Violence had broken out across Delhi following the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi and the family of Bhupinder Kaur (65) – then in her twenties – were warned and hence stayed at home in North-west Delhi’s Sultanpuri area on that fateful November 2 – thirty years ago in 1984.
While she managed to hide her three daughters in a relative’s house, Bhupinder was cradling twins, a boy and girl, who had been born to her younger sister-in-law Charanjit Kaur just two days earlier. Her husband, Bant Singh, brothers-in-law Shangaar Singh and Kulwant Singh (aged 30-40), nephew Swaran Singh (22) and father-in-law Magar Singh, in fifties were all sipping tea when their world turned upside down.
A mob suddenly entered, poured kerosene over their home and set it on fire. The five men were dragged by the hair, stabbed by iron rods before being burnt alive in front of the three women. For Bhupinder Kaur, if that wasn’t enough, what happened next still rankles. She says she tried to save the twins by suppressing their cries but watched as the two were ruthlessly snatched from her arms and thrown into the fire. Left behind were three widows still waiting for a home of their own some thirty years later. “For others, thirty years have passed. For us, time stands still. I still hear the cries of my newly born twins who were brutally thrown into the fire. Had the babies who did not even complete two days of their life killed Indira?,” questions Charanjit Kaur.
Shockingly, however, the family living at the CRPF colony in Ludhiana’s Dugri area have still not been allotted the flats. Some 300 riot-hit families forcibly ‘acquired’ the flats in the CPRF colony which had been lying vacant after government failed to give them any relief in 2011. Now of those 300 families, 176 have been officially allotted the flats while others are still waiting for their turn, some thirty years later. “We washed utensils at homes, stitched clothes, worked in factories to raise children. Me and my two sisters-in-law (Charanjit and Surjit) know what we went through in raising kids and getting three daughters married. Despite having red cards (identity of riot victims) we are waiting for flats. Had we not forcibly acquired this flat, we had no place to live. How can we produce death certificates of those who were burnt alive in front of us?,” Bhupinder said. Of the three, only she gets the widow pension of Rs 5,000 a month even as their case of flat allotment is pending.
‘Looked for sons’ bodies in MC vans’
Missing from the government list of victims of the 1984 riots are Harbhajan Singh (then 30) and Amarjit Singh (then 17). The brothers, professional kirtan singers, had left their home in the Old Sabzi Mandi of Delhi on November 1, 1984, but never returned. Their mother, Gurdyal Kaur, now 65, recalls, “They went to Mongolpuri that day for performing kirtan. My husband and I were home and got worried after widespread riots broke out. We were not able to register an FIR for my two missing sons and they never came back. We looked for their bodies in MC vans, hospitals, cremation grounds and everywhere possible but they were never found. They were lifting dead bodies with a crane like pile of garbage and I cried for help. I asked them to drop the pile once so that I could look for my sons in it. They did not listen and took away the pile”. After her home was burnt by a mob, Kaur, her husband Tirath Singh and two children moved to Ludhiana. They took shelter at the Gurudwara Dukhnivaran Sahib and later she began stitching wheat bags to run the family. Both children dropped out of school due to lack of money while her husband passed away due to the shock of their sons’ death, in 1993.
“Administration demands FIR and death certificate as proof of a family being victims. The case is in the HC and she acquired this flat in 2011 but is not the owner yet and can be thrown out anytime,” said Amarjit Singh, from the Danga Peerat Welfare Society.
Red card- yes, any help- No
She is a red card holder, which officially makes her a victim of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, but thirty years after the massacre, Gurmail Kaur (now 60) is yet to receive a single penny as grant. Left with little options, the 60-year-old forcibly acquired a two-room flat in the Ludhiana CRPF colony in 2011.
The reason for the lack of grants, Kaur was not able to register an FIR of her husband going missing. A truck driver, Balwant Singh, then in his thirties, left home in Kanpur for Delhi on night of October 30, 1984. At home, Kaur and her six-year-old son waited for days but he never came back. Then a mob set fire to her home forcing her to flee. “I still remember how an old man, Harbhajan Singh, saved women in the area and gave them shelter in a horse stable for five days. I came to Ludhiana alone, worked as cook in homes and did stitching in hosiery. Last time I slept on a bed was thirty years ago,” said Kaur, who is now raising her two grandchildren by herself as her son and daughter-in-law too passed away a few years ago. Showing her red card she says, “Not a penny, including Rs 2 lakh aid or flat or job has been given till now. The inquiry in my case has not been completed because I did not register FIR of my missing husband,” said Kaur, who too is living in an ‘acquired’ flat, never allotted officially till date. Presently she is working as an assistant at doctor’s clinic earning Rs 5,000 a month and both her grandchildren are going to school.