This past Sunday, November 19 Vikram Kapur’s novel based on the anti-Sikh massacre was released in New Delhi.
The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984 was unveiled by famous Indian journalist Hartosh Singh Bal at an event held at the city’s Habitat Centre.
The unveiling ceremony coincided with 33rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogrom across India following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
Gandhi had ordered a military assault on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June that year to flush out extremists who had fortified the place of worship. The military operation that left many pilgrims dead had enraged Sikhs all over the world.
Thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered by the mobs instigated by the leaders of Gandhis’ self-proclaimed secular Congress party during the violence in the aftermath of her murder. No senior leader involved in the bloodshed was ever convicted. Bal who is currently the Political Editor of Caravan magazine has extensively written on the subject.
Bal and Kapur also held conversation on the issue that was followed by questions from the audience.
Among those present were renowned Punjabi author Ajeet Caur and her daughter and a prominent painter Arpana Caur. The mother and daughter have kept the issue of 1984 alive through expression. Former Chief Election Commissioner Manohar Singh Gill was also in attendance. Ironically, Gill is associated with the Congress Party.
Though New Delhi alone witnessed more than 3,000 murders during 1984, no prominent Sikh leader was present.
Kapur revealed that he will donate all the proceeds from the sale of his novel to the victims’ families.
Despite being a Hindu, Kapur is passionate about the subject and has published another book on 1984 in the past. During his discussion with Bal, he acknowledged that being born and brought up in a secular environment of his family he was pained with the events of 1984. He insisted that the 1984 is more relevant today because of growing religious sectarianism under a right wing Hindu nationalist government.
The Assassinations is the story of two families, one Hindu and another Sikh. It revolves around the relationship between a Sikh man and a Hindu woman who fall in love during 1980s when social ties between the two communities are strained because of Sikh militancy and the brutality of the Indian state. The love story ends in tragedy due to ugly developments of 1984 as the hero Prem Singh ends up becoming a militant after enduring violence targeting Sikh community.
The novel powerfully depicts the alienation of the Sikh minority and their mistreatment by the fanatical Hindus and the government, besides empathy of the Punjabi Hindus toward their Sikh compatriots. Through the character of Prem Singh’s would be father –in- law, Kapur portrays the dilemma of Punjabi Hindus who despite all their anxieties about the Sikh separatists feel sorry for the state sponsored violence against ordinary Sikhs. The story also puts in perspective the efforts of the Sikhs who fled to counties like US for safety to keep the horrific memories alive in the absence of justice.