A photo exhibition capturing the carnage of 1984 serves as a reminder for some, a cathartic act for many, and also a means of raising awareness for all
Nineteen-year-old Anusha Roy, student at a vocational institute, would have probably never come to know about the carnage of 1984 if it were not for the scores of photographs put up at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib as part of “Forgotten Citizens 1984: Justice Campaign for 1984”. “I know about the Hindu-Muslim riots but not about these Sikh killings,” said Anusha moving around wearing a bewildered expression.
On the other hand, Bhupinder Singh is trying to identify his relatives amongst a group of 20 widows. “We had six houses in one row in Sagarpur and all male members were finished off. I can identify not all but some of my relatives in this picture. I feel pained and hurt and that’s why I am here.”
The 80 black-and-white frames, most of them not seen before, are a gruesome reminder of the Sikh massacre that shook the nation 28 years ago. “When judiciary, executive, legislature and even media failed us we had no other option but to go to the people,” says Jarnail Singh, journalist and author of “I Accuse...The anti-Sikh Violence of 1984”.
And what better way to reach out to the masses than laying bare the truth in front of them. Artist Arpana Caur was entrusted with the responsibility of gathering the photographs capturing the horrific incident. Caur collated images taken of those fateful three days by photographers like Ashok Vahie, Ram Rahman, Sondeep Shankar and others. “Some of the images particularly of Ashok Vahie were already with us as they were used in my book. I had bought some of these images,” says H.S. Phoolka, who along with journalist Manoj Mitta had written “When a Tree Shook Delhi”. Some lithographs by Sushant Guha and paintings by Vivan Sundaram and Arpan Caur were also part of the exhibition.
Senior advocate Phoolka is spearheading the movement which was kicked off in Jallianwala Bagh in October and travelled through various cities in Punjab. The photographs were also showcased at Delhi University, Ashok Vihar, Jail Road, Patel Nagar, Kalkaji and culminated at Jantar Mantar with a demonstration and a candlelight vigil. On November 9, a public hearing will be held at India International Centre to highlight the State’s failure to provide justice to victims of the riots.
“Ashok was there on the streets of Delhi all the three days shooting the violence taking place in front of his eyes so that’s how we have pictures of burnt vehicles at AIIMS crossing and other incidents of street violence,” said Phoolka. A whole section was devoted to such shots capturing Connaught Place shops on fire and charred vehicles.
“All the four brothers were burnt alive,” shares a middle aged viewer with his wife, pointing at the picture of Sahni Parts and Tiles shop in Paharganj.
Ram Rahman’s poignant frames were made in Trilokpuri right after the violence ended. Visiting the gali in Trilokpuri along with a relief team, he found just one male alive. There was one panel on Nanki Kaur, whose photograph holding her husband’s finger is one of the most telling of them all. The finger was chopped off by rioters, after he was killed, to remove his gold ring. “While we found the interview on BBC, I had her affidavit and it turned out that Ram (Rahman) had shot her so it all came together,” said Phoolka adding that it is because of the impact of these images that 35,000 signatories have signed the petition.
The petition is being sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding that all cases closed by the police be reinvestigated and all culprits be punished. A strong law to deal with communal and sectarian violence is also being demanded through this campaign.