Gauri Gill, an artist in New Delhi, has re-released a pamphlet titled ‘1984’. It puts into context a series of photographs that Gill took between 2005 and 2009 of survivors of the pogrom against Sikhs that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi. These images, as well as essays reacting to each image, will be a part of an exhibition titled ‘Insert 2014’, organised by the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation. It runs from January 31 to February 28 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi.

Here is Gauri Gill’s introduction to the project, as well as an image accompanied by an essay written by Shuddhabrata Sengupta.

Jis tann lãgé soee jãné
Gauri Gill

In 2005, when I heard Nirpreet Kaur relate her story, she had to have a psychologist present in the room. For us, it was too much to fully absorb. I did not know what to do with the weight of her words. We urged her to write a book, I hope she does someday.

There is a kind of silence around 1984, which may follow from an impossibility of comprehension of the violence, and the terrors of reliving it. Perhaps the stone-deaf silence that has been the State’s response to witness accounts makes the futility of summoning a voice stark. At the time, there were no 24-hour television channels, internet or social media; what we have are only invaluable eyewitness accounts, notes and photographs. Photographers who documented the massacre that November were terrified that their photographs would be made to disappear from photo-labs by the all-powerful Central Government. Images did disappear. Those that survived may now be used as evidence, or to relive the emotion. At a street exhibition of photographs organised in 2012 by the activist lawyer HS Phoolka, many of the visitors wept even as they used their cell phone cameras to re-photograph the images on display.

In 2005, after the release of the Justice Nanavati Commission Report on November 1984, and later in 2009, to mark the 25th anniversary of the pogrom, I visited Delhi’s resettlement colonies, and took photographs in Trilokpuri, Tilak Vihar and Garhi, as well as at protest rallies in the city. These photographs appeared in the print media.

The photographs in themselves are now a kind of artifact, since they were mediated by the mainstream media, and had a certain valence in that context. I wondered how they might be viewed removed from that context. To trigger a conversation about 1984, in early 2013 I asked some artist friends, who had lived in Delhi in November of 1984, or have since or prior, or who see themselves as somehow part of this city, to write a comment alongside each photograph. It could be a direct response to the image, or a more general observation related to the event; it could be abstract, poetic, personal, fictional, factual or nonsensically true in the way of Toba Tek Singh’s seminal words on the partition.

“Jis tann lãgé soee jãné”, a Punjabi saying goes. Only she whose body is hurt, knows. But perhaps it is also for those of us who were not direct victims, to try and articulate the history of our city – and universe. A world without individual stories, accounts, interpretations, opinions, secrets and photographs is indeed 1984 in the Orwellian sense.

The original photographs in my work, ‘1984’, appeared in Tehelka (with Hartosh Bal) and Outlook (with Shreevatsa Nevatia). Text responses are by Jeebesh Bagchi, Meenal Baghel, Sarnath Bannerjee, Hartosh Bal, Amarjit Chandan, Arpana Caur, Rana Dasgupta, Manmeet Devgun, Anita Dube, Mahmood Farouqui, Iram Ghufran, Ruchir Joshi, Rashmi Kaleka, Ranbir Kaleka, Sonia Khurana, Saleem Kidwai, Pradip Kishen, Subasri Krishnan, Lawrence Liang, Zarina Muhammed, Vivek Narayanan, Monica Narula, Ajmer Rode, Anusha Rizvi, Nilanjana Roy, Inder Salim, Priya Sen, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Gurvinder Singh, Jaspreet Singh, Madan Gopal Singh, Paromita Vohra.

Garhi, New Delhi.

Family lived in Nand Nagar, where his father was killed by a mob and he was thrown into a fire. He burnt his hands and legs.
Education: Dropped out of second year, BA.
Occupation: Currently does not have a job.

Lived in Vinod Nagar. His father was attacked, chased onto a nearby highway and killed. Inderjit, the youngest of three brothers, was 11 months old when he was wrenched from his mother’s arms and left to die. He was found after three days.
Education: Class X.
Occupation: Drives a school van.

Elder brother of Inderjit
Education: Class X.
Occupation: Drives a school van.

Inderjit Singh’s eldest brother
Education: Class XII.
Occupation: Drives a school van.

Born six months after the riots. His family lived in Shakarpur. Rachpal Singh has been told his father, two of his father’s brothers, and his grandfather were killed. There was a family function at the house and they were the first to be attacked. The rampaging mob went about attacking the family and their relatives saying they were celebrating Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Education: Doing his BA.

Family lived in Ajit Nagar. Grandfather attacked and then killed, when his father tried to intervene, he was burnt to death.
Education: Graduation.
Occupation: Was working for a few months at a call centre and was forced to leave when his mother had a paralytic attack.

Family lived in Trilokpuri, block 13. Father and uncle killed after tyres were placed around their necks and set on fire.
Education: Class IX.
Occupation: Works as a driver.

Was only a month old at the time, does not know where the family lived. Has been told seven members of the family were killed while in an autorickshaw driven by his father.
Education: Class IX.
Occupation: Driver. Mother has brain tumour and is on leave from her NDMC Class IV job.

Family lived in Uttam Nagar. Father was killed by the mob.
Education: Class IX.
Occupation: Unemployed for the past three years after being thrown out of a job in Guru Harkishen Public School. Harjinder Singh Khanna, the Malviya Nagar representative, told him how long could they keep invoking the 1984 riots.

Family used to live in Malkaganj. Has no idea about what happened as his mother refuses to talk about those days.
Education: Class X.
Occupation: Driver.

Text response by

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
I knew a young man in his twenties in November 1984. He was tall, had a loping gait, and a way of speaking that would alternate between short, staccato bursts of words, and long, perfectly formed sentences. He was studying to be a doctor, in his last years at medical school, and I thought that he was the most intelligent man I knew at the time. I was impressionable, I was fourteen.

When you are fourteen - twenty-five, or twenty-seven can look very far away. You have none of the assurance that a young man in his twenties can have. When I look at this picture, I see that assurance in him, as well as its absence in me.

I idolized this man. He was my then girl-friend’s elder brother. I remember that he gave me a book by D.D.Kosambi to read, and that he would sometimes take me and his sister with him on his ornithological field trips (he was an avid bird man) in the Jahanpanah forest. He taught us how to be quiet in a forest, and how to speak about things that we felt were too big for fourteen year olds. He gave me a universe.

In November 1984, this young man, his sister, and his widowed mother came to live for a few days in our house in Old Rajendra Nagar after Indira Gandhi was killed. They were Sikh, and I did not want to lose the girl I thought I loved then, or her brother, to a mob. On the way home from school, I had seen a mob of men catch hold of a Sikh man, yank off his turban, throw a rubber tyre around his waist and then set it on fire. A policeman watched them do this. From that day on, I have never trusted any person wearing a uniform.

I, who had barely started to take a razor to my chin, shaved the young man’s full beard, so that he could ‘pass’ as someone who would not be taken as being Sikh on the street. He had taught me many things, I taught him how to shave. There was a mess of black hair on the white tiles of our bathroom’s floor. His face changed. It became smaller. Much smaller. And I saw him change. I saw the brightness in his eyes dim as he saw his new, naked face in the mirror.

Something changed that day. I grew up. He lost something that he never found again. It took a few years, but eventually, he was no longer the man I knew before that November shave. He dropped out of medical school, became a recluse, stopped reading, stopped the bird walks, stopped talking to me or to his sister, became hostile and suspicious about everything.

A few years ago, I read a small item in a newspaper about a man whose body was found, months after he had died. He had been living alone, in a locked up house, and had apparently stopped eating. A friend called me in the middle of the night, in another country, to tell me what I suspected. It was the man who showed me anatomy charts, read Thomas Hardy and taped bird calls.

In my mind, he is the last casualty of 1984. And I have never forgiven this city for it.