Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sarbpreet Singh’s new book talks about ordinary lives disfigured and disrupted by 1984 Sikh Massacre

Photo: Penguin India

Sarbpreet Singh’s new publication Night of the restless spirits: Stories from 1984 becomes yet another witness of the horrors faced by the Sikh community of India. The author has captured the essence of the jeopardized Sikh identity in the Indian context and traced it back to the nightmarish events in history.

Singh has emerged as a podcaster, writer, and playwright and has gained recognition worldwide for his work Kultar’s mime which is a moving account of the suffering of the Sikhs in 1984. Singh’s other work The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia is considered an ode to the Sikh history, an attempt to recreate the court of a great Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

Singh’s efforts to advocate and highlight the events surrounding the Sikh atrocities cannot go unnoticed. About his earlier works Kultar’s Mime HS Phoolka, Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, Human Rights activist and author, writes that it is “one of the most tragic aspects of the injustices and atrocities of 1984 is the lack of awareness of the massacre within the current generation and its total absence from Indian history textbooks. This is where Kultar’s Mime has played a phenomenal role. Through the medium of art and theatre, it has powerfully displayed the pain and suffering of the victims of the carnage. The efforts of the bright, young, and talented creative team are heartening and renew the hope that the future generations will never forget 1984…”.

The play Kultar’s mime created by J. Mehr Kaur was showcased at Harvard Divinity School, at an event organized by the Religions and the Practice of Peace Colloquium, co-sponsored with the conference “Pluralism Project @ 25: Diversity and Inclusion in the American Crucible” and received a massive response from the audience as well as the organizers.

These stories capture the horrors and uncertainties of 1984 through Sikh eyes around the world
Sarbpreet Singh

Dr. Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University & Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard, writes Kultar’s Mime is a powerful drama, vividly evoking the experience of violence that beset Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The voices of violation connect these events to murderous pogroms the world over.”

 Night of the restless Spirits: Stories from 1984 has now risen as a refreshed account of the Sikh atrocities following the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. An excerpt from the book brilliantly depicts the kafkaesque state of affairs surrounding the events that unfolded in 1984. The conflict between the state and the interests of a few proved lethal to their coexistence, making the entire Sikh population scapegoats slaughtered ruthlessly.

Author and publisher, Urvashi Butalia comments on the book saying it is “a powerful counter to the selective amnesia of official histories. This collection reveals the persistence of pain and grief, and the searingly painful truth of the brutality of power.”

In the book, the author recollects incidents from the numerous Anglo-Sikh wars, Afghan-Sikh wars, and the trials of the Sikhs during the Sayyidpur Seige, the partition chronicles and combines the emotions of those experiences with those of the subsequent years. Comparisons of the martyrdom of the Sikhs manifest a striking resemblance between all historical events, the post-partition period, and the operation of the Indian State under PM Indira Gandhi. Thus, suggesting the commonality of the attack on the Sikh Identity in an  Independent India throughout early 1984, and later the anti-Sikh Riots. 

The author has extensively contrived sculptures of ordinary lives disfigured and disrupted by the slaughter of 1984. Revolving around the catastrophe this collection of stories smears the lines between the human and the inhuman, the political and the personal. It repaints the realities of the unaware. These are stories of the hapless, the resilient, and of the fellow humans who had hope.  Night of the restless spirits becomes a survivors’ account, an undesired medal of survival.  Tales of the brave and the feeble, this piece of fiction becomes a pyrrhic victory for those that survived but had to live with the nightmarish memories of the hollow state of law and order, that led to the Sikh Massacre.

‘These harrowing tales of Sikh survivors deserve your attention’  writes Bapsi Sidhwa, author.

Zakia Rafiqi is a Political Science graduate from Kashmir.

Zakia Zubir Rafiqi
Zakia Zubir Rafiqi
Zakia Rafiqi is a Political Science graduate from Kashmir.
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