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Friday, April 24, 2009

My Memories of 1984 (Part 2)

The morning after Indira Gandhi's assassination, I was at home, probably because school was closed on account of the state of mourning declared by the government. As I sat near a window in the quarter (one of four dwelling units in a 'block') which had been allotted to my father by his employer, like thousands of others who worked for the public sector unit, I could hear the wives of his colleague who lived next-door and the one who occupied the flat above ours converse among themselves. I do not recall the details, but do remember that there were a lot of unkind words said about the Sikh community, in general.

That evening, I stepped out on the front porch, upon hearing my mother's loud expression of anger, to see huge flames rising into the sky from the spot where the colony's Gurdwara had been. She ordered me inside and went off to ring up the fire brigade. We did not have a telephone connection at home and my father had gone to fetch the family's daily supply of milk.

The Sikh gentleman whose place my mother had gone to for making the telephone call told her that he had already contacted the fire-fighters and that she should go home, give my brother (who was a few days short of his first birth-day at that point of time) a teaspoon of Phenergan, so that he would sleep peacefully through the night, and turn out the lights after having locked all doors and drawn the curtains. She took his advice. Later, when my father returned, he told us about all that he had seen and heard during the day, as we sat in the kitchen, which was lit dimly by a small lamp that he installed there. The rest of the night passed uneventfully.

Early the next morning, my chacha (father's younger brother), who worked in the same manufacturing plant as my father and lived a few minutes of driving distance away, came to see us. He had seen the fire that engulfed the Gurdwara, the previous evening, and had been worried about our safety. As the day wore on, news came in that the home of another Sikh family, at about 10-15 minutes of walking distance from ours, had been attacked by the mob that burnt the Gurdwara and some members injured grievously. The police had been almost completely inactive throughout, so the threat to our lives seemed very real.

The non-Sikh tenants in the quarter diagonally opposite the one we had, offered to let my mother keep her jewellery and some other valuables with them until the violence subsided, for safety, which she accepted. Another such family in the adjacent block offered to let my father park his car in their garage, which he did. The next-door neighbours stored water in drums, whether to help us in case of a calamity or to safeguard themselves, I am not sure.

Since we did not have any weapons for self-defence, except kitchen knives, my mother (since she was not as easily recognisable as a Sikh as my father and I) brought in paving stones, one by one, from a nearby road-construction site, which were then stacked on the inside of the front door. My parents instructed me to pick up my brother and slip out through the back door to hide in the thick foliage behind the residence, with one hand cupped tightly over his mouth, while they would try to stop the hoodlums for as long as they could, in case of an attack.

No such eventuality arose, however, and the army staged a flag-march in the town on the following day, after which no violent incidents were reported. Like us, my chacha and his family, comprised of his wife and young son, also survived unscathed, even as thousands of other Sikhs perished in various parts of India.


Sidhusaaheb said...

I was 3 when this happened. My father used to work on accounts in the Dunlop factory, and they had a Sikh colleague whom they hid, along with his entire family. This is just sad…and frightening. Think this kinda stuff can happen again?
Deep | Homepage | 04.25.09 – 4:21 pm | #


As long as there are people in this country who would vote to power any political party that is seen as being responsible for organising mass-murder of members of minority communities (e.g. the thumping victory of the Congress (I) in the general elections in 1984 and the BJP’s in the Gujarat state assembly elections in 2002, following anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim riots, respectively), such incidents could recur, in my opinion.

It should be interesting to see how the BJP fares in Orissa in the currently ongoing elections, especially in view of the recent anti-Christian violence in that state.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 04.25.09 – 5:29 pm | #


Very touching story. That must have been a very unnerving time in your life. Thank you so much for wanting to participate in the LL&L carnival and I wanted to let you know that this post has been selected. Please look for it on or after May 3 at LL&L Carnival.
LLnL | Homepage | 04.27.09 – 1:31 am | #


I will not again bore you with the story of the murder of my family. Anybody interested can go to my blog and read it.

I am very curious. How old were you?
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 04.27.09 – 11:30 pm | #


Sorry ji. I just read part one. You were 8. A very vulnerable age. (But aren’t they all?)
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 04.27.09 – 11:38 pm | #


@Mai ji: I am sure that I or any other reader can not even begin to understand your pain, sense of loss and all that you have gone through. So, being bored is out of the question.

Yes, I was 8 at the time of Operation Bluestar and had turned 9 by November 1984.

It is not just a vulnerable, but a very impressionable age as well, for any one, and all that I saw and heard then has not only remained with me so far, but probably will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 04.28.09 – 6:40 am | #


I know an Delhi widow whose son was 9 in the Delhi Pogrom, your age. They tried to cut his hair and make him go hide with sympathetic Hindu neighbours, and he refused. When his father said he was to young to make such a decision, the boy pointed to a picture of Guru Gobind Singh ji and said, “His sons were six and eight. I’m nine.” They had no answer to that. Both father and son died with their hairs intact. She loves to tell that story, especially to monas. She is so proud of them, as I am proud of mine. During these horrible events, there was also much uplifting courage and genuine heroism.

Remember that when you hear that we Sikhs just aren’t what we used to be. Just a few like that are enough to keep us going.

Love and chardi kala!
Mai Harinder Kaur | Homepage | 04.28.09 – 7:45 am | #


I remember the time..there was curfew all over Delhi and my dad was stuck in office on my birthday…scary!!
cyberkitty | Homepage | 05.02.09 – 3:29 pm | #


loved these 2 posts, and thank you for sharing them. i was 7 at the time and the first time i even spoke about 1984, it was 1997. I have not yet had the courage to recount in words all that happened in those 2-3 days. Maybe someday i will be able to do that. Not just yet.

And the INC thinks people have “forgotten” or forgiven. I can assure them, neither has happened.
How do we know | Homepage | 05.07.09 – 9:16 pm | #


What an important account for all of us who have watched these developments from a distance.
Please keep writing and I will be quoting some of this stuff in my book
raza | Homepage | 05.08.09 – 7:52 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

Very difficult to write a comment on this, that would adequately convey my feelings.
Mridula | Homepage | 05.15.09 – 11:45 am | #


it still gives me goosebumps to remember that we lived and died a hundred deaths in that year.
Manpreet | Homepage | 05.29.09 – 2:37 am | #