THE BOSTON BOMBING & THE 1984 ANTI-SIKH RIOTS: A PARALLEL
The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, I view pictures of the carnage that implode on T.V. and computer screens all over the world. Bloodied limbs. Bones and fragments everywhere. Men and women shrieking in terror. The chaotic scene that resembles a war zone and not a marathon finish line. Minutes later, the Internet chatter begins. The racist comments can be clubbed under the heading of "Blame the Muslims/Arabs/Anyone who looks or sounds Middle Eastern because they are all terrorists." Now that the Muslim brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are prime suspects for the bombings, the verbal backlash has become a cacophony. Conservative columnist Erik Rush tweeted - then deleted- what he claimed was a joke about rounding up Saudis and killing them.
My skin crawls with a sense of deja vu. On 31st October, 1984, my world went crazy. New Delhi, my birthplace, and a modern, cultured, charming and tolerant city - descended into chaos. The assassination of India's beloved Prime Minister by her two Sikh bodyguards, wanting to avenge the Indian army's march into and subsequent defilement of the Sikhs' holy shrine - The Golden Temple, spurred hordes of angry mobs belonging to the Indian National Congress, the ruling party at the time, to attack innocent Sikhs in their neighborhoods. Hundreds of Sikhs were massacred (Wikipedia estimates the number at more than 3000); countless others were violated, with the state administration too immersed in grieving Indira Gandhi's death to pay attention to the slaughter of innocent victims. Savagery escalated. Riots and looting in the poor neighborhoods ran rampant. Homes were torched. Doused with gasoline. With children burnt inside. Countless women were kidnapped, stripped, robbed of jewelry and raped. Sikh men were burnt with tires around their neck, their hair was chopped and their turbans burnt. Trains were stopped and Sikhs were picked out and murdered. The bloodbath of thousands drove many men - against religious custom, to shave their faces and cut their hair.
My family struggled with it's faith in the aftermath. My brothers did not cut their hair, but they paid for it over the next few years - slurs cracked in the hallway, bullying, dirty looks by passing strangers due to their conspicuous appearance, questioning by University police in the wake of any fight or altercation on campus.
Tim Wise, anti racist essayist, points out that there is a less obvious and far more uncomfortable lesson emerging from the Boston tragedy. "It is a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white privilege," he says in his essay "Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the power of Whiteness", dated Apr. 16, 2013. "White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for whites to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation. White privilege is knowing that if you a white student from Nebraska - as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia - that no one, and I mean no one (ital. in original) would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon." His words make sense.
I've lived through the hatred and the backlash that follows an inexplicable act of terror. When will be understand that an act of terrorism is an act by a coward, not by a community? This matters. Whether you are White, Black, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim.