Saving Inderdeep: A true story
It was November 1st, the year 1984.
“Sir, you cannot leave the office. It is too dangerous to go out now. Please plan to remain here tonight….until the situation gets better”… these words shook the normally strict and stern Mr. Sabarwal. He glanced over his glasses at his reporter in disbelief. Sabarwal was not used to being spoken to. Mr. Sabarwal was especially known to be a tough boss. Being in upper management in the biggest automotive manufacturer in India, in the Chennai branch for over two decades, he had developed a reputation as a tough boss to please. He was known to make his reporters stay in the office for long hours, and assign new work even towards the end of the week. He was usually avoided, not spoken to until addressed. But these words uttered with palpable tension, made him realize that this was no ordinary day.
He quickly composed himself and said, “But I need to pick up my son from school and reach home, or my wife would be alone…School closes in 15 minutes!”.
The boy, Inderdeep, was sitting there, along with his teacher, whose job was to make sure the boy stayed in the classroom and never ventured out.
Subbu and Vasu looked at each other. They knew that they had to do something quickly – they did not want to tell Mr. Sabarwal of all that they had heard on the television, or from reports coming in from co-workers and people outside. They were afraid that if they did not do something, even the child could be in danger.
“Sir, you please stay here, while we go and take your son home…Please call your wife and let her know.” – without waiting for a reply Vasu rushed out quickly to the building gate, where the peon needed to be told nothing – he had summoned a waiting driver to get his ambassador.
The duo was on their way to Hindu mission school. The roads said it all. They were deserted with no pedestrians, and cars speeding. Buses had stopped plying. The tension of violence and fear was palpable in the air. It did not take long for them to drive through streets littered with stones and broken glass bottles. Police were busy gathering on the streets, and shopkeepers were busy downing their shutters. As they reached the school, they could see parents taking away their children hurriedly. The turban-wearing boy was nowhere to be spotted, adding to the anxiety of the duo.
Vasu approached the watchman and told him that they were there to pick up a Sikh boy, the son of their boss. The watchman, as if waiting for someone to come to pick the boy up, guided them to the nearest classroom. The boy, Inderdeep, was sitting there, along with his teacher, whose job was to make sure the boy stayed in the classroom and never ventured out. The school knew it was dangerous for him to do so, and the hapless female teacher had to stay out late.
Subbu was a Hindu, belonging to the Dalit community, who were oppressed for centuries in India, and we’re slowly trying to catch up on the socio-economic rise.
The boy had met Vasu before. He, therefore, asked him where his dad was. On being told that he was being picked up by them and going home to his mother, but would have to remove his turban before stepping out of the room, the boy started throwing a tantrum. He didn’t want to remove his turban. No amount of persuasion from either Vasu or his teacher would do. Subbu suggested removing the boy’s turban forcefully, but Vasu didn’t agree. They then decided to hurriedly walk the boy over to their car.
The only choice was to either make the boy lie in the trunk, or lie down underneath the seat – him sitting in the car with his turban on was not an option. The boy protested but was made to lie on the car floor in the passenger seat, with a blanket covering him, and Vasu sitting with his legs folded in the rear.
They drove, avoiding the major roads and via gullies and unpaved roads to avoid the crowds and hooligans gathered on all the main streets. What was a 20 min drive, had taken them about 2 hours to cover. They were hardly a km away from Mr. Sabharwal’s residence when the expected trouble came. Hoards of rowdies, clad in white dhotis and some in lungis, stopped the car. They were carrying wooden sticks and stones, and Congress flags. They asked the car driver, why he dared to drive during “bandh”, or the total shutdown called for by some political parties, rather than stay home. They peeped into the car and forced open the trunk not waiting for a reply. Vasu, understanding the situation, shouted that they were heading to CS’s (C. Subramaniam) home in Kotturpuram at work. The words did the trick. Not only did the crowd let him go, but one of the stick wielders made it a point to make way for the car all the way to the end of the road.
Vasu knew of the Congress political leadership well – his dad had been an assistant to a Congress leader in Chennai for a decade, who later went on to become President. By CS, he was referring to the late Union Finance Minister C. Subramaniam, who was from Chennai.
By the time they reached the home, it was well after sunset, the boy’s mother had died a thousand deaths in anxiety. She did not believe she would see her son that evening, let alone him wearing a turban! The local gurudwara had been attacked, and Sikhs killed in cold blood in Chennai, a low-crime city. She did not get to see her husband for several days after – Mr. Sabharwal had to stay in the office for a few more days before the situation was conducive to returning home.
“That was close…We could have been killed with the boy”… said Subbu, now that the danger was past them. “Yes, it was close. To be accurate, the second closest for me, after the police firing in my college in Chidambaram which I survived, but lost my best friend Udayakumar”, replied Vasu.
Subbu was a Hindu, belonging to the Dalit community, who were oppressed for centuries in India, and we’re slowly trying to catch up on the socio-economic rise. Vasu was a Hindu as well, belonging to the minority Brahmin community in Tamil Nadu, who were oppressed and completely marginalized by the fascist Dravidian movement which had captured power in Tamil Nadu about two decades ago.
They had not seen a Sikh in their life before working with Mr. Sabarwal. Each had always felt that they had belonged to the most-hounded community, by their own personal stories. As they sat silently in the car for the rest of the drive, it finally dawned on them that they were not alone – Sikhs were now facing persecution.
Has it always been like this, wondered Vasu. Was it only the three communities that were victims in different times? The question haunted him for several months, and it would be years before he attained some sort of clarity and closure.
India is a complex land – perhaps the most complex on earth. Being the cradle of civilizations, it is more diverse than the entire continents of Africa and Europe put together! Warring communities and factions and politics, although democratic, had put people and ideologies at loggerheads. Persecutions of communities, castes, linguistic minorities, religious sects, were a daily occurrence at some part of India all through in its present form of existence since 1947.
Yet India survives, thanks to the humanity of Indians brought up in the culture of Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam. It is this culture, ingrained in all the Indians irrespective of religion or caste, that makes a Dalit and a Brahmin from the southernmost part of India risk their lives to save a Sikh. It is this culture that accepted a nondescript person of no lineage from the western-most state of Gujarat, Gandhi, as the father of the nation. It is this sentiment that helps Muslims remain in India after independence, while the religious minorities Hindus in Pakistan were wiped out.
Finally, it is this sentiment that makes India remain a democracy, while the rest of South Asia and China descended into autocracies.
Brothers and sisters of the Sikh religion, and their children especially, living in North America and elsewhere should understand this, while justifiably being enraged over the anti-Sikh riots of ‘84.
Every society, section, the group – starting from Kashmiri Pandits in the north to Tribals in the Northeast, brahmins in the south, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, even the tribes of Andaman have faced persecution and hardships throughout the history of India. Yet India remains and moves on, as the citizens strive to become better humans than to seek revenge for the past. This oneness of Indians, and India needs to be preserved even outside India – not pitting the community against the community. The Sikh children of today need to remember that India was conquered by the British, not in whole, but by playing Maharaja Ranjit Singh against Mughals, Mughals against Maratha, Mughals against Nizam, and so on.
(The above is based on a true story, the author Raghavendran Nagarajan is the son of the character “Vasu”)
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.