Remembering 1984: An excerpt from Amritsar, by Gunisha Kaur

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, the attack by the Indian military on Darbar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab, in June, 1984. In November of that same year, thousands more Sikhs were murdered in organized pogroms in India’s capital city and across the country to avenge the assassination of India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards. 

In commemoration, we are sharing excerpts from our forthcoming short story collection Her Name Is Kaur, in which authors have recounted the personal impact of the events of 1984. The following is an excerpt from the short story Amritsar, by Gunisha Kaur. See also our first excerpt published earlier this weekMy Sikhi Simarna by Harsohena Kaur.

The ruins of the Akal Takht after Operation Blue Star in June 1984. (Photo Source: Sikh24)

The ruins of the Akal Takht after Operation Bluestar in June 1984. (Photo Source: Sikh24)

It took a decade and a half for my parents to explain our family history to me. What I learned about our life in Punjab and our politically charged asylum moved me. A place within me felt a unique connection to Punjab that shifted to the forefront of my conscience. It troubled me that, for nearly two decades, I had not known the history of my own family and community. I wanted to know more, and I wanted to share this knowledge with others. I was thirsty for answers, for understanding.

After having learned about the violence that shook the state and my family, I returned to Punjab and began to understand what had happened in my city of birth. The city, state, and country were palpably different from any time I had been there previously. When I saw darjis, cha-valas, or rickshaw-valas, I wondered whether they had lost children to the violence. I wondered if the easily identifiable drug addicts roaming the streets had suffered torture at the hands of the government that was in place to protect them. I wondered how many of the dhobis that I passed in the streets had lost their loved ones to the violence that shook the state to its very core. I felt a granular connection to each and every Punjabi with whom I spoke, as if our homeland’s history entangled our personal histories. And with this bond, our narratives were inextricably intertwined.

What moved me the most was the connection I felt with women who had lost their husbands, sons, and brothers to the violence in Punjab. I identified deeply with these women. In a way, my life story should have been their life story. Yet somehow my fatherhad survived. Somehow I had made it to a better life. Rather than evoking guilt within me, this recognition engendered a sense of responsibility.

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