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Book Review: When a tree shook Delhi: the 1984 carnage and its aftermath by Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka

1984 carnage book review

After I finished reading the book, When a tree shook Delhi: the 1984 carnage and its aftermath by Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka, I sat still for a few seconds and reflected of the severity of the experience of 200 odd pages I leafed through. The book serves the useful purpose of bringing together various bits of information regarding the Sikh carnage, replete with accounts from various government sources as well as witness stories; it also raises crucial questions about what went wrong and how.

Although there are a couple of official reports of inquiry commissions regarding the carnage, the book fills a void in that it brings together all these reports, and analyses their findings holistically. Manoj Mitta is an experienced journalist who has written about the 1984 slaughter extensively over two decades, and HS Phoolka a crusading lawyer who has fought for justice for the hapless and forlorn victims of the carnage.

Unlike many other “fact-finding” books I have read before, this one was not a cut-and-paste job or a collage of old newspaper clippings. The research and pain that has gone into putting this book together is massive and hence impressive.

Mitta and Phoolka have no difficulty in proving that the report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission that was appointed by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 was a mere exercise in whitewashing facts. In 2001, the Vajpayee government appointed the Nanavati Commission that submitted its findings in the form of a report in 2005. Although the Nanavati Commission was more forthcoming about the “truth”, a lot was left unexplored.

The book raises an important issue of State complicity. The book confirms the worst suspicion that had the army been deployed in all the trouble-spots of the National Capital on October 31, 1984 itself, the killings could have been stopped. So, who delayed the deployment? The Home Minister and the Prime of Minister of India must answer.

It is tragic and ironic that the Congress made a Sikh Prime Minister “apologise” for a pogrom against Sikhs, 21 years after the carnage.  Manmohan Singh, while presenting the Nanavati Commission’s report in Parliament admitted that even 21 years after the tragic riots and two judicial inquiries into them, the “truth had not yet been fully revealed”. He humbly “apologised” not only to the Sikh community but also to the whole nation for what took place in 1984. Yet, even that solemn moment was not without irony. Jagdish Tytler, one of the several Congress leaders accused of complicity in the carnage, was then a member of the Council of Ministers.

Will the truth about the bigger conspiracy behind this pogrom ever emerge in the public domain? Or will the guilty evade the gallows just for the “lack of evidence”? The integrity of world’s largest democracy is at stake.

My Rating: 4/5 stars 

Taslima, We Miss You

21 November 2007. It was about 1 PM in the afternoon. I was waiting to board a metro to College Street, at Maidan station when i got this frantic call from Bham. He advised me to go back home as riots had broken out in Park Circus and were spreading in areas of Central Calcutta. Reason – a few Mollahs had taken exception to sections of Taslima Nasreen’s latest book Dwikhandito and demanded it to be banned. Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque also wanted Taslima’s head as prized collection.

courtesy - anindianmuslim dot com

What followed is not unknown to us! The then Left Front government let mob rule the streets. Despite horrific scenes of loot, arson, rioting flashing across TV screens, government did not act. It deployed army late in the evening, when rioters were satiated with scaring little kids returning from school, terrorising housewives out to buy grocery, burning shops and vandalising public property. Curfew was imposed across several parts of the city of “Joy”, citizens had to carry “proof” of belonging to the city to venture out in their own home state! State government was busy consolidating minority vote bank!

Finally, our “cultural” Chief Minister deported Taslima Nasreen out of the city in the darkness of night! A city which boasted of spearheading freedom movement of India, a city where freedom of thought was always celebrated and worshiped, a city which gave birth to revolutionaries, set examples for the rest of the nation to follow, denied a writer her refuge. Taslima’s deportation blacklisted Calcutta as a city which breeds fundamentalism.

Courtesy Instablogimages dot com

Intellectuals, “buddhijibi” they call themselves, hit the streets in protest back then. Political parties scored brownie points by blaming the Left Front government and the Chief Minister (and rightly so) of intellectual bankruptcy. We hoped, a change in the corridors of power will enable Taslima’s return to her home, will resurrect Kolkata’s damaged soul. For four years the voices kept echoing the assertion of freedom of thought and expression. And finally “Poriborton” came in May 2011.

Riding on millions of hopes, Mamata Banerjee assumed the post of Chief Minister promising to do away with the vices that wrecked Bengal for 34 years. We hoped she will do away with the weak administration that bows before fundamentalists who quash the voice of freedom and liberalism in the name of religion. We expected, the intellectuals who had once rallied in favour of Taslima will raise the issue of her return. We waited for a woman CM give another woman the dignity of her home back. Thus far, we are disappointed!

The debate about Taslima is not about religion. It is about the freedom to express oneself fearlesly. It is about the freedom to be able to pen down our opinions without being instructed by any authority. We have every right to take offense to what Taslima writes. We can debate with her, we can take her to court. We can make her pay fine. But never can we demand her death just because she said what she feels. We can never ask her to leave the city that is her home because a few rogue elements held the city to ransom. The highest court of Justice held nothing wrong in Taslima’s book and lifted ban on it. How can an Imam of a mosque override that judgment?

India failed Maqbool Fida Hussain. Kolkata should not fail Taslima. The poet who advocated mind without fear, he who preached us to rise above our pety religious beliefs and strive for humanism, were all born in this great city! The prestige of Calcutta is at stake.

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