1984: A year we must never forget
I have been in Delhi all my life and I don't have any recollections of 1984, probably because I was just about learning to walk. But there were others like me, who should've gotten that time to take their baby steps. Instead they started their lives on the run, and some say, they're still running.
I am talking about those unfortunate victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre. I don't call them riots, because that's when two sides have an equal go at each other. In this case, it was completely one-sided, Sardars across Delhi barely had the capability or the time to fight back because it all happened so fast. The years after 1984 though were slow. Time has inched forward for most of the families ruined by killings that were just so unnecessary. Thousands of lives shattered and the children of '84 are still trying to pick up the pieces.
Working on a special story on the 25 years of the Sikh massacre, my colleague Priyali and I spent a considerable amount of time in one small corner of Delhi known as Tilak Vihar. It's best described as a ghetto, a small, densely populated area where thousands of affected Sikh families were rehabilitated by the government. There are people living in matchbox houses, stacked one above the other. You can't escape the smell of the decomposing garbage behind every staircase as you make your way to meet someone. Families uprooted from their comfort zones and literally dumped in such areas. As we walk around, all I can think of is how this is all so damn unfair!
Someone lost 11 members of their family, just watched them being burnt alive. Watching their husbands being dragged out and slaughtered, some women had the presence of mind to save their young boys by opening their patkas so they would look like girls. Some even sacrificed their faith by chopping off their children's hair. Guess desperate times beg for desperate measures. Women ran to the police for help, instead it was the police which helped the mob, in many cases provided matchsticks to help set innocent Sardars ablaze, watching the show as they screamed for their lives.
Those who survived have grown up with these memories. Just pause and think, can such memories ever be erased? Can their lives ever return to normal?
Walking the narrow lanes of Tilak Vihar, there are horrific tales to be told at each corner. Some refused to talk to us, accusing the media of making a big show out of their feelings and not really genuinely helping them.
Well, to be honest, I can't quite blame them. They feel deserted, forgotten and let down. Someone had a transport business in Trilokpuri before 1984, now their sons are driving autos across Delhi. Youngsters who had a bright future, were forced to drop out of school and work with their mothers to help feed the younger members of the family. But many of their efforts went in vain. Having no one at home during the day, children were directionless. Many fell into bad company, got hooked to drugs and some even lost their lives to addiction. There was almost no one in the entire locality who had managed to cross over and make a successful living.
The point I'm trying to make is that one act of hatred for three days in the November of 1984 wiped out not just one generation, but the generations to come as well. The survivors may have escaped the swords, the kerosene cans, the matchsticks and the mob 25 years ago, but they are living in a present which has a grim future. They call 1984 a blot - a blot they can never wipe off.
While it's imperative that the victims move on and try and escape the past, the leadership should never be allowed to. The men behind the massacre should be repeatedly reminded of what they did and what their actions have continued to do to the generation that followed. It is they who should have nightmares and not the victims. It is they who should be living in terrible conditions and it is they who should be trying consistently to remove the blot of 1984 that they have against their names.