The persistence of memory

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By Soibam Haripriya

The 6th of June this year is being remembered as the 30th year of Operation Blue Star. Operation Blue Star understandably is an open wound as it is, in most minds associated with the 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs especially in Delhi though in other parts of the country too. As most persecutions against a group or community of people (usually the minorities) in this country it happened with the active participation of the elected representatives of the people and the state police. Political parties use the 1984 as well as the Gujarat pogrom as scoring point against each other with the least intention to bring justice to either. This year general election too saw a repeat of this both by the Congress and the BJP.

The memorial gurdwara – Gurdwara Yaadgaar Shaheedan inside the Golden Temple premises commemorates the sacrifice of ‘martyrs’ of Operation Blue Star. It was built by the Damdami Takshal. The building of the monument inaugurated last year is still a contentious issue. The clash between the two groups –The Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) inside the Golden Temple on the morning of 6th of June, 2014 is an illustration of the persistence of the continued appropriation of events and their memory. The recent controversy around the memorial gurdwara also points to the question of whether the event is remembered or the ‘martyr’. This question becomes pertinent while addressing the discussion around Khongjom day also. The discussion on whether or not it should be the 23rd of April or the 25th of April also seemed centred around the question of whether it is the ‘martyr’ – Paona Brajabashi who is to be remembered or the Anglo Manipuri War of 1891. This question will be brought up regardless of the fact that it was the family of the former who first began the commemoration rituals at Khongjom. The controversy regarding the date of observing Khongjom day could be seen recorded in Manipur Gazette as old as October, 1982.

Both the days are, to this date, used to call for a certain ethnic nationalism. In the case of the former, Simranjit Mann’s supporter had raised pro-Khalistani slogans when on a rampage in the process also injuring temple officials at the same time stating that the military operation –Operation Blue Star had disrupted the sanctity of the Golden Temple. Closer home one can analyse the different speeches and press releases that comes out after the Khongjom Day commemoration wherein the Governor, the Chief Minister as well as various groups come out with statements that attempts to give a certain meaning to the event. Here, state representatives take the opportunity to remind people of the sacrifices made for the nation implying an Indian nation, when the statements from the non-state groups states very much the same, however implying another nation, perhaps an ethnic nation.

This day marked out as a day of commemoration does not designate the day as that of defeat but rather sets forth to celebrate the ‘spirit’, ‘courage’, ‘valour’ of fighting for a sovereign which also necessitates that no one talks of the oppressive nature of the then reigning king. However non state groups and other organisations have been year after year using this day as an opportunity to point to the oppressive nature of the present sovereign (state) comparing the British Imperialist to the Indian nation state and to mobilise and fight with the same ‘spirit’, ‘courage’, ‘valour’, at the same time glorifying the reign of the king and falling back on historical nostalgia. Thus memorials serve as a spatial and verbal part of the commemorative landscape.

We think of forgetting as a gradual process, as an inevitability and the marking of a day of remembrance could be seen as fighting against the overwhelming forces of living that conspires to make us forget events. However there are no true events in the past waiting to be unearthed, we enter the past (event) through the present and therefore the past is always reconstructed through the prism of the present.

 

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