Dr Puneet Bedi“Kahaan jaa rahe ho Sardarji ?” shouted a young man from the side of the road. I was born in the capital of a ‘Sovereign, Socialistic, Secular, Democratic, Republic’, to a mother born in a Hindu and father a Sikh family. I went to a school run by the ‘Sri Aurobindo Education Trust’. I had the privilege of going to a premier medical school named after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and lived in a cosmopolitan city with people from all faiths and religions and indeed many atheists. I was brought up in a completely areligious atmosphere by liberal parents. I kept long hair and wore a turban more as a feudal family tradition than a religious symbol. I responded to a few nick-names, my first name and to ‘Doctor Sahib’, so it took me some time to register that he was asking me this question. I rarely looked at myself in the mirror since I did not even shave back then, so did not realize that I looked like a ‘Sardarji’ to others, even though I did not identify with any particular religion. “Home” I answered, making it clear by my tone that it was none of his business. Where are you coming from? Asked another young boy. By now hoping that the red light would turn green soon, I put my big Royal Enfield Motorcycle in gear, and ignored his question and his existence, but they was persistent. Looking at the ‘red cross’ painted on my motorcycle, a symbol we all used to show off, park anywhere in any hospital we liked, and to tell everyone that we were above the law and could not be fined by police for minor traffic violations, a third asked me if I was a doctor. I said I was almost as rudely as I could. They asked if I was coming from the hospital, I nodded again hoping that would end the inquisition. The light turned green but they did not let me go, and told me that it was best for me that I returned to the hospital Campus as I would be ‘Safe’ there.

It was about 7 PM on the 31st of October 1984 when I discovered I had suddenly become a “Sardarji” from “Doctor Sahib” and Delhi streets were not ‘safe’ for me! “SAFE?” I screamed, in my usual ill-tempered arrogant manner, and laughed at the concept of being unsafe in the city I was born and brought up in, the Home I Knew. I told them to stop wasting my time and let me go home as I was very tired after a long day in the operation theatre. ‘Log Sardaaron ko pakad pakad ke maar rahe hain shahar mein’ said one of them. By ‘maarnaa’ I thought that Sikhs were being bashed up, not burnt alive which I later discovered was the case. It all started on Safdarjung flyover and at the AIIMS crossing where I was headed on my way home in Hauz Khas. The light changed to green 3 times but these boys did not budge from the front of my motorcycle and refused to let me go, they insisted that I take a ‘U’ turn and Go Back to the Maulana Azad Medical College Campus as it was the safest place for me. I looked around and was surprised to see that I was the only Sikh amongst hundreds of people on the busy Patiala house crossing. I was not fully convinced but the boys looked genuinely concerned. I was too tired and sleepy to argue after a long day in the hospital, and a night duty on the previous night, and took a ‘U’ turn and went to the hostel and literally dropped off to sleep.
It was around 11 PM that I got desperate messages from home asking me to call back, something that had never happened before. Fearing a medical emergency in the family I rushed to the Labor room, which had a privileged ‘direct’ phone those days, and called home. My father told me that they were relieved to hear my voice as they heard Sikhs were being killed on Delhi roads though the TV was showing nothing. He asked me to stay indoors in the hostel to be on the safe side, knowing we generally go out late night to eat out or for a movie show from the hostel if we knew the next day would be a holiday, as Indira Gandhi’s Funeral would have certainly been.
On the Way to the wards we heard about fire and arson around town. Around midnight, we went to the top of the 8 storied ‘Boys Hostel’ next to our hostel, and saw smoke rising all around. This is the first time I was genuinely worried, every story of the ‘riots’ during partition our parents had told us seemed to come alive! The rest of the week my parents were sleeping at a neighbor’s house. The phones were working sporadically and I was assured that all my married sisters were ‘safe’.

Dr Puneet Bedi1I will never know who those good Samaritans were and what were their political leanings. Why they stopped me from driving to my certain death on 31st October around 7 pm at a traffic crossing a few KM before Safdarjung Flyover. It has been a very long time now, but I remember for years I observed (cannot say celebrated) 31st October as my rebirth-day (NEARLY DEATH DAY). Like me Every ‘Sikh’ in India has a story about those three days in 1984 except the thousands who did not make it. Where was ‘with you for you always’ Police, Our Self congratulatory and forever claiming to be Secular Army, the Pampered, Pompous and Opinionated Civil Servants, The omnipresent Politicians, The NGOs, or indeed the RSS ! Why was I not Safe.
While we were jailed in PG Men’s Hostel of MAMC, all ‘Sikhs’ hiding under their beds in the rooms to escape invading ‘HINDU’ mobs. ‘HINDU’ students were accumulating large rocks on the terrace to protect themselves from ‘INVADING MOBS OF SWORD WIELDING SIKHS’. When I laughed at the stupidity of the situation and made fun of my ‘HINDU’ students and their paranoia, I saw one nudging the others asking them to ignore me as I was a ‘Sikh’ and ‘one of them’, and continue piling up rocks to protect themselves. Of course they were as sure of arrival of Invading Sikh mobs threatening their existence, as RSS is of rapidly reproducing Muslims outnumbering female feticiding Hindus, SIKHS AND JAINS, and what they believe is the impending demographic disaster. (they will not acknowledge that the real reason of a marginally lower population increase amongst Hindus SIKHS AND JAINS is due to female feticide, or maybe they are too dumb to know). Tempers in the Hostel TV room were running HIGH. ‘Teaching a lesson to the Sikhs’ was spoken openly and often by doctors and medical students, not just the ‘lumpen brigades’. On the TV we heard the likes of Amitabh Bacchan and RSS chief speak the unspeakable. In this atmosphere when did RSS as an organization take the decision to protect SIKHS from the invading ‘Congresi’ Mobs ? (INDEED MANY INDIVIDUALS WITH RSS AFFILIATIONS DID)

How often has one heard Sanghis boast on how they saved millions of Sikhs since 1984. I am sure a lot of people saved a lot of lives, and many of them could have been Sanghis. My own extended family was saved by Hindu and Muslim neighbors and friends. Most friends and neighbors protect people they know, and indeed many they do not, putting their own lives at risk facing the murderous mobs in such pogroms. However, one question has bothered me since 1984, thousands of innocent ‘Hindus’, or ‘monas’ as we call them in Punjab, including an uncle of mine (My mother’s cousin), pulled out of state transport buses and shot in cold blood by terrorists in the preceding decade. Properties of ‘Hindus’ looted, and ‘Hindus’ targeted for kidnappings and ransom. Indeed millions escaped Punjab, much like the KP exodus a decade or so later from Kashmir, but that rarely enters public discourse these days. In such a background how RSS took a strategic decision to protect all Sikhs from Congresi goons, lead by the likes of Arjun Dass and Maken, subsequently killed by Sikh extremists, and Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Tytler, who pretty much escaped the Law as nothing has been proven against them so far.
After the desecration of the BABRI MASJID, I spent a few months in a clinic at Seelam Pur with the victims of sectarian violence. It was an Eye Opener. Muslims were being raped and burnt alive for the arson by an invader 4 and a half centuries earlier, and when the police came it showered 303 bullets on the MUSLIMS and declared them arsonists. I did not go to Gujarat in 2002 but saw footage in TV. The people burnt alive or raped in Baroda and Ahmedabad had as much in common with the guys who allegedly burnt the train in Godhra as I did with Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. Those killed in ‘encounters’ subsequently were as guilty of conspiracy as I was for Indira Gandhi’s Murder. Our common mistake was of visibly belonging to the same religion as the accused/culprits of ‘anti-hindu’ violence.

TODAY after 31 years, I am TOLD THE PM IS sympathizing with me for 1984. He is in power, if his heart is bleeding for the Sikhs, let him put the culprits behind bars, at least a few, it will heal many wounds. Not talk about it, do it. Please do not tell me which was more barbaric, 1984 or 2002. To the dead, the aggrieved and the bereaved it does not matter what political party their killer belonged to. I am not interested in your NEWTONS 3rd LAW OF MOTION theory for 2002 Gujarat. Nor AM I interested in the ‘BIG TREE FALL EARTH SHAKES’ EXPLANATION of Rajiv Gandhi for 1984. Yes you won elections in Gujarat for over a decade, and a majority in the Parliament now. Well, so did Rajiv Gandhi with an unprecedented margin (and your party got 2 seats then). Either victory does not prove innocence. You have not been proven GUILTY in the courts, not was any ‘Congresi’ (YOUR PARTY CHIEF IN AN EXCEPTION). The endless argument and counterargument is meaningless. PLEASE stop the ‘YOUR POGROM WAS WORSE THAN MINE’ kind of rhetoric and Do something. OK I will make a deal with you, just put one of the murderers of 1984 behind bars, JUST ONE, and I will accept your sympathy. UNTIL THEN PLEASE DO NOT TALK ABOUT 1984 IN YOUR ELECTION RHETORIC BECAUSE I DON’T THINK YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. In Fact I AM SURE you have no clue what you are talking about. UNTIL WE SEE ACTION ON THE GROUND of putting the culprits of SUCH POGROMS BEHIND BARS your sympathy sounds HOLLOW to millions of SIKHS , Muslims, Dalits, Christians, Tribals, Workers, Farmers, in fact to every decent civilized INDIAN.
I FORGOT TO ADD AN IMP THING, when the MBBS students were collecting bricks and rock to throw from the terrace of their 8 storey hostel, i challenged them to throw one from that height and let me see if they can ever hit a building leave alone an invader, but they were sure that a ‘MOB OF MURDEROUS SWORD WIELDING SIKHS WAS COMING’, the figure quoted was 1700, 1900 and 3000. interesting to note that medieval invading armies generally had that many people. people who won NORTH INDIA and rules over it for generations. that is how vivid imagery lasts generations / centuries.

(Dr Puneet Bedi is a consultant in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Indrapastha Apollo Hospital New Delhi)

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