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Thursday, March 13, 2008

My father's memories of November 1984

My father has been kind enough to pen down some of his experiences and memories from those tumultuous times, which are as follows:
"There is no doubt that the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 were a totally planned process. This is borne out by my personal experiences described here. The identities of those who carried out the planning not only in Delhi, but all over the Hindi belt, have been suppressed by the commissions or investigating agencies.

I was working with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Hardwar, in 1984 and living in the BHEL colony at Ranipur, Hardwar.

We were in office on 31st October when the news of Indira Gandhi's assassination came in. There were no ill-feelings among the staff members except one or two personal clashes.

However, when we went to office on 1st November, the atmosphere had totally changed. People were huddled in groups and discussing something that they wanted to keep from me, but since we had been working together for nearly 20 years, they hesitatingly informed me that there was a list of Sikh properties and establishments, which were to be attacked and burned down on that day. The process was to start from the other end of Hardwar, near Bhimgoda, and end in BHEL and Jwalapur in the evening or at night.

Based on the list, people were monitoring the progress by contacting their near and dear ones by telephone and confirming whether the arsonists had burnt down this property or were proceeding to that property.

Throughout the day, I could see that the process was going almost as planned, because the police were with the arsonists, which was confirmed later, as described in some of the following paragraphs.

In the evening, when I reached home, I observed that many people had collected on the roof-top of the house just behind mine and were discussing loudly among themselves about Sant Talkies (a cinema-hall owned by a Sikh) having been set on fire. Since, Sant Talkies was located near BHEL and it represented the last item in the list for Hardwar, they had apparently been prepared to watch the show of the burning of the cinema hall, in the evening.

Since there was plenty of movement on the roads at that time, I decided to go and fetch the family's milk supply, which had to be brought from the other end of the colony, on foot, as I usually did. As I walked through the colony, I could hear people calling out to each other to proceed to the BHEL Gurdwara to participate in the attack on it or, at least, to watch it being destroyed.

As I was returning, I could see the crowds thickening and moving towards the Gurdwara. By the time I reached home, I could see huge crowds surrounding the Gurdwara and, subsequently, burning it down.

Sensing trouble, my family and I locked ourselves up in the house and simply waited for events to take shape.

Our neighbours were celebrating and saying that today our family was going to be eliminated. They were storing water in drums, which, according to them, was meant to be used for preventing the fire from spreading to their own houses, when ours was set on fire.

The mob, after burning the Gurdwara, went to the house of one of the Gurdwara's managing committee's members, but he and his family members escaped death, although injuries were sustained. The mob went away after his aged father drew a gun and prepared to shoot at the attackers. Another member of the committee was shot at with a country-made pistol, but he also escaped death as the bullet only grazed his neck.

Late into the night, the BHEL administration called in the army from the Raiwala cantonment and so the rest of the days of anti-Sikh violence in India passed off peacefully for us.

After a few days, my motorcycle mechanic visited me (I used to own an Ideal Jawa motorbike, at that time). He was a Sikh gentleman. I could not recognise him until he identified himself, as he was clean-shaven. When I asked him, he told me about all that had happened.

He used to be the only mechanic in Hardwar who could repair the Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles. So, all police personnel of Hardwar used to go to him for getting their official motorcycles repaired. He said that early in the morning of 1st November, some policemen came to his house and told him that he was one of the targets on that day's list. They told him that they did not want him to be killed, but they could not protect him either. So, they suggested that he remove all external symbols of Sikhism, become clean-shaven and seek 'forgiveness' from the leaders of the mob, when they came to attack him and his motor-garage. So, in this way, they told him, he could be saved and not lose his source of livelihood i.e. his motorcycle repair facility.

He acted accordingly and he and his garage were spared.

He and some others also told me that when the Sikh establishments were looted and burned, the police personnel were encouraging the people to loot and were also noting down the names and addresses of the looters, as well as the items that each of them had looted. Later on they visited the looters and demanded a share, or, the looted items, if the looters were not prepared to pay.

One of Giani Zail Singh's (who was the president of India at that point of time)relatives was also working with BHEL, Hardwar. He told me that when he rang up Giani Zail Singh to ask for protection, Giani ji informed him that he was virtually a prisoner himself and unable to move out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The president told him that being helpless himself, he was unable to offer any help and that the relative should manage on his own, as best as he could.

These events clearly prove that the whole operation was very well-planned and the details known, in advance, to all concerned, including the police, so that all activities could go ahead as scheduled.

The conditions were similar in many other cities of the Hindi belt as well as in Delhi, as I subsequently came to know from many other Sikhs as well non-Sikhs, who were witness to such events."


Sidhusaaheb said...

In Delhi, the names of Sikhs were taken out from the Ration Card list that the area Ration Card shopkeepers had. The neighbourhood I lived in was attacked well planned as well. The cinema owned (partly) by a Sikh was burnt down, Chemist shop that belonged to a Sikh met the same fate, Sikh Grocery store owner could hardly find anything in his store as all was looted and burnt. I did not hear of any houses in my locality owned by Sikhs were set on fire. May be the mob could not get our names and addresses. But today I see the same business back up and running by WaheGuru’s meher (blessings). Lots of my friends were surprised/shocked to see me and my other Sikh classmates alive when we returned to school after things cooled down. I had no hard feeling with Hindus earlier, but the way my friends reacted, made me think twice about the trust I could put in them. Everyone was blaming the whole situation on the dirty politician and Gunda elements that politician seek help from, but I believe it was more than that. Or else why would school going kids feel surprised (not in a good way) upon the return of their (Sikh) classmates back after such blood bath in the city. Obvisouly, at their home their parents/elders must have been talking anti Sikh. Anyways, I do not hate Hindus. How can I. My best friend is one, and I have relatives who are Hindus, but string once broken will always have a knot in the middle.

PS. You wrote on a really touching issue and I expect a lot of comments on it, some with bitter feelings, and multiple comments from some readers, including me. Publish them uncensored so that we know what everyone truly think.

Edited By Siteowner
Sifar | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 2:30 am | #


Your blog showed up in a Google Alert for ‘Sikh.’ I am a survivor of the Delhi pogrom – most of my family were killed – and always try to read first person accounts of those days. So many questions I would like to ask your father, but I’ll leave him in peace.

I have read several posts here and enjoyed them immensely.
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 3:13 am | #


@Sifar: Thanks for sharing your experiences!

I’ll try, as I always do, to let the comments pass through with minimal moderation.

@Mai Harinder Kaur: Thanks for dropping by and for the compliment!

I do hope that WaheGuru shall bring peace upon the departed souls and justice to their family members left behind. Our family was lucky enough to escape unhurt.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 6:11 am | #


Nice to read ur article. I never knew things were that bad…but then i was very tiny then.
cyberkitty | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 7:51 am | #


Things did become rather bad and one got to see the worst side of human nature during those days. I was nine years of age then and have some vivid memories, even though I didn’t understand what was happening as clearly as I do now.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 12:18 pm | #


Your changing one word in my last comment changed the whole meaning of my comment.
Sifar | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 12:55 pm | #


I disagree and think that the message remains largely unchanged. That one word could’ve taken the focus entirely away from what you’ve conveyed through the comment, which I wouldn’t want to happen.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.13.08 – 1:50 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

I am very sad to learn of these tragic events from first hand account. (I was born a year after these tragic incidents took place)

May God bless the people who fell victim to this senseless and inhuman violence and may give courage to their family members. And bless us all so that we never fall in this state of degradation again.

Its indeed ironic that Sikhs have to be the worst sufferers. First the partition of Punjab (due to partition of India) where Sikhs were forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes and then the 1984 violence.

What do you think can be done now? I know people will mostly say that what has happened has happened and we need to move on. But I feel something needs to be done so that such events never occur again and the perpetrators are brought to justice. Maybe spreading more awareness about this will help in generating public support to pressurize the judiciary to punish at least some of the major criminals. Also declare a particular day to mourn the victims (I do not know if such a day has already been declared).

I know some people might oppose my comments (like declaring a day of mourning, spreading more awareness on this issue) on the pretext that it will weaken out national integrity and add fuel to the Khalistan movement. To them I will say that the existence of a country is of no importance if it cannot protect its citizens against violence. Also not to forget that had it not been for the martyrdom of the Sikh gurus, Hinduism will not have survived as a major religion in northern India. And it is the Sikhs, more than any other people, who have made the highest proportion of sacrifices in the cause of India – be they be during the freedom struggle or from the army.
Gaurav Mohanty | 03.13.08 – 11:09 pm | #


Thanks for the message of hope and peace!

I do wish that more people would acknowledge the contribution and sacrifices made by the Sikhs, like you have done.

I agree that a public campaign for bringing the perpetrators of the 1984 riots to book should be of help. It could actually go a long way towards serving the cause of justice and restoring faith in the Indian state among the Sikhs. That could only take away support from the Khalistan movement and not add to it and, therefore, promote national integration.

More importantly, however, such terrible events can be prevented from happening in the future only if people do not reward the political parties that incite and organise communal violence, with overwhelming majorities in parliament and in state legislatures, as they have done in the past.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.14.08 – 9:53 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

Sat Shri Akal and Namaste!

I have all day been thinking about what I need to say here. First, we two survivoring Kaurs, as well as my mother-in-law, have written our stories so people can know what happened. I will warn you, they are violent and ugly, and they are also real. We wrote them in hopes they could help educate people about what happened. They can be found in my blog sometimes – 2, at…-from- 1984.html

Second, what is to be done now? A memorial day would be sweet, but then there would also need to be a day to commemorate Gujarat, eh? And there have been others. Soon there would be no working days left in India. Besides , your censor board when reviewing Amu, called this pogrom ‘a history better buried and forgotten.’ I doubt the government is ready to officially remember. A better thing to do would be to rehabilitate the survivors. Many widows have been working through their memories, horrors and injuries, physical, emotional and spiritual, to raise their surviving children doing the most menial work, poorly paid, disrespected and disregarded. These brave, valiant women need to be given reparations for the deaths of their men, as well as for their sufferings in the years since. I personally think each one should also be given a siropa for valour, but that would be inside the Sikh community. BTW, I am Canadian and have escaped these problems, so I do not refer to myself here.

Third, it is fairly easy to mistreat, even murder people you already treat with disrespect. Let’s get rid of the horrible, buffoonish portrayals of Sikhs in Bollywood and present us as the respectable upstanding people most of us are. And knock off the Sardar jokes as well! We have earned your respect over the centuries. It wouldn’t hurt our Hindu co-Indians to show a little gratitude. As I sometimes remind my Hindu friends, if not for us, my friend Raj would be Mohammed and Sita would be Miriam.

Finally, there is only one way to guarantee this doesn’t happen again. I won’t write it here because I’m certain it would be moderated out, but we know what I’m talking about.

Chardi kala!
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 03.15.08 – 7:17 am | #


We come from a generation that has taken Partition in Gurhti and have survived the 15 years of so called extremism in Punjab and the pogrom of 84.
Charhdi Kala
Manpreet | Homepage | 03.16.08 – 1:50 pm | #


Our generation’s ability to remain in chardi kala has been/is being greatly tested, eh?

It seems in every generation we have different Mughals to fight, but we always manage to survive with some sense of style!

Chardi kala!
Mai Harinder Kaur
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 03.17.08 – 9:30 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

@ Mai Harinder Kaur :

“Finally, there is only one way to guarantee this doesn’t happen again. I won’t write it here because I’m certain it would be moderated out, but we know what I’m talking about.” – I am not quite sure if this is going to solve the problem. Such an action will again lead to widespread violence and might prove counter-productive to the interests of the sikh community. Besides, who would prefer to live in a land-locked country that is sandwiched between Pakistan and India. (Will you leave Canada to settle in Khalistan?)

And I do not see any guarantee either. Where is the guarantee that neither India nor Pakistan will ever be tempted to flex their muscles against a smaller state? It will simply lead to another playground where both the countries will wage a proxy way directed against each other. And again it will be the sikhs who will suffer.

I might be wrong on this, but I feel 1984 happened because Gandhi family had become very strong. (Did not the rest of India suffer during the emergency?) So I do not think the events of 1984 were directed against the sikhs by a particular community (Hindus, in this case).

No political party can ever make this mistake again. Congress will never dare to do such a thing. (Also it is not the sole dominant party any more). The Sangh parivar sided with the sikhs during 1984. Hence BJP harming the sikhs is out of question. Then what is there to be afraid of or be apprehensive about?
Gaurav Mohanty | 03.17.08 – 2:46 pm | #


As I had written before, people reward the political parties that organise mass-murder of minorities with huge majorities in parliament and state-legislatures, as happened in the general elections in 1984 and Gujarat state legislature elections in 2002 and once again more recently.

The root of the problem, therefore, is not the actions of such political parties, but the hatred in the hearts and minds of the people who vote for them in overwhelming numbers.

It can be eliminated, obviously, if more and more people recognise and acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions made by citizens who belong to minorities like the Sikhs, for instance, just like Garuav has done.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.17.08 – 3:44 pm | #


Blaise Pascal: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.
Zaheer Alam Kidvai | Homepage | 03.18.08 – 9:43 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

Blanchoh Says:

March 25, 2008 at 10:28 pm | Reply edit

nice work, bro

Sidhusaaheb said...

Dear Siddhu
I was so touched by these memoirs..I have nothing to say in the face of such a horrible situation – I read the post while reading a book on the violence during the Partition and I was double depressed
Glad that your father shared this. Memories have to be reconciled.
Raza Rumi | Homepage | 03.20.08 – 6:46 pm | #


Dear Gaurav Mohanty

We are doing everything in our power to peacefully establish Khalistan. In doing this, we are only trying to overcome the broken promises of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas K. Gandhi.

However, this blog is not, I think, the appropriate place to argue about Khalistan. I have done that long and in detail elsewhere. Instead, let us honour the author’s father for his courage in fetching milk for his family, when a less courageous man would have simply huddled in his house!

A last comment, in answer to your question:
Will you leave Canada to settle in Khalistan?
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 03.21.08 – 2:17 am | #


Thank you so much for sharing this piece with the rest of us. You write very beautifully and I was captivated by your father’s story. I am currenly in the process of interviewing my parents, which I find to be very spiritually fulfilling; through these discussions, I find that their experiences become knowledge and within it, I come to a deeper understanding of myself and my Truth.

I appreciate you taking that knowledge and allowing the rest of us to access it as well. Within your father’s story is a strong link to our Guru jis’ struggles for equity and justice and contemporary struggles that Sikhs continue to endure.

Thank you again, for sharing this with us.
Tejpreet Kaur | 03.22.08 – 4:50 pm | #


Poignant description of the events. As someone said, your father is a man of courage, and I’d add dignity.

Thank you for sharing his memories.
Celine | Homepage | 03.28.08 – 9:47 am | #


wow, very well written. Only thing I remember of the account is my father telling me how he used to be respected for his turban before 1984 in UP and Bihar where he used to work as a bank manager, and how after terrorism was rife, his turban became his enemy.
Roop Rai | Homepage | 04.04.08 – 2:07 pm | #


AMitav Ghosh’s article on this issue is a must read.It brings out how power had corrupted Indira Gandhi’s proteges completely and how cruel was people’s thinking in those days.In fact it was from the time of Mrs. Gandhi that politics took a crass,dishonest, disrespected turn
One thing is for sure . There was a vaaaaast difference between Nehru ji and his Daughter in everything
roopa esther sharma | Homepage | 04.22.08 – 3:04 pm | #


Though I dont know what to say on the main issue (my age was ‘minus 6′ at that time , I sympathise with all who were affected.

Btw, I LOVE the royal enfield.. do you?
Sriram | Homepage | 05.01.08 – 11:36 am | #


@Sriram: I do like it quite a bit, but own a Yamaha RX135 that I bought in 2001.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 05.01.08 – 11:46 am | #