‘1984 Riots Should Never Happen Again, And Never to Anyone Else’

Many Sikh families in Delhi quietly, and not so quietly, carry the burden of a wounded past even today.

4 min read
British Sikhs take part in a march and rally in central London to commemorate the Anti-Sikh riots. Image used for representation. 
‘1984 Riots Should Never Happen Again, And Never to Anyone Else’

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I have been asked by several friends if my family was affected by the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre in any way. I don't think any Sikh family in Delhi (or elsewhere) was entirely 'unaffected' by the barbarity that surrounded them those days. Directly or indirectly, everyone felt the brunt.


My parents had an inter-religious marriage. My father was a turbaned Sikh, my mother was from a Hindu Arya-Samaji family. The fathers, on both sides, were initially opposed to the idea of their son/daughter marrying outside their religion. The mothers on both sides drilled sense into their husbands, and eventually, made them see reason. My parents finally tied the knot!

While both my parents were not religious, my dad had kept his unshorn hair and turban to keep his parents happy, who were devout Sikhs. However, he was clear that his children would not be forced into a religion and would not 'inherit' a religion.

Whether we followed a religion or not, would be a choice we could make when we grew up. 

Our heads were tonsured at an early age, much to the dismay of my paternal grandparents. But they eventually came around to accepting us with short hair.

In 1984, we were staying at a rented house in Safdarjung Enclave. The news of the 'big tree falling' had begun to spread. The media didn't immediately broadcast the news of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's death, and to avoid tensions, stated that she was critical. My father was ironically an Indira Gandhi fan (or so I hear).

The next morning, he along with a Hindu friend, had gone out for some work on his scooter. On the way back, my father decided to stop at AIIMS to find out how Mrs Gandhi was doing. An angry Congress mob was waiting outside AIIMS.

'Desh ki maa ko maar diya'

The refrain had started doing the rounds. I still can't fathom what my father was thinking but he walked up straight to the Congressi mob and inquired about Mrs Gandhi's condition.

‘1984 Riots Should Never Happen Again, And Never to Anyone Else’

'Saale sardar', one among the many expletives that the crowd threw at him. He was pushed around, roughed up. Someone spat on his face. Or maybe many did. His Hindu friend dragged him out of the crowd, quickly got onto the scooter and rushed home.


That evening, the 'earth had begun to shake.’ Smoke was billowing from many Sikh houses. The slaughter had begun. My brother and I (four and two years old then) were quickly packed off to my maternal grandparents house. Our landlords, also Hindu, locked my parents inside the house, so they could pretend that there was no one staying there, in case a mob showed up.

My parents, like every other Sikh family, were cooped up in their house (or other hiding places), hoping against hopes that they'd be spared the barbarity that had engulfed the city. For the next three days, they kept their lights off, curtains drawn and phone off the hook. On the second or third day, a section of the mob finally showed up. 'We know a Sardar lives here.’

My landlords pointed at the lock outside their main door and convinced them that my parents had moved out when the riots began.

I don't know what it was. Had that mob satiated their blood thirst, or were they tired of killing people? Much to my parent's relief, the mob trusted the landlords and went away.

I was, of course, too young then to remember any of this. I heard these stories many years later. I couldn't but help wonder, what could have happened to my father had his Hindu friend not dragged him away from the mob outside AIIMS. What if the mob had not believed the Hindu landlords and broke open that lock? Would my parents have become just another statistic in those long lists of the deceased in 1984?

‘1984 Riots Should Never Happen Again, And Never to Anyone Else’

Well, I guess there's no point getting into the 'what ifs.’ The point, I think, is to derive the right lessons from history.

Over three decades and thousands still await justice. I am assuming many would have already given up. So many Sikh families in Delhi quietly, and not so quietly, carry the burden of a wounded past even today.

‘1984 Riots Should Never Happen Again, And Never to Anyone Else’

1984, 2002 and so much else. While we rightly say, 'never forget, never forgive' but I guess we also need to reiterate, and just as loudly, now more than ever 'Never again, and never to ANYONE else.’

(Nakul Singh Sawhney is an independent documentary filmmaker. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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