Part-I. An article based on true incidents.
Cold winter evening of 1973
A 16 year old Hindu girl boards an inter-state bus along with her father. Visibly nervous father scans the half filled bus scheduled to depart in next 10 minutes from Delhi to Dehradun. Time was around seven in the evening and bus had its scheduled route through notorious Meerut belt. He spots an elderly Sikh gentleman sitting all by himself. After a brief thought he approaches him.
“Sardarji, where are you heading?”
“Dehradun,” surprised by sudden query, he replied.
“Okay,Okay very nice. You belong to Dehradun?” Came another question. The girl silently stood behind the father.
“I work there in a Government office, though I belong to Delhi. What happened?” Now it was his turn to ask purpose of queries by a complete stranger.
“Nothing,nothing. It was just that my daughter is going to Khatauli to visit her Mama. I was thinking that if it is not inconvenient, can you please oversee that she gets dropped down there? Her Mama will be at bus adda to pick her up. You know it will be around ten in the night when the village will come and since she is travelling alone, I am little worried.” While the situation was narrated, the girl now with scared looks stood still, clutching her jute bag.
“No issue at all. Don’t worry, your daughter will reach Khatauli safely. Come puttar, sit.” The person assured the father with a smile.
“Thank you very much Sardarji!” Said the father, seemingly relaxed.
“Your daughter is my daughter.” Uttering, he shifted towards window and indicated the girl to sit besides him.
Her father arranged the bag in overhead luggage stand and after customary goodbyes, alights the bus. He waited there till the vehicle moved out after few minutes.
Trip went by peacefully with little interaction and a cup of tea at Meerut. It was well past 10 pm when they reached Khatauli. The person alerted her well in advance so that she can prepare to get down. Bus did not had any scheduled halt there and the driver pulled up along the road- deserted at that time of the night. Mamaji was nowhere to be seen. Custodian looked down and gestured the girl for an answer.
“Mamaji must have been waiting at bus adda!” Said equally surprised girl.
“Bhaisaab, can you take the bus through the bus terminus? This girl has her uncle waiting there,” he requested the driver.
“Arrey, we are already late. We cannot drop passengers till their homes,” said the driver in sarcasm.
“She is alone and not a single soul is visible on the road. It will take only five minutes,” he again pleaded.
“O bhai, don’t mount on my head. And you Ladki, either get down or I am moving ahead.” His arrogance now surprised many others in the bus but everyone choose to remain silent. The girl panicked and hurriedly picked up her bag to get down.
“Wait, I will come along!” Exclaimed the concerned elderly person.
“But your destination was Dehradun!” Conductor asked.
Without any further conversation, the person got down alongwith the girl- not before giving a stern look to the driver.
“You know the way to your uncle’s residence?”
“Yes, it’s a fifteen minutes walk from here.”
The Sikh gentleman dropped the Hindu girl at her relative’s place, had a cup of tea and came back to small bus terminus to wait for next bus towards Dehradun at four in the morning. He was satisfied to have done his duty by keeping his word. There were no means to inform his own family about the delay as telephone was a rare commodity during those days. His only prize was the parting sentence from the girl- “My father told me that I will be safe with a Sikh. And he was right.”
1st November 1984
The same Sikh person, now 70 years old, walked out of his house in Delhi to fetch milk- a routine he followed every morning since his retirement and settling down in the national capital.
“Daarji, don’t move out for few days. I will send the milk across to your house. Maahul thik nahi hai,” said the owner of Marudhar Dairy.
“I have not done any harm to anybody. There is no reason for me to worry,” he was not looking as cheerful as usual. Being a staunch Congressi, he had been dejected ever since the news of gunning down of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came out. She was killed by her Sikh bodyguards a day before.
On the way back he encountered a group of 15–20 people- some familiar, mostly unknown.
“Maaro Sardar ko,” and they pounced on him.
With the first slap across the face, the fragile figure fell down on the road. In another kick his mouth started bleeding. A blow of iron rod broke his right leg between knee and the ankle. His kesari colored turban was removed and whatever little hair were left on the bald head were pulled till they got plucked out of the scalp. One enthusiast fisted the beard to hold his face, while others kept punching it till all the front teeth got broken and a piece of tongue got bitten off. The old man was beaten mercilessly and left there half dead. They spared his life before moving ahead nonchalantly, with the wrist watch he was wearing. Perhaps till then the instructions to kill were not out or perhaps they did not had kerosene to pour over him. The crowd gathered around choose to remain silent- as silent as it was in the Dehradun bus many years ago.
Others were not that fortunate. More than 3000 Sikhs were chased, tortured and burnt alive on the streets of Delhi in next 4 days. Staggering 8000 lives were snuffed out across the nation. Modus Oprandi was to get voter list from the conniving officials and identify addresses of Sikh families. After gathering a mob, reach their homes with a local politician, take out all male members above 12–15 years of age, beat them before putting a petrol soaked tyre around and burn them alive. Many of the ladies were raped in front of their children. Kids were witness to the brutal killing of fathers and horrible scenes of denuding of mothers. After rape, in some cases, ladies without clothes were tied to the trees along the streets. With police and the administration becoming deaf and mute spectators, such macabre scenes were witnessed across the nation for next one week.
What were the reasons that the Sikh community from being loved got labelled as traitors? Why the mighty Sikhs whose empire once reached till Kabul in Afghanistan, could not even defend the dignity of their faith and their womenfolk? What went wrong? The Sikhs in particular and the society in general needs to answer.
Repercussions of the terrible events of 1984 unfolded the sordid saga of a brave religion. ‘Destruction of Punjab’- covering the build up and aftermath coming next. Watch out for part-2 ‘Will Sikhism End by 2200 A. D.’
Last but not the least. The Sikh gentleman described in the article was my maternal grand father- ‘my Nanaji’. He started stammering and could never walk straight after that fateful morning. All the grand children used to make fun of his stuttered speech, till we were sensible enough to understand what the old man went through. Still, I never heard him talk ill about Hindus or express any animosity towards them till his death in 2004.
End of Part-1