By Bala Sai:
Here is a man widely respected and admired across the country. He has captured many a heart playing powerful, memorable roles on screen, over the past 45 years. He is more than a star; he is a legend. He has been bestowed with two of the highest civilian honours, Padma Shri (1984) and Padma Bhushan (2001). In 2007, the French government awarded him its highest civilian honor, the Knight of Legion of Honor, for his contribution to cinema and ‘beyond’. He became the first Asian alive to have his wax model displayed at the world-famous Madame Taussauds. He has been conferred with honorary doctorates by five different universities around the world. In 2012, he carried the Olympic torch in its last leg in London. Today, he is India’s pride.
But in the dark cloisters of history, in one of humanity’s darkest hours, he committed the most shameful crimes of all, and has got away with it, unscathed.
1984 was a shameful year for democracy. The assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, murdered by her Sikh bodyguards, led to a widespread massacre across India, claiming the lives of over 8000 Sikhs nationwide, with 3000 fatalities in Delhi alone. There are many theories, many versions of what transpired and who were behind it. There are those whose lives were irreversibly damaged, who watched their loved ones slaughtered and burned alive, and those who, till date, are awaiting justice. Many perpetrators of the brutality are still at large, having conveniently escaped the clutches of the law. Among the long list of the alleged names overlooked by justice, you can find one of the most recognizable faces in India, Amitabh Bachchan. Yes, the Bollywood legend is accused to have been a part of one of India’s most brutal genocides in history.
“Khun ka badla khun sae laengae!” (Blood for blood). This isn’t a dialogue lifted from some action film, mouthed with simmering machismo by the hero vowing to take revenge against the baddies. In fact, this is what Amitabh Bachchan is alleged to have said on national television, broadcast throughout the country on the day the nation lost its Prime Minister, on a day when communal tensions were high, on a day when Sikh families across the country held their breath, fearing for their lives at the hands of a rampaging mob.
Jagdish Kaur, one of the survivors of the 1984 pogrom, watched in horror as her worst nightmare played out before her eyes. Blood-thirsty men stormed her house and murdered her husband and son in cold blood, in front of her eyes. She watched as the Delhi Police stood aside quietly while her three brothers were burned alive on the streets. She watched her world collapse around her.
A seething storm of men razed down her community, heeding to voices of anger and hatred inciting them to take up arms. Several Congress leaders were allegedly behind the ghastly attacks. But nothing compares to a nation-wide superstar propagating war-cries live on national television.
Needless to say, Doordarshan’s recordings pertaining to the period of the massacre have been conveniently lost, destroying any evidence of Amitabh’s involvement. However, the Sikh community is not mollified. A US based Human Rights group has lodged a criminal complaint against him in Australia, under its Criminal Code Act of 1995, which allows it jurisdiction over any crimes on humanity committed anywhere in the world. As recently as on October 27th this year, a Los Angeles court has issued summons for his involvement in the pogrom, for his alleged role in inciting and abetting the massacre. In India, the land of speedy justice, not a finger has been lifted against him.
“Everybody who was watching Doordarshan was a witness to how he (Amitabh Bachchan) provoked the anti-Sikh rioters. Amitabh’s slogan added fuel to the fire and took the lives of thousands of innocent Sikh men and women. I am not concerned that a case has been registered against him in Australia, but all I want to know is why nobody noticed Amitabh’s provoking statement in India,” a distraught Jagdish Kaur said, voicing the anguish of Sikhs across the world.
Amitabh, for his part, has categorically denied all allegations leveled against him, and has dismissed them as malicious rumors. In December 2011, he sent a sealed envelope to Akal Tahkt Jathedar, stressing his innocence. Meanwhile, more survivors are coming out, including Babu Singh Dukhia, who claim to have seen Bachchan on Doordarshan, spreading hatred.
India is a country that worships its movie stars. It was a time when Amitabh Bachchan enjoyed a demi-God status, and every word of his made powerful impact on people, having lasting, cascading effects. The heinousness of his action can only be understood by the catastrophic effects it led to. It was not just about a furious shaking of fists and a couple of angry words. It was a live death sentence to the Sikhs of our country.