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1984 riot aftermath: We are where we were 30 years ago

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-06-2014 Ragini Verma

A five-rupee currency note is framed with the picture of Modhu Singh, who lost his life in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 after the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

“It was his last earnings that he handed over to me,” says Jessi Bai, mother of the victim and witness to the communal riots that broke out on 31 October, 1984. “What does one get by speaking to you journalists or movie makers. We are where we were 30 years ago. Our lot is the same as it was then.”

Still, tears well up in her eyes. “We lost the bread earners of our family, both my husband and my son, like many others who live in this colony. My husband was a mason and my son a coolie. I still don’t have an answer to why we Sikhs were slaughtered, what did we do to deserve this.” The 70-year-old Jessi Bai, who lives in a rehabilitation colony in West Delhi, is struggling to overcome the trauma of 1 November of 1984 when mobs burnt both her husband and son alive in front of her eyes. Her grandson (Modhu Singh’s son) says she has been seeing the local doctor regularly for stress and blood pressure-related issues all these years. “A mob came with lathis, hit them (her husband and son) and fell them to the ground and then poured kerosene over them and burnt them alive. My son shrieked for help to save him but I was helpless. How could I save him. I was shocked and suddenly drained of all courage. They killed men and young boys and left us women and smaller children,” Bai recalls.

Her neighbour, also a widow, chides her for indulging journalists. “They will come, do their filming and leave and you will again fall sick,” she says.

The dejection is writ large on the faces of all inhabitants of this colony who are united in their grief.

Jessi Bai’s grandson Raja Singh is an amenable gentleman in his early thirties who says he has no memory of his father. “The first memory I have of my childhood is that of running to get food from people who used to bring food as a gesture to help at our rehabilitation colony. We used to run like we had never seen food,” says Singh. “All my mother could get was a fistful of rice which she cooked with lots of water on a makeshift fire so that there was some for all of us to have. We had that rice made with lots of water in kullars (earthen pots used for having tea) and made do,” Singh adds.

Singh, who has heard stories of the riots from her grandmother and mother, says his childhood was not regular. There was severe deprivation in spite of the government providing shelter and some help. “We did not even know of schools. All we knew is that we had to earn our bread. I started working at the age of 14, doing odd jobs to get some money for food.” says Raja Singh.

Unfortunately, not just his generation but the next one too is feeling the pinch of the family’s impoverishment following the riots. “Even now, I can just about provide for basic needs of my family. Most of us do not have the resources to improve the lot of our children, who are either studying in government schools or have dropped out due to financial compulsion,” Singh says.

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