Yuva - India

“Beta, the anti-Sikh riots still terrifies me; the screeches of inhumanity still echo after 36 years”


It was the year 1984 when Congress leaders ensued massacre of all the Sikhs across the country. According to the records, the atrocities and inhumanity of a few Congress leaders killed 3000 Sikhs in New Delhi and approximately 17,000 Sikhs in 40 cities across India.


An eyewitness of the 1984 riots unfolds the genocide of Sikhs ordered by the Congress leaders.  “I was 16 years old at that time. In one part of Delhi, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and on the other, the capital of the nation was burning in front of my eyes.”


You were pretty young when the anti-Sikh riots transpired, does it still haunt you in your memories? She paused for a moment, putting away the basket of peas in one corner, she walked towards me and gently caressed my hair, “Beta, I had never in my life witnessed an act more sinful and profane. It was a lot for a child to process. I will not lie to you, but the reflections of the riots still leave me feeling terrified.” I could feel her legs tremble. “In my days you were still a child at 16, unlike now where 16-year-olds behave like a full-grown adult”, she sniggered for a good few second and then walked into the kitchen.


“Would you like some tea, I have freshly grown lemongrass?” Sure! I took a seat at the kitchen slab. Will you be okay to revisit your memories once again? I asked while she was finding sugar in the cabinets. “My mother shut down all the windows in the house, the doors were latched, curtains were drawn. There was hardly any space left for sunshine to peek in, but I dare not argue not with my mother. I think more than me, she was petrified. And why wouldn’t she be? It was an atmosphere of horror, fright and tyranny.”


Do you feel like it was an act of dictatorship? “What would you call, mobs on bikes attacking every Sikh in the corner?” Her tone became denser. “Goons were jostling inside every house and manhandling Sikhs. Many were burnt alive. Can you believe this? Burnt alive!”.


“They were pleading for their lives. I remember many hid inside the sewers to save themselves from the evil hands of the autocrats.”


I could sense the feeling of fear rising inside of her. I tried to alleviate the intensity around the house. Did you know, people are comparing the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 to the ongoing farmers’ protest?


“What nonsense! Who are these ignorant people comparing a well-planned riot to a democratic protest?”, she laughed while pouring the tea in the cups and sat on the sofa. “1984, probably the only time when Sikhs didn’t feel safe on their own motherland and all because of that.”, she hesitated and left the sentence half-finished.


“Tell me one thing, why are you asking me about these riots suddenly?” I smiled and said, maybe, because I want to tell people the difference between genocide and a protest.


“The entire Delhi was crying tears of blood. Within a few hours, the colour of the city changed from exuberant to darkness. My mother was in the kitchen when I decided to take one glance at the outside world. I quietly unlatched the window in the living room and what I saw was no less than an inhumation. The sky was filled with black smoke, har jagah kala dhuan hi dhuan tha. There were flames of fire till everywhere my eyes could reach as many old Sikhs were burnt alive.” her eyes were now filled with water, I held her hand as she went on narrating.


“I am not advocating that all the Sikhs were killed, but many were brutally tortured to the extent that they might have thought that killing them would have been better. What would you say if your pride would be stolen from you? Sikhs who were not killed were forced to cut their Kesha(hair). What is a Sikh without his hair?”, she looked at me in the hopes of an answer.


Do you recall any attacks on women? There were incidents recorded of women being gang-raped

“Yes! Those goons didn’t spare women as well. I have heard cases where, mobs forcefully barged in the houses, and tore the women’s clothes into pieces before raping them. Do you think children were spared? Even they were thrown off their houses and were beaten with lathis.


How long before the curfew was removed?

I used to live in Eastern Delhi, Yamuna Vihar. As far as I remember, all the parts of Eastern Delhi, including Maujpur, Seelampur, Chandini Chowk were under curfew for almost 7 days. Schools, colleges, grocery stores, vegetable markets, not even a single soul was seen out on the road, expect those rioters. We didn’t step out of the house, even after the riots were over.”


“The shrieks of those innocent people echoed for months. The colour of blood was imprinted on the streets of Delhi for endless periods.


It was Congress who instigated the riots, right?

No one else could ensue such an act of cruelty and barbarism. It was all Congress. Their leaders ablaze the riots and sent those goons to mercilessly kill thousands of Sikhs. I am sure, those goons didn’t have a slight feeling of remorse. All drunk-on power!


She rested her head on the top cushion and closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Many of my acquaintances lost their relatives. A few days into the riots, my family got the news that our milkman was killed by the mob. You might wonder, why will the death of a milkman affect me?  We get attached to the celebrities we haven’t ever met, I used to see his face every day. After all, at the end of the day humanity prevails over our strongest emotions.”


In a rally on November 19, 1984, Rajeev Gandhi gave a very controversial speech, in which he was seen blatantly justifying the riots that took place right after Indira Gandhi’s death as an outburst of anger. But how will one justify the mass murder of thousands of Sikhs? The anger that burnt many alive, and prowled the dignities of women?

Isha Jain

Columnist, Goa Chronicle
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