Generation 1984: Living With the Horrors of the Anti-Sikh Riots

The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 created a lost generation that is still suffering from the trauma of violence and loss. 

4 min read

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(This story was first published on 30 October 2017. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives)

All they wanted was revenge, blood for blood. Kill those who killed their fathers. But they could do nothing. So they were a frustrated lot. Drugs and alcohol was their only way to cope with the frustration.
Dilbagh Singh, Punjabi Popstar

Dilbagh Singh’s Audi Q7 is just too big for the narrow roads of Tilak Vihar in West Delhi. But everyone here knows his car. He’s the local boy who became a Punjabi singing sensation.

Just like the 900 families living here in Tilak Vihar, commonly known as "widows’ colony", Dilbagh lost his two uncles and elder brother in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Though he has moved out to a better life and a bigger home in nearby Vikaspuri, yet the horrors of 1984 still haunt him.

Singer Dilbagh Singh with his fans in Tilak Vihar, New Delhi
(Photo: The Quint)
As a four-year-old, I saw how they killed my family members, and looted our home. We had to leave our big home behind and live as refugees here in Tilak Vihar. These memories are permanently stored in my mind’s hard disk, they can never be overwritten.
Dilbagh Singh, Punjabi Popstar

Dilbagh is one of the rare success stories of Tilak Vihar, where almost 90 percent of his generation, who were 10 to 16-years-old in 1984, could do nothing with their lives. When the survivors of the riots were resettled in Tilak Vihar, the women were also given low-level government jobs, this was their only means to earn a living.

Every morning, we left for work leaving our children behind. There was no one to take care of them. They loitered around and went astray.
Lakhvinder Kaur, Resident, Tilak VIhar
Kirpal Singh became a drug addict at a very young age.  
(Photo: The Quint)

Lakhvinder Kaur’s son Kirpal Singh was 10-years-old in 1984. Since he was the eldest child in the family, he had to start earning to support his mother. But that came at a huge cost! At a young age, a truck driver gave him opium, and soon he was addicted. An addiction he still suffers from.

I studied till Class 6. I quit school to earn a living. I started helping a truck driver who gave me opium. That’s how I started doing drugs.
Kirpal Singh, 10-years-old in 1984

Many like Dilbagh allege that post-1984, drugs came freely and easily into Tilak VIhar as part of a ploy by the politicians and officials. They wanted to pacify the youth so that they couldn’t rise and plot revenge after the riots. And the easiest way to do it was to numb them mentally through drugs. Many of these people are now dead, most died in their early 30s.

Those who were in their teens in the mid-80s never got a decent education, they got too busy surviving, although barely.

Bhupender Singh runs a tailoring shop in Tilak Vihar. His father was killed in 1984. 
(Photo: The Quint)
We never got a chance to go to school. There was not enough money even for food. But today, I have ensured my son gets a good education. He’s in first year of graduation. He shouldn’t live the life we have lived.
Bhupender Singh, eight-years-old in 1984

More than three decades after the anti-Sikh riots, Tilak VIhar is still reeling under the aftermath of the riots. Even the current generation, those who are in their mid-20s are facing the same problems as their parents.

I couldn’t even complete Class 10. Now I can’t get a job because I am not educated enough. My father suffered as my grandfather was killed in 1984, he could never go to school. And now I am suffering because my father never bothered to take care of us.
Manmeet Singh, Resident, Tilak Vihar
Manmeet Singh is 24-years-old, he’s unemployed because he never completed his studies. 
(Photo: The Quint)

The current generation of youth living in Tilak Vihar have inherited the scars and trauma of the anti-Sikh riots, nothing much has changed here. Clearly their life is no different from their fathers, and are still suffering from the trauma of 1984.

Correspondent & Producer: Tridip K Mandal

Cameraperson: Abhay Sharma

Camera Assistant: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

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