With six broken bones and his head slit open, H S Kohli managed to escape from the mob that had killed his father and brother-in-law. The wounds healed, but the pain still refuses to go away.
After three decades of struggle and fighting the trauma, Kohli has managed to rebuild his life and now runs a factory of rubber rollers at Barwala. His wife manages a beauty parlour. Of his two daughters, one is planning to start a business in handicrafts and the other is making a mark for herself in the fashion industry as a make-up artiste.
Other riot victims may look forward to compensation of Rs 5 lakh, but Kohli wants justice.
“The money will help those who are poor. But our demand is justice. I have not encashed the cheque for Rs 2 lakh that the Punjab government had given in 2009,” said Kohli.
Tucked away in his documents are the yellowing pages of an FIR, dated November 1, 1984, which was registered at Janakpuri Police Station, New Delhi.
The bare facts, as stated in the FIR: after the assassination of the prime minister (Indira Gandhi) on October 31, 1984, Section 144 was imposed. Around 9 am, a number of Hindus and Sikhs gathered and started sloganeering, firing and pelting stones, leading to chaos. At several places, gurdwaras and houses were seen on fire. Scooters and trucks were burnt. Twentythree bodies were found at several places. These were kept at the police station for identification. Some shops were looted, and detailed reports have been sought.
Now the story, as narrated by Kohli.
He was in his early 20s and worked in a factory which made rubber rollers. His family comprised four sisters, a brother and their parents.
On November 1, a mob gathered near a gurdwara in Gulab Bagh, near Janakpuri, where the family lived, and tried damaging it. As the residents gathered, the mob attacked and beat them up mercilessly. Kohli’s father and brother-in-law died, he and his mother suffered serious injuries.
Later, the mob attacked Kohli’s house as well. His sisters were sheltered by their Hindu neighbours. The hair of his younger brother, who was then 14, had to be cut to save him.
A few months later, Kohli shifted to Amritsar and started a factory of rubber rollers by pooling his resources. Kohli married off his sisters and then himself got married. But soon, he had to move again.
“In Delhi, I had testified against Congress leaders who were part of the mob, so I was receiving threats. After I shifted to Amritsar, terrorism loomed large. A number of times terrorists extorted money from us. I sold my share to my partner and shifted to Dera Bassi,” he said.
Kohli started his business again from scratch. “My mother told me not to expect anything from anyone. She said that I should focus my energy on working. This is what I did and am still doing,” he said.
All that he wants is that the culprits should be brought to justice. For three years, 2008 to 2010, on every January 1, Kohli and his family held hunger strikes outside the Prime Minister’s residence. He has submitted numerous representations and recorded his statement thrice in the Riots Cell of Delhi Police. Twice, officials visited him in Amritsar. But the case has not moved in court.
Kohli is preserving all documents, including the FIR, hoping that some day the case of killing of his father and brother-in-law will begin and then he may need these.
The structures are crumbling, the roads are narrow and the rooms dingy. Such are the conditions in the ‘riot victims’ colony’, a cluster of one-bedroom LIG flats in Phase XI in Mohali, where about 100 families of the 1984 riot victims live.
Uprooted from various parts of the country, they all came here and took shelter in gurdwaras. The flats constructed by the Punjab Urban Development Authority lay vacant. As the word spread, they moved in and stated living there. Later, the flats were allotted to them at a nominal cost. Over the years, some moved out as better opportunities came their way, giving their flats to “undeserving” people. There are also complaints that many actual riot victims have not received the benefits meant for them such as the ‘red cards’ issued by the government which entitle them to benefits announced from time to time.
The news that the government will give Rs 5 lakh to those who lost someone in the riots hasn’t really caused any excitement. For there are very few here who actually lost a family member, but those who lost their houses and businesses.
Said Kashmir Kaur, who came from Delhi, “The money should be for everyone. The 3,325 people who will benefit will be from Delhi, where elections may be held soon.”
She added, “The flats allotted to us are barely sufficient for three people, but in some, as many as 10 people stay. There are no jobs for the youngsters who could not study.”
Jaswant Kaur Sarna, president of the women wing of the Danga Peedat Association, who came from Kanpur, said that people moved into these house because they had nowhere to go.
“The construction was so poor that plaster fell from the walls. For food, people had to walk to Amb Sahib gurdwara to partake langar,” she said.
Pritam Kaur, who shifted from Delhi, said the flats now require renovation, but the people are too poor to bear the expenses. Mahinder Kaur, who too came from Delhi, said she wasn’t even getting her widow pension of Rs 250 a month.
Over the years, big houses have come up all around. A market has also developed nearby. Amidst this prosperity sits the ghetto, with its inhabitants and their sad stories.