Postcards from Bokaro

nilanjan_book_cover_amzn_inA reunion in Dallas (circa 2006).

An email to a Yahoo alumni group on March 10, 2010 that triggered an outpouring of memories. Memories of grief, sadness, bravery and an innocence lost.

Two and a half years later (on the 28th anniversary of the riots), I posted the first-person accounts of  Jasbinder, Sunil and Priti on this blog.

Last year brought a different inflection point. Journalist and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who was researching his book on the 1984 riots, stumbled upon my blog and contacted me. We spoke. I connected him to Jasbinder and Priti. Nilanjan made a trip to Bokaro and met, among a host of Sikhs to connect the dots, another classmate (Chandrima).

Last week, Nilanjan’s book (Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984) was released. Postcards from Bokaro (which is Chapter 7) features a few blurbs on my efforts to get the stories out and, of course, Sunil/Jasbinder/Priti’s tales.

Excerpts from the book..

Since Harmeet had had no direct links with the violence of 1984, she was drawn to public protests as a form of “atonement” for her parents’ escape. Her parents also looked the other way because they had borne the burden of being safe for three decades whenever there were discussions within the community. Their daughter’s act, they felt, would finally enable them to become part of the collective.

To my sister and me (and possibly thousands of Bokaro kids), it was a Stephen King’s It moment (a peaceful Derry shattered by an ugliness and brutality we couldn’t imagine was present in our idyllic town).

I followed by dad scared about his life and thinking I have the strength to save him. Thinking back, I would say it was god’s will and strength that we never looked back and thought twice about what would happen to us.

 

Stumbling upon LSD

lsd_running_picAfter the ignominious end to my debut cross country run, the rest of the day was a daze. An unpleasant cocktail of emotions enveloped me.. Shame, defeat, dejection, inadequacy, self-pity dominated what would eventually be sufficed with hope.

Moodily and half-heartedly I cheered the track and field participants. The outcome of no event mattered to me anymore.

It was getting close to dusk when I found myself at the north-east corner of the field. The high jumpers and long jumpers were putting in their final series of practice jumps for the finals the next day.

I reflected on the morning debacle for the Nth time. The first half of the race was unadulterated misery (as my lungs struggled to come to terms) but the back half (except the last 200 meters) wasn’t too bad. My breathing had settled into a certain rhythm and the cardio distress had receded.

Hmm..

I wasn’t ready to head home yet because something just clicked inside of me.

*******

I started to run. Probably at an ambling pace even slower than the morning.

Finished a round, then the second,… And before I knew it I was finishing the eighth. Could I do ten?

Round ten was completed soon enough and I started wondering when I should (or needed) to stop.

I completed 16 rounds and stopped. To this date, I don’t know why I stopped when I did. Running 6.4km (all time run #2) on the same day as a 5km run (all time run #1) should have felt exhausting but it didn’t. Taking into account my age, it was my first ever LSD (Long Slow Distance) but it would take me two more decades before I learned that term.

*******

Closing note: this post was originally written using the Notes app on an iPhone 5 while on a late night return flight from Mumbai 2 months ago. Having completed it in record time, I was rather pleased and couldn’t wait to reach home and post to WordPress. Imagine my shock the next day when the note up and ‘disappeared’ into the Apple ether. The contents of another note mockingly appeared (duplicated) with the same subject. I spent an hour frantically looking for recovery options before finally giving up. That (first) version wasn’t meant to be. Oh well! So you, dear readers, have to settle for this – version 2 typed on the supremely reliable Samsung Galaxy S2 using the delightful WordPress app. I’m sitting on a comfortable settee inside the Begumpet Landmark bookstore.

Diary of an incorruptible man

[Editor’s Note: KKM worked at four different Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) steel plants over his 34-year career, starting from Bhilai in 1958 to Vizag in 1992. Below are a selection of his diary entries that provide a tell-tale glimpse on how he worked and how he lived.]

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1961)

Returned from office and my wife nervously showed a perambulator that was given by one of the steel plant contractors. Unfortunately the contractor had made it sound like he had already talked to me and since he didn’t leave his name, there was no way the perambulator could be returned. I reprimanded her and told her that she should never accept gifts from anyone directly or indirectly connected with my job.

Recollection from my dear sister: “Remember, he would never accept cakes or even Diwali sweets from contractors!”

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1965)

The peaceful colony life was rudely interrupted by Hindu-Muslim riots which lasted for a few days. Wife and son were fortunately away in Madras. The management made it optional to work but I worked those days anyway. A Muslim colleague (who lived nearby) was understandably nervous about a mob showing up at his door. I convinced him to stay at our house during the day, locking the door from outside.

Rourkela, Orissa (1963 to 1966)

During my entire career with SAIL, I was thwarted at every promotion step because they don’t want incorruptible people to rise to the top. One of my early bosses (K) was a notoriously corrupt man who quickly sensed that we had an ‘impedance mismatch’ and he sidelined me to the Stores/Purchase department.

K continued harassing me over the years and I got so frustrated in 1966 that I took one month of leave to explore job opportunities in Calcutta. As luck would have it, during this time a vacancy in the Engineering department came up – my name was recommended and upon my return I secured that role. I had become the youngest Zonal Engineer.

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1966)

The Parliament was the scene of many heated allegations and discussions on corruption in PSUs (Public Sector Undertaking) including the SAIL steel plants. The General Manager of Rourkela Steel Plant appointed me to investigate all active contracts and submit a report to him. A memo was sent to all steel plant officers to cooperate with this investigation – it took 6 months to complete and I still had my regular responsibilities during this time.

After my transfer to Bokaro Steel City was official, many colleagues dropped by to congratulate me and bid goodbye. My corrupt old boss (K) surprisingly dropped by one day. He said “KKM, truth be told I tried my best to spoil your case and I have not succeeded. I don’t know why.” I fished out a copy of the Bhagawat Gita (always in my pocket during my working years) and said that perhaps this was one of the reasons.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (circa 1967)

When the transfer orders were sent from Rourkela to Bokaro, they incorrectly reported my old salary (increasing it by Rs. 50). I wrote a letter to the Personnel department and attached a copy of my recent payslips. It took six months before they resolved it. Mr. LN (Personnel Dept) took me aside and asked why I wanted to do such a “stupid thing.” My answer was simple enough – it’s the right thing to do.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (sometime in 1969)

I was informed by my then boss about my impending promotion from Zonal Engineer (ZE) to Superintendent Engineer (SE). The letter was typed and ready to be officially sent to me. Much later I learnt about the office intrigue.. a fax was sent from Germany (by a higher-up) to stop my promotion and promote a different candidate who had “seniority”. My well-wishers urged me to appeal against this obvious injustice but I didn’t. I was eventually promoted to SE a year later.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (early 70’s)

Soon after the change-of-guard of the plant’s Chairman & Managing Director (CMD), a man from the CMD’s office showed up one day asking for an unauthorized connection ‘outside’ the steel plant. I was able to refuse quite easily – there was no written directive from the CMD’s office.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (sometime between 1985-87)

A joint venture between the Orissa government and a private company was supplying Vizag Steel Plant with power cables for the main trunk of electrical lines. The first batch of cables they sent were of very poor quality. I ordered my team to take close-up pictures and rejected the consignment. The predictable escalation happened — from Orissa government to central steel ministry to the CMD. In my 1:1 meeting with the CMD, I showed him the pictures where it was evident that it wasn’t even a borderline case.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (sometime between 1987-89)

A group of 30-40 new graduates from a Bihar-based engineering college showed up at 11am with a letter from their professor and an approval letter from Vizag Steel’s Personnel Department Director. The approval was for 1-2 year ‘commissioning services’ assignment. Something didn’t smell right so I told them to leave the files and return at 3pm. Over lunch I reviewed the files – what caught my attention was they they undergone ‘commission training’ at Bokaro Steel Plant. When I asked them to show the certificate, they said they “hadn’t brought it with them” but pointedly said that your Personnel Director has already approved it. I stood my ground and refused to authorize gate passes to them.

My boss called me to find out why I was ‘holding things up’. What I advised him – “Mr. X, without certificates, it is a very risky practice to admit the trainees, especially in the investigate journalism climate of Vizag. What would you answer if asked why we didn’t hire a single trainee from the local Andhra University but the entire batch from a less-then-well-known college in Bihar? Even if you are prepared to sign and take responsibility for this decision, I would advise you against it.”

The delegation escalated to the CMD who (to his credit) promptly told them you have to deal with KKM and his boss. My boss eventually backed off. The ramification of my stance would be evident a few years later. In 1991, two Deputy General Managers (DGM) (including me) were eligible for promotion to Additional General Manager.  I was not promoted. The CMD presiding over that decision? Mr. X of course.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (1992)

A few months before I retired, I received a letter from the Government of India, the Central Vigilance Commission’s (CVC) office.  It was an appointment letter to join them after my retirement.. join them in their watchdog role to curtail and weed out corruption in PSUs. Alas! I had to decline. My health and family obligations prevented me from taking up (what would have been) an all-consuming role requiring my full energies and mindshare.]

****************

[Editor’s Closing Note: You’ve probably figured out by now that KKM is my father. He turned 78 this March. Most of the stories described above were told to me (and my siblings) over the years. During my last visit to Hyderabad, I nailed most of the dates and details. Names have been withheld for obvious reasons. Transcription of the journal entries is mine though I’ve tried to retain his style. Happy Father’s Day, Nanna.]

Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: The Police?

India’s famous top cop Julio Ribeiro wrote this Bal Thackeray opinion piece in DNA yesterday. Good revealing stuff about his interactions with the SS chief. The following paragraph stood out in bold 24-point font:

On the day Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, I had publicly ordered my men to open fire if Sikhs were attacked. Balasaheb wanted to know if I had the authority to issue such instructions. I had to educate him on the meaning of the English word “if” before he regained his composure.

Now we know why Bombay didn’t go through any anti-Sikh riots. It’s also obvious that the police leadership in Bokaro in those crucial days of 1984 was lacking (to put it mildly). Were they muzzled by the Congress leaders? Or also complicit?

**************

this post will be continued after I do some research on police (in)action

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Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: Priti’s Story

[Personal Note: Over two years ago, I sent an email on our alumni mailing list desperately seeking answers on the ghastly and shameful 1984 Sikh riots in Bokaro. The tales started pouring in – survivors close calls, heroism from a classmate’s father, Congress leaders leading mobs, a school becoming an army protected enclave, a classmate’s resolve to join the Army.  In this (third) story of an ongoing remembrance series, my classmate and friend (Priti Haneja) writes about her ordeal, reminds us about the historical context of the latter day Sikh gurus, and shares some pearls of wisdom. Part 1 was Jasbinder’s tale and Part 2 was a heroic tale of Sunil’s father staring down a blood thirsty mob and saving a Sikh family from almost certain death.]

Dear Janaki, Vishy…

Sorry for writing so late in this thread due to certain circumstances. My due apologies to the whole group.

You make me come back to this group. Its touching to see that people not so directly affected had concerns with this ghastly affair what many would have thought long lost forgotten…

This whole episode lies like an unbelieveable episode in my memories…

My bit of the experience :

By the 1st Nov….when news started filtering about rioting in Bokaro… our concerned neighbours would barge in every half and hour so .. to make us go to the Sector 1 police station where they felt we would be better off … So finally my father gave in and everybody in my family went to Sector 1 police station leaving me behind in our front street neighbor and friend ‘Inspector of Factories house ‘ (or Bihar Sarkar as we called it ) …a kind of mini IAS officer. That was, as they felt was in the best interest of me. Unfortunately uncle, the Inspector of factories was on tour leaving behind his wife and 2 daughters. So for the next two days as news of more and more riots and killings started filtering in, I couldn’t do anything except remain holed up in a room, worrying about my family and everybody else concerned. Situations like these bring up different behavior in different people . A common friend of the people I was staying with would come in the house whenever possible shouting in Hindi, ”Bhabhi .. making this girl stay in your house is putting yourself on risk…Get her out!” He was true in his way of caring for the family but with some awareness for my feelings and state at that time, he could have at least said it quietly to Aunty.

Anyway those two days seemed more of a hell with no news of my family but horrible news coming from everywhere including the TV. I had also made up my mind to go to my family wherever they were. And as I remember now I landed up in our School which was being termed as the ‘Camp’.

And of course it felt like a new life to be with my family there again.

The mob never managed to reach our area, perhaps due to the brave act of Sunil Singh’s father and family. I had never heard of this episode before, but thanks to all the inputs in this forum, I get this valuable piece of information. So many ghastly stories are coming back now which I kept hearing in the ‘Camp’ and later in our relatives and friends circle. But a neighbor coming and bravely protecting some victims, never ..

The middle school campus was turned into the ‘Camp’. We slept on the bare floor, maybe with a chadar on it. Somehow I could not eat the camp food , that much I remember properly .. I survived on whatever little things that came from outside ..much like a beggar ….. It was heartening to see Fr. McNamara and Fr. Paul Horren overseeing all the arrangements. I think we stayed there for 6-8 days. One day they brought all dead bodies and laid them on the Middle School assembly ground for identification by their families… All I knew I didn’t look out of the window but laid half buried on the floor for nearly all day.

I also got a surprise visit from Nanda and Rajnish who braved the curfew relaxation hours to come and just give some words of reassurance. Boys and girls hardly used to talk to each other much that time and it felt really nice to see them. I thank them again for coming that time.

I was just doing Google search on this issue ….more than 4000 people killed in a matter of one and a half days all over India. It was rather an organized crime….

As I have been writing this, so many issues come up. How did the Hindu-Sikh divide come up to be in such fanatical terms? My one third of the family is Punjabi Hindus and before Partition in Pakistan Punjab, every Hindu family decided to have one son as a Sardar.

The whole Sikh race had to come up as an answer to militancy and forced conversion and killings during the time of Aurangzeb. So many Sikh gurus gave up their life. It was the need of the hour to create a militant, strong , honest race to face and stop the continuous onslaught. If our culture is still alive, it is with tremendous gratitude to the work done by the Sikh gurus especially Guru Arjan Dev ji and Guru Teg Bahadurji who sacrificed their lives.

I write all this not because this is ‘my religion’ …… but just to emphasise on certain historical facts so that there is feeling of gratitude and oneness… India is a land of continuous search and tremendous depth in spirituality .. it will continuously give rise to these ‘religions’ as we may like to call it – Buddhism, Jainsm, Sikhism … from the parent traditions of rishis, Upanishads … first they were never really meant to be strong demarcated religions … just some strong spiritual traditions or practices by the enlightened ones to help people awaken themselves. It is after many many years that people form religions out of them and fight for them and lose their real meaning or perhaps it is an influence from outside India where there has been strong demarcated religions and the British are culprit in causing tensions between them.

The Sikhs have never been cunning, sincere to the core and simple …….then why are they subjected to so much ridicule ? Sardar jokes and sometimes just plain straight on-the-face ridiculing which I have seen my father sometimes going through.

Lets leave the Indira Gandhi and Sikh militancy problem. I really don’t know how it started and how it took epic proportions. Mrs. Gandhi’s leadership was admirable and there is a speculation that Dhawan, her private secretary and some others part of the coterie had decided to lay this plot to finish her off.

My whole family is from Pakistan. During partition (in one day), from rich landlords they became homeless beggars….When I go to Punjab, I often hear stories of how so many of my relations in the initial days of migration to India – they even sold toffees in trains! Now they have come up again with hard work tremendously.

Somewhere we have taken their hardships and history for granted. Or maybe everybody else’s in the history who have taken the difficulties.

In terms of the present categorization of low IQ and high IQ, what is the need of the this so called high IQ when it doesn’t know how to show the right courage at the right time. The right wisdom at the right time. There is mind, heart and soul. A community in general decides to live more with the heart … and the heart is no way inferior to the mind.

I stop here. Thanks for going through all this. It is not out of any reaction or anger I write this….but a certain emphasis on facts so that we make our coming generations much more intelligent and to appreciate India with some of its core spiritual values against the dominant background of Western education.

With regards to all,

Priti.

 

Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: A Heroic Tale

[Personal Note: Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the ghastly and shameful 1984 Sikh riots. Besides Delhi and Kanpur, Bokaro (where I spent the first 15 years of my life) was among the worst affected in the riots. Over two years ago, I sent an email on our alumni mailing list desperately seeking answers. The tales started pouring in – survivors close calls, heroism from a classmate’s father, Congress leaders leading mobs, a school becoming an army protected enclave, a classmate’s resolve to join the Army.. As Part 2 of the remembrance series, reproduced below are two first person accounts from my classmates Jayant Chaudhary and Sunil Singh. The accounts relate to the same heroic tale — of Sunil’s father staring down a blood thirsty mob and saving a Sikh family from almost certain death. Part 1 was Jasbinder’s tale.]

Jayant’s recollection…

My recollection of the 1984 riots is quite vivid. We woke up on 1 November, and the air was heavy with foreboding. Having heard about Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination all day the day before, it was clear to everyone that something bad was going to happen. The big shock was to find out it happened in Bokaro, which had not had any communal violence in all the time we had lived there, or that we knew of.

At about 9 am, we began to see smoke rising from several places in the city. My brother and I went up on our roof, and it was obvious things were seriously wrong. From that vantage point, we could see all the way to Cooperative Colony and Chas, and it appeared that new fires were being set even as we watched. These were the first riots we had ever seen, and it hit us then that, near those fires, innocent people were probably being butchered. I don’t want to make it seem like we suffered, because obviously the victims of the violence and the people who really suffered were Sikhs, but it was an extremely scary realization.

About 100 meters from our house was the house of a Sikh family. They had two teenagers, a boy and a girl. Their house was locked up, with a big lock on the front door. They must have been smart and left during the night, we said. It was a relief, because we certainly didn’t want anything to happen to them.

At about 10 am, we saw a crowd gathering in front of their house. One fact became apparent at this time. All of the people in this crowd were unfamiliar, which took some doing in a small place like Bokaro. This lends credence to the theory I have often heard, that political parties brought people in to organize these riots. The other fact that was clear was that these people were probably told they could take what they wanted from Sikh houses without fear, because that is why they had congregated in front of our neighbour’s house.

Some of them banged on the front door. Others milled about on the family’s small lawn. Suddenly, we saw the family’s Standard car, parked outside, burst into flames. Things were rapidly getting very ugly.

Then, a group of them went over to the back door of the house, and began pulling it open. In a few minutes, they had managed to break it open, and about 20 of them disappeared inside. Almost immediately, we heard a female screaming from inside, and we realized with some shock that the family had been hiding inside all this while! I cannot describe how helpless I felt at that moment, because I fully expected all of the members of that family to be killed.

Suddenly, almost everybody who had gone into the back door came running out. We heard a very loud, dull thud, and then the last man stumbled out, and started running like his life depended on it. He was followed very closely by the lady of the family under attack, who had a hockey stick in her hands. She proceeded to whack a couple of other, slower men with the stick – that thud was the sound of the stick hitting their backs – and then stood out there, screaming at them, and guarding her house. I had only heard about how ferocious a ‘Sikhni’ could be, but there she was, a small, slightly overweight woman, standing between the mob and her family like a tigress!

The cowards making up the mob began to regroup, realizing they had just lost face. Every time I think of them, it brings to mind all the TV programs I have ever seen about hyenas, who attack only when they are in a group. The rest of the family had come out as well, and they were standing there, waiting for the worst. In the meantime, some people had started shouting about how they were going to avenge Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination by killing everyone in this family. Others started throwing things at the family, and still others began to advance, while the family tried to retreat into their house. It was a nightmare unfolding before our eyes, because all of us realized that this was it. Regardless of how brave the family was, simple numbers dictated that the mob would overpower and kill them within minutes.

You know how, in the movies, when something like this is unwinding, a hero comes and saves the day? Well, something like that happened that day. Sunil Singh’s father, a gentleman if I ever saw one, and easily one of the bravest men I have had the honour of knowing, walked into the mob and told them to stop attacking women and children immediately. Just like that! And the really strange thing was, that was all it took. Yes, some of them shouted back that Mrs. Gandhi was a woman, too, but he shut them. Emboldened by his example, others in the area also approached the mob to intervene. Sunil’s father then asked the family to come to his house, which was only a couple of hundred meters away, and I understand they went there and then to the camp at Xavier’s. After things calmed down, they came back to their house.

I am thankful that things ended well for that family because of the bravery of Sunil’s father. I don’t know if he was ever recognized formally for what he did, but he should have been. In today’s TV-dominated age, he would have been on every TV program as a hero, and justifiably so.

Jayant

From Sunil’s vantage point..

Jayant,
Thanks for remembering my dad’s small contribution. It was indeed a sad day in the history of India.

Vishy,
thank you for bringing this to the forum.

Jasbinder and all my Sikh friends,
Before I write about this incident , I need to tell you that , I have always thought why even after 25 years , the Indian government has not apologized to the Sikhs. They should.  It has always been at the back of my mind and I sincerely apologize on behalf of all of us.

The memory of everything that happened is still with me and haunts me once in a while. I will tell you why …

It was around 10 in the morning and little cloudy. Schools were closed and the news was coming in about the riots breaking in Bokaro. My uncle was DSP Bokaro area and he stopped at our place to warn us  not to venture out. Remember my house at that time had no TV so we depended on our small Panasonic radio for the news. We started to see black smoke coming out of different parts of Bokaro, specially the Chas area. Then around 11 am we heard curfew has been imposed in some areas of Bokaro. Scared of getting caught by police 😉 , I stayed inside , but my two adventurous brothers went to the rooftop and came down running  around noon saying they could see the smoke close by in other areas.

I stayed indoor as we had dad’s friend come in and I was helping mom get lunch ready to serve . Dad was in the house talking to his friend and we were listening to the news . Sujit my younger brother was still outside. Around 1:00 pm he came running in and told my dad that “Sardar Uncle’s” house is being attacked.

My dad in his typical Dhoti and Ganji got off the couch and walked outside. I was behind him and we could see the crowd and Gill Uncle’s car on fire. Mrs Roy , our math teacher who lived above on the third floor ,was pouring water but couple of buckets were no match to the flames as high as 10-15 ft.  There were about 100 plus people in the crowd. I followed my dad scared about his life and thinking I have the strength to save him. Thinking back , I would say it was god’s will and strength that we never looked back and thought twice about what would happen to us.

As we reached closer we could see the crowd breaking window panes and setting fire to inside of the house. There was a loud noise coming from behind the house as if someone is trying to break the back door .
My dad walked into the crowd and he confronted this young kid who was leading the crowd and told him to stop doing it. He used all the filthy words he had in his dictionary including the mother #$@…. word. My dad listened and warned him not to do it and walked away. I was behind my dad and whenever I remember this , I am unable to sleep.

While all this was happening we could see people break into the house from the back door and start coming out of utensils and other household stuff. The house was on fire but we thought it does not matter as we were sure there is no one inside since the house was locked from outside. Then all of a sudden we saw Gill Aunty come out of the back door with a sword in her hand and screaming at the top of her voice as if this is her last chance to save her family. She came running out and  chased away some of the attackers and then headed towards me as I was close to the back fence. My dad and I shouted and made her aware of our presence and told her to get inside. My dad dragged her inside but we could hear the crowd chanting “maro maro”. My dad stood with brave face outside between the crowd and the house.

Five minutes later the cops showed up and people started running. My dad handed over the family to the cops and we left…….. ..

Army did flag march and months passed and thing became normal. Gill Uncle one day came to our house and thanked my dad.We became family friends. Tasted flavor of Punjab. All of you know how good it is. Aunty stood by our side and made sure we tasted everything she had specially made for us …I guess her only way to thank us.

My dad would have got bravery award for what he did , but something we got that no award can match…..

It was Rakhi and someone showed at our door……. Sorry! Jaineet  I don’t know where you are , but hope you are safe and living without fear.

Jai Hind

Sunil

After reading Sunil’s and Jayant’s accounts, Jasbinder has more to add…

Sunil–What do I say and where do I start. I do remember Gill aunty talking about this incident with my mom in the camp. Sobbing uncontrollably she said  ‘Ouh insaan nahin si, Rabb si’, loosely translated ‘he was not a person, he was God’.  Till yesterday I did not know that the God she was refering to was your dad. So ‘ThankYou Vishi’, for starting this thread.
Most of us live our lives waiting for a chance to be a hero and ‘do something’ for someone. Your dad lived that moment. God Bless his Soul. Wherever the Gill family is today, I am sure they will be remembering uncle in their prayers. Someday when I talk to my kids about this incident, I will be talking to them about you and your dad. About how an ordinary man did an extraordinary deed.
Next story in this series – Priti’s story.

 

Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: Jasbinder’s Tale

[Personal Note: Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the ghastly and shameful 1984 Sikh riots. Besides Delhi and Kanpur, Bokaro (where I spent the first 15 years of my life) was among the worst affected in the riots. Over two years ago, I sent an email on our alumni mailing list desperately seeking answers. The tales started pouring in – survivors close calls, heroism from a classmate’s father, Congress leaders leading mobs, a school becoming an army protected enclave, a classmate’s resolve to join the Army.. Reproduced below is the email I sent and the first survivor tale from our classmate and dear friend – Jasbinder. Read it with care because it’s not just about surviving the horror, it’s also about compassion. Will be posting more stories in this remembrance series — as soon as I obtain permission from my other friends.]

My original email..

Sent: Wed, March 10, 2010 11:28:40 AM
Dear All,
I’ve been meaning to write this email for.. well almost since I joined the group. It always bothered me that our idyllic town of Bokaro was the scene of one of the worst Sikh killings in the ’84 riots (per all the news I read over the years  – 2nd only to Delhi). So many questions..
What was that ugliness in Bokaro that we never saw until the riots? Was it just that the goons were better organized? Were the local Congress politicians particularly more bloodthirsty to prove their loyalty to the Gandhi dynasty? What???
When Bhaskar, Shekhar, Nanda & I had a reunion in Dallas ~4 yrs ago, Shekhar told me part of the stories.. How all the Sikh families sought refuge in the school.. the tanks guarding them.. Sikh boys & men cutting their hair…how the attack on Ittu/Bittu’s (used to live opposite Shekhar’s house) house was repelled – thankfully they had a gun in the house.
How did the Sikhs in our batch & their families fare during this ordeal? I have wondered so many times what that dear friend of ours (Manpreet) went through? And Jasbinder’s family? And how it affected the rest of their lives..
Today I read the following story & I couldn’t postpone asking my questions any longer..
Please share your thoughts friends.
Vishy
Jasbinder’s tale…
Sent: Wed, March 10, 2010 7:59:30 PM

Hi Vishi,This event changed our lives forever. I was visiting Bokaro (I was already in a Chandigarh college hostel and the college was on strike) and was scheduled to return on the 4th of Nov. When news broke out on Nov. 1st about riots beginning in Co-op Colony and sector 9, we left for the house of one of our family friends in just the clothes we were in. Stayed in their house during the day, but when goons started knocking on their door, the police came and escorted us to a make-shift camp in the city-centre clinic in sector 1. We spent the night with other sikh families in fear of the camp being attacked.In the morning I saw Father McNamara and some other jesuits outside the camp with our school buses. They had come to escort all the families to the school under army supervision. They opened the school doors and their hearts for every family who was there and made sure they were there everday asking what more they could do to help. We stayed there for the next 10-12 days. In the meanwhile came to know that our home had been broken into and every thing had been taken. A local congress politician with a gun in hand was seen by the neighbors directing the mob to kill and loot. Luckily we had escaped. Dave uncle (Manisha’ s Dad) had come in the evening to take us to his home and he saw this guy directing people to take everything and run.

Father Mcnamara and other school teachers were always there. Helping everyone. The classrooms were converted into hostel dorms. Food was delivered by our family friends and Dad’s colleague’s. I remember the steaming idlis from Rao uncle’s (Pratibha’ s dad) home everyday as they lived directly opposite the school and my dad and uncle had worked together. We felt lucky and very very blessed to be alive and our family together as some of our family friends were either killed or had lost a child as the riots raged for 3 days till curfew was imposed in Bokaro and the army took over.

We came back to an empty home, but were taken care of by the neighbors and family friends. I only cried because I had lost most of my school pics and memories. Anyways, my mom started having nightnares and by the end of  Nov. my mom, brother and sister accompanied me to Chandigarh– never to return to Bokaro (although I did visit in ’89 and then in ’93, but mom refused to come back). Dad continued with his job thinking he could take a transfer but that somehow did not happen. So for the next 15 years he visited us twice a year in Chandigarh.

My brother and sis joined Xaviers, Chandigarh but believe me it wasn’t anywhere close to our school. Life was ok except we were living in those times when terrorism was at its peak in Punjab. So curfew being clamped on the city was a way of life. There was no life after 6.00p.m. Nobody ventured outdoors after 6.00p.m, and if you did you did not return.

The only good that came out for me personally was that I got to grow up with my cousins and extended family members. But no complaints. Whatever happens, happens for the best. We  came out alive and here I was 25 years later at the school reunion.

Life is fine, but when I hear about riots in any part of India, I just pray because it reminds me of friends who lost their family members that day in 1984 and for them life was were never the same again.

Wish and Pray that no innocent person has to pay a price for someone’s  madness.

–Jasbinder

Next in the remembrance series – A heroic tale.

When Bokaro Steel Plant and America almost had a date…

Bokaro Steel Plant main gate (Pic: courtesy sail.co.in)

In Ambassador’s Journal, John Kenneth Galbraith writes about many interesting things during his tenure as US Ambassador to India. The snippets on Bokaro Steel City (where I was born) caught my attention. All Bokaro residents are aware of the Russian collaboration and the ‘many things Russian’ about Bokaro (stations inside City Park, Russian Colony, etc.) What will be news to most is that, during the Kennedy years, American aid and collaboration — for Bokaro Steel Plant — was a distinct possibility.  Below are relevant extracts from Galbraith’s various journal entries.

April 21, 1961 – New Delhi

I had my first press conference yesterday morning.

Then we did get into economics. I put the fourth government-owned steel plant at Bokaro within the range of American aid. I had no instructions but one should use what freedom he has, for it is evidently a rare blessing.

(Within the footnote, Galbraith adds the following) This became a highly controversial matter. My position — that public sector plants could be financed by the United States and that this one was eligible in principle — was strongly supported by President Kennedy, strongly opposed by Republicans and a source of great nervousness in the US bureaucracy which, at one time, reversed the President’s approval on the grounds that he was running undue political risk. This is discussed on several later occasions.

May 26, 1961 – New Delhi

Later we saw Swaran Singh, the Steel, Mines and Fuel Minister. I had indicated our possible willingness to finance the new Bokaro steel plant in the public sector. The Indians, as I have told, had then laid down a variety of conditions under which we might be allowed to do so — technical direction by Americans and management of projects by Indians and other interesting dualities. This is a hangover from the day when we seemed so anxious to help that we agreed to anything. I made clear that if we were providing the money — if we do — we must be able to ensure that a good job is being done. Today at the meeting we got a paper indicating agreement on this point. Diplomacy is easier from a strong bargaining position. The harder test would have been to make these arrangements if we were not the prospective source of the money.

Inside look at Bokaro Steel Plant (Pic: courtesy indianetzone.com)

Sep 13, 1961 – Washington

From lunch, I went to see Frank Coffin (Former Congressman from Maine. Then Deputy Administrator of AID and the Managing Director of the Department of State’s Development Loan Fund. Now a Federal Judge.) to weigh in on Bokaro – evidently they thought I was getting too far ahead. I urged its importance; the unwisdom of letting the Russians get the jump  on us; and the diffused and anonymous nature of our aid in the absence of such projects. I believe I made an impression.
I forgot to say that I had tea with B.K. Nehru last evening. He showed me a letter describing the Nehru-Khrushchev talks. Nehru asked Khrushchev if he would guarantee our access to Berlin.; K. said he would. He was agreeable about Kennedy, thought he had been handicapped by his small majority and attacked Adenauer.

Sep 23, 1961 – New Delhi

By a combination of persuasion, threats, blackmail, promises to resort to higher authority, appeals to patriotism and promises of what the Soviets will do, I seem to have a provisional approval of our financing of the fourth steel mill at Bokaro. Now we must find a way of building it with competence and distinction.
This project is very important. It is needed, useful and symbolic. Many of the things we are doing are rather anonymous — we provide copper and other nonferrous metals which are needed and useful but not very dramatic. And our past help to private-sector plants, such as Tata’s, has evoked the comment, “The Americans help the Tatas and Birlas who are already rich. By contrast, the Soviets or British build plants that belong to the people.” Now we are in the same league — provided that we can perform.
Oct 24, 1961 – New Delhi
Ty Wood has returned from Washington with a proposal for getting U.S. Steel in on the Bokaro mill as a private enterprise operation. Of the $500 million required, $100 million would be subscribed in common stock and the rest as a loan, possibly guaranteed, from the U.S. and India. One-third of the $100 million of common stock would be held by each of U.S. Steel, private Indian capitalists and the Indian Government. Half of U.S. Steel’s investment would be cash, the rest in technology and “know-how.” This means they would get control of a $500 million firm for ten years — their control is guaranteed for that time — for an investment of $16.7 million. A real bargain.
Jun 23, 1962 – New Delhi
Yesterday I met with the U.S. Steel team which is investigating the Bokaro steel mill and had them to lunch. Their appearance here is a ritual. (In the footnote, Galbraith later mentions “This was not so. Their work proved valuable.”). One or two good men could have gone over the engineering and clerical data and passed upon the plausibility and need for the mill in a couple of weeks.
Oct 8, 1962 – Chandrapura-Raipur
At six this morning we stopped at Chandrapura and picked up a covey of Damodar Valley Corporation and Hindustan Steel (what came to be known as “SAIL”) officials, the latter headed by J.M. Shrinagesh, the Chairman and one of the distinguished tribe hitherto encountered which functions in various parts of Indian life with additional members in the United States and Germany. The train then proceeded to the proposed site of the Bokaro steel plant, a half-hour distant, where we disembarked. The air was fresh and almost cool and the countryside, which is gently rolling, was a bright lush green. After an introduction to the various young engineers who are being assembled for the project and a lecture on plant layout, sources of raw material and the like, I went with Shrinagesh to a flight strip whence we took off for a half-hour trip over the site and the Damodar Valley. The Valley is underlain with coal and scarred by open cast pits, tipples and piles of waste but nonetheless rather attractive at this time of year. We circled an adjacent mountain about 5,000 feet high, the back and saddle of which are spotted with tiny white temples.
Oct 20 – Nov 20, 1962: Sino-Indian war
(Dates inserted here only for completeness. I haven’t read Galbraith’s account of the war yet. Don’t believe this war had any bearing on the Bokaro American aid decision.)
Feb 7, 1963 – New Delhi
General Clay is heading a committee to review the AID program. He has decided that there must be no assistance to Bokaro as long as it is in the public sector. In other words, for blatant ideological reasons, he is going back to the policies of the Eisenhower Administration. These were a grievous failure. Nothing substantial was done to advance private investment; and they talked about it enough to cause everyone to suppose our concern was to sustain capitalism rather than help the Indians. I have shifted to a purely pragmatic policy of whatever works. This even relaxes the tension on private enterprise.
I have written a careful rebuttal to Clay making it clear that he would lose sadly in any effort to carry his case to the public. I sent the message unclassified so that he won’t be in any doubt as to my willingness to do so. He has just joined Lehman Brothers in New York and will not want to start his banking career there with a public brawl. As for me, I would welcome it.
Feb 20, 1963 – New Delhi
The last three days have been intensely busy, much of the time with superficialities. I got off a long airgram to the Department putting General Clay right on Bokaro which I again sent unclassified so that it would have the greatest possible readership with every possible threat of leakage. I noted again that the previous administration had talked about supporting private enterprise while financing the public sector. They thus got the worst of both worlds. We were stopping the talk, cooling the debate over private and public enterprise, and had done very much better as a result.
Apr 15, 1963 – Ahmedabad-Baroda-Veraval-New Delhi
My life is currently divided between Kashmir and Bokaro, two problems inherited and on my hands for nearly all of these last two years. Today or tomorrow I’m seeing Nehru for the climactic session on Kashmir. I have prepared the way in every possible fashion, and I have some hopes of a fairly generous and forthcoming proposal for the Valley.
On Bokaro, my problem is Lucius Clay. He has come out against aid to publicly owned enterprises. So over the weekend I issued a statement to the American press that there was no such commitment and that the issue should be decided on its merits. I left no doubt what I believed these to be.
I have written a long memo on the subject which I would also like to have Washington release. Their hope, as always, is that the controversy will blow away. I can’t see why people are so afraid of a little fight. It does wonders for my disposition.
May 10, 1963 – New Delhi

The other occurrence of the week was much more pleasant. The President came out strongly on the side of helping the Indians build the Bokaro steel plant and he said it should be supported in the public sector. It was a marvelous no-nonsense statement. For weeks, the AID people have been worrying about Congressional reaction. Characteristically they have been seeking to protect the President on matters where he doesn’t need or, one gathers, especially want protection. Now he has moved in and settled matters. He made the statement in a press conference. I followed it up here with a brief press conference in which I drew attention to the President’s answers. I also noted that the Congress still had to act and there were many technical and administrative details to be worked out. The papers this morning are full of it.

For the last few days, Blitz, Link and the left generally have been busy assuring India that the U.S. is seeking to undermine Indian socialism. The President’s action is an unfair blow to these constructive thoughts

*******************************
The previous (May 10, 1963) entry is the last Bokaro-specific journal entry in Galbraith’s memoir. Galbraith’s term ended on Jul 12, 1963 and the new ambassador’s (Chester Bowles) term started on Jul 19, 1963. I’ve tried to cobble together a few other article links relevant to this story.
Jun 28, 1963
Time article on American aid: Foreign Aid: The Bokaro Issue
Nov 22, 1963: Assassination of JF Kennedy
May 27, 1964:- Death of Jawaharlal Nehru
Aug 13, 1965
Time article (one of 3 articles that match “Bokaro” search query – requires TIME subscription)  India: Pride & Reality
From this SAIL web page, the Soviet collaboration seems to have been announced sometime in 1965. It will be interesting to fill the gaps in the Bokaro-America/Soviet narrative from 1963 to 1965.

I am Bihar (an ode)

Bihar District Map (courtesy topnews.in)

Back in Nov 2009, we had a big reunion of St. Xaviers Bokaro alumni and their families. If you haven’t bumped into anyone from Bokaro (formally known as “Bokaro Steel City”) yet, you need to know that the mere mention of Bokaro is enough to send them into raptures and wax eloquent about this utopian steel township in a part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand. For all the Bokaro alumni, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I daresay the non-Bokaro spouses had a decent time too. A few mini-reunions later, I heard about Bihar Foundation from one of my classmate’s husband. Ajit Chouhan’s blog post Bihar Foundation – Connecting Biharis Worldwide does a good job outlining the foundation’s charter and ambitions.

For a variety of reasons, Bihar doesn’t rank high on India’s list of states (on many indicators – be it socio-economic, literacy, or governance). When I found this ode (authored by Mayank Krishna), it felt like a gust of fresh air. I present to you – I am Bihar (a proud and optimistic ode on Bihar)!

(Reproduced with permission from the author Mayank Krishna)

I AM BIHAR

I am the history of India,
I gave the world its first Republic,
I nourished Buddha to enlightenment,
I gave world its best ancient university,
My son Chanakya was the father of Economics,
Mahavir came out of my womb to found Jainism,
My son Valmiki wrote Ramayan, the greatest Epic
Rishi Shushrut, the father of surgery, lived on my soil
My son Vatsayana wrote Kamasutra, the treatise of love ,
My son Ashoka – The Great was the greatest ruler of India ,
I gave birth to Aryabhatt, the great ancient mathematician ,
I gave Ashoka Chakra that adorns India’s national flag ,
My son Dinkar is the national poet of India ,
I gave the world its first Yoga University ,
I gave India its first president ,
I am the land of festivals ,
I am brotherhood ,
I am humility ,
I am the past ,
I am the future ,
I am opportunity ,
I am revolution ,
I am culture ,
I am heritage ,
I am intellect ,
I am farmer ,
I am power ,
I am literature ,
I am poetry ,
I am love ,
I am heart ,
I am soul ,
I am yoga ,
I am global ,
I am inspiration ,
I am freedom ,
I am force ,
I am destiny ,
I am Bihar ,
…Come with your dream
I will make it a reality

Three Coincidences

Put two Indians (perfect strangers mind you) in a room and it’s merely a question of time before they find a few common connections. As you might suspect, I epitomize this quintessential Indian quirk.

  1. The Paper Cup Saga: In our first week in Bangalore, during that honeymoon period when work had not yet consumed me, I had the luxury of reading the Times of India (TOI) cover-to-cover. I read a very interesting story in the business section entitled After all your paper cup is not that eco-friendly. The story was about a Texas Instruments (TI India) employee creating an informative video that persuaded the employees to significantly reduce paper cup usage. Being ‘green’ at heart, my thoughts immediately raced to achieving a similar outcome in the Adobe India office. Since TOI publishes the reporters’ email addresses, I was able to dash off a quick note asking them whether they could share the video produced by TI. My attention then went to one of the authors – Sujit John. Was it the same Sujit who was school captain (three batches my senior) at St. Xaviers Bokaro? A quick LinkedIn search confirmed it. Turns out, he’s Times of India’s Bangalore-based Business Editor. Wow! my first solid contact in the Indian Fourth Estate. To top it, Sujit is married to Alice (one of my Xaviers Bokaro classmates).
  2. The Intel Folsom Connection: As I mentioned in The First Week in Bangalore, we spent the first three weeks in a guest house flat on Bannerghatta Road. The flat was in an apartment community called Adarsh Vihar – two buildings next to the Adobe office so it was very convenient for us. As Bangalore apartment communities go, Adarsh Vihar was small (less than 100 flats) but they have a decent playground which the kids and I would frequent on most evenings. One of the kids mom (Sharmila) had moved to Intel Bangalore (from Intel’s offices Folsom, California). I knew exactly ONE person in Intel Folsom – BTV Anant Kumar (my dear friend and classmate from BIT Mesra). Turns out Sharmila and her husband (who also worked at Intel Folsom) knew BTV and his family very well, in fact they were even next-door neighbours for a few years in California. Gee! What are the odds? We exchanged updates on BTV’s miraculous recovery after a month in the ICU.
  3. The Bokaro/Jamshedpur Connection: P and I were sitting in Alok & Babita Sinha’s (owners of the Raheja Residency flat we are renting) living room relating about our life’s ram kahani (“life’s story” for my non-Indian readers). The conversation eventually led to Bokaro and Jamshedpur (two eventful places in my past). Alok runs a division of Symphony Services and had a long fruitful stint at Tata Motors Jamshedpur (previously known as TELCO). Turns out that yet another Xaviers Bokaro classmate (Aman Sinha) used to in Alok’s group at Telco. Not only that, Alok and Aman (who is in the SF Bay Area) met as recently as a few months ago. On a final coincidental note, I had reconnected with Aman (at Hobees Cupertino) just a few weeks before our exodus from California.