New Delhi: The horror of communal clashes witnessed for two days from Sunday by some residents in lower-middle-class colonies in trans-Yamuna’s Shahdara district (geographical region), was a chilling reminder of a bigger pogrom during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
“We witnessed a close death scenario in 1984 and after three decades, we saw the same horror for two days starting from the night of 23 February,” recalled 65-year-old Gurminder Singh, who resides in Shahdara’s Block-B in the Ashok Nagar area.
Three decades ago, in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984, violence was unleashed against Sikhs in Delhi’s Shahdara district and engulfed the whole districts, including all the three subdivisions of the area—Gandhi Nagar, Shahdara and Farsh Bazar.
Shahdara is a geographical region of Delhi, situated near the banks of the Yamuna river. It is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Delhi and integral to what is known as Purani Dilli (Old Delhi). It is one of the newly formed districts of Delhi and has a collectorate office at Dilshad Garden. “Though no one was killed from my family in the 24 February Hindu-Muslim riots, and the rioters did not burn or loot any house belonging to a Sikh family, the scale of violence in Shahdara and threat to our lives reminded us of the 1984 riots that claimed thousands of innocent lives,” Gurminder Singh said.
Experts say that if one leaves aside the Sikh riots and consider the data of lives claimed during Hindu-Muslim riots in Delhi, the recent riots with 39 deaths reported till Friday evening, is perhaps the worst clash than has ever happened in Delhi since 1950.
As per data compiled by Professor Ashutosh Varshney and Steven Wilkinson, as many as 93 lives were lost in Hindu-Muslim riots that occurred in Delhi between 1950-1995 and from 1995 to till 22 February, 2020, no lives were lost in any riots, including the 2014 riot that erupted in East Delhi’s Trilokpuri area. Given the data, the current riots appear to be one of the worst communal clashes.
“We tried to save many Muslim families living in this area. We opened the gurudwara’s gate on the night of 24 February and allowed many Muslim families to stay safe in our houses too. I still recall how in 1984, my wife, I along with our son were saved by a Muslim family which lived here,” Gurminder Singh said.
Dalveer Singh, 78, who worked as a municipal official, told The Sunday Guardian: “Similar to the 1984 riots that killed thousands of Sikhs in the area, the current Hindu-Muslim clashes erupted on the night of 23 February, engulfed almost 10-15 colonies of northeast Delhi and left many people killed and their houses burnt. I was at a tender age, but remember how the bloodthirsty mob killed people and burned their houses during the 1984 riots. The current riots were like a chilling reminder of the 1984 riots.”
According to Dalveer Singh, Shahdara district witnessed the worst carnage during 1984 and the same situation was seen for 2-3 days now.
“During the anti-Sikh riots, all the three sub-divisions of Shahdara, including Gandhi Nagar, Shahdara and Farash Bazar, were totally burnt. I lost my father and one cousin brother in that riot. When I saw the rampage on 24 February, the same memory came to haunt me. I prayed to god and asked many young people not to follow this madness, since it helps none,” Dalveer Singh said.
The recent riot-hit areas include Gokulpuri, Ashok Nagar, Babarpur, Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Karwal Nagar, Ram Nagar, Vishwas Nagar, Mohan Park, Kardam Puri, Gorakh Park and Shiv Vihar.
Paramjit Singh, a tailor in Shahdara’s Ashok Nagar area, told The Sunday Guardian: “I was a teenager in 1984 when rioters killed my mother and torched the house where we use to live on rent. I have struggled a lot to get over the shock of losing my mother, but the recent riots in the Ashok Nagar area reopened my wound. I distributed food for two days and worked to save many lives of Muslim families in the area as I was saved in 1984 by them. I allowed Muslim families to take refuge in my house and a small shop.”
During the current clashes, Fatima and Rohtash’s family took refuge for two days in Paramjit Singh’s house. Fatima said, “I and my family members are alive today because of Singh’s family, otherwise the bloodthirsty mob would have killed us.”
On the night of 23 February, riots and violence broke out in Shahdara district of northeast Delhi in which 42 people have been killed till now and over 500 people were injured.