Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: Jasbinder’s Tale

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[Personal Note: Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the ghastly and shameful 1984 Sikh riots. Besides Delhi and Kanpur, Bokaro (where I spent the first 15 years of my life) was among the worst affected in the riots. Over two years ago, I sent an email on our alumni mailing list desperately seeking answers. The tales started pouring in – survivors close calls, heroism from a classmate’s father, Congress leaders leading mobs, a school becoming an army protected enclave, a classmate’s resolve to join the Army.. Reproduced below is the email I sent and the first survivor tale from our classmate and dear friend – Jasbinder. Read it with care because it’s not just about surviving the horror, it’s also about compassion. Will be posting more stories in this remembrance series — as soon as I obtain permission from my other friends.]

My original email..

Sent: Wed, March 10, 2010 11:28:40 AM
Dear All,
I’ve been meaning to write this email for.. well almost since I joined the group. It always bothered me that our idyllic town of Bokaro was the scene of one of the worst Sikh killings in the ’84 riots (per all the news I read over the years  – 2nd only to Delhi). So many questions..
What was that ugliness in Bokaro that we never saw until the riots? Was it just that the goons were better organized? Were the local Congress politicians particularly more bloodthirsty to prove their loyalty to the Gandhi dynasty? What???
When Bhaskar, Shekhar, Nanda & I had a reunion in Dallas ~4 yrs ago, Shekhar told me part of the stories.. How all the Sikh families sought refuge in the school.. the tanks guarding them.. Sikh boys & men cutting their hair…how the attack on Ittu/Bittu’s (used to live opposite Shekhar’s house) house was repelled – thankfully they had a gun in the house.
How did the Sikhs in our batch & their families fare during this ordeal? I have wondered so many times what that dear friend of ours (Manpreet) went through? And Jasbinder’s family? And how it affected the rest of their lives..
Today I read the following story & I couldn’t postpone asking my questions any longer..
Please share your thoughts friends.
Vishy
Jasbinder’s tale…
Sent: Wed, March 10, 2010 7:59:30 PM

Hi Vishi,This event changed our lives forever. I was visiting Bokaro (I was already in a Chandigarh college hostel and the college was on strike) and was scheduled to return on the 4th of Nov. When news broke out on Nov. 1st about riots beginning in Co-op Colony and sector 9, we left for the house of one of our family friends in just the clothes we were in. Stayed in their house during the day, but when goons started knocking on their door, the police came and escorted us to a make-shift camp in the city-centre clinic in sector 1. We spent the night with other sikh families in fear of the camp being attacked.In the morning I saw Father McNamara and some other jesuits outside the camp with our school buses. They had come to escort all the families to the school under army supervision. They opened the school doors and their hearts for every family who was there and made sure they were there everday asking what more they could do to help. We stayed there for the next 10-12 days. In the meanwhile came to know that our home had been broken into and every thing had been taken. A local congress politician with a gun in hand was seen by the neighbors directing the mob to kill and loot. Luckily we had escaped. Dave uncle (Manisha’ s Dad) had come in the evening to take us to his home and he saw this guy directing people to take everything and run.

Father Mcnamara and other school teachers were always there. Helping everyone. The classrooms were converted into hostel dorms. Food was delivered by our family friends and Dad’s colleague’s. I remember the steaming idlis from Rao uncle’s (Pratibha’ s dad) home everyday as they lived directly opposite the school and my dad and uncle had worked together. We felt lucky and very very blessed to be alive and our family together as some of our family friends were either killed or had lost a child as the riots raged for 3 days till curfew was imposed in Bokaro and the army took over.

We came back to an empty home, but were taken care of by the neighbors and family friends. I only cried because I had lost most of my school pics and memories. Anyways, my mom started having nightnares and by the end of  Nov. my mom, brother and sister accompanied me to Chandigarh– never to return to Bokaro (although I did visit in ’89 and then in ’93, but mom refused to come back). Dad continued with his job thinking he could take a transfer but that somehow did not happen. So for the next 15 years he visited us twice a year in Chandigarh.

My brother and sis joined Xaviers, Chandigarh but believe me it wasn’t anywhere close to our school. Life was ok except we were living in those times when terrorism was at its peak in Punjab. So curfew being clamped on the city was a way of life. There was no life after 6.00p.m. Nobody ventured outdoors after 6.00p.m, and if you did you did not return.

The only good that came out for me personally was that I got to grow up with my cousins and extended family members. But no complaints. Whatever happens, happens for the best. We  came out alive and here I was 25 years later at the school reunion.

Life is fine, but when I hear about riots in any part of India, I just pray because it reminds me of friends who lost their family members that day in 1984 and for them life was were never the same again.

Wish and Pray that no innocent person has to pay a price for someone’s  madness.

–Jasbinder

Next in the remembrance series – A heroic tale.

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