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1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom 1984 Revisited

Discussion in 'Sikh History' started by Aman Singh, Feb 7, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    1984 REVISITED

    June comes around every year with uncomfortable regularity. In 1984, on Guru Arjan’s martyrdom day —June 5 — the Indian army launched a full-scale invasion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and of 40 other gurdwaras across Punjab. Thousands were massacred; there was no accounting of the number of Sikh men, women and children killed or injured or of those incarcerated for years without trial. We estimate and remember how many disappeared or were killed by the thousands of unclaimed shoes that they left behind. (Upon entering a Sikh place of worship, pilgrims remove their shoes and cover their heads.)
    June 1984 set into motion events that are too horrendous to contemplate and recount. Young Sikh men were indiscriminately arrested and held without trial indefinitely. (Now, 19 years later, some still languish in jails without trials.) All constitutional provisions and civil liberties were suspended. The state of Punjab became a virtual prison for its inhabitants. Villages were emptied of Sikh men. Punjab now appears to be at peace, but the quiet is really only the silence of mausoleums and cemeteries. The cease-fire is an uncomfortable one. Peace remains both illusive and elusive.
    Sikhs worldwide remember the dead and the maimed in protests and futile demands for investigation and justice. These have become yearly rituals. The Indian government has ignored them for 19 years and will surely do so again. One Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated for her role. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded her to the office, repeatedly denied that any human rights violations had taken place in India, while human rights groups, including Amnesty International, just as repeatedly documented governmental abuses. As I write this I recognize that yet another government inquiry commission is currently in place, but it has a very narrow mandate. Much of the evidence has disappeared or been tainted. Now cynical, people expect little justice.
    The events of 1984 and the following years remain important to thinking people everywhere and cannot be but wrenching realities to Sikhs throughout the world. How we perceive these events and how we deal with them through the rearview mirror of history will define our humanity. When we dismiss them as matters of little concern, we diminish ourselves.
    I wonder, then, why is it that these events have rarely been discussed from a rational, scholarly and historical perspective. Over the years, Sikhs have established at North American universities six chairs dedicated to Sikh studies. The sole activity of these programs is to teach and to conduct research in all areas pertinent to the life, beliefs and history of Sikhs. In other words, Sikh existence in all its facets — historical and contemporary — is the reason these programs exist.
    Why is it, then, that no North American Sikh studies program has even once in all these years explored, away from the slogans, protests and polemics, the events of 1984 that continue to affect the thinking of most, if not all, Sikhs even today? I recognize that such a conference has not yet been held in India either, but political realities may be entirely different in that country.
    In arguing for such a conference or symposium, I do not write as an apologist for Sikh militants, extremists or any so-called separatists, nor do I write as an enemy of India or its government. I write this because the issue will not go away, nor should it.
    Four reasons for this academic neglect come to mind. The first reason is that the events are too recent and the emotions too raw for an objective look. The second reason, the paucity of honest and objective Sikh or non-Sikh scholars in the area, may be cited to explain why the existing Sikh studies programs have held no academic conference. The third reason sometimes suggested is that these events occurred in India; they are far removed from the existence and concerns of Sikhs in the diaspora and, therefore, perhaps are not an important priority for them. A fourth argument sometimes put forth posits that non-Sikhs around the world would not be interested in what might have happened to this small minority of Sikhs 10,000 miles away in India. I think all four arguments are largely specious, but they deserve some exploration.
    In the 1960s, I watched with horror as the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War unfolded and with fascination as the movement that powerfully protested it grew in this country. I also saw the impact of the struggle against racial discrimination and the times of charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King, as well as the shameful role of the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Then there was the growing national awareness of and the continuing moral crises — hardly over yet — concerning women’s rights and gender issues. Certainly on all these matters emotions ran high and continue to do so even today. These matters divided the nation as no other issue had in memory or history, except perhaps the Civil War. A spate of academic literature is written and university conferences occur on each issue, and such activity continues unabated.
    No one could have been more involved in the policies that shaped the Vietnam War than Robert McNamara. His 1995 book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, may be flawed, even biased, but it continues to be discussed in college courses and at academic conferences.
    As an informed citizen I am expected to be able to discuss the story of apartheid in South Africa. As an American I remain interested and deeply concerned about the genocide in Rwanda and the plight of women in Afghanistan. Why, then, should I hold my tongue or suspend my judgment when it comes to the apparently genocidal policies of an Indian government against its own people?
    The Israeli-Arab struggle never fails to make news. For more than 50 years it has baffled policy makers and peace brokers of the world and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Commentators on it never had the luxury of calm, distance and time, but academic discussions do not cease; they are not held in deep freeze. One can probably find a new book or a new academic conference on the Middle East any day of the week. Are they guaranteed to be unbiased, scholarly and objective? Hardly.
    In matters of strongly conflicting viewpoints such as the Punjab tragedy or the Arab-Israeli imbroglio, there is no guarantee that participants can ever be largely objective. Of course, there is no such thing as total objectivity; at best it remains a direction, like a star to a sailor. But time can and will play tricks. There is also no assurance that evidence will last or that it will not be tarnished in time. If some objectivity can come with time, so can memories be lost and prejudice harden. This is the strongest argument against neglect.
    There are respectable scholars with impeccable academic credentials and sufficiently provocative but unimpeachable data that merit academic discussion and debate, even scholarly disagreement. I point to the works of Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, Brian Keith Axel, Inderjeet Singh Jaijee, Justice Tarkunde and Ram Narayan Kumar; not all of them are Sikhs or even Indians. Numerous reports by Amnesty International also exist, along with records of other judicial and non-judicial commissions and investigative reporters. There are insightful, even controversial, reports by journalists — Eastern and Western, Indian and non-Indian, biased and unbiased. There are documents from the government of India, and from other countries — both India’s allies and those unfriendly to it.
    The argument that posits that events in India are of no import to Sikhs in the diaspora or to other people in the world is also false. I think that of all the reasons for neglecting the events of 1984, this is the least tenable. Immediately in the aftermath of the attack on the Golden Temple by the Indian Army in June 1984, massive protests were mounted by Sikhs in the diaspora all over the world — in London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York, for example. Even today, many of my non-Sikh friends continue to display the greatest curiosity and anguish about those dark and ugly days and their repercussions on the present.
    Respectable authors such as Khushwant Singh and Patwant Singh, who have no truck with Sikh separatists, have labeled the killings of Sikhs in India as government inspired and organized, akin to the Nazi pogroms against the Jews. Tell the Jews worldwide that what happened to them in Nazi Germany is of no concern outside the borders of Germany. Tell the world that what happens in the Middle East today is irrelevant to the *** or Arab living in America. In the global village that we now occupy, Bosnia is important to us, as is Guatemala; terrorism in Munich is not less significant than terrorism in Omaha or at the World Trade Center; genocide in Rwanda, Chechnya, Punjab or Gujarat affect our lives even though we are remote from those places.
    I should add parenthetically that at one recent conference at Hofstra University, a young Sikh scholar from the United Kingdom did make a presentation on the sorry state of human rights in India. Three years ago, and again last year, a day-long conference at Columbia University in New York explored human rights violations in India, but the conference was unconnected to any of the existing programs on Sikh studies at that university or elsewhere.
    A few years ago Sikhs in Canada were in the midst of a struggle to be allowed to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and serve while wearing a turban and long hair. Professor Spellman, an academician, argued that the turban and long hair were perhaps not articles of faith in Sikhism and may not be necessary to Sikh belief. This undermined three centuries of unbroken Sikh tradition, but none of the Sikh scholars holding community-funded university chairs in Sikh studies touched the issue publicly; their silence was indeed deafening and spoke volumes. I would think that a matter of such grave consequence to the survival of Sikhs in the diaspora deserved the support and commitment of these scholars, or at least their engagement and analysis. I add here that the one academician who supported the Sikh position as an extremely effective expert witness turned out to be the much-maligned Hew McLeod.
    In all that I have said, one question still remains: why have Sikh academic programs shied away from contemporary issues that affect Sikhs and Sikhism, particularly in the diaspora?
    A possible explanation of why current aspects of Sikh existence appear to claim so little attention by our formally trained scholars may lie in the fact that most Sikh studies programs are housed in the discipline and methodology of history, South Asian studies or social sciences. Historically, “social studies” have served to fence off non-Western modes of existence as if they were museum specimens of irrelevant civilizations, now fit only for intellectual exercise and analysis and perhaps a doctoral thesis or two. In fact, these communities and their religions need to be explored as living societies. For this piece of insight I am indebted to Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair.
    I believe that Sikhs who occupy Sikh chairs at universities do not want to abandon their own people, nor are they unfeeling at a personal level. But abandon their own people is what they have effectively done; consequently, they have undercut their own support in the Sikh community.
    I believe that these scholars who occupy such positions just need to feel secure enough so that they can turn their attention to such controversial matters as the events of 1984; no matter what stance they take, they will attract unwelcome, even undeserved, criticism. I know that most of the holders of such positions have endured an uneasy relationship with the Sikh community. In this they have my sympathy, but their experience does not absolve them from their academic responsibility to address issues that are important to us all. One cannot always run away from controversy or censure. Yes, early Sikh history and Sikh scripture, which these scholars often study and write about, are important but so are events that affect and influence us here and now.
    Early Sikh tradition speaks of monumental courage against overwhelming odds. I would ask our Sikh scholars to take courage from that early history and from Sikh tradition.
    Years from now historians will reconstruct history from what we said and did today. If the title of this essay seems Orwellian, there is a reason.

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  3. pk70

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    Feb 25, 2008
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    A few years ago Sikhs in Canada were in the midst of a struggle to be allowed to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and serve while wearing a turban and long hair. Professor Spellman, an academician, argued that the turban and long hair were perhaps not articles of faith in Sikhism and may not be necessary to Sikh belief. This undermined three centuries of unbroken Sikh tradition, but none of the Sikh scholars holding community-funded university chairs in Sikh studies touched the issue publicly; their silence was indeed deafening and spoke volumes. I would think that a matter of such grave consequence to the survival of Sikhs in the diaspora deserved the support and commitment of these scholars, or at least their engagement and analysis. I add here that the one academician who supported the Sikh position as an extremely effective expert witness turned out to be the much-maligned Hew McLeod.
    In all that I have said, one question still remains: why have Sikh academic programs shied away from contemporary issues that affect Sikhs and Sikhism, particularly in the diaspora?
    It is very simple, to keep their positions there are some out there who can do any thing. Forget all about others things, still 1984 genocide is being propagated as "Riots". Why? Where are the Scholars and Leaders? What about the Indian Public? Isn't it shameful to see the culprits of such gravity of genocide are wandering free even today ! There is no human decency left in people any more.
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  4. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | Article Detail

    1984 & I:
    Forget? Never!


    Years ago, I was giving a local church group a tour of our gurdwara. While I was showing them around the langar hall and explaining the history and significance of langar, I noticed that I was losing my audience.

    It took me a second to figure it out, but it appeared they were fixated on one of the images on the wall. It was the painting we've all seen of Bhai Taru Singh being scalped and blood running down his body. I'm not sure what shocked them more - the graphic painting itself, or the five-year-old boy sitting beneath it, quietly eating his meal.

    For just a second, I put myself in their shoes. I looked around the room and saw pictures of Sikh martyrs from the 18th century - a man being boiled alive, a person being sawed in half, two little boys being bricked alive, and an old man with his fingers getting chopped off.

    And I thought to myself … is this really necessary, the depiction of these scenes in these surroundings?

    I started to wonder: are these images really what we want to convey to our visitors? Shouldn’t we find something that depicts universality and love for humanity? Especially after 9/11, shouldn’t we be displaying a softer image of Sikhs? After all, this dining area is a place for us to share a common meal, and little children play down here, for God’s sake! Is this really appropriate?

    But then it dawned on me ...

    This is who we are.

    Sikhi is a loving religion, with a universal message that advocates equality and human rights for all. These were revolutionary ideas during the Guru's time and preserving and strengthening these ideals under oppressive rulers came at a tremendous price.

    Gurus were martyred, their sons bricked alive, and countless other brave Singhs and Kaurs gave their lives for the Chardi Kalaa of the Khalsa Panth. Sometimes I look at the numbers and I am overwhelmed.

    Roughly 25,000 Sikhs gave their lives along with Banda Singh Bahadur, 20,000 under Zakhriya Khan's rule, 10,000 in the Vada Ghalugara (The Big Holocaust), and 60,000 at the hands of Ahmed Shah Abdali. Within half-a-century, roughly 200,000 Sikh lives were lost. Waheguru.

    Such figures can be depressing, but somehow, as a child listening to the stories of our collective struggle, I felt inspired.

    Not by how much we've suffered, but by how much we've overcome. No matter how hard we, the Sikhs, are suppressed, we always seem to rise again ... stronger!

    When I reflect on all the sacrifices, I can't help but think that every one of those lives lost, every drop of a blood was for me, so that hundreds of years later, I could confidently walk the streets - anywhere in the world - with my head held high, proudly bearing the gifts of my father.

    I am not saddened, but I am in awe of how a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old held the fate of Sikhi on their shoulders and proudly gave their lives before their faith. They did it for me … they did it for us!

    It is these acts of sheer bravery and courage that gives me a sense of pride and a sense of purpose.

    As Bhai Sukha and Bhai Jinda so eloquently wrote in their letter shortly before their execution, "Our entire nation has taken birth from the art of keeping its head on its palm."

    This idea is so deeply ingrained in our way of life, that every day we stand before the Guru - on happy and sad occasions - every birth, marriage, or funeral, we recount the sacrifices of our ancestors in our ardaas, "Band-band katae, khopriaan luhaaian, charkhriaan te chharhe ..."

    Our sacrifice and struggle is something we cherish.

    But I wonder, are we losing touch?

    I've noticed a growing reluctance from our organizations and institutions to fully recognize our recent history, in particular, with 1984. Over the years at Gurmat camps, retreats and the gurdwaras where I've taught Sikh history, I've encountered a lot of resistance to discussing 1984. Organizers tell me the material is "too heavy," the images "too graphic,", and the content "too controversial."

    What have we become?

    Why is it that we can look back through our history and take pride in events that outsiders would call horrific, but recent events are too controversial? What makes it too heavy? Is it because it is so recent? [Is the Nazi Holocaust then, too recent?] Or is it because the enemies are not "Mughals"? Or maybe because we don't understand the history ourselves?

    Whatever the reason may be, the result is an overwhelming number of youth who haven't a clue what happened in 1984 - it is as though it never happened. And even those who have some vague idea of what happened have no understanding of what led to the events in 1984 and the grave human rights violations that have happened since.

    I understand how painful the events are, and some of the wounds haven't fully healed, but since when have we have turned into a nation that sweeps its history under the rug? We all know what happens to "those who forget their history...", and considering we are a community that has suffered several large-scale massacres throughout our short existence, one would think we would be more vigilant.

    My Jewish friends tell me they were taught the graphic realities of the Holocaust at an early age. It was ingrained into their psyche. This idea of "Never Again" became part of their character. Every *** - young or old - anywhere in the world could identify with the Holocaust. Their struggle seemed to strengthen them, individually and as a community.

    While much of our community would prefer to forget 1984, I cannot - I am a product of it.

    At a young age, I did not have much of an interest in Sikhi, but that period of time where Sikhi was being attacked inspired me to learn more - about my faith, history and people. I wanted to know exactly what it was that all these brave men and women were willing to give their lives for. The events and personalities of 1984 and the struggle for our spiritual and religious sovereignty motivated me to learn more about Gurmat and become more conscious of human rights violations and social injustice all over the world.

    Instead of forgetting our history, I chose to embrace it!

    And I am not alone.

    There are many other "thirty-something's" in the Khalsa Panth today, who have channeled their energy and emotion inspired by 1984 into productive work for the Panth, some of whom hold leadership roles in our civil and human rights organizations - safeguarding our rights every day.

    Some criticize me for "living in the past," but I refuse to let this chapter in our history pass quietly. Especially as a parent, I do not want to shield my kids from our history - even if it is sometimes "too heavy." I want my children to be just as equally inspired by the Battle of Amritsar as they are by the Battle of Chamkaur.

    I want them to know about the great sacrifices of the brave Singhs and Kaurs before them, so they can not only bask in the Guru's love, but understand the responsibility that comes along with it.
  5. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | Article Detail

    1984 & I:
    The Face of Evil


    He loved eating tandoori chicken and goat curry.

    We suspected that his wife didn't care to cook meat in her kitchen; perhaps because they were observing Hindus. So he loved to stop by at our home to eat with my Dad; as a neighbour, he was always welcome. He was also the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of our area, and Dad was happy to have a "friend" in the police.

    DSP Bhadoria's visits were almost a weekly affair.

    Chickens, whiskey, jokes, laughter - loud ones.

    I did not particularly care for Daddy's drinking or his meat-eating buddies, because they always stayed late, way past our bed time, literally nibbling on food like mice; picking off the flesh one bone at a time, while my little sister and I waited on them with hot phulke (thin, flat breads) on demand. Mom stood for hours in the kitchen, fluffing them on the gas-stove and tending to other chores in between.

    I had a special aversion for this friend of his ... I was a self-converted vegetarian and every chicken killed was a personal blow to my compassion-to-animals philosophy, and Mr. Bhadoria's big belly consumed them in multiples. Besides, I thought that he was taking advantage of his position. How come Daddy was never dining at his home?

    On the afternoon of October 31, 1984 - I remember studying on our flat rooftop, under the canopy of the old giant tree that stood next to our home, tall enough and aptly positioned to provide just the right shade for my desk, chair and lamp - my make-shift eco-study-room.

    We lived in Indore, a city located in the central part of India, several hundred miles south of its capital, New Delhi. My parents had moved here when I was just a month old.

    I heard my buddy, Sapan, calling and waving at me from his third floor apartment porch that overlooked the roof of our single storey house. His body language conveyed a sense of urgency.

    I ran to end of the roof closer to his house. A side street separated our homes.

    "You don't have to kill her anymore, she is dead. Her Sardar (Sikh) bodyguards roasted her."

    I could see him feeling important, delivering a very important piece of news. His tone had a bit of accusation in it, though.

    I froze.

    I still remember the enormity of emotions that engulfed me. And I shamelessly admit that pride and relief were some of them. Fear was natural, but an afterthought.

    June of that very year - a mere five months earlier - flashed in front of my eyes. I remembered when my maasi (mother's sister) was visiting us from Delhi. All the way from the train station to home, she was silent and could barely hold her tears, her face flushing-hot. As soon as she walked inside, she had let go into a wail.

    Words poured out: "Darbar Sahib (a.k.a. Harmandar Sahib or The Golden Temple in Amritsar) was attacked, the army killed thousands of innocent Sikh visitors, the sarovar (the pool surrounding the main shrine) turned red with blood..."

    They had heard the news of the army assault on The Golden Temple on the train, as they were headed to Indore to visit us for summer. To add insult to injury, they had to bear taunts from their co-travelers in their train.

    For days and days, we talked about what had happened in Punjab. Hurt, humiliated, enraged. We heard the neighbours, schoolmates, newspapers justify the attack and declare victory over the so called "secessionist" agenda of the Sikhs.

    "If you have to live in our country, behave yourself, live with your head bowed low ..." a shopkeeper had told me once, after I picked up and paid for provisions.

    I had remembered telling Sapan how I felt like taking revenge upon and killing Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, who had ordered the attack on the heart of Sikhism, the Darbar Sahib, alongwith some 40 other gurdwaras throughout Punjab. I was a 15-year-old who wouldn't harm an animal, but Mrs. Gandhi - she was a monster for me.

    "Did she have to launch a full scale army attack to get to a few armed men who roamed about freely and even appeared before the media just a few days ago? What happened to intelligence services? Everybody knows that the Darbar Sahib has four doors, and is always open to all. Anyone could walk in and request a meeting with Sant Bhindrawale (the Sikh religious leader accused of rebelling against the government) and his men. [As Harry Reasoner of CBS' 60 Minutes had said, only a few days before!]

    "And was it a mere coincidence that she chose to assault us on one of our primary high holidays, the very day we were commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan - who died while upholding freedom of religion, for all? Even on a normal day, the visitors numbered in tens, if not hundreds of thousands, coming in from all over the world ..." - I would argue with him, on and on.

    The most important center of the fifth largest religion in the world had been attacked and how adeptly she had managed to plan it, concealing the enormity of it and later trying to justify it, barring the international press and human rights groups from the province way in advance of the assault.

    The intentions of the so-called "Operation Blue Star" were clear as crystal to me, even 25 years ago. It was meant to create the semblance of national unity by creating a national enemy. What better than, under the ruse of moving to preserve the "integrity of India", actually consolidating her own political power by launching a war against this enemy?

    George W. Bush must have learnt a lesson or two for his war against terrorism from Indira Gandhi. His mistake, though, was that he didn't ban the press outright and conceal his crimes from the world.

    I don't think my friend understood my rage.

    His sources were the newspapers that would describe Sikhs generically as terrorists, preparing for armed rebellion to declare their homeland free. They also reported isolated incidences of violence against innocent bus travelers, followed by pictures of brave police officers boasting alongside a dead "Sikh terrorist", lying down next to purported "automated artillery".

    Yet, my cousins from Punjab would tell me how the police would pick up young Sikh boys and stage fake encounters, kill them and plant weapons on them to make them look like armed terrorists. There were news reports later - but hidden in the back pages - of cars found abandoned with turbans and fake beards hidden in their trunks! The media did not dare to draw conclusions!

    Sometimes, our arguments would heat up. I remember beating my friend one day when he lost an argument and resorted to insults. I was taller than most boys my age, athletic and hot-headed. He just liked to test my muscles from time to time; we were still the best of friends.

    Dad had come home early, as soon as he read the news in the evening tabloid. A dark cloud hung over our heads. We spent the evening glued to the TV and calling our relatives. The news of "revenge against Sikhs" had started to trickle in, alongside the swearing-in of Mrs. Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi, as the new Prime Minister of India.

    The next morning, we were violently interrupted in our breakfast as a loud brick flew in through our living-room window, pelting shattered glass all over.

    A mob of about 20 was outside the courtyard gate, hurling bricks and rocks at our home, chanting slogans like "Sikhs are traitors!" "They killed our Mother!" and "Blood for blood!"

    The one-time dictator of India who had, only a few years earlier, unilaterally dissolved the government, censored the press ... and had herself, as a result, been charged, convicted and imprisoned for crimes of corruption and seen as a tyrant by Indians and the rest of the world alike, had suddenly become a martyr and the Mother of the nation?

    The mob quickly dispersed after a few minutes of terrorizing us.

    Daddy quickly got on the phone to call his police-officer friend. Strangely, he was nowhere to be found, either at home or at the police station. Daddy kept calling him through the day and leaving urgent messages.

    Finally, the phone rang. I jumped up, anticipating Daddy's friend. But it was not him. The voices were unfamiliar, clear and stern. They addressed me by my name.

    "We are coming to your home soon. We will ... you in front of your mother, your father and your brother ... hundreds of us ... before we kill you all".

    The language they used made the term "gang-rape" sound sophisticated. I couldn't exactly process all the words, but the message managed to terrorize one who was generally referred to as a "tomboy" and "fearless" - me! Perhaps it was their calm and authoritative tone of voice - conveying that they meant business - that got to me.

    Who were they? How did they know it was me who had answered the phone, and not my mom, not my sister? Dad looked at my pale face, my shaking hands, and grabbed the receiver. He heard the last bits and pieces and figured what was going on. He yelled at them; they hung up.

    The calls didn't stop throughout the day. Each time, they would tear the already scary silence that had pervaded the space of our cozy home. We had no choice but to answer the phone - in anticipation of help from the Police.

    In the meanwhile, after trying him for the hundredth time, Dad got DSP Bhadoria on the line. "I will send you some security", he had said.

    The security never showed up. But the mob did.

    This time, they came with more bricks, as well as torches, in their hands. They hurled the bricks first, broke more windows, jumped over the locked gate and set fire to our car and the scooter. They damaged the electricity panel outside and cut off the supply into our house. And quickly, they disappeared again. They were probably testing if we had any weapons. We didn't and Dad was regretting not having anything to protect his family with.

    We called the fire department, in vain.

    As soon as we felt safe, we rushed out to put off the flames with the garden hose. None of the neighbours came to help. The street was quiet and deserted, as if nobody lived in that area. It was getting dark and as soon as the fire was put out, we locked ourselves inside, hoping that it was over, still naively thinking that the police and the fire department would show up any minute to help us.

    When the realization occurred that we were on our own, we started cooking up some defence strategies if the mob were to show up again. We knew we wouldn't last long. My sister was only 13, my brother 11. Mom was no good to put up a fight. She had never even raised her hands on us.

    Running would be an option, but where to and how far? Why weren't the neighbours worried about us? They surely saw the mob the last two times. Why hadn't anybody called to see if we were okay?

    All the while, we were hoping that it was over and the government would act by now. They may be a bit slow, but how could they let an innocent law-abiding family be treated like this? After all this was India, the biggest democracy in the world, a country that boasted its secularity and diversity. A country for whose freedom Sikhs had laid down their lives for centuries, first against the Persian, Turkish and Afghan invaders, and then against the British. A country for whose defence they still fight today and sacrifice in an enormously huge proportion, given their small population ratio.

    Little did we know that it was the government who was sponsoring this program against its own people. Later, we were to find out that even the Sikh members of the Armed Forces who were riding the trains that day were dragged out and set on fire.

    The sun was starting to set and silence of the dark got scarier. Smoke was seen in the distance and occasional telephone rings chilled our bones.

    The calm before the storm did not last long.

    They were back before long, over a hundred in number this time around, armed with bricks, torches, metal rods and machetes. We were surrounded from the front and the side. Before we knew, some had jumped the gate, broken the front door open and entered the living room. There was another door that separated the living room from the hallway, that led to the bedrooms on each side and the kitchen towards the center back of the house.

    Dad yelled, asking us to jump off the back-wall behind the kitchen's courtyard and to run for our lives, while he rushed to shut the hallway door in order to get us some time.

    The rebellious teenager that I was, I refused to leave him. I was his strong warrior, the second line of defence. I joined him as he held the door handle from the hallway side, trying to shut it.

    We found the mob already at work on the other side. The three young men leading the mob had got hold of the door and started pulling it in the other direction, trying to get to us. We knew it was over for us. We only wanted to delay them so my sister and brother had a chance, and they needed at least one parent.

    Blood-curdling screams of "Kill them! Get them!" filled the space, alongwith the glowing light of the torches, the flashing iron-rods and machetes and, above all, the deviously criminal, shining eyes of the mob. The door went back and forth a few times between us.

    It was them, the ones who had called on the telephone. I recognized the tone of the voice, the words, even through all the noise. The struggle went on for a little over a minute.

    Then, suddenly, I came face to face with the killers, rapists, plunderers ... The scene comes clearly alive even today as I write, this day 25 years after that dreadful day.

    Then, something happened, and our bodies switched to survival mode and, together we seemed to be applying a super-human force ... Dad and I somehow managed to shut the door and latch it closed.

    Our hands were bruised and seemed to have become one with the door handle, but the struggle gave my brother and sister just enough time to jump off the wall and escape. My weeping and terrified mother was still desperately trying to climb the six-foot-high wall, but kept falling back over to our side.

    We picked her up and literally dumped her on the other side in a split second. Dad and I were working in unison, as if we had coordinated each action to the second and practiced the drill several times beforehand.

    The poor thing ... Mom fell flat on her belly. And I, most unexpectedly burst into laughter. We didn't know whether I was laughing at the crisis or whether I had gone insane. But later, to my relief, I learnt that nervous laughter is not an unusual response to a sudden shock or crisis.

    The ground was much lower on the other side, where the little hut belonging to the neighbourhood Jamaadaars (toilet-cleaning workers) stood. I jumped over next. Helped my mom, dragging her to the home across the narrow street on the left.

    I could see the torch-bearing mob slowly trickling into the side street, but at a safe distance. And then Mrs. Jain flashed out of her darkened house, grabbed us, shut the door, shoving and locking me inside her bedroom. I fell to the floor in exhaustion, and then blacked out.

    When I woke up, I remember struggling with Mrs. Jain. I was trying to grab a knife from her kitchen to go back outside in order to look for my brother, sister and Dad. She was somehow prepared for it. Perhaps, because she was familiar with my temperament. A few months ago, I had beaten up her son (who was a couple of years younger than I) for harassing my little brother and messing with his patka (turban). When the door bell rang at our house that day and she appeared with her bruised and bleeding son, Vikas, I knew I was in big trouble.

    But an educated and cultured lady that she was, she had brought Vikas to my home for us to make truce. When she saw my torn shirt, disheveled hair and scratched face, she made him apologize, for he had raised hands on a girl! When she left, she had a smirk on her face and I, a blush of embarrassment; she had probably not met a rogue like me, nor I ever encountered a classy woman like her. Vikas and I remained good friends thereafter.

    As I waited, a "prisoner" in her kitchen on this fateful day in 1984, for a few hours I did not have a clue as to what had happened to the rest of my family. I only knew that my mother was safe.

    Where did they go; was Dad able to jump? Did the mob get them? Those few hours of my life were some of the toughest I can recall. Humiliated, hurt and helpless ... I was crying to be let out. What if they were wounded and needed help?

    If someone had killed my family, didn't I have a right to go after them? But who would I go after? Deep down, I knew I could do nothing but wait ... yet, I couldn't sit still. My mouth was dry with screaming and it took Mrs. Jain's whole family to keep me there.

    Around midnight, one by one, we all finally were united. All five of us intact, but with some minor injuries.

    Dad, who did not get an opportunity to cross over the street, was quickly hidden by the jamaadaars in their hut. Fortunately, the mob didn't expect him to be hiding in a vulnerable, insecure hut or perhaps did not want to venture into the dark shack of the "untouchables".

    The mother had stood outside, calmly consoling a crying baby in her arms, pretending she hadn't noticed a thing, when a couple of hooligans came looking for us. A small mud wall separated Dad and them; he could hear them questioning her.

    The kids were helped by a Christian school teacher in the apartment complex to the right of our house. They had to jump a couple of walls to get there. We all spent the night at Sapan, my Hindu friend's, home, and watched our home from his third floor porch as it smoldered. Not much was left of our car and scooter.

    Apparently, since several of our neighbours ultimately realized that their homes were threatened by the spreading of fire, they finally approached the Fire Department, which then turned up and mercifully put out the flames in our house.

    It had taken us five years to build our dream house. Dad was busy running his small transport business, often out of town, so he was always behind in his paperwork. When we moved into this place from a 300-square-foot space, it seemed like a mansion. Most of all, we were happy to be settling down for the first time ever in our own home.

    We kids had our own bedroom and spacious bathroom and a king-size bed that we were glad to share. I had even my own racks for clothes and books. There was a small garden in the front courtyard, but most precious of all was the flat rooftop with the shade of the giant tree under which my desk stood; my haven.

    All I wanted was a quiet spot to read, and that was it!

    Now, in new-found camaraderie, we could see our haven smouldering, with the smoke merging with other smoke clouds emanating from Sikh homes and businesses across the city of Indore.

    The city had a decent Sikh population, a cluster enveloping each of the dozen gurdwaras. Guru Nanak himself had visited the city while on his second major sojourn (between 1506 and 1513 A.D.) and a few of those gurdwaras were historical, protecting the places where he had held discourses, enlightening many. They had been established in the 16th century by locals who had been inspired by him.

    Now those very places were being attacked by the locals, perhaps agonizing the souls of their ancestors who had played host to the great Guru.

    We learnt later that the two senior bureacrats (Collector and Additional Collector) of the city that day in 1984 - one was a Christian, the other a Sikh) were instrumental in imposing curfew across the city, thus bringing the mayhem and violence within control within a day, which was much sooner than what New Delhi, Kanpur and other cities in the Northern India had experienced.

    A total of 26 Sikhs were officially reported to be killed by the mob in Indore and surrounding areas. [The real figures in India are invariably higher than "official counts".] Thousands of businesses, homes and automomobiles were destroyed.

    No respectable family ever reports a rape in India; hence, none were talked about, although there were plenty of rumours of rape-suicides.

    The second day, as news of the curfew order was broadcast, we went back and took a walk through what was left of our house.

    The mob had taken everything they could and destroyed the rest. Photographs and sports trophies, the things that mattered to me the most, were burnt or charred. My handcrafted doll that I had made for a craft project was lying there half-burnt, one-eyed, accusing me of desertion.

    It was Dad's first home that he owned in his country of refuge - he had fled here in 1947 from the tragedy and mayhem of Partition. It was my last. Refugees and renters - that's what we felt we were in India.

    "Make something of yourself, get out of this place. This country does not want us anymore", Dad had said, choking back tears, as I looked at my doll.

    The seeds of emigration had indeed been sown. Five years later, I would finish my Engineering degree and apply for graduate school in the United States. One by one, the rest of my family would flee that sad land to join me.

    Except Dad.

    Perhaps he had lost the courage to be displaced again in his lifetime. He was already thrown out of his homeland (West Punjab) when he was a child.

    They had arrived in Kanpur empty-handed, along with his extended family - half of them Sikh and half Hindu Bannuwals (of the city Bannu in the Sarhad Province of current-day North West Frontier Province in Pakistan).

    A new language, new culture, new country: they had to build their lives from scratch.

    I have returned to India a few times since, and every time the plane lands into the inauspiciously named "Indira Gandhi International Airport" at Delhi, the city where thousands of Sikhs were burnt alive, it gives me a queasy feeling.

    I want to ask every person in uniform, every taxi driver, every common man on the street: "Where were you in 1984 - in the mob, or hiding in your home, peeping out and watching a neighbour being raped or burnt?"

    Then I think of our neighbours - the Jains, who took us in, the Shahs who sheltered us for the night, perhaps risking their lives ... and I stop myself.

    Till today, I have not had the heart to visit my birthplace, Kanpur. It was in Shastri Nagar, Kanpur (in Uttar Pradesh Province) that three of my paternal cousins - Harjinder, Bhupinder and Khalsa, aged 30, 25 and 20 - were dragged out of their homes and torched alive, right in front of the eyes of their widowed mother who had raised them singlehandedly through extreme circumstances. Their young wives and a little daughter, too, were made to watch the massacre.

    The three months that followed November 1984 in that home in Indore were some of the most humiliating days of my life.

    A couple of the thugs from the mob rode by on their bicycles every morning, and again in the evening, perhaps heading home from work, right on the street in front of our house. At times, they would run into me and they would utter the same words I had heard on November 1. Their eyes would brighten up with cruel delight as I would squirm, enraged.

    I didn't speak about them to my parents. I knew it was pointless. I did not want to bother them; they were already burdened, rebuilding our lives and livelihood. Besides, who could they complain to? The police?

    We had heard by now of how the mob leaders were given positions in the government. Some, clearly identified as criminals, were appointed cabinet ministers in the national government.

    How could one seek justice from the very criminals who had committed the crimes? I would often fantasize about killing them, but somehow managed to tough it out for three months.

    I jogged a lot and joined judo school instead, taking my wrath out at the opponent on the mat. Two years later, I would win the state championship.

    "Deal with it!" I told myself.

    We did go to court. The day our case was dismissed for lack of evidence, we all decided that it was time to move on and that pursuing justice was useless.

    "Learn a lesson and look forward" has been the motto of my life from then on. I have become real good at running away from negativity.

    By February of 1985, four years after we had moved into our much-loved home, we had fixed the damage, repainted it ... and then, said goodbye to it. We rented a small apartment in a Sikh neighborhood which had stayed safe during attacks.

    There was a little gurdwara in the neighbourhood and as soon as the residents had heard the news of violence elsewhere on November 1, 1984, they had gathered and organized themselves. They had made a human wall around the neighbourhood and would man it for the next three days and nights. They were a bunch of truckers, ex-armed services men, etc., and hence managed to muster a good bit of arms and hardware, including traditional Sikh artifacts from the gurdwara, to keep the mob at bay.

    We were back to crummy quarters, about 500-square-feet of space that we could afford. I would spend the five years of my college studying on the rooftop in the hot scorching sun ... without the shade of my tree.

    Nonetheless, it felt safer, with fellow Sikhs around and the shade of the gurdwara - incidentally, built in memory of Guru Arjan.

    This is where my longing to connect to my roots began. To be a Sikh had slowly started to have meaning.

    Guru Arjan's life and martyrdom itself has a lesson for anyone that is looking for any answers and I was begining to see it - "Tera kiyaa meetha laage, har nam padarath nanak maange" - "Sweet is Thy Will, O Lord, All Nanak asks for is the Gift of Thy name".

    My mom, sister and brother hated the move, for this was far away from the "cosmopolitan" neighbourhood and the good school district we used to live in. They resisted and tried to convince us, saying it was a once-in-a-lifetime incident, but failed to convince the two of us.

    My mother was particularly afraid of us falling behind in our education and picking up "uncouth language" from the children of the neighbourhood's truck drivers.

    It was my Dad and I who couldn't live in our former "educated" and "civilized" neighbourhood home anymore, because we had come face to face with the worst of humanity. If we were to have faith in the goodness of Man again, we needed to seek it elsewhere.

    My Dad needed to get away from his "friend" in the Police, and I from those evil eyes.
  6. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | Article Detail

    The following is what happened at the Guru Harkrishan Public School in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi on the morning of November 1, 1984.

    I was a student in Grade 11 at the school and this is an account of my own experiences, and those of other eye-witnesses who were my close friends, as well as the school staff.

    Guru Harkrishan Public School is a very noticeable building on New Delhi's Outer Ring Road. It is one of the largest school campuses in the city and the architecture of the school is very impressive. Its distinct red stone makes it a sort of a landmark for people looking for directions in the area.

    The school, even though located in Vasant Vihar, which is a posh South Delhi colony, borders the neighbouring colony of Munirka, which consists of a village along with residential flats (apartments).

    Guru Harkrishan Public School, being a Sikh school, was about 95% Sikh. The total population of the school must have been over 1000 staff and students.

    I still vividly remember the day Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards.

    Our school was closed early and we were sent home. I will not deny that a few of us Sikh students caught up in the anger of the times were elated by the assassination and some students were shouting cries of victory. In hindsight, I now see that we were wrong in doing this. But the truth must be told and accepted if we wish to attain closure.

    Guru Harkrishan Public School was considered a "rich kids‘" school. Most of the students were from well-off Sikh business-families of Delhi. These Sikhs were basically part of the Delhi "Puppy" culture - as the Punjabi version of "Yuppy" was then popularly termed.

    For people who are familiar with this culture, it needs no explaining. We were the first school in those days to have a computer. I still remember my first exposure to a PC that the school had invested in. It also had premier facilities that left most other schools behind. The image associated with the school thereby made it a prime target during the days that were to come.

    The school also had staff quarters at the rear of the campus which bordered Munirka. There were two buildings. One building consisted of apartments for senior staff. The other building was for junior staff and other school employees. In the front, on the other side of the playground, was the Principal's bungalow.

    The Principal at the time was Dr. H.S. Singha.

    On the night of the assassination, rioting broke out in the neighbouring Munirka area.

    There was a prominent Sikh shop in Munirka called Sardar Wool Shop. The shop was gutted along with other minor Sikh shops in the area.

    Munirka was at that time home to a prominent and powerful family called Tokas.

    Mahesh Chandra Tokas was the Congress Party councillor for the Munirka region of Delhi.

    The second Congress party bigwig of the area was Arjun Das, also based in Munirka.

    The Tokas family was a family that depended upon their muscle power. They were the known "goondas" - thugs - of the area and very few people messed with them. They had several businesses; primary amongst them was transportation. They possessed a fleet of buses with the family name "Tokas" painted on either side.

    On the morning following the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, my friend Jasjit, who was the son of Mr. Sethi, the school engineer who had been hired to complete a swimming pool project on the campus and lived in the junior staff quarters, and some other friends who also resided in the school premises, were spending the morning sitting and chatting in the school playground that was in front of their residential quarters.

    They noticed about fifty men armed with bamboo sticks come into the school campus. The guards of the campus had fled.

    As Jasjit and my other friends on the scene later told me, the mob was armed with petrol bombs. They threw these bombs into one of the school buses that was parked in the campus. The bus exploded into flames.

    Everybody was taken by surprise. Nobody ever thought that anybody could have the audacity to do this. Mr. Sukhdeep Singh, who was the school Sports teacher, came out onto the field. He rounded up all the young boys, which included my friend Jasjit, Vishal, son of Mrs. Reita Singh (a school teacher) and Manpreet, son of school headmaster Mr. Grewal. There were about eight of them.

    They charged the mob of fifty with no weapons in their hands, just screaming at the top of their voices. The mob of fifty, which severely out-numbered them, ran off without a fight.

    This all was followed by total chaos. Mr. Sethi, the school engineer and father of Jasjit, was terrified for his son. All the families had come out of the residential buildings and were scared about what would happen next. Mr. Sethi went running to Mr. Sukhdeep Singh and the other boys who had chased the mob away. He ordered them back to the residential area where everybody else had gathered.

    They all listened to him. Mr. Sethi was of somewhat ill health and he walked back slowly.

    Behind the school in the area that bordered Munirka, there was an open drain, beyond which was Munirka, where some of the residential flats were visible. Next to the school was a small slum where about fifty families lived in mud huts. It seems that these people got a sniff that there was going to be a looting and rioting opportunity. Maybe they had received direct orders.

    They entered the school from the rear by cutting the barbed wire that was along the school perimeter. M.r Sethi was still slowly walking back when they attacked him from the rear. He was hit on the head with a bamboo stick . They left him for dead, as he fell unconscious and was bleeding profusely from a head wound.

    In the meantime, it seems that the mob had regrouped. Perhaps on the orders of their political bosses. According to eye-witnesses, some three busloads full of thugs entered the school premises. All the buses had the Tokas logo on their sides.

    Mr. Sethi, by some miracle, regained consciousness. He got up and started to slowly walk back to the residential area. All the school staff and their families had taken refuge in the flat of Mr. Purohit, who was the School Registrar.

    Mr. Purohit was a Hindu who lived in the school premises, along with his wife and their married son. Mr. Sethi was somehow able to make it to Mr. Purohit's residence. Everybody turned to Mr. Purohit for help, as he was the only Hindu on the campus. There was also the 4th class servants, but they themselves were terrified.

    Mr. Purohit and his son showed remarkable courage and poise. They took in over fifty Sikhs in their flat and assured them that they would do whatever possible to keep everyone safe.

    Meanwhile, the mob had started their rampage. They started looting the main school complex and attacked the Principal's bungalow. The Principal, Dr. Singha, along with his wife and daughter, were inside the building and had locked all the doors.

    The mob threw petrol bombs on the house and it caught on fire. One of the 4th class employees had already cycled to the police station which was on the other end of Vasant Vihar (in C-Block) at that time.

    The police dismissed him and said there was nothing they could do.

    One of the school's English teachers, Mrs. Gill, was married to an army officer, Colonel Gill. I do not know the details, but he got some indication of what was happening in GHPS. The army, which was by far secular, had already issued two armed soldiers to each Sikh officer for their protection and that of their families.

    Col. Gill sent his soldiers to the school campus. They came to the Principal's bungalow, which was burning with the Singha family trapped inside. The soldiers fired in the air and the mob withdrew. They rescued Dr. Singha and his family and took him to the Gill residence. For reasons unknown to me, no effort was made to rescue the other Sikhs hiding in Mr. Purohit's residence. Perhaps they had given up on them.

    By now, the whole school complex was filled with mobs of looters. I was told that the whole playground, which was the size of a soccer field and more, was full of a sea of rioters. Perhaps over 1000 people armed with bamboo sticks and petrol bombs.

    Mr Purohit and his son stood outside the residential quarters and were pleading with the rioters not to loot the residential complex. They risked their lives with a bunch of rioters who were out to kill. They told them that all the Sikhs had left early in the morning and that only a few Hindus were left in the complex.

    When the rioters tried to burn the cars and scooters that were parked nearby, Mr. Purohit claimed that they all belonged to them. I am told that the rioters kept using profuse foul language with Mr. Purohit and his son. Many times, they even threatened to kill him and his family for living with Sikhs.

    But Mr. Purohit and his son stood their ground and courageously kept the mob at bay.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Sethi's condition was deteriorating. He had lost a lot of blood. His son Jasjit was adamant on getting help, even though he was being held back by others who did not want the mob to find out they were hiding. He forcefully picked up the phone and called Dr. Manekshaw, who was a well known general practitioner in the Vasant Vihar Colony.

    Dr. Manekshaw was the younger brother of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who had led India to victory in the Bangladesh War in 1971. Dr. Manekshaw himself was a retired and decorated air force officer who had served in the medical division.

    Dr. Maneshaw drove a distinctive foreign-made car which was alien in those days of just Ambassadors and Fiats. It was a blue-coloured Corsair and could be recognized from a distance. Dr. Manekshaw did not hesitate at all when he heard of Mr. Sethi's condition.

    With no regard to his own safety, he lived up to the legacy of his family and that of an officer's duty. He drove his car into the school premises through the violent and threatening mob, to the senior staff residence in the rear of the campus.

    Dr. Manekshaw was a very imposing man, with an impressive persona. He shouted at any mobster who came near him in his very distinct and brusque voice. They didn't give him any problems.

    Dr. Manekshaw found his way to the Purohit residence and immediately started treating Mr. Sethi. Meanwhile, the Hindu residents of the Munirka enclave flats on the other side of the open drain had realized that something terrible was happening in the school. They quickly formed an action committee. This was primarily due to the efforts of one very strong willed Hindu woman named Nandita Haksar. [Mrs. Haksar is now a very well known Indian Human Rights activist.]

    The action committee decided it was necessary to save the lives of the Sikhs trapped inside the campus. With no concern for their own safety, they walked across the open drain and into the school campus.

    They found a very haggard and distraught Mr. Purohit who was pleading with the mobs to stay away. The "rescuers" told Mr. Purohit that they had come to help.

    Mr Purohit took them into his house where all the Sikhs were hiding. The action committee escorted all the Sikhs into the Munirka enclave area by taking them across the open drain and distributing them into each other's houses for safekeeping until things cooled down.

    Dr. Manekshaw had, in the meantime, laid the bleeding Mr. Sethi in the backseat of his car with the help of others. He covered him in blankets so that he was totally hidden from view. He then drove Mr. Sethi to a local Vasant Vihar hospital for further treatment, where his life was indeed saved.

    The other Sikh families were now relatively safe in the houses of the Hindus of Munirka. However, this was a Tokas stronghold and his goons knew where they were hidden. They would pass these houses and shout out that they knew that Sikhs were hiding there.

    Fortunately, though, nothing happened and the Sikhs were saved.

    The school, however, was rampaged and pillaged. Other locals who wanted free loot also joined in. A person I met many years after the incident told me how he got some free cricket bats. Our Physics teacher, Mr. Salamatullah Hashmi, who was a Muslim and lived in the neighbouring colony of "R.K. Puram", came the next day to find out if people were safe. He asked a policeman standing outside if everybody was okay. The policeman smilingly told him in crisp Hindi: "Sardar saare chale gaye, lekin abhi bhi bahut samaan hai. Jo kuchh laina hai, jaldi se laylo." (All the Sikhs have gone, but there is still a lot of loot left. Take what you want, but do it quickly!)

    I visited the school again, about a week after the incident. By then, belatedly, the city was under army rule and the Sikh residents had returned to whatever was left of their premises. I was shocked by what I saw. Everything I had taken for granted was gone. The place where I studied was destroyed and looted. It was a horrible sight.

    In retrospect, I feel that we Sikhs have never really expressed gratitude for those who helped us. Not all people are bad. It is times that make people bad, and all of us are as guilty as others for letting our emotions be carried by the hate of the times.

    Even then, in those times of hate, there are people like Mr. Purohit, Dr. Manekshaw, and the Hindu residents of Munirka, who did what was right at the risk of their own lives. Perhaps we should, at times, take a moment to reflect on some of the good things that happened during those troubled times, rather then always focusing on the negativity.

    Things will not be complete if I do not tell what happened afterwards.

    The government ordered that all repair work of Sikh institutions was to be carried out at government expense by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority). The school reopened after a month, but the effects and scars were still visible.

    Dr. Singha remained Principal for a few more years, after which he took up the prestigious position of Chairman of CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education). He passed away a few years ago.

    Mr. Purohit took the position of Principal of Mother's International School a few years later.

    Mr. Grewal became Principal of a school in Ludhiana, Punjab.

    The last I heard, Mr. Sukhdeep Singh is still the school's Sport teacher.

    Mr Sethi survived the attack, but died of a heart attack a few years later.

    His son, and my close friend, Jasjit, is now the CEO of a global transport company in Gurgaon.

    Mahesh Tokas remained a Congress council person for many years. The Tokas family is still a powerful family of Munirka.

    Arjun Das was assassinated the following year for his role in instigating and leading the mobs during the anti-Sikh pogroms.

    The families of more than three thousand Sikhs who did die in the communal carnage, have to date not received any justice from the Indian government or justice system. The guilty behind these crimes have either passed on or still roam free. Some continue to hold positions of power.

    I have written all of this for posterity, in the hope that people do not forget these events, as we are all lost in the confusion and stress of our own lives.

    Hopefully, someday, we can get answers to our questions and find closure for the anguish and anger we feel deep inside.
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  7. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    The above school was situated less a 1km from our house at that time and I too studied for some years in that school.
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  8. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | Article Detail
    1984 & I:
    The Cartoonist

    October 31, 1984 was like any other school day, except for the contents of my lunch box.

    Instead of the usual onion paranthas wrapped in the daily newspaper, there was a change in the menu. I had decided the interiors of the lunch box were the perfect location to sneak in a transistor radio to chew in some live cricket commentary. The Indian squad was visiting Pakistan for a match up in the city of Lahore.

    By the time the match started, classes were in session. Along with my friend, I played a delicate dance with the teacher. When the teacher was in long sessions facing the blackboard, the radio came out, glued to the ears. We went back and forth for some time until an abrupt interruption.

    Late in the morning, live commentary of the game went off air and a stern voice announced the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

    We were stunned into silence. The match had been cancelled. We did not know what to do with this news. I was not ready to share it with the teacher, so I sat there, trying to digest the news which was about to change our lives.

    The lecture went on without interruption. It was not long before someone entered the classroom, had a whispering session with the teacher and then announced that school was suspended for the day. We were to get ready for boarding the buses by the front gates of the school.

    On any given day, I would have cheered the news of going home early from school, but not on this day.

    I did not know what the day held in store for me. While I boarded the bus along with hundreds of fellow students, rumours were already beginning to swirl around.

    Indira Gandhi had been apparently shot by her Sikh bodyguards. That might explain why we were leaving early.

    We were students of a private Sikh school owned and operated by Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

    The forty-five minute bus journey through the streets of South Delhi was unusually quite. Slowly, the bus emptied out as it made stops on the way. My brother and I were among the last to disembark from the bus.

    We quietly walked home, knocked on the front door. Our mother could not have been more relieved to see us home. Although she did not know that we were heading home early, she reacted as if she was expecting us.

    Now, we waited for my father.

    These were the days before owning a phone was an affordable necessity.

    As minutes turned into hours, my mother was beginning to panic. By now it had become public knowledge that the Prime Minister's assassins were indeed her Sikh bodyguards. There was no precedent for such an event but even as a young boy I could sense tension in the air.

    My father finally arrived in the early hours of the evening with news that disturbances were being reported around the hospital where the Prime Minister had been taken. The evening news was focused entirely on the tragedy at the Prime Minister's residence earlier in the day.

    The elder son of the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was sworn in as the next leader of the nation. There was no mention of any other events. So we all went to bed that night with the nation officially in mourning.

    The morning came and the curtains remained shut. My parents had declared a self-imposed curfew. We were not to leave the house and were to stay away from the windows. I was not sure who we were hiding from but intuitively knew not to question my parents.

    We caught up on the news of the official mourning period in progress, which was in preparation for a grand funeral. It felt like a quiet holiday morning until we spotted police officers from the cracks of our bedroom curtains.

    I took a peek, my brother took a peek and our father joined in as well. I remember seeing a khaki-uniformed police officer standing in the middle of the street right next to our apartment building. He had this long gun pointed in the other direction. A couple of other officers were standing right next to him.

    The asbestos roof tops of a local school blocked our view of his intended target. He kept standing for a while fidgeting with his gun. We were almost losing interest until we saw the cop lie on the ground, still taking aim with his gun in the same direction. Maybe he got tired. He posed like that for a while. No shots were fired and we retreated away from the windows.

    I felt a vague sense of relief at knowing these police officers were here to maintain law and order. We felt safe in their presence.

    The next half hour or so felt like the intermission of a Bollywood movie. What came next, though, no Bollywood writer could even dream into his script.

    There was a slight rumble of feet and sticks hitting the ground. We peeked out of one side of the apartment and saw nothing.

    Then, we took a peek from the windows on the opposite end of the apartment. What we saw froze us in our spots.

    As far as the eye could squint, there was a long orderly line of men with sticks in their hands marching quietly. As if that was not enough, the same cops we had spotted earlier on the street were guiding the mob of men. Never before had I seen Indians calmly and orderly move through in a line without a word being uttered.

    This procession went for a while. Hundreds of men were pouring in from the neighbouring shanty town, heading into the unknown. Unknown to me at least. These men probably knew exactly where they were headed.

    Hours went by with no sign of the men with sticks. After some time, neighbourhood kids, including some of my friends, came out for a little game of cricket right in front of our building.

    This whole scene was so outside the realm of my experience or imagination, that I just could not fathom what those men were doing on this day while in the company of uniformed police officers.

    Then, came the sequel.

    Late in the afternoon, we spotted the mob of men again, this time all straggling back, in clusters, in the direction of where ever they come from earlier in the morning.

    Except, this time around, instead of sticks in their hands, they were carrying sacks of wheat, tin-cans of biscuits and bags full of groceries. They all seemed so content and harmless that, after a while, my father made the most stupid decision of his life.

    He decided to venture out into the balcony in full view of these men. I still have the crisp vision of this old man on the street, wearing a dhoti and a tank top with a huge can of crackers on his head. With a Gandhi-like body and balding patches of white hair, he seemed so harmless.

    We made eye contact and he went his way. We spotted a few others. All with hands full, gingerly making their way towards the shanty town.

    Then we spotted this one man on the same street where we had seen the cops in the morning. He was empty handed. Actually bare footed, he had his rubber flip-flops in hand. The anchor on one of them must have slipped out and he was fixing it. He spotted us.

    "Maadar chodh, Sardar!" is the expletive I heard erupt from his throat.

    And then, it became a litany and a chorus, arising from the crowd!

    We rushed into the apartment. My father locked the balcony door. The insults got louder and more men seemed to have joined the seemingly ****ed-off empty-handed man.

    Within minutes we were surrounded. "Maadar chodh, Sardar, bring them down!", seemed to be the chorus now, emanating from the mob.

    Then we heard the neighbourhood kids, who had by now left their game of cricket, trying to talk with these men. They were almost screaming, attempting to talk over the men. I actually heard one of them say: "There are no Sikhs here".

    "What audacity!", I remember thinking. A young kid, yelling at a man hell-bent on looting, lying to his very face. More insults flew in our direction.

    Then one of the kids cried out: "These are government-owned apartments. This is a government-owned shop". That was a fact. We did live in government-owned housing and the apartment below ours was converted into a shop.

    By this time, my mother was panicking and my father had us sequestered in his bedroom.

    My father was a Sikh version of Woody Allen. The same dark rimmed glasses, a skinny figure with an anxious edge. He had a mean temper but I could not imagine him saying, "Jay marna hi haiga, taa(n) larrh kay mariye" (If we have to die, then at least let's die fighting!).

    Even if we had to, what were we going to fight with? Kitchen knives? We formed a circle and started to recite japji Sahib. I could not imagine death but fear was beginning to take a tight grip.

    The voices now seemed to be fading into the distance.

    I cannot remember if we finished reciting the Japji Sahib, but the voices had stopped. I was waiting for a cue. Would the front door come smashing down? Would we suddenly see the faces of those men up close? Screams, insults and then, a confrontation?

    We sat through the longest minutes of our lives.

    As time passed, so did my imagination began to relax. Once darkness set in and it appeared as if the crisis had blown over, we heard a knock at the door. We waited anxiously ... and silently.

    Then we recognized the voice of a neighbour. My father went to the door. Our neighbour, whose sons were good friends of mine and my brother, was checking on us.

    His sons and our cricket buddies had pulled off a miracle. They had somehow convinced the mob to turn away. With the sun down, we were not sure if the men would come back now that they knew or at least suspected that a Sikh family resided in the building.

    Our neighbour offered us his place for the night. We had a quick dinner. My parents packed a few suit cases with things close to their hearts, and we set out a few steps into the open to spend the night on the gracious floor of our neighbour.

    We woke up to a new day. We walked back to our apartment to spend the rest of the day watching, hearing people walk past the body of the slain Prime Minister on television. There was a crush of people surrounding the body, covered in countless garlands. While they paid obeisance, periodic chants filled the airwaves. "Khoon ka badla khoon se laingay" (With blood, we shall avenge blood!)

    For the next two days, these chants reverberated on television and in my head. Stories of Sikh men chased by mobs began to trickle in. The ones caught in the fury had kerosene poured on them and then set on fire.

    This would happen a few thousand times before it was all over.

    I tried to visualize the image of human skin lit on fire, but couldn't. Until I set my eyes a few days later on the cover of a current events magazine, Surya. The magazine cover had the image of three massive charred lumps of Sikh men who were charred beyond recognition.

    Although that magazine issue was immediately pulled off the shelves on government orders, I still have that image fresh in my head. Apparently the powers to be, in their wisdom, decided the graphic images of the crimes committed against innocent citizens, would provoke outrage.

    "So the nation was officially sanctioned to only respond to the death of the Prime Minister, by whatever means", I thought.

    After the cremation of the dead Prime Minister's body, when the streets of the capital city became safe for Sikhs, we ventured out and the real extent of the damage became clear.

    We found out that all the local businesses owned by Sikhs were looted and reduced to rubble. The local Gurdwara was damaged and the caretakers beaten up. My school's gymnasium was ransacked by a mob and other parts set on fire.

    Apparently the mobs that coalesced in our part of the city were not as blood thirsty.

    The story in the Trans-Yamuna areas of the city, far of places that I have never visited even to this day, saw a very different face of humanity.

    We heard story after story of mobs - guided by police, with the express blessings of local members of parliament - that were less interested in looting than in burning alive men and raping women. It was hard digesting these stories and walking out on the streets where our local mobs had gone on a systematic rampage.

    Almost immediately, I noticed Sikhs beginning to pick up pieces of their lives and businesses. Amidst all this information overload, it was hard to know how the nation would respond.

    Then on November 19, the new Prime Minister of India addressed the nation. He said a lot of things but one stood out among the rest. He had the answer to the carnage that followed his mother's assassination. He said: "When a Big Tree falls, the earth shakes".

    It was said as a matter of fact, as if we were just supposed to move on. Even before this carnage, I was beginning to realize each human life does not have the same value but on this day I had a confirmation. As painful as these words were, amazingly life forces you on.

    Within a few months, the local Sikhs - ever resilient and perennially in chardi kalaa - and their businesses were back in action, as if no harm had ever been done to them. Our neighbourhood gurdwara was quickly repaired. My school had also removed all traces of damage.

    The industrious Sikhs had done such an impeccable job at cleaning up, they made it difficult for me to memorialize, let alone trace, the enormous brutality let loose in the capital of the most populous "democracy" in the world.

    My parents for months seriously entertained the possibility of leaving Delhi for the safer confines of Punjab. But even they were convinced after a few months that things were back to normal.

    Their only act of protest was to vote for the first time in their lives in the upcoming elections. They voted for the party standing against the ruling Congress party.

    Not being literally touched by the fires of 1984, we moved on.

    I finished high school to return back to the land of my birth, United States of America.

    With a typical immigrant sensibility, all I cared for was my career plans.

    I went through college, graduate school, taking off my turban, shaving my hair, and dabbled in atheism, Buddhism, Taoism ... and then, eventually, discovered Sikhi for the first time in my life.

    In August 2001, I donned the Sikh turban as a reaffirmation to the Sikhi.

    A month later, 9/11 happened!

    I was only a few miles north of New York City, as I saw the planes fly into the towers. I was just as far from the Trans-Yamuna area which saw the worst of the 1984 tragedy.

    In the days following 9/11, somehow the tragedy of seventeen years past came rushing back. Maybe it was the incineration of thousands of innocent lives that connected the two tragedies. Perhaps it was the irony that a few thousand American lives are worth a quantum leap more than the few thousand Sikh lives in India.

    The world changed in response to the loss of American lives and to this day the process continues. I am inclined to say that nothing changed after the tragedy of 1984 but I would be lying.

    To those who lost their loved ones, everything has changed. And even those who conspired and perpetrated the genocide of 1984, something did change. They might be roaming free under the protection of the Indian state, but they have blood on their hands.

    For me the change came 18 years late. In the strange confluence of the two tragedies, partly aided by the response of American editorial cartoonists to 9/11 and the ensuing hate crime wave affecting many Sikhs, I rediscovered my long buried passion for the arts.

    Cartooning has consumed my nights, weekends and many day time hours for over six years. Armed with a computer touch pad and my right index finger, I have tried to give voice to Sikh aspirations and frustrations.

    The 1984 tragedy might be racing to its 25th anniversary, but we do not have closure yet.

    Countless perpetrators roam free on the streets of India, many as elected officials.

    And then there is us, the countless bystanders who might think we have nothing to do with this tragedy.

    But our silence is deafening.

    Through cartoons, I continue to try and capture the perpetrators ... and the idle bystanders too!
  9. pk70

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    Feb 25, 2008
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    kds1980 Ji

    My special thanks for posting all this information regarding the horrible genocide of Sikhs
  10. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | 1984 & I: I Remember ...

    India has a strange hold on me.

    It is not my birthplace,


    It is in my soul.

    I hear the bell of Krishna;

    I hear the call of Muhammad;

    I hear the chant of Buddha;

    I hear the Shabad of Guru Nanak.

    I have knelt on its soil;

    I have kissed its ground.

    I yearn

    To be mingled with its dust.

    The Pogroms of 1984

    Shattered this love.

    Instantly, I grew up.

    I saw my mother-in-law, a strong, brave woman, crumble as images from India filtered through our television in Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A. Her memories of the Partition came rushing back. Memories that she had tucked deep within gushed out. It was 1947 all over again for her.

    I heard her stories; I witnessed her tears; I thought I understood, but I was wrong. I could not have understood, because I did not experience it.

    In March of 1985, I flew from New York to India, to be with my mother. She was visiting her sister in Janakpuri, a suburb of Delhi. Delhi was tense. The mood was sombre. People stayed indoors.

    One evening at around 9 pm, there was pounding at my aunt's door. Her Hindu neighbours had heard that busloads of goondas (thugs) were being brought into Janakpuri to burn down Sikh homes.

    What transpired after that was surreal. My grandmother and I were assigned to a Hindu home in the neighbourhood. My mother and her sister went to another Hindu home. The rest of the family was scattered in yet other Hindu homes.

    That night will forever be etched in my DNA.

    My grandmother and I were put behind a tall steel cupboard in a pitch-black room. She was clinging to her large black handbag (into which she had stuffed her gold jewelry) and was saying her prayers.

    I just sat dazed.

    From time to time, we would hear loud voices coming from the street. My grandmother would tense up and hug me even closer.

    I can't remember saying much. But I remember vividly what happened next.

    My grandmother very calmly said: "Inni, if that door opens, I will kill you first and then I will kill myself."

    She took out a knife from her black handbag and showed it to me.

    I never uttered a word. There was nothing to say.

    We sat quietly together and waited out the night.

    The mob did not come. It was a false alarm.

    The next morning, my mother insisted I leave Delhi. I flew to Bombay that evening.

    Back home in Connecticut, I allowed myself to revisit my Delhi experience. But it was too painful. I could not comprehend it and so, I kept silent.

    Years flew by.

    From time to time, the memories would awaken and tears would flow. I was still unable to grasp the depth of my emotions.

    The 20th anniversary of the 1984 massacre: I started to write. More tears flowed. Many pages were filled. Finally, the piece was done. I read it. Tears of gratitude flowed. The healing had taken place;

    I could see it in my writing.

    I sent the finished piece to my family and friends. Their response astounded me: "Why are you going there? What is the use? Forget about it!"

    To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I felt that someone had stabbed me with a knife.

    I sent it to Sikh and Indian magazines. No one published it.

    I died a thousand deaths during this process. Every rejection was a stab.

    Gurumustuk Singh from sikhnet was the brave one who put it on his website.

    My voice had found a place.

    They say:

    Do not write;

    Do not speak;

    Forget about it.

    If I agree,


    In my silence

    Lies my guilt.

    As long as I draw breath,

    As long as there is strength within me,

    I will write,

    I will speak.

    For I remember ...

    I Remember...

    The year is 1739.

    Hindustan is in terror.

    The cruelty of the Mughals

    Is felt everywhere.

    Nadir Shah is in Delhi

    Looting the treasures,

    Carting away twenty-two hundred Hindu women

    For his private harem.

    The news spreads like wildfire

    Across this great land.

    Helplessness and confusion

    Reign supreme.

    Sardar Jassa Singh,

    Commander of the Sikh army,

    Hears of this atrocity,

    Vows to take a stand.

    The Sikhs are a minority;

    The Mughals have the upper hand.

    Despite this disparity,

    A midnight attack is planned.

    The Mughal camp is asleep;

    The Sikhs wait in silence.

    At the stroke of midnight,

    They begin the attack.

    Kirpans are in the air;

    The Mughals are caught off-guard.

    The women are freed

    And safely brought back.

    In Hindu households,

    Sighs of relief are heard

    As the women rush back

    To the arms of their loved ones.

    There are Sikh casualties,

    But there are no tears;

    To uphold a woman's honour

    Is the Sikh dharam.

    From that day on,

    A pattern emerged:

    The Sikhs struck at midnight

    To free the captured women.

    Every night, the women prayed

    For the safety of the Sikhs.

    Mothers told their daughters,

    "Trust only a Sikh."

    Hindu mothers, with love,

    Made their first-born sons Sikhs.

    A sacred trust existed

    Between a Hindu and a Sikh.

    Through the centuries,

    This trust and love continued,

    Until the forces of evil

    Raised their ugly head.

    The year is 1984,

    The unthinkable happened:

    Our Hindu brothers

    Turned on us.

    Sikh women were raped;

    Their fathers, husbands,

    Sons and brothers

    Butchered in front of their eyes.

    The country was in shell-shock

    At the brutality of this massacre;

    Yet, no voice rose

    To speak against this massacre.

    I ask my Hindu sisters:

    "Where were you?

    Did your hearts not bleed

    At the rape of your sisters?"

    Twenty five years have gone by.

    The pain has not diminished.

    There are no answers

    To what happened in 1984.

    To my Hindu sisters,

    I have one request:

    Tell your sons, husbands and brothers

    The sacrifices of the Sikhs.

    To my Sikh brothers,

    I need not remind you:

    You are bound by our Guru

    To protect the weak.

    No Sikh hand will rise

    Against any woman;

    Be she a Hindu or a Muslim,

    She has the protection of a Sikh.

    My Ardaas:

    Let the winds be gentle;

    Let there be peace on this land;

    Let this shattered trust

    Be given a chance to grow.

    But ask me not to forget,

    For I remember...

    On this 25th anniversary of the Pogroms of 1984, I reflect on the courage of the non-Sikhs who protected the Sikhs.

    You are our unsung heroes.

    I salute your bravery;

    I salute your goodness;

    I salute your morality.

    But ask me not to forget,

    For I remember...

    April 25, 2009
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  11. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    sikhchic.com | The Art and Culture of the Diaspora | 1984 & I:An Attack on Jungpura,The Warriors' Colony

    1984 & I:
    An Attack on Jungpura,
    The Warriors' Colony


    I was about eleven years old in 1984.

    My family and I then lived in Jungpura (literally, "Warriors' Colony") Extension, originally a colony of partition refugees, in South Delhi, India.

    To give you some idea of the area, Jungpura Extension was primarily Sikh populated, with Lajpat Nagar (primarily a Hindu-Punjabi populated colony) at its one side of the border and Bhogal (populated 60:40 by Hindus and Sikhs, respectively) on its other side.

    What separated Jungpura and Lajpat Nagar were a few blocks of houses (a total of approximately 100) called Pashauri Mohalla, named after settlers from Peshawar (now in Pakistan), populated primarily by Sikhs involved in the three-wheeler transportation business.

    The other side of the Jungpura border was Bhogal, originally occupied by the so-called "Chura" (sweepers) and "Chamar" (cobblers) Hindu communities.

    Transporter Sikh businessmen had, over the decades, made money by hard work and business acumen and bought residential land from these original occupants. Although the Hindus were more in numbers in Bhogal, they were hardly visible due to the newly-built double-storey houses by Sikhs over the last few decades.

    So, by 1984, Bhogal had had a face-lift with its prosperous Sikh populace. This often invoked jealousy and there were frequent brawls between the Sikhs and the Hindus.

    Our house was #2 in the "H" block of Jungpura Extension with house #1 converted into small grocery shops owned mostly by Sindhi Hindus.

    Long ago, the owner of House #1 had illegally converted the front portion of the house into shops and sold them at a steep price. My family, being the educated service class, did not quite gel with our shopkeeper neighbours. My parents always wanted to move from that house, since the shops attracted all kinds of customers and there were frequent traffic and parking problems.

    We were the only Sikh family in our court and street.

    During October-November 1984, I was hosting an American boy named Matthew Kaufmann from a public school in Ohio, U.S.A. He was my age and was staying with us as part of a inter-school cultural exchange program initiated by Guru Harkrishan Public School, Vasant Vihar, which I attended.

    Some of our school's students had gone to the United States and stayed with kids in Ohio a few months earlier, and now a group of students from there were visiting us, each staying with a host family.

    On October 31, we were all visiting the American Embassy School (an elementary and middle school on the Embassy premises for children of American diplomats) to learn about American children living in Delhi and their school.

    While there, we heard around 12 noon that the Prime Minister had been shot and had died.

    Immediately, it was decided that we should all head back to our school - Guru Harkrishan Public School. Although we were all only about eleven years old, we knew of the attack on The Golden Temple in a few months ago in June and understood what the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi meant for Sikhs - the victory of good over evil.

    We were the first ones to inform our classmates when we got back to school around 1 pm. There was an air of celebration amongst the students.

    Of course, little did they know what was in store for them.

    The school principal and teachers decided to immediately close the school early that day, as well as declare the next day as a holiday to mark the mourning over the death of the Prime Minister.

    We got home around 2 pm that day. My father also came from work a bit early. My grandparents used to live on the first floor of the house and my parents, my siblings and I lived on the second floor.

    In the evening, Matthew and I went to a birthday party of a friend. Obviously, everyone was talking about the assassination. However, before long, my father came over to fetch us. I was surprised, since it was still early. He told us that some killings of Sikhs had been reported around the South Extension area and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where Indira Gandhi had been brought after the shooting.

    My grandmother's brother used to live around AIIMS and he had called to let us know that a big mob was gathering around there.

    The night passed by relatively peacefully. Next morning, we woke up to a ghostly-quiet neighborhood and from our terrace we could see umpteen smoke clouds around the city, and could smell smoke and fire. Matthew even quipped that it was the first time he had seen our street so quiet.

    My father took the name-plate off the outside of our house. We had heard that Sikh-owned trucks, buses, businesses and properties were being burnt in Bhogal.

    We found out later that the Bhogal Sikhs had managed to retaliate against the Hindu thugs in the colony. Probably for that reason, I expect, no deaths of Sikhs were reported from Bhogal.

    We were getting calls from the American Embassy asking about our well-being, obviously because Matthew was staying with us. Thus, we witnessed first hand how, truly, Americans look after their own citizens, as goes the lore.

    The American Embassy arranged a special flight for all the American exchange children; they were picked up from each host house in Delhi by a diplomatic car on, if I remember correctly, on November 2 or 3.

    Late in the day on November 1, the Sikhs of the Pashauri Mohalla started to mobilize and initiated a 24-hour pehra (neighborhood watch) of the entire colony, armed with kirpans and sticks.

    The mob tried to enter Jungpura from Lajpat Nagar, but the Pashauri Mohalla defenders met the mob consisting of several truckloads of thugs, and stopped them in their tracks.

    Thankfully, the kirpans were enough to scare the hundreds of cowardly hooligans away.

    We lived prepared, but constantly in terror, during the next few days.

    Each day, my mother would prepare us that if the mob came, we should go on the roof top of our house and from there, climb to our Hindu neighbour's house. Although none of our Hindu neighbours tried to harm us, sadly neither did they volunteer to help us or offer shelter in case the mob ever came.

    On November 3, after Indira Gandhi's cremation, curfew was imposed in Jungpura, as well as other parts of Delhi and violence started to subside.

    Our Sindhi shopkeeper neighbour, despite the curfew, kept his shop open by operating from our driveway and serving his customers by letting them come inside our driveway to pay him and take the goods, even though we felt very unsafe with it.

    I guess, given our vulnerability, he felt he did not need our permission.

    From October 31 till November 3, Indira Gandhi's body was kept on public display and shown 24 hours a day on national television and you could hear chants in the background: "Khoon ka badal khoon se" ("Only blood will avenge blood")!

    As a mere eleven-year-old, I remained extremely scared for many days following October 31.

    I particularly remember that November 3 night after the cremation. P.V.Narasimha Rao, a prominent Congress leader (who, a few years later, also became Prime Minister) made a statement: "Abb kaafi hinsa ho chukki hai" - ("You have had enough of violence now ..."), as his way of asking the mobs to head home.

    My father would put on the Shabad, "Jiske sirr uppar toon swami so dukh kaisa paave" ("O Lord, How can any harm come to anyone who You protect") , on the tape-player at night. This is how I learnt this Shabad.

    I also remember my parents taught us Chaupai Sahib's first two pauris in those days.

    For months, I was scared of the dark and of our parents going anywhere without us. I would worry that they would get caught by a mob, or that a mob would come to the house while they were away.

    However, as we all know, there were far worse experiences suffered by many others.

    Around November 10, some of the Sikh victims - who were mostly widows and orphans - from Trilokpuri came to the Jungpura Gurdwara and we all went to meet them. I can never forget how everyone broke into sobs and tears when we, the sangat, asked them about what had happened.

    This entire sequence of events had a marked impact on us.

    My parents, for example - like many other Sikh families - took some immediate measures after November 1984, such as starting to explore opportunities to move abroad or to Punjab. We even bought a plot in Chandigarh to get started. This was a direct result of our fear that more pogroms could happen in the future ... India had ceased to be, in any thinking person's mind, a truly secular or democratic nation, in any true sense of these terms!

    Furthermore, my parents also made a choice of limiting their friendships with non-Sikh Indians, since they felt that most of the latter had fallen prey to the government and Hindu fundamentalist propaganda, had lost the ability to face the facts, and could not relate to our perspective or predicament.

    A few weeks later, my grandfather and a few other Sikhs, including General Jagjit Singh Aurora - the famous Liberator of Bangla Desh - and the lawyer, Sardar Harvinder Singh Phoolka, Esq., founded an organization called The Sikh Forum to help resettle the victims and also seek justice for them.

    For years, these victims - women who were mostly widows, sometimes even small kids, would come to our house. They were blue collar workers or small business owners who were working hard and had aspirations to educate their children and were good citizens; they had lost everything due to no fault of theirs.

    If this wouldn't have happened to them, their kids would have been successful men and women today - some would have come to America, like so many of us, and become professionals and executives in big companies or owned businesses.

    Also, for years, there was a Police Inspector - a Haryanvi Hindu - who would come to our house to meet my grandfather. The Sikh Forum was fighting his case since he was probably the only Police Officer to our knowledge who had tried to control the mob and had been fired from his job for doing so.

    I don't believe he, or any victims, got justice.

    The Sikh Forum has long since closed its doors, since most of its founders, including my grandfather, have passed away.

    I want to end this piece with an appeal to the worldwide Sikh Community.

    We, the survivors, could easily have been the victims of 1984, like our brothers and sisters in Trilokpuri and other such neighborhoods across the country where the pogroms raged through those days. So, I feel that it our responsibility to help resettle the families of those who felt the full brunt of the cowardly thugs who preyed on them on the mere strength of numbers, even if the Indian Government won't lift a finger to their duty.

    These Sikhs who died or were brutalized or lost property, did so on our behalf.

    I suggest we need to gather the funds necessary to provide the widows and offspring of these victims with scholarships, small business capital funds, housing and shelter so they can once again start to live a dignified life, even though 25 years have passed.

    My proposal is that the Sikh Human Development Foundation in Washington, D.C. take up this project, since they already have an infrastructure. If 1000 Sikh families or homes simply contribute US $1000 each in total, we would have 1 Million US Dollars, which is roughly Rs. 45 million.

    That may not be enough in view of today's inflation figures, but we could easily help hundreds of families with life-transforming resources, and have a positive impact on thousands more.

    I strongly feel that helping the 1984 pogrom victims is even more important than educating the world about Sikhism. If we first don't take care of our own home, there is no point in telling the world how wonderful our home is.
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