CAUGHT IN THE RIOTS
I and another Hindu woman were on a train from Bombay to north India
on the day Mrs Gandhi (the former Indian Prime Minister) was assassinated
by two Sikh bodyguards. The train was stopped by angry villagers
who came looking for Sikh passengers. I confronted the mob and tried
to reason with them. They got angry and assaulted me, and the two
innocent Sikh passengers in my carriage were dragged out, badly
beaten up, then set on fire. When our train left, we thought them
This shook me to the core. I felt angry at what our people had
done and at what we had allowed to happen in our country. I blamed
politicians and many others whom I felt were responsible. And also
I felt guilty at not being able to protect innocent people. Then,
one night I had the thought that as long as I had blame, anger and
guilt in my heart, I would neither be able to help the Sikhs, who
felt deeply wounded and humiliated, nor the non-Sikhs, who were
feeling self-righteous and to an extent guilty.
Then I decided that I must accept the responsibility for what had
happened – that people like me had contributed to the tragedy
because of our attitudes of indifference, arrogance and prejudice.
Once I had accepted this in my heart, I began to see what I could
do as an ordinary individual to help rebuild what seemed so totally
broken down. So I wrote to Sikhs across India, most of whom I had
not even met - journalists, politicians, generals in the army, police
officials, ordinary housewives and students. Later I met many of
them personally. To all of them I spoke of my experience on the
train and expressed regret at the deep wounds and humiliation felt
by their people. It helped to heal many a heart.
Three months after this incident, we had a message that the two
passengers whom we had thought dead, might be alive. So I undertook
the same journey from Bombay to north India to find out the truth,
visited the families and found the two men were indeed alive, They
were still recovering from their serious burns and fractures and
it was a joyous meeting with them and their families. When I said
how sorry I was that we had not been able to protect them, they
said, "In fact we feel sorry that you had to suffer because
of us." They also said that perhaps God had given them a gift
of new life so that they could do something about bridging the gulf
between their community and others. The fact that these men, who
had every right to be bitter, were totally without bitterness remains
a challenge to me.
When we Hindus begin to understand the fears, hopes and aspirations
of the minority groups within India, then I believe we will also
understand what our neighbours feel about us. Our only hope lies
in people giving up retaliation in the spirit of forgiveness.
by Sushobha Barve from "For a Change"