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Waiting For My Sikh Panth - How Much Longer?


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A funeral procession of a Sikh man greeted us when we entered the main street of Sultanpuri in Delhi. Life became a simile. Sultanpuri was death personified. The sound of saying the word Sultanpuri was like a wail of death.

With a heavy heart and anger seething inside me, riding the pillion of a social activist’s scooter, with camera in hand, I dared to set foot on an alien territory to overcome my own pain and shame for not having visited the place, all these twenty-five years.

As I glanced around, the faces that I saw –men and women, there was something wrong with them. They did not look in the eye when they talked. To me every one looked like Gupta, Nathu and Islam. To me, they were ‘others’ and not ‘my own’. The looked as they were on the prowl waiting to pounce.

Walking on the main road and the bylanes of the various blocks of Sultanpuri, I tip-toed for I felt that I was walking over blood-splattered and burnt dead bodies of Sikhs.

The 22 square yard houses of Sultanpuri –which was in 1984 an overgrown suburb far from the upcoming clean and green environs of the growing metropolis but now is part of the city and home to families with no less than 7 to 10 members. The squalour and filth of the area makes one wonder whether one is in Delhi which is to host the Commonwealth Games next year.

The endless stream of young boys idling on the roadside, out-of-school girls, womenfolk busy chatting and the elderly playing cards, discussing nothing, children listening to loud speakers blaring latest Hindi songs or watching the latest movies on Cable TV welcome you the town of Sultanpuri.

sultanpur%202.jpgMany of the boys are skinny and frail, unlike their brethren elsewhere who are traditionally strong, vigorous and hard-working. Those working in make-shift foundries right outside their houses suffer from tuberculosis, women and children are undernourished and malnourished. Some elderly men were selling toffees and biscuits, to kill time rather than to earn, for they are so fatigued and ill, they cannot do physical work anymore.

In the whole bunch of people, you could see women and girls with Dupattas over their heads, but had to ask the male population to know whether they were Sikhs and why the turban and hair was conspicuous by their absence. When I switched on the video camera, a man who had worked in Kuwait and Iran, sensing my question said, “Main Sikh haan, Waqt de maare hohe haan, nahi te saanu vi kesh te pagri rakhan da bahut dil karda hai te shauk vi hai” I felt a little pleased. Another young man when asked about his appearance, said, “Ab aap aa gaye ho, main kes jaroor rakhoonga. Mujhe kaam chahiye.”

The Gurdwara on the road still bore marks of what it witnessed two decades back. Nihal Singh the octogenarian Granthi, who with his son, at the full risk to his life, saved three Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib on 1st November 1984, when police-led mobs attacked the Gurdwara in Sultanpuri, when asked to recall the times nonchalantly said, “Ki Yaad kariye, police aayi si, phir lok aaye sann, jaan-pehchaan vale lok, ik haneri aayi te sadhe kunbe de kahi lokan ni aapne lappet vich lai gayi. Assi log maare gaye sann A block vich”.

Nihal Singh, who lives in the Gurdwara complex reminisces that he had been warned by someone from amongst the ‘others’, but he was not afraid.

He narrated how migrating from Sindh in Pakistan in 1948, wandering in Mumbai, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Alwar, they had finally settled in Prem Nagar in Delhi, from where they were evicted and resettled in Sultanpuri in 1977.

sultanpur%20oldperson.jpgThe old Granthi, who is now overlooking the Gurdwara being rebuilt by Australia-based Sikhs Helping Sikhs, fondly tells me that his wife and he had taken Amrit after partition, along with hundreds of Sikhs at an Amrit Parchar ceremony organized by Master Tara Singh at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, when the Gurdwara was merely a tinsheet roof. Do the Akalis now have Amrit Parchar? –he asked me. I had no answer.

He proudly narrated that his maternal uncle had taught him Gurmukhi in Sindh and that his four sons were proficient in performing Kirtan, playing the harmonium and tabla, even though they are not professional Kirtaniyas. Are you Sikligar Sikhs? Haanji, he said with great pride.

Those living in Sultanpuri were allotted houses (if you can call a house of 22 square yards to be a home) by the Indira Gandhi government, after their eviction from Prem Nagar in 1977. In this one room, one kitchen and one bathroom house, with toilets at a distance of 200 yards or more as public toilets, live more than 7-10 members of the family. Just outside the house, at the door is the small coal-based foundry which is their main source of living. They work outside their homes in perpetual fear that the pollution-control bodies of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will not impose penalty, harass and arrest them.

A sense of disgust and helplessness enveloped inside me as I walked through the lanes glancing at the living conditions and peeping inside their very small habitat, which were no more than Cattle Class.

sultanpur%20street.jpgWhen I reached Block A of Sultanpuri, I stood still. I silently paid homage to the Sikhs killed and burnt alive. Nihal Singh told me that 80 of them were killed. Another activist said the number was around 50. To me, numbers did not matter. In my mind and heart I was attempting to relive the scenario, of that one Sikh –Sohan Singh who was burnt alive with a Saroop of Guru Granth Sahib in his lap. He had pleaded that the Guru be spared, but the “others” had other plans. They did not spare him, nor the Guru. I tried to unravel the ghastly scene, how the proud Sikligar overlord leader –Basant Singh, who had managed to build a Gurdwara there, was brutally attacked and killed with vengeance which had remained wallowed up for a long time amongst the “others”. In some houses, for want of kerosene, they were tied to their beddings and set afire. Somehow, two or three male Sikhs escaped from the worse than Russian ghettoes dwelling built by the Indian government to honour the housing rights of the marginalized sections of society.

The Gurdwara now is in a ramshackle tent house under the care of a Nihang and his wife, but Block A of Sultanpuri does not have a single Sikh resident. The widows and their families have been shifted to Tilak Vihar. When I stepped on the lane on which the Sikhs were killed, I was benumbed beyond words. I pondered as to what took me twenty-five years to reach this place. Those Sikhs living nearby and the wife of the Nihang, overlooking the Gurdwara wonder, “Why no one comes here?” Can someone tell?

Sultanpuri, today mocks at the Sikh nation. Sultanpuri is only one of the many deras, where these beloved traditional weapon makers, the Sikligar Sikhs –the protectors of Sikh honour and dignity, were made sitting ducks in an organized and orchestrated genocidal plan to wipe out the poorest of the poor. Their lives have been shattered. Today, their children shorn their hair, forgetting the age-old message passed onto them from generation to generation –Kesh nahi katane hai, chahe jaan chali jaaye. The bonds with tradition amongst the Sikligar Sikhs is so strong that they withstood the onslaught of the Mughals and the British, they have buttressed the proselytisation campaigns of the Christians and the RSS in many parts of the country, but November 1984 shattered their lives and traditions.

sultanpur%20children.jpgWhile the women with Dupattas shed silent tears recalling the events, I forced myself not to cry. Their helplessness was evident in what one lady president of the Gurdwara said, “hamare bacchon ko kissi tarah kesh rakhana sikha do, hamko bahut sharam aati hai.” They say so because though the shadow of fear of November 1984 is no more, atleast on the surface, it has become an easy excuse for the young ones, who go out of their settlement in search of work. At some level, inspite of the bravado of some middle-aged Sikhs, the fear lurks.

Like it or not, the local MLA –Jai Kishen and the Member of Parliament –Ms Krishna Tirath, representing this constituency is from the Congress party, the same party which led the anti-Sikh pogrom from the front. It is the same party which forced hapless widows to retract evidence so that Gupta, Nathu and Islam could go scot free.

It is the party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but it is also the party of Sajjan Kumar who was the Member Parliament representing Sultanpuri in November 1984. He may have made it this year too.

Like other Sikhs, in many parts of the country, particularly in Delhi and Punjab, the Sikligar Sikhs too look upto them for support and succour in the absence of Sikh organizations too busy with politicking and dogmatic issues.

The journey of life of the Sikligar Sikhs continues doggedly despite November 1984. The deathly silence of twenty-five years needs to be broken. Can we, even after twenty-five years?








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