Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: Priti’s Story

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[Personal Note: Over two years ago, I sent an email on our alumni mailing list desperately seeking answers on the ghastly and shameful 1984 Sikh riots in Bokaro. 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.  In this (third) story of an ongoing remembrance series, my classmate and friend (Priti Haneja) writes about her ordeal, reminds us about the historical context of the latter day Sikh gurus, and shares some pearls of wisdom. Part 1 was Jasbinder’s tale and Part 2 was a heroic tale of Sunil’s father staring down a blood thirsty mob and saving a Sikh family from almost certain death.]

Dear Janaki, Vishy…

Sorry for writing so late in this thread due to certain circumstances. My due apologies to the whole group.

You make me come back to this group. Its touching to see that people not so directly affected had concerns with this ghastly affair what many would have thought long lost forgotten…

This whole episode lies like an unbelieveable episode in my memories…

My bit of the experience :

By the 1st Nov….when news started filtering about rioting in Bokaro… our concerned neighbours would barge in every half and hour so .. to make us go to the Sector 1 police station where they felt we would be better off … So finally my father gave in and everybody in my family went to Sector 1 police station leaving me behind in our front street neighbor and friend ‘Inspector of Factories house ‘ (or Bihar Sarkar as we called it ) …a kind of mini IAS officer. That was, as they felt was in the best interest of me. Unfortunately uncle, the Inspector of factories was on tour leaving behind his wife and 2 daughters. So for the next two days as news of more and more riots and killings started filtering in, I couldn’t do anything except remain holed up in a room, worrying about my family and everybody else concerned. Situations like these bring up different behavior in different people . A common friend of the people I was staying with would come in the house whenever possible shouting in Hindi, ”Bhabhi .. making this girl stay in your house is putting yourself on risk…Get her out!” He was true in his way of caring for the family but with some awareness for my feelings and state at that time, he could have at least said it quietly to Aunty.

Anyway those two days seemed more of a hell with no news of my family but horrible news coming from everywhere including the TV. I had also made up my mind to go to my family wherever they were. And as I remember now I landed up in our School which was being termed as the ‘Camp’.

And of course it felt like a new life to be with my family there again.

The mob never managed to reach our area, perhaps due to the brave act of Sunil Singh’s father and family. I had never heard of this episode before, but thanks to all the inputs in this forum, I get this valuable piece of information. So many ghastly stories are coming back now which I kept hearing in the ‘Camp’ and later in our relatives and friends circle. But a neighbor coming and bravely protecting some victims, never ..

The middle school campus was turned into the ‘Camp’. We slept on the bare floor, maybe with a chadar on it. Somehow I could not eat the camp food , that much I remember properly .. I survived on whatever little things that came from outside ..much like a beggar ….. It was heartening to see Fr. McNamara and Fr. Paul Horren overseeing all the arrangements. I think we stayed there for 6-8 days. One day they brought all dead bodies and laid them on the Middle School assembly ground for identification by their families… All I knew I didn’t look out of the window but laid half buried on the floor for nearly all day.

I also got a surprise visit from Nanda and Rajnish who braved the curfew relaxation hours to come and just give some words of reassurance. Boys and girls hardly used to talk to each other much that time and it felt really nice to see them. I thank them again for coming that time.

I was just doing Google search on this issue ….more than 4000 people killed in a matter of one and a half days all over India. It was rather an organized crime….

As I have been writing this, so many issues come up. How did the Hindu-Sikh divide come up to be in such fanatical terms? My one third of the family is Punjabi Hindus and before Partition in Pakistan Punjab, every Hindu family decided to have one son as a Sardar.

The whole Sikh race had to come up as an answer to militancy and forced conversion and killings during the time of Aurangzeb. So many Sikh gurus gave up their life. It was the need of the hour to create a militant, strong , honest race to face and stop the continuous onslaught. If our culture is still alive, it is with tremendous gratitude to the work done by the Sikh gurus especially Guru Arjan Dev ji and Guru Teg Bahadurji who sacrificed their lives.

I write all this not because this is ‘my religion’ …… but just to emphasise on certain historical facts so that there is feeling of gratitude and oneness… India is a land of continuous search and tremendous depth in spirituality .. it will continuously give rise to these ‘religions’ as we may like to call it – Buddhism, Jainsm, Sikhism … from the parent traditions of rishis, Upanishads … first they were never really meant to be strong demarcated religions … just some strong spiritual traditions or practices by the enlightened ones to help people awaken themselves. It is after many many years that people form religions out of them and fight for them and lose their real meaning or perhaps it is an influence from outside India where there has been strong demarcated religions and the British are culprit in causing tensions between them.

The Sikhs have never been cunning, sincere to the core and simple …….then why are they subjected to so much ridicule ? Sardar jokes and sometimes just plain straight on-the-face ridiculing which I have seen my father sometimes going through.

Lets leave the Indira Gandhi and Sikh militancy problem. I really don’t know how it started and how it took epic proportions. Mrs. Gandhi’s leadership was admirable and there is a speculation that Dhawan, her private secretary and some others part of the coterie had decided to lay this plot to finish her off.

My whole family is from Pakistan. During partition (in one day), from rich landlords they became homeless beggars….When I go to Punjab, I often hear stories of how so many of my relations in the initial days of migration to India – they even sold toffees in trains! Now they have come up again with hard work tremendously.

Somewhere we have taken their hardships and history for granted. Or maybe everybody else’s in the history who have taken the difficulties.

In terms of the present categorization of low IQ and high IQ, what is the need of the this so called high IQ when it doesn’t know how to show the right courage at the right time. The right wisdom at the right time. There is mind, heart and soul. A community in general decides to live more with the heart … and the heart is no way inferior to the mind.

I stop here. Thanks for going through all this. It is not out of any reaction or anger I write this….but a certain emphasis on facts so that we make our coming generations much more intelligent and to appreciate India with some of its core spiritual values against the dominant background of Western education.

With regards to all,

Priti.

 

Comments

comments

4 thoughts on “Remembering 1984 Sikh Riots in Bokaro: Priti’s Story

  1. Santosh

    Helly Vishy,
    I was referred to this blog by my classmate. I must say this effort of yours is truly remarkable. I read the following quote in Frontline a few days ago, “As a nation, we prefer to use silence to deal with our historical mistakes.” Your action counters this pathology of our nation to some extent. However, we still have a long way to go.

    I do not have any direct and strong recollection of my 1984 in Bokaro. I grew up loving and admiring the culture and atmosphere of Bokaro. So, it feels really sad to know that it was one of the centers of the Sikh riots. Your efforts helped me in re-surrecting some of that pride and love for my city. So, thanks a lot once again.

    @Priti, Jasbinder, Sunil & everyone else,

    Thanks for sharing the stories. I know it must have been painful. But keep sharing because it helps someone like me who only had a second-hand information and second-order understanding of the incidents. It helps a lot indeed!

    Regards,
    Santosh

    • vishy

      Hi Santosh,
      Thanks for writing in and sharing your generous and heartfelt thoughts. Kudos are really due to Priti, Jasbinder and Sunil to recount and share their stories.

      It also set off an outpouring of emotions from the rest of my classmates — some of which need to be (and will be) shared in a subsequent post.

      Best,
      Vishy

  2. M.S SINDHWANI

    I DO NOT HAVE A STORY TO TELL. I WAS STAYING IN IC/63.MY DAUGHTER SUNEETI SINDHWANI WAS STUDENT OF STXAVERS and RECENTLY ATTENDED GOLDEN JUBILEE. I WANT TO KNOW WHO WAS THIS SIKH GILL LADY WHO CAME OUT WITH A SWORD TO PROTECT HER FAMILY. IS SHE WIFE OF R P SINGH GILL WITH DAUGHTER JAINEET KAUR PERHAPS STAYING SOME WHERE IN SECTORII? OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD OF MAIN POST OFFICE NEAR ADMN BUILDING. I WAS WORKING IN MECON IN ADM BUILDING

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