Thirty years after Features

The scars remain

The Anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

The Anti-Sikh riots of 1984.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archive

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Sikhs find it hard to forget the trauma of the 1984 riots.

Many have now moved out of areas they were resettled in but the scars and memories of that eventful winter remain. Lab Kaur feels uneasy during the month of Deepavali and Dussehra. “It reminds me of 1984. A week after Deepavali (former PM) Indira Gandhi was killed (on October 31) and mobs killed both my sons and my husband in Mangol Puri. I feel ill every year at this time when the winter begins. When my sister’s children ask for money to buy crackers, I give it to them. But I lock myself indoors,” she says.

Kaur is one of the few Sikh residents left in Delhi Development Authority’s double-storey tenements in Garhi village, East of Kailash. Around 200 families were settled here after the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Today, their prosperity and the area’s poor civic amenities have pushed most of them out of South Delhi’s Garhi to places like Sant Nagar and Tilak Nagar. Locals say 18 families of 1984, called chaurasi widhwa ghar (1984 widow homes), remain here.

Kaur was 30 years old during the violence. She suffered serious injuries trying to protect her sons who were murdered before her. However, she thinks she was lucky that she wasn’t raped like other women in places like Trilokpuri. “I settled here with my sister’s family and became a peon in the New Delhi Municipal Council in 1987. A few of us were given jobs on compassionate grounds. Discrimination still exists, as this area gets water for around half an hour every morning, whereas neighbouring settlements get water for more than two hours a day. But I will never go back to Mangol Puri,” she says.

Gurpal Singh was just five when he saw his father being burnt alive in front of their home in Shakarpur, East Delhi. “The mob broke into our house and asked my father to cut our hair. He told them that, although he could not make himself commit the sin, he would not stop them from doing so. They took him out and put a burning tyre around him before beating me up. I escaped in the melee and ran towards a police picket. But the police shot at fleeing Sikhs,” he says. He was rescued by a woman who took him to his mother who had been sheltered along with others by a Garhwali Hindu family. They later moved to a Gurdwara before being settled in Garhi the next year.

He later learnt that the Garhwali family also fled after their house was burned down by mobs as revenge for sheltering Sikhs.

“In 1987, the water supply to these flats (in Garhi) was cut off. For 15 years after that we got water in rickshaws at a premium,” says Gurpal, now an air-conditioner technician. He became a chauffeur after finishing Std. VIII before he learnt to fix ACs. “We were so scared even after (former PM) Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination (in 1991) that we guarded our homes all night fearing riots,” he says. “A few years ago, some youth of the Valmiki community obstructed a religious procession from our Gurdwara. We pleaded with them saying that we have contributed generously for Valmiki Jayanti. The drunken youth asked us not to show off our wealth or they could repeat 1984.”

The Gurdwara was stoned after the altercation and Gurpal and others were charged with using caste slurs against Valmiki Dalits. “I was five when I lost my father and several other relatives. Now I have a seven-year-old son and I fear for him. That’s why I am ashamed to be a citizen of India,” he says.

Gurpal returns to Shakarpur whenever invitations for weddings need to be given to old neighbours. “They closed their eyes when we were slaughtered, but they were our neighbours and we maintain ties,” he says.

He added that he was willing to return the Rs. 7 lakh compensation his family received if Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar — accused of instigating the riots — appear before them. Probes against the two are still pending. Of the Rs.717 crore relief package, announced in 2006, Rs.200 crore for those killed and injured could not be disbursed due to disputes among claimants.

Locals in the area remember a Sikh named Amarjeet Singh of Greater Kailash I who distributed blankets, milk powder, and helped with school admissions. In nearby Sant Nagar, people of all communities got together to defend Sikh homes and shops from the mob in 1984. The Students Federation of India cadre led by CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury sheltered several Sikh taxi drivers back then in Central Delhi.

However, these examples were few and far between. “After the genocide,” says property dealer Tarvinder Singh, “That winter, I slept without even a shirt on the banks of the Yamuna. The Red Cross later treated me for pleurisy.” He was 13 then and lost his father, brother and uncles to mobs in Nand Nagri in Northeast Delhi. “My mother and I were thrashed,” he says. “We were sheltered by a panditji (Hindu priest) after escaping from the mob. Ironically, it was the police that handed us over to the mob. When the army came on November 3 and asked Sikhs to come out using megaphones, we did not trust them. Finally they came to each house and took Sikhs to the relief camps.”

Tarvinder has given around 200 interviews to papers in the last three decades. He also went to identify the accused but says that the people produced before him were not the rioters. After moving to Garhi, he claims to have routinely been detained by the police, as those were the days of Sikh militancy and bombings in Delhi. “I could never attend school and I became a hawker who sold clothes. Just before my wedding in 1991, I was detained for three nights. But I haven’t been picked up by the cops since then,” says Tarvinder. His family never received compensation, and their garments unit was allotted to a squatter named Amarjit, he claims.

During the winter of 1984, a relief camp came up at Gurdwara Nanak Piao in North Delhi’s Model Town, before the general elections that year. Tarvinder and his mother were inmates there. “Some Congress workers came and promised to get us compensation if we voted for them. That day I removed this party from my mind. I may forget the faces of father and brother, but I can’t forget the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and the harassment. I want nothing to do with politics as there is no justice in our country.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 7:39:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/sikhs-find-it-hard-to-forget-the-trauma-of-the-1984-riots/article6577795.ece

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