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Children of ’84 take to drugs

The trauma they witnessed in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots led many youth to pick up drug habits. Almost every house in Tilak Vihar has at least one drug-addict.

ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 20th Apr 2013

Baby Kaur lost her husband, father, elder brother and her brother-in-law during the 1984 riots. Another brother of hers, who was around 12-13 in 1984, took to drugs to forget the trauma he underwent during the riots | PHOTOGRAPH: Sanjay Vishwakarma

uldeep Kaur (name changed) lost two sons in the last five years. Both of them were in their early 30s. While one of them died because of alcohol addiction, the other suffered a heart attack.

Kuldeep knows the real reason behind the untimely death of her sons. It is the trauma of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 that took their lives, she says. She is a frail old woman, sitting in the porch of her ground-floor house given free by the government. "They were the two out of my four sons who suffered most from what they saw in that year. They were also active in organising protests every year and speaking to the media," she says, requesting anonymity.

Alcohol and drug addiction have emerged as a major problem among the youth in Tilak Vihar, popularly called the Widows Colony, which houses the women whose husbands and relatives lost their lives in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Everyone this correspondent spoke to agreed that it is the trauma and suffering they witnessed in 1984 that led to the youth picking up drug habits. People in the know say that the problem is so widespread that almost every house in the colony has at least one member who is an alcoholic or a drug-addict.

However, Atma Singh Lawana, a local politician, played it down by saying that such cases had come down drastically. According to him, they became fewer after the slum settlement near the colony was removed in the mid-90s, thereby reducing the availability of drugs.

Baby Kaur is a Sikh woman in her late 40s, working as a peon in a government school near Tilak Vihar, where she lives.

Her husband, like those of others in Tilak Vihar, was killed in the 1984 riots, in which close to 3,000 innocent Sikhs were massacred, allegedly at the behest of Congress leaders, especially Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Kamal Nath and H.K.L. Bhagat. Recently, the CBI was directed by a court to reinvestigate the charges against Tytler.

She did not just lose her husband. Her father, her elder brother and her brother-in-law were also brutalised and killed by rioters, avenging the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. Another brother of hers became handicapped due to injuries suffered in the riots while she lost her six-month-old foetus as she was assaulted too.

The drug addiction takes a heavy toll on the families. Baby Kaur’s (left) two missing front teeth, knocked off by Kamal in rage when denied money to buy smack, provide a perfect testimony for that.

It is not just the departed who cause her well of sorrow to overflow.

Another brother of hers, Kamal, who was around 12-13 in 1984, took to drugs to forget the trauma he underwent during the riots. "He was saved by a kulfiwala, who cut off his hair and kept him in his own house." The sister and brother had a dramatic reunion a few months later at a refugee camp.

The drug addiction prevalent among the youth takes a heavy toll on their families. Baby Kaur's two missing front teeth, knocked off by Kamal in rage when denied money to buy smack, provide a perfect testimony for that.

"We got him a job in the Air Force as a mess worker, as compensation for the death of his father, but he could not stay for more than a year, because of his addiction," she says. Someone else has taken his job now by using his name.

That was the only period of time he worked consistently at one place. For most of his life, Kamal has been unemployed, apart from some odd jobs here and there. Baby has been running the expenses of his family too, which includes his wife, who works in a factory, his son, and two daughters.

Kamal does not limit the violence to his sister. His wife and children have also been frequent targets of his assaults.

"He would organise card parties at home at night where people would bet money. He would accept some money from every bet to buy drugs. We would be turned out and made to stand in the street, even if it were pouring heavily," says his teenage son, Deepu. Deepu, who has received close to no education, has no idea what he wants to do with his life.

Ranjit Singh (name changed), who died three years ago, was also a smack addict. He was in his teens when the riots took place. He got married a few years later but the trauma never left him.

His wife, Simran Kaur (name changed) breaks into tears, narrating the hardships she suffered while he was alive. "Beatings were common," she says, standing next to a shop selling small knick-knacks for household use, which she opened from her savings. "I worked for 13 years at a shop as a saleswoman, starting with Rs 400 and earning Rs 3,000 per month when I quit in 2000," she says. In the years after that, she did other jobs, including that of a maid. She admits that the death of her husband has brought her some relief from the daily misery. "He went to sleep one day, high on some kind of intoxication or the other. He never woke up," says Simran.

She now lives with her two grown-up sons whom she has managed to keep away from drugs.

"He was an excellent electrician. But he had this flaw, so no one gave him work," she says. This added to his frustration of not being able to do anything to save his kin from being killed in the riots. They lost three family members in the riots.

Both Ranjit and Kamal, like other addicts from impoverished backgrounds, also took to stealing things, thereby earning trips to jailhouses and further ruining the reputation of their families.

Baby has tried putting Kamal in jail but the police would not accept him as they fear he would die in custody if denied drugs. The fear is not completely unfounded and Kamal's family members understand that.

She is considering buying him a battery-operated rickshaw, for which Kamal is adamant and quarrelling over for the last five days. "If he is able to earn something, he might give us something too, and keep some for his habit," she says, clearly aware that it is impossible to shake him off the addiction.

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