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Above: photo by Shailendra Pandey.

1984

1984 & I:
25 Years? It's Still 1984!

by TUSHA MITTAL

 

This year, 2009, marks the 25th Anniversary of 1984, when horrendous crimes were committed against the Sikhs in the very land of their origin. To commemorate this sad milestone, we at sikhchic.com have asked our regular columnists, as well as our contributors and readers, to share with us the impact 1984 has had on their lives. We have requested personal stories and anecdotes, as well as an attempt to capture their inner thoughts and deepest ruminations on what 1984 means to each one of them and their loved ones - without going into a litany of facts and figures or a listing of the injustices to date, all of which will invariably be covered with due diligence elsewhere. We intend to present these personal perspectives to you throughout the twelve months of 2009. The following is the 23rd in the series entitled "1984 & I".  

 

Peep into any room in West Delhi's Tilak Vihar Colony and you will see framed pictures of dead men, hung on peeling walls. The pictures may be old, but the marigold flowers that garland them are fresh.

So is the memory of 1984.

Morning only illuminates the faces of men who will not return - husbands, sons, brothers - innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, killed in broad daylight on the streets of India's capital, for no reason except that they were Sikh.

Bhaggi Kaur, 53, will never forget four names: Rotas, Manu, Rishi and Kamal.

These are the men who killed ten members of her family during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms. They all lived near Bhaggi's home in Trilokpuri.

It has been 25 years, and now the outlines of their faces are beginning to fade in her memory, but their words still pierce.

"Indira Gandhi has died and you are distributing sweets," screamed a mob before charging in. "We won't leave even the sons of Sikhs alive. Saanp ka bachcha bada hokar hamein dasega (the snake's offspring will grow up to sting us)."

Bhaggi's family scrambled for shelter. Seven families hid in one room, but it wasn't long before the mob barged in.

"They put my brother, Soan Singh, in a cardboard TV box and drove a knife through it," she says. It's as if she can see them right before her eyes.

"My brother, Jagdish Singh, died at Block 30, my brother-in-law Gyan Singh at Block C."

Her husband, Lacchu Singh's disfigured body was found in a canal.

It was clear that the mob was after men. The ladies tried to pass off the last remaining man as an ailing woman, covering him in white sheets and placing a baby by his side. But the mob dragged him off the bed. "They threw him and the baby into the fire right before our eyes," Bhaggi says.

Amid all this, Bhaggi remembers H.K.L. Bhagat, the Congress politician she thought had come to save them. "He was dressed in a white kurta-pyjama, white shawl and black glasses, watching people kill and be killed."

[This mass-murderer was later appointed a cabinet minister in India's federal government!] 

She pauses, and cries in muffled sobs. Her eyes lower, and her shoulders crouch as she whispers: "I don't like to tell people, but you know, they were all drunk, they raped us all."

The next morning, all the women who managed to stay alive left the room wrapped in thin sheets. For days after, Bhaggi wandered homeless with two sons, dressed in frocks. "When they were thirsty, I'd make them drink water from the drainage canals."

Six months later, Bhaggi was given the one-room quarter where she now lives. The room has enough space for a bed, a couch and a TV. She moved in with her two sons, candles and matchsticks.

Her husband had been a coolie at the New Delhi Railway Station; he had left little behind. Friends brought clothes and utensils. The government gave her a job as a "waterman" at a local municipal school.

From 1 pm to 6 pm everyday, she goes from classroom to classroom pouring water for the teachers. She earns a few thousand rupees to feed a family of seven - a son, his wife, and their four children.

Her eldest son, Balwant Singh, 31, has a job at the Rakabganj Gurdwara, but he rarely goes to it. He spends most of his time popping blue Spasmo-Proxyvon pills, taking at least 12 a day. "I have to force him to go to work in the morning," says Bhaggi.

Her younger son, Balbir Singh, was two years old at the time of the Sikh massacre. Three years ago, he committed suicide by overdosing on Spasmo-Proxyvon. Bhaggi found him dead when she came home from work.

"[India's Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh had promised us jobs but nothing came," she says. "Balbir was depressed and unhappy. I couldn't save him."

* * * * *

In Tilak Vihar, Delhi's largest resettlement colony for the widows and orphans of 1984, at least 250 children have died in the last five years because of drug overdose, says Mohan Singh, Chairman of the All India Sikh Riot Victim Action Committee.

The drugs are easily available over-the-counter at the local chemist's. In fact, some have used Proxyvon so long, it has stopped intoxicating. Now, they've turned to pills used for pets, Mohan says.

The addicts mix the pills with a liquid, pour it onto the street and lick it up. "It literally turns them into animals," says Mohan.

Residents suspect that a lack of education, parenting and jobs may have caused the lethal addiction among so many boys. For years after the killings, women in Tilak Vihar were afraid to send their children to school. With no education, most children who lost their families in 1984 now drive autos and do odd jobs around gurdwaras.

For them, and the hundreds of widows living in Tilak Vihar, the 1984 massacre is not an event in history, but a reality they grapple with everyday.

"They say it has been 25 years, so forget 1984," Bhaggi says. "But how can I? Not one day goes by without me thinking about it."

She praises journalist Jarnail Singh for galvanising the Sikh community to demand justice.

Jarnail recently threw a shoe at India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram after asking why the Central government had allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation (C.B.I.) to give a clean chit to Congress leader Jagish Tytler, who is accused of leading the mobs that killed Sikhs.

Twenty-five years after her family was killed before her eyes, Bhaggi still makes the journey to Karkardooma court in east Delhi to protest against Tytler, to testify against Rotas.

She is one of the many thousands still waiting, hoping for justice.

 

[Courtesy: Tehelka]

May 12, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), May 12, 2009, 2:52 PM.

I make the same appeal to the worldwide community as I made in my own humble piece: To help re-settle the 1984 pogrom victims is our collective responsibility. We must not and cannot ignore this. No government or international organization is going to worry about us till we ourselves do something. With so many organizations in our community including the SGPC, DSGMC, Nishkam, Sikh Student federation, Akali Dal, etc., etc., can't we find one organization to run an effective and long-term program for this cause? We are quick to compare ourselves to the Jews when it comes to oppression and persecution but why do we forget the way they have shown their pain to the world and the way they take care of their own people. Let's not forget that we, "the saved ones", could easily have been 1984 victims.

2: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), May 13, 2009, 9:04 AM.

I agree with Chitan Singh's comment. This is indeed similar to the comment made by writer Patwant Singh of Delhi: He said that we Sikhs are asking help and begging from the Govt. for last 20 years. There is so much wealth with the Sikhs that they can easily do the needful on their own if they set their minds to it. It is a great shame that our 'leaders' in Punjab and elsewhere have not made this a priority.

3: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), May 13, 2009, 8:06 PM.

For supervising the massacre, rape and pillage of the Sikhs in 1984, H.K.L. Bhagat was made Minister of Information and Broadcasting by Rajiv Gandhi. He went on to suffer from Alzheimer's disease and upon his death in 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to his house and paid his respects to this mass murderer. Just yesterday in Ludhiana, Dr. Singh advised the Sikh victims to forget the past and move on.

4: I.J. Singh (N. Bellmore, New York, U.S.A.), May 14, 2009, 12:16 PM.

Yes, we should move forward, but it is also essential not to forget 1984. Jews have moved way beyond the Holocaust but not by forgetting it. Manmohan Singh, as astute as he is, could have certainly formulated a statement that accommodated and recognized both needs - moving forward and not burying such a significant part of our history. I am disappointed by his statement.

5: M.S. Mangat (Essex, United Kingdom), May 23, 2009, 1:45 AM.

I agree whole heartedly with the comments. Why can't we, as a successful and wealthy community, support our own people so that they can have some sort of positive future after this living nightmare?

6: Arsh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 23, 2009, 10:19 PM.

I can't believe 25 years have passed and still no justice! Our community has not mobilized collectively to seek justice, nor has proper action been taken to help these widows or their children. Of course, children when denied opportunity and dealing with trauma and being raised by a parent who may have been dealing with their own emotional issues (and rightfully so), would then turn to numbing agents such as narcotics or alcohol. I don't understand why the community has not funded a multi-disciplinary team going to India (or even in India) to help these women and children deal with the trauma inflicted on them and at least help them find alternatives so that they can cope with their trauma and grief. This is what dissapoints me. These people need help further than just having them seek justice - justice will bring healing, but it will not guarantee that they deal with their trauma. Furthermore, the strong possibility is that justice will not be doled out, so how can we help these individuals gain the strength to try to live their lives in a meaningful way?

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25 Years? It's Still 1984!"









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