Millennium Post

Living beyond 1984

About three thousands Sikhs were slaughtered on the streets of Delhi. Though in the years preceding and succeeding the riots, the Sikh community did feel isolated due to anger, anguish and fear but three decades later they have come out of the shell to be part of the mainstream once again. Their biggest success has been to rid themselves of the of the stigma of being the community which harboured terror.

However, there is anger in the community over being denied justice even after 30 years. The insensitivity of politicians and law enforcement agencies which failed to nab the culprits also hurt them, but despite these negatives, Sikhs feel proud to be a part of mainstream in the society and living life with dignity. They hardly constitute two per cent of the total population of India, but their presence is felt everywhere. From politics to army, business and sports, Sikhs are the part of mainstream. True to their character, the community members, despite the setbacks, have emerged stronger.

‘Our houses were set on fire; businesses were targeted by the mob during the riot. Our community
lost everything in the Delhi riot. However, this black chapter of history could not stop our community from progressing. We were taught in our holy book by the gurus to look forward, be positive, be hard working and also fight against injustice and these thoughts of our gurus are the key to success of our community across the globe. It was the politicians and government sponsored media which portrayed Sikhs as terrorists. Serving the nation is in our blood. We have the history of fighting against the injustice; we are angry but cannot go against the country. It was a big challenge for us to overcome the shadow of 1984 riot, but as they say time heals all wounds, our community is known for struggle and determination to come out of any difficulty. Without any help our community emerged as strong and joined the mainstream with other communities,’ said Manjit Singh GK, president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, the apex body of the community in the city.

Though the ghost of 1984 riot still haunt the Sikhs, such memories have spurred the community to extend their support to the needy in the society. During the recent flood in Jammu and Kashmir a large number of Sikh volunteers provided their services for rescue operations. They did similar services during the Kedarnath tragedy in Uttarakhand.

‘It was difficult to overcome this tragedy. There was government sponsored propaganda against Sikhs in early 90s where Sikhs were targeted. Now things have been changed, but still lot of things needed to be changed. The Congress led government sponsored the massacre. It was the civil society and people of India who rejected the hate politics. Sikhs were not killed by another community they were killed by the mob which was sponsored by the political party and the then government. The mob also got the support from police and law enforcement agencies which led to the killing of about 3,000 Sikhs,’ said HS Phoolka, a senior advocate of Delhi High Court, politician, Human Rights activist.

‘It was very difficult to win the trust of the Sikhs who lost their families, houses, and businesses in this riot, however, credit goes to civil society and others who came forward to fight for the victims. The victims were angry but they saw that the number of people from other communities which included senior lawyers, retired judges, social workers and other people were with them to fight their cases in the court without taking any fee, and were extending all possible support. We won their confidence and brought them into the mainstream once again. Also during the riots, they were provided shelter and saved from the mob by people from other communities. This helped them to overcome the divide,’ said Phoolka.

The riot not just took away lives of more than three thousand Sikhs, but also scarred the next three generations of the community. Even after thirty years of the riots in the national capital, the community is fighting despair to get justice.

‘We feel deceived and ignored, but we are not disheartened. It is in our nature to not give up hope.
We will fight for our rights and will get justice,’ said Janrail Singh, a former journalist and Aam Aadmi Party leader.

‘The wounds remain in heart, soul and mind, however. Though the passage of time has lessened the pain, but the memory of the tragedy stays. The black chapter of 1984 riot was the worst phase of Modern Indian history. Even after 30 years eyes are still full of tears, anger, and frustration and above all feeling of being deceived by governments.  The victims and their families are still traumatised and struggling for their survival. The three days of riot had changed their lives forever. This is an unfinished fight for justice by a community which has contributed significantly towards building this nation,’ said Jarnail Singh.

Jarnail Singh is infamous for throwing a shoe at the then home minister P Chidambaram during a press conference, protesting against the minister’s reply on his question of CBI’s clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 Sikh riots case.

‘We were living in Sainik Farm in south Delhi and I was just three years old, when the mob had attacked our house and luckily we were informed by someone over the phone that our house would  be attacked by the mob. We immediately ran away from our house and within five minutes of the unknown call, our home was set on fire by the rioters,’ said 33-year-old freelance journalist Chetna Dua.  ‘We took shelter in a neigbhour’s house for the next three days and after the situation normalised we rebuilt the house in the same place where we lived for the next 20 years. I keep thinking about the mob mentality, how someone can kill a human being without any reason’, said Chetna.

Though we did not give up hope and put our best efforts to rebuild our lives, but there is something which I keep thinking always. It was only two Sikh bodyguards who killed Indira Gandhi, then why did they kill thousands of Sikhs? How could they kill their own countrymen, are we not Indian? I honestly say I don’t hate anyone, but I have anger against all whether it’s people who discriminate against us, who crack jokes on us, make comments like Barah baj gaye hain, sardar to pagal ho jatte he (At 12 sardars go mad). How can people become so insensitive? Are we not human beings? Don’t we feel hurt, what if someone makes fun of you and your community? However, now I have moved on and want to settle in the life,’ said Chetna.

Though the community has not given up hope and continues to fight against injustice, but sometimes frustration builds when even a quarter of a century after the massacre spurred by a backlash following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, not a single key instigator has been convicted.

‘Our fate was decided by the corrupt politicians and officers. Nobody likes having salt rubbed onto their wounds, but all the governments have been doing it with us by sometimes giving the culprits clean chit and sometimes making false promises. How is it possible that only 13 people have got punishment? I think not even a single key culprit has been punished by the state as yet? How can you expect us to forget 1984? The government and policy makers don’t have the real intention to heal our wounds’, said Jarnail Singh.

‘We don’t hate anybody, we just want justice and compensation, which will secure the future of our next generation. Our parents and us have suffered a lot due to the riot, but we want good education and environment for our children, we don’t want hatred to be imposed on them. We are like other suffering by the price hike. We also have the same desires as other people’ said Chetna.

Meanwhile, the youth from the community especially in the riot affected areas see a lot for change in the attitude of other communities towards them. They acknowledge that other communities treat them well without any bias and prejudices.

‘If the guilty of 1984 had been punished, we wouldn’t have seen the riots in Mumbai of 1993 and the riots in Gujarat in 2002. Be prepared for it to keep happening,’ said Phoolka.
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