donderdag 12 mei 2011

Widows of 1984 anti-Sikh riots still waiting for justice

Many of the flats in Hari Nagar have garlanded photos on the wall

Widows of 1984 anti-Sikh riots still waiting for justice

Published on : 22 April 2011 - 12:19pm | By Devi Boerema (photo: Devi Boerema)

Indira Gandhi's assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards on 31th of August 1984 shook India to the core. But the events that followed would leave a permanent mark on the nation's collective consciousness. 

In the days immediately following Mrs Gandhi's death, there was a mass reprisal against Sikhs.  Tens of thousands of Sikh men were pulled out of buses and trains, slaughtered on the streets, in their homes and in their workplace; an estimated 10-17,000 men died in three days.

Uncounted thousands more went into some form of hiding.  Many Sikh men cut their hair and took off their turbans to hide their ethnicity.  It was years before the Sikkh community would regain its collective confidence to repossess the streets of Delhi again.

Widows' colony
In the west Delhi suburb of Hari Nagar, children play on the dusty roadside and women haggle with the vegetable vendors.  From the outside, the ramshackle buildings  look like an ordinary middle class Delhi housing complex.  But inside, it's soon apparent that the inhabitants of the small apartments are all part of a community of grief.  These are the widows of 1984.
There are a few men around, but it's mostly a community of women mourning lost generations of their men folk.

Nanki's memories
Nanki Kaur is in her early fifties, but the deep lines in her face make her look much older. Many of the flats in Hari Nagar have garlanded photos on the wall – Nanki Kaur prefers to keep her photos locked away in a suitcase underneath her bed. They bring back too many memories.

"My husband went to work that day. Like any other day he went to open up his shop. But he returned when he saw the whole market was closed because of Indira Gandhi's assassination. We thought we were safe at home, but soon we heard the news about the mobs that were burning down houses."

Mrs. Kaur's brother-in-law was killed by a mob the day after Mrs Gandhi's assassination. When another angry mob came to where the Kaurs lived, her husband tried to escape by climbing up to the roof.  Mrs. Kaur's last memory of her husband is of him being dragged away by shouting people – many of whom she recognized as neighbours. 

They set him on fire and burnt him alive.

"When I think about what has happened it still makes be cry. Both brothers from the same family were killed. It's only me and my children and grandchildren now"

Kangana's memories
In this community everyone knows what it feels like to lose a husband, brother, uncle or grandfather. A few floors down is Kangana Kaur.  She was eight years old when a mob broke into their home.

"My grandmother tried to stop them. She even begged them to take her instead of my dad. But they took my dad and brothers outside and killed them. My grandmother was brutally beaten up, but she survived"

The memory is decades old, but the pain is fresh and her tears still hot.  She lost her father and her uncles, but the women who were left behind in the family also lost who they had once been.

"We use to have three shops; my family did well for themselves. We had a lot of property, but that was all taken from us. Today we have to live with our whole family in this small apartment in this old building. We worked hard, but now we have nothing"

The stories of Nanki amd Kangana can be echoed in every flat in Hari Nagar.

Nanki Kaur reported the names of the people she'd recognized in the mob, and a couple of them were arrested,  but then they simply disappeared from view.  It's been nearly three decades since the mass killings, but not a single person has been convicted for any of the crimes that were committed against the Sikkh community.

Perhaps it's this thought more than the photos on the wall that makes it such a trial for the families in Hari Nagar to get through each new day.


·                          Widows of 1984 anti-Sikh riots still waiting for justiceGarlanded pictures hang in most housesNanki Kaur (middle) sitting outside her house with her neigboursKangana Kaur and her two childrenNanki Kaur's grandchildren holding up the pictures of the men that were killed


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