The film

The  filmI finally got to see Sonali Bose’s  acclaimed film Amu, on the Sikh genocide of 84 in Delhi on the channel Mubi, meant for art house cinema . The films commercial release had gone in the blink of an eye, and if it was available on television or OTT platforms, it had evaded my searches. As it was a very well made, sensitive and powerful film, I wonder whether this obscurity was deliberate, as there was clear indictment of the ruling government of the time,  and the ruling party.  
The film traces the attempt of an adopted child from the US to trace her roots in Delhi and accidentally unearthing the fact that she was an orphan of the organised anti Sikh pogrom of 84, which too has been forgotten since, and the culprits who conducted the massacres remained free and in power. 
The film released a flood of memories, as I was an eyewitness to those riots, had seen them up close, and it had deeply affected me.  I had been a young idealistic chap then, and dating a young Sikh lady who subsequently was to be my wife, and I had never witnessed such horror from close up, so it had such an impact I suppose. I and my friends tried to rescue a fleeing Sikh family and find them shelter somewhere, and everybody seemed too terrified to help, while the police told us to mind our own business, till we could get them to a relief camp.  This put me in touch with a volunteer group who were carrying out relief work and I volunteered immediately. 
I was put in a group trying to trace missing people and reunite families separated by the turmoil. Our group was a mixed bag, a renowned economist, a well-known TV anchor, couple of LSR students from the hostel and myself. We visited the various camps and the worst affected areas to try and locate missing people. Constant exposure to horror numbs the mind , but certain scenes scar our souls and cannot be forgotten. 
One was a surreal scene of a guy looking like a villain from a second rate Bollywood film running holding a life size doll of a girl, upside down, by it’s legs, looking as if he’s carrying a dead child he’s just killed. 
One was a little girl asking if we could find the book she was reading, as she was mid way through. But the most horrifying one was of a lady  sitting silently, staring blankly at nothing. She wouldn’t respond to anything or bother to eat or wash. She had seen her family burnt alive. 
Seeing Amu’s mother in the film reminded me of her. 
Other incidents that remain are less grim. 
One was a foreign news channel shooting the incidents by having some locals acting out the roles of looters. We pointed this out to the survivors in the camp. Furious that the real images of the ruling party leaders leading marauding mobs with voter’s lists to identify Sikhs were not being shown, they chased away the crew,who ran like the wind back to their safe air-conditioned hotels. 
Nirulas, a popular fast food chain owned by a Sikh family, had kept the kitchen open and was providing food to us relief workers. But the gurdwara which was doubling as a relief camp insisted that we eat at the langar, or community kitchen, which is also considered Prasad, or blessings of God. So we reluctantly had to eat that bland fare, while pining away for the pizzas, steaks and burgers waiting for us. The economist who led our group had been a professor in Delhi School of Economics from where I had just graduated. I introduced myself as his student who had not met him as I rarely attended classes. He embarrassed me by disclosing that he knew me by my notoriety, and proceeded to regale the others with exaggerated accounts of my misadventures, which included allegedly gate crashing the dean’s daughters wedding party.  
Another less pleasant memory is calling the lady i was dating to check if they were OK and having her brother reply “still alive “.
One of her relatives was missing and we later confirmed that he too was murdered, as were most of the missing people we tried to locate. 
The party that carried out the massacres is no longer in power, but public memory is short, and most of the perpetrators are still at large, though some had to retire from public life, and only a few foot soldiers were given token punishment. 
We require films like this to keep the memory alive as otherwise we keep repeating such shameful episodes of our history 
Copyright ©️ soumya mukherjee


  1. 1984 Anti Sikh Riots – Hold Guardians of Law Responsible too

    It was a deliberate and premeditated move .
    Despite having a large presence of Army Units in Delhi (including Red Fort ) , Army was not called out for 3 days.Units which came from Meerut were sent back. Compare this with the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001, Special Forces of the Indian Army reached the Parliament House ,in helicopters , in less than 10 minutes.
    Later , top honest Police Officers observed that during the riots frantic calls were received by the Police Control Room ( PCR Tel No 100 ). These were referred to concerned Thanas . What happened in the Thanas – all records are missing..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Too embarassed, to even comment on what happened in the city, while we were either watching, r trying to help our brothers and sisters we had grown with.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 1984 Brutal Killings of Innocent Sikhs
    As an Indian I am absolutely ashamed.
    My Bua gave us an eye witness account. She was coming alone by train from Mumbai to New Delhi.
    At the station she witnessed the horrible killing of Sikhs. She found no taxis were available.
    An unknown Sikh gentleman came forward and took my Bua to her destination.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Riots or Mass Murders were certainly pre planned . So was the elaborate cover up exercise. Destruction of Records ( Roz Namchas -DDR s ) at concerned Thana s.The then President was playing Politics and the mass murders / destruction of property of innocents were to pressurize Giani Zail Singh in to appointing Rajiv Gandhi as the next PM.

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  4. Bravery of Fellow S tephanian
    Going back to the terrible Anti Sikh riots of 1984 which as an Indian have shamed me among others. I wish to recall the heroism of my friend and college mate who played a very daring and brave role in saving the victims.
    Virendra Saksena IRS ( now a very senior officer )- in St. Stephen’s College from 1974-1977 ( R/o Allnutt South Extension , my neighbour ) was in Delhi at that time.
    Virendra risked his life in saving innocent lives .
    Some how I feel that his bravery ,patriotism and fight against injustice may end up unrecognized ( I think very few out side his close friends are aware of it ).
    So , I have taken the liberty of putting it in Stephanian domain.
    We are thankful to Brother Virendra for his reply :-
    Virendra Kumar Saksena
    Gosh I am a little surprised that the past has been recalled by my dear friends Ashwini and Kishore. Back in October 1984 many of us who were in ISH were preparing for the Civil Services examination. The Khalsa College stood across the road and some of us happened to know the son of the then Principal of the Khalsa College. At that point of time when Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, the Principal of Khalsa College was a part of the Indian delegation to UN/USA, to convince the international community that there was no discrimination against Sikhs in India. In the wake of the assassination and the ensuing violence a lot of Sikh families had taken refuge in the staff quarters of the Khalsa College. The Indian students of ISH felt that they could not be a silent spectator to the violence that was taking place in Delhi. It was generally felt that it was a watershed moment that beckoned each one of us to take a stand. This included around 20 of us – Rajiv Bora, Pratap Paikray, and Anil Saxena are some of the names I recall. So even though the Civil Services Exam was to start in a weeks time, we decided to spend the nights in the campus of the Khalsa College to express our solidarity with the Sikh families and to help them in whatever way possible if a mob tried to harm them. Initially there was some suspicion about our bonafides as some of the families who had sought refuge in the college were worried that we could be Trojans for the rioters. To convince them few of us decided to offer one of us as a hostage at all points of time, well inside the place, while the rest stood guard outside. The Principal’s family was deeply embarrassed about this but we assured them that we appreciated the concerns of the group present in the college. The 2-3 nights spent in the college were very scary. Across the ganda nala we could see fires burning in the Kingsway Camp settlements accompanied by frenzied yells and we expected a mob to show up any moment at the gates of the college. Fortunately, nothing happened. At last the army stepped in and when we saw the soldiers marching on the road between ISH and Khalsa College, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

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