From losing her home and father to joining the Khalistan movement in Punjab, from being jailed and picking up the threads of her life to becoming a garment businesswoman, Nirpreet Kaur’s life has been a roller-coaster ride since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the capital.
Twenty-five years on, the wounds are still fresh. Serving tea dressed in a salwar-kameez, it is hard to imagine that this mild-mannered woman, who is also a postgraduate in mathematics, once had links with a terror outfit.
Fighting back tears, Ms. Kaur recalls the incident that still haunts her: “The void left in my life after my father’s death during the riots is something that I have felt every single day since he died. The nightmare of the mob burning my father alive -- dousing him with kerosene and lighting a match in front of my eyes is something that will never fade away.
“My family’s appeal for mercy fell on deaf ears, and the people behind the violence were the same ones I had known all my life -- my neighbours and acquaintances. But with the acquittal of the guilty we can forget about any justice. What will happen with the next generation is something no one can predict,” she adds.
Referring to the second generation of riot-affected victims, Ms. Kaur says: “The children of those who were affected in the riots have borne the brunt. They have not been able to complete their studies and have got involved in drugs, gambling, pick-pocketing and other anti-social activities. This in turn would affect their next generation, so in a way, because of the riots, the lives of at least three generations of Sikh families have been lost.
“Forget our expectations from the government; our own Sikh community failed to provide support to those affected by the riots. It is indeed shameful that not one well-off Sikh family can claim to have settled around 25 distraught Sikh families.”
Ms. Kaur got involved in the Khalistan Movement in 1987 and married a Khalistan supporter, only to become a widow 12 days later. “However, I continued to take the movement forward, as I had not gotten over my strong feelings for revenge. This quest took me to prison for eight-and-a-half years from 1988 with a 10-month-old son. So you can imagine what sort of life I would have been able to give him.”
Commenting on her journey back to a normal life, she says: “My family and circle of close friends are the ones who resurrected me. It took a long time to deal with the hard feelings inside, but I couldn’t have managed without my mother. Till today I believe that I am still not a widow, but the day my mother dies I will become one.
“Even after 25 years my struggle continues, as my past’s shadow has never really left me. My business has still not become stable because people do not trust me owing to my past association with militancy and the subsequent jail stay. The only message I want to spread is that people should come forward to rehabilitate the next generation of children who lost their parents in the riots,” she says.
Ms. Kaur proudly displays the memento specially designed by her as a gift for an upcoming function to observe the 25th anniversary of the anti-Sikh riots.
“It has a picture of my father alongside the picture of a terrorist killed in Operation Bluestar, which have been juxtaposed together to drive home the message that they were two sides of the same coin.”