Nirmal Singh & Param P Singh
Garhi is a small basti just off of the East of Kailash development in the affluent South Delhi. This small basti, unbeknown to most people living in this neighborhood has a piece of history associated with it. It has been home to about thirty widows of the pogrom against Sikhs after the murder of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh security guards on 31st October 1984. These women were resettled in small tenements in early 1985 and it was in this neighborhood that they reconstructed their and their dependent’s lives.
Surjit Kaur lives in Garhi. She has lived there since 1985/6 [?] when she and survivors from her extended family were allotted a tenement there and they moved from Gurdwara Nanaksar into their new shelter. In October 1984 she lived in Nand Nagri along with her husband and two sons. In fact her husband had four brothers and they were all together in garment export business. Four of the brothers lived close to the shed where they had installed the machinery required for their business and the fifth brother lived in Ashok Vihar with his family. They employed about 15 persons in their factory and were pretty busy with their growing enterprise.
Her parents had escaped from Rawalpindi during the riots following partition of India in 1947 and ended up in Gorakhpur, where she grew up and was married in late 60’s when she moved to Nand Nagri to live with her husband Joginder Singh. The four brothers lived together with their families and their old mother in a traditional joint family setting. Between the brothers they had eleven kids, five boys and six girls. Two of the girls were married and lived away from Nand Nagri. The marauders killed all the four brothers and two boys, both in their mid teens. Four widowed mothers were left with four girl children and three male kids – age from 3 to 15 years.
Their experience, as they faced the hostile gangs is hair-raising. Surjit Kaur remembers calls ‘sardar nikalau’ being made as the hooligans approached. The rumors were already rife that they are coming after Sikhs. Her husband and one son had gone to the Gurdwara to find out what was happening and if they could collect there, if needed. The Gurdwara was set on fire at about nine in the morning and possibly her husband and son were killed then. She only saw the fire and smoke rising from the Gurdwara from atop her house.
As she heard the loud voices getting closer, she also saw flames arising from a Sikh house nearby. As she looked on she saw a little boy, two or three year old, son of one of their Sikh neighbor running in panic. She ran out and picked him up and ran back home. She saw her eldest brother in law and her other son and asked them to hide in a steel almirah and shut the doors. But she had to keep opening the doors to get them fresh air to breathe in the air tight container in which they were hidden. Soon the menacing group was at their doors. The calls for ‘sardar nikalau’ were loud and shrill now. She stood clutching the little boy to her bosom. As she stood transfixed, she heard muffled thumps from within the almirah and some smoke and flames rising from around her. She ran and opened the door of the almirah and shouted to her brother in law ‘veer ji, tussi apni jaan bachaao – elder brother, you now run and save your life.’ The gang grabbed hold of the elder, dragged him to the street as she followed him with the little boy. She saw her nephew also in the mix and ran and grabbed hold of him. Then one steel rod hit her brother in law on the head. He fell and more blows started following as if to break each of his limbs. As she looked on frozen in helplessness, she saw her younger brother in law receiving blows the same way. Then one of the gang poured kerosene oil on the shrieking man with broken limbs writhing in pain on the ground and another one sprinkled some white powder and set him ablaze. The last that their eyes met, her brother in law and she seemed to have intuitively realized the inevitability of their total helplessness – there was nothing to say, no signs to make, just endure what came to be done while the two little lives clung on to her – scared, bewildered, traumatized.
To Surjit Kaur and her three sisters in law as also the other women who went through similar ordeals of being witness to such cruelties to their husbands and sons these orgies of inhuman violence seemed tearing their insides but that did not matter anymore – nothing did. There was pain. There were deafening shrieks and loud noises of ‘marau, marau’ by the killer gang. As the flames started to leap, numbness overcame every other feeling. Drained of emotions, she only stood as if watching a scene play out to its grim end – relived millions of times since in its nightmarish fidelity of the ghastly images.
She felt a man with a cut on his face tugging at her sleeve and he took her with the two boys to his home. She does not remember much except cut on his face and his kindness – what she did there or how long she was there. She instinctively headed back to her home and spotted her younger son forlorn standing on the roof. She got hold of him and just held on to the three boys as the day wore on. Later when it had turned quiet a Brahmin living nearby came over and took her and the boys to his home.
They never got the dead bodies of their six scorched dear ones; nor did anyone else. Remains of those killed were dumped in trucks and taken away. No tending, no words spoken, no feel or touch of their remains or even placing a little rag to cover their half burnt bodies, no rituals or prayers or last rites – all feelings suppressed within, never really vented, no closure of any kind – only dimly dawning sense of struggles ahead and the ponderousness of vulnerabilities of the little lives that so tightly clutched to her!