Can I have my Delhi back, please (not the one we had in 1984)?

I was unfortunate enough to witness mob violence, when faces blur and humanity is lost in a crowd.

By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's desk)

Published: Wed 26 Feb 2020, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 27 Feb 2020, 5:47 PM

Indira Gandhi ko goli maar di (Indira Gandhi has been shot). I remember hearing one of my school's admin assistants telling another in a hushed tone. I was just 10, and on that random Wednesday, we were packed off earlier-than-usual in school buses that then did not return for another 11 days. That was New Delhi, October 31, 1984. By evening, it was official. The Iron Lady of India had been gunned down by her own bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. The organised violence and crimes against humanity, specifically against members of the Sikh community, that occurred over the next four days will forever remain a blot on India's conscience.
I was unfortunate enough to witness mob violence, when faces blur and humanity is lost in a crowd. I loved my Delhi (still do) but I hated the events of 1984, when tens of thousands of Sikhs were targeted - via voter lists and school registration forms - and made to pay for the crime of Satwant and Beant with their property, limbs, and lives. Officially, over 2,800 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. The unofficial toll was much higher. Delhi did get together to protect the innocent: grown-up men (including my father) stood vigil during nights to guard against assailants. We invited Sikh families to live with us, in our homes, for as long as there was a risk. But Delhi had changed, its spirit fractured. After schools reopened, I realised many of the Sikh boys had clipped their hair (considered sacred) so as to not be recognised 'the next time'. The trust went missing, replaced by an elephant in the room - the element of 'them' and 'us'.
Events of the past few days have pushed my Delhi back into those dark days of 1984, when faceless vandals and arsonists were hunting fellow human beings based on their religion and faith. When the state machinery turned a blind eye to the atrocities being meted out in the name of someone's wonky sense of justice. I want my Delhi back, one where neighbours stand up for one another, where no one fears wearing one's faith on their sleeves - or on foreheads and as headgear. Can Delhiites wrest their Delhi back from the quicksand of incendiary politics and divisive rhetoric? 

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