Mem­o­ries of a mas­sacre

FrontLine - - ANTI-SIKH RIOTS - BY T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

Sur­vivors of the 1984 vi­o­lence re­main scarred for­ever by the ex­pe­ri­ence, but the con­vic­tion and sen­tenc­ing of Sa­j­jan Ku­mar has brought them

some con­so­la­tion.

IT has been a long fight for the sur­vivors of the anti-sikh vi­o­lence of 1984, who have weath­ered court hear­ings and tri­als. Front­line spoke to some sur­vivors, mostly women. Among them were two of the chief wit­nesses against Sa­j­jan Ku­mar and also wit­nesses in other cases. Now in their six­ties or early seven­ties, many are grand­moth­ers. Some of them broke down as they re­counted the car­nage that hap­pened be­tween Oc­to­ber 31 and Novem­ber 3 in 1984.

Three hun­dred and forty peo­ple were killed in the Delhi Can­ton­ment area alone. How­ever, only 21 first in­for­ma­tion re­ports (FIRS) were reg­is­tered, and just 15 of them per­tained to deaths or mur­ders. The High Court or­der of De­cem­ber 17 noted that only five bod­ies were re­cov­ered, and that too through the Army’s in­ter­ven­tion. Thirty peo­ple were killed in Raj Na­gar in south­west Delhi, which comes un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Delhi Can­ton­ment po­lice sta­tion.

One of the chief wit­nesses in the case against Sa­j­jan Ku­mar was Jagsher Singh, a cousin of the prime pros­e­cu­tion wit­ness Jagdish Kaur. Just 17 years old in 1984, he wit­nessed three of his brothers, all wellestab­lished con­trac­tors with the In­dian Army, get­ting killed. They were all res­i­dents of Raj Na­gar. An­other brother who sur­vived was also a pros­e­cu­tion wit­ness. Jagsher also saw the mob en­ter­ing Jagdish Kaur’s house and drag­ging out her hus­band and older son; both were killed.

KILLERS ON THE PROWL

The High Court or­der ob­served that “in the nor­mal scheme of things, there ap­peared to be on­go­ing largescale ef­forts to sup­press the cases against him [Sa­j­jan Ku­mar] by not record­ing or reg­is­ter­ing them”. Jagsher Singh spoke to Front­line and ex­plained why the case took as long as it did and why wit­nesses turned hos­tile: “Noth­ing hap­pened on Oc­to­ber 31. It was on Novem­ber 1 that it all be­gan. Some of our Hindu neigh­bours, in­clud­ing one Ra­jni, alerted us of the may­hem and told us to move into their homes. We went to their homes. One of our bikes had got left out­side. I re­turned home to keep it in a safe place. It was then I no­ticed an ag­gres­sive crowd com­ing to­wards me. I rushed to Ra­jni’s house, but it was locked. I went to the house of Ram Av­tar, an­other neigh­bour. I saw the crowd en­ter Jagdish Kaur’s home. They killed her hus­band and her son. Later, Jagdish Kaur, a law-

yer and I retrieved the son’s body. Then I cut the hair of her younger son short so that he might be saved. In the night, I saw an Am­bas­sador car com­ing and peo­ple shout­ing the slo­gan ‘Indira Gandhi amar rahe’. We were con­trac­tors for the Army and thought the Army had come to res­cue us. It was Sa­j­jan Ku­mar. He first qui­etened the crowd. He knew us. He asked for the ‘thekedaar’, our fam­ily. They at­tacked Ra­jni’s house, where my brothers were hid­ing on the third floor. Later in the night, she locked the house and left. But the crowd re­turned and broke into her house. They knew that peo­ple were hid­ing there. My el­der brother jumped from the roof to es­cape and the crowd started shout­ing for him. I es­caped through a kutcha road and found many peo­ple ly­ing dead on the road. I reached the Army can­ton­ment area and re­turned with one Ma­jor Ya­dav to get help for my brothers. I found two of my brothers ly­ing one on top of the other, dead.

“Those who at­tacked us were lo­cal peo­ple and some out­siders. The po­lice ar­rested Ram Av­tar, who had in fact given us refuge. His brother came cry­ing to me. I told the Sadar Bazaar po­lice that Ram Av­tar had saved us. He was a wit­ness to the car­nage but later turned hos­tile as he was afraid [of the con­se­quences]. He even said that I did not live there. But I had pho­to­graphic proof of our good re­la­tions with Ram Av­tar. I gave them Ma­jor Ya­dav’s name, but they couldn’t lo­cate him. He had be­come a colonel by then. Then they [the de­fence] pro­duced him as a wit­ness from their end, and he de­nied that he knew me. But I pro­duced a let­ter that he wrote to me re­gard­ing some work. Then Ra­jni also de­nied that she knew us, or even that we were liv­ing there. But she was a teacher in Palam vil­lage and I told the CBI [Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion] about her. The po­lice did pre­cious lit­tle. The ju­di­ciary woke up, and that is why this con­vic­tion hap­pened.”

AN­OTHER WIT­NESS AC­COUNT

Nir­preet Kaur, also an im­por­tant wit­ness in the case, was a teenager in 1984. She wit­nessed her fa­ther, Nir­mal Singh, be­ing killed on Novem­ber 1. She re­counted how on the evening of Oc­to­ber 31 Bal­wan Khokhar, the lo­cal coun­cil­lor, came home to ask her fa­ther, who ran a trans­port busi­ness, to em­ploy his nephew. Nir­mal Singh de­clined, say­ing that there was no re­quire­ment for an ex­tra hand. When he ex­pressed ap­pre­hen­sions about the safety of Sikhs, Khokhar as­sured him that Sa­j­jan Ku­mar was his un­cle and that noth­ing would hap­pen to Nir­mal Singh’s fam­ily. “My fa­ther was the pres­i­dent of the lo­cal gur­d­wara. The same night, we heard that the po­lice had come to the gur­d­wara to pro­tect it. But the very next morn­ing, they were not to be seen. We heard a slo­ga­neer­ing crowd led by Bal­wan Khokhar. I thought I should save the Guru Granth Sahib, and my brother fol­lowed me. The crowd was be­ing led by four to five peo­ple, all of whom I have named. One of them said: Kill the boy, he is the son of a snake,” Nir­preet said.

“They came to my house, and my fa­ther con­fronted Khokhar say­ing he had as­sured us of safety just the pre­vi­ous day. I was con­stantly at my fa­ther’s side. Then one of our ve­hi­cles was set afire. My fa­ther’s main con­cern was safety. There was a con­fronta­tion. We were sur­rounded from all sides but we were able to de­fend our­selves. Then Khokhar and oth­ers talked my fa­ther into a ‘com­pro­mise’. A po­lice­man also ad­vised us to com­pro­mise. My fa­ther went along with them. I ran after them, and then I saw a mob, and my fa­ther was handed over to it.

“One Ish­war Chand Sharaabi then doused my fa­ther with kerosene, but no one had a match­box. A po­lice­man named Kaushik taunted that they couldn’t set even one per­son on fire. They tried to set my fa­ther on fire more than once. He jumped into a nul­lah to douse the flames. But he could not es­cape as the mob spot­ted him. He was 45 years old. One Hindu fam­ily saved me. When I came home, my house was burn­ing, the po­lice were watch­ing, and my mother was ly­ing un­con­scious. I learnt that my brothers were made to wear frocks and had been res­cued. I ac­com­pa­nied some jawans in a jeep to help iden­tify other famil-

ies in Palam Colony. It was in Manglapuri where we heard Sa­j­jan Ku­mar speak at a rally say­ing that not a sin­gle Sikh should be spared and even Hin­dus who saved any Sikhs would be killed.” What she says cor­rob­o­rates the state­ment of Jagdish Kaur, who also heard Sa­j­jan Ku­mar mak­ing this ex­hor­ta­tion. The state­ment of nei­ther Nir­preet Kaur nor her mother was ever recorded by the po­lice. Her state­ment was first recorded in 2009.

Nir­preet Kaur re­called how dif­fi­cult it was to file an FIR: “When­ever we men­tioned his [Sa­j­jan Ku­mar’s] name, they would not regis­ter an FIR. We suf­fered many trou­bles be­cause of that. One wing com­man­der who saved us was killed in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances. I left Delhi for Gur­daspur in Pun­jab. I joined the Sikh Stu­dents Fed­er­a­tion. But both my mother and I were ar­rested un­der TADA [Ter­ror­ist and Dis­rup­tive Ac­tiv­i­ties (Pre­ven­tion) Act] in 1986. I was jailed for nine years. I got dis­charged in all the cases. I com­pleted my stud­ies while I was in jail and grad­u­ated in math­e­mat­ics. I was let down by even my own rel­a­tives. I suf­fered a lot. No one was speak­ing to me be­cause of my ar­rest un­der TADA. I got mar­ried and have three chil­dren, one of whom is adopted.” After a while, she asked: “Do you think he [Sa­j­jan Ku­mar] will ap­peal? I think he will.”

And so he did, on De­cem­ber 22, after his ap­peal for an ex­ten­sion of time for sur­ren­der was re­fused by the High Court.

Tucked in one cor­ner of Ti­lak Na­gar in West Delhi is Ti­lak Vi­har, which has a colony called the “wid­ows colony”. No one knows ex­actly how many “wid­ows” re­side there, but the colony is eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able as one where women who lost their hus­bands in the 1984 riots live. Many of them were re­lo­cated from lower-in­come group ar­eas such as Trilokpuri, Man­golpuri, Sul­tan­puri—all re­set­tle­ment ar­eas where low-in­come groups of non-jat Sikhs and non­pun­jabi Sikhs lived. The Sik­li­gars were black­smiths who pol­ished swords. In Trilokpuri, the ri­ot­ers tar­geted two blocks in­hab­ited by Dalit and back­ward caste Sikhs, many of whom had been re­set­tled there from other parts of Delhi. The car­nage here was among the worst in the cap­i­tal. Men and young boys were tar­geted in par­tic­u­lar. There were in­nu­mer­able sto­ries of moth­ers dress­ing up boys in frocks and plait­ing their hair to pass them off as girls. Most of them were killed.

‘NOT EASY TO FOR­GET’

Bhagi Kaur, Pappi Kaur and Lachmi Kaur are now res­i­dents of the “wid­ows colony”. “We are not wit­nesses. But we go each time there is a hear­ing. Any time there can be an at­tack on the wit­nesses. It is not easy to for­get what had hap­pened,” said Bhagi Kaur, who in 1984 was in Block 32 in Trilokpuri. Eleven mem­bers of her fam­ily were killed, in­clud­ing her four brothers and her hus­band, who was a coolie at the New Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion. Later, one of her sons com­mit­ted sui­cide at the age of 22.

Most of the women from the re­set­tle­ment ar­eas were given gov­ern­ment jobs and quar­ters in Ti­lak Vi­har. “It was dur­ing Indira Gandhi’s rule when we were shifted to Trilokpuri and given pucca homes. There were four lanes, all in­hab­ited by Sikhs,” Bhagi Kaur said. She also said some­thing that is not talked about: “Un­hone jananiyon he saath bahut galat kaam kiya. Kya hum kab­hie bhoolenge [they did wrong things to women, can we ever for­get that]?” Un­sur­pris­ingly, no com­plaints were reg­is­tered by the women.

Var­i­ous in­quiry com­mis­sions and also the High Court or­der ob­served that the po­lice showed ex­treme neg­li­gence when it came to the reg­is­ter­ing of even the mur­der cases. Lachmi Kaur, Bhagi’s sis­ter-in-law, said she was 29 years old in 1984. “Na­jaayaj hua,” she said, mean­ing that the vi­o­lence was un­war­ranted. She ob­served that it was a hope­less sit­u­a­tion if the gov­ern­ment, which is ex­pected to pro­tect peo­ple, it­self car­ried out a pogrom. “We had a fu­ture. Our chil­dren had a fu­ture. All that was taken away from us, for no fault of ours,” she said. She re­called how one Shanti Kaur, from the Sik­lighar caste, went mad and hanged her­self after four of her sons were killed. “I will ed­u­cate my grand­chil­dren for sure. I was un­able to do that for my own chil­dren,” she said.

Pappi Kaur, a weaver’s daugh­ter and Bhagi’s niece, was 15 in 1984. She said the sur­vivors heaved a sigh of re­lief on Novem­ber 3 when the mil­i­tary ar­rived. “It was not a riot, it was a car­nage,” she said. An­other sur­vivor, Jag­jeet Kaur, was only five years old when she lost her fa­ther in the riots. The el­dest of three sis­ters, she is now a per­ma­nent res­i­dent in the cramped quar­ters of Ti­lak Vi­har. “I lost my child­hood. No one is go­ing to re­turn that,” she said.

One of the wit­nesses who had iden­ti­fied for­mer Min­is­ter H.K.L. Bha­gat of the Congress in a riot case in East Delhi was Dar­shan Kaur, who had shifted from Ti­lak Vi­har to Raghu­bir Na­gar. (Bha­gat, who was in­dicted by the Nana­vati Com­mis­sion, died in 2005.) Dar­shan Kaur, 20 years old then, was a res­i­dent of Block 32, which bore the brunt of the vi­o­lence. She broke down as she nar­rated how 12 mem­bers of her fam­ily were killed. “We had no TV. My sis­ter-in-law, who had a tele­vi­sion set, saw the news on Do­or­dar­shan. The mob started at­tack­ing from Novem­ber 1. They were throw­ing Campa [cola] bot­tles at Sikhs. I thought H.K.L. Bha­gat was there to save us. I recog­nised him, short and wear­ing dark glasses. I can­not for­get how the mob dragged my hus­band out by the hair. The women suf­fered other in­dig­ni­ties, which have not come out. We stayed hid­den in a neigh­bour’s house. He was a Sansi and a liquor dealer, but he helped us women and chil­dren. Open loot by mis­cre­ants, in­clud­ing po­lice­men, was tak­ing place,” she said.

Un­til 2017, no spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion team was con­sti­tuted to in­ves­ti­gate the 1984 riots. While the Bharatiya Janata Party gov­ern­ment sought to take credit for do­ing this, sur­vivors won­dered why this was not done as soon as the BJP formed the gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre in 2014.

JAGSHER SINGH AND NIR­PREET KAUR, who tes­ti­fied against Sa­j­jan Ku­mar.two of the three chief wit­nesses

(FROMLEFT)Pappi Kaur, Bhagi Kaur and Lachmi Kaur at “wid­ows colony” in Ti­lak Vi­har, Delhi.

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