone history.
So as we remember 25 years since Indira Gandhi – we must remember the aftermath and ask – how is it that civilization reveals such an ugly side so quickly ? Are we basically savages living behind a veneer of controlled social behavior ? Is this not the same savagery that we descended into in Gujarat ?
I read today the following account by a very respected journalist called Rahul Bedi and the memories flooded back. Please brace yourself before reading it, and if any of you have memories of that event, please write in. It’s important we remember …..

Read the rest of this entry »

in Hong Kong with Kaveri

Hilary Clinton accuses Pakistan Army of supporting Taliban, but where’s Bin Laden ?

Pratima asked : Shekhar, What are your thoughts on the Pak-bashing that Hillary Clinton did today?.
Imagine a war that has continued for 9 years, with 20,000 foreign troops, that has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them innocent men women and children, and plunged two countries into chaos that will take years to come out of – all in search of one man called Bin Laden that nobody mentions any more !!
I believe the American Policy in the region suffers from a clear lack of goals. How would they be able to declare victory, when they don’t really know what they want ? I have already argued that the Islamic form of democracy is not something the West understands or is willing to accept, while the western form of democracy will never succeed in Afghanistan.
So Hilary Clinton’s frustration is showing. She effectively got as close to saying that the Pakistan Army secretly supports the Taliban as a visiting senior politician of the US can say within Pakistan. She said that is ‘not possible that the Pakistan’s Govt does not know where the Taliban hide outs and centres in Pakistan are”.
Partly of course there is a growing frustration within President Obama’s administration over their inability to control the Taliban either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. And in the meantime billions of dollar worth of military aid is pouring into Pakistan from the US, and they are not even sure how much of that is actually landing up in Taliban hands. And as more US troops die in the region, Obama has to show tangible results if he to send more troops. Not only that, each day of terrorist activity pushes Pakistan to the brink of economic collapse, and the closer the terrorist organizations are to their goal of throwing a nuclear state into complete chaos, and take power. That is the scenario that the US fears, and the whole world should fear.
What the US must understand that the borders between Pakistan, Baluchistan and Afghanistan were created by the Colonial powers and are very porous. The lines created left families and cultures divided, but who have never really accepted or respected these borders. That is true about Iraq and Israel and Palestine and the Gaza strip too. Borders created by the colonists are the last but probably most devastating legacy of their colonization. And in this area community, family and tribal bonds are very strong. So many of the officers and soldiers in the Pakistan Army have family, community and friends across the border, and probably feel a greater affinity to them than many of their own army. So the Taliban is bound to have strong sympathizers and support in the Pakistan Army and the rugged tribal areas at the border. A support that grows everyday as American troops and government encourage the Pakistan Army to launch an offensive against their own kith and kin. Just as would happen to the Latino troops of Mexican origin in the US army if the US went to war on the borders with Mexico.
Somehow everyone has forgotten that the American troops went into Afghanistan and then into the the border areas of Pakistan in search of Bin Laden. No one talks about him anymore and the scope of the war seems to has just widened with no definite goal in mind. It’s becoming more and more indefinite, with consequences that are more and more dangerous to us.

200 more Dead in Terror carnage in Pakistan

And so we believed that President Obama would change the world. And so we believed that somehow the Messiah had arrived that would heal the wounds of the world. Yet with every step, more innocent women, children and men, civilians from all walks of life are dying wherever American troops are present. Pakistan is now embroiled in a terrorist insurgency from which there seems to be no way out. And while America Politicians debate and argue about what to do, more people die everyday.
I am not saying that President Obama does not mean well. But I think like all people in the US, there is little understanding of other cultures. It is not enough to be open and empathetic to other cultures. It is really really important to understand it by not assuming that your own systems and governments, or even your own system of Democracy is not the only relevant system in the world. Islamic democracy is not the same as Western democracy. It never will be.
And you cannot wipe out the Al Queda or the Taliban by military force. You may be able to contain it, but as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan is proving again and again, it cannot be wiped out and the continuing policy of using western troops on Islamic soil provides the most fertile ground for recruitment of young people into terrorist organizations.
Neither Al Quaida nor the Taliban is a single organization. It as an idea that brings people together in amorphous ways that are created and and destroyed but are immediately created again. How do you destroy an idea ? By striking at the root cause that partly lies in the disposessed of the world. Those without hope. The world cannot continue to survive with such huge disparity with as one part of the world continues to get fat and the other starves.
I had said previously on this blog that Pakistan is going to be Obama’s Vietnam if we are not careful. The US must learn to follow a policy that is comprehensive and long term. They cannot create and arm a huge disparate force called the Taliban to fight the Russians, corrupt the Pakistan Army by sending them huge amounts of cash and arms to supply to the Taliban, and then suddenly pull the plug and assume that everything be normal ? Centuries of power play between the Western powers in Afghanistan has ensured that the country has not been able to evolve into a common culture with a comprehensive and central system of government. It remains a tribal culture that has always been difficult to contain.
And as the world’s super powers decide what to do and look at their options, hundreds of innocents die because of their indecision or their meddling. Sure, their have been no terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11. The war has merely moved to other places where the US has sent their troops. So hundreds of people from others cultures die.
Oh well, they are not American lives, are they ?

Simplicity of action

and He spoke these words :
were you in control of your birth
and will you be in control of your death ?
or the birth and death of your loved ones
could you even control the lives of those you loved dearly
or even you children ?
did you think in your arrogance that they were your children
and not mine ?
did you even control your own nature before you tried
to control the nature of that which surrounds you ?
and you speak to me of words of wisdom ?
and I tell you that wisdom lies in action without illusion
in action without desire
in action without fear
in action,
pure and simple
are you willing, He said
to accept the mere simplicity of this ?
(from: my conversations with Death)

Extreme vulnerability

in those first moments
of waking in the morning
of extreme vulnerability
and extreme clarity
of extreme potential
for true insight
and action
just for a few moments
the ego battles back
with addiction
to memories
not real
but false interpretations
with waves of fear
of the loss of control
hitting against
the clarity
that seemed so real
and yet so
out of reach
as the
of the day begin
and gone
is the amazing spinning
of being completely
out of control
to be
child again
once more

Is there a Ganga in your Amreeka ?

Dear Shekhar
When I joke ( I know that I am not joking) with my 75 years old widowed mother in Rishikesh, who revers and loves Ganga more than anything, that ‘better you die soon since Ganga is going to disappear’, her ever smiling face becomes pale with gloom when she replies back, ” I am going to run and jump in the lap of my mother Ganga before it happens”. She refused to move with me to the US, despite my repeated persuasions for 20 years. ” Is there a Ganga in your Amreeka ?” Her this question would gag me to say anything further.
Ultimately being her only child, I had to move back to India five years back.
We both are born and brought up in Rishikesh and like thousand other citizens of this small town, have silently (and cowardly) seen things going from bad to worse. A bunch of ‘devotees’ which performs Ganga Aarti every evening with loudspeaker, flowers and oil lamps, remains oblivious to the horrible stench of sewage, which falls in the Holy river, not more than 200 meters down.
The least we could do is to admire your sensitivity & concern to our self propelled inevitable climatic disaster. People like me are deeply touched by the intensity of your pain and feel helpless in front of the gigantic self centered ugly greed of our callous society.

The end of a Civilization ? Will the Holy Ganga dissapear ?

Water and the nature and course of rivers have for centuries defined the rise and fall of civilizations. All over the world and all throughout history. Be it the Nile or the rivers that are nurtured and fed by the Glaciers of the Himalayas.
Which have been receding at an alarming rate. Himalayan Glaciers directly or indirectly nurture 1.3 billion people in India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal through the rivers they feed. Civilizations have risen around these rivers and customs, religion and faith has been defined by their existence. What happens when these rivers disappear, as they will in the next few decades if climate change goes on as it is ? Where will we be if the Ganga disappears ?
It has happened before. The great Indus Valley civilizations like Harappa disappeared when the rivers changed course. We stand on the cusp of this disaster.
Are we going to be consigned by history as the lost civilization ? A civilization destroyed by it’s own Greed and inability to understand that natures bounty is meant to be worshipped and not abused ?

Is India the ultimte under achiever ?

With the newspapers full of people celebrating or mourning the election results in Maharashtra, and ridiculous pictures of politicians wives dancing and senior politicians lighting fire crackers, have we forgotten that after the terrorist attacks the people of Mumbai came out to condemn the politics and politicians of the nation ? Have forgotten that there is a huge upheaval in India where the farmers are unable to even provide one square meal to their families after 6 decades of independence ? And they have a choice between suicide and joining the Naxal movement ? And that India is heading towards an ecological disaster ?
Have we become such slaves to the concept of Power, even if it is the most corruptible and self centered form of democracy we know, that we are willing to revel in highs and lows of election results ? We are like people who’s house is on fire, and are sitting at home indulging in the politics of the Fire Brigade.
It would not be so frustrating i the people of India did not have potential. When I travel through India, when I meet the youth of India, when I look at their aspirations, their potential talent, their sheer ability to work hard and commit themselves, when I look at what faith people have, And finally their sheer resilience and fortitude, I am left completely breathless and angry at the same time. For it is this resilience and fortitude that our politicians are getting fat on.
What Potential !! What people !! What capacity !! But for the sheer crass selfishness of the politics of India. Sometimes I wish there was a different system. Sometimes I wish that all this could be overthrown in favor of a better system of governance. Sometimes I feel such sympathy for a revolution in India !