Black turbans of 84

Hukumi Kaur – Photo: Karan Sharma; Courtesy of Chauraasi Ki Nainsaafi: The continuing injustice for the 1984 Sikh massacre (Amnesty International India briefing released in 2017)
By Jagdesh Singh | OPINION |

I was only 9. So, the memories are a little sketchy. My parents, uncles and aunties were typically boisterously loud at the dining table whenever we converged at my Maanji’s house in Tronoh Mines, Ipoh. Being her eldest grandchild present in the house at those times, I was allowed to linger around and eavesdrop conversations.

There was always a cool breeze coming from the Kinta River right behind Maanji’s house. But the loud tones that were filled with rage and frustration that evening contributed more to the spine tingling shivers than the breeze itself.

My father and his brothers weren’t your typical traditional Sikhs, none were with untrimmed beards, and my father solely had cropped hair. They were all educated with westernised ideals, more liberal than others within their peers.

The sentences that were being spoken all rung loud with incredulous thoughts. There was anger, as if a nerve was tampered with, and the emotional pain was palpable.

I couldn’t understand much but from the BBC news on the radio, and on our TV3 news at 8pm daily, I knew the Golden Temple was in a war zone of sorts. Pictures and videos of tanks, of men in army attire, were highlighted. And I knew the Golden Temple was a special place for us because any Sikh  house you go to, there was always one of its photos  in the living rooms. To a 9 year old with a wild imagination, any temple that was made in gold was bound to be magical. I could make sense that Sikhs all around the world, well, at least in Malaysia, were pretty pissed off that someone would attack something so dear to us, to our identity, to our pride of our history and our heritage.

A few months passed and my dad was on the phone with someone else as I was watching TV in the living room. He slammed the phone receiver and exclaimed to my mother, “They shot her! She’s finally dead!”

But the mood rapidly pivoted in the direct opposite in the next 12 hours as news of the so-called Delhi ‘riots’ emerged. As it got clearer that the riots were deadly and targeted Sikhs, the same anger and rage I felt in Tronoh Mines were twofold now, my dad and his Punjabi peers were no more talking in hushed tones.

There was nothing anybody from Malaysia could do. Condemnation fell on deaf ears. Visas to travel India were revoked or denied. We were cut off from our Motherland.

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was painted, by the Indian government propaganda machines, as a terrorist that had forced Indera Gandhi’s hands. They say he incited violence and they had no choice. This narrative seeped into the Sikh diaspora in Malaysia and gained traction to a certain extent.

Even so, the damage was done. A chasm between the Sikh Punjabis with their Hindu Indian friends cracked open. Small mobs in the more rural areas appeared, with Punjabi homes attacked designed to strike fear, and to avenge the death of their mother leader in India.

Black turbans were dyed, and began to appear as a sign of solidarity with the fallen from the attack on Harmandir Sahib, as well as the tortured families from the Delhi pogroms. Bollywood movies, particularly of Amitabh Bachan were ignored, the emotional wounds still so fresh after clips of his instigation were shared around.

Today, the wounds appear to be healed, but when Sikhs of my generation, and of the ones before me, reminisce those dark days of ’84, the bitter taste of anger can be tasted. The sins of those who perpetrated the killings and the attack on our psyche, of the torture for those who saw their loved ones killed in cold blood, are now exposed for all to see. Independent studies, artistic representation in movies and plays, are still bringing more light to what happened, why they happened, and even how.

Those tainted as terrorists are now being treated as martyrs for the greater cause of justice.

For the younger generation, of my daughters’, making this dark episode somewhat relevant or resonate with them would be our challenge. It happened before their lifetimes. Why would they even care?

I don’t know the answer to this. But I would hope that my peers and friends of my generation sit down and talk about it, tell them why it was such a big deal, and continues to be a big deal. Tell them the affects it had on our behaviours till today. Tell them that it’s a reminder of who we are, and why we should never sit on our laurels forgetting the sacrifices made for us to be who we are today.

It still hurts.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



Making sense of Sikh Genocide of 1984 (Asia Samachar, 1 Nov 2020)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |


  1. Not only is rural areas but also in KL, Ipoh,Penang orchestrated attacks against Sikhs took place.
    This part of our history should be taught to all young Sikhs, especially those running and marrying out of the race and faith.