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In Delhi’s Widows Colony, The Wounds Of 1984 Anti-Sikh Massacre Are Still Fresh

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By Sanam Sutirath Wazir:

In the ‘widows colony‘ in Tilak Vihar, Delhi, the wounds of 1984 are still fresh. I began visiting this densely populated neighbourhood in 2014 as part of Amnesty International India’s campaign on justice for the anti-Sikh killings of 1984, but I wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming it would be. Often it seemed like the world had moved on, but these families were still stuck in the pain of 32 years ago. What they suffered then was catastrophic. But even after so many years, it seemed like few people had shared their grief and little had changed.

Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered between October 31 and November 3 1984, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Rajiv Gandhi at a speech a few days after the killings had said, “When a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes a little.” But while there was indeed widespread grief and anger over Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, the carnage was not an outburst of anger of the people. It was an orchestrated massacre by certain groups.

Many commissions that looked into the massacre said that there was evidence of a pattern in the killings, something that victims told me as well. Sikh men between 20 and 50 years of age seemed to have been the primary targets. Many of them were dragged out of their homes, doused with petrol or kerosene and then set on fire in the most barbaric fashion. In some cases, tyres were ringed around their necks and an inflammable white powder hurled at them. This powder was never formally identified, or its availability investigated; some journalists have suggested that it could have been white phosphorus, a volatile substance, which is not easily available.

Shami Kaur, who was 30-years-old in 1984, told me: “I had to run on my husband’s dead body to save my other kids. I was robbed of all my belongings and my clothes torn apart.” She lost her husband and five members of the family during the massacre.

55-year-old Darshan Kaur said to me: “The mob dragged my husband out by his hair and placed a quilt and tyre on him. They then proceeded to pour oil and set him on fire. As a result he was half burnt and later died. When I pleaded for his life, they dragged me down the road and pushed me on the ground.”

There were instances of women being abducted, raped and then returned to their homes after seven or eight days. Yet only a handful of cases of sexual violence were registered. A major hurdle for the victims and survivors was the manner in which the police fudged the records. On many occasions it did not register FIRs against specific persons but registered ‘omnibus FIRs’, which did not name individual suspects, and covered all the offences in a particular neighborhood. Prosecutions in these cases mostly led to acquittals.

There are hundreds of widows living in Tilak Vihar today, facing a different set of problems. Many complain about their sordid living conditions, and the lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene. Some of these women lost up to 10 relatives in the massacre. They have vivid accounts of the horrors of 32 years ago. These were not comfortable conversations to have, neither for them nor for me.

Often, while recording a survivor’s statement, I have their eyes well up, and tears roll down, almost without them noticing. After 1984, they had lost not only their relatives, money and property. They had lost hope in the system.

More than three decades have passed since 1984. Cases are still pending, and the families of the victims are awaiting justice. But little has moved. Though the reports of various commissions and committees have clearly pointed to the connivance of the police, the administration and political leaders in the killings, few of those most responsible for the killings have been prosecuted. The lack of political will to deliver justice has only been too obvious.

The Special Investigation Team set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs last year has an opportunity to set things right. But its actions have not inspired much confidence. Reopening and re-investigating the cases that were closed by the police in 1984 is essential to delivering justice and closure to those who grieve even today for 1984.

Nothing less will do.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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