India 1984 – when it backstabbed & betrayed with Sikh nation (Part-16)
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Fifteen years old. Round chubby face. Aching black eyes. She stumbled out of the first rescue bus. Torment she had endured for 36 hours surged out when she saw us. ”Meri izzat loot li (they raped me),” she cried out. She pulled away the loose, crumpled kurta from her shoulders to reveal a gash from her left collar bone to right breast, covered with dried blood, ”Dekho, dekho, unhone kya kiya mere saath (see, see what they did to me).”
In barrack rooms, a team of interns arranged first-aid medicines, gauzes, on the dirty floor. It was noon. November 2, 1984. Two days after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Thirty-six hours after more than 300 Sikhs in that basti had been lynched, burnt and flung down from upper floors in the presence of their families, pushing back the women and children who rushed to embrace the targeted men, Delhi police had found one bus to bring out the terrorized survivors from their looted homes with just their clothes on, to the police grounds.
A 12-year-old boy sat alone apart from his kin, on a large stone, brooding, head held firm on a straight spine. The knot of his kesh had been lopped off but the remaining hair, glued spiny stiff and erect in a bunch, proclaimed his continuing identity. ”He has not spoken a word since he saw his father and uncle being burnt to death and flung down from first floor,” a relative informs.
A desultory conversation begins. A middle-aged sardarni, still dreaming of the gory killing of her husband, softly asks, ”Is it possible to rescue my brother-in-law? He is all burnt but there is still some breath in him. He is sitting in a chair for the last 40 hours.” The woman withdraws into herself.
I ask for a guide to locate the house. A polio-affected youth moves closer. ”I will. The police left behind my wife. Her thigh and shoulder were scorched as she threw herself on my eldest brother when they set him on fire live. She is mute and young, childlike really…”
An athletic sardar, kesh cut, clean-shaven, accompanies me. Few hours ago, like many Sikhs in that colony, he had paid several hundred rupees to a barber to raze an integral part of his being. Since October 31, ‘kesh’ marked not a glorious inheritance but a victim to be torched alive.
With the doctor’s team and first-aid, we enter the colony and pause by a wounded elderly man lying on a cot. He would need an ambulance. We do not have one. ”Now you come,” screams a woman. ”After bodies have been thrown in the nullahs.” A Sikh grabs my arm, ”Curfew laga dijiye.” Our guide sprints into a lane. Mounds of junk placed across the road every few yards, the lynchers’ barricades to prevent victims escaping in their taxis. The young doctors trail. The guide breaks into a run and leaps over front steps of a house. ”Anyone there?” I call out a few times, then step in.
The house had been looted clean, no furniture, no utensils, no clothes. ”There is no one inside, I checked thoroughly,” he says. Depressed, we stand still in the stark living room. A mob of 200 men and women has arched around the house while we are inside. They watch us silently. ”What have you done with him?” I yell. ”Didn’t burning him satisfy you? His bhabhi told me that Dilbara Singh is sitting in a chair. Where have you hidden him?”
”Oh Dilbara Singh!” a man steps up saucily. ”Come here. This pile of ashes, that’s him. His wife broke up the chair and gave him a live funeral, with flowers and everything.” he grins wickedly.
The chowk is now blocked by a mob of 150. The news of a rescue team has traveled. I notice brass knuckles on a fist and cycle chain in a hand and discover that our guide is missing. ”Where is the man who came with us?,” I yell.”He was with us 2 minutes ago. What have you done with him?”
An armed sub-inspector comes running. ”He is safe. He was recognised. He ran for his life. He asked me to inform you.” The officer was the sole policeman on duty for 48 hours.
The sun begins to set. Someone hails us. An elderly thick-set sardar in a wheelchair pushed by two youngsters. ”Take me out please,” the sardar pleads. We walk away but a few steps later, I abruptly halt. The disabled Sikh is not safe, he’s in danger. We turn and stride to the disabled man. ”Come,” we say. But the three young men have their hands firm on his wheelchair. ”We’ll take him. We are with Nandita Haksar.” I believe them only after sighting Nandita 300 meters away.
That evening I hitch a ride in a press car. ”Fifty-nine Hindus killed, some pulled in gurdwaras.” they tell me. ”But we are not printing that.”
Police Commissioner Tandon refuses to see the press. PRO Panwar sniggers, ”Hundreds killed in one basti? How is it possible to burn people alive? We have not received any complaints.”
Reporters decide to gatecrash Tandon’s office. ”Please order shoot at sight.” He steps back into the unlit shield of his chamber. His subordinates and guards block the door.
Next day, I visit the morgue. A corpse wrapped in a bloodstained brilliant white sheet is laid outside the walled compound, in front of the gate. Not a soul around. I ask a policeman if I can pay for a few decent funerals.
In the compound, to my left, is an open shed with hundreds of bloated corpses stacked 6-7 deep like logs. In front of me, scores of rotting bodies heaped in a truck. Nearby a dump of swollen, decaying remains of men. Disconnected tufts of hair strewn around. The policeman returns, asks me to come over. I take a few steps over the bunches of kesh littering the compound and blown around my feet. Outside, I stand for a while with an anonymous, unaccompanied body.
But the scars run deep and sharp in the minds of Sikhs like Avtar Singh Bedi who had lived there in 1984 and still remember the brutalities.
Recalling Oct 31, 1984, Bedi, 45, who has shifted to Tilak Vihar, said: “The news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination shocked me. Equally shocking was the way people looked at me and my brother when we were returning to our homes.”
Suddenly, out of the blue, a terrible fury broke out all over Delhi – for the first time after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent. And Trilokpuri bore the brunt of it.
After his house and his shop dealing in electrical appliances were looted and set afire, Bedi and his family fled to a smaller dwelling in west Delhi. Tension flickered across Bedi’s wrinkled face as he recalled images of unruly mobs pouncing on him and his teenaged brother, who was a mechanic at a roadside scooter garage.
“I escaped but the mob killed my brother and ransacked all the houses at Block 30 in Trilokpuri,” Bedi said. Trilokpuri turned into a killing field. The police refused to intervene. Bedi ran with his elderly and ailing mother. “A cousin who was visiting us also ran with us,” Bedi said.
“Gurdip Kaur, a 45 year old woman from Block 32, Trilokpuri, told a typical story. Her husband and three sons were brutally murdered in front of her. Her husband used to run a small shop in the locality. Her eldest son, Bhajan Singh, worked at the railway station; the second, in a radio repair shop; and the third as a scooter driver.
She says, ‘On the morning of 1 November, when Indira Mata’s body was brought to Teen Murti, everyone was watching television. Since 8.00 am, they were showing homage being paid to her dead body. At about noon, my children said, “Mother, please make some food. We are hungry.” I had not cooked that day, and I said, “Son, everyone is mourning. She was our mother too. She helped us to settle here. So I don’t feel like lighting the fire today.”
‘Soon after this, the attack started. Three of the men ran out, and were set on fire. My youngest son stayed in the house with me. He shaved off his beard and cut his hair. But they came into the house. Those young boys, 14 and 16 years old, began to drag my son out even though he was hiding behind me.
‘They tore my clothes and stripped me naked in front of my son. My son cried, “Elder brothers, don’t do this. She is your mother just as she is my mother.” But they raped me right there, in front of my son, in my own house. They were young boys, maybe eight of them. When one of them raped me, I said, “My child, never mind. Do what you like. But remember, I have given birth to children. This child came into the world by this same path.”
‘After they had taken my honour, they left. I took my son out with me, and made him sit among the women, but they came and dragged him away. They took him to the street corner, hit him with lathis, sprinkled kerosene over him, and burnt him alive.
‘I tried to save him but they struck me with knives and broke my arm. At that time, I was completely naked. If I had even one piece of clothing on my body, I would have gone and thrown myself over my son and tried to save him. I would have done anything to save at least one young man of my family. Not one of the four is left.”(When a Tree Shook Delhi, page 70)
The anti-Sikh violence erupted on the evening of Oct 31 in south Delhi, close to the hospital where Indira Gandhi was declared dead, and quickly spread to almost every part of Delhi.
With the authorities looking the other way, mobs took charge of the streets, burning and looking Sikh shops and homes and mercilessly killing men, women and even children. Many women were raped.
Memories of the murderous frenzy are still fresh in the minds of Sikhs – as well as others who saw the violence from close quarters. Many non-Sikhs came to the rescue of the besieged community.
Even 20 years later, hundreds of displaced families are fighting legal battles and running from pillar to post to avail themselves of rehabilitation facilities promised by successive governments.
Another riot victim Balvinder Singh, who too lived in Trilokpuri, said: “I lost my father and mother in the violence. It is painful that the perpetrators of the violence are still roaming free.”
Some of those – mainly Congress politicians – who perpetrated the atrocities remain entrenched in the party. A few went into oblivion. Sikh militants killed a handful of others.
For the victims, the riots have left a scar that has not healed. But most Sikhs say they harbour no grudges against any community.
G.S. Arora, a former professor with the Pusa Institute of Technology, said: “I have no ill-will against anyone. Some of the people who masterminded the violence were part of the government.
“But they must certainly be booked under the law. Unfortunately this has not happened.”
Over the years, Sikhs who lost their near and dear ones have learnt to live with the trauma – but with a feeling of being betrayed by the judicial system. Commissions set up by the government to probe the violence have not been of much help.
Summarizing what the community thought of 1984, Sikh preacher Ranbir Singh Lubhana, now in his late 40s, noted that the rioters had razed his gurdwara in Trilokpuri.
“But we have rebuilt it. Things are normal and there is no malice for anyone among the Sikhs. Even Hindus come and pray here.”
This post shall continue to reveal the truth of Sikh genocide 1984 on involvement of govt. machinary, its administration, ministers and the Prime Minister himself i.e from Bottom to Top, so please keep watching whole month of October or until it ends in November sometime.
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Ajmer Singh Randhawa