Uma Chakravarti

“Maam, go and put on a sari (a student said)… because they thought that if I was wearing a salwar kameez I might get (hurt).” “I was outraged at the comment, because I thought this was some strange way into which you were going to divide yourself into those who are potential targets of attack… and those who are not.”

A Professor of History in Miranda House, Delhi University, in 1984, Uma Chakravarti recounts how rumblings of violence began to be felt on the campus soon after October 31 and Indira Gandhi’s assassination. She recalls the spreading of rumors implicating Sikhs even as Sikhs were being targeted, “Don’t drink the water, it’s been poisoned.”

She shares how upon initially hearing of suspected violence on trains, her memory went to the 1947 partition and recalls suffering an “emotional collapse, a helplessness and sense of anger, trauma that one was reliving.”

Professor Chakravarti details the civil society movements which took on much of the relief responsibility in the subsequent weeks and months. She was an active member of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and notes the impact of the “Who are the Guilty” report published immediately after the attacks in changing the perception of the violence in Delhi from a “communal riot to a state sponsored attack on the Sikh community.” She recounts that all the material for the seminal work “Who are the Guilty” was assembled between Nov 2-Nov 7, 1984; the evidence of the pogrom has long existed.

She notes that the FIRs (First Information Reports filed by victims in police stations) in Delhi were all standardized with the same statements–it was clear that the state was going to write its own narrative.

Professor Chakravarti speaks to her insistence at providing a counter narrative to the state’s version of events, the social justice work of the students she mentored, and the creation of a street play based on the 1984 which was performed through Delhi including in some of the violence-affected areas. For many students and activists, their relationship with the widows of 84 became their first engagement with feminist interventions, she notes.