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Our ground is still shaking
The re-opening of the case against Jagdish Tytler has renewed the desperation for justice that had been simmering for nearly three decades in Tilak Vihar, the home of the survivors of the '84 riots.
Nirmal Kaur's home is a bustling shrine of a peace that has eluded her for 29 years. The walls of her matchbox-sized flat in Tilak Vihar are painted an optimistic orange and her four-year-old grandson lies sprawled on a divan with a toddler's unconcern for his surroundings.
But the thin membrane of a quiet morning is broken by an urgent knock at her door. The bus that will transport her, and several others from the 'widows colony' in Tilak Vihar, to the Karkardooma District Court, has arrived. She must prepare to leave for another day of hollering for justice outside a fortified court.
Swiftly, she begins to brush and braid her thick hair, recalling matter-of-factly how "they" had set afire the hair of all the Sikh men in their colony. Kaur, who lost 15 members of her family in the carnage of Block 32, Trilokpuri, during the 1984 riots, has achieved the air of imperturbable calm that comes from a long and lonely wait for justice. As she readies herself for a demonstration outside the district court, she reveals an old scar on her arm. "They beat my father till he collapsed. Then, they doused him with petrol. I threw myself on his burning body, but I was pulled away, " she says, recalling the horrors of November 1, 1984.
Kaur, who was in her teens when she saw her father conflagrate in the mob frenzy, is determined to spend the rest of her life clamouring for justice. Even if it means sloganeering under a blazing sun to no one in particular. "They screamed: 'Sardaron ka ek bhi baccha nahin bachna chahiye (Not a single son of a Sikh should be spared)', " she recalls. "Now, it's our turn to scream for the truth to be unearthed, " she says, a slight tremor in her voice threatening her composure.
The so-called 'widows' colony' in Tilak Vihar is a haphazard settlement with apartments mushrooming next to each other, in an intimacy that reflects the collective fate of its residents. Built by the government to accommodate the wives and children of the Sikhs massacred in the violence that appended the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, the colony holds many such stories of bereavement. This smouldering anger has been stoked by the recent reopening of the case against Jagdish Tytler.
Bhaggi Kaur, a 57-year-old who lost ten members of her family in the Trilokpuri attack, recalls the morning hours of November 1, when the police arrived in their colony and told the residents to stay indoors. "They said no harm would come to us. And then, a mob arrived with petrol and hockey sticks. They beat up our men and set out homes on fire, " she says. She proceeds to recount unflinchingly the murder of her elder brother Sohan Singh. "We had hidden him inside a wooden TV box. When the mob entered our home, the first thing they did was break the box. Blood oozed out from it. They knew someone was hiding inside. They attacked it ferociously, till they knew that whoever was within it was dead. "
The Trilokpuri massacre, perhaps the worst that day, was hushed up for over two days. According to the findings of the Nanavati Commission in 2005, almost all the Sikh males in Block 32 were killed. The only ones who escaped were still in their infancy.
Bhaggi recalls dressing her eldest son, then a child of around four, in a frock and plaiting his hair to protect him from the murderous mobs. Families with infants speak of the wretchedness of having to quench the thirst of their children with their urine, during the long wait for succour at the relief camp near Kalyanpuri police station, which had jurisdiction over Trilokpuri.
While the women rebuilt their lives, turning a rodent-infested flat complex into homes for their children and grandchildren, the younger generation bore the brunt of government apathy. Paramjeet Kaur, a 28-year-old who grew up in Tilak Vihar, remembers a childhood with many absentees. Her father was killed in the Trilokpuri bloodbath, and her mother, who worked as a peon in a government school, left home for long hours during the day to provide for a family of little girls - Paramjeet and her two elder sisters. The paltry salary of a government employee wasn't enough to educate the girls. While her elder sisters barely finished schools, Paramjeet dropped out of college during her second year, to supplement the family income with a job. "My mother retired last year. I have to work, " she says anxiously.
The younger lot - grandchildren of the genocide - has a rudimentary education that cannot provide for large families. Alcoholism is rampant in the colony, as is testified by the presence of broken glass bottles and auto rickshaws parked in the maidan of the apartment complex, with placards that advertise de-addiction centres.
"There was no one around to keep an eye on the children. Going to school was a luxury, and many of the boys took to nasha and jua, " recalls Renu Kaur, who was an infant when her mother brought her to Tilak Vihar. She remembers growing up on daan - old clothes, textbooks, rice and dal donated either by city gurudwaras and more affluent neighbourhoods.
While the colony, which has its own grocery shop and tea stalls, wears an expression of everyday monotony, the scars of 1984 are yet to heal. Rajiv Gandhi's now infamous statement likening the riots to the tremors caused by the falling of a mighty tree is recalled with a dark humour. "Look around, " says Bhaggi Kaur, pointing at the overflowing garbage bins, the cracks in her walls and a group of boys walking around aimlessly, "Our trees were cut too, and our ground is still shaking. "
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