I was in play school and my primary interests were my dolls and my playmates. It was in November 1984 that for the first time I realised that the men in the next door household dressed their hair differently from the men in my family. The boys next door were my best playmates. Those days to my little mind are not easily erasable when one day all of a sudden my playmates shifted to my home for all of the 24 hours in a day for several days. They wore my frocks, tied their hair in pigtails like me with my ribbons and were forbidden to talk. It did upset me that I was not allowed to play with them outside the house or that they couldn't go out with me to the market. I was happy that schools were closed endlessly. What I also can't wipe from our mind is the head of the family of my next door neighbours rushing to our place in the middle of the night, clamouring for help, I had never seen a terrified adult like that before, I was introduced to fear that night.
I can't forget that walls of our un-gated colony came up within a night with my father and his friends laying the bricks themselves. I can't wipe the imagery of my all the male elders I knew keeping a night vigil with fire torches in their hands. I can't shake off the numbness of staring at death on the faces of my neighbours and the shivering hands of their children as they tried to concentrate on the books in their hands. There was a mob outside the freshly cemented walls of our colony wildly tearing it down and demanding that all the Sikh families be handed over to them. I saw death hollering a few steps away, not approaching us but those that we shielded, I knew helplessness that night.
Today while speaking to a colleague at work I got connected to another victim of the 1984 riots. Baljeet Kaur was about 14 years old and remembered how her family was evicted from their farmhouse in the middle of the night by well wishers. Some of their relatives were not that fortunate. When Baljeet returned to her home a month later her family had to rebuild their home from the beginning, their house was burnt, their storage ransacked and poultry farm looted.
Opening a can of worms
A lot of generations today do not remember the unprovoked bloodshed directed against one community. Though 37 years later, the scars are still raw for those infected. Sajjan Kumar's conviction has rehashed one of India's most shameful non secular and administrative debacles. Sources quote that "in 2011, Human Rights Watch reported that the Government of India had "yet to prosecute those responsible for the mass killings". According to the 2011 WikiLeaks cable leaks, the United States was convinced of Indian National Congress complicity in the riots and called it "opportunism" and "hatred" by the Congress government of Sikhs. The Ahuja committee report and Nanavati commission presented an estimated 2700 deaths of Sikhs in Delhi and at 10,000 collectively in Punjab and areas around Delhi. A large majority of those that survived fled the city. The government itself estimates that number at 20,000.
"While Delhi was numbed by shock and sorrow, a wide frenzy of terror, murder, loot and arson seized large sections of the city. Its prime target was a minority community but all the peaceful citizens felt threatened and the entire city was gripped by fear while murderous mobs rampaged unhindered through the streets. In large parts of the country the violence in varying degrees of intensity, shaking faith in our secularism not only on the part of the afflicted community but also of other minorities and of the general public", read a witness account in the Citizen's Commission Report.
It further read, "The fourth time the mob came in increased strength and started attacking individual homes, driving people out, beating and burning them and setting fire to their homes. The method of killing was invariably the same; a man was hit on his head, sometimes the skull broken, kerosene poured over him and set on fire. Before being burnt, some had their eyes gouged out." The rest of text is even gorier and cannot be printed here to shield sensibilities but the commission report is available for all to read.
Ghosts that need burying now
Over the years there have been few convictions as against hundreds of cases filed or unregistered. It took the courts 37 years to convict one Sajjan Kumar and there are several other big-league cases pending. Is that because Sajjan Kumar is indispensable to the Congress party today?
Sardar Manjinder Singh Sirsa, joint secretary Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, commented that there were several witnesses against Sajjan Kumar as he followed the same modus operandi in several localities of Delhi in that fateful week in November 1984, 'he traveled in his white ambassador and instigated pre-assembled mobs to kill every last Sikh in the vicinity, he provided transportation to the criminals, arranged arms for them, a voters' list to identify the Sikh homes, and later defended the culprits.' He provided an immunity that the authorities failed to provide to the many victims sacrificed over hate crimes targeted on a minority community.
Does the conviction then bring a relief to the perennially waiting victims most of whom have not lived to see justice prevail? Sardar Manjinder is not ecstatic and speaks for the entire community when he says it is uncertain how long a war they will have to wage before all accused are confined by law. Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath are some of the eminent names and the cases against them are still pending in the courts and in the psyche of the thousands tarnished perpetually. Over the years several commissions have been instituted to study the case and recommend a motion but isn't delaying justice ensuring that the pain lingers on? Does it not create a heightened state of anxiety and increasing distrust? 37 years is a pretty long period and one can only hope that the apex court does not drag its feet over the rest of the cases. India ranks high in the world's corruption meter and the laxity of law does not help matters much.