Guavas and Gaslighting
This chapter highlights how, despite their necessary focus on the immediate visible actors and perpetrators (largely Punjabi and Sikh), the protagonists kept an eye on the bigger context: the politics of communalization, command responsibility, and invisible puppeteers.
The chapter recounts the unique roles played by Sikhs and Punjab during the 1975–1977 Emergency—the suspension of democracy by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. After her furious return to power, Punjab was at a boil. In the notorious Nirankari-Sikh clash in 1978, the police were ordered to side with a sect leader who had provoked the sentiments of religious Sikhs; the killings of unarmed Sikhs then provoked even areligious Sikhs. As the decade turned, Center-state relationships soured further, Sikh diaspora activism grew, and civil and noncivil disobedience intensified. Thus began the reporting of rising orthodoxy in a media hullaballoo that was peaking when the chapter closes in 1981.
The chapter then travels outside Punjab. The reader listens to Kuldip Kaur relay why she encouraged her only son to move from their South Delhi home to South India. But the Sikh engineering school that became his home for three years was soon swept by violence in 1988. Meanwhile, back in Punjab, counterinsurgency special laws and extrajudicial killings had become ubiquitous. But “What is wrong with these Sikhs?” became a louder refrain in many circles, as the media selectively reported blasts and bullets that killed innocents.