1984: 'His hair was cut so he could live'

1984: 'His hair was cut so he could live'

Harsimran Kaur, then 14, recounts the worst days of her life during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi

On this November day 34 years ago, marauders butchered Sikhs in Delhi hours after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead. Harsimran Kaur, then 14 years old, recounts what she describes as the worst days of her life.

As the anti-Sikh riots erupted in the first days of November 1984, Harsimran's family took refuge in a relative’s house that was considered safe because of its ‘Hindu’ credentials.

Harsimran, who is now principal of a reputed senior secondary school, says that she recalls being at a loss as to why a barber was present at their temporary haven. She had read in the Sikh holy scriptures all her life that Sikhs keep unshorn hair. Her father and two brothers had always kept uncut hair and wore turbans.

The family, however, was now faced with a choice between life and sacred belief. “My brother Harpreet was made to sit. He removed his turban and his mark of Sikh identity was gone within minutes. As a Sikh in a turban, he would have been killed at first glance by mobs baying for blood,” she says. “Our eyes welled up. My mother wept as they cut his hair so that he could live."

A savage mob grabbed Sikhs on the streets and placed burning rubber tyres on them. And then, Harsimran’s father Jagjit Singh and elder brother Amandeep went missing. They were returning from their factory but were not able to reach the relative's house.

Jagjit and Amandeep were forced to seek refuge at a relative's house on Lodi Road. “It was a Sikh extended family," according to Harsimran. "They were fearing a mob attack. For hours, 21 members of the house, including my father and brother, remained bundled up in a small rear room to avoid being killed.”

The house was then set on fire, but the family somehow managed to escape. They took shelter inside a nearby Sikh shrine. “Food supply and rations in the shrine were over. For two days, my father and brother, like many others, survived on one chapati a day.” Once the chaos settled, Harsimran's family were able to be reunited.

In Delhi alone, nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

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