Monday, March 10, 2008

Nov. 1st - Nov. 4th 1984


Blossom, Blossom's mother and Padma

“I can’t go out and get the food; I’m too afraid! With this curfew on I am petrified of being out in the streets. I beg you, go for us.”


Blossom’s eyes implored me to be the brave one and at that moment I felt anything but brave. We had every right to be scared. Just days before, on October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, was gunned down by her Sikh body guards. Suddenly anyone who was a Sikh became a target.


Before the tragic incident I lived in what I considered a peaceful enclave. My neighborhood was largely inhabited by Sikhs along with a few Hindus and Muslims. This once peaceful place was now a hot spot for those who wanted to retaliate against Indira Gandhi's brutal murder. I was a 23 year old woman, thousands of miles away from my family, in a country that was not my own. No one could guarantee my safety.


Angry mobs raged for days. Rioters stormed through the streets setting houses, vehicles and people on fire. Smoke billowed in the distance. What would happen when the danger finally reached me? Who would save me? Those who I trusted: my friends, my neighbors, my landlord, they were now just as helpless as I was.


Our food ran out. My body felt weak with just the thought of having to leave the safety of the apartment. Unfortunately I knew there was no other choice.


I needed courage. Nothing I had experienced had prepared me for this. My mind grasped frantically around for some kind of emergency switch to help me get the boldness I wanted. Verses flashed through my mind assuring me that when all else changes God never changes. I was reminded that God is my very present help in time of danger. He promised countless times in the Bible that He was my fortress; He was my deliverer.


I prayed, begging God to give me courage. With heart pounding, I slipped down the stairwell. Although I prayed for courage, I still didn’t feel brave. At the bottom of the stairs, I pressed my back against the wall and peeked cautiously around the corner. Seeing no one in sight, I slipped through the alleyway, making my way to the nearby Kailash Market.


The sight of the deserted market sent shivers up and down my spine. The vacant stalls taunted me. Whether rain or shine the market place was always teaming with life. The empty space in front of me was just another reminder that there was nothing I could count on anymore.


“God, please, do something. Help me.”


“PSSSSsssss…”


My head jerked around to see a door open.


“PSSSssss, come here, we have rice to sell.”


I purchased the necessary food and dashed home. In the safety of the apartment my teeth chattered uncontrollably and my body shook violently. Blossom guided me to the bed. I lay there listening to the distant roar of the mob. The volume increased and my curiosity got the better of me. Slipping out onto the balcony of the third story apartment, my timing couldn’t have been worse.


A gang of rioters were tying two men to a tree. The men fought for their lives but they were no match against this blood thirsty crowd. Weren’t these the people that I mingled with everyday? Weren’t these good people? It didn’t make sense that these people were filled with such hatred.
Looking down at them, my mind still grappled with the questions that bombarded it. I realized that some of the people were holding burning torches.


“What is that they are doing?” I wondered. My heart registered what was happening before my mind could comprehend the horror.


My heart raced up into my throat, gagging me, as I realized the crowd had lit the two men on fire. Their bloodcurdling screams mingled with the smoke that curled up past the balcony. I wanted to yell at the crowd, but before I had a chance to say anything Blossom jerked me into the apartment. Her hand closed tightly over my mouth as she frantically whispered in my ear, “We can’t do anything for them now! They will try and rape us if they know we are up here. Shh, be still. It will be over soon.”

I fought against her. Tears of frustration slipped down my cheeks.


“Why? Why can’t we help them?”


There were no answers. I knew Blossom was wrong and yet so right. Nothing made sense anymore.


The death cries ceased giving way to an eerie silence. Blossom and I lay quietly on the bed. Our ears were finely tuned waiting for any noise alerting us to the return of the attackers.



On the fourth day the riots stopped as abruptly as they started. The army marched through the streets. I wondered why they took so long. No one else cared where they had been, all that mattered now was they were there. Unified cheers rang out over balconies and along the roadside. Despite the cheers, I sensed an underlying insecurity. The same insecurity I battled with over the preceding days. Now I was forced to choose either to cling to the insecurity or to cast it aside. What could I look to for security? Myself? I had discovered I was weak and full of fear. Would I trust those around me? I could not, especially after seeing how they could change at the drop of a hat. Would I trust in the military or machinery? I had no assurance their actions were done to uphold my best interests.


On November 4th 1984, I came to the conclusion my security had to be in God.

4 comments:

  1. All of it comes flooding back to me again...I am angry, bitter. But I don't understand who to blame.

    Nice to know you...

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    1. IT was a very difficult time- that is for sure.

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  2. I have goosebumps alll over me.. This is the first time I have read a first hand experience of someone who has been through those riots.. Too painful, Can't even imagine.. and I admire your courage. I would have never stepped out of that house! You are very brave!!!

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    1. This is a memory which although not one of my best memories is one which I cannot forget. It is forever etched in my mind and unfortunately crowds do stir up unwanted feelings in my chest as a result of having gone through this.

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