Anti-Cong feelings among Sikhs in Widow Colony

An auto driver by profession, Joginder Singh has been carrying a neatly folded empty matchbox in his wallet for the past two weeks.

He desperately wants to know the address of the manufacturer of this matchbox and is determined to travel to any corner of the country to meet the person.

What has set his mind at unease is a photograph on the matchbox of who he claims is the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. Some local youths join Joginder at a tea stall in claiming that this probably was a “plot by the Congress party to insult the Sikh religion”, which prohibits smoking.

Strong anti-Congress sentiments have once again gripped the residents of Widow Colony ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. From cancellation of free water and electricity for the past eight months to eviction and detention of some community members from a government-owned property, the residents blame the Congress for every ill.

They say the party candidate and sitting MP Mahabal Mishra did dare to campaign in the colony a few days ago, but had to beat a hasty retreat as no one came out of their homes. 

“He did not even enter the locality and instead took the outer road of the colony. He was gone in a few seconds,” local resident Satbir Singh Sunny says.

This group has been rooting for the Aam Aadmi Party, but they are finding it difficult to convince many others at the tea stall who begin a heated debate.

“Jarnail Singh wrote in his book (I Accuse) that some widows in this colony had to take to prostitution to survive after the riots. That is untrue and an insult to our women,” another resident Karnail Singh says.

He claims to have some 40 friends in his group who, along with their families, will vote for Bharatiya Janata Party.

AAP supporter from the area Harnam Singh says former Delhi chief minister and late BJP leader Sahib Singh Verma too had insulted Sikhs by allegedly demanding that they be forced to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. Highlighting the “development work” during AAP's rule, he points towards an under-construction cement road leading to the colony.

The colony in Tilak Nagar was set up to rehabilitate widows of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Residents say there are some 4,500 voters in 1,000 families who have made the colony their home. Known to have mostly voted for BJP so far, they now have a choice in AAP candidate Jarnail Singh.

BJP vs AAP

But residents are divided when it comes to choosing between “one of their own” and BJP’s Parvesh Verma. While posters behind several autorickshaws parked in the colony suggest inclination towards AAP, a majority of people Deccan Herald spoke to say they will vote for BJP.

A recent clash between police and residents over eviction from an illegally occupied old-age home in the colony has only helped shift the momentum in BJP’s favour. Verma and former MLA from Tilak Nagar O P Babbar had sat with the protesters for hours outside Tilak Nagar police station on Thursday. Verma was seen negotiating with police while maintaining that the Sikhs had been wronged.

Surjeet Kaur, who lost her husband in the 1984 riots, says Jarnail Singh’s failure to even visit them during the protest will have an impact on the elections. “I am the head of my family of 25 and they will vote as I say,” she says.

A day before the protests, she had told Deccan Herald that any party that helps them take the old-age home on lease will get the entire colony’s vote. “The sentiments in this ashram are reflected in this entire Sikh colony and that in turn has an impact on Sikh voters in other parts of the city,” Surjeet says.

Residents are also angry over cancellation of free water and electricity to the colony that they say they had been getting since the riots. “The Congress government got it cancelled after the communal riots in the area in August last year,” Shamni Kaur, a widow who lost her three children in the 1984 riots, says.

Many residents, particularly women, appear to have been influenced by what they have seen on television and read in newspapers. “The AAP said it would constitute an SIT to probe the riots. News channels say he was fooling us as he never formed the SIT. The BJP has always stood by us,” another widow Gyan Kaur says.

While it is clear that the colony will vote for anyone who promises them justice for the riots, they are also willing to overlook a Sikh candidate. 

Babu Singh Dukhiya, an independent Sikh candidate from the area, was on a visit to the colony on Thursday. “I have come to show solidarity with them over the eviction issue. I have always stood by them, but this community doesn’t support me,” a bitter Dukhiya tells Deccan Herald.

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