November 1984, Once Again
It’s twenty-eight years after, so why are the Delhi University authorities so morally afraid of some telling pictures of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs? Why did they deny permission to the students to stand with the pictures inside the campus, and hold a floating exhibition travelling around the country on the idea of injustice as public memory? What compels this act of Chinese-style censorship?
By blocking a public exhibition using the authoritarian power of the bureaucracy, do they want to sanitise the academia against what was clearly a State-sponsored massacre in the capital and elsewhere, in which prominent Congress politicians were directly involved, along with
the police, with the Congress regime at the Centre as a tacit accomplice?
So are we only supposed to mourn the assassination of Indira Gandhi, with hundreds of her full-blown pictures and her profound messages thronging the inside pages of daily newspapers, sponsored by various central ministries and Congress-ruled state governments, obviously using vast amounts of public money? When a big tree falls, the earth shakes, does it?
Is it still shaking?
So, why, as a civil society and power establishment, are we afraid to enter our own repulsive replicas of Auschwitz, the concentration camps, the mass murders and gangrapes as national spectacles? Do Blocks 32 and 34 of Trilokpuri in East Delhi ring a bell? The simple home of clean, good people; citizens of India and this earth; with their simple family trees of life and times?
Or the humble homes of the Sikhs, hardworking and honest, in Sultanpuri and Jehangirpuri in West Delhi? Or all the others, butchered and gangraped and burnt alive, as in Modi’s Gujarat?
Does it shame us so much that we don’t want to remember these blood-soaked cracked mirrors of our glorified patriotic nation-state? Does it shake our hyped-up nationalism and profound love for our country? So, were the Sikhs not integral to nationalism and love of this ‘great nuclear power, superpower’ we are so proud of?
Or does it remind us that there is little justice in this land, that we all prefer amnesia, that all the criminals, rapists and mass murderers often compulsively roam free, and that one ‘successful’ carnage should be taken as a role model by other barbarians, and meticulously replicated with scientific precision, yet again backed by the State, as in the bloody winter of Mumbai 1992-93, and in Gujarat 2002?
If the art of blocking and eliminating nightmares is a characteristic symbol of eternal progress and happiness, then why be afraid of a picture, a black and white moment of tangential revelation? Why fear a documentary of the past as infinite tragedy and stoic resistance, the nasty and brutish violation of body and soul and citizenship which shatters the clichéd realms of our embedded history?
Can a picture, or many pictures hung on a wall, like graffiti and notes from the underground, become a threat to our social conscience, our safe ecology of softened emotions, our clinical ways of seeing, our sanitised way of life, our manufactured consent and aesthetics?
Does the picture gaze at you when you gaze at the picture? Can photographic moments in eternal stasis and transition, like an idea, make you ill?
Yes, they can. This is because thousands of unfinished narratives of injustice are buried and simmering in our political unconscious; those days if you crossed the street you would feel the death wish in your deepest soul. The street became the battered realism of a failed democracy and secular State. We were still young and we had not yet seen so much brutality and suffering: the smell of kerosene and burnt calendars and country liquor bottles inside decent, modest homes, the quiet and dignified despair of women inside relief camps, the brazen violation of ethics and social norms, the total abdication of the Indian Constitution by the Indian State, the compulsive breakdown of the law enforcement machinery, and the brutish manner in which the Congress regime left the ravaged survivors to their helpless fate.
That is why, a picture, like a Memorial to a Genocide, becomes eyes, fingers, silence, graffiti; a story and a slogan. Despite 28 years of unbearable remembrances.