Yesterday, on the 32nd anniversary of the 1984 Sikh riots, Mumbai-based poet Harnidh Kaur recounted her family's experience of the violence in Delhi in a moving Twitter thread. The tweets, which were inspired by a dinner table conversation with her mother, soon went viral.
Kaur narrated how her maternal grandmother coped with the outbreak of violence around them, with her three children at their Rajouri Garden home in Delhi. Meanwhile, her maternal grandfather was stranded in Agra and was barricaded into an empty room by friend, a hotel owner.
My nanaji was stranded in Agra. The hotel owner was a friend, so he essentially barricaded him into an empty room and refused to let him go.— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
Their house has three floors. That evening, they stood on the roof and saw houses burning. As far as they could see, smoke billowing.— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
Nani, who is, by far, the strongest woman I know, made mom, masi, and mamu wear 4 layers of clothes, and stuffed money into their pockets.— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
The next day, when they came down, their Hindu tenant went up to them and said, "When they kill you, we'll take over the ground floor too."— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
Her grandmother spent the next three days hiding, as the neighbourhood's Hindus helped the Sikh families by giving them shelter and food, and taking night rounds to keep rioters out.
Those families and ours, they're all still the best of friends. Tragedy and fear tends to bind you together. Our immediate family was safe.— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
Even after the violence was over, the lives of the affected families had changed forever.
People were given blankets, fruits, and 50 rupees (it's a matter of state record, btw, the amount). They were told, 'You're now safe. Go.'— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
Most families lost their men, fathers. Earning members. Their houses were razed down, the floors streaked with blood. Where would they go?— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
So far, the most common reaction to Kaur's story has been one of shock. "While history textbooks talk of the massacre most people don't know the extent of it," Kaur told HuffPost India. "So it was a rude shock to a lot of them. A LOT of people spoke about how it was cathartic for them. Many people tried making a political agenda out of it. A few trolls here and there, but mostly, it was a moment of solidarity in grief."
Towards the end, Kaur wrote of the Sikh community's silence on the 1984 riots and their struggle to forget the violence.
"As a minority, it's often easier to forget and consolidate the tatters of what dignity you have left than actively hunt for this nebulous concept of 'justice'," Kaur said. "Most people did that. They left their homes, struggled to build their lives up again, generally tried to create a separate identity. That's what caused the dearth of literature, of art, which should be the logical extension of trauma. My grandparents, my parents, their generation was too directly impacted to try and remember. My generation, being chronologically removed (and a lot more privileged) is trying to remedy that."
We're a minuscule minority. Most of us slipped into a shared quiet. We barely talk about it. We suppress the loss. We have no choice.— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
We cover our scars. We support each other. We say 'chaurasi' in hushed, scared voices, lest our children realise how fragile their safety is— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016
But our home betrayed us. Our home broke us. Our home left us bleeding, and our home said, "You're safe as long as we want you to be."— Peglet (@PedestrianPoet) October 31, 2016