Date: 8/16/2005


Sum of all fears /// Resentful, tired and hurt, a clutch of Sikh families from Bokaro to Kanpur remembers the horrific aftermath of October 31, 1984. The Sunday Express goes visiting the tragedy beyond Delhi /// The news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was followed by rioting for over 36 hours in Kanpur. The Ranganath Misra Inquiry Commission report put the town’s toll at 127. Unofficial records put the figure at 250 /// THE anti-Sikh riots of 1984 claimed 2,733 lives in Delhi alone. And that is just the official number. Now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admits it could be as high as 4,000./// But there is another number. One that was never counted. A number made up of the many murders that took place outside Delhi. Home minister Shivraj Patil drew attention to the tragedy beyond Delhi when he acknowledged that compensation provided in some states was not adequate and would be brought at par with Delhi. Outside Delhi, Kanpur, then ruled by a Congress government headed by N D Tiwari, was one of the worst hit. /// Though the Justice Ranganath Misra Inquiry Commission report recorded 127 deaths at Kanpur, unofficial estimates put the tally at 250. About 2,847 FIRs were lodged in the city but no one has been booked till date. About 4,200 houses, shops, godowns and factories were destroyed in the violence that went on for 36 hours. /// Today the Sikhs at Kanpur feel betrayed once again. As Jathedar Kuldip Singh, president of All India Guru Singh Sabha and former Congress MLC, says, ‘‘The Sikhs of Kanpur want the policemen and officers who either connived with the rioters or looked the other way when the mobs ran amok to be punished. They also want to be compensated adequately.’’ /// What has particularly angered the Sikhs is that no action has been taken against Brijendra Yadav who presided over the district administration during the anti-Sikh riots.’’ Kanpur is not ready to forget, much less forgive. /// Bokaro is another site of anonymous deaths. Minutes after the prime minister was shown on television, telling the Lok Sabha that his government was committed to act as per the law to ‘reopen or further examine individual cases’ recommended by the Nanavati Commission report, about 50 Sikhs at Bokaro met at the local gurdwara. /// ‘‘The problem is the jurisdiction of the Nanavati Commission is limited to Delhi. We want him to extend its jurisdiction to Bokaro where the casualty was no less,’’ says Khyam Singh. About 69 had died and over 300 were injured in the steel city in the ’84 riots. /// In Ahmedabad, Sikhs are a tiny majority—they make up only 15,000 of Ahmedabad’s population of 45 lakh. Though Ahmedabad was more fortunate than other cities in the sense that it saw no bloodshed, more than 30 shops in the city were set on fire. /// There is a number that has never been counted. A number made up of the many murders that took place outside Delhi. Bokaro is one such site of anonymous deaths. Over 69 had died and over 300 injured in the 1984 riots in the steel city. Now Bokaro is demanding justice /// Malkeet Singh, president of the Gurdwara at Odhav, makes no attempt to hide his disappointment with the government. ‘‘It makes no difference that a Sardar today is the country’s prime minister. We all know who pulls the strings and if he finds it so difficult to support the community, he should resign. Patry loyalty cannot be above justice,’’ he says. /// Satnam Singh, owner of Globe Auto at Saraspur still remembers the day his shop was burnt by a mob of over 3,000 people. Raspat Kaur’s memories are more horrific. She was travelling on the Delhi Mail to Ahmedabad on October 31, 1984, along with her father-in-law and her children when the train was stopped by a mob. Her father-in-law was killed as he tried to escape. ‘‘Less than 10 metre away, I saw the mob putting rubber around his neck, pouring something over him and setting him on fire,’’ she says. For her the Nanavati report means nothing. /// In Pune, however, the report has evoked anger. Kuljeet Singh, 59, remembers that in 1984, acquaintances congratulated him on being lucky to be alive. ‘‘You could see the suspicion in familiar faces. My family even decided to move to Nanded and moved some of our assets there. We finally decided against it. Twenty one years later, I feel justice delayed is justice denied. If in your own home you feel insecure, would you stay in that home? That’s how I feel now that the Nanavati report has come out,’’ he says. /// For Lt Col JS Gill, 55, the wounds are still raw. He was travelling to Bhopal from Delhi when at the Tughlaqabad station he was pulled out of the train and beaten with iron rods by a mob. ‘‘I only remember seeing a fountain of blood coming out of body before I passed out,’’ he says. /// IN Ghaziabad, 70-year-old Gurbachan Singh has forgotten nothing. He silently mouths the word ‘no’. He has no hope for justice. It’s been 21 years since the riots, but for Singh who lost his speech to throat cancer, 1984 is still alive. /// Clutching on to the black and white photographs he had taken way back then, of his home and shop that was burnt and then looted by the mobs, he points to a yellowed newspaper clipping: ‘Government waives off loans given to ’84 riots victims.’ He scribbles furiously on a paper: ‘‘I had to return each and every penny along with interest. We got nothing and we have lost all hope of getting anything.’’ /// In Shibbanpura and Rajnagar, life goes on. The gurdwara here was attacked back then but the Sikhs fought back. /// If in Ghaziabad the community saved itself, in Mumbai one man showed how the system can protect citizens if it wants to. Mumbai’s police commissioner in 1984, Julio Ribeiro, was in Pune at the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. On receiving the news, he called the Mumbai control and instructed all policemen to take the streets. By the time Ribeiro reached Mumbai, his officers had taken control of the situation and Sikh dominated neighbourhoods like Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar at the edge of the island city and Sher-e-Punjab in the suburbs were patrolled heavily. ‘‘Those were the days before politicians interfered with the working of the police and the force still ruled the mean streets of Mumbai,’’ he says. /// In a gurdwara at GTB Nagar, aging taxi driver Swaroop Singh points to a spot under a lamp-post from where years ago Ribeiro addressed the residents, assuring them of peace. It was common knowledge that the police had instructions to shoot any troublemaker. /// Though there were no reports of loss of life from Mumbai, the first few days of November 1984 were tense. In the local trains and other public places in the city, Sikhs were often taunted. The 2-lakh odd Sikh community in the city, mostly involved in trade and transport, mostly remained indoors for a week. ‘‘Our mobility was definitely limited during those days,’’ says principal of Khalsa College, Ajit Singh. ‘‘Ordinary people cannot ignite riots, these things are always planned by powerful people with contacts,’’ he adds. The city was probably saved because the local politicians refused to replicate the carnage in Delhi. /// Now if only the rest of the country had replicated Mumbai’s model.Atiq Khan in Kanpur, Aishwarya Mavinkurve in Pune, Palak Nandi in Ahmedabad, Shibu Jagdevan in Mumbai, Manoj Prasad in Bokaro and Kavita Chowdhury in Ghaziabad /// A Window to death /// In Kanpur, Avtar Singh’s four brothers escaped from a window. To a waiting mob and death. His sister was killed by their father to save her from the rioters. And then his parents took their lives /// ATIQ KHAN /// KANPUR:FOR the last five years, Avtar Singh has been making annual trips from Kanpur to Amritsar’s Goindwal Saheb Gurudwara. He goes there each year to observe his parent’s shradh, hoping it will win them peace after death. /// But he has not found peace yet. Not after that November morning that took away his parents, sister and four brothers. /// On November 1, 1984, a 1000-strong mob attacked his house in Dabauli area of Govindnagar. They left behind the burnt bodies of his family. /// ‘‘Ikkis saal ho gayen hain par aaj bhi dil sambhalta nahin hai,’’ says Avtar. (Twenty-one years have gone by but even today I can not collect myself). /// He was 25 years old in 1984. He hurried home once news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and riots broke out. The night passed away peacefully. But it was a deceptive calm. The next day at 8.15 am, a mob attacked their house, chanting, Indira Gandhi ke hatyaron ko phansi do,’ climbed over their roof and set it on fire. /// Avtar Singh’s brothers decided to escape from the window. ‘‘The window of the room was used as an escape route. But it was a passage to death,’’ says Avtar. Four of his brothers jumped out of the window, only to be caught by the waiting mob and killed. /// Death was the only certainty. And Avtar’s father Vishaka Singh decided the only way to save his 23-year-old daughter from the mob was by killing her. Then taking the same kirpan he killed himself. His wife Saran Kaur too took her life. Avtar managed to escape, taking refuge in an abandoned house till the army columns moved in. /// Four FIRs were lodged at the Govindnagar PS but there was no investigation. ‘‘A compensation of Rs 1.40 lakh for the dead and Rs 30,000 for the damage to the house was what we have got in the last 21 years,’’ says Avtar, who married in 1985 and has now moved to his new house in Kaushalpuri. /// He may have little faith in the law of the land, but believes in God’s justice. ‘‘The Gurbani says as you sow, so shall you reap.’’ /// The price of freedom /// J. P. YADAV /// PATNA:NINETY-SIX year old Joginder Singh Pandha is one of India’s many freedom fighters who came together to successfully end British rule. But fighting for compensation in Free India is proving to be far more difficult. Singh is one of Patna’s many victims of the 1984 riots. /// He came with his family to Patna in 1953 on a visit and decided to make it home. But the anti-Sikh riots turned his home to ashes. On October 31, 1984, Bihar was celebrating its famous Chhat festival. Singh had along with his friends to a village across the Ganga to join the celebrations. When he learnt about the riots, he rushed to Patna. But it was too late. /// ‘‘By the time I reached my factory everything was over. The machines had been looted and the factory set on fire,’’ he remembers, his eyes bright with tears. His two small factories—Diesel Engineering Works and Gurdeep Tube-well Boring works—were looted and burnt. ‘How will the police catch the offenders when they were themselves involved in the loot?’’ he asks. He remembers when he reached Patna, he saw policemen breaking locks of shops on the Station Road and allowing mobs to loot the goods. ‘‘I had never imagined that such a thing will happen in a country for whose independence I had fought,’’ he says. /// Though Patna was spared any killings, hundreds of shops and other properties belonging to Sikhs were burnt. Displaced from the house allotted to him as a freedom fighter, Singh is waging a lonely battle from his one- room house that the gurdwara has given him. /// For a compensation of Rs 3 lakh, Joginder Singh has approached ministers, chief ministers and even the prime minister. Despite clearances from the concerned authorities, he is yet to receive the money. But Singh, who says he served in the British army before revolting to join the freedom struggle, is not ready to give up. ‘‘I will die only after the government gives me my compensation.’’ /// ‘Ashes is all I found of my sister’ /// KAVITA CHOUDHURY /// GHAZIABAD:‘‘Ashes,’’ he says softly. The tears quickly give way to anger. ‘‘That’s all I found of my sister. Stuffed in a sack; her ashes and her burnt jewellery.’’ For Amarjit Singh Khosla, a transporter in Ghaziabad’s Kavi Nagar, ‘‘1984 ki yadeein aaj bhi taaza hain.’’(The ’84 memories are still raw.) /// November 1, 1984, had begun on a normal note. Amarjit, an asthma patient, had stepped out of home to collect his medical reports. When he came out of the lab, he saw himself facing a mob armed with sticks and soda bottles.‘‘They had just set a truck on fire and were rounding up some sardars when they spotted me coming out of the lab. They started running towards me, throwing stones at me,’’ he says. One of the shopkeepers in the area managed to save him. /// By the time he reached home, he was sick with fright. ‘‘I had to save my family and two small sons at any cost.’’ Afraid that their turbans would give them away, he chopped off their long hair and dressed them up like girls in frocks. His son Gurmeet, now a 27-year-old, never grew back his hair. /// Desperate to find out about his sister, Amarjit was able to start looking for her only a day later. The nightmare had just begun. /// Nothing had prepared him for the sight he confronted. When he reached her house, all he found was a burnt out shell. /// ‘‘Joginder’s husband Satwant was a military man and theirs was the only Sardar family in the locality. They chopped off his hair, then dragged him to his house.’’ Neighbours told him the mob then killed Satwant and put his body into a sack. ‘‘They didn’t even spare their 14-year-old son. Joginder and his son Bittu’s body too were put into sacks and burnt.’’ /// ‘‘All that was left of them were ashes,’’ he says. /// ‘‘The two other kids were partly burnt. They saw their parents being killed before them,’’ says Amarjit. ‘‘All I could do was to bring them away with me.’’ /// ‘‘We are two brothers and she was my only sister,’’ he says. With raksha bandhan only a week away, Amarjit misses Joginder all the more. /// ‘‘An FIR was lodged but nothing came of it,’’ he says. ‘‘There have been eight commissions, they have doled out compensation but is that going to bring back the dead? Will it bring back my sister?’’ he asks. /// Gunning for life /// To save his family, Rajinder Singh Rajan fired in self-defence. One person died and Rajan faced a murder case that was dismissed only five years later /// S.M.A.KAZMI /// DEHRA DUN: LIFE for Rajinder Singh Rajan, a transporter in Dehra Dun, was peaceful till October 31, 1984. It has never been that easy since. /// Rajan was a Congress supporter and had close ties with several senior Congress politicians. As president of the Guru Singh Sabha, Dehra Dun, when the riots broke out, he told fellow Sikhs to shut their shops and go home. ‘‘By noon I started getting calls that shops belonging to Sikhs were being looted in the city and that I should to do something,’’ Rajan says. /// He rang up officials of the district administration, the chief minister’s office at Lucknow and even Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi, asking for help. ‘‘No one could help me and the ADC of the President told me that due to the situation in the country, he could do nothing,’’ says Rajan. /// By 1.30 pm, a mob of more than three thousand people surrounded his sprawling bungalow at East Canal Road and begun pelting stones. The frightened family took shelter on the first floor. Rajan came out with his licensed gun and took shelter behind a pillar. As the mob closed in, he fired from his gun in the air to scare them away. ‘‘I could see policemen on the road but none of them came to help us,’’ he says. /// The mob burnt a car and truck in the compound and even stoned to death a cow and a buffalo in the shed. /// After two hours, two youth jumped over the gate of his house with petrol cans. ‘‘I pleaded with them to return but they were abusive. As a last resort, I fired and one of them died,’’ Rajan recalls with a sadness that has never left him since the incident. /// The policemen who never arrived earlier, now came promptly. ‘‘After surrendering my weapon as I was being taken away in a police jeep, I saw all the senior officials including the district magistrate and SP on the road.’’ /// His young son too was bundled into the police jeep. That was not the end of the trauma for the Rajan family. A case of murder was slapped against Rajan for firing on a peaceful procession leading to the death of a youth. A verbal campaign was launched against any lawyer pleading for his bail. ‘‘But it was my friend Chaudhary Puran Singh who defied all threats to plead for my innocence in the court,’’ says Rajan. /// After his bail application was rejected by the lower court and the session courts, he could get bail only from the Allahabad High Court after forty-three days. /// It took the UP government over five years to realise that Rajan had acted in self-defence. It withdrew the case against him. But for Rajan the chapter is far from over. /// Centre of the storm /// In Punjab, public outrage is balanced by an uneasy government silence /// THE last few days in Punjab have seen public outrage. Over 27,000 families affected in the 1984 riots have been registering their angry protests. The Punjab government, meanwhile, has decided that silence is the best defence. /// Chief minister Amarinder Singh is not making any public appearance or issuing any statement while the SAD(B), the main opposition party in Punjab, is trying to make the most of the government’s discomfort. /// In the days to come, the chief minister is expected to flaunt some figures in his support. As per the records, the government claims to have given 700 LIG flats free of any cost to some victims and another 2,650 plots at concessional rates. Government records show that 310 widows are getting monthly pensions while 4,200 have got government jobs. /// No compensation can take away the loss though. ‘‘Sikh PM or not, the Congress has always been and will remain an enemy of Sikh community. The Nanavati report is proof of it,’’ says Baldev Kaur. She lost her 21-year-old son Gurcharan Singh in Shahadra 21 years ago. Now life drags on for her in the narrow crowded lanes of Dugri in Ludhiana. /// ‘‘I appeared before the Nanavati Commission when they visited Ludhiana about three years ago. I told them I had seen and heard HKL Bhagat giving orders to the mob.’’ /// She somehow managed to escape with her younger two sons. ‘‘I did not even see my son’s body,’’ she says, of her son who could not get away. /// WHEN these riot victims returned to their native state, they were met with many promises. ‘‘We were offered shelters, jobs, rehabilitation by successive governments, especially whenever it was election time. But these never materialised,’’ says Amarjit Singh, who owned a truck in Azadpur mandi in Delhi and whose 20-year-old son, a bus conductor, was killed by a mob. Amarjit came to Mohali and four years later married Kulwinder, whose husband had been killed by a mob in Delhi. /// Most of the victims have found shelter in half-finished LIG and MIG flats made by the Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) in towns like Ludhiana, Mohali, Jalandhar and Patiala. Subsequent fights with the governments resulted in the LIG plots being allotted to them at a concessional price of Rs 33,000, but most of them could not pay the installments regularly. Now, they have been issued notices to pay the penalty along with installments, which comes to about Rs 1 lakh. /// ‘‘We have not been able to educate our children. Most of them have dropped out of school, so how can we pay the installments?’’ says Manjit Singh Chalwa, president of the Danga Peerit Welfare Council at Ludhiana. /// Most of them have been cheated out of their just claims by fortune hunters who pose as riot victims and buy the red cards—the identification cards issued by the Punjab government to these victims—and stake a claim to the benefits. /// At Mohali, of the 700 odd families living in Phase XI, there are only about 60-70 genuine families left. The others are imposters. /// ‘‘In government offices, we are treated like dirt, they tell us bluntly, ‘for how long would you continue to be danga peerit?’’ If we tell people we are from the Danga Peerit colony, we are refused jobs,’’ says Lakhwinder Singh, who fled Kanpur for the safety Punjab offered. /// The riot widows were promised a pension of Rs 1,500 by the then Barnala government. The sum was later raised to Rs 2,500, but only people who had FIRs of their husbands’ death could receive it. /// For those like Arwinder Kaur from Dugri in Ludhiana, who could not find her 25-year-old husband’s body, there was no pension. /// The victims of 1984 returned home to Punjab fleeing persecution. Only to find the comforts and security of home missing. /// Ramaninder K.Bhatia and Kuldip Singh in Mohali /// ..............................000000000