“Never Forget ’84” … why is this a part of the Sikh narrative? It is only recently when I have thought about how absurd this phrase is. Why do we have to reiterate to not forget that the Sikh’s holiest place of worship was covered in corpses and blood? Why do we have to constantly remind ourselves to not forget the time when the Indian Government decided to show complete disregard for human life whilst they pursued ‘terrorists’ within the Darbar Sahib complex?
It is because the Sikh community have not fully processed the extent of loss that was experienced in 1984 and so 30 years later we are chanting phrases like “Never Forget ’84” to keep the mere memory of the occurrence alive. Applying the trauma theory and Freud’s distinction between melancholia and mourning, it seems the majority of the Sikh community are still in a state of shock and are unable to fully begin their process of mourning. Melancholia is described as this state in which one acknowledges that a loss has taken place but is unable to fully recognise the nature of the loss and begin to accept it.
During and after the attack, the Indian Government justified the attack as a necessary intervention in the interests of the nation. Now consider a civilian that has just witnessed soldiers shooting at point blank rage, killing thousands of innocent worshippers including young children and performing some of the worst human rights abuses, only to be told afterwards that it was all a necessary operation to keep the country safe from ‘terrorists’. This sense of justification removes the civilian’s ability to actually react to the occurrence. They have just witnessed some of the worst inhumane acts take place, but then told mechanically, it was all necessary, almost expected. This is where the problem lies: Freud talks of mourning as being the positive process of an acceptance of a loss but these victims still have to validate their grief, disallowing any mourning to actually take place.
This is why phrases like ‘Never Forget ’84’ have become part of the Sikh narrative; a sign of the Sikh community battling against the casual tone of the authority that treat it as something with no significance. The Sikh community absurdly has to remember and convince themselves that despite what the Government say there is no justification for what happened during the invasion into the Darbar Sahib complex. These are the signs of an attacked Sikh psyche. The Government did not simply attack the Sikhs physically, but Operation Bluestar served as a huge psychological blow. They managed to turn revolutionary spirits into everyday, vulnerable victims. 30 years later, this victim mentality has not left the community. 30 years later, the community are still holding annual remembrance marches as a form of working through communal trauma, as a way of everybody coming together to acknowledge that there is a common loss and a feeling of desire to help bring closure to this dark part of Sikh history.
It is time to look back at this occurrence; not as victims but as empowered individuals who can bring about justice, who can educate people about what happened, who can in the end bring closure. It’s about time that we look back to the revolutionary-charged individuals like Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale and see why the Sikh community became something to fear before 1984? It’s time to look back into that part of history with a different perspective and tap into that high-spirited energy from before 1984 and then move towards our responsibility as the voice of the victims to deliver truth and justice.
I say it is time to contribute to a shifting narrative, from ‘Never Forget 84’ & ‘We Want Justice’, to ‘I remember the Sikh Genocide’ & ‘We will get Justice’.