1984 riots
30 yrs of commissions & omissions
Why it is relevant even after three decades to talk of the denial of justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots. Apart from justice, punishment is meant to act as a deterrent, so a message goes that no one is above law. 
HS Phoolka
Human rights lawyer who has been fighting legal battles for the anti-Sikh riot victims.
n January 1985 in an interview to a leading magazine on the anti-Sikh riots, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stated: "Inquiry would not help as it would rake up issues that are really dead". He was commenting on the demand for inquiry into the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs in the Capital of India and about 7,000 across the country.





1984 riots
How does one move on? They wish they knew
Every anniversary, the horrific three days of slaughter in Delhi and other locations in northern India are remembered with earnest concern for the victims. But for those left behind to suffer the pain, 1984 is not just a memory but a reality that has to be lived each day — at home, in the kitchen, at work, in banks, job queues.... Three decades on, The Tribune meets survivors to find out what the word ‘life’ means to them.

‘Loss too big to ever heal’
Home alone, they chose drugs
Ashes to riches
Rebuilt business, now billionaire
‘It was 1947 all over again’
5 men of family dead, she lives
Third generation not burdened
Spared, but scarred for life



1984 riots
30 yrs of commissions & omissions
Why it is relevant even after three decades to talk of the denial of justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots. Apart from justice, punishment is meant to act as a deterrent, so a message goes that no one is above law. 
HS Phoolka
Human rights lawyer who has been fighting legal battles for the anti-Sikh riot victims.

HS PhoolkaIn January 1985 in an interview to a leading magazine on the anti-Sikh riots, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stated: "Inquiry would not help as it would rake up issues that are really dead". He was commenting on the demand for inquiry into the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs in the Capital of India and about 7,000 across the country.

For Rajiv Gandhi the issue was "dead" within two months of the massacre that took place in day light on the streets of Delhi. Between the noon of November 1 and November 3, a Sikh was killed every minute. During these 2,880 minutes, 2,733 (official figures) Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone.

The Home Minister had given a statement in Parliament that 600 Sikhs were killed across India. In response to this statement, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Leader of the Opposition, had released a list of 2,700 killed in Delhi alone. Over 50,000 people were languishing in relief camps.

A victim photographed during the 1984 riots. The picture was taken from an exhibition organised by the Forgotten Citizens-1984 in Amritsar on October 21, 2012.
FIRST PAIN: A victim photographed during the 1984 riots. The picture was taken from an exhibition organised by the Forgotten Citizens-1984 in Amritsar on October 21, 2012. AFP

Probe begins

Six months later, the Rajiv Gandhi government agreed to appoint a Commission of Inquiry as a part of political negotiation between Sant Longowal, then Akali Dal president, and Rajiv Gandhi. For any democratic government, enforcing the rule of law should be paramount, but for the Rajiv government it was only a political move to appoint a Commission of Inquiry.

The terms of the Mishra Commission of Inquiry, which was constituted with a sitting Supreme Court Judge, J Ranganath Mishra, were not the usual terms of reference which are to find out how the massacre happened; who took part in it; who are to be prosecuted; role of law-enforcing agencies; and action to be taken against them. In short-to fix accountability for the death of innocent citizens. On the contrary, the only term of reference of the commission was to enquire into "allegations if the violence was organized".

We requested Akali Dal leaders to get the terms of reference changed, but for reasons best known to them, this did not happen. The commission began its proceedings with these flawed objectives. Human rights groups were left with no choice but to participate in these proceedings.

An umbrella organisation of human rights groups was constituted for this purpose named the Citizen's Justice Committee (CJC). With Justice SM Sikri, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as its president and I as secretary. The Mishra Commission started its proceedings in July 1985 and submitted its report in August 1986. The report was published and tabled in Parliament in February 1987. In his report, Mishra stated that it was not a part of his terms of reference to identify any person. These findings came as a bombshell as after holding a long and tedious inquiry for over a year, he simply recommended the formation of three other committees to do the real job.

Earlier, the Police Commissioner had deputed Additional Police Commissioner Ved Marwah to inquire into the role of the police. Ironically, the allegation of police complicity of the Commissioner of Police and Senior Additional Commissioners were assigned to an inquiry by an officer junior to them, nonetheless Marwah did conduct the inquiry as mandated.

Rahul Bedi, a journalist, had filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court in the third week of November 1984 on how two seniormost Additional Commissioners of Police and a Deputy Commissioner of Police ignored the information given to them by him [Rahul Bedi] about the Trilokpuri massacre, which had resulted in the killing of 400 Sikhs. The government took the stand before the High Court that the Ved Marwah inquiry had been constituted and therefore the court should not entertain the writ petition. Unfortunately, going by the assurance of the government, the court dismissed the petition.

In October 1985, Marwah completed his inquiry, however, he was directed not to submit the report. It became clear why, when he later informed the media that he had identified many police officers for complicity and gross negligence. He was also directed to hand over all his evidence and papers to the Mishra Commission, who would identify the guilty police officers. Marwah passed on all papers to the Mishra Commission. However, certain important papers out of that record are missing. When I asked Justice Mishra in his chamber about those papers, he informed me that those had been destroyed by the police under instructions of the government.

Mishra in his report refused to do his job and identify the guilty whereas Marwah, who identified guilty law enforcers, was asked to discontinue his work. Yet, regarding the killings in Kanpur, Mishra held then District Magistrate Brijendra Yadav responsible for the killing of 125 Sikhs in Kanpur. An Army officer, Captain Bareth, had submitted his report to the Mishra Commission that Yadav stopped the Army from taking any action against the mob which was indulging in killing, looting and arson in the presence of the Army. The Army wanted to take action but Yadav ordered it not to. The Mishra Commission recommended action against Yadav, but interestingly, Yadav got three promotions after that and retired from the post equivalent to the Chief Secretary.

Curiously, Justice Ranganath Mishra became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and was made a Rajya Sabha MP by the Congress after retirement.

In February 1987, when the Mishra Commission report was tabled in Parliament, almost two years and four months had passed since the carnage, but even the number of citizens killed was not known. We had submitted a list of 3,878 before the commission but Mishra recommended the appointment of another committee to ascertain the number of killings.

The Ahuja Committee was appointed to do this job. Ahuja submitted its report in August 1987 and put the figure at 2,733 in Delhi alone. It took the largest democracy in the world three years to even put a figure on its citizens who had been murdered in a span of just two days.

More committees, little action

The other committee appointed on the recommendation of the Mishra Commission was the Kapoor-Mittal Committee to inquire into the role of the police which was really the unfinished task of Ved Marwah. In 1990, this committee identified 72 police officers for connivance and gross negligence and recommended forthwith dismissal of 30 police officers without any inquiry. None of these officers has been dismissed and not even a major penalty has been awarded to any one of them. This committee also found the allegations of Rahul Bedi correct and had recommended action against Sewa Dass and Nikhil Kumar. Far from action, they were promoted, not once but thrice.

Among the three police officers named by Rahul Bedi were DCP Sewa Dass who got three promotions and retired as Special Commissioner of Police and Additional Commissioners HC Jatav and Nikhil Kumar. Nikhil Kumar also got three promotions and retired as DGP. Later, he became a Congress MP.

The other committees were to recommend the registration of cases. Three successive committees were appointed to complete this task-Jain-Banerjee Committee, Poti-Rosha Committee and Jain-Aggarwal Committee. These committees recommended registration of cases, but their reports were not fully implemented.

The Dhillon Committee was appointed to recommend measures for the rehabilitation of victims. This committee recommended that business establishments which had insurance cover but were not given insurance claim on the technical ground that riots are not covered under the policy, should be paid compensation. The government did not accept this recommendation and all such insurance claims were rejected in spite of having insurance cover.

The ninth committee-Narula Committee- was appointed in December 1993 by the Madan Lal Khurana government and this committee recommended the registration of cases against HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. The recommendations were not fully implemented.

The 10th committee was the Nanavati Commission, which was appointed in January 2000. It submitted its report in February 2005. On its recommendation, cases were registered against Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, and compensation was announced. The Prime Minister package amounting to Rs 717 crore was declared. One of the clauses of the package was to give employment to the children of victims, which has not been implemented yet, and almost Rs 200 crore from the said amount is yet to be distributed. Of this, the Modi government has declared Rs 166 crore to be distributed to victims by giving them Rs 5 lakh for each person killed. Under the law, punishment and compensation both are a must, one is not a substitute for the other.

In February 2014, the Arvind Kejriwal government appointed an SIT to reopen and reinvestigate 237 cases which had been closed by the police as "untraced" and never sent for trial to the court. After Kejriwal's resignation, this SIT was stalled by the UPA government and now continues to be stalled by the NDA government.

Punishment as deterrent

Why is it relevant even 30 years later? Punishment to the guilty is meant to deliver justice and also to act as a deterrent for the future. A message needs to go that no one is above law in this great democracy.

But for our successive governments, this issue is not on their agenda. For Rajiv Gandhi's Congress government it was "dead" since January 1985 itself, and now for the BJP-Akali government, it has been "dead" since the last five months. They have not taken any step to secure punishment for guilty and to deliver justice.

When we talk about time having elapsed, I remember Simon Wiensental, the famous "Nazi hunter" and a victim of the Holocaust, who followed Nazis for 63 years (1942-2005) till his death for the atrocities committed by them against Jews. Ustasha DinkoSakic, a Nazi commandant, was prosecuted and sentenced 50 years after the World War, as crimes against life have no limitation in any country. We will pursue justice with the same spirit, for it is innocent citizens who are dead, not the law.

What the probe panels recommended

Victims under the banner of All India Sikh Conference seek justice in New Delhi on Friday.
Victims under the banner of All India Sikh Conference seek justice in New Delhi on Friday. Tribune Photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

Justice GT Nanavati Commission: It enhanced cash compensation to victims, but no criminal cases were registered. It indicted several Congress leaders.

Ved Marwah Commission: Nearly completed inquiry, but was directed not to proceed further as Ranganath Misra Commission had been appointed.

Misra Commission: Records of the Marwah Commission were transferred to it, but it was alleged Marwah's handwritten notes containing vital information were not given to the commission. It stated it was not part of the term of reference to identify any person and recommended the formation of three committees.

RC Shrivaastav Committee: Looked into police mechanism to prevent disturbances. Suggestion for three more police sub-divisions in Delhi and 25 police stations was accepted, and Rs 31 crore sanctioned.

Dhillon Committee: Headed by Gurdial Singh Dhillon, it recommended businesses that had insurance but were not compensated as riots were not covered by insurers should be compensated. The government did not accept it; suggestion on cash compensation was accepted.

RK Ahuja Committee: Put the death toll in Delhi at 2,733.

Kapoor-Mittal Committee: Appointed to probe into the conduct of the police. While Kapoor submitted a general report, Mittal identified a dozen police officials who had done a creditable job and recommended action against 72 police personnel.

Jain-Banerjee Committee: It recommended cases, but none was registered. Sajjan Kumar's co-accused obtained a stay on the committee's functioning.

Potti-Rosha Committee: It recommended the registration of cases against Sajjan Kumar and examined over 1,000 affidavits and recommended 30 cases for prosecution. Sajjan Kumar secured anticipatory bail. The members resigned.

Jain-Aggarwal Committee: Recommended 48 cases, including against Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharamdas Shastri and Jagdish Tytler. It wound up in 1993 with no action taken.

Narula Committee: Wanted cases against Bhagat, Sajjan, and Tytler.

Only 30 convictions in 30 years

Death toll in Delhi

As many as 2,733 people died at the hands of frenzied mobs in the Capital of the country.

Conviction rate

A mere 13 cases of murder have seen convictions and only 30 persons have been convicted in the past 30 years.

Cases registered, and closed

In Delhi, 587 cases were registered, of which 237 were closed by the police and marked as "untraced" (legalese for no progress in investigation). A Special Investigation Team formed by Arvind Kejriwal during his short stint as the Chief Minister of Delhi was meant to reopen every such case. "Of these 30 persons convicted, almost all are now on bail or their convictions have been condoned by higher courts," says Jarnail Singh, author of the book "I Accuse... The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984".

'Why no action?'

The Kapoor-Mittal Committee, appointed in February 1987 to inquire into the delinquencies and conduct of the police, recommended action against 72 police personnel and the dismissal of six officials, but nothing has happened. "Why?" asks author Jarnail Singh, who lives in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi.

Compensation, less for some

In 1984, the compensation for those killed was Rs 10,000. In 1987, another Rs 10,000 was added. In 1996, Bhajan Kaur won a case against the Delhi Administration and Rs 3.3 lakh was given, but only to Delhi victims. In 2006, Rs 3.5 lakh was given as relief following the Nanavati commission report. The Modi government has announced another Rs 5 lakh. Meaning, affected families in Delhi would get Rs 12 lakh for each of their dead and those outside Delhi would get Rs 8.7 lakh.

No balm

In case of injuries, each victim was given Rs 2,000 in 1984. Another Rs 1.25 lakh was paid after the Nanavati Commission's recommendation.

Property loss

In 1984, property losses were compensated with Rs 10,000 in case of total loss and Rs 5,000 in case of partial damage. It was enhanced to Rs 90,000 and Rs 45,000, respectively, following the Nanavati Commission report.

Compiled by Ajay Bannerjee



‘Loss too big to ever heal’
Himani Chandel

A clutch of Sikh homes in this Rewari village saw 31 killed in a matter of hours.
Hondh-Chillar: A clutch of Sikh homes in this Rewari village saw 31 killed in a matter of hours. Tribune photo: Manoj Dhaka

The terror of the brutal killings that continued for three days are etched in the hearts of the victims. “It is difficult to forget those days. The images will accompany us to our graves,” says Joginder Singh, a resident of Kalyanpuri area in east Delhi. Joginder had a flourishing business in Kalyanpuri. His family comprised seven members, including three daughters, two sons and a wife. The riots claimed his wife’s life and his daughters were abducted. He was the only person to survive the carnage in this area that had over 30 Sikh families.

“I was working in south Delhi on the day Indira was shot. My contractor asked me to wind up immediately and return home. We could not understand till we saw Sikhs being beaten up on television during her cremation,” recalls Joginder, who now works as a ‘pradhan’ in a gurdwara.

It was then that a mob suddenly attacked the area. The attack was so brutal that it ended up in the murder of all male Sikh members of the area. “I don’t know how I managed to survive that attack. All my neighbours were killed,” he says.

Mohabbat Singh, another victim from the adjacent block in the same area, used to run a travel agency. “They dragged people from their houses, took them in an open area and threw acid on them. The whole colony was left with mourning widows and some children,” he says.

90-year-old Jassi Bai lost her four children in riots at Tilak Vihar, Delhi.
90-year-old Jassi Bai lost her four children in riots at Tilak Vihar, Delhi. Tribune photo.Mukesh Aggarwal

The victims were even exploited by the police. “The police forcibly took people to police stations so that the mob could easily loot their houses, and registered them under fake cases,” he claims.

That the survivors were not rehabilitated by the government is evident from the fact that the average education a child has received there is either till class VIII or X. Most families did not get any compensation in the absence of documents that could prove they were genuine victims.

“We could get some help only from generous Sikh businessmen. They gave us ration to survive for a month. I stocked it in a room and cooked langar for victims and widows,” Joginder says.

“I had worked in Dubai and Libya. I had earned enough to get my children a good education and secure their future. It was all ravaged during the riots. For the first five years, we just struggled to get by. Life has not been the same for us. The loss is too big to heal in this lifetime,” he adds."



Home alone, they chose drugs
Syed Ali Ahmed

Sikhs at Tilak Vihar, which saw a bloodbath in 1984, are today battling the scrouge of drug addiction among the youths.
Sikhs at Tilak Vihar, which saw a bloodbath in 1984, are today battling the scrouge of drug addiction among the youths. Tribune photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

A large number of youths in Tilak Vihar in west Delhi are drug addicts. Women whose husbands were killed in the riots were given jobs of class IV employees, but nobody was there to look after their children. Hence, many of them got hooked to drugs, says Sundari Kaur who works as a peon in a government school in Delhi Cantonment.

Sundari’s 45-year-old son, Ajit Singh, is also a drug addict and an alcoholic. She got him married thinking he would quit drugs, but that has not happened. He is jobless and his wife works at a factory to run the family. “The riots took away my husband. The loneliness of the family destroyed the future of my child,” she says.

Mansha Singh Mukhia, a resident of C-75 riot victims’ colony, says a few youths had died due to drug addiction. The police has been urged to take action to protect the youths from this menace, but to no avail. Forty-year-old Ashok Singh, an addict, says: “My mother used to leave the house early morning for work. My brother and I lived alone. In her absence, some unknown people used to offer us alcohol and drugs free of cost. Gradually, we both became addicts. Later, we had to pay for the drugs. Our health started deteriorating and eventually my brother died.”

“Drugs are easily available at chemist shops. One leaf is for Rs 100. Having seen the side effects, I am trying to leave this habit and have started driving e-rickshaw to support my mother,” he adds.

Mohan Singh and Manohar Singh say their mothers cut their hair to save their lives during the riots. “We have been taking drugs since our childhood as nobody was there to look after us in the absence of our mothers who were given jobs as compensation in 1986.”

Nanki Kaur, a retired government employee, and Leela Kaur, a victim, say their children are driving e-rickshaw as they have not been given government jobs. Drug addiction is also one of the reasons for their poor economic condition. During the riots they were living in Trilokpuri. In 1986, they were allotted a flat at Tilak Vihar. The flats are in a bad condition, but they do not have the means to get them repaired. There is no help from the government, they say.

They dragged people from their houses, took them in an open area and threw acid on them. The whole colony was left with mourning widows and some children. The police forcibly took people to police stations so that the mob could easily loot their houses.
—Mohabbat Singh, a victim living in kalyanpuri, delhi



Ashes to riches
Ajay Banerjee

Exporter Narinder Pal Singh is now a success story.
Exporter Narinder Pal Singh is now a success story.

Living in west Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, Narinder Pal Singh was 37 years old and had gone to the US on a business trip when the riots changed his world. His house, business setup and a brand new Maruti car (a status symbol in the 1980s) was burned down. Two of his employees were killed and the family locked themselves up in the kitchen to save themselves.

“I was homeless, penniless and under debt from banks. My losses stood at Rs 1.32 crore,” he says. But he rebuilt his life. “I now have a garment export business worth Rs 100 crore and my major market is Latin America,” he says. “We had trouble finding labourers as our two employees had been killed. People feared working for us. In these three decades, I have awaited justice, as also compensation. My father died in 2009. We have been running around and have lived under great stress, but could not get compensation from anywhere,” he adds.

‘Want son in Army’

Kiran Jyoti Nanda was in class X at Loreto Convent in Delhi Cantonment when the riots broke out. Her father and two brothers were killed. It was a life-altering event. “It took her years to truly live life,” says her husband Tajinder Pal Singh. They got married in 1992 and live in west Delhi’s Janakpuri. She was the eldest among her sisters. Just months later, she took her board exams. Kiran now teaches in a Delhi school. Tajinder, a migration consultant and an attorney, narrates his wife’s wish: “Despite her personal loss, Kiran wants to see our younger son join the Army, perhaps to continue the family tradition. Her father was in the Army too. We are Sikhs and can think beyond ourselves and serve the nation,” he says. It is the hurt that lingers that nobody was punished for the murders. She often participates in protests seeking justice.

I was homeless, penniless and under debt from banks. Two of my employees were killed My losses stood at ~1.32 crore. But I rebuilt my life.
—Narinder Pal Singh, resident of uttam nagar, Delhi



Rebuilt business, now billionaire
Girja Kaura

The riots left Gurdeep Singh (named changed) with nothing but savings of a few thousand rupees. His two garment units in Govindpuri in south Delhi were burnt by rioters. With no government help, he became a garment exporter, now worth few hundred crores. His only regret, the guilty have still not been punished.

He was out of town when he learnt Indira had been shot. He called his father, but he assured him nothing will happen as they had good neighbours.

Fortunately, some Hindu friends rescued the entire family. He could not return to Delhi for many days. When he did, he found his units had been burnt down. He had no insurance against rioting as this was something unfathomed at that time. But he did not give up and decided to start all over again. He faced difficulties in trying to get compensation, so he sold his property and set up business with help from his exporter friends. He entered the export business, becoming a successful businessman.

Still living in fear

Nakshatar Singh was seven years old when the riots broke out. Living in the Bhogal area, his father, who was a carpenter, was killed by the mob. He escaped wearing girls' clothes and cut his hair. Even now, he is scared to grow them back.

He has nightmares of his father being burnt and uncle being lynched. His father had assured the family that things would soon be under control as Delhi was the Capital and the government would move swiftly. He said since they were Congress supporters, local leaders would protect them.

Although the Sikhs in the area were trying to regroup against any attack, the police told them to go back to their houses as they would not allow anyone to enter the colony. But what happened came as a shock to them. The police allowed the rioters inside, and looked the other way when they went on the rampage.

His mother took him and his two brothers to his uncle's house nearby and hid them. But that house also came under attack. His mother managed to dress them up like girls, so when the mob attacked the house, they spared him and his brother, but killed his uncle.

They ran from there and a Hindu family gave them shelter for the next few days. Later, they returned to their house, only to find the charred body of his father.

He says his family has not been able to come out of the shock and trauma of that night. His mother could not send her them to school. With little help from the government, they were able to reconstruct their house, but the accommodation is not enough for the entire family. He does odd jobs to make ends meet.



‘It was 1947 all over again’
Sanjeev Singh Bariana and Bharat Khanna

Uttam Singh, once a landlord at Hondh-Chillar, helps his wife Jaswant Kaur (right) in tailoring assignments to keep the kitchen going.
Uttam Singh, once a landlord at Hondh-Chillar, helps his wife Jaswant Kaur (right) in tailoring assignments to keep the kitchen going.

Living with scars of the massacre at Hondh-Chillar in Rewari district, 75-year-old survivor Uttam Singh says: “My sleep, even today, is interrupted with recurring nightmare of vandals burning our homes. During the Partition, we were forced to flee Mianpur district, Pakistan, where we owned over 500 acres. In 1984 again, we ran from Hondh-Chillar where we owned 400 acres. We now don’t even own a palm-sized land strip.”

Hondh-Chillar lost 31 lives. “I was irrigating my fields in the evening when a lad from the neighbouring village came and warned us about hooligans making their way to the village. Soon, the blood-thirsty crowd arrived in Haryana Roadways buses and all hell broke loose,” says Uttam Singh, who now lives in Bathinda.

“They first burnt down the house of my uncle. All 10 members of his family, including sons and grandchildren, were torched to death. The mob then went to another house and burnt alive all 12 family members locked up in a room,” he says.

“My three brothers and their families were taking shelter in the compound of my ‘haveli’, when the rioters came. They threw diesel and lit flames. Exhausted from resisting the attack for over four hours, my cousin Balwant Singh rushed out brandishing his sword. He killed a rioter. A farmer from the adjoining village took our family to Rewari on his tractor. There, we got help from locals for about a fortnight. We sold our land for Rs 20,000 an acre. The price today is over Rs 1 crore.”

Compensation was meager. “We got only Rs 2 lakh from the Centre and Rs 2 lakh recently from the SGPC. I had written a letter to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, which was directed to the office of the Deputy Commissioner. I was told the administration could do nothing because there were no official records. In Bathinda, no one from the government has ever asked us about our wellbeing. “My sons would have been landlords, but are today making their living by selling cloth and insurance policies. Our struggle was ordained by God, so we accept it as ‘tera bhana meetha laage’,” he adds.

Some hope

A meeting with the new Haryana Chief Minister, ML Khattar, has rekindled hope. Manwinder Singh Giaspura, employed in Gurgaon in 2011, had learnt about a “deserted village” of Sikhs, which he personally visited. After an “akhand path” in 2011, then Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda formed a commission and said a report would come in three months. Nothing happened even after six extensions.



5 men of family dead, she lives
Perneet Singh

Jagdish Kaur, a key witness in Sajjan Kumar case.
Jagdish Kaur, a key witness in Sajjan Kumar case.

Come November 1, the horrifying memories of the day 30 years ago start haunting Bibi Jagdish Kaur, a key witness in the Sajjan Kumar case. She fought against all odds to bring up her four children after her husband, eldest son and three brothers were killed.

They were staying at Raj Nagar locality in New Delhi where her husband worked in an Army workshop. “A mob attacked our locality, setting afire our houses. I immediately moved my three daughters and younger son to our Hindu neighbour’s home, while I along with my husband and eldest son stayed back. I thought they would only loot our belongings. However, the mob broke into our house and killed my husband before setting ablaze my son,” she says with tears welling up.

Her three brothers were also burnt alive. Facing a threat to her life, she cremated them three days after their death at her house. “Their funeral pyre was made with damaged doors, windows and furniture of our house,” she says.

“I stayed in a camp for a few weeks before shifting to Amritsar with my daughters aged 13, 11 and nine, and son. I had a tough time bringing them up on my husband’s pension and our small transport business,” she says. There is anger when she says: “Those who led the mobs were rewarded with plum posts. Others are roaming scot free.”

Not even old-age pension

Septuagenarian Inderjeet Singh, who owned a shop of electrical goods at Connaught Place, had to flee with his family. “We got no help from the government. We took a loan of Rs 25,000 to set up a small business in Amritsar. Life has been a struggle for my wife, two daughters and a son. We could not give them proper education. My son studied till class X and now helps me.” Neither the Centre nor the state government has done anything. “I’m not even getting pension,” he says.

‘Punjab schools let us down’

Sukhdev Singh Rataul fled to Amritsar from Boondi district in Rajasthan where he had a flourishing agriculture and dairy business, owning 40 acres. “At times, we could not even get two square meals a day. Years later, I got a job of 'sewadar' in the SGPC for Rs 592 a month. I regret I couldn’t educate my children. One of my sons is a mechanic.”

He alleges the SAD-led government did not give any monetary assistance to victims. Baldev Singh, who worked in a carpet factory in Bikaner, also met the same fate. His only son is a Class X passout and drives an autorickshaw in Amritsar.

Balwant Singh, who migrated from Mumbai, has two sons, one of whom is a carpenter and the other a mechanic. Most of them say schools in Punjab did not admit their wards easily as they did not have Punjabi as their subject. They had to repeat a few classes due to this.

‘Govt did nothing for us’

Bhupinder Singh owned three houses in Bareilly, UP. Now putting together a square meal for his family is a struggle every day.
Bhupinder Singh owned three houses in Bareilly, UP. Now putting together a square meal for his family is a struggle every day. Tribune photo: vishal kumar

Bhupinder Singh owned a cycle shop and three houses in Bareilly, UP. Now, he runs a small shop with his sons. “The government did nothing for us. We got Rs 1,000 in 1984. We travelled ticketless in the train to Amritsar. We had nothing,” he says.

After working hard, they bought land to build their house. “We could not run from pillar to post to get aid. If we don’t work for a single day, we sleep hungry,” he says. Hakam Singh, who migrated from Vrindavan, runs a tea stall. His wife died and his lone daughter is married. He says the government promised to provide them with a residential quarter, but nothing has happened.



Third generation not burdened
Minna Zutshi

Surinder and his wife Paramjit Kaur.
Surinder and his wife Paramjit Kaur.

The pain is hard to erase. Two generations of Surinder Singh's family have lived that pain. Thankfully, the third generation does not carry the burden. However, references to the family's house at Mangolpuri, Delhi, have stirred the curiosity of Surinder's teenaged grandson. He wants to see the house, which Surinder, his wife Paramjit Kaur and two sons left never to return.

The family's struggle started as they left for Mohali with their sons aged 8 and 12. Shifting to Ludhiana after a year-long stay at Mohali was a compulsion. They thought Ludhiana would provide them with better economic opportunities.

Surinder's wife began a dhaba, stitched clothes and started babysitting. Her husband did not get a stable job. The children started doing odd jobs. The younger son could only study till class VIII.

Getting possession of their flat was a tough task as there were legal issues. "I would get up at 4 am and carry water from the ground floor to our flat. There was no power," says Paramjit Kaur. "The sufferings of the victims have not been understood by any party. Being uprooted from your home unhinges your life," says Surinder.

Paramjit’s mother Veeranwali was 55 when the riots took place. One of her sons was killed. She and her remaining sons, fled Delhi. Today, she stays with her two sons (one is unmarried, the other son's wife has left him) in a low-income group flat. She gets Rs 250 a month as pension. She makes some money from a shop she has rented out. "There's never enough money for ration. My mother can't meet her medical bill," she says.

Surinder's brother Gurmukh works as a sewadar and earns around Rs 4,000 a month. One of his sons works with him while the other is a tailor. "Do you think we (victims) have been able to rebuild our lives? We have just decided we'll not break under pressure. The monetary relief has been too little and too late," says Gurmukh.



Spared, but scarred for life 
Akash Ghai

Baldev Kaur still hasn’t got a ‘red card’.
Baldev Kaur still hasn’t got a ‘red card’.

Thirty years have passed, but 60-year-old Surinder Singh and his wife Baldev Kaur are unable to forget those four days that changed the course of their life.

In their one-room house at Phase 11, Mohali, Baldev Kaur’s eyes fill up as she talks about their trauma. “I still remember every moment of those days, when over 700 rioters, carrying weapons of every kind, attacked our house at Uttam Nagar in Delhi to kill me and my two children. Sardar ji (Surinder Singh) was not at home as he had gone to his shop. I started praying to Waheguru and requested the crowd to spare her children. They were trying to break open the door of our house but then, suddenly they decided to spare us,” she says.

Surinder Singh, who remained missing for three days, returned home with trimmed hair. “The rioters had caught him and put tyres around his neck to kill him. When he told them that he had two small children, they let him go after trimming his hair,” she says.

Surinder Singh, who used to run an auto-repair shop at Paharganj, had to flee Delhi with his family. After coming to Mohali, they did menial jobs to earn their livelihood. “Sardar ji did labour and I would wash liquor bottles at a junkyard,” says Baldev Kaur.

Poverty did not allow her son and daughter to study beyond class X. No assistance came from the government. “Leave alone any help, 30 years have passed, but we have not even got the ‘red card’ meant for riot victims to resettle them,” she claims. “My husband and son, who is married now, are drivers and our family income is less than Rs 10,000. We all live in a one-room house,” she adds.



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