It was early November of 1984. I was returning home in a matador van, after finishing the evening shift in the AIR reporting unit. These were troubled days for the country. As an aftermath of the Operation Blue Star, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Immediately after that, the anti-Sikh riots had erupted.
Delhi was placed under curfew. Law and order had collapsed, with police failing miserably in maintaining peace and saving Sikh lives. The army was called in and finally with their intervention, normalcy was restored within 3 days.
My story relates to this traumatic period.
I was returning home after evening shift in the reporting unit of News Services All India Radio. We were eight colleagues in the matador van. As our office van neared Rajinder Nagar, west Delhi, a Sikh army jawan holding an automatic weapon signalled us to stop. My colleagues in the van, knowing my army background, requested me to approach the Sikh jawan and show him our curfew pass.
I walked towards the Sikh jawan with a friendly smile on my face. All of a sudden, he shouted, ‘rukjao warna goli maar doonga’ (Halt! One more step forward and I will shoot you down). With my army background, I knew if I did not stop, he would press the trigger. I slowly raised my hands, turned back, and without uttering a word, returned to my vehicle. My colleagues heaved a sigh of relief and said in one voice, ‘thank God, you are safe’.
The Sikh jawan must be going through some trauma. May be he had lost some members of his family in these riots. We went to the nearest police station, where we met Major Malhotra who was the in charge of this area. We narrated the whole incident to him, and he immediately got into his jeep, asking us to follow him in our office van. He took us across the danger point and asked us to contact him if we face any other problem while crossing that area.
People across Delhi were unanimous that killers and looters were hired goons from outside Delhi and none of them was a known face. Many Hindu families gave shelter to their Sikh neighbours and saved their lives, not fearing about their own lives. There were stories of gallantry, compassion and humanity all around us. Hindus patrolled their localities at night to keep away the attackers. Our Sikh neighbours in Janakpuri deposited their cash and jewellery with us for safety. As I look back, I can safely conclude that the riots united the Hindus and Sikhs. Till date I wish that the year 1984 never gets repeated, ever again.