AMIDST FIELDS of ripening wheat, a man who had never shed a tear wept inconsolably. Manwinder Singh Giaspur, 35, a textile engineer based in Gurgaon, broke down when he discovered the 26-year-old secret of genocide. On 2 November 1984, a mob attacked the small Sikh hamlet of Hondh-Chillar located 15 km from Pataudi, in Rewari district of Haryana. The remnants of burnt buildings are the only testimony to a shameful truth: that the anti-Sikh riots had also claimed victims in Haryana with the same ruthless efficiency displayed in Delhi.
Overwhelmed by a blitz of reporters, camera crews and netas, the then sarpanch and eyewitness, Dhanpat Singh Yadav, ran his finger through his thinning grey hair and said, “For 26 years you all were fast asleep, now suddenly the media has woken up and come to find out what happened?”
The attack came in two waves, he recalled. The villagers of Chillar and Hondh were able to fend off the first group of attackers on 1 November, but at 10 am the next day, a truck and a bus carrying 200-250 young men armed with rods, lathis, diesel and matches stormed the village. Overawed by the aggression and repeated threats by the outsiders, the villagers stood helpless as they killed 31 Sikh men, women and children and razed their bungalows and gurudwara to the ground. While some were burnt alive, others were beaten to death. The four-hour-long carnage came to an abrupt halt when a group of Sikhs broke out of their burning house armed with swords and attacked the rioters. Under the cover of night, the 32 survivors were taken by tractor to Rewari, from where they scattered across the country like Partition refugees.
Those who chose to stay back were forced to rise out of the sewers to rebuild their lives
“An FIR was filed (now apparently lost), a brief inquiry was also carried out, the police knew all the details, the local MLA Col. Ram Singh was aware of the killings but nothing happened. Everyone knew about it but chose to forget,” adds Dhanpat.
As media reports from Ground Zero pour in and parties move in to get maximum mileage, TEHELKA stumbled upon memories of another genocide. In a town known for its debonair Nawabs, 17 Sikhs were butchered in Pataudi.
Sitting in a small, unkempt room, Gurjeet Singh, pradhan of Pataudi’s Gurudwara Singh Sahib said, “I have kept this room of my house unchanged from the ’84 riots. I want my children to see what was done to us at the hands of our own people, in our own country.” He looked at his son, smiled sardonically and added, “Every day mediapersons andnetas pass through Pataudi on their way to Hondh-Chillar, but no one has come here to find out what happened to the Sikh families. Before 1984, there were close to 30 Sikh families in Pataudi, but today there are only five. We, who chose to stay back, were forced to rise out of the sewers to rebuild our lives.”
Gurjeet’s mother Pritam Kaur, wrapped in a grey shawl, leaning on her walking stick, said, “Every night, in every idle moment of every day, I am haunted by those memories. Whatever property that was taken, is gone. There is nothing we can do about that now, but the pain, the memories of fear and death will never fade.”
At 6 pm on 1 November, panic filled the city as the gurudwra was set on fire. The Sikhs of Pataudi ran for their lives, hiding wherever they could find cover as an angry mob ripped through the town burning their houses. While one group ran to the safety of the village, another chose to stay in the local ashram.
Leaving the safety of the ashram the next morning, they went to their respective houses to assess the damage. Separated, out in the open, tired and crying, they were attacked by a frenzied mob at 10 am. Many hid in neighbours’ houses, some escaped to the village but 17 people were brutally murdered that day. Burnt alive, their charred bodies — the ‘evidence’ — were piled up and burnt to ashes.
Gurjeet narrates the story of two sisters, Harmeet Kaur, 16, and Karamjeet Kaur, 19. “The mob dragged them out into the street, stripped them, abused them, beat them, urinated on their faces and burnt them alive,” he says. “There was no sense of human dignity, no sense of compassion. What role did these girls have in Mrs Gandhi’s assassination? Were we all responsible? Sardaron ke bachche hai, tho marao (They are children of sardars, so kill them).”
THOUGH MULTIPLE FIRs were lodged, no one was caught or prosecuted and the stories of Pataudi, like those of Hondh, have remained but whispers in once glorious havelis. However, when asked for an action plan, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said, “Action will be taken in accordance with the report filed by the Gurgaon Commissioner. Though compensation has been given, the guilty must be punished.
If the report deems judicial action is needed, we will pursue it.”
When asked why no one brought out these stories before, Gurjeet said, “The media, the Sikh organisations, the politicians had all labelled the riots as the ‘Delhi riots’. We had no influential leader. There was no local media, we were scared and alone, what could we do? As time passed, we were faced with the responsibility of rebuilding our future, looking to the needs of our families, we did not have the time, resources or support to fight against the system. And to be honest, when you lose your whole world, your will to fight dies.”
Physically, emotionally and financially, none of the Sikh families of Pataudi have been able to recover. If stagnation is normalcy, their lives are on an even keel.