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Two Nightmares


The Tribune, Dec. 25, 2004

Photo: 1984 Sikh massacres

Two happenings no Indian would like to see recur were the one following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the other following the attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station. In both cases, entire communities were punished in the most diabolical ways for crimes committed by a handful of criminals. What made these pogroms sinister was that the administration took no steps to prevent them and was even suspect for having connived at them.

If the first had been put down with an iron hand, the second might not have occurred. Since those responsible for the first remain unpunished, those guilty of the second may also go scot-free. Both were reminiscent of Nadir Shah's order for a general massacre of the city's population to teach it a lesson for the murders of a few of his soldiers. The main differences were that while Nadir Shah was a foreign marauder, our two pogroms were carried out by our own countrymen. Nadir's general massacre took place in the 18th century; ours took place in the 20th and 21st centuries in independent India.

I never wanted to relive October 31 and November 1, 1984. I had to when I sat through Sashi Kumar's Kaya Taran, meaning chrysalis or pupa of a moth or a butterfly. It is based on a short story in Malayalam by N.S. Madhavan entitled When Big Trees Fall - words borrowed from Rajiv Gandhi's explanation for the widespread anti-Sikh violence of November 1984. His story is based on a true incident in Meerut where a Sikh woman and her seven-year-old son, running to escape a gang of murderers, were rescued and given shelter by nuns at a convent. Sashi Kumar expanded his theme and linked the killings of Sikhs in northern India with the killings of Muslims in 2002 in Narendra Modi's Gujarat.

Among the stars are Seema Biswas who played Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen and cricketer Bishen [Singh] Bedi's son, Angad. It is a highly emotional film with the moral: 'Never allow such things to happen again in our country.' Though the dialogue is in Hindi, it is far too sophisticated to make a box office hit; no songs, no dances, but a tear-jerker.