A Brutal Lesson in Humanity
Friday, August 18, 2006; 4:45 PM
I was barely five years old when the 1984 assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sparked riots that shook India to its core. The memory of one particular incident still haunts me.
We were in Delhi at the time, one of the regions most affected by the riots. Because we are Hindus, there was apparently no danger to our family, since the carnage was being carried out by angry Congress activists and sympathizers (all Hindus). But one of my best friends, Harmeet Kaur Sidhu, was a Sikh. She lived next door with her parents, who were worried sick that they would soon become a target of the infuriated Hindu activists. I couldn't comprehend a lot but certainly could make out that they were nervous for their daughter, and for that reason let her sleep over at our place night after night.
One evening, my dad invited Harmeet's parents to stay over as well. No sooner we were in bed than there was a loud knock at the door. My dad answered.
There stood a crowd of seven to ten people armed with knives, machetes and iron rods, with nothing but blood on their minds. They asked my dad about the whereabouts of our Sikh neighbors, to which my dad stoically answered that they had fled the city. Convinced, the mob left. My mother meanwhile had hidden Harmeet under her bed and Harmeet's parents in one of our big closets, in case the mob wanted to make sure there were no Sikhs in the house.
We passed the night with our fingers crossed. Finally the sun rose over Delhi and a new day dawned. Our neighbors thanked us. Their home was ransacked and they had nothing left but bitter memories. They left the town soon after. I bid Harmeet a teary goodbye. We kept in touch after that and several years later went to the same university for our higher education.
But that incident changed me forever. It left something lasting on my impressionable psyche. I was only five, too young to comprehend the complexities of who killed whom, who should be blamed, and who was right or wrong, for that matter.
Today, I think that when human beings embark on a mission to kill a child, rape a woman or behead a man on the flimsy grounds of religion, faith, race, caste, creed or color, they revert to the prehistoric times and lose their humanity. Over the years as I began to comprehend the scope of what had occurred and understand what could have happened, I became a human as opposed to a Hindu.