Daya Varma

It is always problematic to compare tragedies. A few more deaths in one than another act of violence do not make one horror any less repugnant than the other. Yet the political dimensions of all such sordid events in India, and elsewhere, are not always the same; the events of 1984, 1992, 1993 and 2002 are cases in point.

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, thousands of innocent Sikhs were butchered in 1984 in Delhi, Kanpur and other places across India. Various investigative documents amply prove that the massacre was planned and executed by some Congress party leaders and members. Yet the 1984 attack on the Sikh community cannot be treated as integral to any systematic plan to deprive and marginalize Sikhs. Indeed the social status of Sikhs is as intact now as it was before and their intervention in the affairs of India is as vibrant as ever. It was an isolated incident without precedence.

This is not the case with the demolition of Babri Masjid (1992), Mumbai riots (1992 and 1993) and Gujarat pogrom (2002). Indeed, more Sikhs, perhaps, were killed in 1984 than Muslims in 1993 and 2002 combined and yet the dimensions of 1992, 1993, and 2002 are different from that of 1984. The Gujarat pogrom and many relatively smaller ones that continue to occur with sickening regularity constitute a systematic plan to reduce the Muslim community as unwanted citizens of India. These episodes are not isolated; they are an aspect of Indian polity.

Predictably, it has had its effect. Muslims are not assertive of their rights and hope that the secular forces of India would take care of them. Economic, cultural, political and social suppression of Muslims is obvious and has been highlighted by the Sachar Committee Report. Babri Masjid has not just been damaged like the Golden Temple; it has been erased with no possibility of its restitution.

Marginalization of Muslims is the central aspect of the agenda of a major political Party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, with which numerous other parties form alliances. There is no anti-Sikh party. For this reason 1992, 1993 and 2002 are life-threatening episodes for India as they presage the creeping erosion and, in the long run, erasure of its multi-cultural, multi-religious character. Yet the anger against this is less, far less than what it should be.

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