Read Part 1 and Part II here.

The later part of the book explores the the 1984 massacres of Sikhs in New Delhi after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.  It was shown how the deployment of rumours has the capacity to do something by saying something through which words come to be transformed from being a medium of communication to becoming bearers of force.

Rumour, which produces themes of nationalism, masculinity, fear and hatred, self and other, victim and perpetrator in critical events and making certain facets of the past which might have otherwise stayed inert come alive in the very act of telling so that continuity can be achieved between events which might seem unconnected. In this way, Author traces the continuities between the Partition of India, Sikh militancy in Punjab, and the related counter-insurgencies, in particular the 1984 action around the Amritsar Golden Temple, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh security guards, and the subsequent authorization of the horrific violence against Sikhs.

 It is with this understanding in mind that Das investigates anti-Sikh violence in 1984 in a specific locality of Delhi (Sultanpuri), and convincingly demonstrates how violence, rumor, and impunity circulate according to local logics that emerge from the existing social configuration. Thus, the everyday tensions of class, caste, and political rivalry provide the key to understanding the specificity of collective violence and events of national significance gaining  their ground in local action.

Themes of these Rumours:

Major themes of rumour that emerged in sikh community depicted the image of Sikh as that of a martyr whose sacrifices had fed the community with its energy in the past. It was portrayed that the history of Sikhs was inscribed on the body of the martyr and was a reflection of the masculine Sikh character. while it was the feminine Hindu character that was imprinted on the history of the Indian nation. The Hindus simultaneously were represented as weak and effeminate or cunning and sly who had depended earlier on the protection offered by the Sikhs but who were now ready to betray the same erstwhile protectors.

It was said that though the sacrifices of the Sikhs brought freedom to India, they were denied their rightful place in the new configuration of nations. For instance, Bhindranwale stated in a speech that while Muslims got Pakistan and Hindus became the de facto rulers of a dejure secular India, the nishan sahib ( the flag that would be the sign of the Sikh nation) was not allowed to fly over the country.

It is interesting to note therefore that in the written and oral discourse of the Sikh militants, it was repeatedly stated that the Sikhs could not belong to a nation that claimed a feminine figure such as Mahatma Gandhi for its father (Because Gandhi through his non-violent movement has transformed the notions of masculinity and femininity, taking the strategies of resistance such as fasting, of offering the body to receive wounds through passive submission rather than the more masculine strategies of violent resistance).

Bhindranwale propounded the idea that it was an insult for the Sikhs to be included in a nation that considered Mahatma Gandhi to be its father, for his techniques of fighting were quintessentially feminine. He was symbolized by a charkha, the spinning wheel, which was a symbol of women whereas the symbol of the sons of Valiant guru is Sword, the major question was can we (sikhs) ever accept a woman like Mahatma as our father? And accept the leadership of Indira Gandhi, a widow, one born in the household of Pandits (the Brahmin caste that in the Sikh community was looked as subservient to the powerful ruler castes).It was implied that only the Hindu could accept being ruled over by a woman.

On the other hand the rumours that prevailed among the community of  Hindu’s were :

Among Hindu fundamentalist groups, the violence against sikhs was seen as a way of regaining lost masculinity.

Sikhs did not have any loyalty above that to their religion The Sikh character was compared to that of snakes who turn around and bite the very hands that feed them milk. There were many debates about the morality of the assassination among Hindus and Sikhs in the print media as well as in the two bodyguards who were regarded as martyrs in sikh community, were labeled as  cowards who had shot a defenseless woman who had trusted them against the advice of her security personnel.

The rumor about the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi was just the first act to be followed by creation of chaos and anarchy, it was said that the creation of Khalistan would be announced in the wake of this chaos. Local gurdwaras were said to have made these announcements to the congregations, who were therefore in a celebratory mood.

There was massive violence against the Hindus in Punjab. Trains full of dead bodies were arriving from Punjab. Sikh militants were planning to poison Delhi’s water supply.

The  danger of overlooking rumour’s “contagious” character, allowed it to spread widely, especially, because it originated with elite leaders themselves.  Thus the capacity of rumour from occupying the language (by saying something ) to having the capacity to do something.  the words come to be transformed from being a medium of communication to becoming the bearers of force.

The last part of this review is written by our therapist Laliteshwari