Younger lot heard the riot stories from elders who have resigned to their fate

“We want the death penalty for… who do we want the death penalty for?” giggled 15-year-old Meenakshi Kaur as she looked at her relatives for answers. “Sajjan Kumar,” prompted one of her older cousins. Meenakshi repeated the name and said by way of explaining her ignorance: “Actually I have come from Jaipur to visit my maternal grandmother and one of our neighbours asked us to come along here for support”.

Meenakshi and her cousins were among the youngest protesters who had gathered outside the Karkardooma Court complex on Tuesday. Despite not having been born by the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the girls had heard from their parents and grandparents what the consequences of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi were. “There were massive riots after Indira Gandhi was assassinated after which the Sikhs were badly massacred,” said 17-year-old Madhavi Kaur. “We heard that Sajjan Kumar did some terrible things. We want the death penalty for him.”

Older women in the gathering like 70-year-old Seema, who lost her husband in the riots, saw little point in asking the youngsters about the pogrom. “These girls weren’t even born back then. I saw men, with their faces covered, attack people. We couldn’t tell if they were Hindus or Muslims,” she said. “What is the point of talking about this now? It has been 29 years and neither have we received justice nor have our children been given any jobs.”

Jobs or no jobs, justice was what most of those gathered outside the courts wanted. Stories were told and retold about the fateful night of October 31, 1984. In one house, 11 male members were killed, in another four, in some others; women were stripped naked and dragged outside by their hair.

Yet, as the time approached for the verdict on whether Congress leader Sajjan Kumar would be convicted for his role in the riots, a disquiet fell over the group. And as news trickled in that he was acquitted…people resigned to their fate. “We will never get justice. That is the sad part,” said Bhogal resident Mahinder Kaur Thapar.

Elsewhere, one woman said to another: “Sarkar unki, courts unkey, neta unkey…”

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