A Topography of Survival: the Memory of a Street in Delhi

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Published

Never forget 1984.
Poster in Bhogal Chowk, Delhi, 2017

Story telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it
Hannah Arendt, 1962

Zaidi Funambulist 12
The street continues with the Texla TV showroom, which was plundered during 1984.

The idea behind this article goes back to a conversation in a classroom at an architecture and urban planning institute in Delhi. The students, a majority from the city, who would go on to build and plan for the city, had not heard of the anti-Sikh pogrom that had affected large parts of Delhi in November 1984. Violence triggered after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards, had culminated in genocide against the community, which had made Delhi its home after the partition of British colonial India into the nation-states of India and Pakistan. If one imagines drawing a map of violence in the city, it would probably not leave a single area unmarked. However, in the public and pedagogic sphere, somehow a mnemonic failure ensues. This text attempts to trace the contours of one locality in Delhi that was severely affected by the 1984 riots, as well as its interlaced topography of survival, with several other post-colonial events in and around the Indian subcontinent.

Zaidi Funambulist 2
Train station in Bhogal–Jangpura. Stories of dead bodies of Sikhs found in trains coming into Delhi were often repeated. My own uncle recalls the first week of November, when people found bodies at the train stations, both here and at Nizamuddin station, across Bhogal–Jangpura.

In post-partition India, Delhi served as a refuge to the Sikh and Hindu families escaping from Pakistan, in one of the biggest migrations of the 20th century. Through its constant association with violence, riots and looting, the city’s relationship with those who sought refuge in it is marked with Stockholm syndrome. Survival meant living with its pathologies. The contiguous areas of Bhogal and Jangpura, which accommodated the influx of partition refugees, are now also inhabited by people from many communities affected by war, including northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Streets, stories, and built environments in this locality mark the evidences of violence, memory, death and survival of its different refugees.