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Literature based on acts of human atrocities against a race, community or caste often becomes an independent genre. For instance, Holocaust literature has influenced, if not defined, nearly every Jewish writer since, from Saul Bellow to Jonathan Foer, and non-Jews like Sebald and Semprun. In the Indian sub-continent Partition literature is a significant genre too. If the purpose of history is to teach and inform, then literature plays its important role in showcasing sentiment, to reveal and disturb.
There are few books on the 1984 riots against Sikhs, and Roll of Honour by Amandeep Sandhu is one such novel.
Appu is in the military school and just when life is supposed to come together for him, it begins to fall apart. The privileges that he took for granted are no longer his. At school, his class loses its seniority and feels betrayed by the authorities who do not understand the harassment they have faced for six years and have now been deprived of payback. In the world outside, the 1984 riots against Sikhs and its aftermath are changing the way Appu has viewed his world. And then comes Balraj, the impressive prefect last year who is on the run and wants to be hidden in the school.
In the aftermath of the 1984 riots, Sikhs were in an unenviable position and Roll of Honour tries to present different perspectives of those times. While they did not appreciate Bhindranwale defiling the Golden Temple, the Sikhs were impotent with rage at the Indian army desecrating the holy temple. How could they train to be a good soldiers for a country that had betrayed their community? How were they to prove their loyalty to the country that was shunning them ? Why did Bhindranwale suddenly become so impressive to people who had not cared much for him to begin with? What were the options before young Sikh boys? In such times did it not make sense for someone like Balraj to join in the separatist movement? Was it fair to label him a terrorist or a militant?
Roll of Honour tries to draw parallels between the events in the outside world and the dangers in the school itself. Caught in the conflict of violence and suspicion are innocent , bewildered people like Appu who are unable to take a stand to put a stop to the madness. Confronted with the moral dilemma at choosing between what he believed what was right and what seemed to be right now makes Appu feel like a chooza, a coward.
Throughout the book, Amandeep Sandhu searches for answers – what is honor and in times of deep conflict how does one decide on its definition? How does one define one’s identity and is it different from the identity of one’s community ? What are loyalty and patriotism? And finally, how do you stay true to who you are?
The editing could have been tighter , but Roll Of Honour is an impressive read.
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