Date: 08 Mar 2011


Sikh survivors want massacre memorial \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ ANURADHA MUKHERJEE Hondh-Chillar | 6th Mar \\\\\\\\\\\\\ A village elder from Hondh-Chillar with the members of the Sikh community who visited the spot 26 years after the anti-Sikh Riots to offer prayers to those killed in the village. ighty-odd kilometres from Delhi, past lush mustard fields, stand a few crumbling structures in village Hondh-Chillar. A dove coos plaintively and one may be tempted to soak in the rural freshness, but for the horror that unfolded at the spot in 1984. A group of Sikh men, women and villagers praying at the ruins of a gurudwara catches attention. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ They were back after 26 years to remember those who were brutally massacred in their homes on 2 November 1984 in the anti-Sikh riots that followed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. All those killed were part of a large extended family that was resettled in Hondh-Chillar village after being uprooted during Partition from Mianwali in Punjab, now in Pakistan. \\\\\\\\\\\\\ The community now wants to build a memorial at the spot and preserve the ruins in which 32 Sikhs were burnt alive. The matter has already made waves in Parliament, with Sikh bodies demanding a probe into the killings and the consequent inaction of the police. Former Central minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Haryana Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee's president (ad hoc) Jagdish Singh Chinda also made an appearance on Thursday. \\\\\\\\\\\ But the activists who unearthed the incident are not impressed. "These people have been around for so long, been ministers at the Centre. Why have they not tried to find out how many Sikhs were killed in 1984 all over India and give them justice? The Sikh leadership did nothing for us," said Karnail Singh, All India Sikh Students' Federation president and the India chapter convenor of Sikhs for Justice, the US based group that has filed a human right violation appeal in a New York court.\\\\\\\\\\\\ The land around the houses has since been bought by different people. Only one of the survivors, Swaroop Singh Makkar, continues to till the land around the gurudwara. It was also a day for the survivors and the villagers to meet and recollect the horrors. \\\\\\\\\\\\\ "Bhagwan Ram ko 14 saal ka vanvaas mila tha. Hum log 26 saal baad vapas aaye apne gaon (Lord Ram was sent to the forest for 14 years, we have come back from our exile after 26 years)," said Partap Singh Makkar, one of the survivors, now based out of Ludhiana. His old friends from the village waited. Partap Singh's family of 12 largely survived because his cousin, Balwant Singh, decided to attack the mob with the gurudwara kirpan when they tried to set the house on fire. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Pratap Singh's cousin Gurdial Singh was burnt alive, along with 11 others, when the granary they were hiding in was set on fire. Only a granddaughter, Guddi (Surjeet Kaur), survived as she was at her maternal parent's place. On Thursday, Surjeet met her kin at the village after 26 years. "I had gone to my mama's (uncle) place because a buffalo had injured me two days before the riots," she said. Surjeet, who was six years old then, was never told what happened at her home. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ "We all lived, but my sister-in-law was killed. The rest of us escaped to Rewari that night with help from our neighbours in Chillar village. Those killed were all very pious souls. But those like us who were not so honest survived. I don't understand God's will," said Partap Singh, who had served as the vice-sarpanch of the Hondh-Chillar village for five years. \\\\\\\\\\\ thers were not as lucky. That day, between 12 noon and 7 in the evening, 32 innocent Sikh adults and children were killed in an organised act of violence, according to the then sarpanch of the village, Rao Dhanpat Singh.\\\\\\\\\\\ "They were all peace-loving people. We have never had any problems with them. In fact, this group had given the village two sarpanches. It's just the armed mobs took us by surprise. The village was not prepared for it," said Ashok Kaushik, the husband of the present sarpanch Rekha, who pretty much runs the show. Prominent villagers and former sarpanches of the village stay on at the site in a show of solidarity with the Sikh families. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Rao Dhanpat Rao, recuperating at his home from a heart bypass surgery, however, could not make it to the prayer meeting. But his eyes well up as he remembered the incidents that fateful day. Dhanpat Singh was one of the eyewitnesses who saw the mobs arrive in the village. \\\\\\\\\\\\\ "I was working at my tube well when a truck and a bus full of young men between the ages of 17 and 27 arrived. They were raising anti-Sikh slogans. I had sent back a group that had arrived earlier. But these people were armed and they had some inflammable liquid, sticks and rods with them. I tried to intervene, but they managed to get the better of me. Other villagers advised me to stay out of it because they threatened to kill anybody who tried to help. I watched them torch the houses, kill my old neighbours."\\\\\\\\\\\\\ One of those killed was a Sikh Army personnel who had come from Rewari and taken shelter from rioters in the village. "He had a bedroll and a stove. He was a strapping six-feet-tall young man. When the rioters came, he hid behind the tube well. They poured kerosene in his mouth and set him alight. I can never forget the sight of that young man dying, blood gurgling in his mouth," said Dhanpat Singh, who says he reported 32 deaths. But the police FIR states only 20 "unidentified bodies" were recovered.\\\\\\\\\\\\ Partap Singh now wants to come back to the village and reclaim the land that he says he sold at dirt cheap rates before leaving for Ludhiana. "This is all ours. And I will also get you your right," he promises Surjeet Kaur, pointing to the fields. Among those who had gathered were those who had bought the land from the families in the years following the riots. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Lekh Ram, a farmer from Gurgaon, owns 20 acres in the area. He was restive that his land would be taken away. "I bought the land on rates higher than government stipulated rates. Of course, both the parties bargained. But I am not the only person who bought land here. Do you think they will take away my land?" he approaches tentatively. 000000000