From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 16, Dated Apr 25, 2009
the victims

‘I Lived As A Queen. Now, I’m A Servant’

LAKHWINDER KAUR, Lost her husband

ATOE CURLS IN subconscious revulsion. She wipes a clammy palm against a crushed hankie, clears a choked throat and speaks: “I was 18 years old, a mother of a fivemonth- old daughter, and two months pregnant with my second child when they killed my husband.” On November 1, 1984, a mob surrounded Badal Singh, stabbed him, put a tyre around his neck, doused him in kerosene, and set him ablaze. Twenty-five years later, his widow, Lakhwinder, still shudders when she thinks of that morning. “I was told my husband screamed in agony as he died.”


Badal Singh, a ragi (devotional singer) of Gurdwara Pulbangash, was one among the 3,000 Sikhs killed in New Delhi in just three days. Lakhwinder was at her village when she heard the news. She collapsed, gaining consciousness only intermittently over the next two weeks.

Twenty days later, Lakhwinder returned to Delhi with her daughter, vacated their old home, and went from house to house, taking shelter with relatives and friends for three months, until she moved into a one-room tenement. Sewing, her only skill, allowed her to survive. “My aim everyday was just to be able to buy milk for my baby daughter,” she says. Her parents urged her to remarry, but the 18-year-old would not budge. Her life now belonged to her children. “I didn’t think I could get anyone more handsome than my husband,” she says, breaking into a smile.

In 1987, Lakhwinder was allotted a two-room house in west Delhi’s Tilak Nagar and employed as a peon in a government organisation. “I lived like a queen before the 1984 riots,” she says. “Now, I live like a servant.”

When a movement seeking justice for 1984 began, Lakhwinder joined it, convinced that the guilty would be brought to book. “I want to know how Tytler’s wife will feel if he is untraceable for a month,” she says. “It seemed easy for [former Prime Minister] Rajiv Gandhi to say, ‘When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes.’ Our trees were felled and we can still feel the tremors.”


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 16, Dated Apr 25, 2009

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