Review – BBC 1984 A Sikh Story

In the run up to last night’s BBC1 documentary on the unfortunate events of 1984, I like many friends had received texts and emails suggesting it was an essential watch. As per normal, the BBC broadcasted the programme at a late hour!? I do feel that the BBC need to understand that there are lots of ethnics in the UK and we deserve a better service, especially as the programme was supposed to be educational with universal appeal.

In my view the programme title was a wrong starting point, `1984: A Sikh Story’ became clouded with identity issues rather than explore the historical context of the troubles. If it was about Sonia’s (not her real name, she later declared) journey of self-discovery then it was a bit disjointed, for example:  There is no deep reference to her own family – If she wanted to explore her identity then maybe she should have been featured on a full BBC genealogy episode of ‘Who do you think you are’.

I have written to the BBC before about skimming issues. For example, in Michael Woods ‘The Story of India’. He forgot to mention the invaluable contribution of Sikhs to free India from the tyrannical reign and ethnic cleansing practices of the Mogul empire. For example, Guru Gobind Singh Ji the 10th Guru of the Sikhs lost his entire family to ensure religious freedom, human rights and equality for all.

Back to the programme. As Sonia traced what happened during the unfortunate desecrating of the Golden Temple known as Operation Bluestar (June 1984), she forgot to mention the essential historic context of the core issues dating back to the early part of 20th Century. For example, water rights, broken promises about greater autonomy for the region by Nehru and the economic policies of India’s central government at the time. Interviewing one person selling T-Shirts is simply not enough to explore the real issues.

General Brar’s comments hinted a slight remorse but no evidence was produced about the assessment of his decisions at the time. Why did he allow so many innocent people within the Golden Temple on a religious day to be killed? Why was the force so devastating that it damaged the architecture, religious books, historic records, art and relics? Why were people shot at point blank range with their hands tied behind their backs? Why were no available human right violation reports communicated during the documentary?

The programme then moved on to the genocide of Sikhs in November 1984, post the assignation of Indra Gandhi. The events of those dark days of free reign by looters and murderers have been described as riots. They were in fact pogroms, an attack directed against a particular group, in this case one religious group – the Sikhs. A pogrom is characterised by the killing and destruction of their homes, businesses, and religious centres. The term was originally used to denote extensive violence against Jews – either spontaneous or premeditated. The programme then skimmed over key facts, for example – documented evidence and eye-witness reports of certain government MPs directing the attacks, the use of kerosene sourced from the same warehouse to burn victims. Why have the 9 investigations over the years revealed very little in terms of justice or revealing the truth. In the taxi Sonia made an excellent point about the assignation of Mahtma Gandhi – when he died mobs did not go after the religious group the assassin was part of !

The programme concluded with a loose link back to identity, consisting of confusing narrative about directing pain and Sonia’s thoughts about her own spiritual journey. The programme was left open ended with so many questions: What about the problems encountered by the region today? Where is the accountability for what happened? What about the post 9/11 situation and international mistaken identity issues? What about people who are still awaiting a court hearing, who have been locked away  for so long? Why is this situation not treated the same as the Jewish Genocide, both involved persecution and innocent lives being lost.

Although the programme was an attempt to educate, it did to a certain extent. However, it used tired footage and chats from the same old spokespeople. Apart from Sir Indrajeet Singh’s comments, He is to be appluded as he provided a sensitive and welcome perspective. At least last nights programme highlighted that many innocent people attending a religious event inside the Golden temple during Operation Bluestar were killed – the actual number killed runs into the thousands.

What we really needed was a ray of hope to communicate that Sikhs still need justice. I recommend that people watch, ‘The Widow Colony’ – it is a film that really delves into the lives affected by the Delhi genocide. Many people say that Sikhs should forget! Do we forget our loved ones when they leave the world? One of the most profound statements made by a widow of ’84 is that every year Sonia Gandhi lays a reef to remember her husband. As Sikhs we need to recognise our holocaust must never be repeated and steps must be taken to assure this, else the lives of the innocent will be forgotten.

In 1984 a news blackout prevented us from gaining access to the truth – this truth is still hidden. We must continue to retrieve more information from human rights organisations active with their data and we must record more media to assure that the true Sikh Story is told.


Categories: 2010, Anti-Fascism, Featured Articles, Review, Sikhs

2 replies

  1. All valid points Dr Savi. I too thought the program did not do justice to what happened in 1984 and the consequences which are still on going. If only the BBC took a proper stance in researching and creating a truthful fact based documentary will it have a significant impact and again as you mentioned a prime time slot.

    God willing we will not let the world forget about the injustices done and continue to produce further media and continue to press the corrupt government of India to admit its mistakes.

    Avtar Singh

  2. What we really need is to meet with for example, the SGPC or other Gurdwara committees to convince them that communication of who we are can cost effective and has greater impact if we invest in good media – the Internet provides an ideal platform to communicate the truth.

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