‘Tilak Vihar Widow Colony’ was set up to house the families of those killed in the violence that followed then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984. (Express Archives)
Tragedy has been the calling card of the ‘Tilak Vihar Widow Colony’ for 34 years but on Monday the many grim stories were edged faintly with what could pass off as happiness — Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was convicted for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The colony, set up to house the families of those killed in the violence that followed prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984, was back in the news with the Delhi High Court convicting the leader and sentencing him for life.
Long used to journalists queuing up outside the confining streets of the colony near west Delhi’s Tilak Nagar locality every anniversary of the assassination and the violence that claimed nearly 3,000 lives over three days, the people of Tilak Vihar wearily recounted their stories and their wait for justice.
The story turned a page for them on Monday.
“Main khush haan iss verdict toh (I am happy with this verdict),” said Popri Kaur in Punjabi, weeping inconsolably, for her husband who was pulled out from their home in Sultanpuri by a mob armed with sticks 34 years ago and for the fact that justice was finally being done.
The memories were back, as intense as they were in the immediate aftermath of what is one of the worst riots in post independent India.
“It was the last time my children saw their father, and the last time I saw my husband,” said the 65-year-old, adding that she never even got the satisfaction of seeing his body.
The mother of six is one of the three witnesses in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases involving senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, who is the most high profile leaders to be convicted.
She alleged that she was offered money and received death threats to change her statement.
“Sajjan Kumar was in the car when my husband was dragged out of our house in Sultanpuri. I saw him. Today, I was sitting in my house when my daughter called and said, ‘Sajjan Kumar has been convicted’,” Popri Kaur told PTI.
Her sobs hang heavy in the air over the colony, which has 944 flats. Like many other refugee colonies, it tells its story of despair — peeling paint, crumbling plaster, unlit rooms, dingy staircases.
Unable to move past its name, the ‘widow colony’ has for the longest time been the sitting story for justice ‘not delivered’.
Though happy with the high court verdict, Popri Kaur said she wanted capital punishment for Sajjan Kumar.
“With life imprisonment, he can meet his family, his children. I can’t meet my husband, my children can’t meet their father because he killed them,” she said.
As the media crowded around the block of flats, senior BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga was sitting on an indefinite hunger strike not far from Popri Kaur’s one room tenement against Congress leader Kamal Nath being named chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.
According to Bagga, Nath is culpable in the violence. He alleged that Nath “murdered Sikhs” and “burnt Gurdwara Rakab Ganj”.
Nath has maintained that he played no role in the violence and that there are no charges against him.
But Amarjeet Singh was not going to let Nath spoil the day.
Sitting on a folded bed, busy reading today’s newspaper, Amarjeet Singh said he is not bothered about Nath and wished only to read Tuesday’s headlines.
“Son, you don’t know how long I have waited to read the story that is going to make to the front page tomorrow,” he said with a smile.
Amarjeet Singh, 63, lost his brother in the riots.
His only problem with the verdict, he said, is that the court gave Sajjan Kumar “15 days” to surrender.
“Why give him that much time. He should be behind bars immediately,” he said.
The high court directed 73-year-old Kumar and other five convicts to surrender by December 31, 2018 and not to leave the city of Delhi.
The bench of justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel convicted the Congress leader for offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment in commission of crimes of murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of communal harmony and defiling and destruction of a Gurdwara.
Popri Kaur echoed Amarjeet Singh and said Kumar should surrender immediately.
“He might flee or bribe the system and go scot free yet again,” she said as her 40-year-old son interjected, trying to make her understand why this was not possible.
“Not possible? What else has happened in the past 34 years?” she chided him, looking at the garlanded photo of her husband atop a TV screen running news of the conviction with Kumar’s photograph.