Ajeet Caur

In Athens for her daughter Arpana Caur’s European Art Tour, Ajeet Caurrushed home in June 1984 after hearing about the Indian Army attacks. She felt personally attacked, a feeling which only grew manifold as this iconic Punjabi writer first-hand witnessed the violence of November 1984.

The attackers even knew which individual taxis were operated by Sikh drivers and in a parking structure only cars owned by Sikhs were burned. Caur estimates a 6 month planning period for such precision. In richer South Delhi, the perpetrators were worried that people could eventually ask for Insurance or go to the courts, so here, the attacks were limited to looting and arson while more killings occurred across the Yamuna River in poorer Sikh communities.

On November 3, Ajeet Caur arrived at a makeshift refugee camp at Sham Lal College and saw seas of people. “Are you crazy?” friends asked her when she expressed her desire to go out and help. She persisted. She narrates the many frustrating attempts, despite her connections to many high-ranking Sikhs, to secure basic services for Sikhs at these camps and personally witnessing the burning-by-kerosene of a Sikh man nearby.

Caur details the psychological trauma for the camp’s survivors including the account of a woman who wouldn’t eat or take any food for her 4 children. Couple of days earlier, this lady had tied ponytails on her 4 youngest boys (so they would be mistaken for girls) and rushed them to safety. However, her older son who was hiding in the back of her home was burned to death along with her house. Upon returning later at night and discovering her son’s body, she feared it would be eaten by dogs. She gathered the wooden frame from the charred remains of the house and used these to cremate her son’s body. “How can someone who just finished cremating the half charred remains of her possibly eat?”

Ajeet Caur’s narration is dotted with personal accounts that humanize and evidence many macro level assertions made about the Delhi attacks. Till November 9th, there was no military in Delhi–she was searched by a soldier on the 9th who told her that he had just arrived from Bangalore. A month before the attack, kirpans and gun owned by Sikhs were confiscated by the police–late one night, police had arrived at Ajeet Caur’s home asking if she had any weapons; she later realized they had record of her purchased of an arms license for a revolver she planned to purchase on a trip abroad. Her account elaborates on the belief of many that Indira Gandhi’s assassination was an excuse for an already planned pogrom.

Caur admonishes the officials death figures and asserts that there is little understanding around those killed in other states throughout India.