Schorched White Lilies of ’84
A Review by Gurcharan Singh
Author: Reema Anand
Publisher: Rupa & Co.
Pages: 114; Price: Rs 295/-
Earlier I had read Reema Anand’s well-known book ‘His Sacred Burden ‘on the life of Bhagat Puran Singh, published by Penguin. She had vividly described a single man’s struggle to relieve pain of others and achieve , after a long time, an organization that is Pingalwara. When I came to know from a leaflet about this book ‘Scorched White Lilies of ’84, I immediately decided it must be read. In pursuance of this , writing of a review was the outcome The book is about Anti Sikh carnage in Delhi in Nov ’84, about which every-one knows generally, but not specifically as to what exactly happened then and what is happening later and what the sufferers are going through and how they are surviving. The writers’ objective was two-fold, first to understand the pain and sufferings and emotions of anti- Sikh riot victims and their orphan children, and secondly to do something for them, especially the girls so that they earn their livelihood and live with dignity.
She started her work first time in Dec 2006, i.e, twenty-two years after the horrible happenings visiting Tilak Vihar Delhi where first colony of anti-Sikh riot victims was set-up by the Congress Govt. About 925 families were settled there.
The first impression as she entered the area was of utter neglect. Roads were potholed and broken. Only cycle and cycle-rickshaws plied, people seemed to be drugged; old ones squatted on their haunches and watched life speeding by. The place was extremely dirty, and noisy and houses built distressingly close to each other and small. Men women and children were perpetually on the roads.
Each flat built by govt consisted of 6’x8‘ bed room, 3‘x4‘ kitchen, 3‘x3‘ bath room; dismal surroundings, highly packed and no breathing space,— this gave shelter to hundreds of displaced families of ’84 riots!
The writer’s main contacts were Mata, Satam Bhenji, Puppy, and Harjinder Bhenji. The idea of writing a book was just an excuse; actually she wanted to feel what they had gone through during the massacre that had hit them without warning. To keep them employed, the group was earlier working on a papad project on the lines of Lijjat papad, but sales were dwindling and uncertain. Now they wanted to take up Masala project. Mirchi, haldi, brown jeera, golden dhania, saunf were brought from Khari Bauli on rickshaw to Tilak Vihar for grinding and packing. It was a gruelling task.
Work was started with seventeen women amid piles of masalas in a Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD) complex in Tilak Vihar. They lacked work culture in toto. They had become used to begging for compensation, and if their returns were rejected, took to streets en‘ masse Work culture was a problem for men too. From aid, bank loans, some men took auto-rickshaws and plied. But they would park anywhere, gossip or eat gutka. Their houses seem to be full of home gadgets, taken on installments, but there was no feeling of money earned with dignity. What actually needed was emotional and financial rehabilitation.
While on the masala project, the writer would take out time, talk to women and girls to know what happened to them and their families in 1984. I leave it to the reader to know the details, because each story is different and painful. The common features are: the menfolk being dragged out by the mobs, beaten up with iron rods, & lathis, then kerosene or petrol poured over them or tyres put on their necks and burnt to death with tyrants shouting , laughing, abusing and dancing over their missdeed. Women and girls if falling in the hands of the mobs being raped and sometimes cut up and burnt or killed. The fortunate ones escaping in hiding in their good Hindu neighbourhoods ;some boys cutting their hair to escape identity. These then providentially saved by Army trucks, landing in Gurdwaras/camps till they met other members.. Other scenes of Gurdwaras half burnt birs of holy Guru Granth Sahibs smouldering in fire and nobody around to do anything. Sometimes scenes of naked dead girls after being raped dumped in trucks being driven away. If one were to describe these horrors another book could be written. Such incidents left the riot - affected hardened inside and silent and mute outside that it was difficult for the writer to get further details. Occasionally there were emotional outbursts.
The author writes about efforts to keep the project going with the help of like minded organizations and enlightened individuals. But the indifference and callousness of even some Sikh Gurdwara Committees towards riot affected is most dismaying. They wanted to take political mileage out of their suffering, by periodically holding rallies in their support but not taking systematic steps to solve their problems.
To provide further work to these women a project of making sevyan was also added as this item is also popular in Punjabi food.
As her informal involvement was objected to by a DDA official, an NGO “Hope of orphans Charitable Society” was registered. Side by side with these papad, masala, sevyan projects she spent tremendous effort in rehabilitation of girls by counselling and pursuing solution of family conflicts such as divorces, drug - addiction , sexual aberrations etc of those affected.
Exemplary conduct of Head Constable Jukti Ram cannot be forgotten, who because of sincerely doing his duty in controlling mobs and preventing massacre was suspended and had almost lost his job before being put back under pressure from well-meaning individuals .On the negative side were senior community ladies who almost threw out the widows on petty pretexts.
There were many occasions when the writer almost gave up under stress when some well-meaning organizations like Nishkam and individuals like Justice R.S. Narula came to her rescue with funds and other help.
Gradually the NGO was inching towards its objectives. Help from organization of Spouces of MEA in 2008 spearheaded by S. Tarlochan Singh avoided another crisis. The hope of inducting young journalist Jarnail Singh gave it another impetus. The author has a dream of how in place of Tilak Vihar a model colony would come up. Let us hope and wish it does come up with the community’s involvement. There are many more pockets which require similar attention specially the slums of Sikligars and Vanjara Sikhs, which the community is gradually recognizing.
This is a story told honestly by highly sensitive woman author who ventured into an NGO to understand the pain & suffering of those affected by anti Sikh riots in north-west Delhi and to do something for them. Inspite of tremendous difficulties, her NGO Hope faced, she could substantially achieve some part of her aim. The work must go on, and the de-sensitised community must wake up to a much larger task which it is facing. The re-assessment is required not only in terms of emotions, hopes and fears but also in terms of facts and figures of what is there to be done yet, what efforts are required, what investments have to be made, continuously for many years, for a better rehabilitation, education, employment and de-addiction of future generations of these families.
In acknowledgement the author has mentioned various individuals and organizations who helped her. Some photos have been added to show women working on the projects. She has dedicated this work to Justice R.S. Narula her mentor.
This book is a must for every Sikh library in homes, Gurdwaras and other Institutions.