Rape, beatings, loss of loved ones, and death were the consequences women faced during a genocide carried out by the Indian government from 1984 to 1991. These actions were not condoned; instead, they were glorified. This still remains a problem for the Sikh people that lost everything. Yet, that very loss was recognized as nothing of importance. The loss of recognition over the years instills a sense of fear, a fear that people my age back then faced constant abuse and turmoil. It makes me live with the constant replay of the fact that women my age and sometimes even younger were gang raped by local police and mobs while all the men were called to a mandatory meeting in the center of the village. Women were left fragile and were constantly abused. The suffering did not end there; it extended to being forced to watch their family members being beaten, burned alive, and even held in place as their mother was positioned in front of them being sexually abused. All of this because the government and its leaders deemed it as being the only “solution” to a problem that was never there in the first place.
Though I didn’t live through it, the sorrow and desire for action to be taken is instilled within me because, when they were my age, my parents lived with the fear of torture from the local police, rape, death, and the loss of everything and everyone around them. It is instilled within me because my family talks about how we lost my uncle as a result of the tragedy. It is instilled within me because we received justice and simultaneously profound hope for the first time.
Government officials, citizens, the police, and all others that contributed to the hatred and mass killings were never held accountable and to this day live in a state of amusement, thinking they could get away with such horrid actions and commands. However, that all changed with a woman who spoke out against the tragedies that the Sikh people experienced and indicated all that they had lost. Despite the fact that the government could have silenced her voice as a Sikh woman just as they had been silenced before. Silenced because with the truth uprising being deemed as the “world’s biggest democracy” would be brought into question. Silenced because if their were testimonies were presented the situation would be labeled as what it truly was: a genocide. Silenced because women contributing their stories would cause others to share their experience. These two women showed perseverance and consistency, something I personally took to heart. Their ability to not stand down from the truth, their ability to demand justice after over 30 years, and their contributions to the Sikh community all are the things that make a Sikh women a Sikh and are things I hope to achieve.
This year, around this time marks the beginning of the anniversary of 35 years since the attack. This year marks 35 years of being shut down. It marks the time after a mother and a son ran a country with a personal vendetta against a whole religion with the goal to completely wipe it out. It marks years upon years of broken promises. In times such as these I account for the experience and devastation that my parents and family suffered: fearful to attend school or step outside their home, tortured by the police, fearing every time the police walked by the home they were passing to check in for pleasure, assuming a cousin to be dead after being in hiding in Delhi for 15 days, and much more marked the constant fear my parents and family lived with for nearly a decade. It marks the time that the only way to live was in fear. In times such as these, I feel the pain that others have dealt with for the past 35 years.
Recently, a light has been shed on the genocide and it has brought recognition to issues of the past, present, and issues of the future. This recognition was made possible by two women who stood for their experience and represented what millions of others faced as well. Their names are Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur and their presence in the courts where they told their stories made them trailblazers in the path to some solace and a very lengthy one to closure for the Sikh people. It is important to discuss their experience, what this meant to them, and what this case indicated. It is important to recognize the case and analyze others that implemented the same actions.
Court’s Conclusion & Reaction
This is Sajjan Kumar, the person responsible for pre-planning and executing mass murder with the help of the police. He did so by infuriating mobs and giving speeches that developed hate towards Sikhs and created a sense of Hindu nationalism. Plans were further put into play by giving out a list of the names and homes of the Sikhs to attack. Originally being let off the hook in 2013 on the basis of Jagdish Kaur’s testimony being “unreliable,” it was taken to the Supreme Court in New Delhi and a life sentence was prescribed to Sajjan Kumar for the crimes that he had committed.
Jagdish Kaur’s Story
Sajjan Kumar’s directions: “Sikh sala ek nahin bachna chahiye, jo Hindu bhai unko sharan deta hai, uska ghar bhi jala do aur unko bhi maro”. (Not a single Sikh should be left alive, if a Hindu is giving them a place to stay, burn their house and kill them, too.)
At age 77, Jagdish Kaur moved forward with her actions of demanding justice for the terror committed against her family. Having lost 5 family members- her husband, son, and three cousins- in November 1984 during the Sikh genocide, she has been ridden with never ending pain for the past 35 years. Shortly after the verdict was reached on the case, she was able to find the hope that, for once, something was taken seriously in light of the genocide and not as something that “did not occur” or when verdicts were based on the glorified government version of the story. She held true to her statement of, “ I will fight for justice with the last drop of blood," and was able to make a step towards reparation.
Nirpreet Kaur’s Story
Sajjan Kumar’s directions: Ek bhi Sardar zinda nahi bachna chahiye” (Not a single Sardar should be left alive).
At the age of 16, Nirpreet Kaur experienced something no kid should have to go through. Amidst the gurudwaras around her village being set aflame as she was fleeing her home, she watched as her father was burnt alive. From then on, she went to several courts to testify against actions that were carried out under orders of Sajjan Kumar- only to be turned away. She even spent 9 years in prison for the TADA law which labeled her as being an extremist for declaring what she had saw until the recent case against him. She responded, upon hearing the news, that the verdict was solace when a life sentence was imposed because, “the death penalty would have meant he would have died in a moment, but now he will suffer".
Why it matters
What is most likely to be thought of as just a testimony and something that has aged 6 months, now holds merit still and highlights the actions that should be taken against those who also took part in the conducting of such actions. The testimonies of Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur are two out of millions who account for nearly a decade of terror in which the government that killed its own citizens and has yet to be held accountable. The case of Sajjan Kumar and these women exemplify what action has and should be taken. Because there wasn’t just one operation but instead multiple demanding actions as these pioneers did is a step in the right direction. Discussing this now matters because June 1 to June 10, 1984 marked the beginning of never ending terror for Sikhs and the government's role in it. It matters because those occurrences weren’t just the two days accounted for by these testimonies but instead what felt like days that would never come to an end.
Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur set a path for demanding action, putting an end to the amusement these politicians lived with, and ensuring that the horrors committed on behalf of the government were heard. The voices that were once silenced were restored to bring justice. This case of December of 2018 sets the pathway to bringing many more for the occurrences that occurred during this time of year 35 years ago and others in which instilling terror had become the new normal. The strength of these two women to stand against the very government that deemed its actions as “necessary” proves that action can and should be taken. Action that is needed to give a voice and solace to those who have been silenced for far too long and to raise awareness for those that have never heard of such stories. Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur’s experiences are those that millions faced and still live with. Living through it and seeing nothing done about it creates a sense believing it is inevitable that justice cannot be served, but this proved that there is still hope.