By Tavleen Singh

The widows had gathered in the small, bare room that is the Sikh Forum’s office in Tilak Vihar but they were reluctant to talk. There was no point any more in telling their Stories because it was going to make no difference, they said. In the past five years they had “given evidence” a thousand times over to judges, journalists, social activists, human rights workers and nothing had happened. They knew, they said, that justice would never be done as long as Rajiv Gandhi was in power. The minute the Prime Minister’s name was mentioned the atmosphere seemed to suddenly change, and where there was weariness earlier there was now hate. Everyone wanted to take their turn at cursing him and everyone bad a story to tell of how their children spat at the television every time his face appeared on it. Every August 15, he tells us about his mother’s death, he never stops talking about it, never stops mourning her. Does he know how we feel? He lost only one mother, we have lost sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, we have seen them burned alive in front of our eyes. Do we not have the right to mourn? Do we not have the right to want justice?”

Then the stories come pouring out. Five years on, it is still not possible for anyone to tell them without voices breaking, without the horror of what happened being as acute as it was then, and the small room is quickly transformed into a place of collective mourning filled with the ghosts of the dead and the horror of their deaths. Everyone cries for everyone else’s brother, husband and son, because every woman in the room has felt the same pain.

Gurdeep Kaur of Block 32, Trilokpuri, who lost fourteen members of her immediate family, is allowed to be the first to tell her story while everyone else listens almost as if it were the first time that they heard it.

“On the day that Indira Gandhi died I went to work as usual in the export company I worked for in Noida, but by the afternoon my employer said that I should go home because there could be trouble. My son, Bhajan Singh, 25, worked as a coolie at the railway station and my other son Pritam Singh, 16, worked in a taperecorder shop in Lajpat Nagar. He came home shortly after I did and said that there had been trouble on the way and that the driver who brought him had made him hide under the seat. That night nobody felt likes eating anything (because Indira Gandhi had been killed), we were watching television and we saw Rajiv Gandhi make his speech about his mother being the mother of the nation. Then they showed all those people shouting “khoon ka badla khoon’, and immediately after this we heard trouble in the street outside, My older son went out to see what was happening because they said someone’s house had been _ burned in Block 30. It was the last time I saw him. The next morning there was more shouting and fighting outside and I saw Rampal Suraj and Dr. Ashok-these are Congress(I) leaders who are (HKL) Bhagats’ men-organizing the mobs. That evening (November 1) they came and tried to break the door down. I cut my younger son’s hair off and I leaned against the door but they were hitting it with iron rods so my arms broke. They came in, there, were many of them, and they started beating my son, I begged them for his life but when I tried to save him they stripped my clothes off in front of my son, they seemed to want to humiliate him before killing him.

Then they continued to beat him with the iron rods and looted everything we had. But he didn’t die, so I covered him up in a ‘sheet’ and sat him with a group of women outside thinking that his life would be saved. But another mob came and spotted him. They said, ‘kill him because everyone else in his family is dead, and they burned him alive, in front of me. Who gave them the petrol? They had bottles of alcohol in their hands, where did it come from? I recognized Kishori and Raju, these are Congress [t9) men. There were policemen with them who told us we would be safe if we stayed in our houses. They fooled us, if we had fought back we could have saved some lives, They killed every man in Block 32.”

After the men were massacred the women were driven off towards Chilla Gaon, on the edge of Trilokpuri, where. Gurdeep Kaur saw young women raped. For three days, she says, there was no food or water and there were women who were forced to give thirsty children urine to drink to keep them alive. The mob drove them from place to place as if they were animals, Finally, when the army came they were saved and taken back to their homes to see if anyone had been left above, At this point Gurdeep Kaur broke down completely, “We found the hand of my nephew, there were dogs eating it. Our children have been eaten by dogs Rajiv Ghandi is to go on about his mother? He tells us that he has done everything for us because we have been given Rs 20,000 for every death. Let one of his children die and we will collect Rs 20,000 for every death. Let one of his children die and we will collect Rs 20,000 from the widows of Talak Vihar and let him see how it feels. Let him find out just how much compensation it is for the death of a young man.”

The Prime Minister’s recent exoneration of Mr H.K. L. Bhagat (on the grounds that he was beside Mrs Gandhi’s body in Teen Murti house) has gone down very badly with the widows of Trilokpuri, all of whom claim to have seen him at the time of the massacres. Thakuri Kaur claims that Bhagat’s wife was present when Tara Singh, son of Phoondoo Singh, was killed Bedi and Rohtas (of Chilla Gaon) are some of the names mentioned as being those of Congress (I) workers. Since none of them have been arrested they have threatened the widows often since the massacres and have warned them that they would also be killed if they gave evidence against them.

The one thing that is not there in Tilak Vihar, however, is fear. The women claim (that they have nothing to lose and almost nothing left to live for, so they actually demand that they be quoted by name. Kamla Kaur of Sultanpuri, who lost several members of her family including her husband and son, claims that former Congress (I) MP Sajjan Kumar was present when the killings took place.”

“When I saw Sajjan Kumar, I fell at his feet and begged him to save my family but he kicked me aside. The killers-Prem Singh, Raju, -Tewan, Babu Lal-these are all his men. SHO Bhatia (of Sultanpuri police station) also there after every one in my family was dead and twenty houses on the street burned down I heard him saying, Why, are: there still so’ many Sikhs left alive? Later when Sajjan Kumar came to the camp (refugee camp) with food I threw it in his, face. I went mad’ for several’ weeks afterwards, I didn’t know what was happening and every time I saw someone from the government I would attack them. How could they do this to us, what had we done? We didn’t kill Indra Ghandhi.

Seven mental as a result of the pogroms (nobody call them riots in Talk Vihar) is a common complaint. Amar Kaur, 4 middle-aged woman of Block 1-32 West Sagarpura, lost her mind for several weeks and was unable even to recognize her older son who somehow survived. Her husband and younger son, Jasbir, 18 were killed on the day of Mrs Gandhi’s funeral by a mob which was brought into the house by two policemen. “I had cut my son’s hair off and I begged the policemen to spare them. They asked me for money so I gave them Rs 16,000 and 20 tolas of gold, which we had saved for Jasbir’s wedding. But after they took everything they beat them and then burned them alive. When I tried to save them they beat me also with iron rods so that my leg broke I don’t know what happened after that, how I got to Harinagar, who took me to the camp. When my other son came we went back to the house and we found Jasbir’s head, buried under some sand…”

Amar Kaur’s problems did not end with the massacre either. Her older son Shaheed Singh, who has also gone slightly mad, has now been charged with being a terrorist and nobody is prepared to give him a job because of this. Everyone in Tilak Vihar agrees that the charge is false. Amar Kaur is too old to work so she survives on a pension of Rs 350 that she gets from the Gurudwara where her husband worked as a Giani.

Money is a major problem with all of Tilak Vibar’s 850 widows. Most of them have been given low level government jobs which earn them approximately Rs 1,000 a month. Of this, they spend around Rs 300 on bus fare and are left with barely Rs 700 on which to clothe, feed and educate their families. If there are any additional expenditure like daughters’ weddings or hospital bills, the widows are unable to meet it. The Sikh Forum helps out with grants for -weddings and scholarships for children, but despite this they barely manage to make ends meet.

Attar Kaur, of Trilokpuri, whose son Dalip, 15 was beaten up during the massacres and has been suffering from severe mental trauma ever since, she has been unable to afford to get him treated. Dalip, whose hair was forcibly shorn off at the time now, sits around vacantly, unable to lead a normal life. He perks up only if someone asks him to show his scars then he lifts up his trousers to show badly swollen feet which were broken with iron rods by the mobs.

Most of Tilak Vihar’s children are suffering from some form of trauma. Those who remember what happened are given to have nightmares and hallucinating. The slightest sign of trouble or the sight of slogan-shouting procession is enough to send them into hysterics. The younger ones, those who do not remember, are being brought up on stories of what happened, so revenge and hate are the only things that motivate them. Everyone talks of sons and grandsons who say they will grow up and kill those who killed their father. Since the women are away nearly twelve hours a day, there is nobody to supervise the children’s education so very few bother to go to school and many spend their day playing in the streets with toy guns.

The ghetto of Tilak Vihar extends into a large cluster of Jhuggis in which at least 1600 families have been living in abysmal Conditions since 1984. Most of these are families who lost homes rather than relatives during the violence and moved to Tilak Vihar when the widows were moved there. Some are destitute relatives whom the widows can no longer afford to support. They are still waiting to be rehabilitated.

The most frightening thing about Tilak Vihar, is the sense of alienation that pervades every corner of the narrow streets and every nook of the tiny flats for which the government is demanding Rs 42,000 as alienation not just from the government but from Hindus in general. The women talk of how they are taunted at work by women who say that they should be grateful for what the government has done for them. In the words of Gopi Kaur,

“They tell us that it is good that the sardars were killed. They say they deserved to be killed because of what happened in Punjab, then they say, look how lucky you are to get Rs 20,000, what do the Hindus get in Punjab.

Above all however the alienation is ‘from the government because of the belief that justice will never be done. The story of Jugti Ram, a policeman from Trilokputi, is told as evidence of the massacres being the work of the government. When the killings began, a group of Sikhs went to the police station and pleaded with the policemen to help them find their children who had been abducted to Chilla Gaon where young girls were allegedly raped. Jugti Ram requested the SHO’s permission to go in a jeep with his stengun for protection and several young girls were rescued. He was suspended the next day on the grounds that his duty was at the police station and he therefore had not right to go to Chilla Gaon. The Sikh Forum has been fighting his case but so far to no avail. There are other cases going on and some of the widows continue to go and give evidence in various cases but nobody has any hope left of justice.

Gopi Kaur of Sultanpuri is one of those whose case is still on. She claims that ne SHO of Sultanpuri and her neighbors, a man called Prem and his sons Raju, Pappu and Danny, were responsible for her husband’s death. “It was Prem who first gave us shelter in his house, and then he told the mob that there were twelve sardars hiding inside. The police were with them. I begged the SHO to save us but he pushed me aside. Prem threatened to kill me if I gave evidence against him but I did. They were arrested for a few days and then released on bail.”

It is the same story in every case despite the Prime Minister’s bizarre claim that Prosecution had been launched against 2,400 people accused in 225 rioting cases. In fact, not a single killer has been punished and the Sikh Forum points out that at least 1,200 cases of murder were not even registered, even according to the official figure of deaths which is now 2,733. After five years, the government’s prosecution agencies have managed to obtain a conviction in only one case of murder in which six people were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Sessions Court. The matter is now in appeal

The widow’s point out that it is simply not possible for the government to give them justice because it would mean convicting their own men. “Will they hang H. K. L. Bhagat? If Indira Gandhi’s killers can hang then why should there not be the same punishment for those who killed our Men?”

Without justice and so far there has not even been a pretense of it Tilak Vihar’s wounds will continue to fester and breed hate. Most of the anger and hate is directed at Rajiv Gandhi who is held personally responsible for what happened. His ‘big tree falls earth shakes’ speech is quoted as evidence of his complicity and his exoneration of Bhagat has been the final blow.

If there is anyone who still seriously believes that this government can solve the Punjab problem they should go to Tilak Vihar.

Article extracted from this publication >> November 10, 1989