This weekend, with Sambhav Dehlavi, I started something new, Human Rights Walk. At the time when we conceived it we were not sure, but now I can tell you that this Human Rights Walk is the first of its kind in India, though the concept existed in West. In India we have had food walks, photo walks, history walks, heritage walks, nature walks but the first human rights walk is being launched by Sambhav and Sanjukta.
It was originally Sambhav’s idea to talk about 1984 riots with the young generation by sharing his family’s story along with the history of Kashmiri Gate, because the present generation doesn’t know anything about either 1984 riots or Kashmiri Gate. I too have been looking for ways to reach out to a larger audience to share my experience of Karwan E Mohabbat journey, and generally to build a social circle of people who’d regularly meet and build conversations around human rights violations and marginalized issues. So together we conceived the Human Rights Walk, as part of which we would meet and discuss on a range of human rights issues.
Why Kashmiri Gate?
“Where in Kashmiri Gate should I meet you? Which metro gate number?” They ask if you tell them to meet at Kashmiri Gate. The fact that there is actually a Gate is lost upon the youth who don’t know much beyond the Kashmiri Gate ISBT.
Well our Human Rights Walk started from the Kashmiri Gate. One of the 14 gates built by Shah Jahan, when the Walled City Shahjahanabad was built, the Gate was called Kashmiri because the road led to Kashmir. The Gate also witnessed the first battle of independence, the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. The area around Kashmiri Gate was a commercial hub for many years. Sambhav Dehlavi grew up in this area so he likes to tell the story of the historical location, and by doing so he is also trying to give a geography to his identity, which is beyond the constructs he was born with. When you come out as a queer person, you have a sense of loss, from your family, friends, religion, nation. By telling Kashmiri Gate’s story, he is trying to have a sense of belonging to the place.
Why Muslims and Dalits?
These days, every time a member of the civil society condemned or talked about the atrocities on minority community from Godhra to recent cases of mob lynching of Muslims and Dalits by cow vigilantes, there is always a section of people who would ask, “But why don’t you ever talk of what Congress did in 1984 riots?” Now we are talking of the 1984 Sikh Genocide, and we would also talk of Hindutva attacks on caste and religious minorities. Because the two are not different issues, because it is not about the political parties or religion. It is about us, we the people because if you think deep, it is us who turn into rioters isn’t it? We turn into murderous mob against our very neighbours, we loot and plunder their shops and homes for whatever we can. What are we doing to our humanity? At the end of the day it is about humanity and therefore we should talk of all the issues.
India has a history of genocide and political assassination but Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31st October 1984 and the following anti Sikh riots are events about which we don’t talk. We as a nation are yet to understand the killings, and we are yet to make any sense of it.
The facts are also sort of sketchy but it all seemed to have started with the Khalistan movement. A faction of Sikhs demanded a separate nation Khalistan and picked up guns. There had been years of militancy and finally in June 1984 Indira Gandhi took strong military action called Operation Blue Star, as part of which there The Golden Temple was attacked by Indian military who believed militants were hiding there along with weapons. Several people lost their lives among them was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who is still considered a martyr by Sikhs but militant by Indian government.
In October same year, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards who took the extreme step to avenge Operation Blue Star. The following day a riot broke out in Delhi in which Sikh families and households were targeted and brutally killed. Several fact finding reports have revealed that members of ruling party and police was the main architect behind these riots but the Indian government have never made it official. Unofficial figures by rights group say around 8000 Sikh people had lost their lives. The victims of the riot still await justice, compensations and a closure.
The attacks were primarily done by the majority community, the Hindus.
Kashmiri Gate was the only safe area since it was a Muslim dominated area. Amita Sharma née Devinder Kaur, 46, shared with us how the Muslim neighborhood helped them save hundreds of lives who took shelter in the old Delhi Haveli of Iqbal Singh, her father. How they will bring ration, food for those taking shelter here.
This solidarity between the two minority community is relevant today because in contrast to this, what a few of us observed in Karwan E Mohabbat journeys is that villages where Dalits are attacked by Hindutva groups the Muslims didn’t come for their help and vice versa.
There is a lack of solidarity between minority communities today. The right wing Hindutva politics have conveniently taken in or discarded the Sikhs from the Hindutva fold. Recently when Ram Rahim Singh was convicted for rape charges, popular right wing champions on Twitter like Sonam Mahajan, Shefali Vaidya were quick to disown Sikhs as Hindus. They continue to vilify the Sikhs as Khalistani terrorists, and yet when it comes to building their Hindutva narrative they rely upon the time tested adage that Hinduism is inclusive if Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism.
This is only a truth of convenience, make no mistake, after they are done attacking Muslims, they will come after the Sikhs. In that context, it is important to fill in the gaps in the narrative of India’s communal politics.
These are some of the issues we discussed in our walks. It was the first of its kind so I was a bit worried about the content of the walk. I hope the participants found the walk worthwhile. We plan to conduct more walks under the flagship, Human Rights Walk in Delhi.