“Kahaan jaa rahe ho Sardarji ?” shouted a young man from the side of the road. I was born in the capital of a ‘Sovereign, Socialistic, Secular, Democratic, Republic’, to a mother born in a Hindu and father a Sikh family, educated in a privileged school and a premiere medical school of a liberal cosmopolitan city. We were brought up in a completely areligious atmosphere. I wore a turban more as a tradition than a religious symbol, and responded to a few nick names, my first name and to ‘Doctor sahib’, so it took me some time to register that he was asking me this question. HOME ! I said, making it quite clear by my tone that it was none of his business.
Where are you coming from? Asked another young boy. By now hoping that the red light would turn to green soon, I put my big Royal Enfield Motorcycle in gear, and ignored his question and his existence, but they was persistent. Looking at the ‘red cross’ painted on my motorcycle, a symbol we all used to show off, and to tell everyone that we were above the law and could not be fined by police for minor traffic violations, a third asked me if I was a doctor. I said indeed I was, they asked if I was coming from the hospital, I nodded again hoping that would end the inquisition. The light turned green but they did not let me go, and told me that it was best for me that I returned to the hospital campus as I would be ‘safe’ there.
It was about 7 PM on the 31st of October 1984 when I discovered I had suddenly become a “Sardarji” from “Doctor Sahib” and Delhi streets were not ‘safe’ for me ! “SAFE?” I screamed, in my usual arrogant manner, and laughed at the concept of being unsafe in my city. I told them to stop wasting my time and let me go home as I was tired. They told me that Sikhs were being bashed up (not burnt alive which I later discovered was the case) near Safdarjung flyover and AIIMS crossing (where I was headed on my way home in Hauz Khas). The light changed to green 3 times but these boys did not let me go, and insisted that I take a ‘U’ turn and Go Back to the medical college Campus as it was ‘Safe’. I looked around and was surprised to see that I was the only ‘Sikh’ amongst hundreds of people on the road. I was not fully convinced but the boys looked genuinely concerned. I was too tired and sleepy to argue after a long day in the hospital, and a night duty on the previous night, and took a ‘U’ turn and went to the hostel and literally dropped off to sleep.
It was around midnight that I got multiple messages from home to call back, something that had never happened before.
Fearing a medical emergency in the family I rushed to the hospital ‘direct’ phone and called home. My father told me that they were relieved to hear my voice as they heard Sikhs were being burnt alive on Delhi roads and asked my to stay indoors in the hostel until things settled. There was noise about fires around town and we went to the top of the 8 storied ‘Boys Hostel’ next door to ours, and saw smoke rising all around. This is the first time I was genuinely worried, every story of the ‘riots’ during partition our parents had told us seemed to come alive ! The rest of the week my parents were sleeping at a neighbor’s house. The phones were working sporadically and I was assured that all my married sisters were ‘safe’. I have no clue who those good Samaritans were ? I am not sure why I went back to the hostel instead of being burnt alive by the ‘mob’ on Safdarjung flyover?
Like me Every Sikh in Delhi and elsewhere in India has a story to tell about those three days , except about 20000 who did not make it.
Where was the police, army, administration, politicians, NGOs, WHY WAS I NOT SAFE ? One of my father’s friend who worked at the home ministry called up to tell him to stay indoors and look after himself till Monday, and then it will all be OK. Indeed all was back to ‘normal’ in Delhi on Monday, the 3rd of December 1984, All except SAFETY for its citizens, TRUST in the Government, and Hope for JUSTICE ! I admire the courage and conviction of those fighting for Justice more than 28 years later.
Yesterday we were told by our eminent courts that it was not SAJJAN KUMAR !
IS IT FUNNY ? What does anyone stand to gain by laughing at hapless victims.
Has anyone wondered if this is what the Indian state does to its citizens in the National Capital, what it would be doing to the disenfranchised tribals in the mining hinterland ? To the workers in the industrial areas ? To the ordinary people in Kashmir and the North east ? To other minorities in the country ?