Revisiting Widows’ Colony 30 years after the Sikh Massacre
12 March 2015 12:47 pm
By Sanamdeep Singh Wazir (@sanamwazir), Campaigner / Amnesty International India
Thirty years after the Sikh Massacre in Delhi, which happened six years before I was born, I was delegated by Amnesty International India to campaign and raise awareness in New Delhi for the survivors of this horrific incident. To try to ensure that survivors’ voices were heard, and their demands met by the concerned authorities, I was to attempt to work as a bridge between the two.
But first, I had to understand for myself what and who I was fighting for, and why we needed to intervene in the first place.
My concern was not so much why the 1984 massacre happened. As ghastly and immoral as ethnic massacres are, they can sometimes be understood in a historical perspective as politically or financially motivated and strategically carried out.
What I wanted to know was: what ails the survivors and the victims’ families almost three decades after the incident? Just what is the extent of the continuing injustice of 1984? And of our collective amnesia about the plight of fellow Indians?
These were some of the questions that baffled me initially, and as I started interacting with those claiming justice, the picture became clearer and more depressing. The answers were simple and unfortunate.
My first visit to the densely populated Widows’ Colony in Tilak Vihar, where the affected families were rehabilitated, was overwhelming. There are over 1200 families living in this colony. While facing their own fair share of unique problems, most of the people complain about the sordid conditions they have been living in. Poverty, lack of sanitation and hygiene is something you’ll see in many parts of our country. But one thing unique to this neighborhood are the vivid accounts of losing family members, in some cases as many as ten, in the ‘84 massacre. These were not comfortable conversations to have, neither for those who narrated their stories nor those who listened.
The first time I met Bhagi Kour, a mother who lost her husband in the massacre, was at her home. I was direct and upfront about the nature of my visit. I could sense that she did not really want me there. She was extremely kind and generous to me in our conversations, but she did not mince her words.
“When Indira Gandhi was murdered, all of us at Trilokpuri were saddened, but nobody expected that we would be so closely associated with the assassination”, said Bhagi Kour. 1984 changed her life forever.
Lakhshmi Kour, who has been living in the colony for the past 30 years as a widow, is testament to the change and suffering that the victims of the 1984 massacre victims have had to endure. She told me, “My husband was killed in front of me and we were looted of all that we had. Our boys’ hair was cut off and women raped. They lit up rubber tires and threw it around our homes. 30 years have passed but I still panic at times”.
When others like Bhagi Kour spoke, I could tell that their wounds were as fresh as they were 30 years back. Every year, November takes them back to 1984 and they don’t know what to do.
Lakshmi Kour, now in her late fifties, said, “Our families have been butchered and we are still caged in the memories of 1984, while the people responsible for this horrendous act are still free. Ask the women who had to run over their family members’ dead bodies to save themselves what they feel when they remember such incidents. No one came to empathize with us in our times of suffering and grief. All I ask is for some closure. Can anyone direct me towards my dead husband’s ashes? Where are his remains? Was he buried or was he cremated? Am I not a citizen? Who will answer my questions?”
When asked if the government has helped them thus far, Bhagi Kour said, “There is no meaning to any inquiry unless the responsible people are punished. I’m sorry to say this, but nobody will understand what we are going through and no compensation can satisfy us.”
The plight of these women, awaiting justice for over three decades, reflects the sad state of human rights in our country, and the failure of the government machinery in delivering timely justice. Reopening all the cases that were closed by the police and ensuring justice is the only way to give hope to all the victims of 1984. Nothing less will do.