I was living in India in 1984 when two Sikh bodyguards assassinated the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, and the majority Hindu community turned against the minority Sikh community in Delhi, whom they judged guilty by association. And within 48 hours up to 5,000 innocent Sikhs were slaughtered.
For more than twelve years my wife Ange and I and our two children lived in the cosmopolitan city of Delhi. The imperial splendour of Rajpath is superb. The quiet beauty of Lodhi Gardens is enchanting. And the hustle and bustle on Chandni Chowk is exciting. But it is the people, the millions of people who crowd into the city from all over India that make Delhi such a colourful place to live. It is the multi-cultural meeting of Kashmiris, Punjabis, and Rajasthanis, the Nagas, Mizos and Manipuris, the Biharis, Bengalis, and Oriya; the Telegus, Tamils and Malayalis; that led Ghalib to describe Delhi as ’the soul in the body of the world.’
Then one day all hell broke loose. The Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. People went crazy. They took to the streets. Wherever they could find Sikhs they would grab them by their long, uncut hair, hold them down, pour petrol over them and set them alight. Mobs stopped buses and stormed trains, searching for Sikhs, pulling people off at random, and cutting them to pieces as they struggled to escape their captors.
The police were completely unprepared. Where they were prepared they were totally outnumbered. The mobs ruled the streets. Wherever they went, these mobs of weapon-wielding maniacs – driven mad by grief and anger, and years of terrible suppressed frustration – looted and burned everything they could lay their hands on. Soon billowing columns of smoke rose from vehicles, petrol stations, department stores, factories and houses that were ablaze. People clambered to their roofs to witness the sight of buildings all over the city in flames burning like thousands of funeral pyres. Thousands of Sikhs were being slaughtered senselessly and needlessly on the streets of the city of Delhi.
We knew we had to do something. Ange remembered an elderly Sikh builder staying on a building site across the road and sent me to get him. I crept across the road, snuck him into our house and hid him under the bed in our bedroom.
Which was good; but it wasn’t really good enough. It was essentially a passive rather than an active approach to intervention. I couldn’t imagine that had Mahatma Gandhi been alive he would have settled for such a passive approach when their was such a desperate need for active non-violent intervention.
I hopped on my motorbike with my mate Tony and went in search of Sikhs under attack whom we could rescue. I think I had the brilliant idea we’d drive around until we saw a mob chasing a Sikh, then we’d race in alongside them, and get ahead of them, Tony’d grab their intended victim and put him on the back of the bike, then I’d turn on the power and we’d zoom off into the sunset. But, not surprisingly, it didn’t actually work out like that.
We were wondering what to do, when a cry rang out that seemed to grab us by the scruff of our necks. A mob had come across a post box with the name ‘Singh’ printed on it, suggesting Sikhs in residence. They’d broken into their house, and the family had fled to the patio on the roof, calling for help.
We raced to the spot, pushed our way through the crowd, and took our stand, between the mob and the family, at the bottom of the stairs. We faced the horde with our hands held together in a gesture of peace, and pleaded for peace. ‘Shanti Shanti Peace. Peace. Unko na marna. Don’t hurt them.’ We prayed.
The mob broke down the door, busted up the furniture, and threatened to butcher us if we didn’t let them through. We were tempted to run; but stood our ground at the bottom of the stairs. They took the petrol cap off our motorbike, threw a match in the petrol tank, set it on fire, and threatened to do the same to us if we didn’t let them through.
Our hearts were pounding, our palms were sweating and our knees were literally shaking; but we stayed where we were. For a moment our fate hung in the balance. If one of them had hit us, we knew that all of them would have got stuck into us, and cut us to pieces or set us on fire – like all the other mobs did that day.
But they hesitated; and as they hesitated, the moment of danger came and went as quickly as it had come. They broke ranks, spat curses at us, turned their back on us, and walked away.
When it was safe, we called out to the family who were still huddled on the roof. They came down the stairs very warily; looking around to make sure the mob had gone. When they saw it was all clear, we greeted each other, hugged one another, then sat down on the front steps and wept together with relief.
A little while later the army arrived in armoured cars, deploying squadrons of soldiers all over the troubled area, with orders to shoot to kill rioters on sight.
The mobs fled. But thousands were left dead by the mobs all over the city.
We need to note the massacres weren’t led by Hindus who had a grudge against Sikhs, like neighbours who had been squabbling with each other for years, Rather the massacres were committed by ordinary Hindus, who may not have even known any Sikhs, but who were frustrated by years of grinding subjugation, and now, hyped up by the anti-Sikh hysteria, had scapegoats upon whom it was socially acceptable to vent their years of secretly growing swelling aggression.
So here I stand, as a non-Muslim, with Muslims, encouraging as many other non-Muslims as I can to stand with Muslims, to prevent ordinary Aussies in the majority non-Muslim community, who don’t have grievances against Muslims, but whose frustrations are adversely focused on Muslims by the anti-Muslim hysteria in the media, from turning on the minority Muslim community and venting years of pent-up repression and bottled-up aggression upon them.
We need to stop the phobia before it spreads like frenzy, and we find more infected non-Muslims attacking innocent Muslim neighbours. Ten steps we can take to prevent the madness spreading is if we intentionally and consistently:
- Don’t believe everything the government says. In spite of what they said, Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction; and the mild-mannered Muslim medic, Doctor Mohammad Haneef, was not a terrorist.
- Don’t let the media representation of extremists as Muslims distort your perception of ordinary everyday Muslims. The (Un)Islamic State is no more representative of Islam, than the Ku Klux Klan is of Christianity.
- Don’t take Jacqui Lambie as an expert. Sharia isn’t a plot to take over the country, it’s a set of traditional rules, that leading Muslim academics, like Halim Rane of Griffith University, say are not needed in modern Australia.
- Are mindful of the fact surveys of 90% of the world’s Muslims show that the overwhelming majority they have no desire to destroy our way of life – to the contrary they admire democracy, liberty and equal opportunity.
- Also are mindful of the fact research shows that while Australian Muslims have low regard for the media, they highly value Australia’s key institut-ions, including democracy, judiciary, education and health-care systems.
- Go out of our way to meet a real Muslim person today and say ‘G’day.’
Adopt a friendly dignified approach and ask them ‘How’re you going?’
- Don’t tell them what we think they think, let them tell us what they think.
- Don’t treat an individual as a spokesperson for their religion, nor judge the person in front of us by what other people of their faith may say or do.
- Listen to their views respectfully, even if we disagree with their views.
- Acknowledge the similarities and differences in our views, but focus on the similarities rather than differences, so we can find common ground on which non-Muslims and Muslims can stand together side by side.
 Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by Michael Scheuer, John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed