20 YEARS AFTER 1984
The little boy with spiky hair who could not speak
The 20th anniversary of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 is approaching.
The highest riot death toll since Partition, not a single conviction, 1984 remains India’s forgotten genocide
Thirty-six hours after more than 300 Sikhs in that basti had been lynched, burnt and flung down from upper floors in the presence of their families, pushing back the women and children who rushed to embrace the targeted men, Delhi police had found one bus to bring out the terrorised survivors from their looted homes with just their clothes on, to the police grounds.
A 12-year-old boy sat alone apart from his kin, on a large stone, brooding, head held firm on a straight spine. The knot of his kesh had been lopped off but the remaining hair, glued spiny stiff and erect in a bunch, proclaimed his continuing identity. ‘‘He has not spoken a word since he saw his father and uncle being burnt to death and flung down from first floor,’’ a relative informs.
A desultory conversation begins. A middle-aged sardarni, still dreaming of the gory killing of her husband, softly asks, ‘‘Is it possible to rescue my brother-in-law? He is all burnt but there is still some breath in him. He is sitting in a chair for the last 40 hours.’’ The woman withdraws into herself.
I ask for a guide to locate the house. A polio-affected youth moves closer. ‘‘I will. The police left behind my wife. Her thigh and shoulder were scorched as she threw herself on my eldest brother when they set him on fire live. She is mute and young, childlike really...’’
An athletic sardar, kesh cut, clean-shaven, accompanies me. Few hours ago, like many Sikhs in that colony, he had paid several hundred rupees to a barber to raze an integral part of his being. Since October 31, ‘kesh’ marked not a glorious inheritance but a victim to be torched alive.
With the doctor’s team and first-aid, we enter the colony and pause by a wounded elderly man lying on a cot. He would need an ambulance. We do not have one. ‘‘Now you come,’’ screams a woman. ‘‘After bodies have been thrown in the nullahs.’’ A Sikh grabs my arm, ‘‘Curfew laga dijiye." Our guide sprints into a lane. Mounds of junk placed across the road every few yards, the lynchers’ barricades to prevent victims escaping in their taxis. The young doctors trail. The guide breaks into a run and leaps over front steps of a house. ‘‘Anyone there?’’ I call out a few times, then step in.
The house had been looted clean, no furniture, no utensils, no clothes. ‘‘There is no one inside, I checked thoroughly,’’ he says. Depressed, we stand still in the stark living room. A mob of 200 men and women has arched around the house while we are inside. They watch us silently. ‘‘What have you done with him?’’ I yell. ‘‘Didn’t burning him satisfy you? His bhabhi told me that Dilbara Singh is sitting in a chair. Where have you hidden him?’’
‘‘Oh Dilbara Singh!’’ a man steps up saucily. ‘‘Come here. This pile of ashes, that’s him. His wife broke up the chair and gave him a live funeral, with flowers and everything.’’ he grins wickedly.
The chowk is now blocked by a mob of 150. The news of a rescue team has travelled. I notice brass knuckles on a fist and cycle chain in a hand and discover that our guide is missing.‘‘Where is the man who came with us?,’’ I yell.‘‘He was with us 2 minutes ago. What have you done with him?’’
An armed sub-inspector comes running. ‘‘He is safe. He was recognised. He ran for his life. He asked me to inform you.’’ The officer was the sole policeman on duty for 48 hours.
The sun begins to set. Someone hails us. An elderly thick-set sardar in a wheelchair pushed by two youngsters. ‘‘Take me out please,’’ the sardar pleads. We walk away but a few steps later, I abruptly halt. The disabled Sikh is not safe, he’s in danger. We turn and stride to the disabled man. ‘‘Come,’’ we say. But the three young men have their hands firm on his wheelchair. ‘‘We’ll take him. We are with Nandita Haksar.’’ I believe them only after sighting Nandita 300 meters away.
That evening I hitch a ride in a press car. ‘‘Fifty-nine Hindus killed, some pulled in gurdwaras.’’ they tell me. ‘‘But we are not printing that.’’.
Police Commissioner Tandon refuses to see the press. PRO Panwar sniggers, ‘‘Hundreds killed in one basti? How is it possible to burn people alive? We have not received any complaints.’’
Reporters decide to gatecrash Tandon’s office. ‘‘Please order shoot at sight." He steps back into the unlit shield of his chamber. His subordinates and guards block the door.
Next day, I visit the morgue. A corpse wrapped in a bloodstained brilliant white sheet is laid outside the walled compound, in front of the gate. Not a soul around. I ask a policeman if I can pay for a few decent funerals.
In the compound, to my left, is an open shed with hundreds of bloated corpses stacked 6-7 deep like logs. In front of me, scores of rotting bodies heaped in a truck. Nearby a dump of swollen, decaying remains of men. Disconnected tufts of hair strewn around. The policeman returns, asks me to come over. I take a few steps over the bunches of kesh littering the compound and blown around my feet.
Outside, I stand for a while with an anonymous, unaccompanied body.
Please do not forget the SIKH LOBBY DAY on 11 November 2004 at the UK Houses of Parliament.
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