Amu at the ICA
Sarah Emara on the censored history of the Delhi massacres
01 Dec 09

This is a guest post by Sarah Emara

On Saturday the Institute of Contemporary Arts marked 25 years since the Delhi massacres, which killed over 5,000 Sikhs, with the screening of the film Amu.

Cut by the Indian Censor Board to remove details of government involvement, the film focuses on the story of Kaju, a young woman who attempts to uncover the suppressed history around the riots but finds those around her unwilling to discuss it.

“The problem is very simple — people don’t want to bring it up because nobody likes to talk about it,” says Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, from Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific programme.

Organisers say that this wall of silence has prevented justice from being served.

“The government which is responsible for this is still in power now,” says Amnit Wilson, a member of the South Asia Solidarity Group, which organised the screening.

The 1984 riots were triggered after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for ordering the Indian army to attack Sikh separatist militants hiding in the Harmandir Sahib — the holiest Sikh shrine.

Over the next four days, armed organised mobs stormed Sikh neighbourhoods, killing men and ransacking and burning shops and houses.

Wilson’s mother was involved in producing the first national report uncovering the truth about the riots, as well as a number of other reports which were banned. She was later charged with sedition.

There have so far been 11 commissions of reports and inquiries about the riots, including Judge Misra’s heavily-criticised commission, in which he claimed that it was not part of his terms of reference to identify those behind the killings.

Gopalakrishnan says that over the past 25 years there has been a complete lack of official response and that there is currently no political will to seek justice by those in power.

“There is enormous reluctance on the part of those involved and the rest of civil society to admit their guilt, passiveness and inability to do anything about this.”

But he adds: “The film tells you that the story does not end. The issues will keep coming back so there has to be a sense of reconciliation and closure for the victims.”